The wishful fourteen year old made a decisive choice on that fateful April day which would shape the rest of her life.

Twenty years have passed since.

Today, at the break of dawn, she has returned for the first time to the Crocodile River.

This was the lowlands and hills of Palembang Province on the Indonesian island of Sumatra.

Palembang City itself was still several hours drive away.

This is her world and it is like no other on this earth.

Countless times she had come here since she discovered the place as a recently-turned five year old.

She had always come alone and in all these nine years, she had never seen another human being once.

Nobody had discovered her secret getaway.

Nature was truly her friend here.

It was the perfect place to shape a personal destiny.

On her fifth birthday, she received a book about Sumatran birds from her favourite uncle, the eldest brother of her father.

The impact was like putting a telescope into the hands of a star-gazing astronomer.

From Trogons to Kingfishers, from Pheasants, Eagles and Hawks to Broadbills and Babblers, she knew them all.

When asked a few months later by her schoolteacher what she wanted to be when she grew up, she replied that she wanted to be a bird so that she could fly and see the world.

The whole class laughed including the teacher but the girl meant what she had said.

They called her the Little Garuda.

On that April morning, she rode her bicycle home from school, oblivious of the news that awaited her.

There was a sizeable gathering of people at her home.

She knew that her Uncle’s wife had passed away a month or so before and that there had been much discussion within the family of his re-marriage.

Nothing could prepare her for the news which greeted her that her parents had promised her to her Uncle as his new wife, she merely a girl of fourteen and he a widower three times her age.

She was commanded to her room after a swift ceremony and joined by her Uncle  while the door to the room was locked from the outside.

She undressed as she felt compelled to do and knelt down before his naked frame standing before her, not to give sexual favour but in prayer.

In the endless time that passed while they were alone in the room, the Uncle touched her whole body and attempted penetration to her most virtuous part but did not succeed.

She had resisted his penetration with all her will and might given to her by God.

It was he who finally knocked the door and made an exit from her ungiving presence.

Her only uttered words to him before he left were to tell him hat she was as free as any bird and she would fly away to see the world, as was her dream and her destiny.

He could do nothing to prevent it.

He knew that a gift could not and should not be the price to coerce or compromise an unwilling party into marriage.

The young girl did not sleep that night.

She waited her moment near the breaking of the dawn and made her escape on the bicycle to the place of solittude she knew so well.

She feigned to jump from the bridge but lacked conviction for the final action.

She was understandably confused but not afraid.  She knew that God was watching over her.

She descended the rocky cliff from one side of the bridge to the salty waters edge.

She knew the danger.  This was a calculated risk.

Two twenty-foot crocodiles appeared from the murky waters and rushed towards her but then suddenly braked, menacing in their appearance,  not attacking her.

Then, in a quite extraordinary moment, this girl nonchalently patted the heads of the two crocodiles before they suddenly retreated into the waters and swam away.

Today, the young fourteen year old remembered the moment and the choice she made.

She returned to the bridge where she had left her bicycle.

She knelt to pray for a prolonged period of time, it could have been hours.

Today was no different.  She prayed.

There was a cavity in the weak structure of the bridge and she pushed her bicycle through it into the salty waters of the river she had been immersed by a few minutes before.

The shattered bicycle shattered against the boulder rocks but did not get swept away.

Today, unsurprisingly to her, the corroded remains of the bicycle remained in the salty waters.

Twenty years ago, she raised herself after prayer and looked down at the Crocodile River one final time.

Those who doubted her before would not doubt her now.

Another phase in her life was about to begin.

The Little Garuda flew away.


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