Sunday, June 21, 2009

Trifling Matters

==== ==== ====(FB Version) Notes: Aku unggah ini untuk Hendri, the only real person I use for character in this short story, a person who "disappear" some eleven years ago and his "lost" had inspired me to write this during the chaotic days of 98'.
Geez, I wrote fiction. Any similarity to the characters, events, and places was a mere accidental and you could read this at your own risk. EF 2009)==== ==== ====

My blood stopped flowing for seconds when the lightening sparked and I saw silhouette of a man peeping through the stained glass wall of the foyer. He moved to the door and after the thunder ceased, I could hear him knocking.

I hurried to open the door. Fumbling with the novel I had been reading, I struggled to hold the door open in the wind, “Yes?”

“Is this Mmmm... Mot... Mo,” he groped around his pockets, took a wet note outside, tried to read blurred words, “…Mo ... Momit’s home?”


“Is Hendri here? He sent me telegram to come. I am Teges.”

“Oh, yes!” Hendri had told me that his friend from Yogya would pay a visit. “Come in, quick! We can’t just stand here like this!”

Then he stepped in. He looked terrible with wet clothes stick on his body. I had guest an immature deity. He was angry for his wrong time landing on earth. He stamped his feet letting water slip off his pants. “Good Lord! Twelve minutes knocking the door! Where is everyone?”

“Sorry, the rain is really heavy!”

Teges was now in the foyer, put his rotten bag on table, sat and snorted. “It’s okay.”

He took a pack out of a rotten bag, picked out a cigarette and lit it. Then he took off his shoes, bare feet wrinkled and wet from the rain. “What book are you reading?”


“Ha! Virginia the nutty.”

The way he said that… A man who spoke in such “lovely” tone about Virginia must read her books as well, and would never be dangerous. Regardless of my astonishment on his odd behaviour, I offered him hot drink.

“Coffee! Nas-gi-thel!!”[1] He responded too quickly. His favourite. Three spoons of sugar.
No, wait. I should recall everything more carefully.

Teges came to see Hendri, my old friend –his too—that came earlier from Bandung. He had searched for the house for half hour in the rain and was so relieved now. He even said nothing else about Momit, just asked to see Hendri. His face, I swear now, was blushing when I told him Hendri had been in the house for two days, and was sleeping in my room.

“The roof leaks everywhere in the guest room,” I set his face back to its original colour, “only tadpoles can be happy there.”

“Compared to that, your room must be far more comfy for Hendri …”

Strangely, there was an urge to reason with him, “Nah, it came this morning. Toothache. I isolated him there, with five hundred milligram Ponstan every two hours.”

Better that way so we had our first encounter alone. Our first coffee evening: he called me with my real name he read on first page of Orlando. We soon talked about several giant weirdoes in literature. He had very good comments on Virginia Woolf, Iwan Simatupang, and Kafka. We chatted merrily and forget about other things—about Hendri. We both were startled when Hendri popped up there.

Hendri was much happier than in the morning, his eyes still even shone when he smiled with his puffy cheeks. “Rascal!” He shook hands with Teges, “How long you’ve been here?”

“Two days plus toothache,” Teges teased him, had wicked spark in the eyes.

“Damned!” Hendri laughed and then turned to me. “Momit, this is the rascal I told you yesterday.”
At that moment, Teges had “Oooh!” for knowing me, not a man, was Momit the host.

* * *

By the end of that year, he had come several times and like other fellows from other towns, knew that I lived alone, he used to stay overnight. He insisted to go home twice, but that was his only way to show manners I believed he lacked of.

I have no idea. What things we talked about every time he came? Enduring the night with beers or cups of coffee until dawn, sitting under cigarette smoke, we spent nights abandoning the Disconnectedness. Yeah, I named it correctly now. That was not a problem of not listening to each other. That was… us.
He explained about Simone de Beauvoir, I spoke about Simon Bolivar. Responding to each other, we exchanged our growing enthusiasm until he realised how strange Madame de Beauvoir wandered across South America[2]. Awareness always comes late. I described the preceding times before Franz Marc got killed, he said other thing about Friedrich Engels wrote the Manifesto[3]. We shared the same mistake on discussing King Mulawaran’s footprints in Batu Tulis[4] and on how Hitler fanatically built a civilisation in Maharasthra…[5] Thus, actually, what we had ever talked?

