DAUGHTER OF THE MOON
By Danny Jalil
(based on the Japanese folktale The Tale of the Bamboo Cutter)
Centuries ago in a Malay kampong in old Temasek lived an old childless couple, the husband was named Eman and the wife was called Nani. When they married all those long years ago they had dreamt of having a village full of children to call their own, but as the years went by all they had were each other’s dreams.
Eman was a fisherman, and his job kept him strong and fit, in spite of his age, and Nani was serene, and the fact that she had never labored the pains of childbirth kept her looking younger than her true age. One night after dinner, Nani and Eman sat by the porch of their kampong home, staring out into the dark woods, hearing the admonishments of the other village mothers and fathers yelling at their children to come back into their homes before sunset, lest devils and djinns come possess them.
Some of the children believed in devils and monsters, some of the older, defiant ones believed these things they couldn’t see couldn’t harm them, and only their parents had the ability to do so. Eman said to Nani, “Maybe one day, we might have a child to teach these things to.”
Nani nodded, and leaned her head into her husband’s tanned shoulder. “I guess that time has come and gone,” she said. “Maybe we were not meant to have children.”
Eman sighed as the sun set behind them, and hid beneath the cover of night. In place of sunlight was candlelight, and one by one the village homes glowed dimly and if one were to step outside the village and inhale the air, it had the soothing scent of clean smoke burning black, the black air wafting into the villagers’ lungs, and it didn’t help Eman at all when he rolled himself a joint of tobacco and leaned against his windowsill, looking into the nothingness of the forest beyond his kampong.
In the dead of night the full moon hung heavy above Eman and the forest was a mess of grey shapes that moved according to the whims of the wind, and the collision of branches and leaves created a discordant rustle that left too much to a child’s imagination, that created the mysteries parents needed to scare their children into obedience.
Eman thought he saw something in the distance of the forest, of a durian tree that flashed a brilliant ball of spiked light that glowed brilliantly for a brief second, and fell against the ground. Eman blinked and thought maybe it was the tobacco, or perhaps a trick of moonlight. He did not give it much thought, and stubbed out his roll of tobacco, and went to bed.
By dawn he was already walking to his boat, and had to pass by the dark forest before anyone else was awake. He walked along the path of the glowing light he saw before he went to bed, but thought nothing of it. But as he walked closer he saw, beneath a cover of fallen leaves, the same glow he saw last night. Curious, he knelt down and pulled the leaves apart, and discovered, to his amazement, a glowing durian.
He carefully picked it up with thumb and forefinger by the stem and raised it against his face. He wasn’t imagining this. The ambient light of the durian’s glow scattered across his skin, and soon he realized the glowing durian was heavier than usual. Then it moved by itself, swaying left to right. This scared Eman, who let go of it instantly.
When it dropped to the ground, he could have sworn he heard a cry; a cry not unlike a baby’s. Eman stood still, looking and considering that glowing, crying durian as it twitched ever so slightly. Eman did not think, he just did what he felt he had to do next. He ran to his home, grabbed a parang, and carefully, with one hand holding the durian, chopped it. He made sure the durian was flat on the ground before he opened it.
The cries grew louder, and by the time he pried the durian wide open, he saw a baby girl, still crying, her skin covered in what would’ve been the durian’s golden, yellowed meat. Eman couldn’t breathe for a brief second, but he gathered enough courage to wrap the infant in his vest. He brought it home to his wife, and Nani decided to call the baby Rian, from the fruit in which they found her in.
As the days went by, Eman came back to the forest but found no other glowing durians. To test his suspicions, he cut open another durian, but instead of another child, or the contents of the usual durian fruit, its palm sized seeds were gold. Each time he did that to another fallen and ripe durian, he found more gold. He began to miss the eating the fruit proper. Not that he truly complained, as the gold, and Rian, brought him much attention; the gold had made him wealthy, and Rian had grown into a beautiful woman.
When Rian came of age, there were five princes from five distant kingdoms who each wanted to court her. She gave them all challenges that, if they achieved it, she may consider their offers. The first suitor was asked to fetch the keris of Hang Tuah, the second, the crown of Sang Nila Utama at the bottom of the sea, the third, the bones of the legendary turtle of Kusu Island, the fourth was asked to find the pointed ends of the dead swordfish that once plagued Temasek, and the final prince was asked to retrieve a piece of the rock the legendary warrior Badang threw into the river.
The princes set off on their appointed tasks, but they returned with a rusted keris, a crown of fake gold, small turtle bones (the turtle of Kusu Island was giant-sized), the pointed ends of the swordfish were too fresh, having been recently cut, and the final prince drowned at the bottom of the river trying to find the said stone sadly, without avail.
Rian saw through their deceptions and rejected them. She felt a pang of guilt for the fifth prince. As she mourned his death by the very river in which he drowned, a Sultan heard her cries and consoled her. The Sultan was named Iskandar and hailed from a kingdom in Indonesia. Sultan Iskandar’s heart almost stopped when he set his eyes upon Rian, for her skin, in the approaching dusk, seemed to glow with the quality of the brightest moonlight.
