Brown Waters Pt. 10

She walks across the room, with determined steps. Nine or ten years old perhaps, with the thermos hanging on her left hand and a stack of rantang on her right. She walks alone. Where are her parents?

Perhaps she is here to visit one of them. Hopefully one of them. I just can’t bear to think of the possibility that she is here for both of her parents.

People are everywhere, filling seats along the walls of this great hall. Busy talking to each other, busy minding their own business. Busy with emptiness.

And she strides as if she were the only animated life in this cold building. I can’t really assess her emotion, she shows none of it. Chillingly it crept into my consciousness.

Has she been groomed by pain?

She passes in front of me, alone, purposeful, and then disappears behind the alley.

For some children, the hospital is a school. It’s a crash course where you learn how to react and adapt towards the development before you. It doesn’t really matter whether you understand the lesson or not. What matters is how you can function within certain particular circumstances, the promises behind hopelessness, and the death of loved ones. On certain days, you’ll also learn about recuperation, endurance, and the hardiness of souls.

The children become sages. Sometimes, the adults around them rely on them for comfort, for assurance, for a tiny hope for tomorrow.

My wife is still talking with those people, our distant relatives. We have said our parting words ten minutes ago, but being an emotional person herself, I’m afraid she will tell them that she will stay here, accompanying and consoling them. I need her today, the only day where I can have respite after spending the entire weekdays swallowing other people’s nonsense.

The mother of the family is in one the room. I saw her hooked up to the machine that seems to force her to breathe, sustaining her life. We can see it in everyone’s eyes, she doesn’t have a lot of life left in her.

Her husband is sitting against the wall of the room where his wife is being kept, patiently accepting guests and words of encouragement, some of which were dryly expressed without the effort of concealing the obvious. He is old, and weary. I’ve never met him before, but exhaustion is clearly visible.

Their son is in the family room, opening a package of Padang rice, ready to eat. A young man in his twenties, I heard that he is still struggling with jobs. My wife said that they had another child, a daughter who married a man of low status in some random places far from this city. I heard that the marriage was against their will, and the the daughter fell sick and died soon after. I heard that the grandson is kept away from her family, and that the husband is about to marry another woman.

I can feel their pain, but I need my wife now.

Brown Waters Pt. 9

For each hectare of forest, it’ll take Rp 4.000.000,- to use heavy machinery to clear it from trees and other annoying pests. Tell people to burn it, and pay only Rp. 800.000,-. Simple economy, easy to understand, and real.

And each company has thousands of hectares of concessions.

The live map given by Firewatch, a multi-million dollar non profit organization, shows that the hot spots within the concession area are scarce. The nation’s leader of tree cutters association said that he was refraining himself from pointing fingers, that it is no time to seek out who’s wrong and who’s right, that it is clear from the hot spot map, that it is the farmers around the concession area who burned the vegetation for their cycles of crops. That once again, it is no time to point who’s right and who’s wrong, that it is the time for the government to focus on managing the fire.

The young man from from the prominent tree huggers organization, referred to the government’s map, passionately conveying the possibility of collusion between the palm plantation companies and local government in taking advantage of the loopholes within the regulation. Creating dead land that will eventually should be given to the companies to be put to good use. He came without anything to show, and was shaking like a foal.

The young, beautiful, and apparently ambitious TV anchor, jabbing her questions towards both of her guests. Her shots missed the marks too often. Far away in Jakarta, she has enough pollutant to fill her own head.

The TV is on, the debate has become a tad too funny, but nobody is watching. Maldwyn is turning the pages of his notes, weighing their options and questions. Ever the researcher, he doesn’t even have to pretend about the nature of their quest. Agam is grinning, unconsciously showing his distaste, while trying to be agreeable.

The plump old man in front of him is giving him a lecture about coming of age, of how to become a man, the difficult decisions, and of how to sweep the bitches off their feet… literally.

This bataknese man came visiting this island more than 30 years ago, and like many of his fellow bataknese, they came empty but boastful. He had done everything; sand digger, truck driver, rubber slab reseller, truck owner, palm plantation owner, gas station owner, and many things in between. But the one thing that Agam remembers is the story of how this mother fucker stole his father’s land.

Brown Waters Pt. 8

He stares at nothing, disarrayed hair and lines on every inches of his skin, brown eyes, deprived of any interest in life.

It came to him.

At every milestone of his life with all of its insignificance, there are byproducts, and it’s called pain. With every decaying cell comes the number of corruptions that he inflicted upon himself and every single person who has had anything to do with him.

He is old.

