Tag Archives: Kompas

Short Story: The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump By Ahmad Tohari

The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

By Ahmad Tohari

Korep, Carmi, and Driver Dalim are three of the many people who often visit the garbage dump on the outskirts of town. Dalim is definitely an adult, the driver of one of the yellow garbage trucks with a crew of two. He is a civil servant, and he likes to take his thick-framed glasses off, and then put back on again. Carmi is really still too young to be called a young lady. Korep is a boy with a scar from a past injury above his eye. The two of them are the youngest of the garbage scavengers among the residents of the garbage dump.

Driver Dalim is actually a garbage scavenger too. He manages his two assistants so they scavenge the best second-hand goods when the garbage is still on the truck. The instruction is given especially when his truck is transporting the garbage from the mansions on What’s It Called Street. The leather belt that Driver Dalim is wearing is also scavenged. He says it was made in France and was thrown away by its owner just because it has a small scratch. He also says most of the people living in those mansions only want to use the best things without the smallest mark whatever.

When Korep and Carmi arrive at the garbage dump the stench is not so noticeable yet. The sun’s rays are still being blocked by the trees on the eastern side so the garbage dump isn’t sizzling yet. Later just before midday the garbage dump will be boiling as the stench rises and fills the air. Driver Dalim often reminds Carmi and Korep not to hang around in the middle of the dump. “A lot of scavengers have died from sickness. Their lungs become diseased,” he says. Who knows why, but Driver Dalim feels the need to remind Carmi and Korep. He himself doesn’t know why he feels close to the two children. Maybe it’s because Korep and Carmi are the two youngest scavengers at the garbage dump.

Dozens of scavengers are already standing gathered on the south side. They are waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. A female scavenger puts a cigarette butt between her lips, then moves in and out of the others asking for a light. A hand stretches out towards her mouth. A match lights and smoke starts to unfurl. But the woman then screams. Apparently the hand of the man holding out the match has then tweaked her cheek. She chases the man and pinched his back. They wrestle. All of a sudden there appears a happy spectacle. Korep and Carmi join in the shouting. There are bursts of laughter and rowdy shouting. It becomes so noisy the sparrows foraging for food on the ground suddenly all fly away together into the air. A dog that feels disturbed disappears quickly behind a garbage excavator long since broken down, now also garbage.

Driver Dalim wheels in his truck. And in an instant the atmosphere changes. The crowd of garbage scavengers scatters. They run behind until the truck stops. The moment the rubbish is tipped out there erupts a chaotic noisy scene. Dozens of scavengers including Korep and Carmi transform into something akin to a pen of hungry chickens tossed feed, struggle, jostle each other, shove and push past each other. They scramble to scavenge through the garbage for anything at all, anything except for diapers, pads or dead rats.

Korep finds two half-rotten mangoes. Carmi has a different story. Carmi’s eyes are struck when an object falls from the back of the truck onto her head. It’s the right-hand shoe of an expensive pair of shoes of a reasonable size. Carmi picks up the shoe straight away. Oh, she often dreams of wearing shoes like this. In her dream, Carmi sees her calves are clean and large, and more beautiful because of the shoes. Carmi is really excited. Ever more excitedly she picks through the pile of garbage with her hands looking for the left shoe. Sweat runs down her forehead and cheeks but Carmi fails. So she straightens her back and looks around. Maybe the other shoe is over there. Or maybe it’s been found by one of the other scavenger. She fails again. So Carmi stops and leaves the rubbish heap. She even throws back the three plastic glasses made from used bottled-water containers she has found.

At the edge of the garbage dump she tries the shoe on her right foot. Her heart flutters again because the shoe feels so comfortable on her foot. She takes it off again, and cleans it with crumpled up newspaper. When it is a little cleaner, she puts it back on again. Carmi stands up, turns, and lifts her right foot so she can inspect carefully how the shoe looks on her foot. She really hopes that tomorrow or whenever the left shoe arrives at this garbage dump. Who knows. Yes, who knows. Can’t anything at all turn up here?

