“Lies My Father Told Me was first written in 2006 and performed as a solo performance piece at the Rogue Festival in March that same year. The show was performed by me and directed by John Masier. Soon after, the transcript (as is below) appeared as 4 separate blog postings on Da Blogs Da Thang version 1.0. Though the show was both a popular and critical success I knew while creating it that this was a “one-off”. To give the show “legs” as a live performance would have involved tweaks that would have lost the “voice” of my father in it.
(The stage is dark. The music plays for several bars and suddenly stops. In the darkness we hear…)
You have got to be kidding! Do you really expect me to believe that? What do you think I am… some gullible wide eyed 8 year old kid? Come on… there is no fucking way that story is real. You stole that from a movie! You stole that from a goddamn fucking movie!
(The music continues and plays under the following to it’s end. Lights up. The teller wearing a pith helmet is sitting in a rattan chair. A small café table to his right on which sits a Keris.)
OK… first thing… I never really said that. That basically is the PG 13 part of the show. Just had to get that out of my system. Anyway, the year was 1967 and I was a gullible 8 year old kid in Malaysia. My cousins and I were sitting around the bed just as my Father had finished off one of his stories. Not just any story mind you… but the mother of all stories! But we’ll get to that in a while.
First let me introduce you to the man who spun all these tales. Harold Carlos Nunis. Born April 14, 1918… right at the end of World War 1 in Seremban, Malaysia. 4th child of 12 born to Mauricieu and Scholastica Nunis… a good Catholic Eurasian family. Don’t you just love these names?
Anyway Harold was educated at St. John’s Institution, Kuala Lumpur Malaysia – where he was captain of the soccer team. field hocky team, tennis team, swim team and the cricket team. OK… my Father was a jock. Wait, it gets better.. He was also School Captain.
Now, St. John’s was one of the 2 premiere schools in the city and was also my alma mater … do you know how much pressure that put on me? Every morning on the way to class I walked up the grand staircase past these big hefty wooden plaques that bore the names of my Father and his brother Cuthbert.
Yes, Cuthbert was his real name. Any Cuthberts out there? Here is a Harold and Cuthbert High School story.
Both brothers had decided to tryout for the school soccer team. Tryouts were in a month and they decided to get into shape by going for a jog every morning. You do have to understand that the Nunis family would wake at 5 in the morning to say the family rosary. I suspect that getting out of the rosary was probably more of a motivating factor than shaping up for the soccer team.
On their run in the dark of the morning they would always run past this humungous mango tree that fanned out on an abandoned property just off the main road. This as they soon decided was the perfect place to stop and rest a bit as it was the half way point of their 5 mile run.
Every morning as they shared a cigarette one of them kiped from the old man the night before, they would look at the tree knowing that the fruits would soon be ripe enough for the picking. Every morning as they jogged back they would plan the caper to pick the mangos as soon as they achieved supreme ripeness.
Two weeks into their routine, their father, impressed with their determination to make the soccer team, surprised them each with a new pair of canvas jogging shoes. You have to understand that this was 1930’s Malaya. The average person owned 2 pairs of shoes. One pair of leather shoes for special occasions and another usually made out of canvas for work or school. So, this was a big deal for both the boys.
Two mornings after they received their new jogging shoes … as they approached their usual halfway mark they picked up the aroma of sweet ripe mangos. They looked at each other and quietly decided that this was the morning those mangos would be picked.
They whispered excitedly as they climbed the fence about how they would return home as conquering heroes when they presented their booty of mangos to the family at breakfast. Part of their elaborate plan was to take off their shirts, knot up the bottom end… tie the sleeves around their necks and fill the shirts with as many mangos as they could the opening of the collar.
It was the morning of the new moon and the overcast skies made everything that much darker than usual. Once they had made it over the fence they stumbled their way toward the mango tree. Just then Harold stubbed his toe on something and cussed up a storm.
