Highly Commended Story - Ocean Eyes
“Ocean Eyes” by Hasya Fatiha Zuraimy, Tunku Putra School, Malaysia, is the Highly Commended story in the senior category of the first biannual Short Story Contest 2019.
Hasya is a student from Tunku Putra School located in Kuching, Sarawak, Malaysia. She is a person who enjoys outdoor activities such as trekking, and she is currently pursuing the Silver award in the Duke of Edinburgh International Awards. Reading has always been her passion, and among her favourite authors are J.K Rowling, Cathy Cassidy and L.M Montgomery. She also plays the piano and volunteer at her music school by tutoring the beginner students. Hasya plans to pursue a degree in Cognitive Neuroscience and Psychology.
The sunsets in my village are the prettiest by far.
Imagine: warm hues of golden and dusky pink painted in the sky with the sun setting gently behind the vast stretch of our blue river.
Every day before the calls of Maghrib* prayers, we’d all assemble on the roof of Kak* Mai’s house and watch in somber silence.
Our jungles and beaches are pretty impressive too. So impressive, that many European and British scholars and scientists come and stay in our little Malaya village for months on end, sometimes for a lifetime.
My great-grandmother Flora was the daughter of a British scientist. She liked it so much here, she ended up falling for a local man and eloped with him. She spent the rest of her days teaching all the villagers English and Science.
I was walking down the narrow path that stood in between the fields and our village, stumbling with the weight of my basket. The bananas in it were a ripe yellow and thicker than the width of my face.
“Hello Ayu,” My best friend Siti said, sauntering out of the water well area. The water jug was balanced precariously on her shoulder, sloshing to the brim with water.
“Careful Siti!” I chided gently, holding it steady.
“Have you heard?” She asked. “Charlie Sloane has a new apprentice.”
“Who?” I gasped, clutching her arm.
Sir Charlie Sloane was a hermit scientist who had come from Britain five years ago. He was very shy and never went to any of our social events, but all the villagers would sing praises about his meek, sweet nature.
“Some guy named James Earl Jones. He’s probably a prince with that kind of name!”
“Don’t get your hopes up!” I laughed. We turned the corner and were immediately greeted with the sight of children running around dragging banana leaves, and all the married women huddled up. (Probably gossiping about our new arrival!)
“Ayu!” My mother rushed towards me with another huge basket. She flipped her loose shawl over her shoulder, her cheeks flushed and eyes bright.
“Quick! Collect some pandan* for the dinner floor tonight, and fold them prettily. Sir James Earl Jones is coming round for dinner!” She shoved the basket toward me.
“Mak*, I have to boil these bananas for dessert tonight!” I said. She tutted and snatched the basket of bananas from me.
“I’ll do it. Oooh, you’ve got a great batch! Clever girl. Now go!” Nudging my ankles with her feet, my mother smiled with satisfaction and sauntered off back to the women. No doubt to gossip even more!
And that was how I found myself in a small circle of pandan bushes, carefully picking out the most fragrant of leaves.
“Excuse me, but could you help hold this sketch book for a while?”
I turned around to find myself looking into the eyes of a tall, brown haired foreigner. His cheeks were like apples. High and round, softly scattered with light freckles as well as across the bridge of his noise. He was about my age, but towered over me with those long, lanky legs of his.
Eyes sparkling with curiosity, he held out his black book towards me.
“Sure,” My voice cracked as I took it. He smiled.
“Thanks. Beautiful eyes by the way. Bright blue.” He checked into his rucksack and came up with a pencil.
“Thank you. My eyes are a genetic mutation passed down throughout the females of my family.” I paused. “At least that’s what the scientists say.”
“Impressive.” He raised an eyebrow then prised the sketchbook gently from my hands.
Surprisingly, I didn’t feel intimidated or shy by this sudden turn of events. It all just felt ... natural.
I peered at the picture he was sketching.
“Those are pitcher plants you’re drawing. Whenever it rains, they’re filled with water. Monkeys come and drink from them.”
“That’s interesting. What’s your name? Mine’s James-”
“Earl Jones.” I finished it for him. “Everybody knows. You’re the talk of the village. I’m Ayu by the way.”
“That’s pretty. What does it mean?”
“Literally pretty!” We both laughed, and I felt the familiar feeling of red creeping up into my neck whenever I felt embarrassed.
I started to walk away, but then I felt him call my name. I turned around and saw him waving his sketchbook around for emphasis.
“I’ll see you around?” He asked inquisitively.
“My father had invited you for dinner at my house tonight. I’ll see you tonight.” I gave him a little wave and continued walking. My smile grew wider and wider, and I soon found myself skipping every few steps.
He was handsome, but not too handsome. A nice, humble man that the villagers would definitely love.
When I reached the village, Siti was playing batu seremban * with the other teenage girls in the verandah of my house. I rushed towards them, sitting down on the cold, wooden floor.
“I just met Sir James Earl Jones while he was drawing pitcher plants,” I whispered, my voice barely audible.
But Siti, with her sharp ears and understanding of me since birth, heard and gave a sharp gasp.
“Seriously? Is he handsome? What’s he like?” she asked. The rest of the girls leaned in, desperate to hear my opinion of him.
“He’s alright I guess,” I shrugged. They couldn’t hear the beating of my heart, or sense the fact that I was completely, irrevocably, undeniably, head over heels over Sir Charlie Sloane’s new apprentice.
Maghrib: prayers just after sunset for Muslim people.
Kak: Malay term for older sister.
Pandan: tropical tree or shrub. The leaves smell very sweet and aromatic, commonly used to make your room smell nicer. You can also incorporate it in food for a light, sweet taste.
Mak: Malay term for mother.
Batu seremban: a traditional Malay game involving five stones, or any small objects. Usually played by girls on the verandah.