Hai. Selamat datang di The Hope Center. Apakah ini merupakan kunjungan pertamamu? Kalau begitu biar kujelaskan terlebih dahulu mengenai tempat ini.
The Hope Center merupakan tempat rehabilitasi para penderita penyakit otak Alzheimer, serta pusat penelitian penyakit itu sendiri.
All That Is Gone is another masterpiece by Pramoedya of short stories compiled, said to be adapted from his own childhood. Although I initially thought that this is supposed to be the English translation of its Indonesian title Tjerita Dari Blora (Stories from Blora), later I found out that only seven out of the original stories are included in the book, added with an additional short story originally appeared in another work by Pram, Dawn. As for whether the other three short stories from Tjerita Dari Blora are also translated or what happen to the English translation of those three, I have no clue yet. In the preface by Willem Samuels, it is indeed said that this selection was by the Pram’s personal favorites themselves.
The original story, Jang Telah Hilang is literally translated into All That Is Gone, and become the first story in the book itself. The story itself is full of nostalgic note of the main character’s childhood, and hence the title: All That Is Gone. The story is presented from the point of view of a child, not yet fully comprehending the political tension and situation which was happening at the moment of the story, which, at that time was the Indonesia-to-be, still was the Dutch East Indies under the rule of Dutch colonials. Not only that, it also presents the culture and belief of the Javanese at that time in the perspective of a child still very naive. All these are set in the house of the main character, near the River Lusi which personified in the author’s narrative as the witness of all that has happened—all that is gone. To me, this serves as a perfect beginning of the book, welcoming the readers into the author’s world, and perhaps one of the strongest stories in it. I say one of the strongest, because as expected of Pram, he didn’t stop there to get you book hangover.
Another favourites of mine are two stories titled Acceptance and Revenge. The first one is a story of Sri’s family, who’s been forced to leave Sekolah Rakjat (the elementary school at that time) at a very early age in order to take care of her younger siblings after their mother passed away, while their father and three other older siblings were too occupied with their own jobs and political involvement, neglecting four children with little to care for their health and securities. This one is probably the longest stories in the book, following the struggles of Sri to provide for her brothers and sisters, and at the same time, trying to make their father and eldest sister who lived closest to them at that time, to understand Sri and the younger children’s situations, but then left herself to become submissive to her elders. Following the political turmoil and ever-changing power on the throne—the Japanese occupation, the independence day, the invasion of the Red Army and the coup afterwards—the kids were neglected further to accept their fate, unable to do much about it, and hence, teaching them very well the meaning of acceptance itself. Probably the most heartbreaking story, it’s easy to believe that Sri’s story depicts the chaos happening back then and the impact it has on the common folks like Sri and her younger siblings. This is exactly like one of the saying we have in Indonesian: “Gajah bertarung lawan gajah, pelanduk mati di tengah-tengah” (Elephants wage war against elephants, deer die in the midst—taken from wikiquote.org).
“Their laughter brought some respite from hunger but also the knowledge that they had learned to resign themselves to the situation, that they had come to accept things as they were. This was no crime, they had decided. Acceptance was a tool for survival, a means to get by.”
The latter one is the most unforgettable story, actually a story taken out of the three original stories from Dawn, also by Pramoedya. The title Revenge depicts the desire of most Indonesians at that time, tired of colonisation and oppression, hence trying to get revenge on just anyone who looked suspicious enough. In this story, the unfortunate revenge was done to a pilgrim accused of being a British spy. Being a soldier himself, the main character described with horror and tremor what his comrades did to get the suspected pilgrim to confess, at the same time, coming to a conclusion that being a soldier was not for him.
“It dawned on me that torture was the only thing these people were capable of doing. It was their second nature, no different from the pickpocket with his innate skill of lifting wallets, the lawyer with his gift of gab, the accountant with his ledger, and the doctor with his cures. And this was the verdict handed down by a court whose members were intoxicated by their own sense of intoxication. It was a court whose members despised the police for never having protected them and who hated informers for revealing to the Japanese their hidden supplies of food. Experience had taught them nothing about the proper role of judges.”
* * *
Only after some time that I got my hands on the original 1952 publication of Tjerita Dari Blora, still written in the old Indonesian spelling, undergoing a change only in the spelling of “oe” into “u.” The rest of the spellings themselves appear the same to me (do correct me if I’m wrong.) This book is supposed to be the original version of All That Is Gone. As I have never checked the newer version of this book (already using the New Order Speling—Ejaan Yang Disempurnakan (EYD), hence the title is written Cerita Dari Blora), I am sorry to admit that I don’t know whether the number of stories included is the same, as well as the stories in it, but this older publication has the original 11 short stories (Jang Sudah Hilang, Jang Menjewakan Diri, Inem, Sunat, Kemudian Lahirlah Dia, Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari, Hidup Jang Tak Diharapkan, Hadiah Kawin, Anak Haram, Dia Jang Menjerah, & Jang Hitam). Initially unaware that the English version, All That Is Gone, contains of only 7 stories and one additional story not from the Indonesian counterpart, I ended up disappointed not finding the Indonesian version of Revenge. However, I didn’t let myself be disappointed for too long, since I get to read four new stories I haven’t read in the English translations: Jang Menjewakan Diri, Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari, Hidup Jang Tak Diharapkan, and Anak Haram.
Out of these four, two of them stand out the most to me: Pelarian Jang Tak Ditjari (Unseeked Runaway—rough translation) and Anak Haram (Illegitimate Child—rough translation).
The first one tells a story of Siti, a witless country girl who married Siman who were just as stupid as her. Because of their stupidity, unfortunately, their situation soon changed. Siman was unable to get a lot of money to provide for his family, and when one of their children got sick, Siman was ready to sacrifice his kid due to the lack of money, causing a quarrel between the couple which later led to violence. This soon triggered Siti’s runaway.
Siti was stranded and finally ended up in a warung located between Blora and Djepon. The need for money to provide for herself finally forced her to use her youth and charm to the customers coming to the warung. Although finding it hard in the beginning, she soon got used to it, and the memory she has for her neglected family was slowly fading out.
Meanwhile, Ahjat in the story Anak Haram, suffered from bullying from his friends and teachers in his school, being the child of a father who once turned his back on his own country. A traitor. Therefore, Ahjat seeked for comfort in music. In fact, he doted on music very much, and he played the instruments just as well. Contemplating of his own situation, with only Mini and his music teacher to console him, he went home to seek tranquility in his piano. But that was not enough. Ahjat liked the piano, but not as much as the violin, so he asked his parents for one. Little did he know that the violin and the very sound of the instrument itself was closely intertwined with his father’s dark past, but Ahjat was sensitive enough to understand his father was not fond of his favorite instrument nor did he fulfil Ahjat’s wish to own the instrument. So, trying to be agreeable to his parents, he vowed not to play the violin again, especially in the house, with his father around. And he succeeded. At least until his music teacher finally decided to give him a violin.
