It was already night when Arash walked outside the aborigine settlement towards a location twenty meters away from the village. It was so easy to identify his boss' location; the blinding light straight away gave away his position. As he walked closer, he paused his step and marveled with wonder.
In front of him, he saw a mini glamping resort!
The area was cleared of dirt and rotten leaves for about a ten-meter radius. Campfires were burning in the middle and on four corners; smaller ones on four sides, and a larger one at the very center. Small homemade tiki-torches encircled the whole location in a perfect circle. A large log was directly in front of the fire where his handsome young boss sat cross-legged with a motivational book in hand, looking dashing as usual. Soft jazz was floating in the background, giving a really cozy environment to the surrounding.
Uncle Miles was busy grilling something akin to a beefsteak upon a stone just beside Alan, while the other three guards were standing with their hands over their backs, looking outwards vigilantly. The old butler tossed herbs and salt with one hand while using a thong to hold the steak with the other over the hot stone upon the campfire. The flat stone didn't look natural; most probably, this was one of the 'cooking utensils' mentioned before. The guards nodded at Arash from afar, acknowledging his presence, before they returned to observe the darkness in between the lush trees.
A large dark-colored open-air tent with an attached hammock inside was visible just beside the large icebox. It was decorated with soft billowy transparent white curtains on all sides. Expensive thick rugs adorned the inner interior of the tent, giving it a rustic yet classy look. A collapsible metallic dining table attached to chairs for two was placed just beside the tent's hammock. Wildflowers immersed in a transparent bowl accentuated the silverware arranged on the metallic dining table covered by a white table cloth.
Arash was stupefied with the extravagant preparations. He blinked his eyes a few times as he couldn't find words to describe his feelings.
Alan looked up and saw Arash, "Finally here. Come sit beside the fire. What did you bring?"
"Boss, we cooked this rice just now. And I thought you might have difficulties preparing the food, so I brought this along with some ready-to-eat meals for everyone. Though now I know you eat better than us haha." Arash chuckled awkwardly while sitting beside Alan. He pitied his boss who has been kicked out by the capricious Elder, but now he knew he had been wasting his pity for nothing. His boss was totally at ease and was having the greatest time of his life!
"Ah, I see. I don't actually take too much carbs, but thanks anyway for remembering. The others can eat them."
Arash stared at his boss incredulously for a moment longer before saying, "I thought you love rice?"
"Who told you that?" Alan closed his book and placed it beside him to focus his attention on Arash.
"Well, if you frequented a Japanese restaurant so much, of course you must love rice. The waiter told me". He chuckled drily.
"You're being presumptuous. On normal condition, I preferred a low carbs diet. Not all their meals had rice. For example, that wagyu steak. (1)" Alan defensively replied.
"Ah, I see. Noted." Tired of bickering over something useless, Arash just let it go while rolling his eyes. It didn't matter if his boss loved rice more or less, as long as he got something to eat was good enough for him. His conscience wouldn't let him leave the group of people his boss brought along. Now, once he knew this group of people was comfortable and had ample food, he felt relieved.
Feeling awkward after handing the large wooden bowl of fluffy white rice and a few unopened dishes to Uncle Miles, Arash shrugged and stood up while patting his butt. "Well, I need to get moving. Tok Silihan needs me. I'll arrange for some trackers to lead you guys back tomorrow morning, is it alright?"
"Don’t bother. I’m enjoying my camping experience here. Just let me know when you’re ready to go back. We have enough provision to last us for about three days, no more.”
“Alright, as you see fit.” Arash nodded. It’s good that Alan was enjoying his staycation within this forest. The brawny guards made Arash feel at ease to leave his boss out here at night.
Arash took his first step towards the village before his boss stopped him all of a sudden, “Wait. A question. What’s the deal with that village head?” With all the pomp, he was sure that the weird Elder must be the village head.
Arash heaved a helpless sigh, “Don’t mind him. He didn’t like outsiders from the beginning. Additionally, he told me the weird smell etched to you could be infectious. Just take it with a grain of salt. You smelled fine to me.” Arash wasn’t going to lie to Alan to create more confusion. So, he told the truth but glazed it a little to tone it down. He also disliked inciting hatred.
Alan paused his breath for a second longer. Even the butler who was busy grilling the meat over the hot stone stopped his movement for a few seconds longer. “I see. I think I must meet this Tok Silihan personally.” Alan contemplated for a while.
“Err… Are you sure? You do know, right, you are not welcomed? You might make him mad. He’s very nasty when he’s mad.” Arash warned his boss seriously. Tok Silihan wasn’t a nobody. He experienced Tok Silihan’s prowess often within the woods when he was being treated; slaps and kicks were just the Elder having fun lightheartedly. But once he got angry, he could slap a person flying. Rob told him all the stories spoken by Tanahan some time ago haphazardly. He knew that the guide’s message was ‘do whatever he wants, be polite and obliging to the Tok Batin for your own good’. Obviously, he believed everything from the story!
“I don’t care. Set up a meeting for me once you settled everything.”
