A Tiger Out Of Time


Chapter Zero: Loss and Found 

Rummaging. Digging. Anything to get rid of that feeling. It’s your fault. You should’ve 

listened– Racing thoughts come to a screeching halt as a roll of paper falls onto the floor. It’s neatly tied with a ribbon, like a gift. I turn it over and nearly cry; the words “For Meli” are written in my grandfather’s handwriting.  

I haven’t heard that nickname in ages – probably because I don’t let anyone except him call me that. It’s been two weeks since he died. Math has an answer, a solution to x. Feelings don’t.

I can’t bring myself to talk to my family. Maybe some part of me still thinks this was some cruel prank.

The smell of his cologne lingers in the stale air, blending with the woody scent of teakwood furniture. I peer into the drawer of sketches and blueprints which are neatly filed away in its proper place. 

Too many memories are trapped in this room. Everything in this room has a story. For a moment, I wish I was six again, sitting by his side, intrigued – believing. 


“Opa! Tell me another one!” I said, hopping in my seat. 

It was a few weeks before the dukun incident. He would tell me different myths, but my favourite was Si Manis Jembatan Ancol, or ‘The Beauty of Ancol Bridge’. 

Opa was at his desk sketching a design while I sat cross-legged attentively. Whenever I was in Indonesia during the longer holidays, I spent my time listening to his stories.  

“Well, do you remember going to Dunia Fantasi with your cousins? That’s in Ancol.” He smiled at me before he continued, “There’s a bridge there with a ghostly woman. Are you sure you want to hear it? It’s super scary!”

“It’s okay opa, I’m old enough!” I insisted. 

“Long ago, when Jakarta was still Batavia, a young girl named Maryam, about fifteen, was arranged to get married to someone she didn’t like. So, she decided to run away. She ran into another man named Oey, who also wanted to marry her. He owned a villa near the bridge, but he wasn’t nice to girls like Maryam. Maryam knew this, and she declined his offer to stay at his house, making Oey very angry. Not long after, Maryam went missing near the bridge. Some say that Oey sent his goons after her. People say that whenever accidents happen there, it’s because she’s jealous she wasn’t able to escape all those years ago,” he finished. “Are you scared?” he teased. 

“No,” I said, embarrassed, before he tickled me and carried me up to his lap as I giggled. “Opa, I have a question.” He nodded as I continued, ”Would you ever force me to do something, like Maryam’s family?” 

“Of course not, Meli. We won’t force you to do anything you don’t want. We love you, no matter what you choose.” 

And for the longest time, I believed that.


An empty vacuum of nothingness swallows me up. Too many emotions come through a broken floodgate. I haven’t felt like this in a long time… 

My brain has gotten me this far, so why can’t it help me now? He told me that my brain was all I needed. Was he wrong about me? Is everyone else, the dukun, right? 

It feels like I’m isolated again, like after my sixth birthday.

Everybody avoided me. Some pitied me, but even they’re scared to be alone with me. My parents tried to act like nothing had changed, but I could tell they were scared too. 

When adults call a child mature, it’s taken as a compliment – until they realise we were forced to grow up too fast. I strived to subvert their expectations – show them that no “magician” could tell me what I could and couldn’t do.

My eyes land on the roll of paper. I scramble to untie the ribbon, revealing a machine blueprint. The design looked different – some components looked more modern than others. He’d probably been working on this for a long time. 

Tempus Machina – Dr Henry Jansen Sikumbang (EngD),” I read aloud as I traced the letters.

 With the last piece in my hand – a rusty, oddly shaped piece of metal – I slot it into the centre of the machine. Before I shut the lid, I look at it one last time.

Chapter One:The Side Effects of Time-Travel 

I blinked, and now I’m here. Where is here?

I look around, and I’m seated in the exact same position as I was in my grandfather’s office. It… worked? I would assume a time machine would transport me through time, not space.

Does that mean I’m still in Jakarta? What year is it? So many questions fill my mind. Combined with the ringing in my ears, I can’t think straight. 

I’m between two walls, presumably houses, judging by how tall and wide they are. I walk towards the end of the little “alley” I’m in and peek onto the street. 