Korep comes over and straight away laughs at what his friend is doing. Carmi disapproves. She is offended, but does not want to respond to Korep’s behavior. Or Carmi’s eyes are attracted more to the two mangoes in Korep’s hands. Carmi is relieved that Korep responds. What’s more Korep does not continue talking about the shoe on her right foot.

“Let’s just eat mangoes. Come on,” Carmi suggests as she places the single lone shoe into a yellow plastic bag. Korep grins but he too is interested in Carmi’s idea. So Korep and Carmi move to the eastern side where there is a shady tropical almond tree. Korep takes out a small knife he was given by Driver Dalim. He has one mango in the left hand. In one smooth action the mango is cut open right up to the part that is rotten. Carmi stares at the freshly-cut, bright yellow surface. Carmi salivates, but then shudders as two maggots emerge from the open surface. Korep laughs, then makes another incision, deeper. This time the rotten part of the mango is completely gone. “Who says half-rotten mangoes aren’t delicious to eat, right?” says Korep offering a slice of the mango flesh that is not rotten to Carmi. “Yeah, right?” Carmi just laughs. Korep stares at Carmi’s straight teeth that are really nice to look at.

***

Every day Carmi carries a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Eventually everyone finds out that the little girl is still waiting for the left shoe. They feel sorry for her. It’s almost impossible. But all the garbage scavengers promise Carmi they will help her. Driver Dalim even has a wonderful idea. He is going to instruct his truck crew of two to go to every house in What’s It Called Street. He is going to tell both of them to ask the maids, the drivers, and the gardeners there whether they know where the left-hand shoe is that Carmi is waiting for.

But Driver Dalim’s brilliant idea does not need to be put into action. A few days after Carmi discovers the right shoe, Driver Dalim is tricked by his two assistants. At the time he is driving the truck along the highway. Suddenly in front of his eyes outside the cabin window there is a left-hand shoe bobbing up and down. Obviously the shoe is tied to a long rope with the end being held by his assistants on the back of the truck. Driver Dalim immediately presses the brake. The tires screech on the surface of the asphalt road. On the back of the truck his two helpers sway and tumble forward.

Driver Dalim jumps down, taking off his glasses straight away. The truck’s crew of two also climb down. One of them handed the left shoe to Driver Dalim who then smiles broadly. Holding the handle of his glasses, he gives praise to God as many as three times.

“Where did you find it?”

“Well, in the garbage bin in front of the houses on What’s It Called Street. Forget what number it is.”

“That’s enough. Where you found the left shoe isn’t important.”

Driver Dalim stops talking because he wants to remove his glasses and put them back one again. Now he rubs his forehead, apparently thinking hard. Driver Dalim’s behavior makes his two helpers wonder. What else is he thinking about? Isn’t there only one thing left, to deliver the left shoe to Carmi?

“Later you be the one to give the shoe to Carmi.” This is Driver Dalim’s instruction to the helper wearing short pants. The person appointed glances up because he’s a little surprised.

“It would be better for you to do it, Mr. Dalim.”

“Yes right. It would be better if it were you, Mr. Dalim,” says the helper wearing trousers, supporting his friend. Driver Dalim sighs then removes his glasses. Before replacing them once more he speaks in a hushed tone.

“Look, you don’t know. The problem is, I didn’t have the heart to see Carmi the moment she receives the shoe. Carmi might jump up and down, laugh and laugh, or even scream because she is so happy. Her eyes might sparkle, or on the other hand, she might become teary. Well, just over a second-hand shoe taken from a trash can Carmi’s heart will be over joyed. I don’t have the heart to watch. It would be so hard. Do you have the heart?”

Without waiting for an answer Driver Dalim changes his mind. The left shoe will be placed beneath the tropical almond tree on the east side of the garbage dump. Carmi and Korep often rest there in the middle of the day. Everyone agrees, so Driver Dalim jumps up into the cabin with the left shoe in his hand. The two helpers climb up onto the back and the truck pulls out headed for the garbage dump.

