Category Archives: Poverty

Poem: Walk to the West in the Morning By Sapardi Djoko Damono

Walk to the West in the Morning

By Sapardi Djoko Damono

 

when i walk to the west in the morning the sun follows me from behind

i follow my own shadow which stretches out in front of me.

the sun and i have no quarrel about which of us has created the shadow

the shadow and i have no quarrel about which of us has to walk in front

 


Walk to the West in the Morning (Berjalan Ke Barat Waktu Pagi Hari) is from Sapardi Djoko Damono, Mata Pisau (Knife Blade), PN Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1982

 

 

Christmas Poem By Sapardi Djoko Damono

Christmas Poem

By Sapardi Djoko Damono

 

I sought for you in the rain tonight
to say to you greetings. You who were born once.
born again, and always shall be born and reborn.
Oh, have mercy on this your servant.
­————————-tens of thousands of babies
have been born since your first birth,
as though the world were provided solely for their cries.
They are the small Christs whose times have crucified them:
slavery, misery, destitution
and war.
——–Also like you, they too shall not perish,
but be born and born again, shall always be reborn.
And I bow down. In awe: some still continue to
————————————survive here
against the upheavals, which again and again are reborn
in the conscience of every human being:
———————-december flowers that bloom
under the sound of the rain in the middle of the night.
Christ, behold the children in their beautiful clothes
making vows and uttering prayers in church;
they have sought you, and wished to befriend you,
to invite you to sing holy songs.
——————-A shame they do not know
you are busy playing with the sheep
in the stable.

Greetings, Christ. Greetings, whole world,
greetings to you
greetings to me.
Oh, have mercy on this your servant,
——bless this your servant.
——Forgive this your servant.

 


Retrieved from @PotretLawas. Published in Sastra Bulanan Tjerita Pendak magazine No. 11-12, 1968

Short Story: The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump By Ahmad Tohari

The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

By Ahmad Tohari

Korep, Carmi, and Driver Dalim are three of the many people who often visit the garbage dump on the outskirts of town. Dalim is definitely an adult, the driver of one of the yellow garbage trucks with a crew of two. He is a civil servant, and he likes to take his thick-framed glasses off, and then put back on again. Carmi is really still too young to be called a young lady. Korep is a boy with a scar from a past injury above his eye. The two of them are the youngest of the garbage scavengers among the residents of the garbage dump.

Driver Dalim is actually a garbage scavenger too. He manages his two assistants so they scavenge the best second-hand goods when the garbage is still on the truck. The instruction is given especially when his truck is transporting the garbage from the mansions on What’s It Called Street. The leather belt that Driver Dalim is wearing is also scavenged. He says it was made in France and was thrown away by its owner just because it has a small scratch. He also says most of the people living in those mansions only want to use the best things without the smallest mark whatever.

When Korep and Carmi arrive at the garbage dump the stench is not so noticeable yet. The sun’s rays are still being blocked by the trees on the eastern side so the garbage dump isn’t sizzling yet. Later just before midday the garbage dump will be boiling as the stench rises and fills the air. Driver Dalim often reminds Carmi and Korep not to hang around in the middle of the dump. “A lot of scavengers have died from sickness. Their lungs become diseased,” he says. Who knows why, but Driver Dalim feels the need to remind Carmi and Korep. He himself doesn’t know why he feels close to the two children. Maybe it’s because Korep and Carmi are the two youngest scavengers at the garbage dump.

Dozens of scavengers are already standing gathered on the south side. They are waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. A female scavenger puts a cigarette butt between her lips, then moves in and out of the others asking for a light. A hand stretches out towards her mouth. A match lights and smoke starts to unfurl. But the woman then screams. Apparently the hand of the man holding out the match has then tweaked her cheek. She chases the man and pinched his back. They wrestle. All of a sudden there appears a happy spectacle. Korep and Carmi join in the shouting. There are bursts of laughter and rowdy shouting. It becomes so noisy the sparrows foraging for food on the ground suddenly all fly away together into the air. A dog that feels disturbed disappears quickly behind a garbage excavator long since broken down, now also garbage.

