Khalid’s first instinct was to step in and tell Galang Mawar had deceived him, but the old man hushed him, as if he had expected it. ‘You are here just to watch, Khalid. There’s nothing you can do for Galang – or anyone of them, really. Let’s move on.’
Khalid gritted his teeth. He took a deep breath and followed the old man’s instruction. Obviously the old man understood everything that was happening more than he was, and he suspected the old man was holding back some of the knowledge. For what reason, he didn’t know. But with the magic sensation he felt from the forest, he didn’t want to force the old man to answer him, should the result be terrible.
After a few minutes, they finally reached the old man’s house. It was a hut, really, the wooden walls surrendering to old age with its fading brown colour. Khalid wondered when the place would crumble over time, unable to bear Kuala Lumpur’s hot and most weather. The old man climbed down from Khalid’s back.
‘Wait here, young man,’ the old man said. ‘I want to give you a reward for bringing me back here.’ With that said, he disappeared into the hut.
Khalid didn’t expect anything in return, really. He just wanted to go back being alone. Whatever the old man had for him wouldn’t fix the issues of his life. And yet he waited, confident the reward would be useless.
The old man appeared with a couple of eggs. Khalid frowned. They were the weirdest eggs he had ever seen, and also the most beautiful. Held on a piece of white cloth, the silver and golden eggs reflected the brilliant light of the sun, looking like anything but earthly.
The old man smiled. ‘You can choose one of them only. Which one do you prefer?’
Despite the eggs’ beauty, Khalid was sure they were worthless, just food to eat.
He inspected the golden one. It was the bigger of the two, and surprisingly, it whispered to Yassir. Pick me, it said, its words seemed to be exclusive for him. I can grant you any wish; but in return, you have to accept the cost. Give me one wish, and I will fulfill it. Its voice was lyrical, like an angel announcing the coming of dawn.
Khalid gulped. ‘Can you tell me what’s the cost?’
I’m afraid I can’t, it said with pity. But choose me. Choose me, and your life will be perfect.
As instinctive as he was, he didn’t like the idea of having to accept a cost which was a complete mystery to him. Maybe he had to check the second egg first before deciding. The second one was just as majestic as the first, and its smaller size didn’t diminish that.
Pick me, it said, with the same musicality as the first one. I can reveal anything you wish; but in return, you have to accept the revelation, no matter how bitter it is. If you deny the truth, then your life would by my prize.
Downright scary the silver egg was. But at least it was more honest than the first, and really, how could the truth hurt? Knowing Father was the biggest jerk in his entire life seemed like a truth with an unbeatable bitterness. Out of the two eggs, the silver one seemed to be less risky. Or he could choose not to accept either of them? But wasn’t that not a polite thing to do? He licked his lip, lost in thought.
‘Take all the time you need,’ the old man said, smiling. ‘Time flows differently here.’
What’s that supposed to mean? Khalid thought. Everything didn’t make sense to him. He scratched his head. Alright, I think that’s enough. ‘I’ll take the silver one.’
The old man smiled wider. ‘Wise choice,’ he said, and gave Khalid the preferred egg.
Both eggs didn’t whisper anything to him as a reply, but he could sense the tension between them. He felt the clash of auras, faint but there.
‘Thanks for the… egg,’ Khalid said, palming his reward. ‘I – I’ll go now.’
‘You should,’ the old man smiled, his eyes gleaming. ‘You will want to see what awaits you in your journey to your house.’
Stop being all-knowing and creepy, Khalid thought, but he nodded.
He walked back into the forest, tracing his previous steps. Miraculously, he felt like he knew where he should go, a sudden part of him urging him to choose this and that directions. As he went away from the old man’s hut, the magical aura lessened, but it was still there nonetheless. If he had explored this place earlier, the magical nature of it wouldn’t confuse him this much.
Then, he saw. The man, Galang, with his purple baju Melayu. At his side was not the beautiful lady, but Teratai, the one with an average appearance, matching his clothes with her pink kebaya. They were laughing with each other, Teratai slapped him with affection whenever he teased her. The whole scene surprised Khalid. What had happened to Mawar? Why was Galang with Teratai?
He hesitated to interrupt them, but realizing the old man wasn’t with him anymore, he decided to take the chance. He showed himself in front of them. They looked at him with raised eyebrows, but other than that, they weren’t as surprised as he thought they would be. He approached Galang.
‘But – but how? I thought you were with Mawar?’ Khalid asked.
‘Ah, and who are you?’ Galang asked. He shook his head slightly. ‘Doesn’t matter. You’re right; I was with Mawar, but only for a short while. The other day, when I was walking near the river, I heard her talking bad things to Teratai. Not only that, I heard what she had done with her face. When I met her, I wasn’t completely sure I heard the truth, so I stayed with her a bit longer to unravel the mystery.’
He looked at Teratai with adoration. ‘If it wasn’t Teratai’s relentless determination to expose the real Mawar, I wouldn’t be able to witness it. When Teratai tried to persuade me what I heard was true, she challenge me to propose Mawar with the condition that I would leave everything I had to the poor, and have Mawar accepted me the way I was. It was just a pretense, of course, and I accepted it thinking Mawar would accept me no matter what.’ He stared at the ground.
‘She refused, didn’t she?’ Khalid whispered, his heart breaking for the handsome man with the purest heart. ‘I bet – I bet she didn’t hesitate refusing your proposal?’
Galang nodded, his face darkened by the shadow. ‘She was shocked to hear what I said, and after she made me repeat myself so that I was serious with my words, she laughed, shook her head, and left. That was when I realized the different between Mawar and Teratai – the former did everything to gain what she wanted – and left a man when she realized he couldn’t fulfill her wish – while the latter had loved me when we were young. Teratai loved me for who I was, not for what I had.’