Category Archives: Writers

Short Story: The Death of a Translator

By Wawan Kurniawan

He wouldn’t have swallowed the poison if the events of yesterday had not occurred. A week earlier, he had a dream about a woman, dressed in red with shoulder-lengthed hair, who approached him on a beach he did not recognize. Without the chance to get a clear look at her face, the woman immediately embraced him from behind so tightly that he thought his bones were going to be crushed.

Only after he heard the sound of cracking, and felt an excruciating pain did he wake up.

He saw that the clock on the wall was still showing three forty-two. There was only the sound of the ticking of the clock. He decided to close his eyes again and he remembered absolutely nothing about what had happened in his dream. But the pain in his back was still there, and it made him shift his sleeping position again and again.

He managed to fall asleep and woke again at ten in the morning. After staying up late to translate some of the manuscripts on his laptop, he usually woke in the afternoon. But the pain in his back woke him early. As his sleep had been disrupted so early in the day, he tried to think about what could be causing the pain.

“Maybe my sleeping position is the problem.”

“Hang on, maybe it’s because I was sitting for too long working.”

“No, it’s probably because I didn’t drink enough water last night.”

Among the possibilities, it didn’t enter his head for a moment to think about his dream.

As he considered the pain, he suddenly remembered his promise to Eka, the publisher who wanted to print his translation. He had twice asked for an extension to work on improving the translation. And in six days the deadline would expire. He also didn’t want to ask for an extension, but at the same time, he still didn’t feel like the translation was finished.

Struggling with the pain in his back, he walked slowly toward the bathroom by holding the wall. He walked just like an old man who had lost his walking stick, one hand on the wall the other on his back massaging his lower spine.

“What’s happen? Why do you have to be sick like this, God?”

There wasn’t a soul in the house now. In the past, he had kept a cat and he had called it March — his birth month and that of several of his favorite authors. Now he felt like the bathroom was a long way away.

He took a few steps back then dropped himself onto the brown sofa in the space that was also his office. He took a deep breath and again began to search for the best position to ease the pain. He felt better sitting in the chair.

He then lifted a book from the small table next to his chair. On the table, there were a number of novels he was reading and a thin notebook with a white cover that had no pictures. There were also two fountain pens that he often used to take notes or make lists in his book. If it wasn’t being used to make notes, the fountain pen would often become a way of relieving anxiety as he tapped the end of the pen on the table.

He still had about a hundred and twenty-three pages to go until he finished the book he was reading. He felt better after sitting down and reading a few pages of the book. He leaned back and let his back be swallowed by the softness of the chair.

Suddenly he felt the need to urinate, but he didn’t feel like getting up because the position he had achieved was so comfortable. To his right, the window had not been opened so the sun’s rays were not fully coming into the house. But he could feel a warm sensation around his thighs as he allowed himself to urinate where he was. He closed his eyes and felt the warmth of the flow of his urine.

He only rose from the chair after he had finished his book.

***

After returning to read his translation, he lay down on the floor. That afternoon, after contacting his friend William who was a doctor at a health center, he had been told not to sleep on a mattress. He didn’t want to go to bed yet, but the pain in his back was becoming worse. The only way to gain any relief was to lay down. Before going to bed, he once again tried to contact his girlfriend Nadira.

Two days earlier, Nadira had left to return to the district of Selayar to organize their wedding which was scheduled to take place in the middle of the year. But Nadira just didn’t pick up the phone or even respond to his WhatsApp chat messages.

The day before Nadira left, the weather in Selayar had turned extremely bad and this had caused an interruption to the cellphone network. Yesterday Nadira had still been able to message. She had mentioned that the weather looked as though it was becoming worse and that communication might be interrupted.

In a media report from Selayar, he saw that there were strong winds and constantly pounding high seas. There was no news from Nadira. That night he began to have a strange sensation, a sense of dread about something. He sometimes forgot his pain as he went back to looking for news about Nadira. As he waited for a miracle, he reread the WhatsApp chat from several days before.

Reading it made him smile, then laugh to himself, until, unwittingly, he fell asleep that night cellphone still in hand.

And once again, the dream reoccurred, over five consecutive nights. In the end, everything that happened in the dream was clearly etched in his memory. He was able to remember what happened, but could not recognize who the woman was, or where the beach was where they were.

