This year Indonesia was a featured country at the London Book Fair, which followed a similar showcasing of its literature at the Frankfurt Book Fair in 2015. Is this a reflection of an expanding and globalising literary scene in Indonesia? Are more diverse voices being heard inside and outside the country, and what are the challenges for making sure that the stories are not lost in translation? Listen at the Talking Indonesia podcast from the University of Melbourne.
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 like 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 making him 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 didn’t want to ask for an extension, but on the other hand, he still felt as if 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 had lost his walking stick, one hand on the wall, the other on his back massaging his own lower spine.
“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 the space that was his office. He took a deep breath returning to the quest for the correct position to ease the pain. Sitting in the chair made him feel better.
He then lifted a book from the small table next to his chair. At the table, there were several novels which he was reading and a thin notebook with a white cover that had no pictures. There were also two fountain pens he often used to take notes or make lists in his book. If not used for making notes, the fountain pen often became a way of relieving anxiety by using the end to tap on the table.
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 entering the house. But he could feel a warm sensation around his thighs after he allowed himself 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 contacting his friend William who worked as a doctor at a health center, he was 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 feel better was to lay 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 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 causing an interruption to the signal. Yesterday, Nadira had still been able to message, she had mentioned that the weather looked as if it was becoming worse and that communication might be interrupted.
In a media report from Selayar, he saw strong winds and continually pounding high seas. There was no news from Nadira. That night he began to have a strange sensation, a sense of dread over something. His pain was sometimes forgotten when he went back to looking for news of Nadira. As he waited for a miracle, he read the chat on WhatsApp from several days before.
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 after the extremely bad weather of the last few days.
The pain in his back then spread towards one 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, noticing the lights that appeared to be glowing. The lights in the room then went out and instantly his whole body became completely paralyzed.
A few moments later, the lights came back on. Again he saw the figure of the long-haired woman dressed in red who had appeared in his dreams. Only 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 instead because the bad feeling he’d 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, 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 more and more unbearable. As he rose resisting the pain, he grimaced. 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 taken her before him. He wasn’t able to translate events as well as he translated the manuscript 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 in him was crushed, while it was me who 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 2019.
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/
Is this journey far?
Just the twinkle of an eye! – How could it be any longer!
Of the falling leaves, you ask for yourself,
And of the soft sound which becomes a melody!
Does it remain only as a memento?
Look at the woman no longer gazing upward
Nor wistful, the stars have vanished!
So how long is this journey?
Could be a century… oh, just the blink of an eye!
A journey for what?
Ask my childhood home which is mute!
My ancestors frozen there!
Is someone touching me to follow?
Is someone lost?
Ah, answer for yourself! – I am still
Homeless and forlorn………
By Chairil Anwar
Just as my mother and my grandmother too
And as seven generations before
I too ask to be allowed into heaven
which say Masyumi and Muhammadiyah flows with rivers of milk
and is full of beautiful maidens
But there’s a voice inside me weighing this up,
which dares to scoff: Can heaven really be
barren of the waters of the blue oceans,
of the soft touch of every harbor how come?
And also who can say for sure
there definitely awaits beautiful maidens
sounds like they have trouble swallowing like Nina, have Jati’s wry glance?
Published in Pantja Raja, p. 338.
Photo: From the Dutch National Archives’ Elsevier Photo Collection this image by an unknown Dutch National News Agency (ANP) photographer is described as “The provisional [Indonesian] Republican Parliament (Komite National Indonesia Pusat or KNIP) met in Malang from 25 February to 5 March 1947. Prime Minister Sutan Sjahrir is seen here outlining government policy.” 25 February 1947.
Photo: Indian troops with four armed Indonesians captured at Bekassi before the village was burnt as a reprisal for the murder of five members of the Royal Air Force and twenty Maharatta riflemen whose Dakota transport aircraft crash landed near the village.