The Slave of Love
By Seno Gumira Ajidarma
Only her eyes are visible. What can you see from a pair of eyes that radiate the enchantment of the world with every blink?
That is how enchantment radiates from the eyes being watched to swallow the eyes watching, which are instantly dazzled and instantly stunned, as if struck by a blaze of heavenly light that completely obliterates the self and every desire, leaving the body devoid of all thought, except that of surrender and willingness in the yearning to be enslaved in the sacrifice of the soul.
“That’s enough! Stop standing there like that,” says his wife. “Let’s go home.”
But he no longer knows the words go home. Gone is home, gone is wife, gone is family. Vanished is all the cheerful chatter of children filling his life like the crashing of surf filling the silence of the universe.
He leaves his shocked wife who grabs his arm only to have him jerk it away, who can only watch the man who is her husband, the father of her children, vanish into the crowd and disappear…
Who would ever have thought that happiness was so fragile, the miracle of love so transitory?
From a distance, he continues to follow her. She steps without ever looking behind again, even though in all the reflections of all the glass at the intersection, in the shop windows, and in the side mirrors of motorbike taxi drivers waiting for passengers, she can see how he has been following her since the market.
She realizes he has been walking along the sidewalk continuously following her at a distance. If she turns into a lane, he follows her into the lane. If she climbs onto a bus, he follows in a minibus traveling the same route. If she gets into a taxi, he follows her on a motorbike taxi or in another taxi. If she catches a train, she knows too how he is in the same carriage, and immediately follows her when she gets off at whatever station she’s going to.
Later, when she arrives at her house, she kisses her husband’s hand, takes the little one back from the hands of the babysitter. Then from behind the window with the curtains that are always drawn, she needs to peek through and she can see the outline of her stalker darting into the small cafe at the end of the street. She is certain that from inside the cafe he’s constantly staring, waiting, hoping. Dreaming.
She and her husband look at each other. The little one is asleep. The babysitter has left.
From the small café closing up a pair of eyes stare out at her dark house and sips coffee.
From day to day he moves around the daily life of the woman whose eyes alone are visible. It is not enough to follow from behind, sometimes he pretends to pass her by accident.
It’s when they pass that he stares at her eyes, and at whatever else other than her eyes he can see. And it’s when they pass each other that his chest heaves, his heart comes alive and something else pounds more quickly than usual.
What can be expressed by a pair of eyes whose brightness excites, with a gaze that pierces and grips, that conquers? What can a pair of eyes express? It seems so much, but how can you be sure?
He hopes those eyes will recognize him, and if they recognize him, then pay him a small amount of attention, and if possible, not only pay a little attention, but still more also desire something in return from him. But not just desire something in return, also crave for something in return.
Is it possible that what he has hoped for, that what has never existed in the relationship between them, can happen? But those eyes seem to be saying everything! They seem to be paying attention, appear to be hoping for something. They seem even to crave for him…
Over the days, his guess seems to be becoming a reality.
One day when he follows her, she turns around and looks straight at his eyes.
He thinks, she’s looking for me! She wants to know if I’m following her today! She wants me to follow where she’s going!
He quickens his pace, draws nearer. But she doesn’t turn around again. After a while just walking behind her he ventures to speed up and draws alongside her.
They walk together, against the current of the surge of urban humanity swirling along the streets. Who among so many people in this world would think that something so important has happened between the two of them?
With all these feelings flowering in his heart, he still can not be sure of anything.
How can he be sure of anything just from the look of somebody’s eyes, even though it has certainly been proved that the blaze of a radiant pair of eyes has captured and uprooted him from his old, comfortable, serene, problem-free life to enter a world that, despite its uncertainty, still promises the happiness of a heaven like the one created by the glow of her eyes?
The waves of humanity continue to swirl around them. He observes their eyes and it seems that not one of them passes with the glow of the eyes of the woman beside him. How is it possible?
How is it possible that all these people flowing past from the front can miss so blithely the shining radiance of the most beautiful eyes? Are the eyes of city people any blinder than when they are looking for something false which has in fact never existed? But they are there in front of him!
Walking alongside her, he cannot see anything, until it’s dark and the woman is gone. He searches everywhere, and doesn’t find her…
The house lights have to be switched off before she squints through the curtains and sees that he’s in the small café, his glare penetrating the night directly in her direction. She closes the curtains quickly as if that stare were a whirling arrow able to pierce the glass of the window, able to penetrate the window and pierce her heart. But then she parts the curtains again. He won’t be able to see her. She can see him. There’s a large crowd in the cafe, but his back is turned to them and he stares in her direction. A slight sense of sadness passes over her, but only for a moment. She’s used to disregarding her own feelings, for the sake of the larger interest she believes in.
She turns in the direction of her husband who’s reading verses from the holy book to their son before he goes to bed.
Her husband raises his head, looks at her, and nods.
The dark cloudy sky surges as he follows her from a distance for the umpteenth time in as many months. She glances back just before disappearing into a lane. With a gaze that shines brightly, fleetingly, but which takes complete possession of the soul which has cried and worshiped for so long craving a response. He feels how his feet are so light, as he weaves between the thousands of people in the street to follow her. He wants to never lose her again, even though he can always go back to the cafe in front of her house.
Rain thunders down the moment she reaches the back of the lane. She is waiting there, leaning against a wall, soaked to the bone, staring straight into his eyes. He’s frozen. What he has become accustomed to experiencing as a hope, a yearning makes him giddy as it transforms into a reality.
Not only stare, she takes his hands, draws them in the torrential rain that makes every other human disappear from the streets, vanish from the lane, and leaves only the two of them breaking through the rain hand in hand. Although the rain is so heavy and the torrent from the sky feels like the rubber bullets that hit him randomly as he watched the demonstration, he is not conscious of them.
A door opens. they enter a darkened room and inhales the odor of old metal. But what is he going to worry about when in the darkness his wet clothes no longer cover his body, when hands as soft as cotton draw his hands to the other unclothed body?
In the darkness and the thundering rain, he cannot hear the sounds and sighs but is able to feel everything.
He carries a backpack on his back. As ultimate service what is there that he would not do? He does not even feel the need to ask what is in the pack. He does not want to worry about that out of fear of losing the one who has mastered him.
Those are still his feelings as the world disappears suddenly from his consciousness as the explosive in his backpack goes off destroying everything, everything. Buildings, ants, and humanity…
The Slave of Love (Budak Cinta) was published in Kompas Daily, 20 January 2019. (Retrieved from lakonhidup.wordpress.com)
Seno Gumira Ajidarma, born in Boston, United States, June 19, 1958. Now serves as Chancellor of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ). Seno became better known after writing his trilogy of works on East Timor, namely Saksi Mata (collection of short stories), Jazz, Purfum, dan Insiden? (novel), and Ketika Jurnalisme Dibungkam, Sastra Harus Bicara (collection of essays). In 2014, he launched a blog called Pana-Journal (www.panajournal.com) about human interest stories with a number of journalists and professionals in the field of communication.
Oetje Lamno, born in Yogyakarta on May 31, 1978, completed his art education at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta. He has participated in various art exhibitions in several places, including overseas. In 2010, he attended Beijing Biennale # 4 at the National Art Museum of China. In 2017, he returned to exhibit in China on “Silk Road, International Festival Art, Xi-an”. Oetje was a finalist of the 2015 Indonesia Art Award art competition, whose works are on display at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta.
The Slave of Love (Budak Cinta) illustration by Oetje Lamno/Kompas Daily
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The author’s blog is available at The World of Sukab.