Yesterday I was standing in my neighbour’s paddock throwing a ball to Maverick, our cappuccino coloured dog. The grass was burnt yellow like smoker’s fingers and cracked like spaghetti beneath my feet. How different to that day three years ago in Malaysia……….
Expat Dad Jack was hosting a photography course on Ledang Heights, popular with families attending Marlborough College nearby. Cookie-cutter housing had been thrown up quickly to attract cash-rich expats from Singapore to Malaysia. His house sat in a bit of a dip but I thought nothing of it as I parked my car over the grill covering the small storm drain outside his house. Six other mums eager to kill time and ease the boredom of hot dusty days had arrived earlier, parking higher up.
It was monsoon season when roads would quickly disappear from sight. Driving anywhere meant gripping the steering wheel so tight my knuckles would turn white and my neck ached from pressing my face close to the window screen. Today though was dry and hazy like most tropical days.
We gathered inside clutching our cameras like babies excited to show each other what they could do. Fired up by enthusiasm and sugar from Lily’s scrumptious cakes we were oblivious to the storm brewing outside. Their Indonesian helper, four-foot something in her bare feet and slim framed like a child, clucked away like a mother hen, filling our cups and brushing away the crumbs from the floor with her straw broom.
Jack was well known in Asia for his photography skills, photographing hotel interiors and landscapes and was in his element opening and shutting curtains to depict shutter speed, fast then slow so that we didn’t notice the rain that started to hammer on the roof. He left the curtains partly drawn as he rammed home the importance of light so we didn’t see how black the sky had become.
After an hour I got up to stretch my legs. I laughed hysterically, a nervous reaction to the ridiculous sight that I witnessed from the lounge window.
‘You need to come here right now, I have a problem,’ I said in a high-pitched voice.
They came over, some still clutching their wine glasses and cameras.
‘What the eck, is that your car about to float off?’ Holly giggled her blond ponytail swinging.
‘Them motors are bombing it,’ she said in her strong Essex twang. She was referring to the idiots speeding through the water causing the levels to rise further.
‘It’s nearly above the wheels! God what if it gets in the engine? I only got it six months ago,’ I said hysterically.
Each time they drove past, the force of their wake would cause my lovely new and shiny car to lift off the road and drop gracefully back down. The passing cars were causing a tsunami! As they moved out of sight a wave would aim itself at the house, flood under the front door and ooze its way below the window frame. We froze for what seemed like an eternity before we were spurred into action to drag the furniture to the back and start tying the full-length curtains into knots.
Outside the front door, shoes tossed off Asian-style bobbed off and away out of sight taking the entire contents of the carport with them. Jilly, adorable but empty between the ears and now clumsy from one too many white wines screamed, dropping her glass in the water at the sight of a dead snake floating by.
‘You need to help me. Grab anything you can. That’s all our stuff! God help me if the missus loses all her shoes,’ Jack yelled thrusting his hands into the water.
‘Crikey, my computer. It’s in the boot of the car!’ I shrieked. I stalled for a millisecond at the thought of what might be lurking beneath the murky water before kicking off my shoes, tucking my dress in my knickers and wading out to the car, my arms in the air holding the car key. I could feel unidentifiable objects brushing my legs. I shuddered and gulped down my fear. It was one of those Malaysian moments when I didn’t know whether to laugh or cry or both.
Fortunately, the boot opened and in the few seconds before the onslaught of another passing wave I grabbed my laptop and stuck it over my head to keep it out of the water that swirled around my waist. As we huddled inside we each had a moment to let off our personal rants about living in Malaysia. I decided to call Andy my darling husband who was hard at work in Singapore, seventeen floors up in air-conditioned oblivion and probably not a cloud in the sky. He could barely hear me over the din of the torrential rain as I explained my predicament.
‘Can’t you move it?’ was the practical response I had expected from him.
‘It’s floating when cars go past it, I don’t know if the engine is flooded. ‘There are bloody great waves washing into the house,’ I laughed nervously at the ridiculousness of it all. ‘It’s school pick up soon and I don’t know how I am going to pick up the kids,’ I continued.
‘I’m at work and in Singapore. What on earth do you expect me to do?’ he said, which was infuriating but true.
‘I just wanted to tell you, that’s all!’ I grumbled and hung up the phone as another wave approached the house.
School pick-up time loomed and clutching our precious bundles of equipment we waded through the water up the slope to where it was dry and the others had parked their cars.
‘ Malaysia Truly Asia, I will drink to that!’ Said Jilly, still clutching her glass of wine.
‘ I don’t think you should be driving,’ I told her as she waded through the water still in her pink high heels.
‘ It’s a ten minute drive to school, I can do it with my eyes shut!’ She shooed me away as I tried to block her from getting in the car.
‘ I’ve got three kids need picking up from school. Anyone got room?’ I asked.
Returning later that night to my car it looked dry and unscathed, as if nothing had happened. I held my breath as I turned the key and sighed with relief as the engine roared into life. I turned to look at Andy who had a slight smile at the corner of his mouth. I had a sneaking suspicion that he thought I had made the whole thing up.