Driver Dalim wheels in his truck. And in an instant the atmosphere changes. The crowd of garbage scavengers scatters. They run behind until the truck stops. The moment the rubbish is tipped out there erupts a chaotic noisy scene. Dozens of scavengers including Korep and Carmi transform into something akin to a pen of hungry chickens tossed feed, struggle, jostle each other, shove and push past each other. They scramble to scavenge through the garbage for anything at all, anything except for diapers, pads or dead rats.

Korep finds two half-rotten mangoes. Carmi has a different story. Carmi’s eyes are struck when an object falls from the back of the truck onto her head. It’s the right-hand shoe of an expensive pair of shoes of a reasonable size. Carmi picks up the shoe straight away. Oh, she often dreams of wearing shoes like this. In her dream, Carmi sees her calves are clean and large, and more beautiful because of the shoes. Carmi is really excited. Ever more excitedly she picks through the pile of garbage with her hands looking for the left shoe. Sweat runs down her forehead and cheeks but Carmi fails. So she straightens her back and looks around. Maybe the other shoe is over there. Or maybe it’s been found by one of the other scavenger. She fails again. So Carmi stops and leaves the rubbish heap. She even throws back the three plastic glasses made from used bottled-water containers she has found.

At the edge of the garbage dump she tries the shoe on her right foot. Her heart flutters again because the shoe feels so comfortable on her foot. She takes it off again, and cleans it with crumpled up newspaper. When it is a little cleaner, she puts it back on again. Carmi stands up, turns, and lifts her right foot so she can inspect carefully how the shoe looks on her foot. She really hopes that tomorrow or whenever the left shoe arrives at this garbage dump. Who knows. Yes, who knows. Can’t anything at all turn up here?

Korep comes over and straight away laughs at what his friend is doing. Carmi disapproves. She is offended, but does not want to respond to Korep’s behavior. Or Carmi’s eyes are attracted more to the two mangoes in Korep’s hands. Carmi is relieved that Korep responds. What’s more Korep does not continue talking about the shoe on her right foot.

“Let’s just eat mangoes. Come on,” Carmi suggests as she places the single lone shoe into a yellow plastic bag. Korep grins but he too is interested in Carmi’s idea. So Korep and Carmi move to the eastern side where there is a shady tropical almond tree. Korep takes out a small knife he was given by Driver Dalim. He has one mango in the left hand. In one smooth action the mango is cut open right up to the part that is rotten. Carmi stares at the freshly-cut, bright yellow surface. Carmi salivates, but then shudders as two maggots emerge from the open surface. Korep laughs, then makes another incision, deeper. This time the rotten part of the mango is completely gone. “Who says half-rotten mangoes aren’t delicious to eat, right?” says Korep offering a slice of the mango flesh that is not rotten to Carmi. “Yeah, right?” Carmi just laughs. Korep stares at Carmi’s straight teeth that are really nice to look at.

***

Every day Carmi carries a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Eventually everyone finds out that the little girl is still waiting for the left shoe. They feel sorry for her. It’s almost impossible. But all the garbage scavengers promise Carmi they will help her. Driver Dalim even has a wonderful idea. He is going to instruct his truck crew of two to go to every house in What’s It Called Street. He is going to tell both of them to ask the maids, the drivers, and the gardeners there whether they know where the left-hand shoe is that Carmi is waiting for.

But Driver Dalim’s brilliant idea does not need to be put into action. A few days after Carmi discovers the right shoe, Driver Dalim is tricked by his two assistants. At the time he is driving the truck along the highway. Suddenly in front of his eyes outside the cabin window there is a left-hand shoe bobbing up and down. Obviously the shoe is tied to a long rope with the end being held by his assistants on the back of the truck. Driver Dalim immediately presses the brake. The tires screech on the surface of the asphalt road. On the back of the truck his two helpers sway and tumble forward.

