Category Archives: Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Short Story: Bitter Covid By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Bitter Covid

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’?”

“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…”

“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…”

“Pass?”

“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?”

“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.

Kopid Pait

The author’s blog is available at The World of Sukab.

Short Story: Bitter Covid

Bitter Covid

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

“Which one tastes 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?”

“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…”

“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…”

“Pass?”

“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?”

“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


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.

Kopid Pait

The author’s blog is available at The World of Sukab.

Literary Journal: PanaJournal

PanaJournal.com

WHAT

PanaJournal is a blog about humanity. We write to remember that extraordinary things can happy to ordinary people. These are real events which are as captivating in the telling as stories.

WHEN

PanaJournal was launched on 20 February 2014.

WHY

The dotcom era has for us normalized news flashes that present as splintered and fragmentary. Join PanaJournal in celebrating extended tales of life.

WHO

Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Journalist. Writer. Sojourner. Questions and greetings for Seno can be sent to redaksi@panajournal.com.

Andina Dwifatma

Writer whose ambition is to wake up in the morning. Winner of the 2011 Anugrah Adiwarta Award and 2012 Jakarta Arts Council Novel Competition. And he teaches at Atma Jaya University Jakarta. Poke Andina at @andinadwifatma

Patrick S. Hutapea

Works in communications. Currently studying to become a first-rate chef. Contact Patrick via @patrickhutapea

Angga Rahadi

Graphic Designer. Traveler. Drop Angga a line at @anggano_radio

www.panajournal.com

Serimpi Bir Hitam

Short Story: Respected Ulema By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Respected Ulema

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune-teller and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was simply a theater actor. To be precise, a former theater actor, one who had transferred his acting skills from the stage to everyday life.

From the way he behaved, the way he arranged his facial expressions and from his body language, he managed to convey the impression that he was a truly wise person. This was clear from the large number of people who believed in him without realizing that what they were believing in was a character being played.

That’s how it was, day in and day out. And after many years, Respected Ulema had finally managed to trick even himself. That he actually was really wise, clever, intelligent and knowledgeable. He really did think that with just the powers he wielded, he really was able to show the way to the truth that every person was searching for. What’s more, the responses of all the people around him confirmed this completely.

The only thing was Respected Ulema had started to become sick and forgetful. But not even one person believed it. Respected Ulema himself had never been to the doctor about his illness. Because he thought that if he went to the doctor and had a blood test from a medical laboratory, people wouldn’t trust him anymore.

“How can a person with special power go to the doctor?” That was the response he wanted to avoid.

That was how it was. There were just more and more people who arrived to ask for guidance. So many that it wasn’t possible any longer to serve all of them one by one. The crowd at his house was so large that if it was made to line up, it would be too long. It wouldn’t have gone down even in 24 hours because the people just kept on arriving.

So Respected Ulema made a decision. The solutions for problems wouldn’t be handled for each person one by one, but rather in bulk. There would be one piece of guidance for all the people, and each would have their own interpretation of it.

***

That day, Respected Ulema sat cross-legged in his usual place, a rectangular box which in the theater world was called a “level”. It was enough to have a level that was covered with a cheap woven pandanus mat. That way he would be raised up higher than the people who were gathered in the room. The higher position for him was necessary because it would give the impression he was higher than everything, everything both inside the room, and in the world outside.

In the world of the theater, the stage is the center of the world, and that room was his stage. The theater group he had founded had long since dispersed and the people had now forgotten him. The public now knew him as a person with special powers who was able to answer questions about anything appropriately and correctly, precisely and accurately, so long as he or she was capable of interpreting his guidance.

Everything that came to pass demonstrated the powers of Respected Ulema. Everything that did not eventuate indicated the ignorance of the interpreter. That was the law that applied in the world of Respected Ulema.

From his past life, there remained only that level. He only needed the one. It was more than enough to make him higher than anyone who entered his house, his stage in the real world — and that day there he was, cross-legged, eyes closed, with his head bowed, and his body hunched over. It was not too clear whether he was meditating or dozing.