He is not sure whether he has been living the life that he wanted to have, or if he has been living at all. The number of people who are hurt by his every word and action, the number of friends and loved ones who have become bitter enemies, none of it matter anymore. He has come to term with forgetfulness, the self preservation mechanism that has been keeping his entire world and his existence from caving in.

There’s no excitement anymore, he can’t even remember any music to hum along anymore. All he can do is to wait for any kind of stimulant to give him a tiny amount of spark inside, to get by a day or two, where the days will otherwise go by silently, quietly.

The problem is, those sparks would come with hints of painful memories.
The older he gets, the more he has to digest… until he chokes.
Suicide has never been an option, somehow it takes more effort than needs be. Even smoking has become too painful sometimes.
So he floats, alive while dying inside.

Today one of his loved ones are getting married. There are celebrations to mark the beginning of a new life. He was invited. But he will have none of it.
He can mention a lot of reasons, he’s not the kind of someone who might say something that is over the top, so those reasons might be believable.

Text messages after text messages that the young couple had sent to him became trashed data in his cellphone. Phone calls went unanswered.
He doesn’t know what to say, he wonders whether they will understand his reason. The matter of the fact is that he is weary. Weary of everything.

Does he love these people? Certainly. But he wonders whether his presence will rekindle old pain. His absence on the other hand will certainly bring new pain.

Through the windows, he can see a part of Sanggau that stretches to the river yonder. This morning, when the sun is carving shadows among every building and tree, the fog overlays the scene.

He takes his phone and begins to think of something.

“Be blessed my daughter. You’re not mine, true. You were born of people’s circumstances. Two people’s circumstances, and I dare say, ignorance. Your father was a conceited idiot, right to the moment of his death. Your mother was a fool. To say that I hate your father, is an understatement, to say that I hate your mother, is a lie.

“Now, you’ve met a good man, or a man nevertheless, and this is the day of your marriage. I’m happy for you, and sad of myself. Of all the pain and struggles that you’ve been through, I’m sad to say that there are more to come.

With all of this, I’ve often wondered, how many times had you asked “why?” I couldn’t bare the thought of it, so I distanced myself from you.

“They say that happiness is a choice. I’ve never had that choice, sometimes it’s because I consciously avoided them. Lets just say that I’ve been wired wrongly. As the one who came to this world before you, I realize that my words won’t mean much to you now. Life will tell you how it was, how it is, and how it will be. You may learn a lot, or you may learn nothing.

“I know, because I’ve learned nothing, or rather, I’ve been taught a lot, but have learned nothing. Nevertheless, I want to tell you that you can be happy, or at least, I think you deserve it. Now, I know my thought may weight next to nothing to many people, but with whatever I’ve got in this heap of failure which is me, I pray for every single joy of your life. May you find meaning behind them, because without it, there’s just no sense of living.

“Congratulations.”

He put down his cellphone, the text field is empty. Perhaps he’ll try again tomorrow, or the day after.

Brown Waters Pt. 7

Agam lits another cigarette. Usually, he doesn’t smoke this much. It’s his second pack of sixteen today, and it’s almost half spent. Too many times he swore to quit, when his hands became numb and shaking, when he was gasping for air, his sight failed and his body was wet from sweat. When doom was closing in, he realized, somehow, he still wants to live.

He stares at the roadside through the car’s window as they slowly move through the center of the small town. Today he believes that everyone will die. So fuck it. Besides the thought of money from this job and the walks they have done for the las few days have had their effect. He felt his spirit being reinvingorated, and he can feel his blood flowing.

A matic scooter lines up beside their car, two girls on top. Tight white t-shirt, short pants. The heat of the day reveals the sign of perspiration upon their milky brown skin. They pause on the right side of the car where Agam is, right before the window where his face is. Pausing, not sure whether they can overtake the car while there is another car coming from the opposite direction.

No helmet, their long hair is swept by the wind, he imagines his face among them. The one behind pressing her breast to the back of the one in front. They are busy talking to each other. Traces of sweat visible somewhere around her back. Full juicy meat, solid young muscle, promising warmth. He longs to caress those thighs.

And then they moved, accelerating. Agam eyes follow them until he sees them from the windshield. They accelerated and disappear beyond other cars before them.

Submitting to the fact that the enticing sight has gone, his eyes come upon the cross hanging form the mirror behind the windshield. Swaying, as if to halt his quest for flesh.

According to Google, Jesus was 30 when he died.

Or 31, or 32.

Google was less sure whether he was married or not.

He wonders whether Jesus had the same excitement.

“I’ve asked the people I know back in Pontianak and some other towns, they’ve confirmed that they have never seen the news related to this on any media. Not local, not national.”

Maldwyn has been on the phone for quite some time, now comes the reporting time. Agam wonders why Maldwyn would think he cares.