Driver Dalim jumps down, taking off his glasses straight away. The truck’s crew of two also climb down. One of them handed the left shoe to Driver Dalim who then smiles broadly. Holding the handle of his glasses, he gives praise to God as many as three times.

“Where did you find it?”

“Well, in the garbage bin in front of the houses on What’s It Called Street. Forget what number it is.”

“That’s enough. Where you found the left shoe isn’t important.”

Driver Dalim stops talking because he wants to remove his glasses and put them back one again. Now he rubs his forehead, apparently thinking hard. Driver Dalim’s behavior makes his two helpers wonder. What else is he thinking about? Isn’t there only one thing left, to deliver the left shoe to Carmi?

“Later you be the one to give the shoe to Carmi.” This is Driver Dalim’s instruction to the helper wearing short pants. The person appointed glances up because he’s a little surprised.

“It would be better for you to do it, Mr. Dalim.”

“Yes right. It would be better if it were you, Mr. Dalim,” says the helper wearing trousers, supporting his friend. Driver Dalim sighs then removes his glasses. Before replacing them once more he speaks in a hushed tone.

“Look, you don’t know. The problem is, I didn’t have the heart to see Carmi the moment she receives the shoe. Carmi might jump up and down, laugh and laugh, or even scream because she is so happy. Her eyes might sparkle, or on the other hand, she might become teary. Well, just over a second-hand shoe taken from a trash can Carmi’s heart will be over joyed. I don’t have the heart to watch. It would be so hard. Do you have the heart?”

Without waiting for an answer Driver Dalim changes his mind. The left shoe will be placed beneath the tropical almond tree on the east side of the garbage dump. Carmi and Korep often rest there in the middle of the day. Everyone agrees, so Driver Dalim jumps up into the cabin with the left shoe in his hand. The two helpers climb up onto the back and the truck pulls out headed for the garbage dump.

When the sun is right over the garbage dump all the scavengers move to the four sides to arrange the results of their scavenging, placing it into sacks or tying it up with nylon rope. Carmi also moves to the side. She has found dozens of plastic glasses made from used drinking-water containers, arranging them neatly so they are easy to carry. In her left hand there is still a yellow plastic sack containing the right-hand shoe. Along with Korep who is carrying a bunch of half-rotten mangoes, Carmi heads for the eastern side towards the shade of the tropical almond tree.

When the air at the garbage dump is extremely hot, without any wind, a foul odor spreading out everywhere and the sparrows flocking in along with dogs, who then hears Carmi laughing loudly then crying hooray over and over again? Does the loud laughing sound like the outpouring of overwhelming joy that is heart warming?

The people who hear Carmi’s laughing are the dozens of garbage scavengers in the garbage dump. And it is only they who can really understand and fully appreciate the laughter of the young scavenger girl. So look, the scavengers stand up and smile when they watch Carmi and Korep leave the garbage dump. Carmi laughs, of course because there is a pair of shoes on her feet. But where could the two garbage scavengers be going? Everyone at the garbage dump knows that Carmi and Korep don’t have a home to go to. (*)


The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump (Tawa Gadis Padang Sampah) by Ahmad Tohari was published in the daily newspaper Harian Kompas on 21 August 2016. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2016/08/21/tawa-gadis-padang-sampah/.]

Ahmad Tohari was born in Banyumas on 13 June 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy “The Ronggeng Dancer of Paruk Hamlet” (Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk). His collections of short stories include “Karyamin’s Smile” (Senyum Karyamin), “Night Song” (Nyanyian Malam), and “Eyes Lovely to Behold” (Mata yang Enak Dipandang). Other works include the novels Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Belantik (2001), and Orang-orang Proyek (2002). The short story “They Spelt The Begging Ban” (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was also published in Kompas daily newspaper on 15 September 2019.

Featured image credit: Life Must Go On! by Ubay Amri Nur.

Short Story: They Spelt The Begging Ban By Ahmad Tohari

They Spelt The Begging Ban

By Ahmad Tohari

They were five street children, and Gupris was the only girl. The five of them didn’t wash very often, and even more infrequently changed their clothes. Of the lot Gupris was the most out-going and boisterous, and the most talkative too. Gupris was also the only one who had ever been to school, even if only briefly.