They looked down and it was a ladder. They looked up but it was too dark to make anything out. They guessed that someone had been there before them and all the mangos on the lower branches had probably been stripped. But the ladder lying on the ground was a convenience they had not counted on. There was a 12 foot climb before the first branch. So, they had to climb up higher to get to the fruit … so what? Besides, everyone knew the sweeter mangos were always on the higher branches.
They set the ladder up against the trunk. Cuthbert went up first. As Cuthbert disappeared up… the tree suddenly shook dropping several mangos to the ground. Harold looked into the sky and spotted the 6 foot wing span outlines of 3 flying foxes, fruit bats take off into the night sky. Cuthbert called down to Harold.
“We’ll have to feel the mangos before we pick them… make sure they’re not eaten through”
Up the tree both the boys were filling up their makeshift shirt bags with mangos. At some point Harold gets slapped in the face by a foot. Harold calls up…
“Cuthbert, watch where you’re stepping! Your toe nearly poked me in the eye…and your feet are cold!”
“My feet? Your shoulder is cold!“
They continue picking the ripe fruit. Harold gets slapped in the face again.
“Cuthbert, you slapped me in the face again!”
“No, I didn’t!”
“Yes, you did!”
“I didn’t even feel you… “
Harold looks up. “Cuthbert…” “
“We are getting off this tree.”
“My shirt is only half full.”
“You are going to drop your mangos and you are going to climb down this tree calmly and carefully.”
“Don’t tell me what to do… I’m the older brother here and…”
“Cuthbert, drop the mangos and climb down the tree NOW!”
Cuthbert drops his mangos and climbs down ready to deck Harold.
“What is so important?”
“Where are your matches? Strike a match!”
“Strike a match!”
Cuthbert strikes a match. They look up. In the glow of the match they see the legs of someone hanging in the tree. Further up they see the face of a man… rope around his neck… eyes bugging out and his now purple tongue sticking out down to his chin.
The boys drop everything, jump the fence, run a mile down the road to the police station and report that someone has hung themselves up the mango tree. Of course the police investigate … but they also hold the boys for half a day for questioning. They get home to find that the headmaster has contacted their father who is furious that they missed school. That evening each of them recieve 6 of the best from their father. 3 for missing school and 3 for losing their shoes.
Plausible? Sure. Now here’s the other part of the story. A year later the property had been bought over by someone else. The story goes that plans had been drawn up to develop the property. Those plans did not include the mango tree.
One afternoon, in a fit of do-it-yourself frenzy, the owner tried to take an axe to it. The first cut… a red thick liquid oozes out of the cut … the owner freaks and runs away. A bulldozer is commissioned for the job. Within 3 feet of the tree… it dies.
Apparently it took a Hindu and Catholic priest as well as a Buddhist monk and an Imam to pray at the tree… to appease the spirit before it could be knocked down… at least that’s what my father told me. O.K. would you buy that… especially the last part? I did… but I was 8 at the time.
There was a 2 year difference between Harold and Cuthbert. Here’s a sidebar … my mother and her sister eventually married my father and his brother. Oh, it gets better! On my mother’s side… my grandmother and her two sisters married my grandfather and his two brothers. Talk about a close knit family.
(Play the following Music… which continues to play under this section.)
Now, I heard a story about my mother and father courting during the Japanese occupation of Malaya in World War II. Take careful note that they courted back then… not dated.Anyway, on one of their early “courts”, my father rode his bike over to her house. And even though arrangements had been made 2 weeks earlier, and everyone knew about it, my father still had to knock on the door and ask my grandmother permission to take my mother out. She reluctantly agreed. See, that was the whole protocol to this courting thing.They then got on their bicycles and rode to to town… on separate bikes of course. Sharing a bike would have been scandalous… that would have constituted dating.The plan was to catch a movie… get something to eat and ride her home. Anyway, after the movie they caught dinner at a street stall. Big spender that my father was… movie and dinner cost him… 20 cents. But money went a lot further in those days.
