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Busuk
by [?]

The Story of a Malayan Girlhood.

They called her Busuk, or “the youngest” at her birth. Her father, the old punghulo, or chief, of the little kampong, or village, of Passir Panjang, whispered the soft Allah Akbar, the prayer to Allah, in her small brown ear.

The subjects of the punghulo brought presents of sarongs run with gold thread, and not larger than a handkerchief, for Busuk to wear about her waist. They also brought gifts of rice in baskets of cunningly woven cocoanut fibre; of bananas, a hundred on a bunch; of durians, that filled the bungalow with so strong an odor that Busuk drew up her wrinkled, tiny face into a quaint frown; and of cocoanuts in their great green, oval shucks.

Busuk’s old aunt, who lived far away up the river Maur, near the foot of Mount Ophir, sent a yellow gold pin for the hair; her husband, the Hadji Mat, had washed the gold from the bed of the stream that rushed by their bungalow.

Busuk’s brother, who was a sergeant in his Highness’s the Sultan’s artillery at Johore, brought a tiny pair of sandals all worked in many-colored beads. Never had such presents been seen at the birth of any other of Punghulo Sahak’s children.

Two days later the Imam Paduka Tuan sent Busuk’s father a letter sewn up in a yellow bag. It contained a blessing for Busuk. Busuk kept the letter all her life, for it was a great thing for the high priest to do.

On the seventh day Busuk’s head was shaven and she was named Fatima; but they called her Busuk in the kampong, and some even called her Inchi Busuk, the princess.

From the low-barred window of Busuk’s home she could look out on the shimmering, sunlit waters of the Straits of Malacca. The loom on which Busuk’s mother wove the sarongs for the punghulo and for her sons stood by the side of the window, and Busuk, from the sling in which she sat on her mother’s side, could see the fishing praus glide by, and also the big lumber tonkangs, and at rare intervals one of his Highness’s launches.

Sometimes she blinked her eyes as a vagrant shaft of sunlight straggled down through the great green and yellow fronds of the cocoanut palms that stood about the bungalow; sometimes she kept her little black eyes fixed gravely on the flying shuttle which her mother threw deftly back and forth through the many-colored threads; but best of all did she love to watch the little gray lizards that ran about on the palm sides of the house after the flies and moths.

She was soon able to answer the lizards’ call of “gecho, gecho,” and once she laughed outright when one, in fright of her baby-fingers, dropped its tail and went wiggling away like a boat without a rudder. But most of the time she swung and crowed in her wicker cradle under the low rafters.

When Busuk grew older, she was carried every day down the ladder of the house and put on the warm white sand with the other children. They were all naked, save for a little chintz bib that was tied to their necks; so it made no difference how many mudpies they made on the beach nor how wet they got in the tepid waters of the ocean. They had only to look out carefully for the crocodiles that glided noiselessly among the mangrove roots.

One day one of Busuk’s playmates was caught in the cruel jaws of a crocodile, and lost its hand. The men from the village went out into the labyrinth of roots that stood up above the flood like a huge scaffolding, and caught the man-eater with ropes of the gamooty palm. They dragged it up the beach and put out its eyes with red-hot spikes of the hard billion wood.