I have lived in Sarawak for four years now. I use the word ‘live’ loosely, seeing that I spend as much time in KL as in Ba’ Kelalan. Which of these is my home is a question that I have yet to answer, and may never do so. That’s okay. I don’t need an answer. Truly. I once did but now feel that as all of us have many layers within ourselves, we can have a different home for each of those layers.
Darkness has long fallen. We were on our way home from the neighbouring village of Long Langai where there is a small store. We had gone there to buy some chicken, biscuits and a few other items. We started out late, and it was dark by the time we set out for home.
It wasn’t as late as it felt, though. It was just past 7pm.
Darkness comes early to Borneo, and light as well. Or perhaps, as the Borneans might say, darkness comes at the right time to Borneo but late in West Malaysia. At any rate, it is dark by 7pm, and light by 6am, in Borneo. After four years here, I still have yet to adjust to this. It feels impossibly early to start breakfast before 7am, and it seems ridiculously early to start dinner at 6pm.
As we left the last houses of Long Lemutut behind, their dim lights vanishing into the black, we were on the dark road on our own. It is a darkness greater than any darkness of the city. The darkness is intense. The forests, dim even by day, now blend into the dark skies, extending the darkness further.
On this dark road heading home, still many minutes away, I felt very tiny.
I had become accustomed to this darkness, as I had to the brilliance of the moon and the stars seen in this darkness. I had forgotten my first visit to Ba’ Kelalan in 2011, and the darkness I saw when I looked outside at night. I had forgotten that I was a little fearful. I had forgotten this so totally that I was surprised when a visitor from KL told me recently that she was frightened because it was so dark at night.
“Are you frightened?” my husband asked me as he stopped the car, not far from Long Lemutut.
“No, I’m not,” I answered. That was only partly true.
I am used to this darkness, and he was with me. But in a way, I was frightened because it was a darkness so complete out there, far from the village, a vast sky overhead. Notwithstanding my husband, the darkness felt like complete solitude. Intensely alone, permanently, very small among elements far larger than me.
My husband is not given to such flights of fancy. He only asked me that because he had switched off the lights of the car. He wanted to try to spot the owl which regularly turns up on a tree by the side of the road. We waited for a bit in silence, then he played an owl call. But it didn’t show. It was probably too early.
A narrow beam of light lit the road again as my husband turned on the car lights, and we got going again.
Darkness is a key defining difference between a city and a village. There are no superfluous lights in a village. Lights powered by a mini-hydro, solar or generator can never compete in brightness with those that draw their power from mega turbines.
Our dim lights leave the corners of our rooms in shadows, unable and unwilling to battle the intense darkness pouring in through the windows.
It is this darkness that brings us into sync with the sun. When night arrives, the darkness lulls us into quietness and rest.
Finally, the dim sparse lights of Long Rusu glittered below as we crested the last hill before coasting into our tiny village of 10 houses. Our car rattled along to the very last house down the hill, a house with its welcoming neon lights switched on. Home.