Arash walked amongst the hayas and was greeted enthusiastically by nearly all of the villagers. It seemed as if everyone came out and gave him a pat on the back, a brief hug, or at least a warm smile before returning to their own thing hurriedly. It looked like they were in the middle of haphazardly cleaning the area and decorating it at the same time.
"What's the occasion?" Was there a celebration that he wasn't aware of? Are they intruding?
Rob similarly shook his head in wonder. If there was some sort of celebration going on, he would've known. However, the nearest festival was the Spirit Awakening Celebration, around a few months later. It was just a small occasion consists of paying tribute to the local deity that the pagan aborigines worshipped.
Tanahan arrived just in time and gave both Rob and Arash bear hugs!
"Of course it is to celebrate your arrival, Brother!" Tanahan laughed heartily. It could be seen that he was in an excellent mood at the moment. Who won't be when the key to tame the capricious Elder was in front of you?
"Seriously?" Arash and Rob simultaneously spoke in synchronization.
Tanahan nodded enthusiastically. "Actually, this is our own efforts, just to welcome you. The Exalted Elder didn't say anything. it meant tacitly agreeing. If he dislikes anything, he would just say it out loud."
"If that is so, why don't you guys take one bag of rice and cook it? I bet Tok Silihan would be happy!" Arash suggested.
"That's a great idea!"
Tok Silihan had been waiting for Arash to arrive inside his haya; it was the same haya he stayed in since the day he arrived two weeks ago. Fresh flowers and beds of fresh leaves were changed daily for him. Well, at least these young'uns did one thing right.
He walked to and fro more than five times while waiting. A few young ones who were waiting at the side followed his every movement with their gaze, worry clouding their minds. The Exalted Elder was getting more and more agitated.
"Where did that boy go? Why is he so slow?!" Tok Silihan stamped his foot in agitation. The whole haya shook violently! The beams creaked, and an unknown gust blew over, messing the attap roof before it died down a few moments later.
The young men waiting just outside Tok Silihan's haya didn't dare lift their heads up. Everytime someone became helpful, it would only incur the Spirit Healer's wrath. Now, they've learned to stay mum and only listened to instructions.
"You! Yes, you! Go and check his whereabouts now!" A boy scurried away and immediately disappeared in between the hayas.
Tok Silihan mumbled under his breath unhappily.
"No problem, Tok Batin. I can wait. Mr. Arash must be doing something important." A soft voice responded. A man in mid-fifties was sitting cross-legged inside Tok Silihan's haya. He had a lighter shade of copper-colored skin with slightly grayish tiny curls. A pair of glasses adorned his black irises. He wore an earth-colored formal shirt and a pair of long khaki pants. Although outwardly he looked calm and collected, only he himself knew how shaken he was with the old man who was supposed to be his elusive great grandfather.
"Hmph! You! What was your name again? You stay here quietly! Don't you dare move an inch! I'm going to look for that ungrateful boy!"
Tok Silihan stormed out of his haya, leaving the man inside. The man was quite astounded by Tok Silihan's rowdy attitude but tried his best not to show it. He had to make sure to control his behaviors properly so that he won’t offend the Spirit Healer.
Tok Silihan's scary expression made every villager in a three-meter radius flee in panic to a different direction. He was fuming and looked very upset, as he thought that the boy who was supposed to join him in his haya had ditched him and disappeared suddenly. Such an insolent attitude! He even worked hard to arrange for many things for the boy! He had been painstakingly reading the spiritual signature of the forest to detect the boy's presence beforehand daily.
As he walked round and round the area in search of Arash, he finally found the uncle squatting beside a large pot while jiggling his butt singing random nursery rhymes absentmindedly. He was poking the fires at the bottom of the pot with a stick. The pot was as big as a meter in diameter and as deep as three-quarter meter in. There were two other Bateq men opposite Arash, stirring the content of the big pot with a large ladle each. They were chuckling under their breaths to Arash's song.
"Baby finger, baby finger, where are you…"
"Here I am, here I am, what would you do…"
Tanahan and Rob beside him were trying their best not to laugh while looking at each other knowingly. Sometimes, Arash could be so funny! However, they soon noticed the capricious Elder was behind them! His dark prune-like skin was slightly red, and his expression looked like he was going to swallow whoever crossed his path! +_________+||||
Quietly, both of them moved away, leaving the uncle alone staring at the fire and the big pot. They started lighting candles for Arash in their hearts. After all, the Exalted Elder favored him so much. At most, he will only get a slap or a punch as opposed to others who had to drink and taste their own excreta for a few days. The other two Bateq men took out the ladles and placed them over the pot with a panic expression and walked away too.
