June 29, 2008

The Story of Minangkabau West Sumatra

The Buffalo's Victory

For hundreds of years the roofs of the houses in West Sumatra have been built in the form of buffalo horns, and the people in that part of the country call their land Minangkabau, which means "the buffalo wins" or "the buffalo's victory." If you ask the people the reason for their houses being built in this way and their country being named as it is, they will tell you this story:

About six hundred years ago, the King of Java sent a messenger to the people in West Sumatra. He wanted to let them know that he was now ruler of all the green islands of Indonesia, and that he would soon take over their land; that it would be better for them to surrender, for if they opposed the King, they would all be killed.

Of course the people became greatly alarmed when they heard the message of the powerful King of Java, and their leaders quickly met to decide how they should meet this threat.

"We must do all we can to avoid war," one said. "If there is a battle, think of the death and destruction! We are sure to lose, and then we will be the slaves of this foreign king. We must think of a way not to fight. We must outwit those who wish to conquer us."

There were many proposals, and finally one was set forth that was accepted by all the people as being the best possible way to defeat the enemy. The messenger from Java was told to submit this proposal to his King: rather than face war, with the destruction it would bring to both sides, the people of West Sumatra proposed that each side, instead of fighting themselves, should bring a buffalo to the field of battle. The buffalo would then fight each other, and the outcome of their battle would determine the future course of affairs. If the buffalo of the Javanese King won, then the people of West Sumatra would surrender and become his subjects. If the buffalo of the people of West Sumatra won, then the Javanese King would make no further attempt to conquer them and they could continue to live as free men.

And so it was agreed.

The King of Java sent his men to search all over his island kingdom for the most powerful buffalo they could find. They found one, and brought him to their camp in West Sumatra, where they took care of him until the day of battle should arrive. All the people of West Sumatra had heard about the buffalo of the King of Java and they came to see it. Such a buffalo as this they had never seen in all their lives. It was so strong and so large and so fine that the sight of it made them more dismayed and more discouraged than ever.

Again they consulted together. "We are lost," they lamented. "Never will we be able to find a buffalo able to win over this mighty buffalo of the enemy."

Again they came up with ideas and plans, and then rejected them all as useless. Finally, when they were nearly desperate, one of the villagers had an idea which made them all rejoice.

One of the men had a new buffalo calf, which he took from its mother.

Another villager fastened sharp pieces of iron on the tips of the calf’s horns. They waited three days, and then went to the messenger of the King of Java, telling him that they had found a buffalo and were ready for battle.

The next morning the King's men brought their fine strong buffalo to the battlefield, and at the same time the villagers led their little calf to meet the enemy. The air was filled with the loud rough laughter of the King's soldiers when they saw the calf of the West Sumatrans standing so helplessly on the wide open field. . .

But the people of West Sumatra paid no attention to the laughter of the soldiers. They waited until everything was quiet, and then one of their leaders said, "Ready!"

They let the little calf loose and pushed him forward, and at the same time the King's soldiers untied their mighty buffalo.

For a moment nothing happened. It was as though the great buffalo of the King and the small helpless calf of the villagers were looking each other over before each decided what to do.

Then the calf began to run. He had been kept from his mother for three whole days, and he was very very hungry. To him, the big buffalo standing across from him looked just like his mother, and he ran straight to the large animal, pressing his nose against the underside of him, searching for milk. As he nuzzled, the sharp-pointed pieces of iron on his horn pierced the belly of the buffalo, and with a roar of pain the great beast began to run across the field. The little calf ran after him, and the enthralled spectators watched the scene: the big buffalo running with ever greater difficulty, blood flowing from his wounds, the little calf determinedly catching up with him. Then the King's buffalo fell, and as the little calf drew near him, a great shout went up from the people of West Sumatra gathered to watch the battle: "Minangkabau! Minangkabau! Minangkabau!" (The buffalo wins! The buffalo is victorious!).

The King and his soldiers said not a word. Then quietly, they left the battlefield, and were never seen again.

The villagers put a wreath of flowers around the neck of the little buffalo calf and led him to his mother.

The people of West Sumatra were still free. And that is why the houses and the headdresses of the people are made to look like buffalo horns, and why their land is called "Minangkabau" or "The Buffalo's Victory."***

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June 26, 2008

Dorothea Rosa Herliany (2)

Talking Trash

in the empty forest, i am enchained by words of trash.
the world is weary and confused, the paths go round in circles
in the dishonest confusion of truth and deceit.

the land in the distance is fertile.
i have no way of growing.
i am like a snail with no trail to follow.
searching for the home
it carries on its back.
from one unnamed land to another,
i am unable to see the most imaginary oasis:
i am imprisoned in words of trash

i build a world set on cranes' legs
this is a land of dwarfs, shrunken and foolish.
they weave fear with their long tongues.
lies turn into yes.
and truth turns into no. words soar
to the top of the tower
of babel. desires and force
aimed at nothing in particular
whistle through the air, day by day,
like a sheaf of arrows hunting the wind.

i am lost in a land where words are trash.
in my poetry, i build myself a small house
where my conscience can live.

Sampah Kata-Kata

di rimba kosong, aku terbelenggu sampah katakata.
dunia lunglai dan kusut. perjalanan mellngkarlingkar,
dalam kekacauan dusta antara kebenaran dan tipudaya.

di hamparan tanah subur,
aku kehilangan jalan untuk tumbuh.
seperti siput yang berjalan tanpa jejak ludah.
mencari rumah sendiri di punggung.
dan tanah ke tanah tanpa nama, aku
tak melihat fatamorgana.
: aku terkurung dalam sampah katakata.

kubangun tempat berpijak kaki bangau,
inilah negeri kurcaci. sebab kerdil
mereka menyulam ketakutan dengan lidah panjang.
kepalsuan menjadi ya.
dan kebenaran menjadi tidak. katakata membumbung
di puncak menara babel.
segala nafsu dan kekuasaan
yang tak lagi punya mata
mendesing hari ke hari
dalam sekelebatan anak panah memburu angin.

aku tersesat di negeri sampah katakata.
kubangun rumah kecil dalam puisi hati nurani.

Jakarta, 1998

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June 23, 2008

The Mysterious Shooter Trilogy (3)


By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Translated by Patricia B. Henry

Detective Sarman was still intensely slurping up his coffee in Markonah’s roadside stall, when the irritating sound of his walkie talkie started calling him over and over. It was late at night. The remnants of a drizzling rain reflected the light of the pressure lantern.

“Officer Sarman?”

“Here, sir!”

“Get to First Street, on the double! There’s a disturbance!”

“Right away, sir!”

His coffee was still steaming, but even so Detective Sarman had to rush off. The momentary relaxation he was enjoying at the coffee stall would have to wait for another time. Markonah’s smiles, which had been poking holes in his heart for some time, would have to be forgotten for now. Ah well, that was the way it was, Detective Sarman said to himself. Scrambling to keep up with things from one moment to the next, and every time you had a chance to come up for air and catch your breath, you immediately found yourself drowning in problems again. In the jitney cab on his way to the place of the incident, he felt for his pistol under his jacket. It was still there.

Nimbly, he jumped out of the cab without paying. People were still crowding around by the side of the road. From behind the crowd, Detective Sarman craned his neck to see. And straight-away his eyes took in a blood curdling sight.

In the moonlight, a hulking form stood in the intersection. Every once in a while its head jerked up and out of its mouth came a hoarse growl. Grrrr! Grrrr! No one dared to come near. Its fist clenched a golden necklace that sparkled as the light from the street lamps fell on it.

Detective Sarman pushed his way forward. Now it was increasingly clear just how horrifying the thing was. In form it was tall and large. Its feet trampled on its already half-dead victim.

Grrr! It growled again. And Detective Sarman saw how thick, soupy spittle was dripping from its mouth. Its lips looked sticky, as if they could only be opened by force. One side of its face was already liquefied. Its left eye was gouged out, and out of the socket worms came crawling, creepity-creepity. The flesh from its whole body was half rotten and the stench was truly awful. Detective Sarman was used to seeing corpses. From those who had died in accidents to those who had been tortured. Those corpses very often were horrible and disgusting, but they didn’t terrify Detective Sarman at all.

Now Detective Sarman looked upon a sight that he had never in his whole life seen before. In the stinking body he could see gaping holes which were crawling with worms. Every time the worms fell out and went creepity-creepity along the road, more worms came pouring out from inside the torso of the body and went creepity-creepity some more and creepity-creepity some more and creepity-creepity some more. Grrr!

The thing made a threatening move towards the victim that was underfoot. Detective Sarman quickly took action. He aimed his gun at the body’s head. He shot.

An explosion was heard. The body jerked to a stop. But it didn’t become still. Its forehead had a hole because of Detective Sarman’s bullet. No blood came gushing out. It was as though the bullet had pierced a banana trunk. But out of the bullet hole emerged more worms which immediately began going creepity-creepity, tumbling down onto the asphalt.

Detective Sarman shot several more times with suppressed rage. But his bullets only made more impact holes. And from every hole came forth worms which went creepity-creepity so that the thing became even more horrible. And it started moving closer to Detective Sarman. Its steps were slow but sure. It lurched forward stiffly but with certainty. Both its hands were held up in front as if heavily waving. People scattered like mice. Detective Sarman quickly reached for his walkie-talkie.

“Missiles! Missiles! Send guided missiles immediately!”

“What for?”

“To shoot a monster! Hurry up! Twenty-two caliber bullets won’t do it! Quick! The monster’s chasing me! Quick!”

“Monster? What monster?”

“Never mind that now! We can talk about it later! Hurry up!”

“What missiles are you requesting?”