And now the five children had jumped onto the tray of an open-sided truck that had started to move towards the depot. Every morning they gathered at the truck depot that was surrounded by stalls, mostly stalls selling rice meals. The four boys always slept there, on the floor under the awning of the closed stalls, or anywhere they liked. At night they were used to the mosquitoes. But often they couldn’t sleep when they had empty stomachs. Gupris didn’t join them sleeping rough at the depot. She did something different. She had a small house behind the depot. Her mother was there but her father wasn’t.

Three o’clock in the morning was the time Gupris hated the most. The fragrant smell would often wake her up. Early in the morning she would often see that her mother was already washed and dressed and had put on her makeup and lipstick. Then her mother would take the hand basket and say she was off to go shopping at the market. At first Gupris didn’t care. But then she came to hate it because her mother would always return home with an empty basket, her striking brightly colored clothes and makeup disheveled. Gupris came to hate it more and more. So now every morning at two-thirty she would rise and go to the depot to join her four friends before her mother arrived home.

Gupris and her four friends sat cross-legged on the tray of the empty truck headed for the cement factory. The truck was huge, it had fourteen wheels. The tray was steel and it had no sides. One of the children played a small drum, one played a tambourine, and another played an old battered guitar. The result was a traveling dangdut* stage. The truck drivers were never angry, even though the five street kids would often make a noise banging on the floor of the tray. Gupris usually sang like a dangdut singer, but this time she preferred to play on her cellphone. She had become fond of looking at rude pictures. Gupris still wore her hair in two pigtails.

Approaching Karangasu intersection, Gupris got up and stood unsteadily. She invited her four friends to get ready to get down. If they were lucky, the traffic lights at the intersection would turn red for them. But not this time. So one of the children who couldn’t wait jumped down along the side. He slammed into the ground and immediately streamed. Gupris ran to the front pounding on the roof of the truck cabin. The truck finally stopped after crossing the intersection. The driver looked back but wasn’t angry. The other four children jumped down. They wanted to help their friend who was sitting in pain but the traffic was very heavy. Gupris took action. She moved to the center of the road, raising her hands high to motion for a chance to get cross. The sun’s heat had started to bite.

The five street children who rarely took a bath walked away from the intersection, the one being helped to a sheltered place and left there alone.

Gupris invited the three friends back to the corner of the intersection. The drum made from PVC pipe and a membrane made of tire started to pound. The tambourine and old battered guitar started to make a noise.

Gupris got ready for their dangdut show. But suddenly she stopped still. She saw something. Something had changed at the corner of the intersection. Near them a noticeboard had been erected. The writing was black on a white painted wooden board. Unlike her friends who weren’t interested because they couldn’t read, Gupris was different. She wanted to read the writing. She began to spell out. Her friends approached and stood behind her to listen.

“A-n-y-o-ne be-gg-i-ng a-n-d b-us-ki-n-g w-i-ll b-e… pu-n-i-s-h-ed b-y… i-m-p-ri-s-o-n-e-d …”.

Gupris stopped, then turned to face her friends.

“What is punished? What does being punished and imprisoned mean?” they asked.

The four boys grinned and then each shook his head. None of them knew. They just stared at each other. Gupris was annoyed and felt useless. So Gupris invited her friends to leave. But they suddenly stopped.

“Now, read that! You are wild kids who just wander around aimlessly, you have to read it. You have to!”

Gupris and her friends looked to the side at the same time. There was a watchman coming out of the food stall wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Above the right pocket of his shirt was clearly embroidered with the name Karidun. He was moving in a half run. And he stopped, puffing himself up. His loud voice sounded over the noise of the cars and motorbikes. There was still some rice or coconut pieces stuck to the corner of his lips. The left over food continued to dance following the movement of his mouth as the watchman spoke. That was the sight that made Gupris almost burst out laughing.