There was a tourist spot around the west coast, it had a hill that promised the visitor the heavenly view of the beach and beyond. However, there was a catch. The road climbing towards the top of the hill was so steep that cars would fall, taking the entire passengers with them. Some people died. Agam knows this because his cousins and their family were among the lucky ones to be alive through the whole flying cars ordeal.

But there was nothing on the newspaper, nothing on tv, local or national. He isn’t sure of what happens on the site now. But nobody talks about it anymore.

A man from South Korea fell from the helicopter a few days after he found a large chunk of diamond, or a large deposit of gaharu… or both, Agam isn’t sure. Indonesia is a place where old planes and choppers fall, but nobody falls from a flying plane or chopper, they don’t have to, they can just fall with the whole fucking aircraft. That’ll be a grand way to die, it’ll be news. The media, local or national will cover it, they will fill the entire month with talk shows discussing and questioning about what had happened. From the ministry of transportation to celebrities, from pilots to the engine guy, they invited everyone.

People fall from chopper and cars flying down the hill are no news around this part, for reasons best left to assumptions. Agam looks at Maldwyn. He thinks about all the complications that this story might bring. He flicks the ashes from his cigarette out of the window. He put the filter to his lips and start sipping the multitude of poison.

“I know someone who was somebody up north, I can call him. Do you want to stop by?” Agam tries to fish out his cellphone, wondering whether that name, which brings up a recollection of a loathsome face, is till there.
“By all means.” Maldwyn, somehow, suddenly looks joyous.

“Don’t keep your hopes too high, this one is not one of those nice and decent people.” Agam, takes another stream of smoke into his lunge, and breathe it out out of the window, recalling the time when people ran towards him brandishing cleavers and sickles.

Brown Waters Pt. 6

Am I happy?

I don’t know, I’m not so sure…

Why should I be?

This new LED TV in a fresh box sticking up to my back, kept in place by my sister’s eager hands. Is this the reason for my happiness?

This new scooter, whose down payment I shared with mom, and now on its ninth installment, is this the reason for my happiness?

On this road now, near the outskirt of the town, bumpy road, a mix of dirt and asphalt and holes, half a kilometer from home.

It’s not a big one, but it’s mighty perfect to replace that bulbous tube that our mother had kept as her sole company. Black line has been covering the lower half of its screen, the remote works, sometimes, the buttons on the TV to replace the function of the remote are somewhere inside that damned. It has reminded us of how hopeless we are. It occupies the room… the living room that doubles as the kitchen. Now mother tries to sell it for its original price. She bought it, she came home one day with two men from the shop, she told us that she had sold a lot of clothes, and she wanted to enjoy her success. It was, and, I guess, still is, the materialization of her pride.

And so there it was. It wasn’t our first TV, but it was better than the second hand units that the old man had brought home and slammed after a few months because they were so bad. Even the repairmen shook their heads.

Will my mother be happy now? I don’t think she cares much, other than the fact that she will be able to watch again, she will be able to put aside all of those worries, those pesky distraction called painful life. TV, it’s the one and only form of entertainment, it’s like an immunity system that allows us to keep our sanity.

My sister on the other hand is delighted.

She has been working as a shopkeeper at a store near the market not more than a kilometer from our house. She is a spender, and I guess will always be. But the thought of replacing the old TV set has come to show that she too can be frugal. She readily agreed to share the payment. I thought it might take more effort to educate her about saving resources for another bigger purpose.

All is good I guess. They have this TV, they have this scooter, they are living a normal life like the rest of the people around them.

I will return to the plantation feeling content, I guess I am happy, for the time being.

Am I happy about my job? I don’t know. Besides all the paperwork, the neck breaking preparation for the meetings with investors, the nagging boss who is also my uncle, all is fine I guess.

The camp is not that bad, friends are there, friends who have become my sisters and my enemies. Nosy and inquisitive, with mouths as noisy a farm-load of ducks. Well I guess that’s just how it should be. All I can do is to keep my self from being caught in the middle.

The camp is near the edge of the plantation, adjacent to the office complex, and according to some people, about 2 hours from civilization, worse if it rains.

Do I feel lonely?

No, we have TV sets that are connected to satellite dishes. We have internet connection where we stay, the company’s facility I guess, we can do video calls with it. The guys always come to our camp, and I mean always. They bring food, the bring movies, they bring in the pastors, they even throw parties sometimes, those are for the girls they like of course. But they have to keep the rest of the camp happy if they want to get on with their business.

Nobody has come near me. Well. there were a couple of guys, but they backed off once they knew about my uncle. It’s everywhere, the notion that I am being kept here. He has a son who is working in a larger plantation owned by a huge national company.