“Don’t be stupid! Anti-tank missiles, of course!”

Because the streets were deserted by now, the delivery of TOW missiles arrived quickly. The foul-smelling body which strode with heavy feet was still some distance from Detective Sarman. It was immediately smashed to a pulp. In the blink of an eye, a forty pound missile had been launched with all its awesome power. The rotten body was destroyed without a trace. Only the worms, which had just picked up the pace of their creepity-creepity, were still going creepity-creepity everywhere. Creepity-creepity. Creepity-creepity. Creepity-creepity.

A reporter who up until then had been quietly taking pictures of the event immediately hailed a cab.

“To Palmerah! On the double!”

The morning papers came out the next day like something in a nightmare. LIVING CORPSES WANDER THROUGHOUT THE CITY. An excerpt of the news:

...and our reporters in various parts of the capital report that in every gathering place, living corpses are emerging. Their bodies are extremely rotten. Their flesh has partially liquefied, and bullets from pistols or rifles have no effect. Even firearms that have been given magical powers by shamans are still useless. The living corpse can only be destroyed with a missile. And even that doesn’t mean it’s dead. Shreds of its flesh continue twitching. And the worms that fall from its body flourish and multiply at an awesome rate.

In general, our reporters have reported almost identical events. The living corpses, alias zombies, behave like criminals. They pickpocket wallets, snatch necklaces, demand money, or rob people at gunpoint. But because of their rotten bodies and their slow, awkward movements, they can’t run away like criminals. They can only hold up whatever they’ve stolen while emitting a hoarse sound: Grrr! Grrr! They appear suddenly from out of nowhere. Perhaps directly from the graveyard. But there are no reports of graveyards which have been broken open.

Now the doctors are examining the shreds of flesh which are still writhing around. We hope that the proper authorities, whose responsibility it is to take care of this truly weird situation, will immediately do so. It’s true that in the everyday life of this country plenty of unbelievable and shocking things happen all the time, and people somehow manage to just accept them. However, it is to be hoped that this particular situation will quickly pass. Living corpses wandering around is just too appalling.

Detective Sarman read the news while shaking his head.

“Too much. How come my name isn’t given even a mention? The press nowadays always blows up unimportant things out of all proportion, while covering up the real issue. Just look, where is there any mention the hard work being done by the authorities? Here I’ve been working day and night without rest, and it’s the picture of the stupid living corpse that gets put in the paper! I could see the point if the thing were at least good-looking! And the damned public, too -- invariably insulting the police. Meanwhile, they always love the cops in western movies. To hell with them all!”

At Markonah’s food stall he ranted on while chewing on a slice of tempeh.

“And now the newspapers are joining in. Making a big fat deal of the news of the living corpses. The community is being frightened out of its wits. And the upshot of it is, at the very least, that the police will be blamed again! Once more the police! The higher-ups will get all pissed off, and then we’re the ones who catch hell! No way is the salary enough to get anyone through a week! Damn! Who knows, if I’d passed the college entrance exam way back when, maybe my luck would be a little better. What the hell do reporters know about anything? Bunch of show-off smart asses!”

He was still cursing enthusiastically when his walkie-talkie called him to attention again. He jumped up, all energetic efficiency.
“Here, sir!”

And in a flash, Detective Sarman vanished.

“Hey, what about paying the check?” Markonah yelled after him, aggrieved. But she didn’t grumble long. She knew, Detective Sarman would always come back to her. Even though he had a wife and four children. Always, he would come back to her.

Once more, Detective Sarman was face to face with a living corpse. Its head was hairless, its body reeked, and it was crawling with worms. It stood in the intersection with its hands in front of it. Its putrefying mouth looked like it was melting, but out of it still came the hoarse voice. Grrrr! Grrrr! The street was jammed with traffic. Cars were abandoned by their passengers. The rotting body strode over the roofs of the cars. Every so often it would lose its balance because the soles of its feet were also starting to rot away.

Detective Sarman contemplated the situation more calmly now. He knew, even if this one could be taken care of, others would immediately come forth. There had to be a reason why all these rotten bodies were coming back from the grave. Surely it was the same reason for all of them. If not, what were they up to, creating such chaos?
Probably they were criminals during their lifetimes, thought Detective Sarman. They looked like petty thugs and crooks, small fry. The kind of crooks that depended on their weapons and their strength, not on their brains. Detective Sarman had noticed that on the bodies that were beginning to rot away there could still be seen traces of tattoos. And in the bodies there were always holes from which the worms started spreading to the outside, falling creepity-creepity-creepity. Detective Sarman felt there was something he could almost remember, but then he forgot it again.

Grrr! The voice brought him out of his deep thought. He looked closely at the body again, and sure enough, it had a tattoo. The form of a naked woman could still be made out faintly on its chest. And the holes. Yes, the holes were always in the same places. At the back of the head, on the left side of the chest, or in the forehead. To be sure, sometimes there were lines of holes from the chest to the stomach. Or along the length of the back. But not often. Suddenly Detective Sarman was reminded of something. But the voice intruded again: Grrrr!

He had already ordered the TOW missiles. The most effective weapon for immobilizing zombies. While waiting he lit a cigarette, watching the monster fall and pick itself up as it lurched around on the tops of the cars. It was truly disgusting. Detective Sarman could smell its rotten stench even from where he was standing. Good God, who would believe it -- a corpse coming to life again. What evil spirit possessed it?

If you counted them all up, there had been more than twenty living corpses popping up on various street corners. Detective Sarman’s colleagues had run themselves ragged, keeping track of them all. Every time, they had to use a TOW missile to destroy them. Unfortunately, the TOW missiles didn’t confine themselves to smashing to smithereens only the living corpses. The corpses’ surroundings were also smashed up along with them. The Minister for Protecting the Environment was getting angry.

“Just why is it we have to use missiles? Isn’t it a shame to squander all those expensive missiles? Can’t you snare them in a net? Chop them down with a machete? Or pour gasoline all over them?” he asked in a televised statement.

But while the polemics were going on, the living corpses continued to show up conspicuously all over the place. The authorities wanted to take care of this matter quickly. For that, missiles really were the most effective means.

Nevertheless, in only a few days, there had been so many incidents. What would happen if we ran out of missiles? This is what Detective Sarman was thinking. His brain was reeling. The United States had just said they were sick and tired of selling missiles. To buy them from Israel was tantamount to treason. There had to be another way. We have no way of knowing how many more living corpses will be terrorizing us. Where in hell are all these stinking corpses coming from? Detective Sarman was truly at his wit’s end, trying to figure it out. He reached for his walkie-talkie.

“Check out the graveyards in all corners of the land. Report back on which graves have been broken into!” ordered Detective Sarman.

At that very moment the missile delivery arrived. The missile specialists set it up carefully. The zombie was standing firmly on top of a car. Grrr! Grrr! Detective Sarman looked closely at the half-dissolved face. He had the feeling he had seen it before. Who was it, anyway? Grrr! Grrr! Worms were falling out of its mouth. And as usual, they were going creepity-creepity in their disgusting way. Rapidly spreading over everything. Creeping over the car windows, so that the pretty women who hadn’t been able to escape were screaming like crazy people. The zombie was now looking more ferocious.

“Shoot it, quick!” yelled Detective Sarman.

“OK, Boss!” And the TOW missile was off in a flash. Ka-POW!

The capital was like a war zone. Smashed-up ruins lay scattered all around everywhere. This was the result of the missiles that had been shot off with such abandon. Nonetheless the zombies continued to emerge. Worms were infesting everything like a plague. Worms were going creepity-creepity on top of tables, chairs, windows, toilets, in bathrooms, shirt pockets, shoes, dishes, glasses, and bottles. People were busy every day, flicking off worms which were crawling all over their shirts, their hair, their nostrils; they even had worms dangling from their eyeglasses.

Zombies were raging around increasingly. Daily life was disrupted. Now they weren’t just snatching cheap things, but they’d also started gobbling up all kinds of food. Their very existence was an act of terrorism. The supply of missiles was getting lower and lower. Keep in mind, this was a calm and peaceful country, fertile and prosperous, like a kingdom in a shadow play. What the hell. Who would have dreamed they’d have to fight a war against zombies?
Detective Sarman’s walkie-talkie squealed.

“Officer Sarman?”

“Here, sir!”

“Get to Fifth Street on the double! There’s another zombie!”

“Right away, sir!”

But Detective Sarman didn’t budge. He put both his feet up on top of his desk in the office. His head drooped. His walkie-talkie went on squealing. He could hear there was a lot of yapping back and forth.

Lazily he reached for some of the reports which had been filed.

... our informants from every corner of the land report that there are a certain number of grave sites that have been broken open. The coffins within them have been opened and whatever was in them is not there anymore. The data shows that these graves are in fact those of criminals of the “small fry” class. However, not all the graves have names or dates. The result of the research we’ve been able to do up to now also shows that some of the living corpses come from the Mass Grave...

Detective Sarman felt more and more as if he should be remembering something. He hadn’t yet gotten the answer to the puzzle when he heard a knocking on the glass window behind him. He turned, and felt a stab of terror: zombies!

His heart pounded hard. The horrible face had suddenly appeared just like that in the window. At a glance, even though this face too had begun to rot away, Detective Sarman recognized it.

“Ngadul!”[2] he screamed. But Ngadul, who had become a zombie, didn’t recognize him anymore. The zombies crept inside. Grrr! Grrr!

Detective Sarman leapt on top of the table, grabbing for his walkie-talkie. Now he felt that he was on to something.

“Commander! One of the zombies is Ngadul! One of the victims of the legendary mysterious slaughter of the Mass Grave! I recognize him, sir! He’s turned up at the station!”