When the sun is right over the garbage dump all the scavengers move to the four sides to arrange the results of their scavenging, placing it into sacks or tying it up with nylon rope. Carmi also moves to the side. She has found dozens of plastic glasses made from used drinking-water containers, arranging them neatly so they are easy to carry. In her left hand there is still a yellow plastic sack containing the right-hand shoe. Along with Korep who is carrying a bunch of half-rotten mangoes, Carmi heads for the eastern side towards the shade of the tropical almond tree.

When the air at the garbage dump is extremely hot, without any wind, a foul odor spreading out everywhere and the sparrows flocking in along with dogs, who then hears Carmi laughing loudly then crying hooray over and over again? Does the loud laughing sound like the outpouring of overwhelming joy that is heart warming?

The people who hear Carmi’s laughing are the dozens of garbage scavengers in the garbage dump. And it is only they who can really understand and fully appreciate the laughter of the young scavenger girl. So look, the scavengers stand up and smile when they watch Carmi and Korep leave the garbage dump. Carmi laughs, of course because there is a pair of shoes on her feet. But where could the two garbage scavengers be going? Everyone at the garbage dump knows that Carmi and Korep don’t have a home to go to. (*)


The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump (Tawa Gadis Padang Sampah) by Ahmad Tohari was published in the daily newspaper Harian Kompas on 21 August 2016. [Retrieved from https://lakonhidup.com/2016/08/21/tawa-gadis-padang-sampah/.]

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 “The Ronggeng Dancer of Paruk Hamlet” (Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk). His collections of short stories include “Karyamin’s Smile” (Senyum Karyamin), “Night Song” (Nyanyian Malam), and “Eyes Lovely to Behold” (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 also published in Kompas daily newspaper on 15 September 2019.

Featured image credit: Life Must Go On! by Ubay Amri Nur.

Short Story: Shoot Seven People Dead By Ahmad Tohari

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 By Surya Gemilang

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

Short Story: They Spelt The Begging Ban By Ahmad Tohari

They Spelt The Begging Ban

By Ahmad Tohari

They were five street children, and Gupris was the only girl. The five of them didn’t wash very often, and even more infrequently changed their clothes. Of the lot Gupris was the most out-going and boisterous, and the most talkative too. Gupris was also the only one who had ever been to school, even if only briefly.

And now the five children had jumped onto the tray of an open-sided truck that had started to move towards the depot. Every morning they gathered at the truck depot that was surrounded by stalls, mostly stalls selling rice meals. The four boys always slept there, on the floor under the awning of the closed stalls, or anywhere they liked. At night they were used to the mosquitoes. But often they couldn’t sleep when they had empty stomachs. Gupris didn’t join them sleeping rough at the depot. She did something different. She had a small house behind the depot. Her mother was there but her father wasn’t.

Three o’clock in the morning was the time Gupris hated the most. The fragrant smell would often wake her up. Early in the morning she would often see that her mother was already washed and dressed and had put on her makeup and lipstick. Then her mother would take the hand basket and say she was off to go shopping at the market. At first Gupris didn’t care. But then she came to hate it because her mother would always return home with an empty basket, her striking brightly colored clothes and makeup disheveled. Gupris came to hate it more and more. So now every morning at two-thirty she would rise and go to the depot to join her four friends before her mother arrived home.

Gupris and her four friends sat cross-legged on the tray of the empty truck headed for the cement factory. The truck was huge, it had fourteen wheels. The tray was steel and it had no sides. One of the children played a small drum, one played a tambourine, and another played an old battered guitar. The result was a traveling dangdut* stage. The truck drivers were never angry, even though the five street kids would often make a noise banging on the floor of the tray. Gupris usually sang like a dangdut singer, but this time she preferred to play on her cellphone. She had become fond of looking at rude pictures. Gupris still wore her hair in two pigtails.

Approaching Karangasu intersection, Gupris got up and stood unsteadily. She invited her four friends to get ready to get down. If they were lucky, the traffic lights at the intersection would turn red for them. But not this time. So one of the children who couldn’t wait jumped down along the side. He slammed into the ground and immediately streamed. Gupris ran to the front pounding on the roof of the truck cabin. The truck finally stopped after crossing the intersection. The driver looked back but wasn’t angry. The other four children jumped down. They wanted to help their friend who was sitting in pain but the traffic was very heavy. Gupris took action. She moved to the center of the road, raising her hands high to motion for a chance to get cross. The sun’s heat had started to bite.

