Tag Archives: Society

Short Story: Mrs Geni in December

Mrs. Geni in December

By Arswendo Atmowiloto

“For Mrs. Geni, every month is December. Last month, the present month, or next month, they all mean December. So, if you have to deal with Mrs. Geni, it is better not to rely on dates, but rather on the day. If you want to book her, you have to say, “Two Fridays from this Friday.” If you say the seventeenth, you could be in trouble because the seventeenth won’t necessarily be a Friday. If you book her for the seventeenth, she might just not show up on the day.

The problem is a great many people deal with Mrs. Geni. For anyone wanting to arrange the wedding of a child, there is only one choice. Mrs. Geni. Bridal makeup artist. There are many other bridal makeup artists, but none can match Mrs. Geni. Even after considering the many other beauty salons, people stay with the choice of Mrs. Geni.

According to past clients, Mrs. Geni is no ordinary makeup artist. She can transform a would-be bride and make her so beautiful she is truly stunning. Unrecognizable. One of her specialities is to infuse cigarette smoke onto the face of the would-be bride. According to tradition, she explains, this is bronzing, applying a bronze, not gold, hue to the skin. Almost every bridal makeup artist uses this technique, but none can match her skill. One time at a wedding the host fainted because she thought the daughter she was marrying off had disappeared. The mother of the bride-to-be fainted, the father became embarrassed, and all the relatives started to search for the bride at friends’ houses. Even after she was found, the mother of the bride-to-be could not accept it. “That is not my child. That is not my child,” she exclaimed.

“Well, if it is not your child, that makes her my child. Let’s go home.”

Only later the mother of the bride-to-be realized, and said, “How is it possible that my child could be as beautiful as this?”

Despite this, Mrs. Geni does not always please everyone. Her voice is loud and the people who have to listen to her do become annoyed. “This child is already pregnant. Why are you hiding it? Why are you embarrassed? To have children, to be able to fall pregnant, this is a gift. This is not something to cover up, to be squeeze down inside clothes. It is your own child, right.”

If I’m not wrong, the incident happened at the district head’s house. As a result, the news spread and continued to reverberate long after the incident was over. Another wedding ceremony was almost cancelled simply because Mrs. Geni saw a sad face on the bride-to-be. Usually two or three days before a ceremony, Mrs. Geni needs to meet the bride-to-be in person. Why not with the bridegroom-to-be? “Well, his fate rests right here, right?”

When she met the soon-to-be-bride who she felt had the sad face, Mrs. Geni said, “Can’t be like this. You have to be happy first.” No matter that the invitations had already been sent out, the reception hall been paid for in advance, and, more importantly, the food been prepared. The story wouldn’t have been unusual if it had ended in cancellation. What was unusual was that two days later, a bus crashed off a cliff into a gorge. As it turned out, if the wedding had actually gone ahead and not been cancelled, there was a big chance the bridegroom-to-be would have gone into the gorge because he had in fact planned to travel on that very bus, at that very time.

Mrs. Geni’s story continues next with the time she was asked to do the makeup of the daughter of a government minister – possibly a senior coordinating minister – but she replied, “Just tell the daughter to come to my house. A lot of people here are going to be put out if I leave them.”

Last seventeenth of August, the neighbors in her area waited to see whether Mrs. Geni would put up the national red and white flag at her house, because in Mrs. Geni’s estimation that was the same as 17 August. As it turned out, Mrs. Geni did have a flag put up. “What’s wrong with flying the flag on the seventeenth of December?” she asked.

The officials in the village were happy too, because if Mrs. Geni hadn’t put out the flag on the anniversary of independence, there could have been a problem. On the following thirty-first of December, Mrs. Geni did not object to having a party at her house. But to her, the following day was not New Year’s Day, but rather 1 December again.

Many people say that Mrs. Geni’s magic is to always look young. And Mrs. Geni does indeed seem to have always looked the same, whether it’s doing the makeup for a neighbor, or doing it for her own child. Her face and appearance are the same. The photos taken at the time can prove this, along with the photos taken over the following 20 years. Or maybe also the 20 years before that.

