Selasa, 11 Desember 2007

A Home To Build

(cerpen ini dimuat di The Jakarta Post, Minggu 2 Juli 2007)

Since I decided to leave home, I had only the night sky to shelter me when I slept. I had moved from one town to another, traveling from one alley to another, and had never returned to my birthplace. I would never return home, let alone allow my nose to sniff the smell of the streets of my hometown. This was my vow, my love.

Why? you asked, a week before an earthquake destroyed my hometown.

I have cursed you many times. I have asked you never to ask again, even once. I have forgotten the road to home. But I wonder why I have always replied to your question, although after giving you this reply I feel giddier than ever.

Ugh! You know why I am reluctant to return home? My feet no longer know which way they have to tread to reach the veranda. And my hands -- yes, they no longer long to knock on the door.

I would become even more reluctant to return home when I recall the stare of my father's fiery red eyes.You are talking nonsense, come on! My temper boils at your snide comment.I want to give vent to my anger, but I'm reluctant to slap you in the face. If only you were not my dear love, I would tear up your small mouth. I would slice your red lips and put the slices in the refrigerator so that I can look at the quivering of your passionate and cold lips. It's lucky, I still love you.

I will never return home! Just this much I have to explain to you: I won't think of home. You see, thinking of home will make me sick.I'm sick of watching the fire in my father eyes, always burning red. It was enough for me to watch on that unlucky night how my mother ran out of tears when father, who always came home late at night and very drunk, beat her black and blue.

My love, on that daybreak I was suddenly awakened. It was as if I had waked from a nightmare. I felt restless all over. I shivered. I did not know why the floor of my bedroom, which seemed so silent, seemed to make time stop.There was no ticking sound from the clock and it was really an eerie silence. The walls almost cracked and the cupboard seemed to tremble. And the ground seemed to split in two...

I got up and went to the window to look out into the yard. The lightbulb at the end of the road was shaking lightly. The morning seemed dead.The town I had migrated to now seemed to be dead and silent. The flowers seemed to all be very tired. That morning, fear truly gripped me.Then I returned to my bed. I looked at the clock on the screen of my cell phone. It was no longer night, but it was still so on my cell phone. I was dazed.

A blue prayer rug touched my heart. I prayed when time stood still. I did not know what had happened to time. Would time crawl on although the soil had cracked? I thought and thought but got no reply and, unawares, I fell asleep again, soundly.

Again, I was awakened. This time, it was not because of a nightmare. I had awoken suddenly because the loud ring tone seemed to deafen my ears. I got up slowly and grabbed my cell phone.

"Come on, how much longer can you avoid returning home?" It was my love, calling me that morning.Indeed, she usually calls me in the morning, just to while away the dawn or to ask me to take her to work.

But this time, her call made me sick."I told you time and again never to ask me to return home!"

"Even if an earthquake has devastated your town?"

"Yeah, even if the wind blows so hard it makes my house collapse, I will never go home!"

Quiet... I could only hear the sound of my love's breath. She was taking in a sigh...

"OK, if you insist. Now turn on the television. I can tell you what has happened," she said, then hung up.

I turned on the television. It was 8:55 a.m. by the clock on the wall. While waiting for the picture to appear, I prepared coffee.A while later my heart missed a beat when I saw the hysterical faces of the people in my town. They were running helter-skelter for safety. The fear of a tsunami had frightened them beyond reason.

The light from the television seemed to be stabbing right into my eyes. I felt hit by a powerful shock so that I took a few steps backward, disbelieving my eyes. I was dumbfounded.I had never suspected that on that violet daybreak, when I had awoken and stared out of the window, my town had been devastated by an earthquake. My mother suddenly appeared in my mind.I picked up my cell phone and immediately contacted my elder sister. It failed to go through. I knew the telecommunications network was also devastated. I tried to send a short message. It failed. I was worried now, terribly worried.No other choice. I packed my clothes and headed for home.

At midnight sharp, I arrived in my hometown. It was a gripping night. No light. Only a few kerosene lamps were on, with their lame light glowing at some corners of the road.Still, I recognized the narrow alley leading to my house. It was located close to the old Yogya bus terminal, so I had no difficulty finding my way in the pitch, dark night.It had been nearly four years since I had left my hometown. There had barely been any progress.