I’ve seen that guy, a few times too many. Stocky built, too many nutrition I guess. Dandy appearance every time he makes an appearance. Tight, long sleeved polyester shirts with catchy colors, pants that seems like gloves around his fat feet, and shiny, squeaky clean shoes with long noses. I mean, he works in a plantation.

Graduated from Yogyakarta, I don’t know which campus, his way of speaking is noticeably different from the way people speak around him. It’s even different from the way the Javanese people here speak. It seems that he does it on purpose, to look different perhaps? To separate himself from the flock?

When he first came to the camp, he came with some of his men, invading the terrace. He spoke of standard things that men say to sway women. I remember some of the things that he said, especially the promises, promises that he made on the first day we met, of how I shouldn’t work again if we were to be together, of a big car for the whole family, of the trip to Japan and the Netherland, of opening a supermarket, my supermarket.

Women should remember the promises that men have made, said my mother, so you know whether you should suffer of be happy. I can’t say I understand what she meant. I remember her yelling at father too many times, perhaps she wasn’t happy, perhaps she has never felt happiness. I don’t blame her though. Something had to be done to that living corpse we once called father, yelling didn’t seems effective.

Yet he was my father once…

He was warm once. He was there, helping me with my homework, giving me advice, he was my friend. A quiet but funny man. He drifted away. Gradually, it seemed that he wanted us to hate him. I don’t understand.

Sometimes I think that mother had taught me to hate him, she taught us to to hate him. Until we believe that we hate him.The day we saw his cold body in front of the house. We weren’t sure what to do with it.

If only he was here right now, he might have something to say about this guy.

He smoked too much. I miss him.

Brown Waters Pt. 5

My name is Adriyani Juwono, my husband’s name is Juwono. I have four children. Farel the youngest, Keira the third, Dhea the second and Aini the oldest.

Farel is 11, he is on the 6th grade, a very bright child, soon he will be a junior high school student, and senior high school after that and certainly college. I would love to see him be a young successful man that he should and merry a good pretty girl. He will be the pride of me and his father. He will protect his mother, he will be the leader of the family.

Keira is 17, a little bit unruly, worse than how Dhea was. Dhea is 20 bytheway, she is in Serawak, Malaysia now. She has been working there for about 1 year now. Perhaps one and a half, I can’t remember. She’s not working as a housemaid, she is working at a clothing factory, she told me about her position, but I can’t remember what she said.

You know, it’s in English, and, being an uneducated person, I don’t understand a word of it. I didn’t finish high school, I only got to the 1st grade, and things got jumbled up. I couldn’t understand what it really was, but certainly not because my father didn’t have the money. He wasn’t rich, yes, but he wasn’t poor either. But he just gave up I guess. Personal problem. But certainly it was also because my mother ran away from home with another man. Now that I think about it, it’s a little bit funny.

I had worked in Malaysia myself you know. Yes, I was a housemaid. I spent so many years there, sometimes I went back and forth. There was where I met my huband. We got married and returned there for a few years. Back and forth you see, and made children…

We couldn’t always see each other. I was mostly working in Serawak, from one family to the next. Alhamdulillah, no bad thing happened to me. Well, you see, bad things happened. Days weren’t always happy, sometimes bad things happen to everyone. It happened to me too.

But God forbid, nothing like those news on TV, those murdered housemaids, or the ones who were badly tortured by their employers and are forced to run away.

I was always lucky I guess, Allah has always been merciful to me.
My husband wasn’t always working at the same place. No, not even in the same state. He moved along, with projects. He was trusted as a foreman too, his bosses liked him. I guess that what got me swayed as well. He is a reliable man with initiatives.

We are here now, because he sees the chance. I’m not here alone. Here at this place that people call the Texas of West Kalimantan, all the way from Central Java. Well, we won’t be here all year long. We have a shop back in our hometown where we sell basic necessities like rice, sugar, salt, cigarettes… ok, we sell all kinds of things. We also have sizable portions of land where we plant paddy and plant some other produces.

We have people and family tending to those, and there are not much things to do there these days, and my husband, being a person who just can’t stand with quiet life, took the invitation from fellow villagers to come here.

And being a good wife, I tagged along.

You see , there are many gold mines here, mostly illegal, but those that are legal are ill managed. So some of us from Java saw the opportunity and thought that it can be done better. We formed a paguyuban, and here my husband is entrusted as the leader of that paguyuban, and employs every technique that he thinks can yield better result. Efficient, that’s the word that the men use. We have some machines here that they don’t have anywhere else, like that grinder over there. That’s a large scale grinder by the way, but one person can operate it.