“Shoot him quick with a missile!”

“Forgive me, Commander, but that won’t solve the problem!”

The zombies approached and knocked over Detective Sarman’s desk. The Honorable Detective jumped like a hunted rabbit and ran into another room. The zombies kept on coming after him. Worms swarmed over the walls.

“Officer Sarman! Are you disobeying your commander’s orders?”

“It’s not that, sir! We don’t have enough missiles to get rid of all the zombies!”

“What are you talking about, Officer Sarman? Those zombies are disrupting our lives!”

The zombies were kicking at the door and breaking it down. Detective Sarman jumped out of a window with his walkie-talkie.

“Don’t you remember, sir? Along with Ngadul there were six thousand criminals of the “small fry” class who were slaughtered mysteriously! Do you still remember, sir?”

“Yes, yes! What about it?”

“Most of the corpses were buried in the Mass Grave, Commander, sir!”

“I know! So what then?”

“There was a report, it seemed that many among them weren’t active criminals anymore, sir! Among those mysteriously slaughtered there were many who had seen the error of their ways, sir! And all of them were buried without religious rites, sir! At the time, nobody dared mention it! They were scared they’d get slaughtered, too, sir! The fact is, at that time anybody at all could be killed mysteriously, sir!”

Grrr! The zombies jumped from the window. Detective Sarman started climbing the wall of the outside fence.

“So, have you come to some conclusion, Officer Sarman?”

“That slaughter was a big mistake, sir! Our generation is suffering the consequences! Those people weren’t ready to die, sir! They’re taking their revenge!”

“What should we do?”

“Perform rites for them, sir! There has to be a mass funeral service, sir! We only have a hundred missiles left! It isn’t enough to wipe them out! Perform rites for them, sir! So that their souls will find rest!”

“You’re dreaming, right, Officer Sarman? You’re babbling in your sleep! That’s all utter nonsense! We’re importing missiles from overseas even now! Do you hear that? Six thousand missiles are being shipped here! The zombies will be butchered!”
A zombie caught hold of Detective Sarman’s foot which was still half in the station compound.

“Help! They’ve got me! Help!” Detective Sarman screamed in horror. The zombie was starting to swallow his leg. Detective Sarman’s shrieks pierced the heavens. His walkie-talkie fell into the ditch.

From various quarters of town zombies appeared, more and more of them, moving faster and faster, becoming more and more ferocious. They crept along like worms. Filling the streets, skulking in the supermarkets and entering the campuses. They wandered about in every nook and cranny. They climbed up on top of multi-storied buildings and roared hoarsely. Grrr! Grrr! Revenge! Revenge! They growled in unison like a choir from hell. Grrr! Grrr! Revenge unto death! Revenge unto death! Grrr!

In the intervals between that horrible chorus that made the entire town quake with fear, could be heard the shrill, heart-rending wails of Detective Sarman, “He-e-e-elp! My leg is being eaten by zombi-e-e-es! He-e-e-elp! Commander-r-r-r-r! He-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-e-elp!!!!!”
Jakarta – Yogya
December 1986

[1]“Grhhh!” from “Penembak Misterius: Trilogi” (The Mysterious Shooter: A Trilogy), in Penembak Misterius: Kumpulan Cerita Pendek (The Mysterious Shooter: A Collection of Short Stories). Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti, 1993; written in Jakarta and Yogya, December 1986.

[2]“Squealer,” a name for an informant, from ngadul = (Jav.) to squeal, inform, report

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June 20, 2008

Poem from prison

Dreaming I was a bridegroom

by Bambang Isti Nugroho

The white bread you sent
I've already eaten
and the letter you slipped in
I've already read

I was so moved
by the dignity of your feelings
and the strength of your spirit

In my narrow cell under military detention
with its cold and smelly floor
my sleep was decorated with dreams
dreams of being a bridegroom

But there was something that made me nervous
for all who were there at the wedding
were wearing uniforms
and carrying guns

We were handcuffed
and I could hear
someone pounding a judge's gavel

Yes, it was a strange and frightening dream
but still I enjoyed
dreaming I was a bridegroom

Even with my hands bound
sleeping in my narrow cell
that was cold and full of mosquitoes

Something made me sad
when I was awoken from the dream
it all disappeared

And I felt again
what it was like to be under investigation
and feel fear

District Military Command, August '88

Bermimpi jadi pengantin

Roti tawar yang kau kirimkan
sudah aku makan
surat yang kau selipkan
juga sudah aku baca

Aku begitu terharu
betapa mulia hatimu
betapa tegar jiwamu

Dalam sel sempit tahanan militer
yang lantainya dingin dan bau
tidurku berhias mimpi
mimpi jadi pengantin

Ada yang membuat aku gelisah
yang hadir dalam pernikahan
semua berseragam
semua membawa senjata

Tangan kita diborgol
telingaku mendengar
orang mengetok-ngetokkan palu

Mimpiku memang aneh dan menakutkan
tapi tetap saja aku suka
bermimpi jadi pengantin

Biarpun tangan diborgol
tidur dalam sel sempit
yang dingin dan banyak nyamuk

Ada yang membuat aku sedih
bila aku terjaga dari mimpi
mimpiku jadi buyar

Aku merasakan kembali
sedang dalam penyidikan
merasakan ketakutan.

Kodim, Agustus '88

From Sajak-sajak cinta dari balik terali (Love poems from behind bars) by Bambang Isti Nugroho, published by Penerbit Widya Mandala, Yogyakarta, 1994. Born in 1960, Bambang Isti Nugroho is a Yogyakarta-based writer active in journalism, theatre and literature. In 1985 he was one of the founders of Palagan, a study group concerned with issues of social justice and literature. In 1989 he was arrested, along with two other student activists from Yogyakarta, and tried under Indonesia's infamous 1963 Subversion Law. (See Inside Indonesia 19, July 1989). Sentenced to eight years, he served a term of six years in Yogyakarta's Wirogunan Prison.
Keith Foulcher was the translator.

cited from no. 51 July-
September 1997

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June 18, 2008

Dorothea Rosa Herliany (1)

Secret Sex Telegrams

i sent you telegrams of desire, some powerful current flowed to
the brain,
somehow, i searched for love in one explosion after another.
i found one disappointment after another.

i sent thundreds of tiny screams into the closed waves.
they beat against the walls and my doubts, i gave you
millions of uncertain kisses, fire flowed from my closed eyes.

i sent you a sheaf of telegrams of love: in my sweat
and wild breathing, all that remained was a row of unspoken
and bubble upon bubble of poisonous hatred.
then i wrote a disgustingly obscene story
about a gentle rabbit dressed in flesh
and the passage of "the man with the golden gun".
i sent it to the scene of the most stupid sex possible.

why should you curse this tiny pleasure, especially as you hide
the barking of dogs and the shrill whinny of horses
between the pages of your scriptures
and in the graffiti written on the walls of your temples.

rest in my crotch, little man.
before you curse a corner of your cold mirror
before i hunt you down: before i kill you
with my arrow soaked in the poison of hundreds of snakes.
then, with a flick of my finger, throw your body
into the smiling hole of my most stupid pleasure.


Telegram Gelap Persetubuhan

kukirim telegram cinta, untuk sesuatu yang deras, mengalir ke ubun,
yang ganjil. yang kucari dalam ledakanledakan. yang kutemukan
dalam kekecewaan demi kekecewaan.

kukirim beratus teriakan kecil dalam gelombang takberpintu.
membenturbentur dinding dan kesangsian. kuberikan berdesimal
ciuman bimbang. sampai hangat membakar dari mata terpejamku.

kukirim sebaris telgram cinta: lewat lelehan keringat dan
dengus nafas liarku. yang menyisakan sebaris kalimat bisu
dalam gelembung racun kebendan.
dan setelah itu kutulis cerita cabul yang memualkan,
tentang seekor kelinci lemah berbaju gumpalan daging
dalam sederet langkah "the man with the golden gun".
kukirim ke alamat persetubuhan paling dungu.

mengapa kaukutuk kesenangan kecil ini. sambil kausembunyikan
lolongan anjing dan ringkik kuda sembrani dalam berhalaman kitab
atau berbaris grafiti di dinding luar menara.
diamlah dalam kelangkangku, lelaki.
sebelum kaukutuk sebagian fragmen dalam cermin bekumu,
sebelum aku menjadi pemburu sejati: untuk membidikkan panah
yang kurendam racun beratus ular berbisa.
dan kibas jariku melemparkan bangkaimu
ke lubuk senyum nikmatku paling dungu.
Februari, 2000.

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June 16, 2008

Interview with Rahwana

Interview with Rahwana [1]

By Yudistira ANM Massardi

Translated by Patricia B. Henry

In the moment before Anoman[2] threw him headfirst into the earth, Rahwana had time to curse: “It may be that my physical body will disappear after this, but the essence of my being will live on. It will soak into the soul of every human being. For centuries to come…”

The earth which held him tight then swallowed him and crushed him to bits. The sky reverberated with thunder. Then it grew dark. From the deep crack in the earth into which the tragic figure of Alengka’s[3] ruler had disappeared, millions of black bubbles came forth and swiftly spread over the entire world.

Sanjaya[4] – the world’s first war correspondent, who had previously been the eye-witness reporter for the huge battle of the Bharata[5] family on the field of Kurusetra[6], and who had then had the opportunity to witness the death of this major scoundrel – immediately went in pursuit. He asked for the assistance of Anoman so that he could follow Rahwana’s soul into the earth as it headed for the hereafter.

What follows are excerpts from Sanjaya’s interview with that Fountainhead of all Evil.

