By Seno Gumira Ajidarma
“Which one tastes bett’a, Kab, bitt’a coffee or bitt’a cofi’?”
Sukab grins from ear to ear on hearning young Jali, who has taken the opportunity to rest his motorcycle taxi at the food stall rather than continue the endless daily roar of collecting food and delivering it.
“Ain’t you workin’ because of the lockdown, Li?”
“See ‘ere, this lockdown ‘as made online fried tofu and fish dumplin’s sell like ‘ot cakes, Kab.”
“So, how comes you is still ‘angin’ aroun’ ‘ere, then?”
“One by one them regular customers is dyin’,” says Jali, taking off his baseball cap as if out of respect. “Left an’ right, front an’ back, in every ‘ouse, there is someone depar’in'”
“Depar”in’ this world, Cor!”
“Oh gees, yeah, sorry. So..?”
“What people who is still at home is still bein’ infected like, lookin’ for oxygen cylinders, which is real ‘ard, see. An’ if they looks ‘ealthy, like, it turns around they is still OTG anyway, infech’ted but without no symp’oms.
“‘at is the gravest of dangers, i’n’t it.”
“That is when they is the most infetchious!”
“Is that why you don’t wanna go out? Ain’t motorcycle taxis right popular jus’ now?”
“Fact is, there ain’t no orders, Kab. Ain’t jus’ the people who’s buyin’ food what’s ‘eadin’ to the gates…”
“Oh, Sukab! Headin’ to them pearly gates, ‘ken ‘ell!”
“Ah! Snuffin’ it! Look yous keep changin’, see!
“Yeah, not jus’ the buyers even. Plen’y of sellers it is ‘ho ‘as also shuff’led off…”
“Shuffled off? You mean croaked it again, right?”
“Yaapp! Now you knows, ok, why I been sittin’ ‘ere playin’ chess, rather ‘an run aroun’ all confused like, ‘n all not knowin’ what I outta be doin’?”
Yati shouts as she holds out a packed of fried catfish and peanut sauce. “What the hell! Deliver this. And fast. Then get straight back ‘ere, ok? It all ain’t no use neither that people sellin’ food is shippin’ out…”
“Shippin’ out? Dyin’ too?”
“Hey, stup’id, the importan’ thing is I don’t wants no one who is still ‘ealthy dyin’ o’ ‘unger, right…”
Jali grabs the packet and climbs straight onto his motorcycle like a cowboy climbing up onto his horse.
The stall was quiet again then, though the motorcycle taxis are still queuing. Waiting for Yati’s food packets. With all the constant coming and going, Sukab gets to thinking. “With being right at the bottom sure is lucky we is still making a little somethin’.”
“It may be goin’ all right,” he thinks, “but the worst thing is, Christ, the lives…”
“If there is a collapse, like, you’re gonna collapse too…,” says Yati, who has joined every type of online groups. WhatsApp, Instagram, Facebook, and Twi’er. They are all confusing people and making them panic, even if they aren’t wrong.
“The ambulance drivers are all exhausted. The grave diggers feels likes they ain’t got no hands left. The preachers is all praying 24 hours a day. The doctors is havin’ to pick from dozens of dyin’ patients layin’ all around the place in the emergency tents. Then there’s the health workers, helpin’ theirselves to the vaccines… What else is it if it ain’t a collapse… a break down, a crash…,” says Sukab, as if he is in a sort of theater drama.
It’s true everything that was happening. At the food stall you hear every neighborhood announcement from the speakers at the mosques, the ones close by as well as the ones way off. There’s no end to the speakers wailing Inna Lillahi, etcetera and ending in the news that some body or other is going to be taken directly from the hospital to the graveyard. Bodies are being lost, bodies are being swapped, their souls flying up and not being able to say nothing to their relatives who are praying in front of the wrong body’s grave.
Yati shakes her head and just stares at her cellphone.
“It sure is like that. The people who ain’t passed are saying they’re almost goin’ crazy just because they ain’t been to the mall…”
“Like, it’s everything from before: croaks, goes up to that big house, goes to them pearly gates, shuffles off, departs this world… does I really have to say dies? All right, so, passes on…”
Sukab picks up his mask and takes a mouthful of his corn coffee.
“What it’s called is running outta energy, from being a volunteer, all the worry by itself is.., just real hard…”
“But, you ain’t gonna run out, right, Kab?”
“Of what you says. Of energy.”
“Gees! It ain’t not enough to just pray!” Then Sukab points to his forehead.
“Your human brain has gotta really work good, like!”
He stands, grabs his hoe and dustpan.
“Where is you goin’, Kab? Ain’t there a lockdown?”
“‘ell, who is gonna bury all them people ‘ho croaks?”
Pondok Ranji, Thursday 15 July 2021
Bitter Covid (Kopid Pait) was published in Panajournal, 15 July 2021. (Retrieved from https://www.panajournal.com/2021/07/kopid-pait)
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.
The author’s blog is available at The World of Sukab.