We don’t use mercury anymore, we did, but I think that’s bad. I want to go home and have the good health to see my children grow. Other miners use it, they just can’t see how it will hurt them in the future. They always say that they are fine, that they have been as healthy as ever. But I was told that the effect of it will not come instantly, and I was told that it can be frightening. Not that I’ve seen anybody with the effect of mercury on their body.

Of course there are problems when people from other places come to this area and work here. Automatically, the native might think that we are here to take over their livelihood. Well, I think I would have same thought when people came to our hometown and work there. But on the other hand, they are so inefficient and this chance is something that we just can not let go. By the way, don’t we also have the right to work and prosper as the people of Indonesia?

Since the government officials are busy with themselves, their fights and their corruptions, we decided to take care of ourselves. We, the Javanese, are not just some lazy bums who can just sit and wait. We work hard, we progress, and insha’Allah we will prosper. I believe in that.

So here, you see me breaking each and every one of these rocks, this is just one of the phases of work, a part of the system. You can meet my husband over there, near the pond with some of our men. They are fixing one of the pump. We can’t rely on the people from around here, they charge so high for their service, and we never know what they are doing. Luckily we brought along some men with skills.

I think we are also lucky that the first person who found the gold here was a Javanese, and he helped the local people to establish the people’s mining area. Which I think is much better that the people here can work on their own mines and take the majority of the profit. Not just some big companies that managed to buy the government officials from here to Jakarta.

Oh, by the way, my eldest daughter, Aini, is in Jakarta with her husband. They open a small eatery there, they are doing good.
I may return for lebaran, I hope all of my daughters can come too. I hope our effort here can give us good result.

I am 42, why do you ask, do you think I’m still sexy? My daughter, Dhea, she is a beautiful woman, would you like to know her?

Tell me about yourself, are you married? What are you doing here with that foreigner?

Brown Waters Pt. 4

The devil fucks with you, so, whenever possible, you fuck the devil. Fuck him hard, screw the motherfucker and pin him to the toilet floor. That was logic, that was a conviction. For him, it was that simple. Then he realized that the damn bastard was just another actor in this fucked up game called life, albeit the one in possession of the entire cheat codes within his tablet device.

However, new epiphanies appeared. He realized that the devil was not the root of all evil. He believed that the poor bastard had been victimized by the abominable bipedal who call themselves human. Later he realized that it wasn’t even victimization at all, it was simply a play of words, to sell chocolates. Fucking chocolates. Indonesian chocolates, 15 percent sugar, 10 percent coloring agent, and 75 percent marketing campaign.

Since that day Agam had been trying to float around and about the devil makers who -at the same time – sell evil-repellent chocolates. The realization was a refreshing experience for him, it was refreshing to see that the world is actually nothing but a barren landscape where people, not the devil, just simply fuck each other.

The sound of the adhan began to fill his head now. The driver left the car a few minutes ago, that was quite punctual. Men walked in and out of the mosque, not many, but some. No women. It’s one of the most terrible adhan he had ever heard, the voice of an old guy, squealing like a woman stepping on shit.

Some kids were playing around a new scooter by the side of a provincial road, a small road that would only fit 2 trucks. Some of these kids would die, way before the legal age of riding a motorcycle, when cars hit their small hyperactive bodies.  Keeping them from being the banes of the world.

The scooter will be destroyed, some female breeders would cry and be angry, yelling like banshees calling other banshees and hell hounds to come and rip their victims to shreds, body and soul. The male breeders will extort. Some of the the weak drivers will spend whatever left of their miserable life sodomized by inmates and bribing guards for some decent food.

There they will learn that an intercity commute should never exceed the speed logic of the breeders, even if it means 30 kilometers per hour. Some other drivers will come back with some lawyers, and then it will become a little bit more complicated, with all of those pesky blood suckers throwing themselves head on into the mix.

Let them who fuck better win.

He fished his cam out, pushed the shutter button twice, and put it back again. He didn’t know why he took the pictures, but he just did. New digital trashes virtually materialized. None of it mattered.

Like this small town, and everything within it.

Like the woman who waited by the road side, waiting for a bus to take her away, toward the provincial capital. Tight jeans, turquoise t-shirt with golden cat on it, blue jeans jacket under the hot afternoon sun. A red duffel bag, in front  of his feet, apparently not full. Shutting off the world with her I-Phone, which was most probably fake.

Like the old men who were sitting in front of abandoned shop houses, some just sat looking at the road, some had some heated debate, perhaps about local or national politic.

Like the housewives who gathered around row of huts where some fishermen just sprawled their assorted goods.

Like the occasional passing of the cars and trucks.