Time passed, and I recalled little of significance. Instead, my memory is filled with trifling matters: white scarf, tacky reproduction painting, tin ashtray, black sandals, Arabic encyclopaedia, tomatoes and the nasgithel coffee. Oh, of course: Hendri. Always talked about Hendri, we exchanged memories of him and laughed at it. Two months after the toothache, Hendri sailed to… Ivory Coast? Or Siberia? Darwin? Was it Amsterdam? Or Wellington? We received no news from him, we kept asking to each other, “How’s Hendri?”

* * *

Teges laughed out loud when I told my first experience drawing a model in class. The Lecturer enjoyed seeing students getting anxious looking at a naked model. I liked the Lecturer –what is his name? Slim, dark complexion, tousled hair… “Pulse! Muscles! Don’t draw leather! I want to see what’s behind it. I want to see the blood beneath the skin!”

Teges helped me avoiding Lecturer’s scowls and scolding. Practicing. Always practicing. I never believed I drew more than dry sandal leather. I was crazy training my hand. He was my model: hand, thighs, neck, chest... He always said, swore, that drawing his naked body was obscenity… Up to now, years after, I get defective result whenever I try to draw him and, deep inside, I feel something... painful.

... Cubism: parts of Teges were in all my paintings. He grumbled more, alleged me distort him into broken vase, fragmented wardrobe, torn hat, smashed wall, halved cow. His contentions became worse towards the abstract paintings later. No. I don’t remember how he was when inspecting my art. It was long after practicing model drawing. It was third year of his study. He got loads of paper to write, fuel for his growing irritation towards my joyous art exploration.

Oh God. Thanks. I remember first time visiting him. I had to see him after three weeks he was swamped in his study. The sky was becoming orange when I arrived at his town. Yogya was still a strange town for me that time. I finally found his place at nine PM. He was typing. Not a study paper, it’s the skeleton of his first ambitious book. Yes, serious writer, his dream was authoring an acclaimed work. I didn’t mean to sneak up, but his focus was completely on his writing so he didn’t hear I came. My hands were cold. Quietly I used them to close his eyes—his glasses. I should never forget this thing—glasses.

“Surprise, darling!” I never whispered those words: his punch on my chest was a reflex of a pencak silat master[6]. There was a silent blast inside stopped me from breathing before I felt into darkness. The pain was sickening when I recovered, he didn’t realise I opened my eyes and saw his eyes glistened with tears. He held my hands, incessantly murmured unclear words. He thought I was dead. Certainly, his cry wasn’t because of he thought I was dead. Instead, it came out from thinking he caused me died…

* * *

What else I remember from those years? He smiled under the mango tree. White shirt. Renoma socks. He played guitar in my studio in October... Drinking brem at Radisson Bali. Rotten bag. ... How sad. I know certain fragments by heart, in details, but fail to recall what my emotions were at that time. Lying down now, with open eyes I can remember some bad moments. Still, I cannot recollect the anger, joy, sadness, despair, longing, hate, loneliness, surprised, afraid, happiness, spirit, astonishment— the insomnia becomes agonizing.