The five street children who rarely took a bath walked away from the intersection, the one being helped to a sheltered place and left there alone.

Gupris invited the three friends back to the corner of the intersection. The drum made from PVC pipe and a membrane made of tire started to pound. The tambourine and old battered guitar started to make a noise.

Gupris got ready for their dangdut show. But suddenly she stopped still. She saw something. Something had changed at the corner of the intersection. Near them a noticeboard had been erected. The writing was black on a white painted wooden board. Unlike her friends who weren’t interested because they couldn’t read, Gupris was different. She wanted to read the writing. She began to spell out. Her friends approached and stood behind her to listen.

“A-n-y-o-ne be-gg-i-ng a-n-d b-us-ki-n-g w-i-ll b-e… pu-n-i-s-h-ed b-y… i-m-p-ri-s-o-n-e-d …”.

Gupris stopped, then turned to face her friends.

“What is punished? What does being punished and imprisoned mean?” they asked.

The four boys grinned and then each shook his head. None of them knew. They just stared at each other. Gupris was annoyed and felt useless. So Gupris invited her friends to leave. But they suddenly stopped.

“Now, read that! You are wild kids who just wander around aimlessly, you have to read it. You have to!”

Gupris and her friends looked to the side at the same time. There was a watchman coming out of the food stall wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. Above the right pocket of his shirt was clearly embroidered with the name Karidun. He was moving in a half run. And he stopped, puffing himself up. His loud voice sounded over the noise of the cars and motorbikes. There was still some rice or coconut pieces stuck to the corner of his lips. The left over food continued to dance following the movement of his mouth as the watchman spoke. That was the sight that made Gupris almost burst out laughing.

“Go on reading. You have to!” said watchman Karidun, hand pointing to the noticeboard there in a commanding style. “I’m a security officer, see, security from Community Services. I was the one who put the sign up this morning. For people just like you. Get it? Remember, I’m security from Community Services, right?”

Quietly Gupris stopped, her face blank. Then she looked behind her in the direction of her friends.

“Hey, why stop. Read on. I’m security. And I told you to read. Go on,” shouted watchman Karidun, voice becoming louder this time.

“P-u-n-is-he-d, what does that mean, mister?” Gupris asked in a normal tone. Although she was still a little girl, who didn’t wash often, Gupris dared to quip back to Karidun, who wanted to be called security.

There was quiet again. Watchman Karidun didn’t seem to be ready to answer Gupris’ question.

His face changed. Like somebody with a stutter, confused, but his eyebrows hardened. Then he turned himself around rubbing his forehead.

Finally he snapped back to face the five street kids as he also puffed himself right up.

“I am a security official. Right, now?”

“Yes!” Gupris answered very quickly.

“So, in my opinion, to be punished is definitely not the same as being given some money. Being punished might be the same as being convicted. Yes. Being punished by imprisonment is the same as being sentenced to confinement, put in prison, sent to jail. Get it? That’s it, so don’t you go begging and busking. You should all be going to school. So you can be like me who’s a security officer and knows what being punished means.”

Gupris fell silent a moment. Then turned back to face her friends. “You hear, we should be going to school.”

“Do you get money going to school?” interrupted one of the children.

“Seriously! Schools, see, don’t get you money, in fact you have to pay,” Gupris answered.

“Wow, that’s a problem if it’s like that? You don’t get any money? So what are we supposed to buy food with? It would be better to keep on busking, keep on begging. Then we can keep on eating.”

“Wait, what?” exclaimed watchman Karidun with a fierce face. “I have just told you. Begging and busking will be punished by imprisonment. P-u-n-ish-ed b-y i-mp-ri-so-n-me-nt for 30 days, with a fine of 50 million rupiah! Do you hear that?”

Gupris’s face sank. But then she smiled faintly as she noticed the leftover food in the corner of Karidun’s mouth dancing again.