Like the shadows these creatures made on the dusty soil by the roadside. Like the sun heating the very fiber of the doors and walls of the lonely and faded wooden houses.

Like the sound of the waves from the seaside, with the gleams that could be seen through the random rows of coconut trees.

Like the lovers, soon to be breeders, cruising slowly on their scooters, smooching under mortal sense of promises and happiness.

Like the impending dark cloud in the distance.

None of these mattered anymore.

There was a dead body with questions and no answers, two idiotic rush seekers with ugly scar tissues on the entirety of their backs and an entire region of flocks to be butchered, so that some assholes can freely suck on the rich milk of Kalimantan’s busty tits.

The final note of the adhan had passed, some mumbling ensued. A few moments later, the driver appeared on the terrace of the mosque, casually and cordially talking with his fellow believers. Agam fished out his cigarette, burned it and inhaled. The German looked at him, disapprovingly. But the windows were opened, and they weren’t in a client-contractors term, so he gave no shit.

The driver approached the car, but not alone. Following him were 2 men, one with full religious attire, and one with local civil servant uniform as well as some boys, tall, dark, skinny and menacing. The driver hopped in “they saw you and want to ask you some questions.” he said to the German gladly with the confidence of an annoying match maker. “Ok…” the German said, which sounded more like a question rather than an affirmation.

Then they barraged him with broken English, shouts of “mister”, and laughs. It didn’t sound like they are laughing together with their object of curiosity, it sounded like the laughs of people seeing monkeys in a zoo. “What religion? Agama! You mister!” the man in the uniform demanded. It struck a cord, the German obviously sounded displeased. “No, it’s my private business!” They pushed on. The German tapped on the driver’s shoulder “I think we can go now, or we might be late!” The driver looked at him with the obvious disappointed look that his mobile zoo would come to a close. The driver turned on the car, and said some parting words. The small crowd was protesting. The next minutes, the German turned to his notes, suppressing his anger. The driver lightly turned on the audio playing some religious songs from his attached flash drive… and Agam continued smoking, imagining the humid flesh of that woman with the turquoise t-shirt.

Brown Waters Pt. 3

2.40 pm.

The shadow of the sun has begun to transpire sometimes ago. I’m an easy kind of guy, but afternoon is the easiest. Soon the sun will be so low, the shadow becomes long, the cool breeze through my face. The sound of the birds, the chirping of the crickets from within the bushes, and feeling the asphalt cooling down. You can almost see the shrinking size of it.

Alas I can not do that, not this afternoon, I am within the confine of the cabin with fake wind from the air conditioner. I am working, in a car not my own. A driver, not actually my dream job, but it will suffice, until I can open that small restaurant of mine. I may not be a good man, but by God, I’m a good driver, and I respect my clients’ businesses. Hence I will have a good business, gathering money to make sure that my wife and children live properly. To be a good husband and father, Insha’Allah.

Peeping through the mirror I see my two passengers, one malay guy perhaps in his 20’s, one white guy, perhaps in his 40’s, busy with papers, maps and gadgets, smartphones, laptop and GPS. Talking fast in English. Since I saw them in Pontianak 3 hours ago, when they were waiting at the office, they had been busy.

I think they do not realize that they have moved from the waiting room into the car. Discussing things at length, exchanging notes. Laughing and sometimes they are talking as if something really bothers them. I may not know much of English, but I know when they are swearing.

Usually my passengers don’t really work in the car. Some of them do, but just by making some phone calls, working with papers, talking about prices, or mostly would rather sit back and enjoy the ride while eating snacks, drinking soft drinks, and chatting with me.

These two have brought their office into the car.

Sometimes they talk to me, asking about the area around Tayan, Sanggau and Balaikarangan. The foreigner can speak Bahasa Indonesia quite well, the Malay one speaks national Bahasa but gradually shifted his dialect and becoming similar to mine.

When I ask them, the foreigner said that he is from Germany, which I believe. The Malay said that he is from from Pontianak, genuinely from Pontianak, which is quite hard to believe, looking at the features on his face and how he doesn’t know the answers to some basic questions that I asked him about West Kalimantan.

But they are fine, they are good and respectful. Unlike some genuine sons of the region who treated me as if I were a worthless servant.

Now they are folding the papers, putting aside the books, but still with the map and a notebook.

“Is it ok if we open the window?” I heard the sound of the foreigner in good Bahasa and in a polite tone.

“Sure, certainly.”

They both open the windows beside them, I open mine and the one on the left side, the afternoon breeze blowing in, bringing in the scent of the afternoon, and the sounds that are so familiar. There in front of us, the features of the land is being carved by the sunlight and the shadows. Sometimes we passed through some houses, small hut, some farmers, trucks, buses, other cars. Sometimes it’s just the vista of the hills, the paddy field and the plantation, with nobody in sight.