Sanjaya (S): “Do you agree with the occurrence and the manner of the death which you have just experienced?”

Rahwana (R): “Death, or even life, is not a matter to be agreed to or not. Both of them are very simple matters, such that they needn’t be considered a problem. As for the ‘manner,’ is it really all that important? Humans certainly have all kinds of nasty habits. Just like you, they always have a passion to ask about how somebody died and how somebody lived. Those kinds of ‘tragic’ questions only have importance for the dramatic concerns of the plot that is being acted out.

“The manner of my death which you just witnessed was indeed dramatic. How could a person who had so much power, who had been given the boon of invulnerability and who was rich beyond imagining, come to an end so miserable and helpless? That contrast is the particular stipulation that has been highlighted. But you may be certain: I am not dead in the usual sense of the word. Because fundamentally I continue to live. My death is the instrument which will bring about the eternal existence of my essence in the world.

“The disintegration of my physical body serves to strengthen my essence. You’ll be able to prove it when as a result of this event the world will fill with black bubbles – you saw them just now? (Sanjaya nodded). That is the form of my new power. A truly tenacious evil.

“So, should I really protest against my death and the way it happened? I shouldn’t, right? (Sanjaya nodded again). And as for the way I lived while I was Alengka’s ruler, will you sensationalize it for the sake of those dramatic concerns I was talking about? Oh, and by the way, where will this interview be aired? Oh, never mind, never mind. If it’s aired or not, it’s no concern of mine. But the way I lived, the way in which I managed authority, the way I indulged family members far and near, I suppose it is important to have all that expressed in your report. By all means, write down your views of all that. Expose whatever scandal you think has been going on. Go ahead and smash everything up, if the smashing is sufficiently dramatic. I won’t be sorry. Because I’ll be there inside the soul of every person who wants to ransack whatever remains of my power and property. It is the job of my essence to encourage all of this.”

S: “Can you describe in concrete terms how large that power is?”

R: “As large as the cosmos.”

S: “Do you control every human being?”

R: “Every human being has the instinct for evil.”

S: “What profit do you get from power like that?”

R: “That’s always how it is. Everybody always thinks about profit and loss. What’s the big deal with profit and loss? And surely you know, I’m no tradesman. However wicked, I am of the kesatria[7] caste. A kesatria never thinks like a tradesman. Profit and loss have no meaning to us. What’s important to me is consistency in the ideals of struggle. I must nuture fatalism and the destruction of human dignity. It is my task and duty to cultivate ruthless greed on the face of this earth.”

S: “Doesn’t this duty of yours make you sick at heart?”

R: “Oh, please! What is it with you, anyway? Grief, happiness, and all those things that sound so emotional – like profit and loss, they have no meaning for me. Kesatria are not such cry-babies. A prince who grasps in his fist a substantial power cannot be overcome with melancholy. He must resolutely carry out his task. The kind of sentimental clap-trap you speak of is something only for slaves. For the peasants. Because once a prince lets himself be swept away by feelings, he will become shaken and uncertain. Power will slip away from his hand. After that comes his downfall. Do you understand? A prince is prohibited from losing that which has become his possession. That which he possesses must be held onto until the last drop of blood has been shed. There is no compromise.”

S: “And this is true even if the people who are under your authority are suffering?”

R: “The suffering and pain of underlings is the most important part of absolute power. Without suffering, a given power has no meaning. In fact, without the pain of many people, it isn’t possible for a given power to maintain itself with firmness.”
S: “If there are critics who say that you don’t want to hear or pay attention to the complaints of your underlings….?”

R: “Critics? That is the most beautiful part of holding on to a powerful position. Critics are important from a dramatic standpoint. The sobs and complaints of underlings are sweet and gentle background music for the dream-filled night.”

S: “Truly you are sadistic.”

R: “A person in authority who is any good has to be sadistic. And the power that is in my grasp is sadism. Because of that, lots of victims are needed. As sacrificial offerings. Also as a sign of the perpetuity of that power.”

S: “Do you have power over all the power-holders in this world?”

R: “Why not? Every power-holder, every authority which exists on earth, is an instrument which reverberates with the song of each and every black bubble which diffused from the place where my physical body was hurled down just now.”

S: “What is your commitment to those power-holders?”

R: “Eh? That’s a secret….”

S: “Very well. As for your future plans, will you be choosing heaven or hell?”

R: “Oh, bullshit. What kind of stupid question is that? Of course I’ll choose hell. I suggest that you do the same when your turn comes. There are lots of problems there that you need to look into. I think that a bit of reporting from hell would be quite interesting. Because, as I said before, human beings prefer things to be dramatic, don’t they? Heaven is too calm. Too peaceful, to the point that there are no more problems. But in hell, every minute there is a huge fuss and excitement, and all manner of troublesome people coming together there. You can interview them. All the pain and regret that they bring forward will surely make excellent reminders for those who still live, right? For that, certainly you will earn a suitable karmic reward. Also, in that place you will be able to meet all the power-holders of the earth who were slaves to their own greediness.”

S: “A final question. What is your opinion of Dewi Sinta[8], the wife of Sri Rama, whom you once kidnapped?”

R: “Oh, excellent! Excellent!”[9]

S: “Thank you.”
(Coming up, an interview by Semar[10] of Marilyn Monroe.)
[1]Rahwana = Ravana, the villainous demon king in the Indian epic Ramayana,who kidnaps Sita, the wife of Rama.
[2]Anoman = Hanuman, the magical white monkey who helps Rama defeat Ravana.
[3]Alengka = Langka, Ravana’a kingdom.
[4]Sanjaya = in the Mahabharata, a prince who tells the story of the great battle between the Pandavas and the Kauravas to those back home.
[5]Bharata = the family to which both the Pandavas and the Kauravas belong.
[6]Kurusetra = Kuruksetra, the place of the great battle.
[7]kesatria = ksatria, the second caste (or, more properly, varna) in the four caste system of brahmana “priest,” ksatria “ruler/warrior”, vaisya “trades or craftsman”, and sudra “peasant”. The dharma, roughly meaning duty or fate, of each caste differs, and the dharma for ksatria includes violence and killing in the context of righteous war.
[8]Dewi Sinta = Sita, the wife of Rama, who, though kidnapped and held by Ravana for many years, presumably remained pure and faithful to Rama.
[9]in English in the original
[10]Semar = the grotesquely fat clown servant in Javanese wayang shadow theatre.

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June 10, 2008

The Mysterious Shooter Trilogy (1)

Killing Song[1]
By Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Translated by Patricia B. Henry
almost night in Jogja
as my train arrived

The keroncong[2] song made me sleepy, despite the fact that tonight I had to kill someone. Of course, old people always like keroncong songs; they bring to mind to the good old days.

They were scattered around down there, around the swimming pool, but apparently not many of them were really listening to the keroncong music. They talked among themselves, noisy chatter and laughter from time to time breaking out of each group.

Indeed, not all of them were old; in fact, there were many young women. At the very least, that was enough to attract my attention. Though the telescopic gunsight, I watched them one by one, as if I were in amongst them. A lively party. There was goat roasted on a spit. Mmmm....

The cross-hairs on the telescopic sight continued to wander. Once in a while it rested on the brow of a person, and followed him. If I were to squeeze my index finger, obviously that forehead would get a hole. And the body of that person would collapse. It might collapse slowly, like a large tree falling to earth, or it might suddenly jerk and drop, causing great consternation among the groups of laughing people, causing the glasses to spill all over the trays borne by the waiters. Certainly it would be more interesting if the body fell sprawling into the swimming pool with a reverberating splash, so that the water spurted out wetting the clothes of the guests and the swimming pool quickly reddened from the blood and the women screamed “Oooow!”

But I hadn’t yet found the person I was supposed to kill. Indeed, it was not yet time. He would arrive momentarily. And as a matter of fact, I really didn’t need to be too concerned about finding him because the communication device in my ear would alert me to him.

“Are you ready?” asked a sweet and soothing voice frome my headphone.

“I’ve been ready for some time; which one is he?”

“Take it easy, just a bit longer.”

From the terrace on the seventh floor of the hotel, I continued to peer through the telescopic sight. The damp sea breeze tasted salty on my lips. To pass the time while waiting for my target, I looked for the person who had spoken to me. And I gazed on the passing faces through the gunsight. Women were dressed in elegant evening gowns. Some with bare backs. Very beautiful. The woman whose soft voice commanded me was also beautiful, I was sure. I had never thought a woman would be involved in a killing like this.

“Who is my target?” I had asked last week, when she orderd this shooting. Since the transaction was done by telephone, of course I could only guess at her appearance.

“You don’t need to know; this is part of our contract.”

Indeed, contracts like this were often the way things happened. I was just paid to shoot, who the target was being none of my business.

“But one thing you are allowed to know.”

“The person is a traitor”
“A traitor?”
“Yes, a traitor to his people and country.”
So, my target was a traitor to people and country. Would I be considered a hero for killing him? I moved my rifle again. From behind the telescopic sight I studied the people who were arriving in increasing numbers. There was an uncomfortable feeling every time I focused on one of the people down below.
Of course, their faces were the faces of perfectly fine people. I really didn’t know what was making me uncomfortable. Was it because so many of them wore formal clothes, the uniform that I hated? Or was it just a feeling I had? Whatever it was, I swore to God I would feel truly happy if my victim this time were someone loathsome. A traitor to people and country is certainly a loathsome person.
I swung my rifle around again. Spying on people’s actions without them knowing I was watching gave me a pleasant feeling.
a pair of flashing eyes
from behind the window
It still hadn’t come to an end, that keroncong song. It felt as if it had been going on a long time. Like the people down there, I didn’t really need to listen to it attentively. Keroncong music nowadays was like something preserved in a museum; those who performed it lacked the genius to develop it. Where was the women with the gentle voice?

