I looked up to him and my mom standing together, as we roamed around the city. He had his DSLR as usual, and mom equipped with her smartphone to take videos. I remember going shopping for souvenirs and other window shopping.
We had a chit-chat and he took a video of me and mom as we goofed off. We went together to take pictures around town.
And then I opened my eyes.
I looked around and realized I’m back in my room, laying on my futon.
And before I could anticipate it, the tears fell down on my face, then rolled down to my pillows and futon.
With my left hand still injured, I tried to suppress the pain while wiping my tears away. My eyelids hurt and sore by this time from crying non-stop in the past few days, ever since he said his farewell, and then his funeral.
And then I felt the pain.
Not the one on my left hand. Not the one on my eyelids.
It hurts, waking up to the realization that he’s not back for real. It was just the dream. I woke up to my reality and he’s still gone.
I remember his happy face and my mom’s in the dream. There we were, back together and happy again. It was so vivid.
Then the regret and guilt came back.
He’s still gone.
I should’ve valued him more.
I should’ve treated him better.
He’s been so good to us.
I never realized how selfless he’d been while he was still alive.
I forced my eyes closed to go back to sleep. Otherwise, I knew I’d go back crying the whole morning again.
I managed to sleep.
When I woke up, I looked upon my smartphone on the floor next to the futon and realized it’s still 8:30 AM.
The tears didn’t come back. The crying has stopped this time.
My eyes were wide open for no reason—at least, not one I could think of.
Maybe I simply slept for too long the night before.
I closed my eyes for a couple minutes before finally deciding that it was useless. If I wasn’t going to sleep, then I’d better get productive doing something. Then it would probably feel as if I’ve finally accomplished something meaningful, would it not?
I turned on the reading light and opened the textbook near my fūton to continue my last reading. I tried scrutinizing the text but realizing that I could make very little sense of what I’ve been reading and that I kept on reading the same paragraph over and over again.
So I finally got up and decided to make myself a cup of a warm hot chocolate.
I moved to my cushion and opened my MacBook to read a summary I made for a class last week. Maybe this one would be easier to digest, I thought to myself, as I opened the Pages application and scrolled through the document.
I tried reading the words out loud, kept denying that my mind kept wandering and wandering elsewhere—everywhere, basically, and tried to comprehend as much of what I’ve been reading—which was basically very, very, very little.
I finally opened my facebook instead. Not sure of what I was actually looking for there, I ended up searching for Word Porn. One of my favorite pages where I spent most of my procrastinations, reading beautifully composed words, if not at all nonsensical. Despite knowing how empty words could be most of the time, I strangely find solace in reading these neatly typed fonts—as long as there is no grammatical errors made—reading quotes or short stories or simply short poems about someone or something, which could be about just anyone, including me. As much as I hate nonsensical motivators and self-help books, somehow I could never compare these words as of the same level as those two I just mentioned. These words, short though they might be, always take my minds elsewhere—wandering and wandering in some fantasy and fictional world elsewhere, where I would construct and deconstruct stories based on the words I read on the page—and sometimes, it would take me into my memory palace, where I stored many of my valued irreplaceable moments—what I always referred to as the “bottled moments,” as if they were some kind of old books I could reread again and again from time to time, or rewatching my favorite movies where I could just skip to my favorite scenes and replay it for maybe a thousand times more. These are, of course, the happy moments, which I cling on to very keenly and hold on to very tightly, since, deep down I realize that these are one of the things that really keep me going on, moving on with my life and survive anything that pass by.
Then without premonition or warning of any kind, I felt tears rolling down my eyes.
I wasn’t even reading anything sad, and the last quotes I read did not even take out any sad memories from my memory palace, yet there I was, starring blankly at the screen—obviously no longer reading whatever I have in front of me, but trying to digest what just happened and wondering.
Of course, by now I’ve come to accept, no matter how unsensical it is, or how confusing it is, that sometimes—or many times, it is completely okay to just cry without any reason. Although, since I don’t really believe that anyone could truly cry without any reason at all, perhaps the best way to put it is that it is alright to cry without comprehending at all the reason why. Maybe I would eventually find out, or maybe not at all, but maybe it is okay to just dip in the sadness—or dwell in whatever it is I am feeling when the tears just roll out—without first investigating the cause. There is always a reason, I think, of why anyone cry at all. Sadness—of course, frustration, anger, jealousy, rage, pity, compassion, love, and maybe even madness, but I believe it is never really out of nothing. There must always be a reason why anyone is crying, but is the reason that important? This was a question I used to ask myself years ago.
