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Ain’t No Night Fair #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. Conversation wasn’t boring, it made me happy, and it usually carried on 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 a 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 the one doctor here. And there aren’t enough medicines.”

Then my younger brother, who by chance was home with leave 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 gaol. 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

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Ain’t No Night Fair #6

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 3

We left before dawn to make our way to the station. We queued to buy tickets. The train traveled along the coast, skirting the Java Sea. Sometimes the train would race cars and we watched the sight anxiously. The dust thrown up by cars – dust mixed with every kind of horse dung, human excrement, human snot and spit – billowed up and came to rest on our skin. Sometimes we caught sight of children cheering as they held out hats begging. And this situation had persisted from the time the railway line was opened and trains raged along its rails. Whenever anyone threw food scraps, the children would scramble against each other. But it isn’t so important for me to relate this.

The train went on and on, and when it reached the town of Rembang began to turn southward traveling through teak forests and rice fields. The closer we got to the town of my birth, the more vivid became the images in my mind of its narrow lanes, of its people living in poverty and, of my father. From time to time deer could be seen darting frightened by the hiss of the train, running into the undergrowth, forelegs and hind legs almost crossing over and stomachs tight. They seemed to almost float.

The conductor checking our tickets was still the same conductor who had been there when I was young and often traveled to Rembang to visit the beach after the holidays had finally arrived. But the conductor was old now and no longer recognized me. He paid no attention to the people on the train, interested only in their tickets.

I glanced over at my wife and said, “Look, the forest is so beautiful.”

Quietly my wife popped her head out the window, then pulled it in again and nestled into the corner of the carriage seat.

I gazed at the beauty of the forest. I had gone into that forest once long ago, before at a time when as a scout we had visited the grave of Raden Ajeng Kartini. Her grave was not far from our train then. Suddenly a canyon unfurled before my eyes and I called spontaneously.

“Look at the canyon! It’s so deep!”

I looked at my wife. She lifted her eyelids, and then lowering them again slowly she closed her eyes once more.

I sighed.

I wanted to show off the beauty of my own area, with its canyons and forests, deer and monkeys. Yes, I wanted to do that so much.

Our train passed through stations and stops which were now no more than solitary platforms, passed lime kilns and piles of teak logs, and it all brought memories back to me of my childhood when we would often go on trips by bicycle in and out of the forest. Yes, what a wonderful childhood it had been, which was now past. Now my memories sang sweetly of its beauty.

As the train entered the outskirts of the town of Blora, I noticed open blocks of land. Land where once buildings had stood, and suddenly it dawned on me. These buildings had been flattened by the war. Desperate to know what had happened, I put my head out the window.

Cepu Destruction 10 January 1949 by J. Zijlstra

Then all at once I said, “I hope the telegram did get there. And hopefully someone will be there to meet us at the station.”

My wife opened her eyes, and as our eyes met I said, “We’re here at Blora now.”

She tidied herself, and I did likewise, then the train came to a halt at Blora station. Once more I poked my head out the window, but my eyes were not able to catch sight of the person I had hoped would come to meet us. So it was true, the telegram hadn’t made it.

We carried our things. Then, traveling gently just as it had once before long ago, the horse and buggy carried us to the house I had left all this time. The driver constantly nudged his horse with whip and commands only out of habit. Many of the buildings along the road were destroyed. The Post and Telegraph office which had been the pride of the residents of the small town of Blora was now no more than a crumpled stack of concrete pillars. I drew in a long breath. The statue celebrating the fortieth anniversary of the reign of Queen Wilhelmina was still standing, though its former glory was gone and it was now painted a pale red.

And I did not understand why. Maybe a red militia had painted it when they occupied our town.

Thus when our buggy drew up in front of the house I had left behind so long ago, my young brothers and sisters yelled excitedly, “Big brother’s here! Big brother’s here!”

But they did not want to approach. In fact those who weren’t adults distanced themselves. Possibly their shyness was due to the fact I was now married, and that my wife was now standing beside me. I didn’t really know. Only the brothers and sisters who were now grown up came to help us carry our bags.

When I went into the house, I bumped my head on the roof beam, and it made me think. I had grown taller now. When I had left this house, the roof beams had still been far above my head.