* * *
One of the thing I really like about most of Pram’s work is how the theme in each of his story never really shows any allegiance toward a specific side of religion or allegiance. Instead, he tried to show a strong message of humanity, which to me was shown strongly especially in Revenge, but not neglected as well in his other stories. What he shows is not which ideology is right or wrong, but what happen to those who got tangled in the middle of the clash of ideologies, the helpless folk who are only able to be swept aside back and forth, and many times, suffer and died out in the midst of it. It shows the multiple face of those people holding on to certain beliefs—how they seemed to appear to one side, but so differently towards the other side as well. This was shown in the story Acceptance, where the family was entangled between Nationalism, Communism, and the remnants of the colonialism who still tried to fight back. We also see a different side of this through Ahjat’s father who happened to be someone who decided to put his allegiance on the “wrong” side for the means of survival, and later suffered and punished because of this misdeeds. Unfortunately, the punishment also extends to his offspring. And in Revenge, Pram couldn’t be clearer when showing the sad human nature which could come to the surface when the soul is fed with hatred and disappointment for too long, which indeed, still happen as long as the human race exist. The 1740 pogrom, the 1945 “Bersiap” and the 1965 coup have proven this to be true. In the end, there are always at least two sides of a coin instead of just one. But many times, only one side appears, that is, the side of the winner, and this is not always the right one.
“There is nothing more disastrous in life than a stupid judge. The same kind of stupidity that was evident here had also killed Socrates, Giordano, Bruno, Galileo, and Jesus.” —from Revenge, by Pramoedya Ananta Toer.
Please keep in mind that the thoughts and opinions written here are my own interpretation, which might differ from others.
An interesting video, looking back at another long-put discrimination against Chinese Indonesians in terms of names.
Back then, in the New Order, a decree was made to get Chinese Indonesians to choose their allegiance, whether they are going to stay true to their Chinese inheritance and deny Indonesian citizenship or instead become the latter, forcing them then to adopt Indonesian names.
The video then contemplates on its implications on the children of those first generations who experienced name-changing policy and decided to get Indonesian names, as well as naming their offsprings with Indonesian names later on.
My family from my mother’s side is a long-line of generations of Chinese Indonesians. Though unfamiliar with its history, I know enough that my grandfather underwent this period. I also know that my maternal family line is of Hokkien Chinese and that my granddad’s Chinese name was The Oen Siang (although, do pardon me, I might misspelled the last name). He later adapted the Indonesian name Untung Gunawan. My grandmother herself is a Klang Chinese who was adopted into a Hokkien family, and her Chinese name was then changed from Siek Ngo San to Kwee Kien Nio. Later she adopted the Indonesian name Haryani Tedja Mertadiwangsa. From my mom’s faint recollection of her childhood, she did acknowledged that 6 of her elder siblings still obtain Chinese names from my grandparents and that my mom did, too, although her name was not recorded officially and later unused and forsaken. All that remains is a distant, meaningless name of The Poe Liang. Afterwards, none of the grandchildren I know have Chinese names. Now, only my cousins’ children would get Chinese names if they got married to someone of Chinese inheritance as well. I know for sure two of my nephews have Chinese names and their parents use the names frequently at home.
No doubt, this is one of the domino effect of the 1965 coup and one of the worst massacre in the Indonesian history.
As a child of multicultural identities, I spent quite some time in my teens struggling with my own cultural inheritance and identity. My parents’ separation and, later, divorce, did little to help. Not that I think had it not happen in the first place it would be easier for me to obtain a sense of ethnic identity.
My paternal grandfather himself is a Balinese while my grandmother is a Javanese, making me, technically, a Balinese as well since the line passed down from my father.
Growing up mostly in Jakarta, initially, I didn’t even realise that this struggle of identity exists in the first place. I spent most of my childhood in my paternal grandma’s home in Jakarta, where, fortunately, I was either too ignorant or simply never experienced any discrimination being partially Chinese Indonesians. The fact that I don’t at all look Chinese physically did crossed my mind, too, but at the same time, I barely understood the word “discrimination” and “racism” in the first place back then. Although my grandma’s household carefully shows a slight, faint gap of the hierarchical structure of race (e.g. Javanese vs Chinese Indonesians), religion (e.g. Islam vs Christian), and even of master and servant, they never showed any discriminative attitudes toward people whom I’ve met who are different. I spent my childhood in an elementary school, where most problems revolved around my flunked grades and ranking, and trivial friendship problems. I never noticed any of my friends whose races are different, and I distinctly remember getting confused over a friend’s statement who said that she didn’t want to be friend with someone because this someone is of different religion. Seriously, that didn’t make any sense to me.
Then, back at my grandma’s home, I’d spent the rest of my day playing too much with the babu‘s kids who are of my age. I remember playing badminton too much, losing way too many shuttlecock somewhere in the field, and buying too many rackets and shuttlecocks replacements. I didn’t even understand why my mom wouldn’t let me transfer to the babu‘s son’s school which is much, much nearer to my grandma’s house (which means I wouldn’t have to wake up very early anymore every morning, only to get to the school late every single day). I didn’t realise that she (and maybe my grandma, too) minded because the school she sent me to is a more expensive, probably better, private school. No one made me feel different there. In fact, now that I think about it, they perhaps pitied me and spoiled me too much because I’m a broken-home little brat.
Then in middle school, I started to experience identity crisis. In my small hometown, there is a stark difference between being a Chinese or a Javanese , a Christian or an Islam, and a master or a servant. Oh, but actually, I need to correct on the religion part. I didn’t see or experience any religious discrimination, really. The friends I’ve met and known are tolerant and very polite, so I should cross that one out. But it became clearer to me, first of all, what it meant to be someone of a more well-off family. We’re not filthy rich, no (some family members might), but my mom and I were definitely not rich enough to own anything fancy. But our family is rich enough to pay for servants.
My cousins’ first reaction upon seeing me kissing a little babu‘s daughter on the cheek was terrified. In a surprised tone (and not in a good way), I was asked why the hell I would kiss a servant’s daughter. In return, I was too surprised of the question itself to give any answer. That was the first time I understood that as one of the “masters,” I was not supposed to kiss them.