“It’s okay. We girls sometimes just feel that deep sadness, and it’s okay if you don’t understand it, you know. It happens, and there’s nothing abnormal in it,” my confidant, and the closest person in my life at that time said the words to me as I was crying and frustratingly telling her that I don’t know why I really cry. I remember feeling deeply ashamed and stupid, as I felt completely embarrassed for being caught off-guard crying, and making everybody coming at me and asked if I’d been hurt or something. I felt exposed and weak, and she then just hugged me tightly until I stopped crying. As she said those words I felt a bit of relief. That I’m not abnormal for crying for no reason at all, and that maybe, maybe, it wasn’t at all that weird. I still felt exposed and weak, but it was not like there was anything I could do to turn back the time and hid myself elsewhere so no one would see me crying anyway.
And those are the words I’ve been holding on to now, as an excuse, or a justification, or whatever you’d like to term it, whenever I feel like crying, and I’ve been using the same words as well to stop finding the reason why whenever I cry. I mean, come on, I have my feelings turned up and down already, and I still have to think of why it happened? It’s just too much. I could just drown myself in the emotional roller coaster of sadness or frustration or whatever emotions I am feeling and just wait until it passes without having to feel burdened with the obligation to find out why now, so why make my life even more complicated?
So that’s what I’m doing right now. Crying. Just that. For god knows why. And just wait until it passes. At least I am alone in my room, and no one could see me. I am not exposed right now so I could let out all my emotions—burying my face on the pillow and cry my heart out, pouring and burying all my emotions there, without feeling bad or ashamed, or even fear that anyone would ever find out. Then I’d pass this, so that later today I could resume my life as if nothing unusual has happened.
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.
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.”
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 suppose… If such thing could really disappear, maybe we should do a reality check instead. It seems so… so utopian.”
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.
Earlier today I went to visit my grand father in Denpasar. For someone who admit to be awkward in socializing with others, not to exclude family, I have to say I had a great day.
As I’m not a morning person at all, I woke up earlier today at about 11ish. 10.30ish. 10.45ish. Around that time. And then my mom finally managed to make me take a shower. (Yes, finally!) So after I cleaned myself, ate my breakfast, and took care of the laundry, I called my grandpa and told him that we’re coming soon. That was around 12 PM.
So we tried to stop a taxi, and finally arrived at grandpa’s house at around 1. Not to mention that we were lost before we finally found his house.
Now, let me get this straight first.
I was born in Java, and I have Javanese, Balinese, and Chinese Indonesian heritage from my parents. My grandpa here is a Balinese. The sad thing is that the last time I visited him and met my Balinese family was 2 years ago. And before that, it was about 19 years ago when I was only 4.
So not only I don’t know my Balinese family very well, I was as well having trouble finding my grandpa’s house in Pekambingan area.
I’m also suck–really suck–at navigation, FYI.
So yeah, we almost enter a stranger’s house, mistaking it for grandpa’s house.
Anyway, I finally called him and asked him to show me direction through phone, and we finally arrived.
Yay! Let me do the happy dancing for a while.
* * *
Okay, happy dancing done.
Then we did some catch up, gave him a Tempe Kripik, which is the traditional food from my hometown (a small city called Purwokerto) and chatted for a while.
After that, we went to visit my grandmother–or my grandpa’s sister-in-law, which I should refer to as Kompyang, or simply Nenek. Oh, she’s actually my great grandma. Then as we chat and chat, I start to recollect the family I have here. Apparently, aside from my grandpa, who I refer to more as Pekak, I have plenty other grandpas (Pekak) and grandmas (Oda): Pekak Ned and his wife, Oda Endang, Pekak Made, Pekak Nyoman, Oda Catri, and Pekak Tude, the youngest of all, who could be simply mistaken as my uncle (Uwe). And then the uncles and aunts: Uwe Sunan, Uwe Leila, and Uwe Surya, my 8 years old uncle (according to the family tree, he’s supposed to be my uncle!).
After visiting each one of them (except for Uwe Sunan who’s in Lombok atm, Pekak Nyoman and Pekak Tude), my Pekak and Oda Endang invited me to see Denpasar Festival 4 which was held in Udayana. The traffic–as it has gone crazier and crazier towards New Year–was a complete disaster. So instead of driving to the location of the festival, we parked the car somewhere near the festival, and then decided to go there on foot. Oh yes, there was a heavy traffic jam.
