June 08, 2008

Sutardji Story


Sutardji Calzoum Bachri

THE RAIN TICKLED THE TREES in the yard, wetting the leaves, slapping the roof, and rousing the sixteen-year-old girl who was sound asleep in her room. "Thank goodness for the rain," Ayesha murmured as she got out of bed and went to the front of the house. Ayesha liked the rain.

When it rained, Ayesha felt as though a close friend was calling on her. But she didn't open the door for her "friend." She just pulled aside the curtain of the front room window and watched it raining in the yard outside. Neither did she extend a welcome to her friend — what would have been the point? The rain was always welcome. Saying welcome to the rain would be saying more than was necessary, she thought.

At first it had been her annoyance with the sun that made her like the rain: when she was about five years old, she would help her mother transplant baby ferns in the garden, but the midday sun beat on the plants and burnt them. While she had gotten over her dislike for the sun, she still preferred the rain. And as time passed and the rainy seasons came and went, she came to enjoy the rain even more. At school she would stare out the window of her classroom when it rained. At first this habit irritated her teachers, but in the end Ayesha was left to do what she liked. She was a bright girl who always came out top of her class.

Ayesha not only liked the rain — she wanted to know what it was really like. For her rain was not just drops of water falling from the sky, or sprinkles of water on people's hair as they walked past in the street. There was more to rain than one could see, this Ayesha was sure of. So whenever it rained she would ask it: "What are you?" But the rain only answered by falling some more, and beating on the roof with a stream of cool fresh drops that reached to the sky.

NOW AYESHA WAS NEARLY SIXTEEN, and her body was changing. She was changing inside, too. And the rain began to reveal its true self to her, little by little.

From the window she watched the rain as it revealed its meaning to her. The pouring rain, with the wind's assistance, brushed the leaves in the garden, changing them into leaves of rain. The deluge danced over the fence, changing it to a fence of rain. Jumping from branch to branch, the rain changed the branches to branches of rain. As the rain caressed the roses, the roses became rain roses. As the rain encircled the guava fruit, the guavas became guavas of rain.

Ayesha wanted to pick the guavas made of rain while leaving the real fruit behind. She wanted to pick the rain roses without touching the roses in the garden. She wanted to walk out on the watery branches and touch the twigs of rain without snapping the wood or damaging the bark. She wanted to tiptoe the length of the rain fence without setting her foot on its poles. That's what she wanted to do, but not if it meant opening the door and walking outside. "Whatever for?" she asked herself. You need not be immersed in rain to talk to it. Just as you need not enter a person's mouth, or pluck that person's tongue, in order to understand what he is saying.

NOW AYESHA UNDERSTOOD that the rain outside was calling on the rain within herself. The song of the rain on the roof, the movement of the rain on the leaves, and the pattern of the rain in the garden: they were all calling to her. But for Ayesha the sound of rain was not the same sound as the tapping on a cookie tin. The sound of rain was for Ayesha a sound that embodied literature, song, music, and dance. Look how the rain makes the leaves dance, and pirouettes on the boughs and branches.

In rain's embrace, Ayesha skipped to the center of the room to begin her own dance. She seemed to float through her dance, like a swan gliding across a lake. But, no, she was not a swan. A swan does not become one with the water of the lake.

Ayesha immersed herself in her dancing. But had you touched her neck or her elbow, you would not have felt on her skin the salty moisture of perspiration. The wetness was that of the rain.

Ayesha had become the rain. And in her rain dance she was driven from one side of the room to the other. Her pirouettes were twirls of rain. When she stood straight and still her body was a tree in the rain. The movements of her dance knit a garment of rain around her shoulders. Her feet, in tracing the dance, splattered the floor and the floor became awash with the dance as well. She bent her knees and with a deft movement of her hands plucked the budding rain-flowers that slowly opened before her. And as the rain-flower dance continued, butterflies of rain came from afar to her ears, to the music of a land both near and far.

Ayesha now had both rain-fruit and rain-flowers. She now possessed the maturity of the rain. As her dance caressed the rain-flowers, the rain caressed her. As Ayesha listened to the rain-music, the rain-music listened to her.

JUST AS THE DANCE REACHED its rainy climax, the door suddenly opened. Startled by the sound, Ayesha stopped her movements. The dance had come to an end.

Ayesha's mother, who had just returned from the supermarket, gaped at Ayesha standing stock still, a wet statue on a wet floor.

Ayesha's mother looked at the ceiling. There was no sign of any water coming in anywhere. She smiled, put down her plastic shopping bag on the sofa, and went to get a towel from the bedroom.

"You've been having another one of your adventures, haven't you," she said, as she dried Ayesha's rain-soaked body. And as her fingers were dried by the cotton towel, Ayesha slowly returned to the arid world once more.
translated by Anton Lucas