Another thing that was clearer to me is the gap existence of those of different race. Amongst my Chinese-looking cousins, strangers would think that I am their babu. When my mom knew, she was furious. That’s when I realised that having a different skin tone could account to something. People would be genuinely surprised when they found out that the Chinese-looking person next to me is my kin. That they are really related to me. And the fact that apparently I wasn’t adopted.
Although ignorant at first, slowly, I started to feel inferior of my skin colour. I hated myself because I was dark-skinned. I hated God because there are people of mixed inheritance, but their inherited genes allowed them to inherit their one of their parents’ narrow eyes or fair skin. I used to hate having wide eyes. And some boy-classmates’ mockery of how big, electrified-looking my eyes are did little to elevate my moods. I thought the way people discriminate me was because I didn’t look Chinese enough. Or perhaps my stupid inferiority made the discrimination exist where there were actually none. And I blamed my not-looking-Chinese-enough for it. I walked home from school one day, taking a shortcut through an empty alley when a guy riding a motorbike came from behind and stopped to squeeze my right boob so hard and then left me stunned and speechless. As I continued walking, an old guy apparently stood nearby and saw everything and said that he didn’t do anything initially because he thought the guy was my friend. Later, I felt very ashamed and humiliated, and again, I blamed my look which is not Chinese enough. I thought if I looked more Chinese, if I had fairer skin and/narrower eyes, if I didn’t look like a babu, this would never happen to me. He wouldn’t dare to touch me had I look like a Chinese nonik.
Only when I entered university and met a lot more people of different cultural background did I realise that not all Chinese Indonesians are discriminative towards those of non-Chinese. It took me quite some time until I finally stopped hinting to strangers that I’m actually partially Chinese because I was afraid of discriminations. Yet what happened next was the complete opposite. As soon as I found out that I could claim my Balinese inheritance (at least until I probably marry a guy of non-Balinese inheritance), I started telling people that I am a Balinese, who was born and raised in Java. It was easier, though, really. No more shocked responses and disbelief statements, although I still did smiled when the old Chinese lady who opens a warung with a tasty Chinese food called me “nonik” instead of “dek.” Only recently did I finally admit to people who ask that I’m also partially Chinese. Back then, I would deny it until my co-worker who found out then told those who asked that I’m actually partially a Chinese Indonesian, too.
I was really surprised upon reading an article by Vltchek who tells a story of a Chinese Indonesian who experienced sexual harassment and later felt ashamed and humiliated, then instead blamed her Chinese inheritance. I thought that those stuffs only happened because you don’t look Chinese enough. That was a significant eye-opener for me, because that’s when I started to explore further of the horrible, discriminative history of the government, from the colonial era up to now, against the Chinese people. How people could hate the Chinese because back then people assimilate Chinese with communism. But even that is only one of thousands of reasons to discriminate Chinese, and some of them are ridiculously fabricated. And the very sad thing is, how easily some people in the country could still be manipulated by racism.
When I watched a family’s story in the documentary film “40 Years of Silence,” I began to understand even better why Chinese Indonesians could be very discriminative to non-Chinese. I wouldn’t blame them, really. Not to mention the racist comments uttered to Ahok who’d become the first Chinese-Indonesian governor of Jakarta, it’s just appalling how shallow the comments uttered and that’s maybe an understatement. But then again, I think now more and more people are becoming more combative against racism, and care less about it. I’d like to believe that more people are beginning to value people more on their personal qualities and performance and characters, and not on their race or religions. Also that those with the racist comments are decreasing in number and who knows, they might be paid to utter such comments.
As I was too spoiled and inferior about myself, not to mention ignorant, I was too focused on my own identity crisis, never thought that the similar things, if not worse, could also happen to others (aside from the calamities of the 1998 riots), but now that I know more about it, I wonder whether all these are simply trivial matters to be shrugged off, compared to those who might have experienced much, much worse discriminations growing up.
P.S. I’m thinking of writing another post someday when I found out more of maternal family’s genealogy because after talking to my mom after writing this, my mom just mentioned another family history, saying the the Javanese inheritance in the family is actually passed down from my granddad-____-‘ It’s just getting more complicated.
Gasping for breath, he ran as fast as he could, but the bus had already left.
“Is that… Is that… Is that the bus to Salatiga?” he asked the old man waving to the bus on the sidewalk while catching for breath.
The old man’s speech was unintelligible, but he figured he said something like, “Yes. My god, you just missed it!” He felt mocked at first, but then he politely asked the old man again, “So that was the bus to Salatiga? Do I wait for the next one here?”
Again, the old man responded in unintelligible way that he barely figured out what was being said. At the same time, he finally got a good look at the old man and realised that the man was barefoot, and far from looking neat and sensible. He was holding a stick that was used earlier to wave at the bus that had already left.
Only then that he finally wondered whether the old man was in his right mind, and now he worries whether he just missed his luck by talking to the old man. No one else was around.
Deciding that the man might not be sane, he decided to ignore him as best as he could, but still trying to smile politely whenever the man seemed to talk to him. Since he barely could figure out the words said, he simply nodded and smiled to avoid being rude. The old man was pointing across the street and, when the road was empty, crossed the street. He breath a sigh of relief, thinking that he was finally free from the old man. At the same time, he noticed a group of youngster approaching his location as well, and looking at the way they dressed, he figured that they were going to wait for the bus just as well. He thought that his luck finally arrived and decided to ask them instead.
“Hi, I’m sorry, but I’m new here. I was wondering whether this is where I should wait for the bus to Salatiga.”
The looked at him judgingly, but then kindly pointed to the opposite directions of the street, and said, “Oh no, this is the opposite direction. You should cross the street and headed that way–” the guy pointed to the right, “and walked along the street until you reached the traffic light there. Then you could wait for the bus to Salatiga there.”
“Great. Thank you so much!” His heart sank upon hearing that, realising that the old man earlier was probably crossing the street to show him the way. Even though he understood the old man’s intention, he partly worried about having to deal with the old man again, and another part of him felt guilty for feeling that way.
He crossed right away when he saw that the road was safe enough for him to cross. And he was right, the old man was waiting for him. And even though his speech was unintelligible as usual, judging from his face expression and intonation, the old man was probably laughing at him, scolding him–though half-jokingly–because he wouldn’t listen to the old man.
He didn’t want to be rude, so he said again, “I’m sorry! I’m really sorry! I didn’t know the way earlier! I’m really sorry! Is it that way?” he asked.
The old man said something again, but he didn’t understand what is being said, so he smiled politely again. He silently cursed his fate when he realised the old man was walking him.