“Marriage is the most illogical of ceremonies. It causes a lot of trouble. You all stress about working out an auspicious date, what sort of matching clothes to have, and it all has no connection with the marriage itself. Just look at the people who make the speeches at a wedding, the people who delivery advice to the newlyweds. That is the most boring part, the part that is listened to the least. But it is always included. That’s weddings for you.” It is somewhat odd for these words to come from Mrs. Geni, because she in fact makes her living from weddings. “Yes, it is strange. Isn’t marriage a strange thing. Because something strange is thought of as normal, the people who do not marry, who are widows or widowers, are even thought of as strange.”

On a different occasion, Mrs. Geni said, “The strange expression ‘soul mate’ hides the fear or questions that we do not have the courage to answer. ‘Oh, such and such is my soul mate.’ We commonly speak like that. Or if it fails, ‘Oh, such and such was not my soul mate.'” Mrs. Geni then laughs at length. “So, is my soul mate actually Mr. Geni? Because I married Mr. Geni, he becomes my soul mate. Not, because Mr. Geni was my soul mate therefore I married him. It would have been different if before that I had not married Mr. Geni. Then he would not have been my soul mate.”

Why marry Mr. Geni at the time?

“Yes, because it was time to get married, like everyone else.”

Does that then mean it wasn’t out of love that I married Mr. Geni?

“As with soul mates, as soon as you marry, well, that has to be accepted as love. That is more important. Because if you rely on love beforehand it might not last. What you have, that is what you love, whether there is love before or not.”

The question arises because there is word that Mr. Geni is to marry again. “Yeah, don’t worry about it. And I will do the makeup for the bride,” she says easily, in a flat, almost emotionless, tone. “To try to forbid it would be hard, and it would be useless anyway. Just let him do it.”

Maybe that is the reason Mrs. Geni is still happy to do the makeup for the soon-to-be-brides who are to become second or third wives. “Let people feel joy once in their lives.” For Mrs. Geni, marriage is joy, happiness. “If someone does not even feel happy when they get married, they aren’t going to find any other joy.”

According to Mrs. Geni, no marriage really fails because marriage itself is not a success. “All you need is a little courage and a lot of foolishness. That is what is needed for a marriage. In order to divorce on the other hand, you need to have a lot of courage and a small amount of foolishness.”

Has Mrs. Geni ever thought about divorcing Mr. Geni?

“I’ve never thought about getting divorced. Have I thought about killing him? Often.”

And so, Mrs. Geni, bridal makeup artist, has done the makeup for all the women in her village. You could say, for everyone who has been married, and for those who have not. The latter are done by Mrs. Geni as bodies when women pass away having never married. Before burial, Mrs. Geni makes them up fully. Many disapprove, for many it is regrettable, still others fear being made up. “Frightened it will come true in the marriage. Frightened of being too happy, too free, too enjoyable, so that’s why we commit ourselves to a marriage that regulates responsibilities so much, regulates obligations, including the provision of a living, and the raising of children. Only it’s strange, but basically, we are afraid of our own happiness, and restrict it through the existence of God’s power.”

Even though she says that humanity’s most restricting and frightening discovery is marriage, Mrs. Geni continues to do peoples’ makeup, still uses the infusion of cigarette smoke. For someone able to make time for herself – even though it is still tied to December – Mrs. Geni is able to do the makeup for people, bodies, bridal statues and trees as well as buffaloes. Mrs. Geni also chants the bridal mantra, breathes the three breaths onto the bride’s crown, with the same seriousness she uses to fast before making someone up. “Let the buffaloes experience happiness, just as we have believed all this time that marriage is happiness.”

Fortunately, all of this only happens in December.

 


Mrs. Geni in December (Bu Geni di Bulan Desember) by Arswendo Atmowiloto was published in the national daily newspaper Kompas on 20 May 2012. Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/bu-geni-di-bulan-desember/

Featured image credit: “Tribute to Arswendo Atmowiloto” by Karikatoer (Khoirul Anwar), https://www.instagram.com/karikatoer/

 

Short Story: The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

The Laughter of the Girl from the Garbage Dump

By Ahmad Tohari

Korep, Carmi, and Driver Dalim are three of the many people who frequently 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. Together they are the youngest of the garbage scavengers among the people at the dump.