He often went into hiding. I waited for his call from somewhere. I repeatedly worried —particularly when he disappeared for weeks… How it began? It was days when wedang[7] price doubled every other day. There was no becak[8] driver could afford iced tea when it rose up from one hundred fifty to seven hundred Rupiahs per glass in five days and kept hiking up. It was time of organising and gathering. Comrades showed up from many different places, more and more people saw Teges as leader everyday, and we were then activists. Protesters. We marched on the street; first only hundreds in number, then thousands… Too many times I could do nothing but cooped up myself in studio. It was chaotic everyday. Tear gas, rattan sticks beating, water canon, fire, rubber bullets, … and blood. I saw it dropped. I saw it shed. It sank me in agony.
I made dozens paintings of boots kicking Teges in April. Damn! What else from those months I can remember? First rally scenario, back up anticipation, emergency escape preparation. Plans. Covert meetings. Underground flyers: “No to the Election!” “Down the price!” Yes, there were foreign media interviews via international phone line. Deutsche Welle. VOA. The New Yorker. South China Morning. BBC. Asiaweek…

Teges was arrested on University Boulevard. He said firmly, “I believe justice is unquestionable, Momit.” Then most editors rejected his writings. He raged, “Their self-censorships!” Soon after that we had New Cabinet, and he calmly said on the phone, “I can’t come, Momit. Who ask you to wait for me? No, don’t miss me. You are romantic like the government!”

Afterwards, days of totally no communication came: two months without him and the nasgithel coffee. He came two days only after anti riot squad broke his nose in May Day. His tears broke my heart when he murmured, “People of this rich country are extremely poor, Momit. We must act now.”

What did he said, he do, that made my painting brush turn into axe, saw, hammer, sickle? Ay, have the Going-Bonker-from-Waiting-for-the-Call days ever happened?

This is sad. This condition is of losing memories. Amnesia? No. Perhaps this is what the whole world agreed upon “senility” word. Declining of brain function. Senile. Senility. Ironically, I find no white hair every time I look for aging sign on the mirror. No matter how often I dream of one morning with greyish hair on my head... Heaven forbid! This is terrible. When did he start wearing Renoma socks?It was the fifth or sixth year of his journalism study. We talked about Vaclav Havel one day and about Dolly cloning the other day. What year was Lee Kuan Yew became First Minister? At beginning of that year, Teges began to stay more than three days, brought his books, clothes, abundant works, flu, tomatoes ... the once leaky roofed room became his. We began to share the common chores: cooking dinner, paying bills, cleaning, making coffee, washing… Yup, it’s right. He hated ironing my undergarments. “You, Milk-Smelt-Child, stop this undershirt!” Annoying allusions... What is the importance of changing or adding the undershirt with bra? Anyway, at that time I couldn’t stand the names he called me… I decided it's enough and never again would I wear anything under my clothes.

* * *

“I’m scared.” Holding breath, I said it three times before he heard. I remember this one clearly. I can always reshape picture of the ceiling in my mind. The yellow curtains… I heard Pink Floyd’s Mother faintly out from mini compo I forgot to turn off. There was traditional motive book on the floor and a dying moth on the spider web at the ventilation. The way he stared… he took off his glasses, said, “I understand.”

The swell took us then. He whispered softly, “We’ll sail to Island of Joy.” His breath … I could lick it sweet. What did he understand? I hugged him and heard his heart pounding. Teges was sensuously real, as true as the horror was. It was with us. I could feel it, like being watched by a frustrating jealous lover. The nightmare I tried to tell him, did he truly understand it? I don’t. Perhaps I was only thirteen or something when the horror happened, and became constant nightmare everyday after… No. I will never understand it. I kissed, kissed, and kissed him, but it was magic realism directed by all Tarantino, Rushdie, De Palma, Luc Besson, Ben Jelloun absorbed him into the fast moving scenes. Through his shoulder I saw… Papa’s library. Papa smiled when I picked Sang Pemula. “Good, that’s worth of reading.” The tone was changed then, “Leave pop readings. They are for ladies!” Loathing gleamed on his teeth … Teges and I began rowing the boat. We were nearing the rougher sea; it felt like I moved from books on the shelves. Papa brought me those exotic journeys, opened the delightful worlds of reading since my childhood, and also overlapped them with the horror… I once had Mama. I had had Mama. No. It’s distorted … Mama was gorgeous in her afternoon dress, too beautiful for a pistol on her forehead. This! This scene is always in slow motion! Papa’s voice was humming, baritone, “Lot’s enemy!”… There was no sound of nine-millimetre calibre when he pulled the trigger. Muffler. Spattered skull. Its… greyish white porridge, the red syrup was too much. Mama?