(Continued)

Cepu Destruction 10 January 1949


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

National Library Photo Collection of the work of J. Zijlstra

Cover photo credit Mata Najwa

Najwa Shihab of MetroTV's Mata Najwa Globe Asia Cover "99 Most Powerful Women"

Ain’t No Night Fair #5

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

Suddenly those thoughts died as my eyes fell on one small hamlet in the middle of rice fields surrounded by bamboo thickets and trees. I knew the conditions in this hamlet all too well. At that time, the hamlet had been under the control of a gang of outlaws. Once with my platoon I had been on patrol there and made a detailed report. The report would now be lying buried in some cupboard. I had become acquainted with one very attractive woman in particular. As the hamlet was owned by a large landowner, the thought occurred to me that the woman would have to have been mixed race. But that didn’t matter and her father had made me an offer, “If you marry my daughter, I will no longer need to work. There’s a sizeable amount of land here and you can take half of my fields.” I was completely intoxicated by the offer as I listened. At the time, poverty always circled in the sky ready to swoop down on your head. Yes, the thought of the offer made me smile at the time. But the patrol was to last no more than a day and a night and before long our platoon made its return to base.

I did return to the place later though, but the beautiful woman had been kidnapped by the gang of bandits. I would return home again filled with regret, but happy also that I had not sold myself out. Nevertheless, the beauty of the woman and her fate would continue to haunt my thoughts.

Then in my heart I told myself a story which went like this.

“The woman was now living contentedly with the bandits who had kidnapped her. She would by now have given birth to two young children and her body was adorned with silk and gold and diamond-studded jewelry.”

The train thundered on at high speed. The hamlet too vanished, from my view, and from my memory.

I coughed.

“You are too close to the window,” said my wife.

Dutch war train

We changed places. I drew the collar of my coat up tightly around my neck then I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped off to sleep, but my sleep was not to be secure as the train was beginning to fill with new passengers. Then I drifted back to sleep once more. Arriving in the district that had only recently been cleared of the threat and terror presented by the Darul Islam movement, we could see damaged telegraph wires, tangled and twisted around their poles which were lying bent, strewn on the ground.

“Well, not a chance the telegram has arrived there,” I said.

“No, the telegram couldn’t possibly have arrived,” my wife echoed. The train roared on, and on. And on, all the way to Semarang.

We slept the night at a hotel and although the hotel was grubby, we were nevertheless able to sleep soundly.

Dutch patrol at Semarang, Java, 23 July 1947

(Continued)

 


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

National Archive Photo Collection

Mata Najwa Globe Asia Cover Photo Credit

Mata Najwa "Generasi Antikorupsi #KitaKPK"

Ain’t No Night Fair #4

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

My memory circled back again, the sheep transformed into a person, and that person was my father.

I sighed.

I could feel a shudder in my chest and I moaned.

“What’s wrong?” my wife asked.

“I might be coming down with a cold,” I answered.

“Put on your coat.”

I slipped on the coat I had taken off previously after putting up our suitcases at Gambir station. After that effort I had felt very hot and the feeling of having a temperature added to the pressure of the fear that we wouldn’t get a place to sit.

I fastened the buttons.

“You catch colds quite easily,” my wife added.

Coldly I didn’t respond to her reminder.

Now in my mind there appeared the sight of a grave, the final resting place of every person, despite certain people sometimes not finding a place in the womb of the earth. Yes, sometimes sailors, or soldiers in times of war, often they do not find a final resting place. And in my mind I imagined that it was my father who did not find a place.

I shuddered.

My eyes misted. But not enough for tears to fall.

“Ah, I do not want to listen to every thought in my head,” I screamed to myself.

And I thought. If only I could win the lottery. What a sweet dream that was. And that dream was ended by an old idea, the idea that at the end of the day every person passes away. Death. Sickness. And sickness brought my thoughts back to my father.

Once more I sighed.

“Hopefully your uncle should have waited before writing that letter,” my wife said. “Hopefully your father’s condition isn’t as bad as he described.”

Again I looked her straight in the eye. They were eyes that were now no longer of any interest to me. This time she lowered her head and rearranged her hair which was moved by the wind.