He himself did not understand why it was that the older he became and the greyer his beard grew that it became easier and easier to doze off. But it was more important for him that the older he became, the more respected he became, even though it wasn’t too clear to him whether he was respected because he was considered wise, or just because he was old.

The morning breeze blew in through one window, and out again through another, making the air cooler, even though the wooden walls were beginning to radiate the golden rays of the sun. They had been waiting since early morning, since before Respected Ulema had woken. After taking a shower, and having breakfast, Respected Ulema appeared, stretched out his hand to place it on the foreheads of the guests, then sat cross-legged on the pandanus mat.

People waited for a very long time. Outside, more and more people were arriving. They couldn’t get in before people inside came out. Word went round that Respected Ulema had not said a word for a long time.

“Ulema doesn’t always say something,” said someone.

“Maybe Ulema won’t say anything,” said another.

“Of course Ulema doesn’t need to say anything,” said someone else.

“Ulema will provide signs.”

As if receiving a way out, everyone waited. If he did not make an utterance, Respected Ulema should provide a sign, as had been interpreted up till now by the seekers of guidance. Whereas if he spoke, Respected Ulema’s words would not provide guidance directly, becoming signs in themselves.

As a result, in addition to referring to Respected Ulema, those seeking guidance had to take advantage of the services of the sign readers around him. It was not at all clear how they could spring up and become part of the phenomena of Respected Ulema, who clearly sometimes the cost of remuneration for these sign readers was far greater than the voluntary remuneration for Respected Ulema. How much? While Respected Ulema had never said a word about remuneration, the sign readers always said, “The amount is up to you.”

In order not to make a mistake, the people who needed the guidance of Respected Ulema would give a payment larger than appropriate, which was on occasion accepted with a grumble.

“You all said you needed help, and Respected Ulema’s guidance will solve your problems, why are you so tardy about providing a payment. Don’t expect everything to be all your way now…”

***

Respected Ulema suddenly started to cough. Some thought he was ill, but the readers of signs begged to differ.

“Get ready! Get ready!”

“Record it! Record it!”

Hundreds of people took out their cellphones. And Respected Ulema’s coughing was recorded while no one assisted him. Only when Respected Ulema himself was forced to mime a person drinking, did someone fetch him some mineral water.

After having a drink, Respected Ulema looked calmer, although his chest was still heaving up and down. Nevertheless, people had begun approaching the sign readers who immediately started to discuss this sign which took the form of coughing.

“Please, how many times did Respected Ulema cough?” asked one sign interpreter.

A recording was played so the coughs could be counted.

“Forty times.”

“Thirty-nine.”

“I count forty-one?”

“Hey! Why are there different numbers? It has to be correct. Different numbers will have different meanings!” commanded an interpreter of signs.

To achieve the same number among hundreds of people was obviously not going to be easy. It took a long time to reach agreement. Respected Ulema had coughed 45 times.

“Wow, such a big difference. If you had tried to interpret the meaning before, it would have been wrong, hey?”

So, what does Respected Ulema’s 45 coughs mean?

One of the interpreters of signs said, “Because the meaning is for every person, and because each problem is different, every person is to receive a whispered interpretation which must be kept secret. Do not ever reveal this secret, because it’s good luck will immediately disappear.”

Each interpreter conveyed more or less the same thing to the people surrounding him. But as it happened Respected Ulema started coughing again, and despite the fact that his coughing was very severe, so severe that Ulema collapsed onto his stomach suffocating, people were more inclined to respond to it as if it were merely a series of signs.

“Record it! Record it! Record it!”

“Don’t miss even one movement!”

It is true that someone did hand him a bottle of mineral water as they massaged his back, but his coughing did not stop this time until Ulema’s eyes began to bulge and his tongue hung out when his coughs merged together without any more pauses and transformed into one extended suffocation.

A strange noise emanated from his throat, like a loud exhaling, to a casual onlooker it was like the snoring of someone asleep.

