Chapter 1: Borneo
"Loli be careful honey…keep away from the edge," warned Heeya from behind.
"Not to worry, Mom!" replied an excited Loli.
It was an early morning and they were trekking down the canopy bridge of Sandakan in the beautiful island of Borneo. The bridge which was suspended at twenty eight feet above the forest floor provided a magnificent view of the Borneo rainforest.
Loli and Lenny were back yesterday from a snorkelling trip in the colourful, fish-filled reefs off the island's eastern coast. The past few days had been pretty exciting as they got to see rhinoceros hornbills, turtles, sun bears, martens, clouded leopards, pygmy elephants, exotic birds and a rich variety of wild life across Borneo.
Their tour guide Basuki, was showing them orangutans dangling from high tree tops.
"Today is surely your lucky day. Twenty of the orangutans in sight! Wonderful!" he was speaking animatedly. Loli and Lenny developed a strong bond with this peppy young Malaysian guy, who was also a great story teller, filled with loads of information about his country.
"Look, Basuki!" Loli showed him an orangutan poking a hole with a twig. "What is it doing?"
"They catch insects that way Loli. Very interesting animals these orangutans. In Malay, which is the language of the Malaysians, 'Orang' means man and 'Hutan' means forest. So orang-utan literally means 'man of the forest'. They are the largest living arboreal animals existing today."
"Arboreal?" asked Lenny.
"Arboreal means tree dwellers. They live and move among trees," answered Basuki. "Would you believe that their strength is almost seven times greater than that of humans? Another interesting fact is that they are very intelligent and have habits similar to man. For example, they can hold a leafy branch or two to protect themselves from the rain or heat of the sun. And they often use a branch or stick to test the depth of water. They even use leaves as cups to drink water."
"Interesting," said Lenny busy clicking pictures and noting facts in his Ipad.
"Yes! And you know every night they build a nest high up a tree and even add a roof of leaves," Basuki bent down to remove a stray branch out of their path.
"That's truly amazing!" Loli peered at one keenly with her binoculars as it swung adroitly through the tree tops.
"It is," agreed Basuki. "They are also known to be shy, solitary animals. This is due to the fact they need a large amount of food from a particular area and too many orang-utans concentrated in one area may lead to starvation."
"How long do they live?" asked Loli.
"Umm… approximately say about thirty-five to fifty years." Basuki stopped for a moment in his tracks as his eyes alighted on a man sitting on a huge log that lay on the side of the jungle route.
He looked like someone local in his late fifties.
The man turned to Basuki and smiled warmly.
"Hey Basuki! How is your tour going today?"
"Awesome Mr. Deng! Showing these lovely children our forests."
The man walked to their side and looked at them interestedly.
"Loli, Lenny meet Mr Deng!" Loli and Lenny exchanged polite hellos as Basuki introduced them to the elderly man.
"How come you're out of school, children?" he asked warmly.
"It's winter break for us, Mr. Deng. School's closed and our parents thought it would be a good break to come here for a holiday. It truly is so beautiful here," said Lenny as he looked around appreciatively.
"Yes and the weather is just so awesome to visit your beautiful country," said Loli, as she waved her hand around.
"Oh, thank you my dear children. Which places did you visit?" he asked.
"Umm, we went to Turtle islands, Sepilok Orangatun Sanctuary, Lahad Datu and Danum valley," said Lenny.
"And, also, we went on a cruise up the Kinabatangan River to Kelananap Oxbow Lake early morning. It was so misty, so heavenly!" said Loli dreamily.
Mr. Deng's eyes crinkled in the corners as he patted on their backs and turned to Basuki and said, "Lovely children, Basuki."
"Yes! I totally agree, Mr. Deng."
Mr. Deng took out a lunchbox from his bag and gave them two rolls. "Here have this," he said in an affectionate tone.
"They are nice," said Loli appreciatively as she munched on the roll.
"Yes they are," agreed Lenny. They were quite hungry with all the trekking and the rolls tasted good.
Mr. Deng handed one to Basuki too as he said to them, "This is called Kuih Ketayap."
"Kku-ih Keta-yap? Wow! I love the sound of the name," gushed Loli.
"Is it a Malaysian speciality?" asked Lenny in an interested tone.
Mr. Deng smiled as he said, "Yes, it is. They are rice flour crepes actually, stuffed with coconut and palm sugar."
"Your folks must have got held up somewhere. Aren't they late?" Basuki quickly looked at his watch.
"I should get going children. Enjoy your stay in Malaysia!" Mr Deng got ready to leave.
"Thank you Mr. Deng. We already are having a whale of a time," said Loli enthusiastically.
