Tag Archives: Irony

Short Story: Shoot Seven People Dead

Shoot Seven People Dead

By Ahmad Tohari

Dar farewells me with a firm grip. Then he turns and walks away saying he wants to go home to Jakarta and return to editing a famous periodical. But a moment later, he looks back, before approaching me once more.

“One more time. Are you still sure that what I did was my fate?” Dar asks with a solemn face.

I smile and shake my head. He has asked me the question many times, every time we meet. I just answered the question two minutes ago.

“You mean what you did when you shot seven people dead at the same time? How many times do I have to answer? The event happened fifty-four years ago. Whatever happens is called fate,” I answer, also serious.

“So you’re still sure?”

“Very.”

Dar looks at me but his face is still worried. Then he turns his large tall frame. Unfortunately, he walks away with steps that are not nearly as bold as the figure he cuts. I think Dar is overweight. And like me, he too is greying. What’s certain is that fifty-four years ago Dar and I were both in the final year of secondary school.

Today we’re taking our leave in the yard of a small food shop. Dar ordered rawon beef and rice soup, the oil floating on coconut-cream sauce glistening with fat.

***

The volleyball is fed in and Dar smashes it with a movement at least two seconds faster than the team on the other side of the net are expecting. The ball fires unobstructed into the other team’s court. A roar explodes, especially from the female students watching. Virtually all the girls in our school always go for Dar on the volleyball court, and maybe off it too. Dar again becomes the center of attention as he prepares to serve. But this time, we have to wait as someone calls him off the court. A cry of disappointment goes up from a group of female students. The person calling Dar off is someone we all know well. Along with two of his friends, this person often takes us for marching practice. And he uses tough discipline. He also teaches us how to raise and lower the flag. In fact, this trainer also teaches a special group of students, including Dar who is tall, how to crawl. Not any ordinary crawling, but how to crawl while you’re carrying a rifle, and gripping a commando knife between your teeth. So brave. That’s the way to storm enemy territory. And also how to disassemble and assemble a weapon. This activity makes the smaller, shorter ones among us feel jealous and insignificant compared to Dar.

Still at the side of the volleyball court, the trainer hands Dar a rifle that doesn’t have a magazine. Then with a tough-looking face, the trainer salutes bravely. This helps create an air full of heroism. We grow even more jealous of Dar, and I know the female students are going to admire the tall guy even more. Finally Dar goes back onto the court, now wearing the rifle, even though it doesn’t have a magazine.

From what Dar tells us, we learn that the weapon is an automatic rifle. It is called a Kalashnikov, or AK-47, and it is made in Russia. Gunfire from the weapon sprayed horizontally, says Dar, can bring down a banana tree trunk by making a gash like a machete slash. And one magazine full of bullets fired vertically can split the trunk from top to the bottom, making a cut like a machete slice too. Yes, Dar’s story about the fantastic rifle always manages to make us seem even more insignificant. Although Dar is still a high school child like us, we really believe he has actually done everything he tells us about.

Once the volleyball court is vacated by the hero, it is as if all our enthusiasm has evaporated. All the more so as the female students also move away. I still remember him. And of course Dar receives more, and more exciting, training. Dar relates that the person training us has asked him to enroll in the military academy later. So he will have to do heaps of physical training. Dar just says yes to the trainer to make sure there are no bad feelings. But in fact Dar has told me he really wants to become a painter.

***

Dar is picked up. And as their journey takes them into the teak forest, he asks the person who met him, “Where are we going?” Dar receives the reply. “A great task lies ahead of you over there. Only a great youth could gain the opportunity to carry out such a great task. Not even me in fact.”

Although he isn’t satisfied with the answer, Dar is actually reluctant to push for an explanation.

The jeep travels slowly, crawling through the shadows cast by the trees. It stops where the narrow road runs along the edge of a steep embankment. There are several unarmed men standing together down there. Below the edge, only a few meters away, a river flows swiftly. As the sun is already low in the west, Dar and the others are frequently struck by the glare of the bright sunlight reflecting from the water’s surface.

The trainer hands Dar a full magazine loaded with bullets. Dar accepts it with a show of boldness. Without hesitation, he skillfully mounts the magazine. From the open end, the bullets are visible. They’re pointed, copper-headed, reddish in color. The size of fingers. Dar tells me that the bullets burst as soon as they hit their target. If they’re targeted at somebody’s back, the wound is a gaping hole as large as the hole in the back of a kuntilanak vampire. That’s what Dar tells all of his high school friends. Fifty-four years ago.