“Go on reading. You have to!” said watchman Karidun, hand pointing to the noticeboard there in a commanding style. “I’m a security officer, see, security from Community Services. I was the one who put the sign up this morning. For people just like you. Get it? Remember, I’m security from Community Services, right?”

Quietly Gupris stopped, her face blank. Then she looked behind her in the direction of her friends.

“Hey, why stop. Read on. I’m security. And I told you to read. Go on,” shouted watchman Karidun, voice becoming louder this time.

“P-u-n-is-he-d, what does that mean, mister?” Gupris asked in a normal tone. Although she was still a little girl, who didn’t wash often, Gupris dared to quip back to Karidun, who wanted to be called security.

There was quiet again. Watchman Karidun didn’t seem to be ready to answer Gupris’ question.

His face changed. Like somebody with a stutter, confused, but his eyebrows hardened. Then he turned himself around rubbing his forehead.

Finally he snapped back to face the five street kids as he also puffed himself right up.

“I am a security official. Right, now?”

“Yes!” Gupris answered very quickly.

“So, in my opinion, to be punished is definitely not the same as being given some money. Being punished might be the same as being convicted. Yes. Being punished by imprisonment is the same as being sentenced to confinement, put in prison, sent to jail. Get it? That’s it, so don’t you go begging and busking. You should all be going to school. So you can be like me who’s a security officer and knows what being punished means.”

Gupris fell silent a moment. Then turned back to face her friends. “You hear, we should be going to school.”

“Do you get money going to school?” interrupted one of the children.

“Seriously! Schools, see, don’t get you money, in fact you have to pay,” Gupris answered.

“Wow, that’s a problem if it’s like that? You don’t get any money? So what are we supposed to buy food with? It would be better to keep on busking, keep on begging. Then we can keep on eating.”

“Wait, what?” exclaimed watchman Karidun with a fierce face. “I have just told you. Begging and busking will be punished by imprisonment. P-u-n-ish-ed b-y i-mp-ri-so-n-me-nt for 30 days, with a fine of 50 million rupiah! Do you hear that?”

Gupris’s face sank. But then she smiled faintly as she noticed the leftover food in the corner of Karidun’s mouth dancing again.

“Why is that?” Gupris responded again. “Begging isn’t pick-pocketing, or stealing, is it?”

“Yes, but it is against the ban. Anyone who breaks the ban is definitely going to be punished, convicted.”

“Why is it like that? Who made the ban?”

“Well, I’m security. So I know who made the ban on begging, the mayor and the city council members.”

“What’s a mayor?”

“Really, you wild child. The mayor is an important official.”

“Are the city council members too?”

“Yess. Now listen. As security I want to explain everything. The city council members are the representatives of the people, so your representatives too.”

Gupris’ eyebrows narrowed. She was confused. But at least now she knew. The city council members were a type of human too. And they along with the mayor had made the ban, whoever begged and busked would be punished by imprisonment.

“Yes, yes. We beg and busk every day. But we’ve never been punished.” Gupris grinned. Her four friends laughed.

“Oh, so you’re all asking to be punished, are you?” Karidun hurriedly rummaged for his cellphone in his pocket. He muttering to himself, the leftover food still not yet gone from the corners of his mouth. Gupris and her four friends laughed again.

“Hang on. I’ll call for a city police patrol car to grab you guys. Just hang on. I’m the security who calls the city police. So they’ll be right here.”

“What’s the city police anyway?” Gupris stared up at Karidun. But there was no answer.

As Karidun was busy with his cellphone, Gupris turned to face her friends. She whispered. The four friends nodded together. Then they glanced to the side. The traffic lights was showing red. Two large empty trucks with open trays and an expensive car were pulled up. The light changed to yellow, then to green. Gupris moved the fastest, the others following. They deftly jumped up like monkeys as the big truck with the open tray began to move off. Then they waved wildly to watchman Karidun.

“Hey mister watchman, we’re off to Tegal, then Cirebon. Then to…, then, then… If you want to punish us, chase us there, OK, mister?” Gupris shouted as she laughed. The four friends danced wildly on the truck as it sped off. Gupris’ voice was still audible, but grew fainter and fainter. The cement truck drove on into the distance headed north in the direction of the city of Tegal.