“Hey, I’m asking you!” He stunned when he catch the old man’s hardly-intelligible-words.
“I’m sorry! I was not listening! What did you ask, sir?” he asked again.
The old man repeated his question and he finally figured–partially guessed–that the old man was asking whether he was a student.
“Oh no! I’m working already. I’m going to Salatiga to visit my friends. I was studying there, though,” he answered, trying to be as polite as he could.
He suddenly felt grateful of his dark skin, thinking that no one would realise how embarrassed he felt when he realised people on the street was looking at him and the old man, and he thought they must felt sorry for him for bumping into the old man, or probably wondering why the hell he would stick to the old man. The answer was, of course, because he couldn’t, or that he didn’t dare, but he tried not to think about it and focused only to walk to his destination. But at the same time, he felt more and more of the people’s gaze at him from inside their cars as he was approaching the traffic light.
“Oy! You, there! Where are you going?” He heard another man’s shout. He looked ahead and saw a bus “conductor,” who was trying to fill the bus with as many people as possible.
“I’m headed to Salatiga! Is that where the bus is going?” he answered, wishing so bad that would be the bus he’s going to take.
“Yes it is! Hop in!” the man answered. An answer he was gladly, and thankfully, waiting for.
Still trying to be polite, he turned to the old man, “That’s my bus, sir. Thank you so much for walking me. I could go there myself from here. Thank you so much!” He was trying to rush his farewell, hoping the man would simply nod and smile, but he did more than that.
“Do you have any money for the bus already?” he asked.
This time, he felt really touched by the old man’s question, although he very much doubt that the old man has any money.
“Yes! Yes, I do! Don’t worry about me! Again, thank you so much!”
Although he still felt embarrassed and ashamed of being seen with the old man, at that moment, he couldn’t help but feeling overwhelmed with wanting to take the old man with him, and help him in any way possible–which is, at that time, impossible. He felt like he want to hug the old man as a gratitude, and wished the old man the best of luck. But he realised at the same time that he would feel better if he could just get away from the old man. He realised that he also felt disgusted with himself and the way he felt. But what’s most urgent is that he got a bus to catch.
So he ran into the bus, and quickly settled himself in one of the empty seats inside. He felt the old man was following him and he wondered whether the old man was trying to make sure that he was okay. He wondered as well, and worried, too, if they’d let the old man inside. What would he do, then? People would laugh, that’s for sure.
So he took a window seat, and he tried to look down into the street.
He saw the old man nearby, although–thankfully–he was not looking or searching for him. But he saw the old man tried to talk with a lot of people around, and was being ignored.
Some sellers went inside and outside, trying to sell the magazines, or toys, or street snacks they have. Then one of them passed him by, and he heard the seller chuckling, making a comment about the old man. He felt grateful when one of the passengers asked the seller what happened.
“Oh, it’s the old guy. I think he was trying to get in, but of course, no one would let him. He’s not in his right mind, you see,” the man still chuckling, and now he’s shaking his head in disbelief.
He realised he felt a slight of anger towards the seller, and towards everybody else. Can’t they see that he’s only trying to help? For heaven’s sake, he helped him before, guiding him and making sure he reached the right bus! In his imagination, he saw himself went out of the bus and defended the old man. But of course, he never had that much courage. So now, his anger is mixed with a bit of sadness, and guilt, and disgust. And when the bus finally started its way, he tried to relax. Perhaps by the time he arrived in Salatiga, he’d forget about the old man already. But instead, he found himself pondering and wondering about the old man. He wondered how he turned that way, and whether the man was really insane, or whether he stupidly thought the old man was, and whether he had someone who would take care of him, whether he had any family left and how they had treated him. He wondered whether he would see the old man again one day.
“I just want to shut down.”
There was a long silence in the room until the professor finally spoke, “I thought you’d be happy now that you’ve seen the outside world for yourself, Nina.”
Nina, to whom the professor was talking, avoided the professor’s gaze deliberately.
“It’s… It’s different from what I thought it would be,” Nina finally answered.
Nina was again silent, and she took a deep sigh before she finally continued,
“Well, humans… People weren’t like what I thought they would be. They’re… they’re just so… confusing.”
The professor did not say anything and retained his gaze on Nina.
“Well…,” Nina continued, noticing the professor was waiting for her to continue her sentences. “There were so many different types of people. Some were nice at first, and some were not. And I thought… Well, it wouldn’t be a problem, because then I’d just hangout with the nice ones. They were be very helpful at times too; whenever I was confused with something, they would help me. I mean, I read a lot of books–you programmed me that way, and I can’t help but to love reading books. And because of you, everything that I have read all these time is stored in my memory and they never left. I never forget a thing nor I miss a thing. So I know how to behave like humans. But there were also times when something confused me–simple things that even books sometimes forgot to describe, so I asked some people about it, and they kindly helped me.
“I made friends, too, Professor. Some were becoming closer while others took their distance, and we simply became acquaintances. But I enjoyed the whole experience up to that point.”
“So what went wrong, Nina?” The Professor asked.
Nina sighed again.
“Well…, it’s just that… Up to a certain point in their life, there would be a time of conflict and disagreement, and when that time happens… They just changed completely and turned against each other; only very shortly after previously showing their love and care for one another. Even the nice ones, too. And it got me really confused… How can they be so affectionate at one second, and so full of hatred the next second? If they genuinely love their friends, why would they speak so many bad things about them behind their backs instead of confronting them directly? Or if they hate their friends instead, why would they pretend to be so nice when they meet each other? Was there even an ounce of sincerity when they smile or was there real resentment when they speak ill of others? I just don’t understand them.”
The professor smiled.
“And the more I tried to understand it…, the more I don’t understand it. And now I’m not even sure I want to understand. The more I tried to understand, the more despicable they seemed to me, and the more I want to stay away from them. Why do they do that? Why can’t they just be honest and show their feelings to those they call friends? Or if they hate them instead, why still call them friends?
“And… when I finally got away from them, shut myself from them, doing just like what you did here, exiling myself, I… I found myself feeling depressed.”
The Professor, previously bowing his head while listening to Nina, now lifted up his head. His eyes showed grief and sadness.
“Why are you depressed, Nina? Those are the creatures, the very beings you’re very excited to meet with, aren’t they?” asked the Professor. He approached Nina slowly. “Don’t say you’re depressed, Nina. Please don’t say that,” he added.
“I don’t want to feel depressed anymore, Professor. Just shut me down.”
