I love the rain. I love the storm. Do you walk in the rain? Near the ocean? I love to push my face into driving rain, As a storm sweeps in from the sea. I love the sting on my face, And the wind in my hair. I love the coldness of the water on my body. I can shout, I can cry, I can laugh. A storm steals the sound from my lips, And the tears from my face. I love the power of thunder and lightening, The humbling force that reminds me, I am nothing but a spec of dust. I like to walk towards the blazing sun. The earth looks red, rocky, and barren. The sky on the horizon is black, With great storm clouds threatening. I love to grow closer to the storm. As the black clouds roll towards me, I can taste the ozone, The hair on my neck and arms stand on end, And I have to hold my hands over my ears to stop the thunder deafening me. I always wait for the rain to fall. To cool and wash away the dust of days on the road. Arizona, 2010 Picture taken from: here
I sat calmly in my bed
The bed was made, no wrinkles on the sheets
I was listening to the sound of my heartbeat
but nothing I could hear,
it’s just quiet
There’s no God, my brain insisted.
So I took a train back to my childhood
It was just me alone in a white gown with pretty appliques
I hummed gospel songs
I drank a cup of hot sweet tea
as sweet as candy bar
And outside, the village was full of angry people
but they couldn’t get in to my train
It was just me, I was alone
Soon the train went to the darkest
No light no sound
I traveled through the coldest forest
where wild dogs ran, and tigers chased
The train went up to hills so high
It seemed it was reaching the sky
It went faster and faster, I held my breath
The hills turned into the top of a mountain
And I finally heard a voice said,
Where was I really?
At first I saw nothing with
in a black moonless night
then came something so bright
It was just too bright to see
I took my first step outside of the train
In front of me stood a man
with a face of God, or maybe just
a handsome man
He marched over to me and said,
“What are you running from?”
Then he gave me a hug and told me
to go back home.
He slipped a silver cross in my hand
“Your mother loved this,” he said.
A clock struck midnight as
the train started to make noises
I jumped in to the train; worried to be left
The man disappeared in the brightness of light
As soon as I was in, the train jerked
and moved slowly.
I was on my way home
with nothing restored but
a useless silver cross.
A baby sparrow dies in a little girl’s hand.
My daughter kills the bird with love–she holds it a little too tight.
She doesn’t know she kills, so
I tell her the bird is sleeping
“She just needs some rest, why don’t we make her a bed in a basket.”
The little girl wakes up from her nap, quickly runs to the backyard
to check on the bird
“She’s gone, Mama, you think mama bird takes her home?”
I lie to her, answer with a yes
(how can you kill the twinkle in her eyes?)
Mother tells many lies to her child
to encourage her child
to achieve the impossible
even if it’s hardly possible
Mother parades loving events
to cover up the old man’s sins
to keep a family together
Mother sells her life
to an angel, to the universe
so they take care of her child
when she’s asleep and weak
Mother holds her child a little too tight,
but it also kills
Arizona, May 2012
Happy Mother’s Day to you, Mothers!
The word skydiving reminds me of him
Not the sky itself,
no not the blue sky
(is it even blue up there?)
but a guy dancing in the air
His heart beating faster
than a heart of a little girl
who steals money from her
mom’s purse to buy stickers
Oh how I love his face
and those kind eyes
covered by hair falling
on his forehead
He is a boy but smells like a man
He holds my hands and hugs me
I—for once—hate how that makes me
I tell him a story:
A stranger came to a girl
promising her to show how life could be
a joyful place, “Let’s pass the
art of being happy to the world,” he said
She followed him as he was a jesus
but no, he’s not
He was as lost as she was and
the next stray dog
So they walked bravely in the dark
with their naked hearts
The walk was short yet
rough, and in the end
left nothing but
more aches to
her heart that’s
For that, he’s just silent then turn his back on me
while I’m having endless cups of hot cocoa
that don’t really exist
This is my very first short story, published on the Jakarta Post and republished (in its original language, Indonesian) on Jurnal Perempuan. Recently the short story was republished Yayasan Lontar (Lontar Foundation) and selected for inclusion in the anthology of short stories I AM WOMAN (2011), published by Yayasan Jurnal Perempuan (Women’s Journal Foundation) and Yayasan Lontar, Indonesia. I have published some other short stories, but this one I’m proud the most so far. And yes, I need to write more short stories because I’m kinda good at it 🙂
My father is almost 70. His body, once fat with the cream of life, is now thin, wizened. His eyes, once so clear, have dimmed. My mother now complains about him all the time. It’s been a long time since they shared a bed.
“Your father’s body stinks. He rarely bathes and he farts all the time. His sweat makes me itch,” she grumbles.
People think my mother is bad because she’s always finding fault with my father, but she has plenty of reason to complain. My mother spent her life caring for a family of 12. Her body, which is now loose and flabby, has born eleven children, and she had to wait on a husband who could not even get a glass of water to quench his own thirst.