Then Respected Ulema did not move anymore.

“Did you get it all?” asked one of the interpreters of signs.

“Praise be to God… Got it!”

***

Years later, people would continue to visit the tomb of Respected Ulema seeking guidance and searching for signs. Every sign originating in the events of his death was said to have the power to overcome most problems, if not every problem, thanks to the successful interpretations of the sign interpreters. Life and death – was there a meaning of greater significance than that?

Until today, people still visit to climb the hill, heading for the tomb of Respected Ulema which is located under a tree and deliberately isolated from the other graves. People spend the night in the area, light frankincense or incense, then surrender themselves to nature.

According to the people who believe themselves the recipients of guidance, they have received the signs from Respected Ulema from the stars in the sky, the rustling of the wind or the falling of the leaves carried on the wind. Can there be anything richer in the universe as a source of interpretation of all meaning?

A caretaker is now present at the tomb. He can help resolve the meaning of any sign, and really has earned a great amount of money.

There are also those who have told of Respected Ulema appearing in their dreams and how he has become overjoyed.

Even though it was mentioned earlier, Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune teller, and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was merely a humble theater actor – something not many people know about. (*)

(Villa Cendana, Kampung Utan, Saturday, 15 December 2018, 5.00 p.m.)

 


Respected Ulema (Kiyai Sepuh) was published in Jawa Pos on 6 January 2019. Seno Gumira Ajidarma is an Indonesian writer, novelist, and film critic. Retrieved from LakonHidup.com

Featured image credit: Ludruk Karya Budaya, Mojokerto, by Ulet Ifansasti https://www.instagram.com/p/BtLgEDTBlux/  and  https://www.uletifansasti.com/transgendersoperaludruk

The author’s blog is available at The World of Sukab.

Short Story: Bitter Beans By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Bitter Beans

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

A discrete young couple is engrossed in an animated argument about bitter beans. In fact they have just finished a dinner that consisted largely, among other things, of bitter beans.

“Just imagine if there were no bitter beans in the world,” muses the young man.

“Well, what about it?”

“If there were no bitter beans in the world, the poor wouldn’t have anything to make them happy. Imagine! Wouldn’t it be dreadful if the only thing that made the poor happy was owning a Mercedes Benz and working in an office? We’re lucky to have bitter beans! Every individual bitter bean makes a huge contribution to the total sum of human happiness. It’s about time we realized that the bitter bean is one of Indonesia’s most important national resources.”

“But the image of the bitter bean doesn’t fit the image of the newly rich city dwelling office worker, the collar-and-tie look. It’s obvious that the bitter bean just isn’t, or at least isn’t very, well, cool. You can hardly be proud of the smell! After all these days people are only happy if they have something to be proud of.”

“To be proud of, or, to be arrogant about? Look at us. We’re happy eating bitter beans. Try smelling my breath.” The young man exhales. “Phew!”

The young woman waves a hand in front of her nose. “Yuck! What a revolting smell!”

“Well, of course it smells! But the embarrassing smell of bitter beans is only an image problem. Something has to be done to change its image. You can’t deny it. It does bring joy to millions of people, people who can only afford to find happiness in eating bitter beans. That’s the first thing. And another thing. Aren’t they also good for you? According to a friend of mine they’re good for your kidneys. They help you piss. And the problem of the smell? Ah! The smell can even be turned into… a unique national symbol! I might even write a letter to the newspaper suggesting, yes, that the Director General of Tourism start an advertising campaign promoting the smell of bitter beans as, `The Smell of Indonesia’. What do you think? Do you like that?”

The attractive young girlfriend is silent. She blinks and listens to her excited boyfriend’s ideas. Out of affection she usually tries to agree even though she does think this suggestion sounds a little odd. There is no way in the world the bitter bean is ever going to amount to anything of world importance. Not like crude oil, or nuclear energy. It’s just a fact that bitter beans will probably only ever be important for the little person, to the ordinary man and woman in the street.