Everywhere, people were chewing food, sucking down drinks, smiling and laughing. There were wives standing stiffly beside their husbands who were busily talking with their hands gesticulating in all directions. Men whose appearance revealed the souls of civil servants, respectfully keeping themselves inconspicuous, but eating greedily. Plainsclothes officers could be seen walking back and forth carrying walkie-talkies. It would seem that the goat -roast party by the swimming pool at this seaside hotel was being attended by important people.

The night was clear and the sky was full of stars. In fact, the moon was full. I put down my rifle to rest my aching muscles. I walked into the room, getting some peanuts from the table. I turned on the television, but quickly turned it off again. Television programs were always awful. It felt terribly quiet in the hotel room. I wanted to shoot my target quickly, then go home and have a beer.

“Hey, are you still there?” suddenly the voice was heard again.

“Yes, what’s up?”

“Don’t play games! I know you aren’t in position!”

I hurriedly went back to the terrace.

“How about it? Has he showed up yet?”

“He’s wearing a red batik shirt, as it happens the only red one here, so it’s easy for you.”

I looked below; they were milling around like little animals; it certainly was not clear which one was wearing a red batik shirt from seven stories up like this. I raised my rifle again and tried to find a comfortable position. While chewing the peanuts, I peeped again through the telescopic sight. The cross-hairs went back to wandering from face to face. They were still laughing and smiling. I also smiled. In another minute your face will be overwhelmed with unabashed terror. I could shoot you all from here just as I pleased. But I won’t do that. I only work based on a contract.
“On which side is he?” I asked via the mike which hung below my chin.

“He’s by the corner of the swimming pool, on the south side, near the green umbrella.”

I swung my rifle to the right. Again I surveyed the greasy, shiny, glistening faces. The beautiful women I just had to pass by. And, there! that was him, a man wearing a red batik shirt.

He was a man with regular features and an authoritative bearing. He was middle-aged, but didn’t appear to be over the hill. His hair was combed neatly to the back. He wasn’t laughing or smiling excessively. People crowded around him respectfully. There were also those who looked like they were fawning on him. The cross-hairs of my gunsight stopped exactly between his eyes.

“Do I do it now?"

“Just a minute, wait for the command.”

And I studied his face. Did he feel any presentiment of his fate? From behind the gunsight, faces bring forth their own particular enchantment, which is different if compared to that which we experience when meeting the person face to face. He didn’t talk much, but apparently he had to answer many questions. And I felt that he answered very carefully. His countenance displayed an intention of courteousness without resentment. What was going to happen shortly when I shot him? I remembered the death of Ninoy [Aquino] in the Philippines....

But I knew nothing of politics. So while staring at the face that would soon have a hole in it, I thought about other matters. Perhaps he had a wife, had children. In fact, I thought it quite likely that he would have grandchildren. They would be wailing after hearing about the death of this person, and their weeping would be even more intense when they heard about how he had died. Let it be. Wasn’t he a traitor to his people and country? He had to get his punishment.

Somewhat tensely, I waited for the order to shoot. That was always the trouble with working according to a contract. I couldn’t do as I pleased. I was being paid to point the crosshairs of my gunsight towards the point where a shot would cause death most efficiently, and then to pull the trigger. I always told myself that I didn’t kill people, I just aimed and squeezed the trigger.

I stared at the face again, it felt so close -- even the pores could be seen clearly. It was as if I were studying the imagination of God, of divine fate. Who in fact will stop the life of this person, me or You? He is completely unaware that the angel of death is brushing against the back of his neck.

“How about it? Now?”

“I said, wait for the order!”

To hell with this little bitch, she really had her nerve, bossing around a paid hit man. My hand moved by itself, rubbing the gun. Relying on instinct, I searched for her among the crowded groups of people. One after another, beautiful faces filled my telescopic sight. I had to coax her into speaking.

“What are we waiting for?”

“You don’t need to know; the point is: wait!”

“This wasn’t in the agreement.”

“Yes, it was! Don’t act like an idiot!”
A silken scarf
A keep-sake from you
Bullshit! That keroncong song again, now very clear in my ear. For certain she was near the orchestra. I looked all around the orchestra. My scope alighted on the swelling bosom of the keroncong singer. There were several groups of people milling about. I could also hear the clinking of glasses and plates through my headphone. Maybe she was behind the orchestra, near the buffet table. There were several women, as well as plainclothesmen. Which one? I carefully looked them over one by one. Several among them were clearly only workers for the catering business. There was one women who looked like she was in charge. Maybe the one next to her. Her hair was straight and black, with bangs covering her brow. Her eyes stared in the direction of the red batik shirt!

“Shoot him now,” she said softly in my headphone, and I saw through the scope she was indeed talking to herself. It looked like she was the one. She was listening by means of an earpiece and spoke to me through a microphone which was hidden in the strands of her necklace. A beautiful pendant, displayed on her slight chest.

“What?” I asked again, because I wanted to be certain that she was indeed the person.

“Shoot now!”

So this is how all the killings are carried out; just a link in a chain without end or starting point. This woman certainly was only one link in that chain. I turned my rifle back to its target. The middle-aged man was patiently listening to the story of someone who was standing in front of him. The person telling the story seemed to be aflame with excitement, but the man apparently was holding himself back from catching on fire. He nodded, while stealing glances at those around him. As if he was worried that someone would hear.

I was ready to shoot. One squeeze of my index finger would end that man’s life story. I shifted the crosshairs of the scope slightly to the side, so that the bullet hole in his head wouldn’t make too symmetrical a division. The bullet would pierce his left eye. And I stared at the man’s eyes. Good God. Was it true that he was a traitor?

“You’re not mistaken? Is it true that he’s a traitor?”

“There’s no need to ask all these questions, shoot now!” I looked into his eyes again, wondering what kind of traitor he was.

“What kind of traitor? Why wasn’t he just put on trial?”

“What business is it of yours, fool? Shoot him now, or I’ll cancel the contract!”

A strange feeling suddenly came over me. I pointed the rifle at the woman instead.

“The barrel of my rifle is now pointing at you, sweetie,” I said coldly.

“What the hell is this?” In my scope I saw her face jerk up in surprise toward me.

“Tell me,” I repeated, “what wrong did this person do?”

“Shoot him now, you fool, or you will die!”

“In fact, you’re the one who’s just about to die.”

“Empty threats! You don’t know where I am.”

“You’re wearing a cheongsam with a slit to the thigh, and you’re behind the orchestra.” And I saw her face turn pale.

“You’ve broken the contract.”

“I don’t want to shoot an innocent person.”

“That’s none of your business, last year you shot thousands of innocent people.”

“That’s my own affair; tell me quickly what this person did wrong.”

The woman looked as if she was making a move to run away.

“Don’t run, there’s no use. Nobody will know who shot you. This rifle is equipped with a silencer. You know I never miss my shot, and I can disappear immediately.”

Her face looked up in my direction. I saw she was in a cold sweat. Full of anxiety.

“What do you want?”

“Tell me his wrong-doing.”

“He’s a traitor, he blackened the name of our people and country abroad.”

“Only that?”

“He stirred up society with statements that weren’t true.”

“And then?”

“What do you want? I don’t know that much.”

“I want to know, does all that constitute a sufficient reason to kill him?”

“That’s not your business. This is politics.”

“My business is your necklace, sweetie, it could break into pieces from my bullet, and the bullet wouldn’t stop there.”

Her face once again stared in my direction, with a pleading look.

“Don’t shoot me! I don’t know anything!”

“Who gives you orders?”

“I don’t know anything.”

“Your necklace, sweetie...”

“Oh, don’t, don’t shoot! Please...”

“I ... I can get in trouble.”

“Right now you can get in trouble. I’ll count to three. One...”

“You’re crazy, you’re ruining everything.”

“Two...” Mmm, how panicked she was.

“He’s in front of the person you’re supposed to shoot.”

“Wearing glasses?”


I pointed the rifle there. And I saw that person. He was telling a story with great excitement. His hands gestured all around, clenching his fist and hitting it into the palm of his other hand. His face was cunning and full of trickery. Very loathsome. And to make it worse he was quite old.

I aimed the crosshairs of my scope at his heart, while in my ear the high nasal voice of the singer whined, starting up another keroncong song, a song pleasing to old people. This will indeed make them remember the good old days.

This is a keroncong fantasy!

The Mysterious Shooter Trilogy --> All three of these stories refer to the “Petrus (an acronym of penembak misterius, meaning mysterious shooter) killings” which took place in Indonesia, primarily during the 80’s. It is widely believed that some groups within the Indonesian Armed Forces, which included the police, were involved in eliminating criminals, some of whom had previously been made use of by these same groups for political ends.

[1] “Keroncong Pembunuhan” from “Penembak Misterius: Trilogi” (The Mysterious Shooter: A Trilogy), in Penembak Misterius: Kumpulan Cerita Pendek (The Mysterious Shooter: A Collection of Short Stories) by Seno Gumira Ajidarma. Jakarta: Pustaka Utama Grafiti, 1993.

[2]keroncong: popular Indonesian music, originating from Portuguese songs, seen as somewhat old-fashioned in modern Indonesia.

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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

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June 06, 2008

Jujur Prananto

A Special Gift

Jujur Prananto

MRS KUSTIYAH WAS ABSOLUTELY determined to go to Mr Hargi's son's wedding. She had to, no matter what. Whatever the cost. This she had decided long ago — when the time came for Mr Hargi to marry off his children, this would be when she, Mrs Kustiyah, would come and offer her congratulations. She would be there to tell him how happy she was for him. She would show Mr Gi that she, Mrs Kus, still respected him, even though times had changed.

