When I was three we moved, from 15 Jalan Kolam Air, the house I was born in, to 281 Jalan Pawang.
This was in Segamat and both No. 15 and No. 281 were subsidised housing for civil servants. I believe the whole of Jalan Pawang comprised these quarters reserved for government servants of all sorts, be it school teachers and principals, engineers in the PWD (JKR) or hospital staff. Our father was a teacher and taught at the Government High School which was a short walk from 281.
This house on Jalan Pawang had a reputation for being haunted, and, for the longest time, I thought that pawang meant black magic. In fact, it means shaman. Anyway, even when I was older, despite misunderstanding the name of the street, I don’t recall any of us giving much thought to it. I imagine that once upon a time, a popular shaman lived in that area and that was how the street got its name. I don’t think we the name made us uncomfortable. In fact, we seemed rather indifferent, which is a shame because I would now like to know who that shaman was.
Before we moved in, we heard that the bachelor teachers who had lived there before us, would go to bed in their rooms and wake up to find themselves in the kitchen.
Also, the wife of the tenant before the bachelors was said to have kept a ‘jin’. Whether it was a pelesit, a polong or a toyol, we will never know, but we were ignorant and called it a ‘jin’. It was said she fed it blood and it would do her bidding. What exactly it was that she bade it do, was unclear.
When we moved in, we had our Roman Catholic priest, Father Martin, bless the house. He sprinkled holy water everywhere, even in the outhouse, meant for the servants in the old, pre-independence days when the civil service was staffed by whites who could afford servants.
I was three at the time so I have only a hazy memory of our early years in 281, but apparently we were haunted. There were turning doorknobs, lights flickering and turning on and off, bells ringing, footsteps and shadows in bedrooms. It must have not have been very alarming though, as we did not pack our bags and demand to move.
There was one evening, I was in the room my sisters shared with my second sister, Beatrice. I would have been three or four and I’m told I was seated on one of the beds facing the window that looked out into the back garden. Beatrice was facing me and apparently we were chatting when my face went pale and took on a look of such terror that she screamed and ran out of the room, leaving me there, alone. I have no recollection of this incident so I can’t say what I saw or if I did see anything. Perhaps I was taking the piss. I really can’t remember.
Another time, my parents woke in the middle of the night and heard what they thought were my sisters playing music in their room. They heard bells, and we were shaking some tambourines we had. When they went to investigate, they found my sisters fast asleep and the tambourines stacked up on top of the wardrobe.
My aunt Evelyne has a theory that the bells were the sort that are fastened on anklets. She remembers visiting us and having an afternoon nap on a floor mat in my sisters’ room. She says she was half asleep and heard bells, ringing in a rhythmic manner, just as you would hear them if they were worn around the ankles of a dancer. She says the ringing got closer and closer until it sounded like they were right there beside her. Then it stopped.
When I was about eight I told my family that I’d seen a shadowy figure in my sisters’ bedroom. I said he looked like a man and he was pacing the floor, looking worried. I can’t remember if I actually saw him or if I made it up.
But all of us did see the door knob on my parents’ bedroom door turn back and forth although there was no one in the room. I believe it was Christmas eve or Christmas evening and we were all in the sitting room where the door to bedroom was, so we all saw the door knob turn. Or did we? I may be misremembering and my sisters may have another story altogether!