“Hopefully,” I said.

I turned yet again to stare out the train window. Rubber plantations chased each other. Small towns which I had often passed before I was once more going through again. And dozens of memories, some of which were bitter and some of which were happy, with a force I could not control assaulted my mind. And at that moment I became conscious. Sometimes people do not have the power to resist their own memories, and I smiled at this consciousness. Yes, people unknowingly are too strong and repress their awareness. I smiled again.

“What time is it, brother?” my wife asked.

I swung my eyes in her direction and again my gaze landed on her eyes, those once wonderful eyes that now held no interest for me. Just for a moment. Then I dropped my eyes to my watch.

“It’s almost nine o’clock,” I answered.

“Maybe he’s already received the telegram.”

“Hopefully he has,” I said.

And I swung my gaze to stare out the window again. The telegram now appeared in my mind. Just maybe the telegram which had said “Tomorrow arriving with my wife” would be of some comfort to my father. In fact this hope had not even been my own.

The previous night a friend had said, “You’ve been in prison so long. Two and a half years! And all that time your father was definitely wanting you to come home. And not only that. He was definitely worrying about how you were too.” And that is what had made me send him, I mean, have somebody else send him, the telegram. That friend had also said, “You have to go. Maybe you visiting him will make him feel better, help him recover.”

(Continued)

1940s Netherlands Indies Government Lottery Semarang

1940s Netherlands Indies Government Lottery, Gang Pinggir, Semarang (Source: http://reklamejadoel.blogspot.com.au)


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

National Archive Photo Collection

Mata Najwa Generasi Antikorupsi #KitaKPK Photo Credit

Jihat Anti-korupsi Mata Najwa

Ain’t No Night Fair #3

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

I swung my head, and my eyes too, from her stare and gazed out the train window again.

We were at Lemah Abang now.

All at once an old memory shimmered into my mind. Before, four years ago. Completely out of the blue, the Dutch had rained shells on our defenses from three directions using between eight and ten Howitzers. The number could be worked out by the fighters who had previously been soldiers in the Netherlands East Indies artillery. The people had panicked and run out in the direction of the rice fields. I still remember the time. I cupped my two hands and shouted, “Don’t run! Get on the ground!” But there were too many of them, and they were too confused, too frightened, and they were incapable of hearing my voice. And when I fell to the ground behind a large tree I was able to see one, then two, three, four, five artillery shells explode among the mass of scattering people. Bodies. Corpses. And my mind ran through the blood, injuries, bodies, to the letter, my uncle, and finally, to my father.

I sighed. My heart ached. I was indeed sensitive. And my family was full of sensitive creatures.

I closed my eyes tightly so I couldn’t see the scene around Lemah Abang. But the remnants of those memories would not leave my mind. The extraordinary achievement of the Dutch shooting, four sheep killed in front of their pen. And this is what was so upsetting: one old sheep, pregnant, eyes gazing into the sky, head resting on the rail of a pen post, with its two hind legs kneeling and its forelegs standing up straight. And the sheep was dead. I rocked the body of the sheep slightly and it tottered to the ground. It didn’t move. Really, it was dead. A friend suggested, “Let’s just cut it up.” I stared at its eyes which were open and pallid. I could feel a shiver run down my spine, and I ran all the way home. It was three days before I could get the vision of the sheep gazing into the sky out of my head. The sheep! My memory circled back again, the sheep transformed into a person, and that person was my father.

I sighed.

(Continued)

Karawang sector, 23 July 1947

Karawang sector, 23 July 1947. A convoy of the Dutch 7th December Division in the town Cikarang on route Karawang. http://www.gahetna.nl


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

National Archive Photo Collection

Anti-corruption Jihad photo credit

Burnt out car of a Brigadier A W S Mallaby

Ain’t No Night Fair #2

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2

Early that morning the first train sped along its tracks from Gambir Station. Now there were only a quarter of the number of the tall red earthen mounds remaining that had been visible everywhere before during the Japanese occupation each time I returned to Blora. Settled by the rain. Chipped away. Dragged off by the rain. Then suddenly a horrible feeling came over me as I noticed all the mounds of red earth at Jatinegara Station. Aren’t the lives of all of humanity chipped away every day, squeezed down, and dragged off like those mounds of red earth? And because I was married, and as my wife was sitting beside me, I turned crisply to look at her.