Teges and I stopped rowing. We almost reached… the unreachable Island of Joy, with Papa’s voice got louder in my head and the porridge sank into red syrup. “Do I hurt you?” His voice was halting. He was reddish. The breath. He controlled the love boat with amazing expertise of skilled sailor. Perfect attentiveness.

“Don’t stop!” Even now, I can see him closed his eyes slowly while the room was changing… into my room in Siloam Gleneagles Hospital, Sisterhood Charity, and a discreet mental institution at the end. There were incinerating injections, stifled any shriek... then home: Papa welcomed me with a bear hug. His hair was grey—since when?—and his eyes stony as he told me about Sodom. Mama lived there… pistol on the forehead was for a defector.

Teges and I entered the vortex, holding each other hands tightly, scared of anything could separate us at anytime. Papa’s face filling the room, I was trembling from fear. What did Teges understand? He and I were inside the whirlpool. Unite. Universe. It provoked a huge wave inside me wreck the boat. Then quiet. We cast on an empty shore soaked and salty. Then silence. And my tears dropped. Island of Joy? Land of Void?

Ah, longing to drowse now, I can visualize how strange the sob was: sadness and happiness at once. Oddly, I grasped Kundera’s philosophy in seconds. Sadness was the knowledge that, apparently, my body was only part of Universe. Happiness was that acquaintance made me know my own body. Sadness was the form. Happiness was its content.

“Sorry,” Teges combed my hair with his fingers, kissed my eyes. He was nervous. Suddenly I got it clear: it’s the first time he knew his manhood—how sad, the Disconnectedness… ha ha hah! Happiness and Sadness. Happiness was to know the sameness of being the first one. Sadness was to know that ours are not same. Happiness became the form. Sadness fulfilled it.

* * *

Teges thought about finishing his study. Graduated. Degree. Less visits, he wrote letter weekly, repetitively apologised, “Love needs only devotion, but the body doesn’t understand.” Scraps! There is no delight or whatsoever when I open them now, the melodramatic stories of a man fighting against boredom. He closed all letter with wonderful greetings—Rahayu. This magic was enchanting, but now I find them… slurs. At least, they were dark humours of his excellent wit, an actor’s talent to apply breathtaking techniques of come and go on the stage.

“Your father has three stars, right? Why you hide that?” He wore the white shirt. “Answer me! You fooled me as I sweat on the streets… beaten by the military… this is the reason you don’t want to involve more on the street? Because of your father is a general!”

This is my fault.There was no word in my entire vocabulary could explain the horror. “No, darling, I just can’t.”

He responded—what? It was one of Unforgettable-Great-Quarrels, but now I only remember the television was broadcasting Twilight Orchestra played Handel. Eh, or it was a Handelish Disney cartoon? Don’t know.

He didn’t understand. The man who interrogated him for days was… not Papa. That was the man who denied me. That man refused to have a daughter sent to the mental clinic. “My child is an embarrassment.” That man uttered his growl, “My child will be normal. Always!”

“I don’t have Papa.” … it’s more than two years I was with steel bracelets and straight jackets… that grey haired man looking for his daughter had had me a high school certificate to enrol the art academy. But he was not Papa because he never had mental daughter, because he insisted most of my nightmares were never happened: tentacles of hell, white room with unreachable windows trapped time to stop clocking there… I’d never been so desperate, trying to tell him, “I don’t have Papa.” And he didn’t understand.

* * *

He left some stuffs. Renoma socks. Black sandals. Books—I notice his signatures curled on the front page of these artefacts. Balinese sarong. Pens. White shirt—I wore it for days in the first months after I tried not to hug him. “I will never forget you,” his lips were moving from mine. I was numb. He went for eight days after Three-Stars-General, when he came back he immediately argued, “No matter what, the wedding needs your father. He said he wants to accompany you as my bride.”

