It is too late to do anything now – shriek for help, make a dart for the hole in the mud or attempt at take off. The farmer was simply too fast. With her wings soaked with the rain, Murai could only muster a token struggle – too surprised as it was by the suddenness and swiftness of the farmer’s hand as it swooped it from it’s hiding among the tall padi reeds.The tiny claws that have served well to hold it’s body mass to the the padi stalk during the onslaught of the the northern winds were no cutting tools; the bemused grin on the farmer’s face served only to dampen its hopes to cause injury to the woman’s palm and secure it’s release.
It is said that among the Murai there exists a belief of sorts. And in times like this, that’s the only thing left to comfort one’s self. “Keep to your Heart” goes an adage, and make a “whisper in the wind”, and the particles in the air and the pollen grains will take your plea home, and, if you are lucky, even beyond – over the ranges of the distant mountains, and across the rivers and valleys to that land beyond the clouds. And perchance that the particles are diverted by contending winds, you can put your trust in the tiny flies to pick the baton. Aid would surely be forthcoming.
“Seek and you shall find. Ask and it shall be given.” Bundled in the farmer’s girdle, Murai could see the farmer making her way to the village and muttered a plea: “Happy are those whose domain is the sky and not this girdle. Please send help…”
“What do you have there, grandma?”
“Oh…just some loose padi, some Keli and Haruan…and yes, this small thing. Look! Take it. Is it alive?”
“Look at it grandma! Where did you find it? It is so small and wet. Yes, it is alive. I can feel the heart beat. The feathers are cold but I can feel the warmth of the heart beat. Is it a Mala Kerbau?”
“Well..let’s see…I didn’t notice it well earlier. I am afraid it is not a Mala Kerbau but a Murai. You can put it in that bamboo cage if you like and place that cage on the para near the stove. It will soon get dry.”
“Can a Murai talk, grandma? I know Uncle Hadi’s Mala Kerbau can…”
“That you must ask your uncle, Amjad. The Murai is very much a bird of the skies even though it’s habit is to scurry on the ground. The Mala Kerbau, on the other hand, is a bird of the earth and that’s why it is called by that name, which means kawan kerbau (friend of the buffalo).,,he,,,he…”
“Uncle Hadi said you must use a piece of silver to scrape Mala Kerbau’s tongue to get it to talk. I wonder why…”
“Maybe it has something to do with the saying : Speech is Silver, Silence is Golden. Errr…you didn’t learn this in school..? He..he..he…Pi main jauh-jauh sikit. Tok penat ni…” (Go play elsewhere, I am tired !)
“Pulut bakar atas bara
Cawan kopi satu-dua
Burung Murai atas para
Basah kuyup tiada suara”
“Apa yang hang merepet tu, Amjad?”
(What are you mumbling to yourself, Amjad ?)
“Eh, Uncle Hadi! Look! Look at my Murai! Isn’t it cute?”
“Ah yes! Murai. What do you want to do with it? If you want a pet, it is better to get a Merbuk. Murai are noisy, but Merbuk…now those can really sing!”
“Can you teach it to talk…like what you did to Awang?”
“You mean Jantan? Jantan is a Mala Kerbau…that’s different. Murai cannot talk. Itu adat burung (that’s the law of the birds). The Puyuh, for example, does not have a tail. You can’t change that. You can try feeding it with all sorts of grains, but it will still not grow a tail. That’s why we have the saying, ‘Mati Puyuh hendakkan ekor’
(Like the quail pining for a tail).”
“Well, can we not at least try? Please Uncle Hadi? Can I put Murai in Jantan’s cage? In that way it can learn. Please Uncle?”
“La…mana boleh dalam satu sangkar dua ekor burung .”
(It does not augur well for a cage to contain two birds)
“Baik lah..! Baik lah..!.Esok bawa Murai tu ke rumah Pak Long. Pi dok jauh-jauh sikit. Pak Long nak cakap dengan Tok sekejap..hai, macam Murai pula dia!”
(Alright! Alright! Bring Murai to my house tomorrow. Go sit over there. I need to talk to your grandma. You sound very much a Murai yourself!)
“I am Jantan. I do not know why you are here…but this is my cage. As you can see, it is a beautiful cage. My Master over there…he takes good care of me. Call me Jantan, sometimes Awang. I am a Mala Kerbau. I used to run wild around this house and in that plot of mud under the Cermai tree is the kerbau that I used to befriend. I kept the flies off his back so that his tail could rest. Now I am way better off – no more slimy mud and the smell of that pool. No more dirty flies. Only the best and juiciest of hoppers and polished rice. Clear water, nice papayas and ripe bananas. In the mornings I would be given a bath. Nothing is more delightful than a bath before breakfast…and when my Master snaps his fingers and calls out my name, my heart goes out to him. Kuuur ! Kuuur! Look at my tongue. See how clean it is! Cleaned by nothing less than a piece of silver. Destiny has been kind to me…Why, I can even speak the tongue of man. Listen to this:
Kuuuur A..w..a.ng! Aaawang! Kuuurr! Haaadii! Maaakaaan!