“Don’t take the easy way, Nina. Don’t you always aspire to be like one of those people that you love?” the Professor asked.
“Yes…, but that was before I met them and actually lived with them for some time,” answered Nina. She looked at the Professor and continued,
“Tell me the truth, Professor. Was that the reason why you live here all by yourself, with only your inventions–your robots to accompany you? Was that why you exile yourself so far away from other people?”
The Professor seemed to be at lost for words. He avoided Nina’s gaze this time.
“Tell me honestly, Professor,” Nina insisted.
The Professor still didn’t look at Nina.
“Professor. I’m right, am I?” asked Nina.
“Yes, Nina. You’re right,” the Professor finally answered. “I got scared. …and depressed, just like you right now. I felt so frustrated and also felt so much hatred seeing how people can be so full of love for others and the next second… they just seem to declare war against one another. I didn’t like that. Plus, there were other people–people who I disliked–who wanted me to invent something I didn’t want to invent to aid their war and dispute. I didn’t want to do it, but they were very persistent, so I ran away. I built this place as a place for my exile, to shelter myself from the outside world. And I cut the ties of communication with other human beings–I only met them or contacted them when necessary. I invented many, many things here, and built many robots. I perfected the imperfect ones, hoping that one day, each of my creation could do much good and be useful to other people who are in need. But I never got out. So they stayed here.”
“Why did you never get out of this place?” Nina asked.
“I… I got too comfortable inside here, and… And when I finally decided to go out, I got scared. What if the world out there has become an even scarier place? What if people become even more and more despicable? So… I stayed in. And so did all my inventions.”
“But Professor… does that not mean that you’re… you’re being a coward?” asked Nina.
The Professor didn’t answer right away. This time, he avoided Nina’s gaze, and after some time, he finally answered, “Yes, Nina. I am. I’m a coward.” Then he sighed, and turned his look back to Nina. “That’s why… That’s why, Nina… Don’t be like me. Don’t just choose the easy way. Don’t tell me you want to shut down.”
Nina was speechless for some time. “But… But weren’t you so strongly against me going out there, meeting people? Didn’t you oppose it in the first place?”
“I did. I did, Nina,” the Professor answered. “I was trying to protect you from harm. I didn’t want you to be disappointed, so… so I was afraid for you when you asked to be permitted to explore the outside world. But then… when I saw you returned and depressed… That’s not what I want for you, Nina. When you were gone, I was partially hoping that you would eventually return, telling me that going out there was a mistake, but at the same time… I hate to admit that deep down, I also wish that you’d find the outside world has become much a better place. That people have become kinder and more honest toward each other. I want you to return here, but not like this. I’d prefer you stay out there and be happy than returning here, sad and depressed. You always long to be one of the people you usually read in books. You want to be… You want to be one of us.“
“I did. It was before I finally see them for what they actually are.”
“Don’t give up hope, Nina.”
“Well, you did.”
“Yes, I did. Don’t be like me.”
“Professor, I’m no more than a mere creation of yours. Surely shutting me down shouldn’t be a big problem. I want to shut down and you could do that in a single click of a button.”
“Not like this. I created you because I got bored here, having no one to talk to. I didn’t create your brothers and sisters with the ability to think and feel like humans, so I created you. And when you aspire to become like real people, I was happy and afraid for you. I programmed you as my companion, and I become very protective toward you. But even that couldn’t stop you from going out there.”
“And I regret it so much,” said Nina bitterly.
The Professor sighed.
“You know, in reality, it’s not so easy for us humans to just shut down like you. In real life, we have to deal with it–I know, I didn’t deal with it very well, and I’m not proud of it, but shutting down could mean suicide. And it can be very, very painful.”
Nina didn’t say anything and stood still.
“And Nina…, you do realise that in life, there are more complicated problems than this. We humans are despicable–we can be so many times, but there are much more good in us as well, you know. And sometimes… Perhaps we’re just confused about choosing to do better things when we’re faced with reality. And that’s how we ended up doing something bad. That’s how hatred was sow and grew, Nina. But it doesn’t mean that the kindness and goodness altogether disappear.”
Nina looked at the Professor this time.
“Perhaps some of them were bad. Perhaps they were all confusing, but maybe that’s simply because they themselves were confused, you see. And that keeps happening all the time as long as we live. Eventually we did bad things, and we regret them–or not,” the Professor quickly added. “But remember, Nina, there are still more goodness out there.”
“If that is so, then how come you’re still afraid? And how come you’re still here?”
The Professor was silent for a while.
“Well, you know what? Maybe I’ve finally decided to go out,” he said.
Nina was stunned this time. She looked at the Professor, searching for signs of lies. But the Professor was looking at Nina resolutely.
“I’ve told you that there are still a lot more good out there. We just haven’t discovered it. And now that I think about it, at the same time, we also need to be good as well. That way, perhaps we could attract more goodness around us. It all need to start from ourselves as well. Who knows, perhaps that way, we could find new hope as well.”
“Yes, let’s go out there once again,” said Nina.
Raden Adjeng Kartini, or more known now simply as Kartini, is one of Indonesia’s most acclaimed heroines prior to the country’s independence day. Every year on 21 April, local schools usually commemorate the image of Kartini by having female students to dress up in batik kebaya and sometimes having traditional competition in schools. Back then, I learned about Kartini simply as a heroine who was among the first to fight for women’s right, especially for education, because my history books and my teachers said so. I did remembered one of my history teachers said that it was thanks to Kartini that we girls are now able to pursue education up to that level. However, outside Indonesia, she was famously known by those familiar with Indonesian history or the Dutch East Indies back then, even during her time, through the letters she wrote to many of her friends, where she really dedicated her time to write down her thoughts on various things related to her motherland and, of course, on the native women.
She was born on 21 April 1879 as the fifth child and second eldest daughter in an aristocratic Javanese family. Her father was a regent of Jepara, a government official, and from the letters, we could deduced that even back then, Kartini’s family was a bit different than most families in Java back then, because dating from her grandparents’ time, each children in the family, especially the boys, were all sent to schools and encouraged to read a lot, and hence, to study and to learn. Yet, even then, when they reached a certain age, the girls would then be called back home to continue their education to be a good, dutiful housewives until they were taken to their future husbands’ home. (Read more of the biography in the Wikipedia.)
I never really thought about the significance of Kartini’s letter or her contribution to her country until I read Letters of a Javanese Princess.
The book is a compilation of her letters written to many of her European friends during her lifetime, and published about 15 years after her death in 1904. The Dutch title is Door Duisternis tot Licht and translated into Indonesian as Habis Gelap Terbitlah Terang.
