This isn’t exactly the romantic picnic I had in mind when Jonathan invited me to spend the day at his uncle’s orchard. I crush a red ant between my fingers. Die, you bastard, die!
“Babe, are you okay?” Jonathan peers over my shoulder.
I rub the spot on my calf that’s still stinging. “Is there somewhere less… dangerous, we can move to?”
“There’s a hut a little further up. We used to spend the night there during durian season.”
“Let’s go.” I’m already on my feet.
Letting out a sigh, Jonathan sets down the cold Heineken he’s just cracked open. Within minutes, we’ve repacked our picnic things and are strolling along a shaded dirt trail. I flick away a rivulet of sweat that runs down my neck.
“I always wished my uncle had built us a treehouse when I was a kid.” Jonathan tilts his head towards the towering trees around us.
A host of spiders crawls over my skin. “I had one,” I say after a beat of silence.
Jonathan leans away from me with raised eyebrows. “Really? You never told me this.”
I shrug. “I was eight and we’d just moved to Kelantan. There were no other houses near our bungalow and it got pretty lonely during the school holidays. So I used to wander the grounds and one day I discovered an old treehouse at the edge of the property.”
“I thought so too.” I give him a sideways grin despite the shiver running down my spine. “Anyway, I began to spend hours there. When I climbed up the ladder a few days after finding the place, there was a girl there. I was so shocked, I almost fell down the tree.”
Jonathan chuckled. “Who was she?”
“She lived in one of the neighbouring estates and said she found the treehouse the same way that I did. Her name was Anjali.” Her face comes into sharp focus in my mind like it does every time I remember her. My fingers tingle with the memory of braiding her shoulder length hair with colorful ribbons.
“Nice. So you two became friends?” Jonathan prompts me, obviously eager to move the story forward.
I nod. “Yeah. We were the same age and we just liked all the same things. It wasn’t until almost the end of the school holidays that my mother finally asked where I disappeared to every day.”
“Ah, that extinct childhood era. As long as we showed up in time for dinner in one piece, our parents were grateful to have us out of the way.”
“I know, eh?” I smile and brush a fallen leaf off my shoulder. “Anyway, I told her – about the treehouse and Anjali. My mother turned as white as, as – a cloud!”
Jonathan stops abruptly. The Coleman cooler he’s carrying bumps against me. “Why?”
“Anjali was the daughter of the previous family who lived in our house. She fell down from the treehouse and broke her neck.”
“Are you fucking kidding me?” His mouth hangs open.
I shake my head with a small smirk, wondering what he thought of me. “I wish I was.”