“They will die if we do nothing,” Felicity said, pacing on the crazy pavement by the pool.
“Felicity, tokek,” Gary said, “please stop pacing, tokek, you’re driving me crazy, tokek.”
“Gary,” Felicity said, “stop with your tokek, it is driving ME crazy.”
“Sorry, Fel’, it’s a tokek, I mean, a tick. Tokek. I agree with you, tokek, they will die, but what can we do? We’re helpless. Tokek.”
Felicity said nothing. Kept pacing around the swimming pool. Looked up at Bulan, the Moon, in full splendour in the starry Penang night. She stopped. Looked at the pool. Then at Bulan again, looked at Gary. Started pacing again.
“The fault lies not in our stars,” she said, “but in ourselves *. WE have to find a solution. Sock? Any thoughts?”
“Gan’t garely greathe, let alone think,” Sock said.
“Take your bl..dy mask off, for Pete’s sake,” Felicity said. Sock removed his mask. Coughed and said: “It’s the forest fires, the air is… choking. Cough, cough!”
“What a lot!” Felicity said. “I repeat: Our. Friends. Will. Die…”
“If we do nothing. Tokek. We know. Tokek. What do you suggest Fel’?”
Felicity stood still. Looked up at Bulan again.
“I know! I know! There is a solution! Stéphanie! She can help us!”
“The little girl?” Sock said. “But, but…”
“But what? Sock, why are you always so negative? She can help us. Se has what we lack. Have you noticed how adroit she is with her hands?”
“Adroit?” Sock said. “Could you please stop being so posh? Yes, that is precisely the problem. She is…”
“A little girl,” Felicity said. “Exactly what or who we need. Stéphanie.”
“Isn’t her name Tiffany?! Sock asked.
“She called herself Tiffany when she was little.” Felicity said. “Now that she’s growing up, she is going back to her given name. Stéphanie. Do I have to explain everything?”
“Tiffany or Stéphanie, tokek, she will still freak out, tokek,” Gary said.
“A brilliant lot you are,” Felicity said. “Anybody have a better idea? No? Let’s do it then.”
“All right, all right,” Sock whined. “How do we get into the house? Her room is upstairs.”
Felicity sighed. “The glass door to the swimming pool is always open, you dummy. For fresh air. That is how we get inside. Now, hush. Not a noise. The better part of valour is discretion **.”
The trio went inside the dark, silent house, whispered their way up the staircase. Stopped on the landing. Sock murmured:
“Which door is it? We don’t want to freak out her parents or brothers.”
“Must be the pink door, tokek.” Gary said. “She’s a girl”.
“Don’t be so gender-biased, Gary. Not pink”, said Felicity, “the pink door leads to the study. Hers is the dark blue door with stars and Bulan the moon, painted on it.”
“As our luck goes”, Sock said, “the door will be locked.”
“For Heavens’ sake, Sock!”, Felicity sighed, “Stop whining! She never locks her door. Closet doors yes, because of the closet monsters, not the room door. Trust me. I’ve been there many times.”
They tiptoed their way inside the room. Not your typical little girl’s room. Oh, there were a few stuffed toys all right. But there were more running shoes strewn everywhere, a diving mask and snorkel, three flippers. A swimming suit hung-out to dry on the windowsill. A blue swimming suit. Not pink. Badminton rackets. Daddy had been a badminton champion in his youth. He’d taught badminton to his daughter before she could walk, Mummy would say with a smile.
Felicity, Sock and Gary approached the bed. A pretty ten or eleven year old girl was fast asleep under the dark blue bedsheet with bright shining stars and a Bulan crescent. Breathing softly. Long straight black hair covering the pillow, floating with every turn of the ceiling ventilator. Long, long, long black eyelashes closed tight.
“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, rounded with a little sleep ***.” Felicity whispered, moved by the little girl’s beauty.
“Felicity, cut it off! Now’s not the time for inspired quotes!” Sock said, in as high a whisper as he dared.