My homeland.

“how about turning off the air con pak? We don’t need them, and it saves fuel.” the malay guy speaks, ever politely.

He is correct.

The clock on the dashboard, it’s almost 3 pm.

“It is almost Asr, if it’s ok with both of you, I would like to carry out my salat.”

The malay guy turns his head towards the foreigner, who looks at his phone. “I guess it is possible, you have been driving moderately so I think we might arrive at the destination quite on time.”

“I will stop at the next mosque, you may join me if you wish.” I look at the malay guy through the mirror.

He smiles “sorry pak, I don’t do salat.”

“Oh, sorry. You are not a Muslim?”

“No.”

“Ah.”

Brown Waters Pt. 2

The kids are gone,

To school.

It’s about two to three kilometers walk to their school, an elementary school. Third grade and fifth grade, lovely daughters of mine, lights of my life. I want the best for them, the best. The fact that the kecamatan is half a day away from any proper school is irrelevant. I’ll send them to the edge of the world if that is where they could shine.

Now they have to walk all the way to school.

Sometimes I think it just won’t do. When I went to provincial capital, which is a rare occasion in itself, I saw parents with cars and scooters taking their children right into the hall of the school. It was crowded, chaotic, but I think it showed how they regard education. The only thing that the children should do is to study.

I was and is inspired by what I saw. But now, it’s not something that we can do.

I’m quite grateful for what we have right now actually. The children walk the long way to school, meeting friends along the way, through the paddy fields, palm tree plantation, and small forests. Sometimes they have to open their shoes, and walk bare-feet upon the entire length of the dirt road, sometimes through flooded makeshift bridges.

They are strong and vibrant, my lovely angels.

Arrive at the school, playing with friends, sharing stories about other people and ghosts. We have no television, we have no electricity. There’s a power line on the road where the school is, but not where our house is. Something that I’m somewhat grateful of. But I know, the cost of it is rather terrible for my daughters’ competitiveness against the students from the cities.

But they are bright, my girls.

Once they arrive at home, they’ll help their mother preparing food, eat, and they will all go to the fields. Sometimes the younger one will go with her mother, and the older one will go looking for me, sometimes it’s the other way around. Sometimes we collect vegetables, tending our paddy field, sapping rubber, or feeding our flocks of chicken and pigs.

They always bring books with them, reading the notes given by their teachers, while their mother and me are busy with our work. Sometimes they insisted to help us, sometimes we just tell them to read and prepare for a better future. We want them to go far from here, to shine, to be successful. To be the kind of people that everyone would look up to.

We had only four old teachers, but now, there are a couple of new ones, much younger ones, fresh from college with the spirit, determination and a bit of anger towards the government, giving themselves for the children of the kecamatan. I know their parents, they live about two hundred meters from the elementary school. They never wanted their children to be teachers, they wanted their children to work as government officials, or to work at banks, out of this isolated place.

I understand the parents’s predicament. But I feel grateful of it, at least my children have better teachers, younger teachers, new ways of teaching. I pray for their sake, God will always provide for people doing good deeds despite themselves.

I myself was a rover, I came from Sumatra a long time ago, from the Island of Nias. We were sent out by our seminary to answer calls of request to herd the flocks of God. I was sent to West Kalimantan, have been staying here ever since, and married a local woman.

She was unassumingly beautiful, but somehow I knew she wasn’t as dull as the typical local women. She speaks rarely, but once she speaks she shines as someone who is wise but at the same time can truly act as a woman should: second in command to the captain of the household.

God has been very good to me, to us. She is the woman of my dream, a true mother to her children. The stories of the couples within our village have been bothering, some of them were separated by hatred, some of them were separated by death, because they just can’t take care of each other.

This is my duty as the shepherd of God. To bring peace to this place. I guess we are the only one who can do it. No one else.

An interesting young man came to this place once, doing research with some western people. We spoke a lot, it has always been refreshing to meet bright minds hear the stories of the world thought their eyes. I had hopes that he would help us. But I learned later that he was of a questionable character, had renounced his Christian faith, an atheist.

I have to say that I’m quite a liberal person. It’s completely alright for the young minds to stray, I talked a lot with him, because I knew of his potency and if I could just bring him back to the field of God, he can do great deeds.

But one day, he just went away. I guess that’s what happen if God is not within you. You stray.

Never mind, we still have our daughters, our beloved lights.

Brown Waters Pt. 1

caution: contains words considered unacceptable to some people.

It is dark and it is raining. The artificial lights serve their role. These lights are created to hide things… so many things.