The trainer smiles as he gives Dar the thumbs up. Dar returns the smile. When the trainer snaps a dashing salute to Dar, he responds with the same enthusiasm. Then Dar and the trainer take a few steps descending the embankment. About five meters in front of them, a woven bamboo panel is visible being held upright by stakes at both ends. Along the center of the woven panel is a thick white horizontal line about two meters long.

Dar senses that he is confronting something and a situation which he does not comprehend. “What is all of this?” he asks.

And the man answers flatly, “I am going to test your accuracy. Please fire at the white line until you’re out of bullets. Let’s go, champ!”

Dar’s face warms because he feels that he has been presented with a challenge. He takes a deep breath, moves his left leg forward, and leans to the front slightly. He raises the AK-47. His palms are moist. He consciously assumes a brave firing pose. Right index finger tightens on the trigger. Rat-a, tat, tat, tat, tat. Instantly the thick white line on the woven bamboo panel is erased by the spray of bullets.

There follows a second of perfect quiet. In that moment, Dar almost screams for joy because he feels that he has become a great marksman. But a moment later, complete confusion descends. Words fail him as he notices a blotch of blood seeping through the tear in the woven bamboo there before him. He also hears something collapse. He throws down the AK-47 and runs to see what is behind the wall. Several bodies are slumped over, covered in blood. Two are rolling down toward the river. Then two splashes sound out and the river instantly becomes red. Dar suddenly feels dizzy. He sways, then faints.

***

Dar and I meet again a few months later at the small food stall, Dar once again about to return to Jakarta. His stomach is fat and I chide him, “You should eat less. If you don’t, you won’t have a long life.”

Dar defends himself. “Actually I’ve suffered from memory loss all my life because I once shot seven people dead. When I eat, I can forget I have memory problems. That’s all. I won’t ever stop liking food. And I’m also going to keep asking you if you’re still sure that what I did then was fate.”

“Yes. It was fate! It’s a deep scar! It’s our curse!” I answer rather loudly. But the words make my flesh crawl and I can’t hold back the tears.

***

Maybe Dar’s excuse is right, that by eating all the time he can forget the deep emotional injury. But why does he have to eat another rawon beef and rice soup, and then another? Finishing the large bowl of soup, he stands up as if he wants to assume a comfortable position to belch. I stand up too, but not to burp. Instead, I stroke his belly. “You have to take care of your stomach so it doesn’t get any bigger. That’s if you don’t want to die early.”

The fact is it’s just a joke. And Dar and I laugh together. But maybe it’s bad luck or something, because later it turns out that my words are definitely no joke at all. A few days later, I hear the news that Dar has suffered a stroke. Of course I want to go and visit him in Jakarta right away. But before I can leave, more news arrives. Dar has passed away.

Oh Lord, fifty-four years ago, Dar shot seven people dead. And today he passed away. Well, what can I say? There definitely isn’t any need for me to ask for forgiveness for Dar because You are All Knowing.

 


Ahmad Tohari, “Shoot Seven People Dead” (Menembak Mati Tujuh Orang) was published in the Central Java daily newspaper Suara Merdeka on 13 October 2019. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2019/10/13/menembak-mati-tujuh-orang]

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

Nasi Rawon

Nasi Rawon

Featured image credit: VOXSPORTS VOXER, 17th ASEAN University Games : Volleyball (M) – Singapore vs Indonesia, Photography by Lim Yong Teck (SUSC)

 

 

 

Short Story: The Poetic Journey of a Contract Hitman

The Poetic Journey of a Contract Hitman

By Surya Gemilang

It’s kind of strange because the person who needs my services this time is a teenage high school boy, not a government official, or someone like that, quite apart from how he finds out where I live, or where he gets the sort of dough he needs to pay me. And also the person I have to bump off isn’t an important person, not someone who if he get killed is going to seriously destabilize some country for example. Instead it’s an Indonesian language teacher who teaches my teenage customer’s class.

“Why do you want this guy bumped off?” I ask sharply, because I think this kid has turned up here not so serious. “Don’t tell me just because you got hung out to dry in the schoolyard, or because you got a bad exam score.”

“His crime was much worse, Mister Hitman,” says the high school kid, obviously with an expression that shows me clearly how badly he wants this guy bumped off. “He stole the poems I submitted for an assignment.”

“Hah? What do you mean?”

The teenage kid explains more or less like this. A month ago, the Indonesian language teacher told his students to write three poems to be submitted the following week. Like a good student, my young customer does the work and hands it up on time. Funny thing is, three weeks after he hands it up, he come across his three assignment poems published in the writing column of a national newspaper, in the name of the Indonesian language teacher!

“You don’t know how long I’ve been waiting for my poems to be published in that newspaper…” he continues, his voice is getting, like, real emotional.