“Sock is right. Tokek. Now, what do we do? Tokek.”
“We wake her up, silly.” Felicity said. “Gently. Stéphanie? Wake up dear? Stéphanie? Tiffany? Stéphanie?” Felicity prodded the little girl who sat up in her bed, rubbing the sleep from her eyes with her knuckles.
“Selamat malam, Stéphanie”, Felicity said. “Don’t be afraid, please. We’re not here to harm you.”
“Selamat…” Stéphanie said. Then stopped. Looked at the trio. All sleep gone from the pretty wide-open eyes. “Who… who are you?”
“My name is Felicity, my dear, this… gentleman – for lack of a better word – here, is Gary, aka Tokek, and the useless whiner over there is Sock. Howd’you do?”
“How d’you do, Felicity?” Stéphanie said with even wider eyes. “Gary? Sock? But, but…”
“Yes, I know,” Felicity said. “A bit hard to… take in, but I’m ever so sorry, we don’t have much time, dear.”
“How d’you do, Stéphanie?” Sock said.
How d’you do? Tokek.” Gary said.
“Gary? A Tokek? He’s a gecko!” Stéphanie said. “I’ve seen him many times at night, on the ceiling!”
“And you, you? What’s your name? Felicity? You’re a…”
“Flamingo. Yes, m’dear,” Felicity said.
“If you’re a flamingo, how come you have a British accent? Posh, very posh, actually.”
“I am British,” Felicity said, “born in London. My parents were from Kenya, Lake Hannington, but I was born in London. Hyde Park. That is the short and the long of it +.”
“And how did you come here? From London to Penang?” Stéphanie asked. “Oh. Silly me. You flew.”
Felicity said nothing. Gave the equivalent of a flamingo smile. Best to let it sink in. Stéphanie was wide awake now. Still sitting on her bed, she turned to Sock.
“And what about you? ‘Sock’? What kind of a name is that? Who are you? And why are you wearing a mask?”
“Humph, humph,” Sock said in as dignified a tone as he could muster. “I am the Sock Gremlin.”
“He’s really a thief,” Felicity said, “petty larceny if you will, he can’t help it, but besides that, he’s a decent enough bloke.”
“That is not true!” Sock cried, “I’m not a thief, I’m a hoarder!”
“What do you mean, a hoarder?” Stéphanie asked.
Before Sock could reply, Felicity jumped in:
“Stéphanie, you know how socks seem to disappear? Between the clothes basket and the washer and the drying, every once in a while, one lone sock vanishes into thin air? Leaving its solitary companion to cry out in the drawer?”
“Yes!” Stéphanie said. “My mother always tells me that I need to take better care of my clothes. That’s what the rattan dirty clothes basket is for, she says. And she always counts my socks before putting them in the washer. Still, one sock or the other always disappears. Not my fault. Only last week, one of my favourite socks disappeared. One with the devil of Tasmania…” Stéphanie turned to Sock: “So that was you? And the blue striped sock too?”
Sock the Gremlin flustered, turned to Felicity and said:
“Er, let’s not get all fired up on this sock business. Felicity, why don’t you tell Stéphanie why we’re here? Time is of the essence.”
“Yes. Tokek. Tell Tiffany please.” Gary said.
“My name is Stéphanie. I used Tiffany when I was little because…”
“We know that Stéphanie. Hush Gary. We need your help Stéphanie,” Felicity said. “Friends of ours have been abducted, and will probably die if we don’t rescue them.”
“Er,” Stéphanie said, “how can I help? I’m just a little girl… Although I’m eleven and half.” Proud smile.
“You have hands. Tokek,” Gary said. “We don’t. Tokek.”
Stéphanie looked at her hands. Puzzled. And said:
“Why do you need hands for? Who are your friends? Are they… like you?”