Driver Dalim is actually a garbage scavenger too. He manages his two assistants so they scavenge the best second-hand goods while 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’s made in France and was thrown away by its owner just because it had a small scratch. He also says that the majority of the people who live in those mansions only want to use the best goods, without the smallest mark whatsoever.

When Korep and Carmi arrive at the garbage dump, the stench isn’t 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 around 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 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 gathered on the southern side. They’re waiting for the garbage truck to arrive. A female scavenger puts a cigarette butt between her lips then moves among 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 cheering and boisterous shouting. It becomes so noisy that the sparrows foraging for food on the ground suddenly all fly away together into the air. A dog feels disturbed and disappears quickly behind a garbage excavator, long since broken down and 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, like a pen full of hungry chickens tossed feed, they struggle, push past each other, shove and nudge past each other. They scramble to scavenge through the garbage for anything at all, 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 a good pair of shoes of a reasonable size. Carmi picks up the shoe straight away. Oh, she has often dreamed 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 She picks through the pile of garbage more excitedly with her hands to find the left shoe. Sweat runs down her forehead and cheeks, but Carmi fails. So she straightened her back looking around; maybe the other shoe is over there. Or maybe it’s been found by another scavenger. Fail again. So Carmi stops and leaves the rubbish heap. She even throws back the three used plastic bottled water glasses she has found.

At the edge of the garbage dump, she tries on 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 scrunched up newspaper. After it’s a little cleaner, she puts it back on again. Carmi stands up, turns, and lifts her right foot up 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 is responsive. What’s more, Korep does not continue to talk 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 surface of the cut. 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 tasty to eat, right?” says Korep as he offers a slice of the mango flesh that is not rotten to Carmi. “Yeah, right?” Carmi just laughs. Korep stares at the row of Carmi’s teeth that are indeed 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 to Carmi all garbage scavengers promise they will help her. Driver Dalim even has an amazing idea. He is going to instruct his truck crew of two to go to every house on What’s It Called Street. He’s going to tell both to ask the maids, the drivers, or the gardeners there if they know where the left shoe is which Carmi is waiting for.

But Driver Dalim’s brilliant idea does not need to be carried out. 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 before his eyes, outside the cabin window, there is a left 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 steps on 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, immediately takes off his glasses. 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?”

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

“No matter. Where you found the left shoe isn’t important.”

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

“Later you give the shoe to Carmi.” This is Driver Dalim’s instruction to the helper who is wearing short pants. The person appointed glances up because he’s a bit surprised.
“It would be better for you to do it, Mr. Dalim.”

“Yes, that’s right. It would be better if it were you, Mr. Dalim,” says the helper wearing trousers, backing up his friend. Driver Dalim sighed then takes of his glasses. Before replacing them again, he speaks in a hushed voice.

“Ah, you don’t know. The thing is, I didn’t have the heart to see Carmi the moment she receives the shoe. Carmi might jump up and down, laugh, or even scream with excitement. Her eyes might sparkle, or on the other hand, she might become teary. Ah, just because of a second-hand shoe taken from a trash can, Carmi’s heart will glow. I wouldn’t have the heart to watch it. It will be very bitter. Do you two have the heart? ”

Without waiting for the answer, Driver Dalim changes his mind. The left shoe will be placed under the tropical almond tree on the eastern 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 holding the left shoe. The two helpers climb onto the back and the truck heads off towards 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 all into sacks or tying it up with nylon rope. Carmi also moves to the side. She has found dozens of used plastic drinking water glasses, arranging them neatly so that they are easy to carry. In her left hand, there is still a yellow plastic sack containing the right shoe. Along with Korep, who is carrying a bunch of half-rotten mangoes, Carmi moves toward the eastern side headed for the shade of the tropical almond tree.

When the air at the garbage dump is extremely hot and there is no wind, a foul odor spreads out everywhere. The sparrows flock in and the dogs too. Who then is there to hear Carmi laugh out loud then scream hooray over and over again? Her loud laughter feels like an outpouring of overflowing happiness that moves the heart.