“Why do you cry, dear lady?” Sultan Iskandar asked.
“I fear I may have caused the death of a prince,” Rian told Iskandar, unaware he was of royal pedigree.
Iskandar thought this through, and realized the lady was the renowned daughter of the wealthy merchant Eman, who thwarted the advances of five princes. Iskandar took a deep breath, sensing this was an opportunity for him to seize. He at first asked Rian if she was the lady who rejected the five princes, and she admitted to her personal deception.
“I’m impressed,” Iskandar said. “I hope you will not ask me to find some crown at the bottom of the ocean, of the heart of some djinn, or some strange task.”
Rian turned and noticed his clothing did not bear the same disheveled-ness of a commoner. “You are a prince then?” she asked him.
Iskandar stood up proudly, his chest sticking out. “I am Sultan Iskandar.”
“Indon,” Rian stated matter-of-factly.
Iskandar nodded. He explained her was in Temasek to visit the Sultan of Temasek.
Rian and Iskandar spoke until the moon glowed at its fullest, and before Rian had to leave, Iskandar invited her to his palace across the seas. Rian gently declined the offer, stating that they were of two different lands, and that her place was here, with her family.
As the months went by, Rian and the Sultan kept in contact, by letter, and when he sailed to Temasek on business, but she always rejected his advances.
One night, she leaned into his chest as she looked up at the moon, and was suddenly filled with an immense grief. She left Iskandar, and ran back to her home.
Eman and Nani asked what was wrong with her, but she couldn’t say. She went to bed crying herself to sleep that night. As the nights wore on, her behavior grew more erratic, and she called Iskandar and his entourage to her parents’ home.
“I remember everything now,” she began. “I know you found me in a durian, father. I know where you get your money, and I now know why.” Rian looked up at the ceiling. “I come from the moon,” she said flatly, her tone punctuated by bitter truth. “The gold you received is an allowance for my upkeep my true parents are giving you, as safety. In the heavenly realm above there is a war. I am the princess of the moon, and my true parents have transported me here for my safety. They have violated many laws when they got married, as mother was a woman from the Kingdom of the Light Side of the Moon, and my father, the King of the Dark Side Moon was sentenced by the Heavenly Council. These two side haves been at war for centuries.
“As punishment, the child of their union was sent to the world below. When the time was right, when I came of adult age, I would remember everything, and be taken back to be punished along with my parents the King and Queen. I only fear, father, mother, Lord Iskandar, that the Council might come to get me soon. I do not want to leave any of you. My home is here,” Rian lamented.
There was the marching of giant feet against the ground outside.
“No, Princess. Your home is above. With us,” a deep, booming voice said.
All of them ran to the window to find the owner of that voice. And when they did find him, they immediately regretted knowing who it was.
He was a giant of a man, almost as tall as a tree, with arms that could uproot trees and rip hearts out of chests. Sultan Iskandar never knew the giant’s name, but he ran out to face the giant, ordering his men to attack, and soon a battle ensued. The Sultan’s men were no match for this giant of the moon, who fended off their attacks easily.
The fight reached its end when there was a sudden burst of bright light, and an entourage of heavenly beings descended. They said there was no use in resisting, and that Rian had to return to them.
Rian stepped out to the field. Now the entire kampong was watching. She had tears in her eyes, but she walked to the heavenly beings bravely. “Lord Iskandar. please. I know my duty. I know what I need to do.”
Eman and Nani stepped out, and Rian embraced them. “I will miss you,” she said simply. She turned then to Sultan Iskandar and handed him a letter. “I wrote this for you.”
Rian then took a tiny bottle hidden in her robe and drank the elixir of life within. She then tied the bottle to the letter and handed it back to Iskandar. “Read this when I am gone. Maybe in time you may be able to find me. We both can live forever.”
One of the heavenly beings stepped forward and placed his hand on Rian’s forehead. “She will not remember her pain of living on this Earth,” he said. Nani screamed they can’t do that, but it became too late. There was a bright light that turned the night of the forest into day for a brief second, and then, Rian and the people of the moon were gone.
Eman and Rian became bedridden, sick with grief at the loss of their daughter. But in the end they decided that things happened for a reason. They indeed had their wish of having a child.
When Sultan Iskandar returned to Temasek months later, he read the letter repeatedly, memorizing Rian’s every word. He stood with a guard officer at the peak of Bukit Timah, the highest peak in Singapore, and ordered the guard to burn both the letter, and bottle that contained the elixir of life.
“I don’t want to live forever, if forever is without you,” he said to the sky, hoping his words and the letter would reach the moon.
Soon it was nightfall, and as they descended Bukit Timah, he looked above. The moon seemed to glow brighter than usual, and the stars that surrounded the moon twinkled and Sultan Iskandar swore he could have heard the stars chiming a song.
A song meant only for him, sent from the daughter of the distant moon.