“Yes, like us. Somewhat.” Felicity said. “They have been captured, abducted by animal smugglers who plan to sell them abroad. We assume they are in cages. We need to open the cages. And we can’t do that. You can. You have hands. We don’t. Now, if we do nothing, they will probably be shipped in the next few days, and many will die during transport. We can’t have that. True is it that we have seen better days ++.” Felicity sighed.
Stéphanie thought for a second. Pulled at her T-shirt. A white thing with a cute dachshund printed on it:
Hugo the wire-haired dachshund
“Okay. I will help you. But I need to change. Gary and Sock, turn around. You are boys. I think. Felicity is a girl. She’s all right. You two turn around.”
Gary and Sock turned around, mumbling about waste of time. Stéphanie took off her pajama pants. Grabbed from the floor blue washed-out cut-off denim shorts with a white braided belt. Kept the Dachshund T-shirt on. She asked Felicity:
“We may have to run I guess?”
“I can fly,” Felicity said, “but you three may have to run. At some point… ”
“Okay,” Stéphanie said. “Where are my running shoes?”
She picked up one green fluorescent New Balance affair from the floor, the other shoe from under the bed, found a red sock inside a flipper, put it on. Looked around and said: “Where is my other sock?”
“Gremlin!” Felicity growled. “Give. The. Red. Sock. Back. Now!”
“Hmph,” Sock the Gremlin said, handing over a red sock. “Sorry. Can’t help it.”
Stéphanie put her socks on, the shoes, combed her unruly hair with her fingers, tied it in a ponytail, grabbed a backpack and said: “I’m ready. Let’s go downstairs to the garage.”
“To the garage?” Sock whined. “What for? We are already late as it is!”
“That’s where my Daddy keeps his tools,” Stéphanie said, rolling her eyes to the ceiling. “Your friends are in cages, right?”
Felicity, Gary and Sock nodded. Sock the Gremlin as much as a sock can nod. Geckos nod pretty well, but you know that if you’ve seen them. Stéphanie went on:
“If the cages have padlocks, I can’t open them with my little hands. We need a hammer, a chisel, and a screwdriver. Maybe some pliers.”
Three nods later, they tiptoed down the stairs to the garage. Stéphanie put her Daddy’s tools in her backpack, then told Felicity, clearly the one in charge:
“We need weapons. My daddy doesn’t have a gun, but I’ll “pack” that. You never know. It’s the closest we have to a gun in the house.”
“A water gun?” Felicity asked. “I’m not sure…”
“Trust me, I’m a very good shot with this. Ask my brothers. Let’s go.”
They gently cracked open the front door and eased themselves on Chulia Street into the Penang night. Stéphanie came from a Chinese Peranakan – or Baba-Nyonya – family settled for generations in Georgetown, capital of the island of Penang, Malaysia. Every year, the family went to the Batu Lanchang Chinese cemetery on Lebuhraya Thean Teik Avenue, to pay their respects to her grandparents and all their relatives buried there. At home, they spoke Hokkien and English. Malay at school. Stéphanie had been fluent in all three languages since she was four.
Chulia Street was a residential area in those days, with large houses hidden in huge mango and palm trees. The old houses in Penang are painted in bright colours, greens, blues, orange, with elaborate woodwork on the windows and doors, tile designs on the walls. Chulia Street has now become a somewhat bohemian street with “hip” shops and trendy cafés. On that night, close after midnight, there was not a soul on the street. Even the odd stray mongrel dog was fast asleep. Bulan the moon lit up the street. Zillions of stars above. Gary the gecko had settled on the little girl’s shoulder, arguing that he couldn’t walk long distances. Stéphanie asked: “So. Where do we go? Where are your friends?”
Sock started to hum softly. Gary toked-toked. Felicity fiddled with one pink leg, bowing her head.
“Er, we don’t know.” Felicity said.
“What? What do you mean you don’t know?!” Stéphanie almost screamed.
“We don’t know yet. But we will presently.” Felicity said.
“Yes, tokek.” Gary said. “Stewart is doing a survey. Tokek…”
“A survey? What do you mean?”