“Why is that?” Gupris responded again. “Begging isn’t pick-pocketing, or stealing, is it?”

“Yes, but it is against the ban. Anyone who breaks the ban is definitely going to be punished, convicted.”

“Why is it like that? Who made the ban?”

“Well, I’m security. So I know who made the ban on begging, the mayor and the city council members.”

“What’s a mayor?”

“Really, you wild child. The mayor is an important official.”

“Are the city council members too?”

“Yess. Now listen. As security I want to explain everything. The city council members are the representatives of the people, so your representatives too.”

Gupris’ eyebrows narrowed. She was confused. But at least now she knew. The city council members were a type of human too. And they along with the mayor had made the ban, whoever begged and busked would be punished by imprisonment.

“Yes, yes. We beg and busk every day. But we’ve never been punished.” Gupris grinned. Her four friends laughed.

“Oh, so you’re all asking to be punished, are you?” Karidun hurriedly rummaged for his cellphone in his pocket. He muttering to himself, the leftover food still not yet gone from the corners of his mouth. Gupris and her four friends laughed again.

“Hang on. I’ll call for a city police patrol car to grab you guys. Just hang on. I’m the security who calls the city police. So they’ll be right here.”

“What’s the city police anyway?” Gupris stared up at Karidun. But there was no answer.

As Karidun was busy with his cellphone, Gupris turned to face her friends. She whispered. The four friends nodded together. Then they glanced to the side. The traffic lights was showing red. Two large empty trucks with open trays and an expensive car were pulled up. The light changed to yellow, then to green. Gupris moved the fastest, the others following. They deftly jumped up like monkeys as the big truck with the open tray began to move off. Then they waved wildly to watchman Karidun.

“Hey mister watchman, we’re off to Tegal, then Cirebon. Then to…, then, then… If you want to punish us, chase us there, OK, mister?” Gupris shouted as she laughed. The four friends danced wildly on the truck as it sped off. Gupris’ voice was still audible, but grew fainter and fainter. The cement truck drove on into the distance headed north in the direction of the city of Tegal.

The Karangasu intersection would continue to be busy but it was left behind by Gupris and her four friends. The five street kids who were still just young children had gone on a journey. They would wander through Tegal, Cirebon, and who knows where else. Watchman Karidun was still standing on the corner at the intersection. He stared at the sign that announced the ban on begging he had just built that morning. Oh, and once the sixty by one hundred centimeter sign was up it had immediately proved its potency. Five street children had left the Karangasu intersection. Watchman Karidun was proud because he felt he had done a good job. Or, had he. Because the vision of Gupris’ cute face and two pigtails continued to linger before his eyes. The voice of Gupris as she spelt in a halting voice, “…what is punished by imprisonment?…” continued to ring in his ears too.


They Spelt The Begging Ban (Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis) was published in Kompas daily newspaper on 15 September 2019. (Retrieved from Mereka Mengeja Larangan Mengemis.)

Ahmad Tohari, was born in Banyumas, June 13, 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. His collections of short stories include Senyum Karyamin, Nyanyian Malam, dan Mata yang Enak Dipandang. Other works includes the novels: Kubah (1982), Di Kaki Bakit Cibalak (1977), Bekisar Merah (1993), Lingkar Tanah Lingkar Air (1995), Bclantik (2001), dan Orang-orang Proyek (2002).

*On dangdut check out https://www.britannica.com/art/dangdut.

You’ll probably also enjoy the film Jalanan https://www.youtube.com/user/jalananmovie

For other stories by Ahmad Tohari click here.

Op-Ed: Megawati and the Corruption Eradication Commission

Op-Ed: Megawati and the Corruption Eradication Commission

By Luky Djan

(Executive Director, Institute for Strategic Initiatives (ISI) and former jury member for the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award)

The effort to eradicate corruption will always travel a rocky road. Indeed anyone acting against corruption has to face off directly against criminals working together in an organized group. Criminal corruption is almost certain to be perpetrated jointly as a conspiracy in conjunction with others and in a way that is highly organized. Organized criminal corruption has a stronger staying power than other forms of organized crime because the group of perpetrators involved typically occupy positions of formal authority and inevitably command considerable resources.