So there, I held my Pekak’s arm tight, while my mom and Oda Endang went window shopping and ended up shopping, indeed. As we separated ways in the festival, I finally managed to persuade Pekak to have dinner with me as he had not eaten anything since we arrived at noon. It was around 9 at that time. I would definitely starving by then, but he kept reassuring me, saying that he’s fine and I don’t have to worry at all about him.
Of course I was worried.
So finally we stopped at this place selling Kambing Guling, Sate and Soto Ayam.
Now, this is my favorite part of the day.
As I accompanied Pekak while he ate his dinner, I started to ask him about the books he has at home.
Pathetically, I just found out earlier today that my grandpa apparently is really smart and open-minded, as well as a devoted reader like me. Only he doesn’t read novel. He read non-fictions about Politics and Philosophy. I was really tempted to steal his Dialogue with Socrates as I glanced at it. But of course I didn’t.
He said he likes reading about Politics and Philosophy, and he’d wanted to major in Social & Politics earlier in the university, but as he was born on October 12th 1940, by the time he entered university, there hadn’t been any university which provides good quality of Social & Politics study around. So he went to study law instead, at Airlangga University in Surabaya.
And that was the time when I finally had enough courage to ask a question I’ve been wanting to ask him for years:
“So, grandpa, I was actually wondering… Were you involved with PKI during the 60s?”
And I got a firm “No,” along with a head shake as an answer.
I think I was actually almost disappointed.
To answer your question: No, I didn’t ask that question out of nowhere.
There has been a rumor–well, not actually a rumor. When I was a kid, my grandma and my dad told me once that my grandpa once joined the PKI, and when the national army went around Indonesia to capture PKI members, he was captured and kept in prison for years.
That’s when my grandma decided to remarry again.
Anyway, just in case you’re confused what the hell PKI is, it’s a communist party that once dominated Indonesia. Its career ended after the 30 September Movement, and not until Soeharto resigned in 1998 did people start to wonder and talk about what happened. Sadly, these ‘people’ mostly refer to foreigners who study or interested in Indonesian culture and history. I don’t really know many Indonesian who put so much interests in their own history.
(You could click the link for further, clearer, and more complete information.)
Then my grandpa continued and set things straight:
“I wasn’t involved in PKI, to be precise. I was actually involved in the youth organization in campus. The thing is, after the 30 September Movement, the army started to slay and capture those who either actually involved in PKI or those who simply didn’t oppose PKI’s idealism. As a university student, you know, we were full of idealism and thoughts. We want things to be better, and we urged the government to do it. It’s not that we were pro PKI or against it, but we opened ourselves to good ideas and thoughts, especially related to this country. If PKI offered good solutions for this country’s problem, why should we oppose? Sure, were there any other good solutions offered by others, we’d definitely support it. The problem is, the army didn’t see us that way. At that time, there were many prejudices, and our youth movement in campus was not excluded. They simply accused us as PKI supporters, so they captured us and put us in jail. Without proof.”
I also told him that I’ve watched the movie Sang Penari, which was inspired by Ahmad Tohari’s novel Ronggeng Dukuh Paruk and has the story set in the 1960s–sometime before and after the 30 September Movement. I also told him that I read some articles about the PKI and watched The Year Living Dangerously.
I think he wanted to make sure that I wasn’t prejudice toward him, so he asked me first, what do I know about the ‘Movement’ and the party itself. So I told him all I know and all I read.
“There are two kinds of history. One that is told from this perspective, and another one that is told from that perspective. Only reading and listening from one side of the story could mislead you. The more you read, the more you know the truth.”
I’m not gonna argue with someone whose grades in history are always next-to-excellent. I saw his school certificates earlier–from elementary school up to university. He’s really fond of history, turns out.
“So grandpa, how long were you in jail?”
“10–(noise on the street)–minus 1 month.”
“No, sweetie. 10 years,” and he chuckled.
My eyes widened.
“Yes, minus 1 month. Your grandma was pregnant with your dad at that time. 3 months pregnancy. I had to leave.”
I remember my dad told me that it wasn’t until he was entering primary school that he found out that his dad at home is not his biological father. He said he called my grandpa a loon who thought he’s my dad’s dad.