"You should come and visit our country too, Mr. Deng," said Lenny warmly.
Unbidden Mr. Deng's smile changed to one of sadness as he glanced at Basuki.
"Havana would have loved to meet them Basuki. They are just like her," he said and his eyes misted over.
"I know Mr. Deng," said Basuki, his usual peppy voice lowered to a sadder note.
Loli and Lenny were surprised at this abrupt change in moods. Mr. Deng had already walked away. He seemed to rub away a tear and his shoulders drooped wearily.
Basuki looked at the children and said sadly, "That's Mr Deng Chuan Wai. One of the richest men in Malaysia."
"Ok," said Lenny.
"But life hasn't been easy for him the past year. Kind of a tragedy." Basuki's tone was heavy as he looked at the receding figure of Mr. Deng deep into the jungle path.
"What do you mean?" asked Loli curiously.
Basuki sighed, "He lost his youngest daughter here in the jungles of Borneo."
"That's very sad!" said Loli intensely.
"Yes it is," agreed Basuki.
"How did she get lost?" asked Lenny in a shocked voice.
"Well Mr Deng, his wife and their children were trekking down here in the jungles along with their relatives last year. A pretty huge number they were - their aunts, uncles and cousins. It seems their daughter Havana wandered around to check on some of the rare flora for a school project. In spite of being in the midst of so many people, I don't how why, in fact nobody knows how she got lost. They searched and searched the forest. The police tracked the area for days. But there was no sign of her anywhere," he said.
"How strange!" said Loli baffled.
"Yes it is," agreed Basuki shaking his head in wonder.
"How old was she?" asked Lenny.
"Just eight. Must be already nine now since it's almost a year," he said.
They walked silently for while thinking about Havana.
"He looks like a nice man," said Loli sadly.
"Yes he is," replied Basuki. "He is one of the most respected men in Malaysia and well known for his philanthropic works. But ever since he lost his daughter it seems he has lost all interest for his work and business. He has left his home to retire in the jungles. Every day he treks round the forest in the hope of finding his daughter. At night he retires to a nearby lodge of the forest guards. His wife and family worries about him every single day. They have begged and begged for him to come back. But he simply won't return. Not even for the other two older children who wait for him at home every day," said Basuki sadly.
Pahee Aroha, Lenny's mom, called them from behind.
"Hey you guys….we almost lost you," said Pahee breathlessly followed by her sister Heeya.
"All of you seem to be in mourning," said Heeya as she smiled at them with a question in her eyes.
"Yes Mrs. Garg," said Basuki. "I was just telling them the story of Mr. Deng."
"Oh that poor man! We heard his story too. What a tragedy!" Heeya exclaimed, almost in disbelief.
"Yes, hope he finds his daughter one day," Pahee sighed looking at her son and niece with immense gratitude.
"Let's get back," said Heeya after a while. "Ryan and Kenn are waiting for us down the forest road."
They found, Ryan, Loli's dad busy taking pictures of horn bills lazing around a small lotus pond. They readily joined Kenn, Lenny's dad, who was talking with a few locals trying to catch on as much as possible of the varied history of Malaysia. It was quite interesting and they hungrily soaked in the little tit bits and local tales of the country side there.
In the evening after a moonlight walk with Ryan, Loli and Lenny sat down to watch a movie - "The spy kids." Their parents left them on their own to sit down for a game of cards on the patio of their hotel room.
It was a beautiful night with stars abound and serene sounds from the forests nearby. They were all happily relaxed after a tiring yet wonderful day in the majestic Borneo rainforest of Malaysia.
Loli, however, could not concentrate. She turned sideways and saw that Lenny was not watching the movie either but busy with his Ipad.
"Not enjoying the movie?" Lenny asked when he saw Loli restlessly shifting in her seat and running her fingers through her hair lost in thought.
"Nah!" she frowned as she squinted her nose and continued, "I was just thinking about that girl Havana."
"Yes me too. I'm checking the map of Borneo. It is known to be the third largest island in the world and divided among the three countries of Malaysia, Indonesia and Brunei. We are located right now in Sandakan which belongs to the Malaysian part of Borneo. As per Basuki's story she is lost here in Sandakan. Wonder which part of Sandakan she got lost though?" Lenny poured over the map in detail.
"Maybe we should ask Basuki again tomorrow," said Lenny after a while.
"Yes. And maybe we should contact Duke too!" Loli sounded excited as the thought caught hold of her suddenly.
"Yes but didn't he say he would contact us whenever there is some assignment for us?" said Lenny hesitantly. "What if he is busy on a mission?"