My master said that only the Kakaktua and Mala Kerbau can be taught. In the afternoons I would go out with my Master as he makes his rounds of the village. Sometimes he would stop at the stall by the river to sip his coffee. Children would then crowd around me and call my name. Just imagine. I…a bird commanding such attention! And during those times that he ride his bicycle, I would perch myself on the handle…and I could feel the wind in my face. No longer do I need to fly to experience that. Of the sky and the clouds, I have only dim memories…
Listen to my song:
Buat apa cari kiri dan kanan
Bila ku dapat makan di tangan!
(Why do I need to search hither and dither
When I can eat from the hand !)
And you little bird. What is your story ?”
“I am Murai and I am put in your cage by that boy over there for reasons best known to him. Two days ago, I was happily playing in the fields when I was taken captive by a farmer. It was drizzling and my wet wings prevented me from avoiding the fateful incident. To man, I am known by many names. One such is Copsychus Sauloris Musicus, perhaps by virtue of my incessant chirpings…but I care not for such name calling…for I am first and foremost AtTayr, a bird, like you. My essence is that of a bird.
Man busies themselves with names, descriptions and analysis! Why…they even give names to the different trees and plants. I, on the other hand, prefer to see the forest. I hail from the Nipah palms at the end of the village. It is there that I take my solace away from the sun. Seldom do I venture out when the sun is at it’s peak. I spend most of my mornings at the edge of the water and in the late afternoons, in the golden sea of the padi fields.
My real home, however, is far from here. You have to have strong wings to make the distance. It is however, close to my heart and in my dreams. To man, I am a noisy bird…but that is because they cannot perceive my secret…they do not know that I possess two tongues. My secret tongue is that which tells the story of the treasure – a secret mirror that reflects my homeland.You, who are in such a happy state, listen to this:
Many a bird is lost in this world, the Bangau, by virtue of it’s grace becomes vain; the Merak, by virtue of it’s colorful feathers busies itself with them day and night; the Merbok, by virtue of it’s voice is put in a cage; the Helang, by virtue of it’s strength becomes proud; the Bul Bul by virtue of it’s attraction to the Rose becomes a slave; and you, my friend, by virtue of your contentment progresses no further! Birds are given wings to fly but they prefer to be stuck in the mud ! Happy, however, is the Pungguk (Owl)! Though garbed in an unappealing outfit, earning it the other name of Hantu (Ghost), it possesses the distinction of having intimacy with the Moon. The Moon is not of this world, if only you but know…Do you not see how the world and it’s attractions have no foothold on the Pungguk’s heart..? It chooses to sleep through the day when the glitter of the world is strongest…preferring instead, to keep the night when it would call upon it’s only love – the Moon. Hoooo! (You, only you!), Hoooo! Enta Omry! Ah! such a happy state! Such singleness! Such rapture! Being lost in it’s love, the Pungguk is free! Man even coins a parable that says ‘Bagai Pungguk rindukan Bulan’ (Like the Owl calling the Moon). Now listen to my song as you have never heard a Murai sang before.”
And with that, our friend, Murai sings a song unlike any other bird song…filling the atmosphere with such notes and nuances much to the pleasant surprise of the man, the boy and the Mala Kerbau.
“Enough! Enough little one! You have struck a cord deep in my heart. We will need to get you out of here. This cage which I call home does not befit you – nay, it is a prison to you! I only pray that I may, one day, have the courage to venture out…to be among those that make the journey to that land beyond the clouds.”
The following morning.
“Apa lagi yang Pak Long dapat ceritakan tentang burung-burung ni? Seronok sekali Amjad dengar…”
(What else can you tell me uncle, about the birds? They are so fascinating)
“Tak pa lah, satu hari nanti Pak Long ceritakan tentang burung Hudhud, iaitu Utusan Nabi Allah Sulaiman ke Istana Raja Balqis…Seronok cerita tu. Salah satu tindak tanduk pelik yang terdapat pada burung ni ialah kalau kawannya mati dia tak kan mencari ganti buat selama-lamanya…”
(Maybe we keep that for one fine day. I will tell you the story of the Hoopoe, the Emissary of Prophet Solomon to the palace of Queen Sheba. One characteristic of the Hoopoe is that, should it’s mate die, it will not take a partner for the rest of its life…”
“Maati! Kuuur! Maaaati! Mati! Kuur!
(Death! Death! Death!)
“Apa dah jadi ni! La….Murai Amjad mati! Baru semalam dia duduk elok-elok…”
(What happened ? Why…the Murai is dead! Only yesterday it was singing so beautifully…)
(What a pity!)
“Punya nak ajar cakap, la ni mati pula!”
(Just when you want to teach it to talk, it decides to die)
“Hai Jantan, apa dah jadi ni….”
(Jantan, what happened..?)
“Dah Aku kata..pantang ada dua ekor burung dalam satu sangkar?”
(Did I not say that it does not augur well to have two birds in one cage?)
“Hmm, mai kita keluarkan dia..nanti busuk …”
(Hmm, come let’s take it out of the cage before it stinks)
Slowly the man takes the Murai on the flat of his palm out of the cage.
And, as the man and the boy look at the inert body, Jantan makes a loud screech…
“MAAKAAAN ! MAAKAN ! MAKAAN !”
(Eat! Eat! Eat!)
Hearing the agreed signal, Murai flaps its wings and darts to the window sill.
Its heart pounding, it glances in the direction of the cage where the Mala Kerbau remains. And then, it flies away…