Those who hear Carmi’s laughter are the dozens of garbage scavengers in the rubbish dump. And it is only them who are able to truly understand and fully appreciate the laughter of the scavenger girl. So behold, the scavengers stand and smile as 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 want to go? Every person at the garbage dump knows that Carmi and Korep do not 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 Kompas on 21 Agustus 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 published in Kompas daily on 15 September 2019.

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

Short Story: Respected Ulema

Respected Ulema

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune-teller and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was simply a theater actor. To be precise, a former theater actor, one who had transferred his acting skills from the stage to everyday life.

From the way he behaved, the way he arranged his facial expressions and from his body language, he managed to convey the impression that he was a truly wise person. This was clear from the large number of people who believed in him without realizing that what they were believing in was a character being played.

That’s how it was, day in and day out. And after many years, Respected Ulema had finally managed to trick even himself. That he actually was really wise, clever, intelligent and knowledgeable. He really did think that with just the powers he wielded, he really was able to show the way to the truth that every person was searching for. What’s more, the responses of all the people around him confirmed this completely.

The only thing was Respected Ulema had started to become sick and forgetful. But not even one person believed it. Respected Ulema himself had never been to the doctor about his illness. Because he thought that if he went to the doctor and had a blood test from a medical laboratory, people wouldn’t trust him anymore.

“How can a person with special power go to the doctor?” That was the response he wanted to avoid.

That was how it was. There were just more and more people who arrived to ask for guidance. So many that it wasn’t possible any longer to serve all of them one by one. The crowd at his house was so large that if it was made to line up, it would be too long. It wouldn’t have gone down even in 24 hours because the people just kept on arriving.

So Respected Ulema made a decision. The solutions for problems wouldn’t be handled for each person one by one, but rather in bulk. There would be one piece of guidance for all the people, and each would have their own interpretation of it.

***

That day, Respected Ulema sat cross-legged in his usual place, a rectangular box which in the theater world was called a “level”. It was enough to have a level that was covered with a cheap woven pandanus mat. That way he would be raised up higher than the people who were gathered in the room. The higher position for him was necessary because it would give the impression he was higher than everything, everything both inside the room, and in the world outside.

In the world of the theater, the stage is the center of the world, and that room was his stage. The theater group he had founded had long since dispersed and the people had now forgotten him. The public now knew him as a person with special powers who was able to answer questions about anything appropriately and correctly, precisely and accurately, so long as he or she was capable of interpreting his guidance.

Everything that came to pass demonstrated the powers of Respected Ulema. Everything that did not eventuate indicated the ignorance of the interpreter. That was the law that applied in the world of Respected Ulema.

From his past life, there remained only that level. He only needed the one. It was more than enough to make him higher than anyone who entered his house, his stage in the real world — and that day there he was, cross-legged, eyes closed, with his head bowed, and his body hunched over. It was not too clear whether he was meditating or dozing.

He himself did not understand why it was that the older he became and the greyer his beard grew that it became easier and easier to doze off. But it was more important for him that the older he became, the more respected he became, even though it wasn’t too clear to him whether he was respected because he was considered wise, or just because he was old.

The morning breeze blew in through one window, and out again through another, making the air cooler, even though the wooden walls were beginning to radiate the golden rays of the sun. They had been waiting since early morning, since before Respected Ulema had woken. After taking a shower, and having breakfast, Respected Ulema appeared, stretched out his hand to place it on the foreheads of the guests, then sat cross-legged on the pandanus mat.

People waited for a very long time. Outside, more and more people were arriving. They couldn’t get in before people inside came out. Word went round that Respected Ulema had not said a word for a long time.

“Ulema doesn’t always say something,” said someone.

“Maybe Ulema won’t say anything,” said another.

“Of course Ulema doesn’t need to say anything,” said someone else.

“Ulema will provide signs.”

As if receiving a way out, everyone waited. If he did not make an utterance, Respected Ulema should provide a sign, as had been interpreted up till now by the seekers of guidance. Whereas if he spoke, Respected Ulema’s words would not provide guidance directly, becoming signs in themselves.

As a result, in addition to referring to Respected Ulema, those seeking guidance had to take advantage of the services of the sign readers around him. It was not at all clear how they could spring up and become part of the phenomena of Respected Ulema, who clearly sometimes the cost of remuneration for these sign readers was far greater than the voluntary remuneration for Respected Ulema. How much? While Respected Ulema had never said a word about remuneration, the sign readers always said, “The amount is up to you.”