"Mr Hargi was my boss and I still respect him," Mrs Kus often said to her neighbors. "Now he was a true revolutionary, one of the heroes who fought to build this country. Even though I just worked in the camp kitchen, I felt happy and proud to work alongside Mr Gi."

But when the capital of the new republic moved from Central Java to Jakarta, many things had changed, or so said Mrs Kus. Mr Hargi had to work in the capital and Mrs Kus heard word of him only once in a while. Time went by with no communication at all. The confused state of affairs before and after the abortive communist coup in 1965 seemed to make the the distance between her town of Kalasan in Central Java and Jakarta even greater. After Soekamo's "Old Order" fell and Soeharto's "New Order" gave Mr Gi an even more important position in the central government, communication between Mrs Kus and Mr Gi was cut off even more. But this didn't mean that Mrs Kus felt distant from Mr Gi, because as she herself said "sharing the same ideals forms a link that can never be broken."

"In those days we would often talk with the other revolutionaries about our ideals," Mrs Kus would say "and at times like that, when the others would dream of how wonderful it would be when we won victory, Mr Gi would often point out that the fight against poverty and ignorance was no less important that the fight against the Dutch."

However, despite the fact that Mrs Kus always felt close to Mr Gi, it was more than thirty years since they had last met. And now she felt a longing just to meet him and talk together of old times again. This was why, when she heard that Mr Gi was going to marry off his son, Mrs Kus knew that, at last, the time was right for them to meet again.

IT WAS MID-AFTERNOON, past lunch time, and Mrs Kus couldn't bear to stay home any longer. She picked up her leather bag, ready-packed with clothes since yesterday, and got the plastic bag filled with all kinds of snacks and treats for her grandchildren in Jakarta. Feeling well-organized with these bits and pieces, Mrs Kus told her servant to order her a horsecart to take her to the train station.

It wasn't even three o'clock yet when Mrs Kus settled herself at the station, although the economy-class train to Jakarta wouldn't leave until six. Her hurry to leave the house had only made her feel more frustrated. She just wanted to be in Jakarta as soon as possible to see Mr Gi. She began to remember the old days — those sweet memories of the mess-kitchen. She thought of the half-cooked rice she had to serve, of Ngatimin's messenger who was so good at hiding and sneaking his way around, and of Nyai Kemuning, who was staying at the barracks and was the object of so many young men's dreams. Oh, there were so many good stories that time would never let her forget, no matter how fast its wheels turned.

The train whistle startled Mrs Kus. She got up at once and hurried to get into the carriage.

"Wait a moment, lady! The train is only shunting."

But Mrs Kus was already on the step. "Just as long as it's going to Jakarta!"

"We haven't even assigned seat numbers, ma'am."

"That's all right. I've got my ticket!"

And sure enough, after all the long anticipation, Mrs Kus finally arrived in Jakarta. Mrs Kus' daughter, Wawuk, was startled to see her mother turn up at her house, alone, getting out of a taxi.

"Mother! Are you mad? Why didn't you let us know you were coming?"

"Didn't I send you a telegram?"

"Yes, but you didn't give any exact date."

"Well, the important thing is that I'm here!"

"Oh, Mother, if you'd told us when you were arriving, we'd have met you at the station!"

"I don't want to be a bother. And I was afraid that I might not get to the wedding reception of Mr Gi's son. You silly thing, you didn't even tell me the date in your letter!"

"Good lord, you want to go to the reception?"

"It was you who told me that Mr Gi's son was getting married!"

"But why didn't you write and tell us?"

"Does your own mother have to report to you on everything?"

Wawuk was a little unsure of what she should say next.

"No, that's not it. Mother. It's just that, well, you haven't been invited."

"So? Do you mean to say that if you don't have an invitation you'll be turned away?"

"No, of course not. But, who knows, maybe there will be fixed seating, with VIP and non-VIP seats."

"Oh, come now. What is this, a wayang orang performance, with VIP seating!"

"But, Mother, I really don't know where the reception will be held, or what day or time. I only heard about it from Mas Totok, and he heard it from someone else."

"Mas Totok works at the same office as Mr Gi, doesn't he? As if he wouldn't be invited!"

"Not exactly the same office. Mother — the same department. And Mas Totok is just a clerk, way beneath Mr Gi, and not even under Mr Gi's supervision. So how could he know about these things, let alone be showered with invitations."

"He can ask, can't he?"

Wawuk let out her breath, slowly.

Mrs Kus spoke in a serious tone: "Now just you take note, Wuk. I've come all this way to Jakarta to attend the wedding reception for Mr Hargi's son. And that's what I'm going to do."

IT WASN'T AT ALL DIFFICULT for Wawuk's husband to find out the time and place of the wedding reception. Mr Hargi was a top-level official in an important position. So important, in fact, that if he were suffering symptoms of the flu — only the symptoms, mind you — the whole department would know. So it was easy for Wawuk's husband to get all the information, including a copy of the wedding invitation.

"The reception is at 7 P.M. tomorrow, in the Grand Ballroom of the Sahid Jaya Hotel."

"Astaghfirullah\ My God! A hotel?"

"Yes, Mother, a hotel."

"Not a reception hall?"

"Hotels have reception rooms. Mother."


"Well, at least I think so. I've never actually gone inside."

"Totok, do you know where the hotel is?"

"Yes, Mother."

THAT NIGHT IT WAS WAWUK'S TURN not to be able to sleep. All kinds of uncomfortable feelings were churning inside her. She wanted to stop her mother from going to the reception, but had no good reason to do so. How could she possibly say to her mother, "Why are you going to a reception when the host may have forgotten you?" or "They don't want us to come," or any other such reason which would only make her mother want to go all the more, just to prove she was wrong.

On the other hand Wawuk felt ashamed of herself that she should feel embarrassed of her mother. Where had this wicked feeling sprung from? For in truth she respected her mother —respected her simplicity, idealism, and morality. Why had her respect for these values been so easily shaken by her mother's wish to go to a reception at a five-star hotel?

Wawuk got out of bed and slowly entered her mother's room. It was empty. Her mother's leather bag was on the bed. She opened the bag, and recognized the Javanese blouse and sarong as those her mother had five or six years ago. Wawuk remembered that she had wanted to buy her mother some better clothes, but her mother refused, with no real reason. And there were her black slip-on shoes with the soles that had been repaired goodness-knows-how-many times.

Suddenly Wawuk heard a pot fall. She rushed to the kitchen and was startled to see her mother busy cooking. Spread out on the table were woven-bamboo containers, each of them lined with embroidered white cloth. These were all neatly topped with small woven covers. A big rice-pot steamed on the stove.

"What are you cooking. Mother?"


"Coconut-cassava balls? Whatever for?"

"For days I searched for the right present for Mr Gi's son.

Something special and, most important, a present with a message. And just yesterday I thought of the right thing. 'Why not the kind of food we used to eat during the revolution?! I thought. When Mr Gi's son sees this present which will be so different from the others he is sure to ask his father about it. Mr Gi will be touched and is sure to explain the meaning of this food. At least in this way Mr Gi's son can get a glimpse of the times his father experienced. Ahh... This present will be the most important of all. Special, and with a message."

"But won't the food go bad. Mother?"

"Not the way I make it. It can last up to three days."

Wawuk stood stock still. Words had stuck in her throat.

THERE WAS STRICT SECURITY at the reception room of the Sahid Jaya Hotel. Security guards swarmed the parking lot, complete with black jackets and walkie-talkies. Only one section of the main doors was open, making an entrance about a meter wide, fitted with a metal detector.

Mrs Kus saw all this and was impressed. She held tightly on to the present wrapped in brown paper that she had prepared well in advance.

The guests arrived and couples filed into the reception room. Each couple carried an invitation in an envelope measuring twenty by twenty-five centimeters, with the surface embossed in gold.

Steeling themselves, Totok and Wawuk stepped forward, following the flow of the guests, escorting Mrs Kus, who went first through the security gate.

"Good evening, madam."

"Good evening, good evening." Mrs Kus handed her present to the pretty girls at the receiving table.

"Now, be very careful with my present here, child. Take care not to turn it upside down or everything will fall out. There is a very special delicacy inside!"

"Thank you, ma'am. Please go on in, but would you mind waiting to go forward and give your greetings to the bride and groom until after the presidential party has arrived."

"Oh my! You mean the president is going to be here, too?"

Mrs Kus quickened her step into the reception hall, clicking her tongue in astonishment to see a hall so large and sumptuous. All around the room were long tables filled with food and drink and decorated with brightly colored candles and huge ice carv ings. And over at the far end of the hall, on a raised dais, on gilt-covered wedding thrones, sat the bridal couple and their parents. Stretching right across the room towards them was a red carpet strewn with jasmine flowers, and lined up on each side of the carpet were young men and women, all dressed in yellow silk outfits with scarlet fringe.

But Mrs Kus would not feel satisfied until she met Mr Gi. Yet for this she would have to be patient a while longer. All the guests had to wait half an hour before the presidential party arrived. As soon as the party arrived, it moved directly to greet the bridal party and be photographed together, and then left. Now there were about two thousand other guests eagerly awaiting their turn to advance to the bridal platform. At around number one-thousand-or-something in the line was Mrs Kus, having to restrain herself to stand still while her heart pounded madly.

After about an hour of jostling forward, there, at last, was Mrs Kus on the dais. Her heart pounded and she had to whisper a little prayer to herself, thanking God for this moment. Her hands trembled as she raised them towards Mr Gi to offer her congratu-

"You're looking so well, Mr Gi. You still look w young. Congratulations, Mr Gi."

