By Wawan Kurniawan
He would not have swallowed the poison if yesterday’s incident hadn’t happened. A week earlier, he’d had a dream about a woman dressed in red with shoulder-length hair who came to him on a beach he did not recognize. Without the chance to get a clear look at her face, the woman had straight away hugged him from behind. So tightly that his bones felt as if they were going to break.
Only on hearing a cracking sound, along with the feeling of excruciating pain, did he then wake up.
He saw the clock on the wall still showing forty-two minutes past three. Only the sound of the clock ticking could be heard. He decided to close his eyes again and remember absolutely nothing of what had happened in his dream. But the pain in his back was still there so that he had to change his sleeping position several times.
He managed to fall asleep and woke again at ten in the morning. Usually he woke up in the afternoon after staying up late translating some of the manuscripts that were on his laptop. The pain in his back made him wake up early. Even though his sleep had been disturbed earlier in the day, he tried to look for possible causes of the pain.
“Maybe my sleeping position was the problem.”
“Hang on, just maybe it’s because I was sitting for too long working.”
“No, it seems to be because last night I didn’t drink enough water.”
Among the possibilities it didn’t enter his head for a moment about his dream.
While thinking about 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’ time the deadline would expire. He also did not want to ask for an extension, but on the other hand he still felt like he wasn’t finished the translation.
While struggling against the pain in the back of his body, he walked slowly toward the bathroom holding onto the wall of the house. His steps were exactly like those of an old man who’s lost his walking stick, one hand on the wall, the other on his back massaging his own lower back.
“What’s happen? Why do you have to be sick like this, Lord?”
There wasn’t a soul in the house. In the past, he had kept a cat and it had been given the name March — the month of his birth, as well as several his favorite authors. Now, the distance to the bathroom felt like a long way for him.
He took a few steps back and dropped himself onto a brown sofa in area that was his office. He took a deep breath, returned to looking for the right position to ease the pain. Sitting in the chair made him feel better.
He then took a book that was on a small table beside his chair. At the table, there were several novels he was reading, and a thin notebook with a white cover without any pictures. There were also two fountain pens that he often used to take notes or make lists in his book. If not to make notes, the fountain pens often became a way of getting rid of anxiety by tapping the table with the bottom of the fountain pen.
The book he was reading still had around a hundred and twenty-three pages to go before it was finished. His felt better after sitting down and reading a few pages of the book. He leaned back and let his back be swallowed softness of the chair.
All of a sudden, he felt that he wanted to do a wee but the comfortable position made him feel like not getting up. To his right the window hadn’t been opened so the sun’s rays weren’t fully making it into the house. But he could feel a warm sensation around his thighs after he allowed him to urinate where he was. He closed his eyes, feeling the warmth of the flow of his urine.
He only left his chair when he had finished the book.
After returning to read his translation, he lay down on the floor. That afternoon, after he had contacted one of his friends William who worked as a doctor at a health center, he had been asked not to sleep on a mattress. He didn’t want to go to bed yet, but the pain in his back was getting worse. The only way to feel better was by lying down. Before going to bed, he once again tried contacting his girlfriend Nadira.
Two days before, Nadira had left to return to Selayar Regency to organize their wedding which was scheduled to take place in the middle of the year. But Nadira just did not pick up the phone, or even respond to his WhatsApp chat message.
The day before Nadira had left, the weather in Selayar had turned extremely bad resulting in an interruption to the signal. Yesterday Nadira had still been able to message, she mentioned that the weather looked like it was getting worse and that communication might be interrupted.
From a media report from Selayar, he saw strong winds and continually pounding high waves. There was no news from Nadira, that night he began to have a strange sensation, a sense of fear about something. His pain was sometimes forgotten when he returned to looking for news of Nadira. While waiting for a miracle, he read the chat on WhatsApp from several days earlier.
Reading it made him smile, then laugh to himself, until, unwittingly, he fell asleep that night holding his cell phone.
And once again, the dream reoccurred, over five consecutive nights. In the end, everything that happened in the dream was clearly recorded 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, before going to bed he again tried to contact Nadira, to tell her about his dream and the worry that he had been holding back for several days. But again, a bad feeling pressing in on his chest. Something might have happened. The news reporting about Selayar still had no new reports following the extreme bad weather of the last few days.
The pain in his back then spread toward one place, his tailbone. That same night, he could no longer sit and allowed himself to lie down on the floor. He looked at the ceiling of his room, noticing the lights that was appeared glowing. The lights in the room then went out, instantly his body became completely paralyzed.
A few moments later, the lights came back on and again he saw the figure of a long-haired woman dressed in red who had appeared in his dreams. The difference was, this time he could see her face, and the woman was Nadira.
His chest felt tight, not because he was scared, but rather a bad feeling he had had the whole time seemed to be coming true.
Something had happened to Nadira. The figure disappeared quickly, in just the blink of an eye. Right then he thought his body was normal again and he stood up resisting the pain in his tailbone.
His laptop was still open, the text of his translation was still not complete. Still there was no news of Nadira. His pain was becoming more and more unbearable. Standing up while resisting the pain, he grimaced in pain. He felt as if his life was in chaos. A voice in his head asked him to go straight into the kitchen. A bottle of insecticide was stored behind the back of the kitchen door.
The figure he had just seen was indeed possibly his girlfriend Nadira. Death has met her before him. He was not able to translate events as well as he translated the manuscript that was on his laptop.
He took stumbling steps towards the bottle of poison. Now as he started to draw near it was me who then hugged him from behind until everything that was in him was crushed, while I had embraced Nadira before him in the high pounding waves.
Why had he not translated me first?
The Death of a Translator (Kematian Seorang Penerjemah) was published in Kompas Daily, 24 March 201.
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/
The Death of a Translator illustration by Nyoman Sujana Kenyem/Kompas Daily