For this reason, anyone going up against the so-called “criminals in uniforms” has to steel him or herself with both ingenuity and resilience. He or she also must not be surprised at the range of strategies deployed to weaken the agenda and institutions endeavoring to eradicate corruption which will vary from the intervention of those in power to the use of physical violence.

Is the anti-corruption agenda in this country driving towards a yellow light? Indonesia’s Corruption Eradication Commission (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi or KPK) is the front-line vanguard and driving force in the fight against corruption and is now once more facing strong headwinds. The institution has weathered past tests successfully. Hopefully, the current crisis will likewise result in the strengthening of efforts to defeat corruption. The experience of South Korea and Thailand can provide lessons on the conditions under which institutions are tamed, and those under which anti-corruption efforts are successful. The fate of anti-corruption bodies in these places is quite tragic.

Thailand’s National Counter-Corruption Commission (NCCC) and the Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC)

Prospects for the fight against corruption in Asia are currently entering their twilight years. Anti-corruption institutions are collapsing. The anti-corruption agenda in South Korea commenced when as leader of the opposition to the military regime Kim Dae-jung became President in February 1998. Kim’s main strategy was spearheaded by an initiative to pass legislation establishing an anti-corruption commission in August 1999. Kim’s idea generated resistance from politicians and legislators This resulted in anti-corruption legislation taking two years to produce, passing finally on 24 July 2001. Following the enactment of the legislation, opposition emerged to the establishment of an anti-corruption commission from the public prosecutor’s office as well as the police. The Korean Independent Commission Against Corruption (KICAC) was finally formed six months later in January 2002.

The KICAC’s findings shook the corrupt relations between those in power and the chaebol business conglomerates and in their wake caught senior government officials and businessmen. The breakthrough began to unsettle the corrupt, even though the KICAC was in fact not as powerful as its other Asian counterparts, such as Hong Kong’s Independent Commission Against Corruption, Thailand’s NCCC or Indonesia’s KPK, because the KICAC was not given investigative or prosecutorial functions. Following two periods of progressive leadership under Kim Dae-jung and Roh Moo-hyun, efforts to shake the KICAC gained momentum after 25 February 2008 when the government changed to the conservative government of President Lee Myung-bak.

On 29 February 2008, after only three days in office, President Lee merged the KICAC with two other institutions, the Ombudsman and the Administrative Appeals Tribunal (an administrative decisions court similar to Indonesia’s Public Administration Court (Pengadilan Tata Usaha Negara or PTUN)), forming the Anti-Corruption Civil Rights Commission (ACRC). The sway of the KICAC declined, with the new body becoming more of a think tank with the primary function of preventing corruption. The major reason for the reduction in the power of the KICAC was the view that its breakthroughs in this period had hampered economic growth. President Lee’s background as an executive of one of the chaebol conglomerates meant that he viewed the fight against corruption as a hindrance to economic growth.

Of course the public reacted, opposing the merger. Transparency International Korea Chairman Geo-Sung Kim believes that economic growth is driven by a clean business environment and that an organization like the KICAC is necessary to achieve this. While ACRC commissioners are selected by and are responsible to the president, KICAC commissioners were selected by the Supreme Court, legislature and president. There are now valid concerns over the ACRC’s loss of independence.

In Thailand, following the establishment of the People’s Constitution in 1997, the National Counter Corruption Commission (NCCC) was formed in November 1999. This agency represented a strengthening of the previous anti-corruption institution, the Counter Corruption Commission or CCC, which had possessed limited functions and been less independent. The NCCC was responsible to the Senate and its nine commissioners were nominated by the Thai Senate and confirmed by the King. The NCCC took direct action by revealing the embezzlement of assets by Deputy Prime Minister Sanan Kachornprasart which led to his resignation. Two months later, the NCCC uncovered a 30 million baht bribery scandal which led to the dismissal of Deputy Finance Minister Nibhat Bhukkanasut.