Arash waited for a while to see whether Alan was jesting or making fun of him, but his boss already picked up the book and continued his reading. The flickering of shadow from the fireplace made an exquisite contour over Alan’s reflection. True to his daughter’s suggestion, he too think that his boss might have entered the wrong field. He could’ve made tonnes of money with his looks. Nonetheless, based on how he has been behaving, he didn’t need to sell his looks since it seemed that he’s already stinking rich.
After a while, Arash sighed and walked back towards the village, feeling defeated.
Papa: Ayang, I’m so tired today trying to make Tok Silihan and Alan happy. Both of them are really troublesome (whining face). I really hope you were here. Nobody will bully me then. (crying emoji)
Papa: I’m trying to find more info about your whereabouts from Tok Silihan today. Really hope there will be positive news. I can’t wait to see you.
Papa: Miss you. Reply when you’re available alright. Try your best to send over some pics of the new renovation you mentioned, okay?
Arash kept his smartphone inside his backpack after wrapping it with bubble wrap for safety. After the previous ‘misadventure’ he faced, he knew the extra protection was the right decision. One would never know what could happen in the future. The smartphone was his lifeline, the only connection he had with his wife and his kids. Losing it was akin to killing him outright.
He turned to face an older man with a familiar face and gave him a sincere smile. He heard from Tok Silihan that the man had been waiting patiently for him for some time now. Lo and behold, he ran off to help out with cooking during the short ‘makan-makan’ session (2). Thank goodness, he seemed to still be in a fair mood.
“I’m Arash. How do you do? Apologies for the wait.” He held out his right hand and gave the man a firm handshake.
“No problem at all. Hello there. I’m Ramlee. Nice to meet you. I’ve heard quite a lot about Mr. Arash from Tok Batin.” The man in his 50s spoke politely in a gentle tone.
“How long have you arrived?”
“Just around a day before. It’s a rare occasion for our very own Tok Batin to issue a command to return.” The man checked his watch and continued, “Nonetheless, I can only stay for around six more hours before returning. Got some prior engagements that needed to be fulfilled. Thank goodness you arrived in time, Mr. Arash.”
“I see. Thank you for your time.” Arash felt guilty troubling random people for his problem. However, he felt like he had seen this person somewhere but couldn’t remember where, “May I know why are you so familiar? Are we acquainted?”
Ramlee chuckled lightly, “Might be or might not be. I’ve been all over the place. If you’re abreast with the current issues, you might notice the mudslide catastrophe in a region in Sarawak. I’m handling the matter over there at the moment. The media have been all over it. Step out for a short moment for Tok Batin Silihan.”
“Oh my goodness! You’re that minister who handled emergency cases! Dato Dr. Ramlee (3)! I’m so sorry for all the trouble, Dato!” Alan grabbed the man’s hand and shook it passionately. He had heard about this minister who worked in the department of mines and lands. He was an exemplary government servant who was loved by the people and was extremely popular!
“Stop flattering the good old nothing who never come home!” Tok Silihan snapped unhappily. He disliked being left aside like a light bulb at the side of the road.
“Tok Silihan, you’re being childish. As if you always come home… I heard you haven’t appeared for more than fifteen years?” Arash rolled his eyes. Tok Silihan was being petty again; he always tried to find faults in people. This person over here had contributed a lot towards the nation. He was always there to help mitigate the aftereffects of floodings in various regions during monsoon season yearly. When he said he was busy, nobody can deny it.
“Who told you that?!”
“Tanahan.” Arash easily sold off the poor ace tracker’s name unconsciously. At one of the hayas at the very edge of the village, Tanahan, who was chitchatting with Rob, suddenly felt goosebumps creeping over his back without reason. He knew something ominous was coming his way soon.
“I have extremely important stuff to do! What happens if I died early and no Spirit Healers are born after this?! The Way will be terminated in this generation! You! Ramlee! You better bring your descendants back here during the Spirit Awakening Ceremony! I need new blood to test!”
“Err.. It’s not possible, Tok Batin.” Ramlee automatically rejected. He already had many children and grandchildren who are used to the life outside. The most troubling was, most of them lived overseas. Additionally, he had converted with a different faith. It was impossible for him to practice the olden Ways anymore.
“You!!!! Ungrateful scoundrel! You dare to defy me?!” The discussion turned rowdy as Tok Silihan stood up abruptly and pointed his index dried up chicken finger to Ramlee’s face!
“Alright, alright, take it easy. Tok, take a deep breath. Please.. Stop fighting!”
Ohh mann.. When were they going to discuss properly like this? The minister was going back soon too! TT_____TT
- Wagyu steak = premium beef from Japan (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wagyu)
- Makan-makan session = ‘makan’ means ‘eat’. It means a feast/banquet, but a small informal one.
- Dato Dr Ramlee = Dato is a title, conferred by the Sultan to a person with high achievement. It is similar to a formal title like ‘Sir’. Dr is ‘Doctor’, but not a medical doctor’s title, but a ‘doctorateship’ from completing phD. This implies that the person is very learned, and might had widespread influence and money.