Thursday, October 29, 2009

The Couple

==== I've just found this old short story I wrote back in 2000, this one is a repost from The Jakarta Post, 1 Jan 2001 ===

"I'm tired." The woman drinks her orange juice slowly. Her voice has no intonation. Her face does not reflect any particular emotion. In every sense she looks like a stone sculpture. Even the man sitting in front of her has difficulty in knowing whether she is breathing or not.

"It's all over. That's all." She was not furious, but the man felt burnt by her words. The smoke that was getting into his eyes was more than the smoke from his cigarette. Unfortunately, he dared not guess what was causing his vision to become clouded. Because,
he remembered very well that his sight was perfect when she agreed to live with him five years ago. At that time, Bandung was so dull. The ground had not yet dried out after days of rain, but it seemed that the sky wanted to pour down still more rain onto the sodden city.

"I love you!" he burst out like a thunderclap, the rain starting to fall. She remained silent for she had already known that for years.

"I want you to be my wife."

She remained quiet. Eventually he was silent too. She only stared out with her dark brown eyes, unblinking. After several minutes had passed, she smiled and said, "You have been my husband, haven't you?"

He was amazed. She went on, "Haven't we already been married?" He was still more taken back. Her face shone. "It was not very long ago. It was when the full moon and the ocean drove the waves onto Pangandaran beach. Don't you remember that?" He was more and more shocked. They had never visited Pangandaran beach together! "Here," she pointed gracefully at her chest, enchanted, imprinting a challenge, "I consider that it has already happened."

Two months after that, they looked for a house to rent. For one and a half weeks, they were busy decorating the rooms. Over the course of the next five months everything was wonderful for them as a newlywed couple. Then, one day she received a scholarship from a company, sponsoring her to study abroad. The next couple of years were full of her long letters describing her various activities there with the hope that those letters would shorten the distance between them.

"I am always with you, honey." Such sweet endings in her letters encouraged him to tell her everything that was happening in their beloved Bandung in his replies.

"The snow, honey, is, surprisingly, not as cold as I imagined. It is the room in which I am writing this letter that forces me to wear these overalls; it's so cold here without you. Thank God, I can see in the distance that there are some sakura (cherry) blossoms still." She always expresses her longing beautifully. That one letter drove him to visit Pangandaran beach. He was alone at first, but the moon ... so seductive. The long silent sea began to wreathe again. After that visit to Pangandaran beach, he found himself unable to reply to her letters. His silence lasted for months.

One day she wrote a letter telling the story of the spring. "... he loves me, honey. How strange it is! As a woman, of course I feel flattered, even though I've never once thought about having an affair with him. My love for you lies deeper than anything in my heart, my love is entirely for you. My life is only with you, honey. Please answer this hope, please reply to me."

She was so open about the possibility of her being unfaithful. Without any hesitation she wrote about a young man from the Land of the Rising Sun who was in love with her. He couldn't be sure of her determination in facing such a natural challenge, and he also knew that his doubts came from the fact that he himself lacked the determination to refuse the flatteries of the moon.

Finally he wrote a reply of twelve pages, a letter full of lies. She wrote back very nicely, "Of course, I understand that you have busy weeks there. Soon after I come back home, I really hope we can pay a visit to Pangandaran beach. I'll never allow myself to loose this hope, honey. I want to spend all my life with you." Meanwhile, after reading that letter, he couldn't forget that the tide had been coming in when he visited Pangandaran beach. It had been so rough until the dawn came, when the sands of the beach finally submitted to the waves. The ocean was calm when red began to paint the horizon.

However, he couldn't deny the fact that he truly loved her when he picked her up at Soekarno-Hatta airport. Almost automatically, his lips sounded a moan to the slim body in his arms, `'Please forgive me. Please forgive me."

Everything became clear. Actually, she had already known about his affair without him having put it into words. It was as if he were a naughty pupil in front of a patient teacher, a little boy blushing without any reprimand. "At last, we begin our life again!" She entered their house without paying any special attention to her new knowledge about him. "Do you know?", she kissed him lightly, and went on, "never in my life have I felt so happy as I do today!"

He convinced himself that she adored him and could forgive him for anything. From here on they entered a wonderful life without any difficulties. There was nothing wrong in their life. There was nothing boring. Well, at least for nine months, until she broached a topic they had never talked about before.

"I want a baby, honey." She was in his arms, spoiling herself while telling him about a wish he couldn't understand. She was calm as usual, as if she was talking about some trivial matter.

"A child? Our child?"

"Yes, of course our child. Do you think I would want anybody else's?"

"I can't," he released his arm in a rush, like the moon rushes to hide behind the clouds, "don't you understand?"

She stared with her dark-brown glistening eyes. "We won't have any difficulties in having a child. Oh my love, I want to hold him. I want to feel a baby in my womb, growing from the seed you have sowed in me. He'll be the proof of our love."

"Can't you understand? I can't think of what our baby would become. This world is evil. This world is a jungle. Do you have the heart to let our child be intoxicated by this lunatic 'great civilization'?"

"We'll love him. Look after him!"

"Then the television will snatch him from us. A mass of lies will attack him through the media! What kind of world will greet him? How will we know that he is truly alive and not only a corpse that lives? Do you have the heart to have a child?"

For the next couple of weeks there was no full moon in Bandung. The dark sky cloaked it. He hid himself in his invisible fortress by becoming active again in attending various discussions until late in the night, swamping himself with tons of paperwork, or typing in his study. He failed to convince her that she was still a complete woman even though she didn't have a child.

"There are a lot of things that have disappeared from this house, honey," she said two days ago while preparing breakfast for him. "Are those are not toothpicks, forks, or paintings on the wall?"

"What's up? Your words are not clear. I don't understand."

She didn't move at all. Her dark-brown eyes were empty as she said, "I love you, Honey," Her voice was so soft, almost a sob, that it made him really want to hold her, to give her the spirit she had lost. "But I'm tired," she continued.

He needed two days to calm his mind in the countryside, alone. Today he met her again. She was sitting in the library without turning the page of the book she was supposed to be reading.

"Is a child so important to you?"

"And you haven't changed your mind?" she asked back. When there was no answer to her question, she closed the book in her hand slowly. "It seems that's the case. Well, I've made up my mind."

He lit a cigarette, inhaling the smoke deeply. She stared at him, making him restless. He had to go to the kitchen to avoid the knives in those eyes. He reentered the library with two glasses of orange juice. She accepted the orange juice, taking a few sips, then he heard the decision, "I want us to separate, honey."

"Haven't you even tried to understand?"

"It's been eight months that we have been in this situation. You've never tried to talk through it rationally. You keep running away and doing everything but really talking with me. Now everything must be clarified. It must be ended."

"Why must we end this life?"

"I am tired." The woman drinks her orange juice slowly. Her voice has no intonation. Her face does not reflect any particular emotion. In every sense she looks like a stone sculpture. "It's all over. That's all."

The smoke of his cigarette poignantly gets into his eyes, but he feel a deeper sorrow lying deep in his heart. A thread is very slowly being pulled tighter and tighter there. ++++

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