“An aerial survey,” Felicity said. “To pinpoint the exact location where our friends are… detained.”
“Aerial? What, what? Is he a flamingo like you?”
“No,” Felicity said. “Flamingos are not such adroit fliers, I’m afraid. Stewart is…”
“A seagull,” Sock said. “He’s a way better flier than M’lady here.”
“Hush, hush, Sock!” Felicity said. “Flamingos fly on much larger distances. But seagulls are better in a city environment. So, right now, he’s flying over the city, over Little India, where we think the smugglers are, and we are to meet him in…” (looking at Bulan the moon) “a quarter of an hour. Let’s go. Though this be madness, yet there is method in ‘t +++.”
“Why does Felicity speak weird sometimes?” Stéphanie asked Sock.
“Shakespeare.” Sock answered. “She was born in Hyde Park, remember? One day, someone left the complete works of Shakespeare on a bench near the little lake where the flamingos are. Felicity literally devoured it. That’s how she learned English. And she quotes Old Will all the time. That last one was from Hamlet.”
“My salad days, when I was green in judgment ^.” Felicity said, with a crooked smile.
“Oh.” Stéphanie said. She was beginning to like the crazy lot.
The unlikely group, a little girl with green shoes, red socks, cut-off shorts and a dachshund T-shirt, a pink flamingo, a gecko and the Sock Gremlin turned right on Chulia Street, heading towards Kapitan Keiling and Little India. At the intersection of Chulia St and Kapitan Keiling, Felicity stopped. Mulling. “Wait, wait! Let’s go to Penang Street. I just got an idea.”
“To Penang Street? What for?” Sock said, “Little India is only a few blocks on the left.”
“We have to go to Pinang Peranakan Mansion,” Felicity said. “Stewart will have to wait. We can get help at the mansion.” She did a flamingo wink.
“Oh. Tokek. I see. Tokek!” (That was gary, but you knew that already?)
“Twiggy and Tony, you mean?” Sock asked.
“Who are Twiggy and Tony?” Stéphanie asked.
“Er. Friends of ours,” Felicity said. “They will come in handy, I dare say. Come on. Let’s go.” She started to run and run and run and took off on Chulia Street. Sock the Gremlin jumped on Stéphanie’s free shoulder. Remember Gary was already perched on Stéphanie’s other shoulder? They started to run after Felicity, past Queen street and King Street, then left on Penang Street, towards Pinang Peranakan Mansion.
The mansion, formerly known as Hai Kee Chan mansion is an old Baba-Nyonya Chinese house, restored into a museum filled with antiques. There is a large garden at the back where temporary exhibitions are displayed. Stéphanie arrived, panting slightly, at the corner of the mansion where Felicity was waiting, fresh pink.
“Get your chisel out, Stéphanie, please, and crack the side door open. Don’t worry. There’s only one guard at night and he’s fast asleep behind the front door on the other side. Gently, gently…”
Stéphanie cracked the door open. They creeped inside the garden. A few cages and a corral were bathed in Bulan’s moonlight. A voice said from high above:
“Hi Felicity. Hi boys. Hi little girl. To what do I owe the pleasure?”
“Hi Twiggy. We need your help. There may be high walls to climb. Twiggy, this is Stéphanie. Stéphanie, this is Twiggy. Twiggy’s from Kenya. An old friend of my parents…”
Stéphanie was past surprises. She craned her neck up to look at a very tall giraffe and said: “Hi Twiggy. Pleased to meet you.”
“Pleased to meet you Stéphanie. Don’t worry about the door. It’s not even locked, just slide the latch.”
Stéphanie slid the latch open. Twiggy ambled elegantly out of her corral. Stéphanie looked up again and asked, unfazed:
“And how are you going to walk out of here, Twiggy? The side door we broke open is too low…”
Twiggy laughed, which came out as “bleuh-bleuh-bleuh” and said:
“No worry, little girl, there is a large, high door at the end of the garden, never locked. Didn’t you know, Felicity?”