"Brothers, where are you going? I think it still needed a bit of stirring. If not it’ll get burned at the bottom of the pot." The confused Arash stood up and took one of the ladle and continue stirring haphazardly, only to notice that it wasn't an easy job! It was already so viscous! They need to reduce the fire and closed the lid soon.
"What are you doing?" Tok Silihan asked quietly while fuming beside our uncle.
Arash didn't turn to look, but of course, he recognized the nice Elder's voice, though it was somewhat lower than usual. Hence, he missed Tok Silihan's wrathful expression. One who was ignorant was always in bliss. The Bateq men and his fellow trekkers were already three meters away from the pot and were looking the other way.
"We're cooking your favorite rice, Tok Silihan! Isn't it fragrant? Surprise! This is my idea, okay?" Arash answered proudly while thumping his chest. "We cook half bag of rice for this whole pot. I never cook this much in my life, so I was a bit scared if it got burnt loh. These men are helping me to make sure the rice is perfect to your liking!"
Arash ladled out partially cooked rice to Tok Silihan's face to let him sniff it. He had a jovial and a bit of excitement mixed in his expression. Who wouldn't be when the knowledge he learned from Youtube was showing great results? He never knew he could cook rice the old-fashioned way, using firewood!
"Hmph! Yes, a bit fragrant, as you say, Boy." After taking a deep breath of the fragrant Siamese rice, it was as if Tok Silihan's reddish expression expired and turned normal.
Arash turned around to look at Tok Silihan. He whispered softly beside the capricious Elder's left ear, "You know, Tok, I've saved some boiled eggs just for you. It's inside this pocket on the left." He patted his backpack conspiratorially while grinning.
"Ahhh, I see, I see. Good, good!" Tok Silihan grinned.
Everyone around them was speechless with the turn of events. The Exalted Elder could change his expression so fast! They thought that there will be a big fight between the two this time. Arash really knows his stuff! Everyone gave a big thumbs up in their hearts for making Tok Silihan happy.
"Where's the dish? Don't tell me just empty rice?" Tok Silihan looked everywhere for the packets of ready-to-eat meals.
"Got, got. No worries, Tok. Help me carry the pot down after we close the lid. Need to let it steam for at least fifteen to twenty minutes. The rest can use the fire to prepare something else after this."
"Alright." Tok Silihan just grabbed the hot aluminium pot with his bare hands.
"Careful, Tok Silihan!" Arash exclaimed with worry. The pot would burn the old man's hand and everything inside could spill out if he let it go!
"What? This is nothing." Tok Silihan chuckled arrogantly and directly carry the whole pot with one hand and put it on the soil at the side. The location where his hand was in direct contact with the large pot was smoking, but there was no smell of burnt meat.
Truthfully, this was the first time the trekkers and the younger generation see Tok Batin Silihan's 'prowess'. The new trekkers were extremely baffled (oh yes, they were in the vicinity a little far from the gathering), while the young Bateq men looked horrified. They realized they need to respect the Exalted Elder and follow his instruction to the T properly in the future. What if he suddenly slapped people? Wouldn't they just die?
At the side, Arash clapped cutely after he recovered from being stunned, "Now I believe you when you said you could slap a tiger to death haha."
Arash took a large wooden carved bowl from Tok Silihan and scooped lots of fluffy fragrant rice like a small hill. He then embedded four peeled eggs on the surface of the rice, making the others so jealous; although in town eggs were so cheap, there were none here even if you have the money to buy some. After that, he doused a full packet of chicken masak merah together with the gravy on top like a pro. For the final touch, he sprinkled some organic chia seeds on top. There was no need to be frugal anymore since he brought so much this round. So, it was a good time to make the old man happy while flattering him a bit here and there.
Arash presented the humongous bowl of rice-egg-chicken chunks in masak merah suavely to Tok Silihan who was eager to dig in just beside the big pot in front of everyone. It really looked like ABC1Ais Batu Campur (Direct translation: Mixed Ice) It’s a really nice sorbet-like drink where one packed shaved ice and mixed it with rose syrup, liquid brown sugar, condensed milk, lots of nut, jellies and tiny fruits. You guys have to see a pic of it! It’s super delicious!! But a savory-meaty one!
"Careful, it's still hot. Oh, I forgot Tok Silihan has superpowers haha. Sorry, I ran out of sesame seeds, so this time I brought chia seeds with me. It's a superfood and it's organic!"
Again, Arash 1, Tok Silihan 0
- ABC = Ais Batu Campur (Direct translation: Mixed Ice) It’s a really nice sorbet-like drink where one packed shaved ice and mixed it with rose syrup, liquid brown sugar, condensed milk, lots of nut, jellies and tiny fruits. You guys have to see a pic of it! It’s super delicious!