I can only guess that this excursion went pretty well. On their way home my Dad suggested a little detour. They rode to one of biggest roundabouts in town and parked their bikes. This roundabout was decorated with products of the time – 6 foot wooden stakes that held up the recently beheaded – the work of the occupying Japanese force of the time. They walked around looking to see if they recognized anyone. They didn’t… then they rode home and got back by 7:30 PM.
Now, isn’t that a charming romantic story? My Dad really knew the moves on how to get the girl. If beheadings were not illegal these days… I would be so hooked up.
(Music fades out. Stop music.)
Back to 1968… my 9th birthday was approaching. Because of the various jungle stories my Father told (which we’ll get to later) I had requested a blow-pipe for my birthday. My father was actually thrilled that I had asked for one. Sensing this, I seized upon the opportunity to suggest that we hit the road and go out to buy one. My father quickly said, no. I was confused but my 9 year old brain reasoned that he would present me with one on the morning of my birthday in a couple of weeks.
I went to bed every night dreaming about the precious birthday blowpipe. On the morning of my birthday… no blowpipe… but there was something else to look forward to.
(Play the following Music… which continues to play under this section.)
Now, most kids had birthday parties – I had birthday picnics in the jungle with my friends. My parents would pack us kids made up of friends and cousins into a couple of cars and drive out into the jungle.Getting there was half the fun. 20 minutes outside the city – a hard left off the east-west highway onto a dirt road veered into the jungle for about half a mile. When the dirt road ended, we tumbled out of the car and hiked in several hundred yards heading toward the sound of a jungle stream.
Monkeys would be jibber-jabbering in the trees as we hurried down the jungle path. The closer we got, the louder the sound of the stream… the less jibbering of monkeys.
Finally, the thick jungle around us would magically open up on our intended destination – tropical paradise with the crystal clear waters of a jungle stream weaving through it. A picnic spot would be picked on the banks. Mats spread and us kids excitedly jumped into the cold clear waters to frolic.
My father would always caution us with the same instructions. “If you need to kenching (pee) go downstream… don’t do it in the jungle.” If one of my not-yet-hip-to-the-jungle friends would quizz “Why not the jungle?”, my father would launch into a gentle lecture about “respecting the spirits.” This would instantly ignite a barrage of “What spirits? Why?” among the kids. His eyes would twinkle and with a sly smile he would say, “I’ll tell you after lunch.” He always kept his word.
After lunch… tired from swimming all us kids lay on mats under the shade of trees. On the afternoon of my 9th birthday this is the story my father told. (Music fades out. Stop music. The following is told without any underscore of music.)
A man named Atan had recently lost his job. After several weeks of looking and with his savings rapidly depleting he finally had to swallow his pride and ask a good friend for a loan. They met at a local coffee shop and chatted about all sorts of things except the loan. At the end of the meeting his friend slid a folded up newspaper over to Atan’s side of the table – said his goodbyes and left. An envelope tucked inside the newspaper contained the money. Atan got what he needed and this simple but elegant maneuver on the part of his friend saved him some face.
Well these meetings took place the same way at the same coffee shop for about 3 months. At the last of these meetings his friend broke protocol and broached the subject of the loan. He apologized and explained to Atan that the loans would have to stop. Atan understood but a darkness came over him.
They sat silently for several minutes. Suddenly his friend broke the silence. “Atan, have you considered … going to the tree?” “What tree?” “You know the one… I pointed it out to you the last time you came over for dinner.” “Oh yes… I remember. What about the tree?” “I’ve heard many people have won the 4 digits lottery after asking for numbers at the tree.” Atan listened intently as his friend explained.
That night, after parking his car on the side of the road, Atan headed for the tree. In his hands were 2 paper bags. In the moonlight he could see the various offerings other people had left at the foot of the tree and that the trunk of the tree was wrapped with a blue silk sarong.
