It was 1941 and I was 6 years old when my parents put me into school for the first time. Methodist Mission Boys School was the name and it was near my maternal aunt’s home in Toorak, Suva. The school was just 3 blocks from her house so I had to stay in her home during the week for convenience.
I remember my 1st grade teacher, she was a nice Muslim lady. Next year I had a male Hindu teacher for 2nd grade who just so happened to be my 1st grade teacher’s sweetheart. How ’bout that?! I know I was taught both Hindi and English every year in school; Hindi being the 1st language spoken at home.
My favorite memory was receiving fresh cold 🥛 every single morning at ten o’clock. Lunch came at noon and I went home to eat, often rushing to play afterwards, enjoying a quick kicking around of the soccer ball with some of my classmates.
We were let out at 3 in the afternoon. I did this for 4 years, going back to my home at 1 Mile for the weekends and school holidays.
One of many hot days it was when on a lunch break from school I ran home as I almost always did, anxious to squeeze in more play time with my mates. At this time I was eight years of age.
There was a pakar tree (weeping fig or ficus), no more than 9 or 10 feet tall, growing on the side of my auntie’s house. This lovely tree provided lots of shade from the brilliant sun.
Having overheated myself from the run I decided to cool off for a moment or two in the luxurious shade before going into the house for lunch. Upon arrival at the tree I had placed both my hands on its trunk, leaning in towards it to better catch my breath.
Only a few seconds had passed and this tree started to shake violently; my thoughts were of a giant uprooting the tree from the earth! I really thought it was an *earth-shake. I then quickly wrapped my arms around its trunk just incase it was.
As a child I couldn’t think of what else to do, having only heard of but never experiencing an actual earthquake.
While I am hugging the trunk tightly, I hear my auntie’s voice calling to me from the kitchen window, telling me to immediately get away from the tree! I instantly let go and ran straight away into the house as fast as I could, without question for the warning tone of her voice said it all.
I managed to eat a few bites of my lunch in silence, my auntie going carefully about her afternoon duties and neither one of us mentioning the tree. I went over to the sofa, put my feet up and fell fast asleep.
My auntie did not wake me to go back to school nor did I go out to play that day. Later that evening she told me to never go under that tree at noon. What?? Out of respect for my elder, as we’ve been brought up to do, I did not question her warning. I simply agreed.
Inside of me however this child’s curiosity was at full boil and my auntie’s unexplained warning was not enough to satisfy. Why did the tree shake so and why, away from the tree all was calm as though nothing was afoot?
I remember noticing for a split second that several yards away, children were still playing and the grown-ups went about their business; no peculiarities there. I simply had to know more. Yes this young mind was always at work.
I decided I would have to make inquiries. I’ve always been extremely inquisitive about the world surrounding me. Eventually I questioned a few of my older (and wiser?) relatives and the reasoning came down to this: at 12 noon and 12 midnight, the **churail occasionally passes by looking to harass a human or two and sometimes will just sit in these trees.
This tree must’ve been her vibrating chair then! Therefore anyone unsuspecting and hanging out under the tree would be in danger of harm or at the very least, a dreadful fright. Needless to say from then on I avoided these trees at all times!
*earth-shake simply the way us kids referred to earthquakes