I just finished reading the whole book the day before yesterday, and it gave me a book hangover.
I read her first letter in the book and fell in love with the book right away. Throughout the book, I could see and feel her passion and energy toward learning. She wanted so much to continue studying in schools, and later, to pursued her passion further in the Netherlands—but alas, it was very uncommon back then for women to continue studying in schools after the age of 12 because by that time, they needed to start focusing on preparing themselves to be a good wife-to be and daughter-in-law-to be. But she tried to fight this tradition, and eventually, her father allowed her to go out occasionally during special events. It looked as though, despite Kartini’s protest on her seclusion, she was actually among the few lucky ones who were allowed to do so, and were even still allowed to continue studying by herself at home. It was quite obvious from the letters how much love the father and the daughter shared for each other, up to the point where Kartini was ready to give up her dreams if it meant sacrificing her father’s happiness. But she managed to learn many things through reading during her seclusion anyway. I took down as many titles I could find in the letters and googled the free e-book versions later. At a very young age, she already read a lot of books about her country and she was probably one of the most modern, open-minded women at that time. I got so excited upon reading her letters and her thoughts, and wondering what she would say if she could see the present-day Indonesia. I think that even in the present, if Kartini was still alive, she would still be considered very modern (especially looking at how, as time goes forward, this country seemed to go backward, becoming more medieval instead), and even put together with a lot of leading minds and women leader in the country, perhaps not even they could produce the same thought and ideas. I felt so in awe with Kartini after reading this book.
She hated the tradition and the culture that seemed to determine the fate of many Javanese women without considering their thought on marriage, as well as because the two also hindered her path to pursue education further. She said:
I would still go further, always further. I do not desire to go out to feasts, and little frivolous amusements. That has never been the cause of my longing for freedom. I long to be free, to be able to stand alone, to study, not to be subject to any one, and, above all, never, never to be obliged to marry.
I didn’t think, however, that she, in particular, was against marriage completely. I thought she was more against the tradition of having marriage as the only highest and noblest goal women back then could have, especially when the men they were marrying were the ones simply decided by the family, without having to have the women’s consent or even presence during the betrothal arrangement.
And about her seclusion, she shared her feelings through this:
Gone, gone was her merry childhood; gone everything that made her young life happy. She still felt herself such a child, and she was that in fact too, but the law placed her inexorably among the full grown. And she to whom no ditch was too broad to be leapt, no tree too high to be climbed, who loved nothing so much as to run like a wild cold in the meadows, must now be calm, composed and grace, as beseemed a Javanese young lady of a high and noble house.
As much as she longed to continue staying in school and learn, she did not keep this dream only for herself. She also longed to have other women to long for the same thing, instead of being like another obedient little daughter, like a “wooden doll”, only doing what is told and expected of them. She wanted others to have the same chance, just like the boys, and she was more than ready to help her fellow countrywomen to learn. She inspired her younger sisters, Kleintje and Roekmini to do the same, and together, they wished so much to open a school for girls, and were even ready to “work for it in some other way, ask our friends to subscribe, start a lottery or something,” should the government against their plan.
I know that the way I wish to go is difficult, full of thorns, thistles, pitfalls; it is stormy, rough, slippery and it is—free! And even though I shall not be happy after I have reached my goal, though I may give way before it is half reached, I shall die gladly, for the path will then have been broken, and I shall have helped to clear the way which leads to freedom and independence for the native women.
And just as much as she hated the way old traditions treated native women, she felt the same toward religion, although in the end she managed to regain her faith upon finally realising that it was not the belief or the religion itself that kept disappointing her, but its massive followers. Yet she kept calling out for peace and scorned the misdeeds done in the name of religion.
O God! Sometimes I wish that there had never been a religion because that which should unite mankind into one common brotherhood has been through all the ages a cause of strife, of discord, and of bloodshed. Members of the same family have persecuted one another because of the different manner in which they worshipped one and the same God. Those who ought to have been bound together by the tenderest love have turned with hatred from one another. Differences of Church, albeit in each the same word, God, is spoken, have built a dividing wall between two throbbing hearts. I often ask myself uneasily: is religion indeed a blessing to mankind? Religion, which is meant to save us from our sins, how many sins are committed in thy name?
We think that love is the highest religion, and must one be a Christian in order to love according to that Heavenly command? For the Buddhist, the Brahmin, the Jew, the Mohammedan and even the Heathen can lead lives of pure love.
However, the chains of old traditions which shackled her didn’t, surprisingly, lessened her love and passion for her land’s cultural art and customs. She loved the music—the sound of gamelan in particular, the paintings and literature made by the natives, from the most educated minds to the ones less educated, and she thought highly of her native Javanese language.
Have you any desire to learn the Javanese language? It is difficult—certainly, but it is beautiful. It is sentient language; often the words seem to be conscious, they express so much. We are astonished sometimes, own children we are of the country, at the cleverness of our fellow countrymen. Things of which one could never imagine anything could be made, they express charmingly. Name something in the dark, give out a subject at random, and a simple Javanese will immediately make a rhyme that astonishes by its aptness and clearness. This facility belongs peculiarly to our Eastern people.
I remembered back in elementary school where my English teacher was teaching us new vocabularies of animals and that not all little, younger animals who haven’t matured yet can be called differently, just like “dog” and “puppy,” and then compared it with the Indonesian language and Javanese. He eventually admitted proudly how rich the Javanese vocabularies are.
Did a dreamy song never reach you then? the song of a Javanese, who sings to his family and to his neighbours—of love—of heroic deeds, and glittering pageantry—of beauty and of wisdom; of mighty men and women, princess and princesses of the long ago. It is that loveliest hour when the Javanese, tired from the hard day’s work, seek rest in song, dreaming all his cares away, wholly lost in the singing far away past, whither his song leads him.
I wonder where have all these old customs gone. An article which is related to the 1965 tragedy brought my attention a couple days ago (click here to read it in Indonesian). In it, the author talked about how imaginative and culturally rich Indonesian people back then prior to the mass killings—especially those from lower-income class like farmers. It was a custom for farmers to actually dance and sing to celebrate the harvest, yet now… there’s the harvest, and that’s it. How I long to be able to see such thing. (Sigh.)
