Ah Huat pulled out two lidis from his mother’s broom that was standing by the side of the house. The broom was a bunch of coconut midribs held together by a ring weaved from rattan skin. He broke the thinner sections off, leaving about an arm’s length of the thicker part, and gave one to me. I wondered what we were going to do with those. Mum forbade me to play with lidis as she feared I could accidentally poke an eye and go blind. Those little twigs may look innocuous but they really are that potent. But Mum was not around to stop me and I was curious as to what Ah Huat was going to get us do with them.
I followed him as he walked down the sloping gravelly road to where a nangka tree stood. There were several large fruits hanging on the trunk but most were rotting away. The stench became nauseating as we got nearer. I could see worms were wriggling in the yellow pulp in one of the fruits. Ah Huat plucked a leaf off one low-hanging branch. White sap dripped from where the leaf came off. He took his lidi and rolled it around, coating it with the oozing sap. I plucked another leaf and did the same to my lidi.
Satisfied that the tips of our lidis were well-coated with the sap, Ah Huat said, “Kia.” I followed. We walked briskly, almost running back up the gravelly path, took the left turn at the T-junction and ran down the tarred road. At the bend of the road, on our left, there was a flight of many steps that lead to a Toaist temple. I followed Ah Huat up the steps, huffing and puffing by now. Midway up, we took a narrow path to the right, stepped through an opening in the thicket and was greeted by a most pleasant sight.
There, before us, was a stream of crystal clear water fresh from the hills of Ayer Itam. Further down, two women were hard at work washing their laundry. Ah Huat led me farther up. I held my slippers as we made our way carefully across the slippery rocks to a small pool a short distance away. A few water striders with their long legs skimming the surface scuttled away as I stepped into the pool that was no larger than a dining table. I was hot and sweaty from all the activity.
That was also the first time I saw a dragonfly, an orange coloured dragonfly. It was resting on a branch. I extended my hand towards the branch and it flew away. Several other dragonflies were darting around us. There was one in blue, another yellow, and yet another green. I stood there and watched. Their aerial antics mesmerised me. I had never seen anything quite as interesting as dragonflies with their long slender tails, rather large eyes and very delicate-looking wings.
Ah Huat squatted by the bank, his left index finger on his lips and his right hand holding the lidi over his head. He was looking intently at one of the dragonflies that was hovering above him. I tiptoed gingerly to the opposite bank, squatted and watched. He was very still. The dragonfly hovered a while longer and landed on a twig near him. Ah Huat extended the lidi and tapped on the dragonfly. It tried to dart away but its as it took off, it came into contact with the nangka sap and got stuck to the lidi. It flapped its wings desperately but it was a futile effort. The sap was unyeilding.
When the dragonfly stopped flapping its wing and seemed resigned to its fate, Ah Huat took out a kite line and tied it around the dragonfly. He then carefully pried the stuck parts from the lidi. Once it was free, the dragonfly tried to make its escape. Unfortunately, it could only fly as far as the length of the string allowed. I tried to catch one on my own but could not even get near to one. They usually flew off before I could even get close to them. Ah Huat took pity on me and allowed me to hold on to the string with the dragon fly on the other end. When we were done playing, he untied the string and set the dragonfly free.