I couldn’t imagine being in a cell for 10 years, with… nothing to do. So I asked him what did he usually do there. He told me about the size of the cell. It’s about 1.5 m x about 3.5 m, if my memory serves. They usually fit 3 skinny men in there, so my grandpa simply chat with them. Playing chess sometimes. Take a shower at 8 AM and later 4 PM.
“Well, there’s really nothing much you could do in a place like that. If you’re not strong psychologically, you’d crack.”
Deep in my heart, I was thankful that he was still alive up to now.
Then I told him that in the article I read, many influential and smartass were in the PKI and they were put in prison. One of my favorite author, Pramoedya Ananta Toer was in it.
“Oh, Pramoedya? Yeah, he’s really smart. And kind, too. He used to walk around, back and forth–remember there wasn’t enough space in there, so you could simply go back and forth in the same direction–he’d usually walk with dignity.”
“He was there?”
“Yes, yes.” And he nodded.
My grandpa was talking about my favorite author like he’s this cool guy who you usually met at school. “Oh, him? Yeah, we were in the same class. He’s the one who’d usually ask the most questions in class.”
“It’s just unfair how the government treated those people, pops. I mean, they are not criminals who’d steal your wallet or kill you for your money, right? They’re smartasses, who’d actually be very useful to this country.”
My grandpa nodded. “Yea. I changed cell mates for about three times, and almost all of them are educated abroad and very brilliant.”
Holy shit, my grandpa was there to witness the history! He’s there!
And then we went back to the festival.
While we wait for my mom and grandma as they shopped around, I continued my discussion with grandpa. We changed the subject though, this time.
I don’t really remember how it started, but what I remember most is that I was asking him about Sesajen–the offerings made by the Balinese Hindus for the gods.
Now, what’s really interesting and unique about Bali is the custom of offerings. Other than having tons of Pura’s, every Balinese Hindus has at least their own Pura at the front of their houses. Depends on the size of the house (and depends on how rich you are), the size, height and beauty of the small Pura varies. Well, the term Pura might not be the right one, but this ‘small Pura’ is used to put Sesajen, or offerings. Some houses (mostly the wealthier ones) would also have an altar–like a small hall–aside from the small Pura.
My Pekak’s and Kompyang’s house are not excluded.
Then I asked him about the Sesajen.
He told me that the usual Sesajen is called Canang. People usually make Canang as soon as they finished cooking their breakfast. Before they eat their breakfast, they ought to put chunks of whatever they eat for breakfast in the offerings and then put it in the small Pura. Once they finished this, they could then eat their breakfast. Unless you’re sick or away from home, you should put the Sesajen every day as a prayer for all the meals that you’re gonna eat that day. Praying that the nutrition will fill your body and improve your health, and to make sure you’re not to starve.
Another one is called Banten. This one is only made on special occasion. Tourists could see Banten everywhere in malls in Bali where people would put Banten near the front door, or somewhere on the corner of the street, as a prayer for luck and success for their business. When I was here, my mom’s best friend (who mostly pay for my trip and fun here in Bali) hires a driver. He’s a Balinese and whenever we go around to visit some tourism resorts, I would always see a Banten on the car’s dashboard next to the steering wheel.
I love Bali because it’s one place where you’d see art and culture blended into one in harmony.
Later we continued on talking about random subjects and random stuffs.
I found out that apparently our ancestors were part of the Ksatrias. But since we don’t really believe in caste system and instead, believe that caste system would only create further discrimination and prejudice, so we no longer use nor acknowledge it. Awesome, though.
Also, apparently, my great-grandfather used to be in the Dutch army. He was trained in the Dutch school for police, and later, he switched side and join his fellow Indonesian to fight for independence. He died sometime later after that, which caused my grandpa to be fatherless. But my great-grandmother and my grandpa received some benefits as a reward for my great-grandpa’s patriotism. Awesome, again.
I learned a Balinese word “Sing Ken Ken” which means “No problem.” Also awesome.
This is a post about a dream I once had about me and my friends, hanging out together after not seeing each other for quite a long time. I felt like I was just back in the old times.
“You’re a very ignorant person.”
“You have such a huge ego that it scared most people.”
“You have the air of a proud person, you know.”
“You could be really arrogant sometimes, you know that?”
And so on and so on… or at least that’s what they say about me.
* * *
I packed my iBook G4, with its charger and rushed into the cafe as soon as I got a call to meet up and hang out with my friends.