In order not to make a mistake, the people who needed the guidance of Respected Ulema would give a payment larger than appropriate, which was on occasion accepted with a grumble.

“You all said you needed help, and Respected Ulema’s guidance will solve your problems, why are you so tardy about providing a payment. Don’t expect everything to be all your way now…”

***

Respected Ulema suddenly started to cough. Some thought he was ill, but the readers of signs begged to differ.

“Get ready! Get ready!”

“Record it! Record it!”

Hundreds of people took out their cellphones. And Respected Ulema’s coughing was recorded while no one assisted him. Only when Respected Ulema himself was forced to mime a person drinking, did someone fetch him some mineral water.

After having a drink, Respected Ulema looked calmer, although his chest was still heaving up and down. Nevertheless, people had begun approaching the sign readers who immediately started to discuss this sign which took the form of coughing.

“Please, how many times did Respected Ulema cough?” asked one sign interpreter.

A recording was played so the coughs could be counted.

“Forty times.”

“Thirty-nine.”

“I count forty-one?”

“Hey! Why are there different numbers? It has to be correct. Different numbers will have different meanings!” commanded an interpreter of signs.

To achieve the same number among hundreds of people was obviously not going to be easy. It took a long time to reach agreement. Respected Ulema had coughed 45 times.

“Wow, such a big difference. If you had tried to interpret the meaning before, it would have been wrong, hey?”

So, what does Respected Ulema’s 45 coughs mean?

One of the interpreters of signs said, “Because the meaning is for every person, and because each problem is different, every person is to receive a whispered interpretation which must be kept secret. Do not ever reveal this secret, because it’s good luck will immediately disappear.”

Each interpreter conveyed more or less the same thing to the people surrounding him. But as it happened Respected Ulema started coughing again, and despite the fact that his coughing was very severe, so severe that Ulema collapsed onto his stomach suffocating, people were more inclined to respond to it as if it were merely a series of signs.

“Record it! Record it! Record it!”

“Don’t miss even one movement!”

It is true that someone did hand him a bottle of mineral water as they massaged his back, but his coughing did not stop this time until Ulema’s eyes began to bulge and his tongue hung out when his coughs merged together without any more pauses and transformed into one extended suffocation.

A strange noise emanated from his throat, like a loud exhaling, to a casual onlooker it was like the snoring of someone asleep.

Then Respected Ulema did not move anymore.

“Did you get it all?” asked one of the interpreters of signs.

“Praise be to God… Got it!”

***

Years later, people would continue to visit the tomb of Respected Ulema seeking guidance and searching for signs. Every sign originating in the events of his death was said to have the power to overcome most problems, if not every problem, thanks to the successful interpretations of the sign interpreters. Life and death – was there a meaning of greater significance than that?

Until today, people still visit to climb the hill, heading for the tomb of Respected Ulema which is located under a tree and deliberately isolated from the other graves. People spend the night in the area, light frankincense or incense, then surrender themselves to nature.

According to the people who believe themselves the recipients of guidance, they have received the signs from Respected Ulema from the stars in the sky, the rustling of the wind or the falling of the leaves carried on the wind. Can there be anything richer in the universe as a source of interpretation of all meaning?

A caretaker is now present at the tomb. He can help resolve the meaning of any sign, and really has earned a great amount of money.

There are also those who have told of Respected Ulema appearing in their dreams and how he has become overjoyed.

Even though it was mentioned earlier, Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune teller, and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was merely a humble theater actor – something not many people know about. (*)

(Villa Cendana, Kampung Utan, Saturday, 15 December 2018, 5.00 p.m.)

 


Respected Ulema (Kiyai Sepuh) was published in Jawa Pos on 6 January 2019. Seno Gumira Ajidarma is an Indonesian writer, novelist, and film critic. Retrieved from LakonHidup.com

Featured image credit: Ludruk Karya Budaya, Mojokerto, by Ulet Ifansasti https://www.instagram.com/p/BtLgEDTBlux/  and  https://www.uletifansasti.com/transgendersoperaludruk

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/