“We’re not going on a honeymoon. We’re going to visit someone in hospital this time,” I said.

Gambir Railway Station Jakarta

Gambir Railway Station, Jakarta 1945

The roar and hiss of the train that had started to move off once more prevented me from hearing her reply. Her mouth was all that I could see opening and closing.

“We get to Blora tomorrow at twelve midday,” I continued.

I watched her nod, then turned back once more to gaze from the carriage window. The morning mist was beginning to thin and then Klender station appeared from the window. The carcasses of Dutch armored pantserwagen, British brengun carriers and old trucks still lay scattered across fields and along the sides of the main roads, English weapons which had been disabled by the groups of youth militia fighters, and disabled too by their own old age. Then suddenly I recalled: the youth militia fighters who had been under pressure from the wealth of firepower of the foreign forces had made it to the other side of the Cakung River.

The train then passed through Cakung station. I had so many recollections of this tiny hamlet. Cakung, among the rubber plantations, where the situation had changed so often, youth militia fighters pinned down one minute, then the foreign forces the next.

I drew on my cigarette. Now the morning cold and cool breeze weren’t as unpleasant as before. Barren empty rice fields and rice fields whose harvest time had all but arrived exchanged places chasing each other through the window. And before in those fields, there were occasions when single-prop Dutch warplanes had dropped hand grenades on farmers. There were times too when planes had landed in those empty fields and stolen goats from villagers. Yes, I recalled all of these things now. And in that grass too there had been friends then defending the line of the railway track who had fallen sprawling, their blood spraying over the ever green grass.

Dutch warplane

“What time will we arrive at Semarang?” my wife asked.

“Four.”

And I returned to my memories. Kranji station, Tambun. Cikarang. These were a series of defenses before the first military action. And the train continued roaring along. And suddenly I again remembered the letter from my uncle, “has already vomited blood four times!” And my recollections stopped and circled in on that word blood. Then I recalled as well how his letter had continued:

I feel that our father can’t be expected to recover. You can come home, can’t you? Surely, you can come home.

I shivered all over, like someone with malaria. And the military performance disappeared from my head. My father once more filled my thoughts.

“We can’t stay in Blora too long,” said my wife.

I looked at my wife. I could feel my forehead creasing deeply and I replied sharply, “We’ll see how things are first.”

For a moment the memory of my father vanished.

“If we’re there too long maybe I might have to go home ahead of you.”

I was annoyed.

I stared at her. Before. Before when we were still engaged, I had felt her eyes were so completely wonderful. But the wonder had gone now. Yes, her eyes were now just the same as the eyes of anyone else, without any affect on my heart. And I answered her gaze. Perhaps it was my eyes which were awful, as indeed I had known since I was a child, no longer having any affect on her heart either.

I answered, “That’s entirely up to you.”

I swung my head, and my eyes too, from her stare and gazed out the train window again.

We were at Lemah Abang now.

All at once an old memory shimmered into my mind.

(Continued)

Pantserwagen in action in Weleri

Pantserwagen in action in Weleri, 1 Augustus 1947 http://www.gahetna.nl


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

Image credits: National Archive Photo Collection

Ain't No Night Fair Cover Illustration By DA Peransi

Ain’t No Night Fair

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 1

The letter wouldn’t have upset me so badly, if only before it arrived I just hadn’t send my own letter. My letter contained what I can only describe as something that was going to be very unpleasant to read. The letter I received read like this:

Blora, 17 December 1949

My beloved child!

There is no more profound joy in this world than the rich happiness felt by a father who has his child returned to him, his first born child, the child who carries all of his swelling pride and honor, the child who for so long has been denied contact with normal society and been separated from the ordinary life of decent human beings.

My child!

I can imagine the suffering in your soul. I can picture how you suffered in that cramped space, because I experienced that myself during the rebellion of the Socialist Youth militia, when I was moved between three prisons in two weeks. From that time until now, every single night, I have begged the Lord Almighty for safety and happiness for our family and for our future generations. I pray He will forgive the sins of our family.