I’m late. I’m definitely late.
And my phone’s been ringing over and over for 30 minutes. The last time I took the call, my old pal scolded me for being late as ever with sharp tone and cruel, witty words.
No worries. I know he meant no harm. That’s just his manner of speech.
But as I saw his name on my cell phone’s screen, I think it’d be wiser not to take his call while I rushed to meet him and the others.
Goddammit, hurry up, I thought while waiting for the angkota to depart. They barely moved a wheel because there were only 3 people inside.
Dammit, I’m fucking-late already! I screamed inside.
35 minutes passed already–I glanced at my watch. At the same time, for the hundredth time, my cell phone rings again.
As I saw the caller’s name on the screen, I knew I couldn’t escape it anymore. I had to take the call.
Be strong, I told myself as I press the green button.
“Where were you!?” A scold, as expected, from a very familiar voice, was heard from the other line.
“Sorry! Sorry, sorry, sorry, sorry! I’m really sorry! I’m late as hell, and I’m sorry!” I said right away, begging for forgiveness.
“Do you know what time it is!? Geez! You’re such a latecomer!”
“I know, I know, and I’m so–“
“You’re sorry, my ass. You’re unbelievable!”
Oh, don’t worry. He’ll forgive me, alright.
“I know, I know, I’m in angkota right now, and this bloody-car just won’t move an inch!”
“You’d better get your ass here as soon as possible,” he said, with a threatening tone.
No, no, don’t worry. He’s not going to kill me. But I’ll probably need to deal with him–his wrath, his anger, whatever you call it.
“I know, I know! I’ll be there soon! I promise!” I said, still in a begging tone.
And he hang up on me without even saying goodbye.
Dammit. Why can’t this bloddy-angkota move!?
And just when I can’t be more frustrated, 5 people entered the car.
Okay. 10 minutes, and I’ll take a cab instead, I told myself.
Within 5 minutes, the cursed vehicle finally moved.
I looked at my watch and cursed–again.
I was almost an hour late.
He’s gonna fucking kill me.
But I rushed anyway, going inside the diner, as I saw my friends sitting around the big table, eating their dinner merrily.
“Hi,” I said in a grim tone.
“Hey! You finally came!” A woman sitting next to where I was standing greet me warmly. She’s a grown-up, alright, but her posture makes her look like a little girl. Not that it’s a bad thing, really. I think it suits her just fine, and that’s what makes her… her.
And she drew a chair next to her, letting me sit.
There he was, sitting on a chair across me. I tried not to look at him.
“Hi! I’m sorry I’m terribly late. The bloody angkot took so long, waiting for passengers, as usual,” I conveyed my apology.
Another woman–rather buxom, with a pleasant, merry face, laughed.
“Oh, don’t worry! I was late as well!” And she laughed cheerfully, like it was no big deal.
God, I don’t think he’d think so.
“Geez, we almost left, you know!” Finally, I heard him speaking, in a sarcastic tone, although he sounded like he was joking, this time.
And I glanced at him, and saw him staring at me.
Then I knew he wasn’t mad anymore. He was acting mad.
“I know! I’m sorry! Geez! Has everybody finished eating, really?” I asked.
“Oh, no. Don’t worry. We’re kinda waiting for you, and since it took you so long to finally arrive, we ordered our food already, but as you can see, we’re still waiting for those food.” This time, the one speaking was another woman sitting next to that guy. Another buxom one with glasses, just like the petite one sitting next to me. With glasses, I mean.
I looked at the people sitting around me.
Those were the people I know. They were the faces of the people so familiar to me.
My friends. Who know by heart what a snob I could be.
Who know exactly how arrogant and spoiled I am.
They were the people who understand how big my ego could be.
Yet they stay. They remained my friends.
Oh, we’ve had turbulence in our friendship sometimes, alright. But there we were, sitting next to each other. Missing each other’s company.
Those familiar faces.
Those familiar smiles.
* * *
Eminem’s voice, shouting the rap of the first verse from his song “Love The Way You Lie” woke me up right away.
I glanced at the clock on my cell phone’s screen. It’s 7.15 AM.
I closed my eyes again for a minute, trying to get rid of the eyesore I had the moment I opened my eyes. And I don’t know why, despite my alarm was actually playing the song “Love The Way You Lie,” but it’s the song by The Ready Set called “Wishlist” that was playing over and over in my head.