The Karangasu intersection would continue to be busy but it was left behind by Gupris and her four friends. The five street kids who were still just young children had gone on a journey. They would wander through Tegal, Cirebon, and who knows where else. Watchman Karidun was still standing on the corner at the intersection. He stared at the sign that announced the ban on begging he had just built that morning. Oh, and once the sixty by one hundred centimeter sign was up it had immediately proved its potency. Five street children had left the Karangasu intersection. Watchman Karidun was proud because he felt he had done a good job. Or, had he. Because the vision of Gupris’ cute face and two pigtails continued to linger before his eyes. The voice of Gupris as she spelt in a halting voice, “…what is punished by imprisonment?…” continued to ring in his ears too.


They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily newspaper on 15 September 2019. (Retrieved from Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis.)

Ahmad Tohari, was born in Banyumas, June 13, 1948. He now lives in the village of Tinggarjaya, Jatilawang, Purwokerto in Central Java province. His most popular work is the novel trilogy Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk. His collections of short stories include Senyum Karyamin, Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works includes the novels: Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Bclantik (2001), dan Orang-orang Proyek (2002).

*On dangdut check out https://www.britannica.com/art/dangdut.

You’ll probably also enjoy the film Jalanan https://www.youtube.com/user/jalananmovie

For other stories by Ahmad Tohari click here.

Novel: Ain’t No Night Fair By Pramoedya Ananta Toer #7

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 4

 

We relaxed in the front guestroom. My younger siblings who weren’t grown up yet, who still appeared so wild now began to draw near and we talked a great deal – about Djakarta, about Semarang, and about cars. The conversation was not tiresome. It made me happy and it usually continued for a long time.

And at one point I asked, “How’s father’s health?”

Suddenly everyone went quiet; not one person was looking directly at me. Suddenly the animated joyful conversation was gone, replaced by an air of seriousness.

And I asked again, “How is father’s health?”

Carefully and slowly my sister answered, “We received the pills and the blanket you sent for father. I also received the money order and we used it to buy milk and eggs, just as you instructed.”

My wife and I listened silently. She continued, “I also collected the shirt for father from the post office. And I took the blanket, the shirt, and the pills to the hospital. But father said, ‘Just take them all back to the house.’ So I brought them home again.”

I was surprised and asked, “And the pills?”

“He has finished one container.”

I was pleased a little.

“And the milk and eggs?” I asked again.

“Father didn’t like them. ‘I’m bored with eggs and milk,’ he said.”

I was lost for words. I looked at my wife, but in her face, I did not find an answer. I glanced outside the house. I noticed the orange tree which father had long ago planted. It was dry now and almost dead.

“And father’s health?” I repeated my question.

My younger sister didn’t reply. Her eyes reddened with tears.

“Why don’t you answer me?” I asked fearfully.

“Yesterday and up to yesterday father just smiled, smiled a lot. But then, then…”

She was silent. I did not force her to continue what she was saying. I didn’t say anything either. Both of us sat for a time with our heads bowed. My youngest sister, who had just begun to speak to me, now wouldn’t say a word. The time was only just half-past twelve in the afternoon and the sound of frying could be heard clearly coming from the kitchen.

My younger sister continued, her voice still slow, foreboding and careful. “…and then this morning father wasn’t smiling anymore. His voice was weak and almost inaudible.” Her voice trailed away.

“And what did the doctor say?” I asked.

“The doctor has never said anything to us. There is just one doctor here. And there aren’t enough medicines.”

Then my younger brother, who by chance was home on leave with permission from his commander said, “I’ve discussed father’s illness with the doctor too. He said, ‘I already know about your father’s illness.’”

“Is that all he said?” I asked.

“Yes. That’s all. Then they told me to go home.”

The atmosphere turned serious once more. Everyone sat silently with their own feelings and their own thoughts. Then without realizing it, my younger sister changed the subject of the conversation to a new topic. She mentioned that my third younger sister, the one who was married, was currently in Blora too. Straight away I asked her where she was.