It’s a busy market, filled with people haggling with the sellers behind the stands. What are they wearing? The men are just wearing baggy batik pants. They remind me of the buff Sang Nila Utama from the P4 textbook. I try my best not to stare despite how weirded out I am- 


I look around in panic. This is definitely pre-Islamic Indonesia. I may not enjoy history, but I excel at it anyway. With the lack of kebayas or “modest” clothing, I’m either in the Srivijaya empire or the Majapahit empire. I’m hoping it’s Majapahit because at least I’d be close to modernisation. Then I can find my way out of here.

I step out onto the market before realising – now I’m the idiot in weird clothes. 

Without thinking, I run and hide under a table, thankfully covered by a thick cloth, in the market. I hear many accents – some Chinese and others similar to Arabic. I must be in the Majapahit kingdom, but there’s no way for me to ask since they won’t understand modern Bahasa Indonesia anyway. 

Take a deep breath, Meli. You’re in a new space. What do you do? Apply the scientific method, duh.

Step one: observe. I lift the cloth just enough to see people’s sandals shifting along. There are endless rows of stands along the market. I could make my way through the market by sneaking under them… 

Step two: assess the risk. The people could still notice me, especially in this attire. Wearing purple pyjamas really doesn’t help my case, especially because purple was (is?) a royal colour. I could try to lie and say I am a princess, but I wouldn’t know how to say it in ancient Javanese.

Step three: test-run. Running-while-crouching is harder than I thought, especially when you’re trying not to be seen. I wish I could just steal a pen and paper and make a checklist of things I need to do so I don’t forget anything- 

A sharp pain in my elbow causes me to jolt, followed by things clattering on the ground. I knock down a stand, and out of all of them, a jewellery stand. Did anything break? Will I have to pay? I don’t have any money, let alone know the freaking currency! 

I’m expecting the merchant to start yelling at me by now, but nothing. I don’t realise that I was jamming my eyes shut for dear life until I opened them. Everyone is moving in slow-motion, as if we’re in the matrix. Did I hurt my eyes?  Is this a hallucination? 

Only one way to find out; try to manipulate my surroundings. Pick something up, or punch one of these buff guys. Probably not the latter, I’m not in the mood to anger these people more than I’ve confused them. 

I approach a merchant with my index finger jutted out. All I have to do is poke his arm. Oh, please be in a dream. I’d rather be passed out in my grandfather’s office than being here right now. 

But of course, just like everything else today, nothing’s going my way. My finger is unfortunately met with skin. Great, I can definitely strikethrough lucid dreaming on my list of explanations.

Before I can finish that thought, a bolt of lightning strikes somewhere in the distance. I look up, and red lightning bolts tear through the grey sky.

My mental list seems obscene when I notice the one thing that is moving. I can’t tell what it is, but it’s charging towards me. It’s surrounded by a dark aura, and I mean that literally. 

It’s coming faster now, and I’m walking backwards while still keeping my eyes fixed on it. The thing is getting closer now, and it looks to be a woman. How the hell is she walking so fast? I do a double-take when I realise: HOLY HELL. WHY IS SHE WEARING A KEBAYA?!

I would be happy at the sight of someone actually wearing a shirt, but kebayas aren’t supposed to exist for at least a few centuries. WHAT IS HAPPENING? Not like I knew what was happening when I got here, but still

She’s storming at me the way an angry mother would, muttering words under her breath. But this time, I understand some of them. It doesn’t sound like English or Bahasa, so I suspect it’s Dutch.

My great-great grandfather was Dutch, and frankly the story of him falling in love is one of the few romance stories I can tolerate hearing almost every Hari Raya. I picked up some Dutch from my extended family, but not very much. It’s one of the things I’m not great at. 

She is, in fact, cursing in Dutch, which makes things even more confusing. One thing I remember is that Indonesia was colonised by the Dutch in the 1600s. That is at least four centuries from now. And yet this woman, if that’s what she is, is speaking it. 

Oh yeah, she’s standing right in front of me now. I see more details, like the random patches of grass stuck onto her kebaya, and the amazing detail of the patterns that are unfortunately mucked with the stains of dried blood and mud.

 With my broken Dutch, I manage to croak out a “Who are you?” to which her response is, “The one you call Si Manis Jembatan Ancol”, in Bahasa Indonesia. If there’s one thing I do know, it’s that we’re nowhere near the sea, where she should be. Well, neither am I, so that’s rich coming from me. 