Duke was the squirrel with magical powers who introduced them to magic last summer and guided them on their first magical mission for planet earth.
"But didn't he say that if we wanted to get in touch, we can always call him," said Loli hopefully.
"Hmm," Lenny mulled over as he ran his fingers over the map of Sandakan in Malaysia.
He felt tempted to call Duke too. The mystery of Havana's disappearance was nagging him the whole day.
He shrugged his shoulders as he said, "Let's call him. But let's get out of here first. We don't want anybody here finding out about Duke."
He looked towards the patio and asked, "Mom, Dad, can we take a walk around the lawns?"
"At this time? Aren't you tired?" Pahee raised her eyebrow while looking at the others undecided.
"Alright, Lenny," said Kenn, "But don't be too late. We are winding up in another fifteen minutes."
"Both of you just be careful of mosquito bites, alright?" warned Heeya.
"And garden snakes who might fancy some company too," said Ryan with a wink.
"Dad!" Loli chastised her Dad. He always loved to pull their legs. He had this teasing streak that was amusing at times yet drove them wild at other times.
"Ryan!" Heeya shook her head at Ryan with amused disapproval. Kenn and Pahee smiled although their eyes didn't waver from their cards.
"Okay, Mom," said Loli as they walked out of their room.
The lawn was a huge one and well maintained. As soon as they reached a quiet and isolated area, Loli called out at the empty space, "Duke, we need you here. Can you come down please?"
Something tickled in her ear and when she looked sideways it was Duke lodged on her shoulder and whispering a hello in her ear.
"Oh Duke!" exclaimed Loli in surprise. "You almost gave me a fright!"
"Nice to see you, Duke," Lenny smiled seeing that old familiar face. He was dressed in mauve boots this time, embedded with crystals, an embroidered mauve waistcoat and purple trousers. He also had a belt round his waist where he carried his magical wand though it actually looked like a sword.
"What made you'll call me at this hour of the night? Shouldn't you be sleeping guys? Pretty late for two young eight-year-olds, don't you think?" he drawled while chewing on a cashew. Duke loved to eat and he always seemed to be munching something or the other.
"Oh! Did we disturb you or something? Lenny did warn me not to call you," said Loli feeling a bit guilty.
"No, no, no. Whatever I do, wherever I am, I can always find time for you guys. Don't you know that?" admonished Duke. "I expect you to call me whenever you need me. I'd be very hurt if you don't!"
Duke sounded almost authoritative as he said that. But there was also a twinkle in his eyes.
"Oh Duke! You're the best!" said Loli as she hugged him.
"Duke, we met a guy while trekking the forest today. He is a well-known business man of Malaysia. It seems he lost his daughter in these jungles a year back."
"The police searched and searched but to no avail." Lenny was still surprised over the whole issue. How could a girl disappear just like that, that too when she was in the midst of so many people around her?!
"He is a very sad man," Loli said slowly with a woebegone expression on her face, "left his home and family after that. And wanders around the jungle everyday trying to find his daughter."
"Is there any way we could help him?" asked Lenny hopefully.
"Not sure Lenny." Duke shook his head thoughtfully. He looked at both of them for a minute and said solemnly, "For all we know the girl may not only be lost, she may not even be alive for that matter."
Loli and Lenny looked shocked at that.
"Yes! Why look surprised? One year is a long time. And the jungle is not a safe place….wild animals, poisonous snakes, insects, reptiles lurk at every corner, not to mention wicked people like poachers and thieves," he said with a serious look which was so unusual of Duke. "Who knows what would have happened to her in a year?"
Both Loli and Lenny looked crestfallen. They didn't even know this girl or her father but strangely felt this unusual empathy for them.
"Let me speak to Kiora first. She might be able to help us. Okay?" consoled Duke kindly.
"That would be just great, Duke," said Loli, filled with hope again.
"Alright Duke." Lenny looked at Duke tenderly. It had been a few months since they last saw him. It was so good to see that old familiar face again.
"See you both tomorrow morning then?" asked Duke.
"Right! We meet at the hotel lawns maybe around seven? Everything is quiet at that hour," said Lenny.
"Alright!" Duke vanished leaving behind a whiff of golden dust in the air.
They left the gardens and walked back to their room through the verandah which still had a few tourists enjoying the peace and quiet of the night. Loli felt awfully tired.
"I am off to bed," Loli said as they reached their room and promptly jumped up her bed and closed her eyes.
Lenny was amused to see the adults still engrossed in their game of cards. He switched off the TV and snuggled into his bed too.
"Good night, Loli," he said.
But there was no sound from Loli except for her deep breathing as she dozed away.