Reflections that they make conspire to fool the senses, moving over the water, dancing as cars and motorcycles move carefully. The vast river is the entire downtown area, here where magic is cheap, and Jesus might be just another guy walking on water.

He navigates his scooter, wasn’t really sure whether he remembers the border between the water and the trenches. The dim light from his scooter doesn’t help a lot, or at all. He isn’t sure whether he doesn’t want a new scooter or he can’t afford one.

He isn’t sure of why he is out at the moment, he isn’t sure whether the shivering feeling is caused by the cold rain, or is it because he sees that nothing is certain in his life.

In front of a coffee shop he pulls over. Crowded as coffee shops should be around this part. These useless, good for nothing flocks of bi-pedals sitting around tables, sitting for hours over a cup of coffee and overflowing stocks of cigarettes. Talking over nothing, talking over businesses, talking over corruptions done by others and done by themselves, playing dominoes, laughing, singing.

Somebody is screaming angrily on the phone, threatening. It is something about land, palm trees, overtaking. The others who are with him are smiling, laughing. The screaming man hangs up… and laughs along.

And then he becomes aware of the rest of the crowd, the one he hates. Among the multitudes of sneering and jeering and empty faces, between the cover of the sound of the vehicles and the rain, dripping wet, he stands in front of them all. Looking, searching amid the smoky atmosphere and the dim lights.

A hand protruded, waving.

He approaches, and begin to walk among the crowd, careful not to make any contact with any of the dogs, he doesn’t want to make any scene. Besides, he is rather annoyed by his own condition. The damned rain, and the damned rain coat left hanging behind the malfunctioning garage door.

The man who waves is a Caucasian, funny that he is rather hidden among other consumers of small stature and darker complexion. He certainly has acquired certain finesse to mingle and disappear. He wears a shirt that makes him look like a poor blue collared labor from the 90’s, a pair of blue jeans, a worn out bag pack that would have been used by any not so successful local insurance salesperson. Clean hands with nothing to decorate the wrist nor the fingers but a plain old silver wristwatch.

The man crosses his hands over the table, where a small glass stands. Black liquid halfway down.

“Didn’t see you here, sorry I’m late.” He sits down and begins to look for the waitress, and sees four young chicks barely out of junior high school with tight thin t-shirts and hot pants with lines inches away from their pussies assembled behind the cookies case, gossiping and giggling while the old Chinese man is busy with his calculator.

The steam from the big kettle, the noise from the human. A glass of hot tea would be nice. But never mind.

“No, no, I’m sorry to call you so suddenly. You’re not ordering anything?”

Such courtesy, this man needs help, and he isn’t in any position to bargain. He doesn’t know how to respond to the question, he didn’t pay attention. “Ah, it’s cold.” Rubbing his hands, he looks back towards the girls, when one stares blankly towards his position, he raises his hand. The girl, nudges the shoulder of the younger one and pointing his way. The younger one approaches. Short and rather skinny, with black straight hair ponytailed with bright pink rubber band. T-shirt so small that it might have been made for a 6 year old is pressing her body, denim hot pants with colorful embroideries on the pockets.

Not fuckable.

The girl stops slightly behind him, he has to twist his body to look at her to make sure that the simple message consisted of two simple points of tea and a small pack of Sampoerna Mild could go through the blank stare of the child whose outfit is a bit skimpier than some hookers he hung out with when he was in Java.

Comparatively though, those hookers had elegance to them. Experienced. Calculative vipers with the wisdom that should turn any men of power into babies.

When he had no home, when everything went and tangled among the chaotic mixes of life and assumptions, they understood. Those necessary banshees, where would the world be without them?

This child? She smells like a huge armpit.

“Hot tea and small Sampoerna mild, please.” He chokes a bit, then adds a courtesy for the sake of decency, she’s a human being, she deserves to be treated as one, or so he thought.

She turns and leave without a word.

“Thank you…” he says, with a tone of mockery this time.

“So…” he turns to the white guy.

The white guy looks at him, rather unsure about something.

“I interviewed a man about a week ago…” The white guy began. “and two days ago, he fell from a helicopter.”

He didn’t know how to respond, unsure if it’s a joke “he died?”

“Ya, certainly.”

He looks around towards the crowd, noisy bastards minding their own business. He feels uneasy.

“So?” he doesn’t know what to expect or what to say.

The white guy presses his body towards the table, while his hands are still crossed before his chest “I think I know why…”

“white guys always know” he ponders.

And he thinks about his choice of words and the seemingly racist connotation before his thought shifts to whether that waiter had listened to what he had said. He looks over at the young sluts busy giggling over their cellphones, no one is making any tea.