"Thank you, thank you..."

But Mrs Kus couldn't help herself. She clasped Mr Gi's hand, kissed it and sobbed.

"It's me, Kustiyah, Mr Gi — Kustiyah from the camp kitchen."

Mr Gi frowned, but immediately regained his composure, giving the impression that he was used to coping with situations like this.

"Oh, yes, of course.... Thank you."

"The base at Kalasan, Mr Gi! Mas Aris, Mas Dal and Ngatimin, they're all in Semarang now."

"Oh, yes, yes...."

"We're all still good friends. But you'd better not ask me about Nyai Kemuning...." Mrs Kus said half crying, half laughing.

"That's right, that's right. Thank you so much. Thank you."

"Now when will we have the chance for a good chat, Mr Gi?"

Now Mr Gi was now at a loss for words. Mrs Gi was tense. The other guests were beginning to mutter about the hold-up in the queue.

"Hmmm, well, whenever you like! Thank you for coming."

"Thank you, Mr Gi. Congratulations once again."

"Yes, thank you."

"And is this your son, Mr Gi? Why he looks the spitting image of you when you were young..."

And having greeted the whole bridal party, Mrs Kus stepped down from the platform, and the queue started moving again.

Everyone was relieved, but no one as much as Mrs Kus herself. To her it seemed that the entire huge reception hall, in all its luxury, was there to welcome her. She asked Totok and Wawuk to walk with her the width and breadth of the whole hall, and to taste
every kind of food on the buffet.

"Mr Gi is truly a hero, a revolutionary who never forgot his ideals."

"What ideals are those. Mother?"

"That the struggle against poverty and ignorance is as important as the struggle against colonialism. Just look at this! Doesn't it prove his success in the struggle against poverty?"

"And why don't you follow in Mr Gi's footsteps. Mother?"

"As a former worker in the camp kitchen I do continue the struggle. My fight is against hunger...."

AT THE HOME OF THE NEWLYWEDS a week later, the bridegroom sat sprawled on the sofa while his brand-new wife busied herself making an inventory of the wedding presents that had been stored in big plastic bags and hadn't been opened since the reception.

"Hi, newlyweds!" A group of family and friends arrived. The bridegroom got up from his seat. The bride looked relieved.

"Finally! Why didn't you come before? I've got a headache from dealing with all this stuff. Look at all these presents, will you? Help yourself! Take something! We've got stacks of clocks, sixteen irons, twenty-five sets of sheets, five fridges — sorry, but we're keeping two of those for ourselves, and the others are taken — and some fabulous tea sets, table lamps, wall lamps, thermoses, towels, condoms. Here, take something. Go on!"

"Got any car keys?"

"Sure! A Bee-em-double-you!"

"Oh, come on! And keys to a house?"

"Got them, too!"

"And cash donations?"

"Straight into the bank account!"

"Well, what's still in these bags?"

"Open them yourself. Go ahead."

"Shit! What's that stink?"

All eyes turned to focus on a present wrapped in brown paper. The comers were damp. When they opened the woven bamboo containers they had no idea what to call the kind of food inside. It looked like nothing on earth and was already going moldy. A small piece of paper with handwriting on it was attached, but it was too hard to read; the ink was smudged with melted red palm sugar.

"Mrs Kus.... Kustijak? Kustijah? Who the hell is she?"

The bridegroom looked at the present. "How should I know?
Imah! Here!" Imah, the servant, came in.

"Take this away."

"Where would you like me to put it, sir?

"Put it?' Chuck it out!"***
Translated by Jennifer Lindsay

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June 05, 2008

Sitok Srengenge (6)


When the bud of love breaks in the woman's heart
and the voice twists its bonds, becoming words
sliding towards the man,
the lake in her womb
overgrown with silent bamboo
When the words collide with the man's soul's cliff
and the echo thunders like a hurricane,
at that moment the bamboo's been bewitched
and the woman knows a life begins inside her
The woman walks around before sleeping
so dreams will guide her to the road's bend,
where she'll meet a man
and the light radiating from the East
There a mother prepares a place
for the new life beginning in the womb
In the woman's lake containing a rainbow
the man entwines himself
till all dismays perish
billows becoming fog,
his body redeems
becoming mirage
his awareness rising high
becoming the sun,
and the mind which always keeps the woman's face
spreads out becoming a sky of billowing clouds
And the woman walks around,
circling the lake of her own creation
She sees fog, sees the sun,
sees the sky of billowing clouds
She sees the mirage,
sees transience
Desire stands eternally with the man
becoming the rainbow's thickest colour
Through tears the man reaches the woman
and if the fog
wants to tug
the man sneezes
and a typhoon rises from the eyebrows' base
making the sun slip into the lake till it sinks
and his tears wink transforming stars
While taking a cat in her lap
the woman looks upwards into the clear night
and stars fall to the bottom of the silent lake
And the woman daydreams before sleeping
till the dream ends her wandering at the brink of waking,
then she watches the man's sweat dangling from the leaves
in the glare of light radiating from the East



My eyelids are transforming a boat
grounded on your river's frozen surface
a heart etched
and the moon puffing behind an ice berg
together piling up mist
and the night melts
The border wind touches your lips
tulips' petals delay breath in the dust of snow
Three guys, noses pierced with gold rings
approach me asking for marijuana
"Because your hair's long and black and, well, you're brown!"
No. It's the instinct to exploit
a subordinated race
And I remember a waitress at a restaurant
overlooking a park,
where a flock of pigeons
fought over breadcrumbs,
allowing her breasts to spill from her sweater
as if ignoring winter
As she turned her cat eyes to me
half scolding half seducing
"Sorry, you can't smoke kretek in here. But, if you want,
we could do it together in my apartment."
And I drift off in a second floor room
an old red brick building
A wad of a sofa
facing a TV playing soft erotica,
Stella Artois from Belgium,
and a pair of goblets between them
You imagine Rome, I remember Yogya
who knows why
There's also Gauguin's blow
like the wind,
red and mustard-yellow embracing,
dark and reddish purple
Maybe desire trembles because of the mist
and the mountain night
You reveal a cover,
offer a heart beat
My thoughts return to a hungry morning,
the wing of a seagull among drizzles, the lake's edge
Handful of bread,
a nipple of raisins, melted butter
But still I hear, faintly, in the boulevard,
the season blowing and the last twig of linden leaf leaves
at the moment your nerves shake
between jittery movement and stammering voice

Then: silence!
But, there in a park
Venus and pines whisper,
for they're wet
soaked by
January rain



Fingers of a mischievous season
Grab a small girl's hip,
Trembling butterfly waiting for the wind to pass
towards Buchenwald
I hold back a whistling heart,
behind the back of an beheaded statue,
before a government building's ruin
assaulted by the anger of the unemployed
Suddenly the city becomes a musty man
with whiskers and a beard thick as bushes,
tousled tangled
and his sight as blurred as the dusk's sun
The wind comes rustling
tousling his hair which full of grit
repressing memory of vociferous drizzle
dripping down far in the Simbirsk morning,
sprouting a clump of black grass
spreading wide as night
Then he hears a melancholy clap from the east, swallows
leaving behind a broken colour of twilight, a Soviet
"Fate is not as slippery as woven linen, Mr Lenin," the horizon’s only empty
there's no sunrays, when he muttered the soliloquy
" Do understand, if there's no mausoleum for Mussolini,
after an ideology which took sides for common people
hardens to become cruel as an axe,
beheading the shoots of reason and instinct."
"And the workers, the workers, keep being hunted and killed
by the growing capital."
Half ripe words without echo without magnet,
but the sky screams its voice, creaks its beating
The man's body disappears with the twilight
falling apart as blurred as a fatamorgana,
his head sprawled among scattered rocks
and splinters of a pair of butterfly wings
Between the beheaded statue, a stonehead,
a corpse of butterfly, I'm dazed
watching hope's trot like a last train
to a concentration camp


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June 03, 2008

Temple of Loro Jonggrang

Loro Jonggrang

Loro Jonggrang was the daughter of King Prabu Baka, who reigned over the ancient Javanese kingdom of Prambanan. Prabu Baka was a cruel, powerful king who ruled by sheer terror and for a long time none dared challenge him-but finally, in a fierce battle, he was killed by the King of Pengging. This victory was due to the King's first minister Bandawasa, who fought with a weapon possessing supernatural powers. Bandawasa had named his magic weapon "Bandung," and for this reason he himself was known as "Bandung Bandawasa."

Upon the defeat of Prabu Baka, the King of Pengging established Bandung Bandawasa in the palace at Prambanan. Not long after his arrival, Bandung Bandawasa expressed his desire to take to wife the Princess Loro Jonggrang, the daughter of his victim.

Now Loro Jonggrang had no desire whatsoever to marry the murderer of her own father, but she had little choice in the matter. She and the Patih discussed the problem at great length. If the Princess rejected Bandung Bandawasa's proposal, there was no foreseeing what dire results might follow; if she accepted, it would break her heart. Finally, the Patih made a wise suggestion: the Princess should accept the proposal, but on conditions that Bandung Bandawasa could not possibly fulfill.

The conditions were these: Bandung was to build a thousand temples, and in addition, two deep, deep wells, and the work was to be completed in one night. When Bandung Bandawasa was told of the Princess' requirements, he objected strongly to himself, but to the Princess he stated his readiness to perform what she demanded of him. Fortunately for Bandung, there were two persons he could call upon for help, both of whom possessed magic powers. One was his father, Damarmaya, who had at his disposal a whole army of men capable of performing superhuman tasks. The other was the mighty King of Pengging whom once he himself had helped in the defeat of King Prabu Baka. Both expressed their willingness to help Bandung Bandawasa complete the temples and the wells in the stipulated time.

