May 20, 2008

The Creative Writing Class

Seno Gumira Ajidarma Short Story

The Creative Writing Class
(Pelajaran Mengarang)

The creative writing class had begun.

“You have 60 minutes to go,” Teacher Tati said. Kids in the 5th grade began writing with their heads almost touching their desks. Teacher Tati wrote three choices of title on the whiteboard. The first one is “Our Happy Family”, the second “A Holiday in Granny’s Home”, and the third “Mother".

Teacher Tati looked at the kids frowning. The sound of pens scratching against papers was softly heard. The kids were lost in their own worlds, she thought. Through her thick glasses, she was observing the 40 nice kids, their future waiting up ahead, nobody knowing where destiny’s hand would lead them.

Ten minutes passed by. But Sandra, 10 years old, had not written a single word on her paper. She looked out of the window. A tweak was fluttering in the howling wind. She couldn’t hardy resist the urge to escape, leaving the reality at play her head. She was cornered to picture the reality in her mind, because Teacher Tati asked her to think about “Our Happy Family", “A Holiday in Granny’s Home”, and "Mother”. Sandra looked at Teacher Tati with abhorrence.

Every time the creative writing class began, Sandra always got a huge problem, because she had to, in deed, make up stories. Unlike the rest of the class, she could not tell stories about her life. For any title that Teacher Tati offers, her classmates could easily tell stories from their daily life. As for Sandra, she had to make up stories. And now, Sandra had yet all distasteful choices.

When she thought about “Our Happy Family”, Sandra got a vision of a messed up house. Empty drinking bottles and cans were scattered on the coffee table, on the floor, and even on the bed. Beer stain was all over the bed whose cover had been dragged somewhere unknown. Ceaseless pillows are everywhere. The door was ajar and a bunch of men snoring all the time, even when Sandra got home from school.

“Come in through the backdoor, you Bitch, leave Mama’s customers alone,” a voice was heard in her head—a voice she’d kill herself to forget.

Fifteen excruciating minutes had gone by. Sandra was clueless of what to imagine about a happy family.

“Mama, do I have a Papa?”

“Of course you do, Devil Kid! I wish I could tell you! Even if I did, he would be stupid enough to father you! Understood? Learn to live without a Papa! Bullshit with Papas!”

Did she have to write the truth? No, she had to make up stories. However, she didn’t have any idea of something worth writing.

Twenty minutes had gone past. Teacher Tati was moving about deep in thought in front of the class. Sandra tried to think about things similar to “Holliday to Granny’s House” but she got the vision of a woman preening before a mirror. The woman was giving thick strokes of makeup to conceal the wrinkles all over her face. The reds were very thick on her cheeks. The blacks were very thick on her eye brows. And the scent would make her sick.

“Be a good girl, you Devil Kid! I will take you to my workplace. But remember! You won’t tell anybody about what you’ll see, understood? Or else…”

The woman was old and loathsome. Sandra didn‘t know who she was. Her mother would call her Mommy. But she also heard everybody calling her Mommy. Did she have so many kids? Her mother often left her with the Mommy when she was spending her time out of town for days only God knows where.

In the woman’s workplace, despite the darkness, Sandra could still see couples fondling so lustfully. She could hear the blasting music, but Mommy told her not to watch.

“Whose daughter is she?”


“And the daddy, who?”

“It beats me!”

Up to this day, Sandra couldn’t understand. Why were some women sitting in a room of glass observed by several men pointing at them?

“Why did you take a kid to this kind of place?”

“Marti asked me to take care of her. There’s no way I could leave her alone at home. Wouldn’t it be a disaster if someone bangs her?"

Sandra was still looking out of the window. Out there was the blue sky. A bird flew past so graciously.
Thirty dreamy minutes had gone by. Sandra tried to think about “Mother”. Would she write about her mother? She pictured a beautiful woman, an incessant smoker, late riser, who would have her meals using her hand and her right food perched on the chair.

Was she my mother? Once Sandra was awakened in the middle of the night and the woman was weeping quietly.

“Mama, Mama, why are you crying, Mama?"

She didn’t reply, she just cried and embraced her. To this very day she still remembered it, but she had never asked any more. She knew, any questions would be replied with, “Shut up, Devil Kid!" or "It's none of your business, Bastard!" or "You’re quite lucky that I give you healthy food and good education. Don’t make a fuss of it, God damn it!"

One night, she came in crawling, too drunk to walk. In the living room she threw up and lay unconscious. Sandra then mopped the disgusting stuffs, without asking any questions. For the woman she called mommy, it’s kind of a habit to get home drunk.

“What do you do, Mama?”

Sandra never forgot how a single question can trigger so many abusive vocabularies one can find in a language.

Of course, of course Sandra knew that the woman loved her. Every Sunday, the woman would take her to such and such plazas. There Sandra could get dolls, clothes, ice creams, French fries, and fried chicken. And every time Sandra was having them, the woman would look at her endearingly. She would wipe Sandra’s mouth when ice cream stain splattered all over her mouth, saying, "Sandra, Sandra…”

There were times when, before Sandra slept, the woman would read her a story from a colorful picture book in English. After reading the story, the woman would kiss Sandra and ask her to promise to be a good kid.

“Promise me, Sandra, that you will be a good woman.”
“Like you, Mama?”

“No, not like me. Not like me.”

Sandra learned to keep her promise and, as a matter of fact, she was a docile girl. Nonetheless, such sweetness was not the daily attitude. More frequently Sandra saw her in her other self. Then, the ever smoking red lips, the liquor smelling mouth, the lusterless eyes, and the pallid face were flashing in her mind, not to mention her radio pager…

Of course Sandra always remembered what was displayed on the screen of the radio pager. Every time the pager beeped, when she was dressing up before the mirror, she would ask Sandra to read the message.
ROOM: 505. 08.00 PM
Sandra knew, every time the pager mentioned a hotel name, room number, and a time for meeting, her mother would go home very late at night. At times, she wouldn’t be home until the next two days or three. In that case, Sandra would be missing her very much. However, there was nothing she could do; she had learned not to express her longing.
Forty tormenting minutes had passed by.

“Those who have finished can hand it to me,” Teacher Tati Said.

No single character was on Sandra’s paper. It was still very white, clean, not even a single dot. All of the kids who had never faced any serious problems in their life could write very easily. Some of them had finished and after handing their works they would dash out of the class.

Sandra had not decided what title she wanted to take.

“Your paper is still empty, Sandra?” Teacher Tati asked her all of a sudden.
Sandra didn't answer. She started writing the title: Mother. Yet, as soon as Teacher Tati left, Sandra began to imagine again. Mama, Mama, she whispered in her head. Even in the head, she could only whisper.

She had also whispered the other night, when she woke up because somebody moved her under the bed. Probably, the woman thought Sandra had been soundly asleep. She thought, Sandra, whom she thought already asleep, would not hear her moans, the long or short ones. She didn’t realize that Sandra was still awake when she fell down on the bed, powerless, and the man who was hugging her had started snoring loudly. She couldn’t hear any more when Sandra whispered quietly, “Mama, Mama…” and her cheeks were soaked with tears.

“The time is up! Please hand your assignment,” Teacher Tati said.

The students stood up and piled their works on Teacher Tati’s desk. Sandra surreptitiously stashes her work in the middle.
At her home, while watching TV, Teacher Tati, who was still single, checked her student’s works. After reading about half of them, she concluded that her students enjoyed beautiful life.

In fact, she had not read Sandra’s writing, which contained only a single line:

My mother is a prostitute…