An arm grabs mine and we start running away from the spirit. More like whoever’s arm that belongs to is running, because I’m just getting dragged along. I don’t know how I’m keeping up with this person, because my thoughts are racing as fast as we are. Who the hell is this person?

 I manage to catch glimpses of the person’s hair. It’s soft and silky like a child’s, yet silver like an old person’s. I know for sure that it’s not this person’s natural hair colour because in between the silver are rare streaks of jet black. 

Whoever this person may be, they’re wearing the complete opposite attire of Si Manis – a khaki-coloured ragged cloak with tattered edges. There are some stains and threads that are sticking out. Before I can try and see their face, I realise that it’s quieter out here, and the silence is only disrupted by the clucking of chickens. 

My legs only start burning when we slow down near a house, presumably belonging to this mysterious person. 

Getting kidnapped is one of my main concerns, but the panic only worsens when I notice the house. At first glance, it looks like your typical kampung house. 

My friends tell me that I’m filled with random facts that I’ll never use, and I never thought I’d prove them wrong now, of all times. A small structure that I recognise as a rumah tajug is attached to the house. 

Oh no. I’m definitely getting kidnapped. We step into the normal house, or normal on the outside, since the inside is, well…

My eyes and nose burn with the burning of incense. The shelves against the walls are filled to the brim with books and unlabeled boxes. The complete opposite of opa’s office. He would know how to get out of here. What would he say? 

“Get me back to 2019,” is all I can muster out, which awkwardly breaks the silence between the two of us. 

I see the stranger’s face for the first time, and like her hair, I can’t tell whether she’s young or old. Her skin is wrinkly in some places and not in others.

She doesn’t say anything back, and only goes back to digging through a box. I look around the room trying to find more clues, but I’m rudely interrupted with a slap to the neck. 

“Ow! What the hell?” I say out loud. 

“Can you hear me?” she says, completely nonchalantly. 

“Yeah, who are you-” 

She nods quickly and then grabs me by the arm again, dragging me to a different room. From the outside, the house looked really small, but I guess it’s not. Almost like it’s enchanted or something. Are you kidding me? OF ALL PLACES, A DUKUN’S HOUSE??? 

I’m getting sacrificed, aren’t I? She’s going to use me as an offering in one of her spells. I’m more annoyed than anything. 

A door creaks open, and I’m shoved in. I can’t tell how big the room is because it’s pitch black. 

“Stay here.” 

She slams the door behind her, and I’m left in the dark. I hear her footsteps receding like a signal from the old creaking wood floors. I wonder how old this house is. I run my hands along the walls trying to find answers. 

I think I hear a sound in the room, and I crawl towards it. I hear it again, and it sounds like a person. I whisper a hello, and they groan in reply. 

“Ugh, where am I? I hit the floor and my cheek kind of  hurts”. 

“Uh… hello? Are you a time-traveller?”

“I don’t know, Meli, you tell me,”

Our awkward conversation has turned into pure panic for me. Why does he know my nickname? Did I bring someone back in time with me? Instead of a person, I’m met with the only source of light in the room – a glowing necklace on the floor. 

“Hey, is this yours? I can’t see you, but your necklace is glowing!” 

The necklace itself is beautiful. I pick it up to examine it. It glows an amber hue, with stripes of solid black, which is fitting since it is carved in the shape of a tiger’s face. Its face frozen in a state of ferocity. 

“There’s no else here Meli,” 

And I realise, he’s right. The voice is coming from the palm of my hands.

1. Opa – Indonesian word for grandfather that originates from the dutch word meaning the same thing.

2. Dukun – Bomoh, or Indonesian witch doctor

3. Dunia Fantasi – theme park in Ancol

4.  Tempus Machina: Latin for time machine

5. Batik: a technique of wax-resist dyeing applied to the whole cloth which originated from Java, Indonesia.

6. P4: (Singaporean) Primary 4 (age 10)

7. Kampung – village

8. Rumah tajug – A traditional house that is used for worship, and cannot be built by commoners.

Zara Estrella Parveen (Class of 2025) enjoys weaving mythology into her writing, while maintaining the ‘modern mindset’. She sees writing as opportunities to dig deep within herself, using her avant-garde writer’s voice to showcase her cultural identity.