“Hmmph, no.” Felicity said. “The common curse of mankind, – folly and ignorance ^^. Now let’s get Tony.”
“Tony?” Twiggy shivered. “Are you sure, Felicity?”
“Positive. Let’s go. It’s the cage in the back.”
They tiptoed to the last cage at the end of the garden. Stéphanie stopped in her tracks. “Felicity. Is that Tony?”
“Yes dear. Now please break the padlock to Tony’s cage. Hurry. Someone may come any minnit now.”
Stéphanie crossed her arms. Stood up very straight and shook her head.
“Look. It is the middle of the night. I’ve already taken in a posh Flamingo, a stuttering gecko, a foul breath Gremlin…”
“I don’t have a foul breath!” Sock whined.
“She has a point there, Sock.” Felicity said. “You do have a sock-smelling breath… Put your mask back on, Sock.”
Sock grumbled but obliged.
“He does have bad breath,” Stéphanie said, “You must brush your teeth three times a day, Sock. Now, going back to “Tony” here, I can even accept Twiggy the talking giraffe. But open up a TIGER’s cage? Are you out of your mind, Felicity?”
“Tony’s a vegetarian, dear… he’s harmless. To us… but…”
“Selamat malam Felicity,” a booming voice came out of the cage, as a huge tiger got up, and came to the bars. “Terima kasih, thank you so much for visiting. Who’s the little girl? She looks delicious. Lah.”
“See? See?” Stéphanie said. “He says I’m delicious.”
Felicity sighed. “The lady doth protest too much, methinks +++.” She looked up at Bulan. Almost 1:10 AM, and they weren’t even close to finding, let alone save her friends. She turned back to Stéphanie.
“Tiffany, Stéphanie dear, whatever you want to call yourself. Tony IS a vegetarian. Ever since he was little. That is why he actually let himself get caught. He loves mushrooms. He does not eat little girls. He’s from the mainland, Taman Negara in Pahang. ‘Thing is, he mostly speaks Malay, and his English is not that good. I’m sure he meant indah, beautiful, not lazat, delicious. Didn’t you Tony?
“Lah, Felicity. I meant indah, and I truly am a vegetarian, little girl. You are beautiful, not delicious. A Tiger’s honour. Lah.”
“Terima kasih, thank you very much, banyak-banyak, Harimau Tony” Stéphanie said with her hands clasped and a little bow and then proceeded to break the padlock. Which she did in a snap. The padlock fell to the ground with the loudest noise in the silent Penang night. They all poised. Listening. Nothing. Stéphanie pulled the cage door open. Tony came out. Stretched as only cats and tigers can. Don’t you envy them?
“APA YANG BERLAKU? What is happening?” a loud voice shouted.
The party froze. Hid where they could. Not easy for Twiggy. She hid behind a tall tree in the garden. Her head two feet above the tallest branches. An electric torch was searching the grounds. Fell on Gary. Moved along. A gecko. A tokek. Normal. Fell on Sock the Gremlin, rolled up in a ball. The light moved on. A sock? The light went back but Sock had already moved away. The light ray fell on Stéphanie. Squatting between two cages. All hell broke loose. Stéphanie fired her water gun in the eyes of the guard who dropped his torch. Tony delicately tossed the guard five yards away with one gentle paw. Felicity was fluttering to-and-fro until she caught her senses and cried: “The door! The door at the end of the garden! Run! Run!”
To be continued…
This is a work of fiction and but the mere product of the authors’ bonkers imagination. There is no ménagerie at Peranakan Mansion, and no animals are being held captive there or anywhere in Georgetown for that matter.
All characters and illustrations, © Tiffany Choong and Bulan Lifestyle. Visit Tiffany’s site at: https://bulanlifestyle.wordpress.com/
Text and story © Brian Martin-Onraët and Equinoxio.