That night too, he tried again to contact Nadira before going to bed, to tell her about his dream and the worry that he had been holding back for several days. But once more a feeling of dread pressed in on his chest. Something might have happened. The news reports about Selayar still had no new reports since the reports of the last few days about the extremely bad weather.

The pain in his back then spread towards another place, his tailbone. That same night he could no longer sit. He allowed himself to lie down on the floor. He looked at the ceiling of his room, watching the lights that appeared to be glowing. The lights in the room then went out and his whole body instantly became completely paralyzed.

After a few moments, the lights came back on. Again he saw the figure of the long-haired woman dressed in red who had appeared in his dreams. However, the difference was that this time he could see the woman’s face, and the woman was Nadira.

His chest tightened, not because he was scared, but rather because the sense of dread that he had felt the whole time seemed to be coming true.

Something had happened to Nadira. In just the blink of an eye, the figure quickly disappeared. Right then he thought that his body was normal again so he stood up, despite the pain in his tailbone.

His laptop was still open, the text of his translation was still not complete. There was still no news of Nadira. The pain was becoming increasingly unbearable. Resisting the pain, he rose and grimaced. He felt as though his life was in chaos. A voice in his head asked him to go straight to the kitchen. A bottle of insecticide was stored behind the back of the kitchen door.

The figure he had just seen was possibly actually his girlfriend Nadira. Death has taken her before him. He did not have the ability to translate events as well as he translated the manuscripts on his laptop.

He stumbled toward the bottle of poison. Now as he started to reach it, it was me who then embraced him from behind so that his entire being was crushed. And before him, I was the one who embraced Nadira in the high pounding waves. Why hadn’t he translated me first?

 


The Death of a Translator (Kematian Seorang Penerjemah) was published in the national daily newspaper Kompas on 24 March 2019. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2019/03/24/kematian-seorang-penerjemah/]

Wawan Kurniawan, writes poetry, short stories, essays, novels, and translations. Joined the Kompas Daily short story writing class (2015), published a book of poetry entitled Persinggahan Perangai Sepi (2013) and Sajak Penghuni Surga (2017). One of his novels entitled Seratus Tahun Kebisuan (A Hundred Years of Silence) is a Unnes International Novel Writing Contest 2017 Novel of Choice. Check out https://www.instagram.com/wawankurn/

Nyoman Sujana Kenyem, born in Ubud, Bali, 9 September 1972, Nyoman studied at STSI Denpasar (1992-1998). His solo exhibitions include A Place Behind The House at Komaneka Gallery Ubud, Bali (2016), Silence of Nature, at Lovina, Bali (2015), and his solo exhibition at G13 Gallery, Kelana Jaya, Selangor, Malaysia (2013). See https://www.instagram.com/artkenyem/

Kematian Seorang Penerjemah ilustrasi Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas
The Death of a Translator illustration by Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas Daily

Short Story: Motorbike Taxi

Motorbike Taxi

By Gerson Poyk

Late one evening as I was studying for my semester exams, my nimble-fingered father called out to me from the living room. Without looking up from the old radio he was repairing he said, “Come and sit here a moment, son.” I sat down expecting a request for help to hunt on the cool ceramic tile floor of our house for some nut or screw he had dropped.

But I was wrong.

“Since your mother passed away I haven’t been able to concentrate, son,” said dad. “I haven’t been doing a good job on these radios either, and well, the customers, they’re going other places. My small pension isn’t really enough; I’m not making as much as I used to from the radios and I have no idea how I’m going to pay for your little sister to go to university.”

Politely I said nothing as my father continued.

“What do you think if I withdraw the last of our savings from the bank and buy a small second-hand motorbike?”

I was puzzled. “A motorbike?”

“A motorbike. You could make a little extra money for us by taking pillion passengers. By becoming an ojek (1).”

“You mean like all those other ojek who give people rides for a fee?” I asked.

 “If you don’t mind spending the time on Friday evenings or in the afternoons you could get a few fares. Even one or two would be a help with the household budget. Rather than getting a job as a bus driver like some of your friends, it would be better to just become an ojek,” said dad, screwdriver still inserted into the radio.

“No problem,” I said straight away, getting up to go back to my desk beside the kerosene stove at the back room of our fourteen tile-wide three-room house. There weren’t any doors between the rooms so I could talk to dad in the living room if he raised his voice slightly. “Could I use the bike to go to university, dad?” I asked.