Yes, that was the start of the letter I received after I’d been out of gaol for two weeks. With me sending such an angry letter, and with me receiving this reply, well, tears just welled up in my eyes. And I promised myself, I wouldn’t be so disrespectful.

I never had any idea my father had been held prisoner by the communists too. Then six months later there arrived another letter from Blora. This time it wasn’t from my father, but from my uncle.

If you can, please come home to Blora for a couple of days. Your father isn’t well. At first it was malaria and a cough. Then he also developed hemorrhoids and finally they figured out, he’s got tuberculosis. Your father’s in the hospital now and he’s already vomited blood four times.

To start with I was in shock reading the letter. My chest felt tight. Then I couldn’t say anything. In my mind I could see, first, my father, and then, the money. Where would I find the money to go home? And this is what sent me wandering the streets of Jakarta, hunting for my friends, and for debt.

It was hot, and the tens of thousands of cars sprayed dust all over your perspiring body. And it was dust that contained a mixture of all sorts of things – dried snot, horse shit, bits of car tire, pieces of bike and pedicab tire, and probably also some of my own bike tires which the day before had sped along the same streets I was riding along now. And the dust mixture stuck with your own perspiration like glue to your body. I couldn’t help swearing just a little, to myself.

Yes, if only I owned a car. If only, I said, then none of this would have happened. At that moment I also thought, people who do own cars certainly cause a lot of trouble for those who don’t. And they don’t even know it.

Approximately half an hour after the sunset prayer time I had succeeded in acquiring the debt. If that decent friend hadn’t been able to hold out the money while saying “You can use this money for the time being.” I have no doubt I would have become a bigger wreck than before. The angry letter I had sent first made me rigid with the feeling that I had done something terribly wrong. And to make that go away, I had a duty to visit my sick father. That’s what my heart told me.

In the violet darkness and the sun setting in the reddening west, my bike sped along the small streets close to the president’s palace. The palace. It was bathed in the rays of electric lights. Who would have known how many hundreds of watts it used. I didn’t know. In my estimation I just guessed the palace’s electricity couldn’t be anything below five kilowatts. And if anyone had believed that it didn’t have enough electricity, someone only needed to pick up the phone and the palace would receive more.

After all the President was a practical person, not like those people struggling to eke out a living every day along the side of the road. If you weren’t the president, and nor a minister, and you wanted to get forty or fifty more watts of electricity, you had to have the courage to pay off someone with two- or three-hundred rupiah. This was really very impractical. And if those in the palace wanted to go out and visit A, or B, everything was ready – airplane, car, cigarettes, and the dough. And to get to Blora I had to first rush all over Jakarta, and acquire some debt. Living like that was really very impractical.

And if you became president and your mother became sick, or, take your father, or take, any other member of your close family, then tomorrow, or the day after that, you would already be able to visit them. Then suppose you were a low-level civil servant on a wage only just sufficient to breathe on, even asking for leave to visit someone sick would be difficult. After all, it makes those two-bit office bosses feel big if they can hand down some dictate that stops their officials from doing something.

All of this was just getting me worked up. Democracy is one truly beautiful system. You’re allowed to become president. You’re allowed to choose whatever job you like. You have the same rights as anyone else. And democracy means you don’t have to bow or scrape to the president or a minister or any other lord or noble. Truly. This is one of democracy’s victories. And you’re allowed to do whatever else takes your fancy, just as long as it stays within the limits of the law. But if you ain’t got no money, you’re screwed. You can’t move an inch. In a democratic country you are allowed to buy whatever goods you like. But if you haven’t got any money you’re only allowed to look at the things you want. This is also a sort of win for democracy.

All of this filled my heaving chest as I pedaled along with the borrowed money in my pocket. And, yes, debt too was a good thing, a kind deed even, when a person was caught in a difficult place.

Debt! President! Minister! Lords! And sickness! Cars! Sweat and horse-shit dust! My heart cried out.

(Continued)

Ain't No Night Fair Cover Illustration By DA Peransi

Ain’t No Night Fair Cover Illustration By D.A. Peransi


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

For more background on DA Peransi see Indonesian Visual Art Archive.