Ain’t No Night Fair
By Pramoedya Ananta Toer
Early that morning the first train sped along its tracks from Gambir Station. Now there were only a quarter of the number of the tall red earthen mounds remaining that had been visible everywhere before during the Japanese occupation each time I returned to Blora. Settled by the rain. Chipped away. Dragged off by the rain. Then suddenly a horrible feeling came over me as I noticed all the mounds of red earth at Jatinegara Station. Aren’t the lives of all of humanity chipped away every day, squeezed down, and dragged off like those mounds of red earth? And because I was married, and as my wife was sitting beside me, I turned crisply to look at her.
“We’re not going on a honeymoon. We’re going to visit someone in hospital this time,” I said.
The roar and hiss of the train that had started to move off once more prevented me from hearing her reply. Her mouth was all that I could see opening and closing.
“We get to Blora tomorrow at twelve midday,” I continued.
I watched her nod, then turned back once more to gaze from the carriage window. The morning mist was beginning to thin and then Klender station appeared from the window. The carcasses of Dutch armored pantserwagen, British brengun carriers and old trucks still lay scattered across fields and along the sides of the main roads, English weapons which had been disabled by the groups of youth militia fighters, and disabled too by their own old age. Then suddenly I recalled: the youth militia fighters who had been under pressure from the wealth of firepower of the foreign forces had made it to the other side of the Cakung River.
The train then passed through Cakung station. I had so many recollections of this tiny hamlet. Cakung, among the rubber plantations, where the situation had changed so often, youth militia fighters pinned down one minute, then the foreign forces the next.
I drew on my cigarette. Now the morning cold and cool breeze weren’t as unpleasant as before. Barren empty rice fields and rice fields whose harvest time had all but arrived exchanged places chasing each other through the window. And before in those fields, there were occasions when single-prop Dutch warplanes had dropped hand grenades on farmers. There were times too when planes had landed in those empty fields and stolen goats from villagers. Yes, I recalled all of these things now. And in that grass too there had been friends then defending the line of the railway track who had fallen sprawling, their blood spraying over the ever green grass.
“What time will we arrive at Semarang?” my wife asked.
And I returned to my memories. Kranji station, Tambun. Cikarang. These were a series of defenses before the first military action. And the train continued roaring along. And suddenly I again remembered the letter from my uncle, “has already vomited blood four times!” And my recollections stopped and circled in on that word blood. Then I recalled as well how his letter had continued:
I feel that our father can’t be expected to recover. You can come home, can’t you? Surely, you can come home.
I shivered all over, like someone with malaria. And the military performance disappeared from my head. My father once more filled my thoughts.
“We can’t stay in Blora too long,” said my wife.
I looked at my wife. I could feel my forehead creasing deeply and I replied sharply, “We’ll see how things are first.”
For a moment the memory of my father vanished.
“If we’re there too long maybe I might have to go home ahead of you.”
I was annoyed.
I stared at her. Before. Before when we were still engaged, I had felt her eyes were so completely wonderful. But the wonder had gone now. Yes, her eyes were now just the same as the eyes of anyone else, without any affect on my heart. And I answered her gaze. Perhaps it was my eyes which were awful, as indeed I had known since I was a child, no longer having any affect on her heart either.
I answered, “That’s entirely up to you.”
I swung my head, and my eyes too, from her stare and gazed out the train window again.
We were at Lemah Abang now.
All at once an old memory shimmered into my mind.
Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.
Image credits: National Archive Photo Collection