“No, don’t do that,” was his reply. “What you need to do is stay away from the main roads. Just wait on the bike at the intersection of the main road and the road leading into our kampong. You have to offer to take people places they can’t get by public transport,” suggested dad from our all-purpose living room cum electronics workshop.

My younger sister was worn out from playing volleyball with friends from the neighborhood and was in bed. When she went out to play volleyball in the afternoons she would usually take a couple of thermos flasks full of ice blocks which she would place by the edge of the court. Once her friends were thirsty she would shepherd them over to the thermos flasks and sell them ice blocks. She not only got a little physical exercise but she also made a little money, her own little contribution to the household. Our tiny house was, in fact, a highly productive place, serving as both a radio repair workshop and a factory producing the ice blocks my sister sold to weary neighbor children and school friends.

 ***

I busied myself, first arranging a motorbike license for myself and then with the last of dad’s savings, looking for a second-hand motorbike.

I would come home from lectures in the afternoons and wait at the top of the road leading down into the densely built kampong with its labyrinth of capillary small lanes and paths which were impenetrable to public transport.

On the first day, I made a fortune, five thousand rupiahs! This encouraged me greatly and after a week I had made a tidy little sum. Dad urged me to put the money into the bank account he helped my sister open a long time ago when she started selling ice blocks.

The money brought its own pleasure. But there were also the pleasures of the odd little things that happened from time to time not to mention the life-threatening risks. At first, I couldn’t care less about the passengers, what they looked like, or what state they were in, as long as they handed over the fare. Old, young, clean, dirty, healthy, sick (so long as they were still healthy enough to sit on the back), I took anyone, anytime they wanted, anywhere they wanted to there.

But it was the young women I enjoyed the most, and there were plenty of attractive young women wanting to be taken home to their houses deep in the kampong, far from the main road and public transport. But as an ojek, I knew my place and never tried starting a conversation.

One day a beautiful white woman walked up to me wanting a ride. The problem was she was so amazingly tall and so large that as we traveled the bike swayed wildly and she almost caused me to lose my balance. And then it had to happen, right as we descended a small hill, my front tire blew out! I jumped on the brake – and over we went! Small dark me and the beautiful giant both went sprawling across the road. Fortunately, she wasn’t hurt. As the bike went over, her vast figure landed on scrawny little me, right on my head! And as my helmet had no chin protector, my chin was driven into the gravel road, almost breaking my chin and sending dazzling sensations through my jawbone as it was pushed back into the base of my ears. Happily, the feeling didn’t last too long.

I apologized to the white woman, hailed a friend passing on his way home from taking someone else and asked him to drop off my huge white passenger.

It was some time before I saw the white woman again. Then one day while I was waiting for passengers she went past this time driving her own car. An Indonesian woman was sitting next to her. I wondered where the beautiful giant and her attractive Indonesian friend with flowing black hair could be going. I was desperate to know so I turned the ignition key and set off after them. Dismay swept over me when eventually the car pulled into an immense two-story house which compared to my fourteen tile-wide house was a castle. I just rode past satisfied that I had found where the attractive white woman lived.

It was sometime later before I saw the Indonesian woman again and in the meantime, I continued with my business ferrying passengers on the back of my bike. I lost count of the number of fares I had, anyone at all wanting a ride, young or old, male or female, not to mention all the children. I took no notice of them, just the money they held out.

At home, three things filled my mind: my father, my little sister and my study, while at the university campus I would revert back into a hard-working university student.

Several months later I did notice the woman with the flowing straight black hair again as she crossed the road at the bus stop. This time she was wearing a high school uniform. I waved and as she headed in my direction I started the engine. She jumped on and we roared off.

“Who was that good looking white woman you were with?” I asked without wasting time.

“Have you ever given her a ride?” she asked in reply.

Once. But I got a flat and we both came off. She landed on me and almost crushed me!”

The high school girl on the back laughed and said, “She’s my after-school tutor.”

“Well, that explains why you were in the car together, doesn’t it. And what does she teach?”

“She teaches English,” answered the girl.

“Cool. By the time you’re in university you’re English will be good,” I said encouraging her. “Which stream are you in at school?”

“I took sciences.”

“And what do you want to do at university?” I asked.

“Mathematics…”

I began to say how wonderful I thought that was but suddenly she shouted ‘stop’, seriously startling me. Without realizing it we had reached her large house.

She held out a ten thousand rupiah note and said, “This is all I have, sorry.” I didn’t flinch and she continued, “Ah, keep the change.” She strode off towards the imposing wrought iron gates leaving me clutching the note.