Was that a marriage proposal? Didn’t he always warn me that he was an activist who must preserve his idealism? Father of the bride? Who? Father? The iron bracelets… Grey porridge in red syrup… If Teges came back, said the same, and waited for my response, I still don’t know what to say.

He packed. He left. He never came again.

I met Hendri eight months later. “If you both love each other,” Hendri said prudently... Had we ever  really talked bout love? Confessions in his letters … Rahayu, a wish for peace. Dark comedy that came into light when Hendri continued, “Why did you send him back to his wife?”

Ever since looked at Wise-Face-of-Hendri-the-Sailorman, I was sure it’s not a decline in brain function hampered my effort to recall about this wife thing. It’s not the Disconnectedness… this never existed. Until now, I’d been searching for the missing piece in remembering him… None.

“He named their daughter Virginia. His wife knew that it is, somehow, for you.”

Daughter! I was a na├»ve cave man…

Hendri showed up again in the next year: “Now I know why you refused him to be your husband,” possibly Hendri was drunk after wine-flooded opening ceremony of my gala exhibition, “when I met him at the Book Fair several days ago, the Rascal told me nonsense about your insanity…”

That means he knew.Before we rowed our dream boat, he said, “I understand.” Yes… he took off his glasses, closed his eyes: he didn’t want to see the nightmare. Damned! This insomnia getting more unbearable: it’s only ten past four in the morning. Preparation for Cuba had finished two days ago… Trienalle… The committees, those people, why they are always writing about my struggle against the regime, fighting for gender equalities and the dark realities of women I painted on my canvas with my blade-brush... news on the papers, compliments, art critiques, biography on every catalogues: constantly wrong! I just try to understand the nightmare. I want … to find that missing piece. I fight against only one thing: declined brain function. Senility! Senile! … The flight will be on eleven. Maybe there is enough time …

* * *

Heavy rain. I run to the front door. His white shirt was soaking wet. He began to lose his patience … “A-ha! Virginia the Nutty.”...

* * *end* * *
Solo-Yk, March 1998
(Rewritten in English for Writer Realms, March 2008)

© Era Fiyantiningrum

[1] Nas-gi-thel or panas-legi-kenthel, popular Javanese term for sweet and strong cofee served stirred in boiling water.
[2] Simon Bolivar (1783-1830), the leader of revolutions against Spanish rule in New Granada (renamed Colombia —including Venezuela and Ecuador as well as Colombia), Peru, and Bolivia; Simone de Beauvoir (1908-1986), French feminist, writer, and leading existentialist, and known primarily for her treatise The Second Sex.
[3] Franz Marc (1880-1916), German painter who was killed in World War I, known for the intense nature mysticism of his paintings; Friedrich Engels (1820-1895), German revolutionary political economist. With Karl Marx (1818-1883), he was co-founder of scientific socialism—or, communism.
[4] Mulawarman was the king of Kutai kingdom in Borneo, it was believed that he reigned around early 5th century AD. Batutulis in present-day Bogor was an archeological site of the oldest kingdom in West Java, Tarumanegara kingdom (also known as To-lo-ma in Chinese sources). Its most powerful king was Purnawarwan.
[5] Most people know that Hitler had obsession to purify the “Aryan race”, which is drawn upon the notion propagated by Comte de Gobineau and his disciple Houston Stewart Chamberlain. Originally (?) Aryan was a Sanskrit word arya, “noble”, which refers to a people who settled in Iran and northern India during the prehistoric times. Their language also called Aryan was the origin of Indo-European languages of South Asia; Maharasthra is a state in India, well-known for its long history in independence as well as in art, and for its capital Mumbai (or, Bombay).
[6] Pencak silat, one of traditional Malay martial arts
[7] Hot beverages, typical of Yogyakarta, Central, and East Java, usually sold in food stalls on the street.
[8] Pedicab