Another thing that caught and crossed my mind when I was reading this book was, other than the letters which made me in love with the book right away, is the language style used in the letters itself. I suppose I can’t help noticing, even though it’s the English translation, how strong the emotions shown with each words, especially when it comes to expressing love to the recipients of the letters whenever Kartini wrote about how much she loved him or her, and how she longed to be with them, to kiss their cheeks, and care for them. I know that it’s a translation, and I wish so bad that I could read her letters in the language in which the letters were written, except that I do not know any word of Dutch—even though some Indonesian words are adapted from Dutch, yes—so I could only imagine how it was written and expressed in its original language; I could probably look for the Indonesian translation, but it would still be a translation. However, what crossed my mind whenever I read such emotions strongly expressed in the sentences is the question whether back then every one actually expressed things similarly. And one thought lead to another, so I wondered again, since I do not know many people who do the same thing in the present days, whether the communication between one another now is becoming less intense and personal because we now have sophisticated technology to back us up such as Instant Messaging, SMS, emails, telephones and video callings. If I were born in that much older eras, would I write in a similar way?
But now I’m starting to ramble again. I would definitely recommend this books to my feminist friends, as well as my male friends—well everyone who might be interested in reading more about the past Dutch East Indies from the perspective of Kartini, if not about Kartini’s life itself. She was definitely an exceptional figure, and I wish I could have a time machine to transport me back to that time so I could have a chat with her. (Stop being delusional, Dian!) Back then, I simply considered this as something of the past—a part of the past that has shaped the present days, but still a part of a distant past, and not significant enough for today. But I suppose this book has helped me to appreciate Kartini’s effort more.
I should give credits to three of my good friends, because our conversations have led me to writing this.
* * *
“She tried to feel me,” Sri said with terror in her whole face.
“What? What do you mean with ‘trying to feel’ you?” Christine, who was sitting right next to me, asked. She looked just as surprised as me, but I was too stunned to say anything.
“She… Well, I came to say goodbye, of course… She was out when I came here to give you guys a farewell, so… when I saw her on my way out, I thought I’d give a proper goodbye… And then… she told me to come near her, and so I did. But then… she hugged me. Which, I thought, was not a big deal, until… until she tried to grab my butt, and I felt her lips on my neck and her other hand tried to caress my breast, and…— ” Sri stopped, too horrified to continue.
There was a silence for a short time before Christine finally shouted, “She WHAT??”
Again, I was lost for words, still trying to process what I just heard.
“Are you sure that’s what she did to you? I mean, that she wasn’t joking at all?”
Sri shook her head over and over, as if trying responded to Christine’s question and at the same time trying to forget the unpleasant memory of what she just told us in her head.
“I… I don’t know, but I don’t think she was joking. She looked me straight in the eye, and… she didn’t look as if she’s playing around.”
This time, even Christine was lost for words as well. Another silence filled the room.
“I… I tried to back away quickly, to show her that… that I’m not that kind, you know, but she approached. I kept backing away slowly, and then she… she asked me… She asked me whether I was sure to leave, because… She said she could secure a place for me in this class if I want to, give me a second chance to continue my study here. She’d asked her dad and…” Sri stopped.
“And??” Christine asked impatiently.
“I said no right away. I couldn’t think of anything else other than that I have to get away from her that moment, but she grabbed my arm, and asked me… if—” again, Sri stopped, “…if she could arrange for me to study in another class in this school, would I be willing to accept the offer. But by that time, I was much too scared of what she’d do next already, so I shrugged her off and tell her no for the second time, and then I bolted away from her.”
We gasped in surprise and amazement.
“…Are you… Are you okay, Sri?” I finally found my voice and asked her.
“Well, no. But I have to be okay again soon. I… Now I just want to go home and listen to my favorite music while reading my favorite mangas to cast the unpleasant image and memories embedded in my mind already,” she answered with her eyes shut close tightly.
“Well, okay. You go home, and do whatever you want to forget this. It’s your last day here, and you’re supposed to have a wonderful time,” said Christine while patting Sri’s shoulder. Sri nodded weakly. “You be okay, alright?”
“I’m sorry that you have to experienced this, Sri. I also hope you’d be alright.”
“I hope so too. Thanks, girls. I’ll… I think I better go now.”
And so she left, leaving me and Christine again in silence.
Finally, I said, “I never thought… I never thought she would do something like that, you know. I mean… I know she’s a lesbian, and… I thought they usually don’t make a move on someone with different orientation. Well, that’s what my lesbian friends usually do, I think.”
“Me too…,” Christine responded. “It’s… It’s just so out of line! I know she got quite an influence in this place because of her parents and her connections, but… to do so is just… just…
“I’m just sorry—very sorry that it should happened to her—and on her last day here! I… I just hope she wouldn’t dwell on that unpleasant moment.”
“I hope she wouldn’t be traumatized,” I said, though I actually doubted even my own words. I know Sri was quite homophobic. One too many times already, I came across her facebook statuses criticizing, if not scorning, the gays and lesbians community. I worried that this experience would only confirm further her fears and paranoia. Of all people, why it should happen to her? And of all people, why she should be that homophobic?
* * *
I was right. I didn’t even have to wait for the next day to came across her latest facebook status, blaming and scorning gays and lesbians. Usually I managed to ignore them, but this time, she was different.
“These homosexuals should have been banished. It is such an abnormality and simply causing disorder amongst normal people!”
She was sexually harassed. I understand.
In this country, homosexuality is still something very unusual. Even though more and more people are now more open and more accepting toward homosexuality, I think there are still even more people who oppose the idea alone and avoid the subject. Therefore, being harassed like that might be much too… too terrifying.
But should she harbor so much hatred?
“They’re no different from you and me, you know. They’re humans, like us. They eat the same food, they harbor same emotions that we have, and they do the same things we do: go to school, study, work, and such. The only thing different is their sexual orientation.”
Words of a good friend of mine said long time ago flew back to my mind.
Yes, they’re blood and flesh just like me. They’re humans too. They’re not handicapped, nor are they abnormal. They just happen to like those of the same sex.
“Just because they’re homosexuals, it doesn’t mean that they will fall for anyone from the same sex, you see. It’s just like straight people, if a guy is straight, does that mean he would fall for any girl he sees? And will a girl who’s straight fall in love with every guy she meets? They have types and preferences, too.”
This was also said by another good friend of mine. I chuckled hearing that at that time because I remember one time in the past time of that past, when one of my gay friend told me how the guys in the same vocal group avoided him once he joined because they were afraid he would fall for them. I remember him laughing about that instead and said, “Seriously, do they really think they are all that attractive?” and then we laughed together.
I used to wonder as well whether my view could form like this simply because no lesbians ever fell for me, so I feared nothing. I wonder if that’s the case. But, if a guy I don’t like fall for me, wouldn’t I reject him all the same? It’s not like I would like anyone just because I’m straight and it’s a guy, right? Perhaps, then, that’s not the case.