***

The day after the high school kid gives me the address of the Indonesian language teacher’s home, straight away I go to the address; not to bump him off, but first to check out the joint non-stop for a few days. As a professional hitman, of course, I have to figure out how to pop the teacher as neatly as possible, how to get away from the neighborhood where he lives without getting seen by nobody, anything I have to be careful of around the place, and things like that.

I conclude that knocking the Indonesian language teacher off is not going to be that hard, in fact, it’s going to be much, much easier than taking out some random mayor, minister, president, or such like.

My target is only a 40-year-old teacher who, aside from spending ordinary days at school, is always busy at his house correcting student papers, reading poetry books, and writing poetry until he starts to cry. This is serious. He doesn’t have any children or a wife. I think all he wants to do is “give” his life to poetry. And, also, the housing complex where he lives is very quiet.

“I’ve checked it out enough,” I explain to the high school kid when he arrives again at my house to nail down the way I work. “Tomorrow night he’s going to die horribly. And as a bonus, I’m going to take some of his poetry collections for you.”

“Thank you, Mister Hitman. But, if you don’t mind, as well as dying horribly, I also want him to die poetically.”

Even though I don’t completely get the phrase “die poetically” I reply, “Even though I ain’t no poet, the jobs I do are always more poetic than poetry.” I myself don’t really understand the phrase “more poetic than poetry”, but I say this on purpose just so it sounds poetical, and so it makes my young customer happy.

***

That night the Indonesian language teacher is writing poetry on his laptop, and I am standing behind him without him knowing it. I have equipped myself with a ball of nylon thread, instead of the silenced pistol I used to use. In fact the hit I am about to do will be a little harder, but that will just give it a feeling that is more poetic. And, just as the high school kid asked, as the Indonesian language teacher struggles to take his last breath, I am going to say the lines of the poem I’ve been memorizing since yesterday in his ear:

In a moment the last guest will arrive
who you will welcome joyfully:
death

You will open the door for him
a second after there’s a rough knock
then you’ll both exchange smiles

It was one of the poems written by the high school kid that he composed for his assignment — for some reason, I can’t remember the title — the poem that is expected to make the Indonesian language teacher realize immediately at the last moment, why he is being murdered.

I think this is going to be my stupidest job, and not so manly… But what the hell.

I step slowly closer to the teacher to snare his neck from behind when suddenly he turns around and spits right into my face. Damn! Like out of the blue, I’m so shocked that I freeze for a moment while I feel the saliva between my eyes, saliva cold like the ocean at night.

“Feel the spit that is filled with poetry,” the teacher says.

My heart is suddenly pounding so hard, like it’s going to explode. A sensation spreads quickly from my face to my whole body. I don’t know what the right word is for the sensation. What is clear, after the sensation stopped spreading, suddenly…

the hand of the wind smashes the windowpane
and crashes into my heart
the clock that beats calmly
grips my stomach
until the words expressing pain
erupt from every pore in my body

suddenly someone knocked on the door
at my back, with
an unusual tenderness:
him, the last guest

My whole body is so weak that I cannot do anything except lie on the floor, staring…

the ceiling laughs aloud
to see my withered body
from its mouth is visible
a shower of spears that soon arrive

I’ve almost been killed a couple of times while doing a job, but this time it feels very different. I don’t feel suffering, but instead, I enjoy it! Damn it!

Then the Indonesian teacher squats down beside me. He laughs, then says, “And now the last guest arrives who you welcome joyfully: death.”

***

The next morning, when the high school teenager finds a sheet of A4 paper on the ground at the front door of his house, he almost accidentally steps on it in his school shoes. For a moment he squints as he stares at the contents of the sheet of paper before bursting into tears. No. He’s not crying out of sadness. He is just so moved to see the hitman’s corpse wrapped up so poetically.

 


Surya Gemilang, The Poetic Journey of a Contract Hitman (Perjalanan Puitis Seorang Pembunuh Bayaran) was published in Koran Tempo daily newspaper on 7-8 March 2020. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2019/10/13/menembak-ati-tujuh-orang]

Surya Gemilang was born in Denpasar, Bali, on March 21, 1998. His books include: Chasing Shooting Stars (Mengejar Bintang Jatuh) (a collection of short stories, 2015), How to Love Monsters (Cara Mencintai Monster) (a collection of poems, 2017), A Taste of Death (Mencicipi Kematian) (a collection of poems, 2018), and Looking for a Head for Mother (Mencari Kepala untuk Ibu) (a collection of short stories, 2019). His other writings can be found in more than 10 mixed anthologies and numerous media publications.

Featured image credit: Mother’s Prayer by Mark Chaves