The date was fixed, and in the evening Damarmaya's army, with the followers of Bandung Bandawasa, began their giant construction job. Miraculously five hundred temples had already been completed by midnight. Loro Jonggrang had sent a representative to watch the progress of the work, and by four o'clock in the morning he saw nine hundred and ninety-five temples already built, and two deep wells nearly finished. He returned to the palace with news of this incredible progress, and the Princess and the Patih and the whole palace were filled with confusion, knowing that if the Princess' conditions were fulfilled, as it now appeared they would be, the Princess would have to marry the man who had murdered her father. What were they to do?

Again the Patih had an idea. Quickly he went to several nearby villages where he waked the young maidens and ordered them to fetch their rice pounders and begin pounding rice at once. Around each rice-pounder he carefully arranged fragrant flowers.

With all their magic, the workmen still had to work frantically to complete the temples and wells in time, and they were so deeply engrossed in their hammering and chiseling that they did not even hear the first sounds of the pounding of rice. Then one of the men caught it; then another, and another, each one of them stopping for a moment to listen—and then, as the sound became clearer, all of them stopped, for the pounding of the rice as well as the fragrance of the flowers permeating the air about them were signs that dawn had broken and their work was over.

At break of dawn Bandung Bandawasa was at the site to view the work of his men. With a joyful heart he gazed upon the tremendous assemblage of temples before him He counted them himself-and to his great consternation discovered that there were 999 temples! He soon learned the reason for his failure of his men to reach the goal, and in blazing anger he pronounced a curse on all young maidens in the neighborhood of Prambanan. From that day forward no girl was to be allowed to marry until she had reached an advanced age.

Loro Jonggrang herself he changed into a statue, and to his day she stands in the great inner hall of the largest of the temples, known as "The Temple of Lore Jonggrang." And even though Bandung Bandawasa's army fell short of the thousand he had demanded of them, the whole group near the “Temple of Loro Jonggrang" is still called "The Thousand Temples.”***

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June 01, 2008

Umar ayam

Home for the Holidays
Umar Kayam

THE BUS FOR WONOGIRI began to move out of the station; any hope of getting on it was gone. And with such a crowd of people, everyone struggling to get on, what hope did she have? None, not even the slimmest chance of squeezing through the dozens of other people who were trying to get on board. With her bags perched on her shoulders and clutched under one arm, she had only one free arm to carry her two young children.

The day before, the first day of the two-day Lebaran holiday, she had almost made it. With her one hand holding her children fast beside her, her other hand had almost touched the edge of the door. But then, suddenly, the children had screamed — their toy had fallen — and at almost the same instant, she noticed out of the comer of her eye an unknown hand starting to pull on her bag. She quickly brushed the thieving hand aside even as she lowered the children for them to pick up their fallen toy. But when she did that, the people behind her found their chance to move ahead of her. She and her children were roughly shoved aside. Supposing the bus conductor hadn't been there to steady her, she and her children might very well have been thrown to the ground.

With her children now in tears she hastily searched for a less crowded spot where they could rest. And only after the purchase of cartons of sweet tea and a bag of Chiki chips did they finally stop crying. Then she paused to take a deep breath. And from where she stood, beside a foodstall, she stared at the big bus rocking and swaying with the jostling of the people attempting to go home for the holidays.

"Aren't we going to Njati, Mama?" her older child asked.

"It might be difficult, Ti," she advised her six-year-old daughter, "just look at how full the bus is."

"We can try again tomorrow, can't we?"

So that is what she had decided to do yesterday. And yesterday, just yesterday it had been that she had had to deal with the children's whines and wails.

"Where to now. Mama?"


"HOME" — A RENTED ROOM tucked away in the middle of a squalid swarm of a neighborhood in the Kali Malang area. So tired her children had been they had let her carry them away from the terminal without protest, and let themselves be stuffed into a bajaj whose driver was charging, on that holiday evening, a fare many times greater than normal. The younger child was asleep the instant the bajaj began to move. What the older child in her silence had been thinking, she could only imagine.

Very early in the morning, prior to preparations for their evening departure to the bus terminal, she had taken the children to her husband's grave, located in a cemetery not far from where she lived. Her husband had been a construction worker, a day laborer, but had died three years ago, crushed beneath a falling wall. Fortunately for her the construction company that employed him had sufficient sympathy to make the necessary arrangements and to pay for her husband's funeral in addition to giving her a little compensation.

But after that, life had become a more difficult and bitter passage. Her earnings as a servant were barely enough to meet the family's expenses. And now Ti, her older child, would soon be going to school.

Day after day had come and gone, passing with unrelentless monotony, and, not even quite knowing herself how she had done it, she had somehow managed to get by. And almost as if by –a miracle, the few coins she saved from her salary and tips had grown over the course of three years into a not insubstantial sum. That's why the idea had come to her to go home to Njati that year. Her children had never been there. They didn't know their grandparents, had never met their relatives. It was time they did, she thought. And besides, she reasoned, the village might provide a pleasant change of environment. At the very least, it would be different from their meager lodgings in Jakarta. So, she had resolved that, come what may, she would make it home for Lebaran holidays this year.

"Why bother to go home for Lebaran," her employer had warned her. "You know that my kids are coming home this year. There's going to be a lot of work to do..."

"I'm very sorry, ma'am, but I've already promised the children."

"If you don't go home and you work the holidays, our guests are sure to give you extra money. Really now, what's the use of going home?"

"I'm sorry, ma'am, but I've promised the children..." No, having decided to go home, she would not be swayed from her choice. And after having made that choice, she began to tell her two children about Njati, about rice fields, buffalo and cattle, and the way homes in the village are made. And also about their white-haired grandparents, the cities that they would pass through, and what they would see when looking out the windows of the bus that would carry them home.

"How many cities altogether. Mama?"

"Oh, very many! Let's see... Probably Cirebon and Purwokerto, and maybe Semarang. And Magelang and Yogya and Solo for sure if you're going on to Njati or Wonogiri."

"Geez... And which city's the prettiest?" Ti had asked her mother.

"Hmmm, I'd have to think... Solo, I suppose."

"Solo, we're going to Solo!" Ti announced to her brother.

"Solo, Solo, Solo...!"

"Solo, Solo, Solo..."

She awoke from her musings. The younger child was fast asleep on the bed and his sister was making a place for herself beside him. She stared at their faces as she, too, stretched out her body and slid alongside her children.

"Don't be too disappointed," she whispered to her daughter.

"We'll try again tomorrow. We'll get to Njati for sure. Don't you worry; you'll get to see Solo."

She watched as her daughter nodded her head and, in a half yawn, mumbled, "Solo, Solo, Solo..."

THAT HAD BEEN YESTERDAY, the first day of Lebaran. And now, on the second day, they had failed again. And there had been even less of a chance of making it on the bus than there had been the day before. Like the day before, she had held tickets from a scalper in her hand. But there had been even more people hoping to get out of Jakarta, and a lot more rowdy ones besides. And also like the day before, she and her children, with their luggage bobbing and waving, had been pushed and shoved, had their feet stepped on, and had finally been flung far to the side.

She had tried to board first one bus and then the next, but each time she had failed. There were too many people bigger and stronger than she was for her to squeeze through. And finally, standing in a stupor beside the foodstall, sheltered from the rain by the stall's tarpaulin roof, she and her two children had watched the final bus for Wonogiri leave.

"Then we really aren't going to make it to Njati, are we, Mama?"

She forced herself to smile as she answered her daughter's question: "I guess not, but that's all right, isn't it? We can go next year."



"Of course we can! I'll just have to save more money is all."

"Is all your money gone, Mama?"

"No, there's still a little, about just enough to go to the zoo tomorrow. We'll go to Njati next year, okay?"

Her children said nothing, and as the rain began to abate the children's demeanour brightened.

"Come on, let's go. Let's find a bajaj and go home."

The children nodded, then followed their mother, who had to half-prod, half-carry them as they scampered towards a waiting bajaj. Once inside the bajaj the children began to sing their newest creation.

"Solo, Solo, Solo, Solo, Solo, Solo..." They laughed.

"Njati, Njati, Njati, Njati, Njati, Njati..." They laughed again, pleased with their musical creativity. And she, their mother, felt happy and relieved to see they were not crying or whining. She then remembered her promise to take them to the zoo. But with what? Most of her savings was gone, spent on scalpers' tickets, bajaj fares, food, and all the battered little gifts she had purchased to take home to Njati. Money — she had enough left for just a few days. Well, no matter, she thought, it was enough to go to the zoo.

I'll go to my boss' house tonight, she thought. Her employer would have plenty of work for her to do. And, if she were lucky, some of the guests might grant her a holiday bonus.

Inside her rented room while putting the children to bed she repeated to them her promise. "Go to sleep. Tomorrow we're going to the zoo."

"Wow, wow, wow..."

"I have to go to the big house. You'll be good here, by yourselves, won't you? And get some sleep?"

"Elephants, elephants, elephants... Giraffes, giraffes, giraffes..."

"Shhh, try to sleep."

She smiled as she closed the door, but once outside, she heard the children begin to sing a more familiar refrain: "Solo, Solo, Solo... Njati, Njati, Njati..."

Momentarily she pressed her teeth against her lower lip before striding away.

At the big house, her employer scolded her when she came in the side door. "You see, I told you so. What did I tell you? Serves you right, not getting a bus. Now get in here and help me. Come on, get moving. Just look at that stack of dirty dishes piled up in
the kitchen."
Translated by John H. McGlynn

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