Her hand pointed to the door of one of the bedrooms. All eyes followed the direction she indicated. In my mind, I could see my sister’s face and I imagined she was thin. I knew it; she had to be sick. But I opened my mouth and said, “Tell her to come out.”

My younger sister went over to the door and opened it carefully. Every eye was on her. She disappeared into the room, then she emerged red-eyed and said, half crying, “She’s still asleep.”

We talked about other things. But the image of my sick younger sister filled my mind. It was because of her I wrote the letter to my father, the unpleasant letter, for allowing her to become sick. But at the time I was still in jail. My father had replied:

Yes, my child, throughout my life of fifty-six years I have realized that people’s efforts and means are very limited. For my part, I wouldn’t have allowed your sister to become ill if only I had some power over people’s fates. She became sick when she was detained by the red militia in an area that was swampy, an area rife with malaria. And maybe you can understand yourself the situation with medicines in a war zone, and especially if you yourself are not a soldier.

That reply melted my anger. The question had been clear in my heart, “Did I sin by writing that angry letter?” The answer had come back by itself, “Yes, you have sinned.” And it had been because of that answer I had felt up to this time that I had sinned. Before seeing father again. But that long wandering conversation had removed these terrible memories. I looked at my six younger siblings surrounding me, surrounding my wife and I, starting to be free of the atmosphere of seriousness, while I was still stuck with so many thoughts and memories pressing in.

I noticed my watch. We had been talking for an hour. Then looking at my smallest sister I said slowly, “Please look in on your big sister. Maybe she’s awake.”

She got up, went to the door and called out in her childish voice, “Sister, sister. Big brother’s here.”

She vanished into the bedroom.

No-one was paying much attention to her and the conversation broke out again. But when my smallest sister emerged, the conversation halted. She approached me and whispered, “Sister’s crying.”

I took a deep breath.

Slowly I stood up and went over to the bedroom. And there sprawled on the iron bed devoid of mosquito netting, half blanketed by a light cotton sheet, was my little sister, covering her eyes with her arm. I lifted her arm and I beheld two eyes looking up at me, red and moist. I hugged her. She started to cry and I too wept, and among the sobs, I could hear my own voice ask, “Why are you so thin?”

Her crying subsided and she composed herself, so she was calmer. And I did the same.

“I’ve been sick for a long time, brother,” I listened to her broken voice.

“Have you been to the doctor?” I asked, my voice cracking too.

“I’ve seen the doctor, but my condition just stays like this,” her voice still breaking.

“Maybe it would be better if you went to a large city. There are a lot of specialists there,” my voice still breaking.

There was just sobbing.

“Do you have any children, sister?”

“Yes, brother.”

“Where are they?”

Our crying had subsided, but my sister now broke out in tears again. She answered without emotion, “He passed away, brother. He’s not here anymore.”

She snatched back the arm I was holding and covered her eyes again. I took out my handkerchief and wiped the tears running down her face.

“What do you mean not here,” I asked.

“I gave birth at six months. He cried a lot. I could hear him crying. Then God took him back again.”

Once more I started to weep openly and she too sobbed uncontrollably. All I could hear now was the storm heaving in my chest. And all I could see was her thin body, the single cloth sheet, the small mattress covering only half the bed frame, and the iron and the bamboo slats protruding next to the mattress.

“You’re still young, little sister, you still have the chance to have another child,” I said to comfort her.

“Where’s your husband?”

“He’s doing training in Semarang, brother.”

Our crying, which had filled that room, now subsided and eventually died.

I straightened the blanket, kissed my younger sister on her cheek and I said, “Go to sleep.”

She took her arm away from her eyes. She was calm now. Slowly she closed her eyelids. Once more I kissed her on the cheeks, cheeks that had once been so full and which were now so drawn. Then I left the room.

(Continued)

Duduk Duduk


Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

Featured image: After an interval of 11 years, rock band Efek Rumah Kaca play in Pare-Pare, South Sulawesi, December 2018