I stopped working as an ojek so I could concentrate on my final major paper at uni. In the meantime, I lent my bike to a friend whose own motorbike had been repossessed by the owner. We agreed to split the profit fifty-fifty and even though he’d only finished primary school, he turned out to be completely honest. He dropped in every afternoon to deliver half the day’s takings. My friend’s honesty encouraged me to look on him as a younger brother and my father too became quite fond of him. Orphaned when young, he had no home and sometimes slept on benches at the bus interchange, sometimes in shop doorways. When dad found out about this he rented a small room in a boarding house for my friend.

Late one night he picked up a passenger and that was the last time his friends saw him. His lifeless body was found dumped in a river, my motorbike stolen by his cruel thieving killer. My friend’s life had been extinguished for nothing more than a decrepit second-hand motorbike. Sorrow settled over our hearts and remained with us always, along with the memory of the friend who had been so good to us.

My friend’s death also caused the more mundane problem that we had to deal with the police, but we were satisfied they had taken his murder seriously.

  ***

After so much hard work I eventually graduated and the day I received my results, a satisfactory level pass, I was overcome with anguish thinking about my murdered ojek friend. He had contributed so much to pay for my way through my now successfully completed uni course, and I was overcome with grief and emotion.

In my poverty in that small house with a widowed pensioner scratching out a living by repairing radios and my little sister carting ice blocks to school to sell to friends the Almighty had granted that I should complete my degree, me, a university graduate, born of poverty and the faithful friendship of a homeless ojek whose life was torn away by a savage robbing killer.

My sister started uni and dad continued repairing his radios. He even surprised us by quietly learning how to repair television sets. My sister and I were amazed one day to find a television in the living room.

As soon as I graduated I was offered a job as a teacher at the uni and one day while teaching a class of first-year students I noticed one of the female students with a surprised look on her face. At once I recognized the woman who was gazing not at a teacher but at a young ojek and the question was obvious, how could he be one of my lecturers!

Unfortunately, it didn’t take her long to fail the semester examination and stop coming to lectures. Before she stopped attending, however, she sent me a letter politely asking whether she could visit me at home to arrange private tutoring, at whatever price I liked. She was even prepared to become my girlfriend, so long as I faked her results so she passed the examination.

Saddened I reflected on the fact that my degree had cost the life of my ojek friend and that if I did tamper with her results, the reputation of the university would be worthless. The answer was, no.

 


1. Ojek are informal motorbike taxi riders who earn an income by carrying pillion passengers to their destination for a fare.

2. Motorbike Taxi (Ojek) was published in the national daily newspaper Kompas in June 1988.

3. On Gerson see http://idwriters.com/writers/gerson-poyk/; http://gersonpoyk.blogspot.com.au/; https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/992956.Gerson_Poyk.  

4. Featured image credit: https://adinparadise.wordpress.com/2013/07/24/wordless-wednesday-hitching-a-ride/

Short Story: Karyamin’s Smile

leftphotoBy Ahmad Tohari

Karyamin measured careful deliberate steps. The weight bearing down across his shoulders was a long supple bamboo pole with woven rattan baskets full of river rocks swinging pendulum-like from each end. The steep dirt track leading up the river bank was wet from the sweat that had dripped from Karyamin and the other workers as they trudged up and down the bank hauling rocks from the river to the storage bay at the top.

        Long experience had taught Karyamin that he could make the climb to the top all right if he kept the center of gravity for his body and the load either on the right, or on the left foot, and if he shifted it very carefully from one foot to the other. He had also learned that to maintain his balance he had to concentrate on each breath and every movement of his arms.

        Even so, Karyamin had slipped over twice that morning, collapsing in a heap and tumbling back down the trail followed by the rocks disgorging from his disheveled baskets. Every time Karyamin’s fellow rock collectors had doubled up in fits of laughter, pleased for the amusement that could be extracted from laughing at one another. This time Karyamin crept up the bank more cautiously. Despite his trembling knees, he gripped the earth with his toes as he went, every ounce of attention focused on maintaining his balance. The tension was visible on his face, sweat covered his body and poured through his shorts. Ridged veins bulged from his neck under the strain of the weight bearing down on his back and shoulders. (Continue reading here.)


Karyamin’s Smile (Senyum Karyamin) by Ahmad Tohari was published in the daily newspaper Kompas in July 1987.