“I don’t think you’re actually wrong,” she says, “but do you really think many people are going to be able to follow what you mean?”

“Well, of course. What’s so hard about it? It isn’t complicated. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living. The measure of success is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. And that means too many people will feel like they have failed in life, that their lives are worthless if they can’t live up to this measure of success. These are the defeated people, the unfortunate, those who despite having worked and worked are never going to strike it big. These people have to be entertained…”

“And how is that going to happen?”

“Oh! I can’t believe you haven’t got it yet!”

“You mean they have to be made to realize that happiness can be achieved, not by having a white-collar job, but by.. eating bitter beans?”

“Exactly!”

“You mean grilled bitter beans, don’t you?”

“They could also be fried.”

“What about raw bitter beans?”

“Not interesting enough.”

“Steamed then?”

“Now that’s a little better. But what would be exciting is beans mixed with milk.”

“You mean…?”

Udang Sambal Petai
Short Story: Bitter Beans by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

“A bitter bean nog! Not milk, egg, honey and ginger, but milk, egg, honey and bitter beans! Ha ha ha!!” they laughed together.

“Then, you could also have bitter bean juice.”

“Wow! That’s a great idea!”

“Now you’re getting silly!”

“Why?”

“If the meaning of life can only be found in eating bitter beans, what would be the point of going to school and getting a good education? Surely the achievements of human civilization can’t be measured by the happiness someone finds in eating bitter beans. It wouldn’t be right for bitter beans to be so important that nothing else made people happy.”

“Hang on! Do you actually believe that? Look, the central business district of Jakarta, Jakarta’s ‘Golden Triangle’, is just the tip of an enormous pyramid and just a mere handful of people ever get to enjoy the bright lights. If everybody tried to climb to the top of the pyramid it would be a disaster! Most people are going to roll back down again, or fall off, or get pushed off and become poor again and then they’re going to end up believing there isn’t any point to life.”

“You’re so cynical.”

“What do you mean, cynical? I have great hope.”

“You mean hope in bitter beans, that the only thing that will make Indonesians happy is eating bitter beans?”

“You can make an Indonesian happy with a tie and you can get millions of ties from Sogo department store.”

The couple chatter away excitedly as the distinctive aroma of bitter beans sprays from their mouths with every enthusiastic breath.

They explore every aspect of the bitter bean for more than an hour then finally they  realize they’re very tired.

Eventually, all that is left is for them to kiss passionately.

“You reek of bitter beans,” says the young man.

“You smell of bitter beans yourself,” replies the woman, as they each depart for their homes.

Arriving at his home, the young man kisses his wife.

“You smell of bitter beans,” she greets him.

“Yes, I did have some at a food stall.”

“You are always eating those things!”

“No, I’m not. Only now and again.”

“I am amazed. I have told you before but you just don’t learn, do you?” says the man’s wife. “If you eat bitter beans everyone in the house has to put up with it. You know no one else in the house likes them besides you. I don’t like them and neither do the children. Whenever you eat bitter beans the smell goes everywhere, from the toilet out back to the gutter out the front of the house. The smell gets into everything. It’s embarrassing! The neighbors will say, “Err. The people next door are eating bitter beans again!” Try to cut down a little, will you? Try to show a little consideration for someone other than yourself, all right! So you honestly enjoy them, but you have to realize, only poor people eat bitter beans, darling.”

After that she doesn’t say anything else. But before going to bed she suddenly remembers that her bitter bean munching husband in fact gave them up before they got married fifteen years ago. Lately, however, over the last few months, she has noticed he has started eating them again. She can’t understand why.

“Maybe he needs a little variation,” she thinks.

(Jakarta, October 1990.)


Bitter Beans (Petai) was published in the Jakarta national newspaper Kompas Daily in December 1990.

Box of Petai
Short Story: Bitter Beans by Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Click here for a selection of other work by Seno Gumira Ajidarma or here.

The author’s blog is available at The World of Sukab.