He knelt at the foot of the tree. He pulled out 2 candles, lit them and pushed them into the soft earth. Then 2 sticks of incense were lit and stuck in the earth between the 2 candles. He then pulled out a sheet of brown paper… tore it into 9 equal pieces… wrote the numbers from 1 to 9 on each of them. Balled them up and put them into an empty cup. He then popped the cap off a bottle of beer and stuck the open end into the earth.
As the beer drained out into the ground he shook the cup with the paperballs in them. “Oh spirit of the tree… grant me the luck of fortune.” As he said this 4 paper balls bounced out of the cup just as the bottle of beer was completely drained of its contents. He unraveled each paperball and wrote down the numbers in sequence.
The next morning Atan invested 10 ringgit on the set of numbers from the night before at the 4 digit lottery kiosk. Atan opened the papers on Saturday morning to discover that he was a big winner to the tune of about twenty thousand ringgit. He was elated.
This provided more than enough to pay off his debts and have enough to live on for at least a year. He went out that very afternoon and bought, his daughter, Intan, a red bicycle. Red was her favorite color and this was a belated birthday gift that he could not afford 2 months earlier.
That night Atan had a dream. In it an old man in a blue turban knocked on his front door and said, “I want to marry your daughter.” In the dream Atan protested that his daughter was too young and closed the door on the old man. Atan thought nothing of the dream. The next night… he had the same dream. The only difference this time was that the man seemed younger than the night before. Atan woke up in a cold sweat and told his wife about the dream.
The dream continued for the next 2 nights. Each time the man in the blue turban appeared younger and younger. The check from the lottery by now had cleared. Atan had arranged to meet his friend at the coffeeshop. This time it was Atan who slid a folded newspaper across the table to his friend. However, his friend noticed that his Atan looked troubled.
After a little prodding, Atan finally told his friend about the dream. Upon hearing this his friend immerdiately asked, “Have you given thanks to the tree yet for your good fortune?” “Given thanks?” “I told you that an offering of thanks had to be made within 7 days of you winning the lottery.”
In his combined elation and relief at scoring the winning numbers Atan had completely forgotten to do this. That night he laid offerings of food and drink at the foot of the tree… a feast, in fact. “Spirit of the tree… please accept these humble gifts in thanks for the good fortune you have given me.”
“The tree wants a mate, you know.” Atan swung around and the toothless grin of an old man looked down at him. “The tree is lonely.” The old man with a crazed look in his eyes cackled, “The tree wants a wife!” Atan left there in a hurry.
When he got home his wife informed him that Intan was running a fever. That night he had the dream again. This time the man in the blue turban appeared to be in his early 20’s. “I want to marry your daughter.”
The next morning Atan waited impatiently for the bank to open. He made a withdrawal of the complete amount he had won in cash. Back at the foot of the tree that evening he laid the cash out in a pile. “Spirit of the tree. I return your gift. It’s all here! Please take this and … leave my daughter alone!!” He then struck a match and put it to the pile of paper currency… but it refused to burn.
He went home dejected and afraid but was greeted with good news. His wife informed him that Intan’s fever had broken and she was resting comfortably. That night with a sense of relief, Atan went to sleep.
Then he had a dream. The man in the blue turban was now a boy of about 15. The boy ran into his house and ran out hand in hand with his daughter. Atan woke up his wife and they rushed into the next room only to find the lifeless body of his daughter in bed.
That evening after the picnic in the jungle and after dropping my friends at their respective homes… I asked my father if the story he told us at the picnic was true. He looked at me and smiled. I noticed he had driven past the turnoff to our neighborhood. “Where are we going, Dad?” “A little detour.”
We came by a local high school and he slowed the car down. “Look to the left…” he said. Just outside the perimeter of the wire fence that defined the school field stood 2 trees side by side wrapped in sarongs – one blue, one red. And what may you ask happened to the blowpipe? After the events of the day any thoughts of my much coverted blowpipe had completely slipped my mind.
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