* * *
“You know, I really do regret what happened to Sri this afternoon. I think it’s just unfortunate, and it was so out of line. That moment depicted exactly what homophobic always depicted of gays and lesbians, which is a pity. And Sri happened to be homophobic, indeed. But what she just wrote in her status made me feel sad.
“Maybe… Maybe I was being too sensitive about it, but… still, I couldn’t help feeling sad upon reading it. Should we really treat homosexuality as abnormalities or illness, or something disgusting?
“The problem is not in the sexual orientation, right? It’s not that, but basically it all comes back to character, right? If you’re such a mess, then you’re a mess despite your sexual orientation. And homosexuals can be pleasantly nice too if they are genuinely nice, right?” I talked to the person in mirror in front of me.
“I have nothing against homosexuals. I have plenty of friends who are homosexuals. In the end, it’s her opinion and she is entitled to have her own opinion.
“It is, indeed, a matter of sexual orientation, but she couldn’t really be blamed as well because what she just experienced today is just very traumatic to her.
“It all comes back to each one’s character, I suppose. Straight people could also be very frontal and out of line, I guess… But society just don’t bother too much about them, probably because they’re more socially accepted.
“The point is, as long as people don’t make such a fuss about it whenever they meet homosexuals, I think everyone can be civil about that.” It feels like the person inside the mirror is responding to me.
“I suppose you couldn’t really judge those homophobic just as well, because to them, we’re the ones who do the wrong thing by accepting homosexuals. I guess it’s all a matter of perspective,” the person in the mirror continued.
“Sometimes I feel really offended whenever I came across homophobic people because many of my friends are homosexuals, but after a while, even my gay friends admit that some gays could be very aggressive without putting the other’s sexual orientation into consideration.
“Well, Homophobic people are not the ones defining what homosexuals are like, right? Besides, people here mostly grow up with the idea that such things are just not right, and it’s hard to put such notion aside if you’ve been told that way since you’re little.
“It’s no different, I guess, from making such a fuss about race or religion… There people who also discriminative against the Chinese-Indonesians, or those against Javanese, and so on…”
I sighed. “Well, I don’t think it’s my place anyway to even bother with that, or trying to change the perspective. I can’t tell people what to think, can I?” I asked.
“Well, everyone would think that their opinion is right. It’s not easy to change such thinking. In that sense, then…, there would be no correct answer. No one would be 100% correct. It would all depend on each person’s opinion and each choice we make to believe in which view,” answered the person in the mirror.
“Yeah…, that makes sense.
“I suppose that’s just how the society works,” I said.
“Exactly. It’s usually the majority’s opinion which would later become the acceptable norms and considered as ‘normal.’ Minorities are usually thought as odd, or abnormal, and such.”
“I guess it would then creates stereotyping and overgeneralization, wouldn’t it?”
I passed her by again today.
She is someone unknown to me, and what makes her very noticeable is her deformity, if I’m allowed to use such expression, causing her to limp when she walks, and even that is a mild expression. To be precise, she is actually dragging both her feet in order to move around, probably due to broken bones in her legs, resulting in one leg bending forward and the other behind.
I saw her once in a while, on my way to school in the morning, and just like every passerby on the street, whenever I glimpse her from afar, I would prepare myself to keep walking straight and avoid looking at her direction.
Whenever I look at her, I can never be sure of what I feel toward her, or how I should just as well. Most of the time, it would be pity I feel, but would she feel insulted or hurt by that instead? In movies I’ve watched or books I’ve read, whenever they have such characters, they either beg for pity and even much more, or instead, loathing pity that they would scold or hate the person looking at them with such emotion. Of course, real life is completely different, but usually stories are drawn from reality, aren’t they? And what if I do feel pity? When it comes to pity to those unfortunate, I always wish that I am filthy rich that I have enough money to send them to the doctors or hospitals, and have them treated properly or operated so someone like her could walk just like everybody else. Sadly, just like in most stories, this is no more than just another empty, bulshit talk. I only got so much money to pay for my tuition fee and my monthly allowance. And even if I saved a lot, it would still take years to pay such a lot sum for an operation or proper hospital treatment for them. I could probably pay as much as the down payment and that would hardly be enough. I suppose I could save enough to donate to a charity sometime soon.
But in the end, I simply passed her by, making sure to avoid her gaze and walked past her. I suppose it’s no different than what every other passerby do. I keep thinking that perhaps this is better. If I show her pity, she might not like it. Yet, deep down I know that I tell myself such bullshit because I’m just too afraid to do anything.
Suddenly my mind jumped to a sample novel I just read last night. A work by Daniel Wallace titled The Kings and Queens of Roam caught my attention the other day, and intrigued me enough into reading a sample of it in my Kindle. It’s a story of two sisters, Helen and Rachel McAllister, who were unfortunate enough to have both parents died, and born as orphans in the city of Roam. As if that’s not enough, Rachel was born blind, but she was said to be very beautiful. On the other hand, Helen, though physically healthy and was able to see, was very, very ugly. Rachel was said to be loved by everyone in Roam, and they loved to see her as well because she was so beautiful, but Helen was a terrible sight. People avoided her gaze, and her altogether because they simply couldn’t stand to look at her horrible face. In short, they prefer to consider her invisible whenever possible, and this has caused her a deep grief. She imagined how ironic the situation was: her sister, beautiful but blind, and her, healthy but ugly.
Of course, I know that Helen’s situation was completely different to the woman, but in my mind, I was wondering whether she and Helen would think alike when it comes to how different kinds of people look at her. Then I thought about how I behave and felt very ashamed right away. I was doing exactly like what the people in Roam was doing: I was trying to pretend she’s invisible by avoiding her gaze as well as interaction with her. Then that thought trigger another thought, which then led to me wasting to much time simply wondering what to do next. Even with other physically healthy people around me–in schools and neighborhood–I had trouble socializing with them, pondering too much of what to do and what to say in order to start a conversation or interacting with them (yes, I’m that awkward), so that time, I was spending even more time thinking of whether it would be better to turn around and… and then, what? Greet her? But then, that would be awkward, wouldn’t it, if I simply greet her and then walk away? Give her money? Would food be better? How would she respond, then? Would she be offended, or would she be grateful?
So there I was, wasting my time thinking and thinking over what I should do or say while I kept walking. In the meantime, our distance became longer and longer, and I was more and more further away from her.
Then I continued walking.
In the end, I didn’t do a thing.
In the end, I’m no more than a coward.