The fool I was! How could I see any progress when an earthquake had ripped the town apart! Buildings had collapsed. Most of the houses I passed on my way home had also collapsed.When I got into the narrow alley to home, I suddenly felt my body go cold. The night wind was blowing strongly, and I pulled my jacket closer to my body.

I almost fainted a few meters from my house, when I saw it almost flattened to the ground. Only a small part at the front was still intact, sustaining only a few cracks here and there.A small kerosene lamp shone dimly. Sorrow engulfed me, but a short while later, I shook in a deep sigh upon the sight of an old woman behind the part still standing.I immediately knew she was my mother. But I did not see the man who usually accompanied her. Where was the tattooed, well-built and long-haired man? Had he died? Or was he in hospital because he had been injured by falling debris?It was obvious I would never shed any tears for my father, even if he had really lost his life in this disaster.

Since I decided to leave home about four years ago, I had only the night sky to shelter me when I slept. I had always moved from one town to another, from one alley to another.Now I have returned. I'm back with the family. The earthquake destroyed my family home.Although my family is safe, I can't and won't return to Jakarta before my house is put up again. Obviously, I can't, my love.

Why have you suddenly changed your mind? Wasn't it you yourself who said you would never go home? You asked me by SMS a week after an earthquake jolted my town. Have you made peace with your dad?This is what I'm about to tell you, my love. I once thought I would not feel sad if my dad were dead.

I was wrong, my love. I would surely feel sad and I would have felt guilty for all my life if God had grants my wish that father should perish in the earthquake.Why? You will certainly ask me this question, I know.You are always so curious! This is why you exasperate me, my love. But this time, your question won't annoy me. I miss you. That's why I want to tell you all. Please, listen to me...

Very early that morning, two hours before the earthquake jolted my town, my dad got home. As usual, my mom opened the door and found him really drunk. My mom helped him in and then he lay down on the floor. He vomited, sending out a strong pungent smell. I was familiar with this smell.

Almost every day, my dad would return home staggering, with rambling speech. If I, my elder sister and mom saw him come home and go to bed right away, we would all be at peace. We could have a sound sleep. Even if my dad snored loudly, we would not feel disturbed because he could not break the plates or beat mom black and blue.You might not believe me, dear -- I can hardly believe it myself, my love. But my homecoming was worth it.

When the earthquake shook our town that gray dawn, my dad woke up with a start -- it was strong enough to wake even him in his drunken sleep. Usually, he would sleep like a log and would not wake until late afternoon. My mom had just completed her morning prayer.

Staggering, my dad went outside, followed by mom. The cold earth suddenly became warm. The earthquake continued and the house collapsed. Then came the hysterical wailing and crying.

Mom called out to God and Dad became more and more confused. Amid the booming sound of the quake, people ran everywhere in a panic. They were afraid that a tsunami would come. Dad got on his motorcycle and took Mom to the north.

What was on Dad's mind? I've asked myself this question.

"I was afraid. Not that I was afraid of death, but I was afraid I would die drunk. So I asked God for one thing -- `Please do not let me die drunk,'" Dad told me later. "God did not want me dead yet, it seems. He has allowed me to live longer and I have to keep my promise to God. I repent."

Oh, I forgot to tell you, my love. That night I returned, Dad was not at home. Mom told me he was working as a volunteer in Bantul. I did not see him until the next morning.It was but a brief meeting -- Dad returned to Bantul immediately. I stayed at home for a week and during this time, I never saw his fiery, blood-shot eyes. Instead, I saw a peace in his eyes, especially when I saw him after prayers. His eyes glowed with peace, even though our house is not yet rebuilt.I'm happy to hear your story, but when will you return to Jakarta? you asked.

Ah, obviously, I can't return to Jakarta so soon, my dear. I'm waiting for our house to be rebuilt. Next week, the entire neighborhood will work together to rebuild all our houses.I will certainly return to Jakarta, but of course, only after all the houses have been rebuilt. I know, my love, you miss me dearly. But I can, for a brief while, forget the stretch of grey sky above Jakarta. I am needed here at home.

-- Kota Wisata, May 31, 2006

The writer is a native of Lasem, Central Java, and has contributed short stories, poems, opinion pieces and book reviews to a number of media since 2002. He was named best short story writer in a contest held by the Syarif Hidayatullah State Islamic University-Yogya in 2003. His first short story anthology, Malam Minggu (Saturday night) is to be published soon.

Translated by Lie Hua

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