The NCCC’s next target was a tax evasion scandal and dishonesty in the public wealth declaration filed by Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra. This case put Thaksin’s political career at stake. However, after the legislative elections in 2001 which handed control of the Senate to Thai Rak Thai, Thaksin soon gained control of the Supreme Court, leading to the asset embezzlement case being frozen. As payback, allegations were made against the nine NCCC commissioners alleging criminal conduct and making accusations of involvement in a conflict of interests by increasing their monthly salary of 45,000 baht (approximately 25 million rupiah). The ensuing investigation eventually forced the commissioners to resign in May 2005.

Having control of the majority in parliament, Thaksin had no difficulty installing ‘puppet commissioners’ (Pasuk and Baker, 2004). Following a power shift in a military coup, the military junta replaced the NCCC on 15 July 2008 with the National Anti-Corruption Commission (NACC). The NACC became an instrument for the removal of political opponents of the Thai military regime.

Megawati’s Legacy

Every leader possesses a legacy that becomes a monument to his or her success. President Sukarno created magnificent iconic landmarks ranging from Gelora Bung Karno Stadium (GBK) to Istiqlal Mosque and the statues which adorn the capital. Times, however, change and monuments today no longer take the form of urban architectural landmarks. On the contrary, they now represent elements of constitutional architecture. President Habibie left monuments in the form of the rights of freedom of assembly and association, multi-party elections, freedom of the press and regional autonomy. President Abdurrahman Wahid reorganized the function and position of the Indonesian Armed Forces and strengthened respect for pluralism and human rights.

Megawati carved out important milestones in the nation’s efforts against corruption. Probably not many people remember that on 27 December 2002 Megawati signed into force Law No. 30/2002 concerning the Corruption Eradication Commission. This institution represented the spearhead and hope of the nation for the elimination of the misuse of power in the form of looting public resources by organized criminal groups who possess political power and financial strength.

So the commitment of President Megawati to try to remove all forms of criminal corruption can not be doubted. A year later, the Corruption Eradication Commission was officially established. This writer’s experience ranges from the drafting of the Commission bill to the establishment of the Commission itself which at the time was appropriately resourced by the government. If the commitment to the eradication of corruption had not been strong, it would have been simple to abort the drafting of the bill or to stall for time over the establishment of the Commission. Likewise, when on a number of occasions the Commission has investigated cases of corruption involving senior politicians from her Indonesian Democratic Party of Struggle (PDIP), Megawati did not intervene in the Commission.

Unfortunately, in the midst of the Commission’s efforts to strengthen measures aimed at combating corruption, a wave of attacks have emerged from all directions, including the PDIP. Reports by a member of Indoneisa’s House of Representatives (relating to legal action launched over the disputed election of the head of West Kotawaringin Regency in Central Kalimantan) have resulted in a storm of crisis over the very existence of the institution of the Commission and the entire effort to combat corruption. This writer believes these reports have destabilized the Commission because they have led to an institutional crisis caused by a commissioner of the anti-corruption agency being named a suspect in a criminal investigation.

It is regrettable that this has happened because, as noted above, President Megawati, both as head of state when in power and today as party chairwoman, has not taken action to weaken the Commission. As a mother, Megawati fully understands that the Corruption Eradication Commission is a child of her government for opposing the phantom of corruption that has taken root and become entrenched.

The experience of South Korea and Thailand show that anti-corruption commissions will be stunted, and even amputated, by subsequent regimes. President Jokowi himself has a real track record in promoting an anti-corruption agenda. He is a recipient of the Bung Hatta Anti-Corruption Award (BHACA) which clearly demonstrates he possesses a strong commitment to the eradication of corruption. The current crisis should be resolved with prudence and expedition. The community is now waiting for action from President Jokowi as “party official” to strengthen both efforts to eradicate corruption and the Commission which as an institution is one of Megawati’s important legacies.


Published in Kompas Daily, Thursday 29 January 2015 and http://youthproactive.com/expert-says/megawati-dan-kpk/

Featured image credit: Batik maker applying melted wax to fabric, Sultan’s Palace (Kraton), Yogyakarta by Rahiman Madli