By Seno Gumira Ajidarma
“Which one taste better, Kab, bitter coffee or bitter covid?”
Sukab grinned from ear to ear hearing young Jali who had taken the opportunity to park his motorbike taxi at the food stall, instead of the usual daily roar of collecting and delivering food.
“You not working because of the lockdown, Li?”
“Look, the lockdown makes online fried tofu and fish dumplings sell real well, Kab.”
“So, why are you still hanging around here?”
“One by one the regular customers are croaking,” said Jali, taking off his baseball cap as if out of respect. “Left and right, front and back, in every house there’s someone who’s departing…”
“Departing this world, gees!”
“Oh yeah, sorry. So?”
“The people who are still at home are still getting infected, searching for oxygen cylinders which is real hard, and if they look healthy, well, it turns out they’re O.T.G., infected with no symptoms.
“That’s the most dangerous, right.”
“That’s when they are most infectious!”
“That what’s making you feel like not going out? Aren’t motorbike taxis real popular right now?”
“The fact is, there ain’t any orders, Kab. It ain’t just the people buying food who’re heading to the gates…”
“Oh, Sukab! Heading to the pearly gates, hell!”
“Ah! Passed away! Look you keep changing!
“Yeah, not just the buyers. Heaps of sellers have also shuffled off…”
“Shuffled off? You mean died again, right?”
“Yesss! You know now, ok, why I’m sitting here playing chess rather than running around confused not knowing what I should be doing?”
Yati shouted out as she held out a package of fried catfish and peanut sauce. “What the hell! Deliver this, and fast. Then get right back here, ok? It ain’t good neither that people selling food are shipping out…”
“Shipping out? Dying too?”
“Hey, stupid, the important thing is I do not want people who are still healthy dying of hunger…”
Jali grabbed the package and climbed straight up onto his motorbike like a cowboy climbing onto his horse.
The stall was quiet again, though the motorbike taxis were still queuing, waiting for Yati’s food packets. With all this constant coming and going, Sukab got to thinking. Being down at the bottom, it’s lucky we’re still making a little.
“It may be going all right,” he thought, “but the worst thing is, gees, the lives…”
“If there’s a collapse, well, you’re gonna collapse too…,” said Yati, who had joined all sorts of online groups, WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. They were all confusing people and making them panic, even if they weren’t wrong.
“The ambulance drivers are exhausted. The grave diggers feel like they’ve got no hands left. The preachers are prayers 24 hours a day. The doctors have to choose from dozens of dying patients scattered all around the place in the emergency tents. Then there are the health workers, helping themselves to vaccines… What else is it, if it isn’t a collapse… a break down, a crash…,” said Sukab, as if he were in some drama.
It was true everything that was happening. At the food stall, you heard every Neighborhood announcement from the speakers at the mosques, the ones close by as well as the ones a long way off. There was no end to the speakers blaring Inna Lillahi etcetera and ending in the announcement that some body was gonna be taken straight from the hospital to the graveyard. Bodies were being lost, bodies were being swapped, their souls flying up not able to say anything to the relatives who were praying in front of the wrong person’s grave.
Yati shook her head as she stared at her cellphone.
“It sure is like that. The people who haven’t passed say they’re almost going crazy just because they haven’t been to the mall…”
“Well, it’s everything from before: croak, gone to the big house, gone to the pearly gates, shuffled off, departed this world… do I really have to say died? Ok, so, passed on…”
Sukab picked up his mask and took a drink of his corn coffee.
“What it’s called is running out of energy, from being a volunteer, all the worry by itself is, really very hard…”
“But, you can’t run out, right, Kab?”
“Of what you said, of energy.”
“Yeah! It’s not enough to just pray!” Then Sukab pointed to his forehead.
“Your human brain has got to really work!”
He stood up, grabbed his hoe and dustpan.
“Where are you going, Kab? Isn’t there a lockdown?”
“Well, who’s going to bury the people who pass?”
Pondok Ranji, Thursday 15 July 2021
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 PanaJournal (www.panajournal.com) about human interest stories with a number of journalists and professionals in the field of communication. For other work by Seno Gumira Adjidarma click here.