translate jellyfish

Short Story: The Death of a Translator

By Wawan Kurniawan

He wouldn’t have swallowed the poison if the events of yesterday had not occurred. A week earlier, he had a dream about a woman, dressed in red with shoulder-lengthed hair, who approached him on a beach he did not recognize. Without the chance to get a clear look at her face, the woman immediately embraced him from behind so tightly that he thought his bones were going to be crushed.

Only after he heard the sound of cracking, and felt an excruciating pain did he wake up.

He saw that the clock on the wall was still showing three forty-two. There was only the sound of the ticking of the clock. He decided to close his eyes again and he remembered absolutely nothing about what had happened in his dream. But the pain in his back was still there, and it made him shift his sleeping position again and again.

He managed to fall asleep and woke again at ten in the morning. After staying up late to translate some of the manuscripts on his laptop, he usually woke in the afternoon. But the pain in his back woke him early. As his sleep had been disrupted so early in the day, he tried to think about what could be causing the pain.

“Maybe my sleeping position is the problem.”

“Hang on, maybe it’s because I was sitting for too long working.”

“No, it’s probably because I didn’t drink enough water last night.”

Among the possibilities, it didn’t enter his head for a moment to think about his dream.

As he considered the pain, he suddenly remembered his promise to Eka, the publisher who wanted to print his translation. He had twice asked for an extension to work on improving the translation. And in six days the deadline would expire. He also didn’t want to ask for an extension, but at the same time, he still didn’t feel like the translation was finished.

Struggling with the pain in his back, he walked slowly toward the bathroom by holding the wall. He walked just like an old man who had lost his walking stick, one hand on the wall the other on his back massaging his lower spine.

“What’s happen? Why do you have to be sick like this, God?”

There wasn’t a soul in the house now. In the past, he had kept a cat and he had called it March — his birth month and that of several of his favorite authors. Now he felt like the bathroom was a long way away.

He took a few steps back then dropped himself onto the brown sofa in the space that was also his office. He took a deep breath and again began to search for the best position to ease the pain. He felt better sitting in the chair.

He then lifted a book from the small table next to his chair. On the table, there were a number of novels he was reading and a thin notebook with a white cover that had no pictures. There were also two fountain pens that he often used to take notes or make lists in his book. If it wasn’t being used to make notes, the fountain pen would often become a way of relieving anxiety as he tapped the end of the pen on the table.

He still had about a hundred and twenty-three pages to go until he finished the book he was reading. He felt better after sitting down and reading a few pages of the book. He leaned back and let his back be swallowed by the softness of the chair.

Suddenly he felt the need to urinate, but he didn’t feel like getting up because the position he had achieved was so comfortable. To his right, the window had not been opened so the sun’s rays were not fully coming into the house. But he could feel a warm sensation around his thighs as he allowed himself to urinate where he was. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the flow of his urine.

He only rose from the chair after he had finished his book.

***

After returning to read his translation, he lay down on the floor. That afternoon, after contacting his friend William who was a doctor at a health center, he had been told not to sleep on a mattress. He didn’t want to go to bed yet, but the pain in his back was becoming worse. The only way to gain any relief was to lay down. Before going to bed, he once again tried to contact his girlfriend Nadira.

Two days earlier, Nadira had left to return to the district of Selayar to organize their wedding which was scheduled to take place in the middle of the year. But Nadira just didn’t pick up the phone or even respond to his WhatsApp chat messages.

The day before Nadira left, the weather in Selayar had turned extremely bad and this had caused an interruption to the cellphone network. Yesterday Nadira had still been able to message. She had mentioned that the weather looked as though it was becoming worse and that communication might be interrupted.

In a media report from Selayar, he saw that there were strong winds and constantly pounding high seas. There was no news from Nadira. That night he began to have a strange sensation, a sense of dread about something. He sometimes forgot his pain as he went back to looking for news about Nadira. As he waited for a miracle, he reread the WhatsApp chat from several days before.

Reading it made him smile, then laugh to himself, until, unwittingly, he fell asleep that night cellphone still in hand.

And once again, the dream reoccurred, over five consecutive nights. In the end, everything that happened in the dream was clearly etched in his memory. He was able to remember what happened, but could not recognize who the woman was, or where the beach was where they were.

That night too, he tried again to contact Nadira before going to bed, to tell her about his dream and the worry that he had been holding back for several days. But once more a feeling of dread pressed in on his chest. Something might have happened. The news reports about Selayar still had no new reports since the reports of the last few days about the extremely bad weather.

The pain in his back then spread towards another place, his tailbone. That same night he could no longer sit. He allowed himself to lie down on the floor. He looked at the ceiling of his room, watching the lights that appeared to be glowing. The lights in the room then went out and his whole body instantly became completely paralyzed.

After a few moments, the lights came back on. Again he saw the figure of the long-haired woman dressed in red who had appeared in his dreams. However, the difference was that this time he could see the woman’s face, and the woman was Nadira.

His chest tightened, not because he was scared, but rather because the sense of dread that he had felt the whole time seemed to be coming true.

Something had happened to Nadira. In just the blink of an eye, the figure quickly disappeared. Right then he thought that his body was normal again so he stood up, despite the pain in his tailbone.

His laptop was still open, the text of his translation was still not complete. There was still no news of Nadira. The pain was becoming increasingly unbearable. Resisting the pain, he rose and grimaced. He felt as though his life was in chaos. A voice in his head asked him to go straight to the kitchen. A bottle of insecticide was stored behind the back of the kitchen door.

The figure he had just seen was possibly actually his girlfriend Nadira. Death has taken her before him. He did not have the ability to translate events as well as he translated the manuscripts on his laptop.

He stumbled toward the bottle of poison. Now as he started to reach it, it was me who then embraced him from behind so that his entire being was crushed. And before him, I was the one who embraced Nadira in the high pounding waves. Why hadn’t he translated me first?

 


The Death of a Translator (Kematian Seorang Penerjemah) was published in the national daily newspaper Kompas on 24 March 2019. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2019/03/24/kematian-seorang-penerjemah/]

Wawan Kurniawan, writes poetry, short stories, essays, novels, and translations. Joined the Kompas Daily short story writing class (2015), published a book of poetry entitled Persinggahan Perangai Sepi (2013) and Sajak Penghuni Surga (2017). One of his novels entitled Seratus Tahun Kebisuan (A Hundred Years of Silence) is a Unnes International Novel Writing Contest 2017 Novel of Choice. Check out https://www.instagram.com/wawankurn/

Nyoman Sujana Kenyem, born in Ubud, Bali, 9 September 1972, Nyoman studied at STSI Denpasar (1992-1998). His solo exhibitions include A Place Behind The House at Komaneka Gallery Ubud, Bali (2016), Silence of Nature, at Lovina, Bali (2015), and his solo exhibition at G13 Gallery, Kelana Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia (2013). See https://www.instagram.com/artkenyem/

Kematian Seorang Penerjemah ilustrasi Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas
The Death of a Translator illustration by Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas Daily