From those 11 children, the seven boys were all treated like kings. According to the ways of the Batak, male children are treated as a valuable asset. These rules were an undercurrent of our family life. My oldest brother, Sahat, can still ask my mother for anything he wants. If she doesn’t give it to him, he screams and yells like a lunatic. “I am the reincarnation of our grandfather. I carry the name of this family. Don’t you dare make me crazy. You will make me embarrass our family!” It works. What little she has, she always gives to him.
My brother is 45, but lives in my family’s house with everything provided by my parents. Even though she cries every night because she is so sad thinking about my brother’s attitude, always asking for more, my mother can’t do anything about it. The money that was set aside for my education was all spent on a painting my brother insisted he must have.
He has hundreds of paintings. Some of them are nice, some of them are rubbish he bought to please the painters.
“They need my support,” he says, as he spends my education. It doesn’t matter that he is poor and has never worked, he is obsessed by his desire to be seen as a philanthropist. It didn’t matter that I was hungry, so long as my brother was happy.
My parents have now been married for forty six years. Their fighting colors our family home. I’m lucky that I left home ten years ago before they started fighting.
My brother Tigor, who lives with my parents, complains about their fighting every time I speak to him on the telephone. He says they fight about everything, from the smallest things, like my father not washing in the morning, to important matters like my father’s love for cards and gambling.
Why is it the last few days I have thought about going home? It’s not so long since I was last home, not like the three years when I was in the university. It was only a year ago that my mother and father came to Jakarta for mom’s eye operation. She was almost blind in her left eye and had to have a lens replaced.
They were in Jakarta for almost a month. When they stayed in Jakarta they lived with a distant relative, in a house that bordered on opulence. They fought, in luxury, over little things. They even fought over who would have the left side of the bed.
My mom wanted the left as it was the furthest from the cold rattle of the air conditioner, but this was the side on which my father always slept. Mom got her way, but within half an hour she had found something else to complain about. My mother said her mother-in-law was cruel, just like my father.
This upset my father because his mother had been dead for years, and, he said “who sleeps on what side of the bed has nothing to do with my mother.” Even though, in his heart, he knew his mother did hate her.
With my expensive red suitcase, a present from my ex-boyfriend, I went to Palembang, using the cheapest airfare available. Luckily I arrived safely, although the rough landing left me white faced. One of my brothers was waiting in the arrivals hall to pick me up. He was angry.
“You’re very late. I’ve been waiting for an hour.” I just smiled. I knew that his anger would be short-lived once he saw the present I had bought for him — a pair of brand-name jeans.
At the house my mom greeted me with blood red lips. I was shocked. She had been rinsing her mouth with red mouthwash, which had spread red spots on her wrinkly face. When she saw me, she spat out the mouthwash to kiss me.
Even though she was happy to see me, I could see the deep sadness in her eyes. Her nostrils dilated quickly and within a minute, her tears started to flow hot down her face.
She said my father was in the bedroom. “He is pretending to be sleep. He has been reminding your brother to pick you up since early this morning,” she said in the clipped tones that she reserved for any discussion of my father.
I ran to my father’s room, where I found him tucked up in bed. His eyes were closed. I hugged and kissed him. My mom was right, his body stunk. He was very happy to see me. His eyes misted with tears. I didn’t say anything. At least he didn’t cry openly like my mother.
Coming home is a return to the bitterness of life. My life in Jakarta, which is still difficult, is wonderful in comparison to my childhood home. My father lies around in bed all day feeling sorry for himself. He’s upset because my oldest brother, who pretends to be mad, lives in his luxury house which stops him from selling it. My mother never stops complaining.
She is 68 with fingers twisted by arthritis and old bones splintered by rheumatism. The children she gave birth to sapped her strength.
My brother Tigor has never worked. My brother Sudung, who has a master’s degree and a beautiful wife, still throws tantrums if my parents refuse to give him money for his latest scheme. The only thing my brothers have to share with my parents is their troubles.
After listening to all of their problems, my mother yells at my father, “It’s your fault because you spoiled them. Look at my daughters, they don’t have such problems.”
My father says, “Your sons inherited your cowardice. All of my daughters are brave like me.”
The problems my brothers have are similar. None of them feels they should work in a normal job and they also refuse to ‘start at the bottom’ in business. They all wanted my father to finance big businesses, demanding Rp 500 million and more. They’re angry that my father couldn’t even give them one hundredth of what they asked.
It seems they think of him as being a rich man. “If only our father had saved his money, we would not have to suffer like we do.” They too easily forget he has fed and educated all of his children. It’s true he wasted money and gave it away to distant relatives. Dad loved to play cards, although he always lost, and he continued to behave like a wealthy man long after the money was gone. This was another point of great irritation for my mother.
That afternoon my mother served our favorite dish, manuk na nigota, a traditional Batak dish. My mother cut the throat of a fat village chicken, carefully saved the blood, cooked the bird with herbs and spices, then finally put the chicken’s blood back in the pot and cooked it until done.
It is delicious but very spicy, leaving a burning sensation on your lips and tongue. When taken with hot steamed rice you can’t stop eating. My mom was happy to see me enjoying her cooking. It’s a tradition in my family when one of us returns my mom will always cook manuk na nigota.
My father was happy too. According to my mom, it’s only meat that makes my dad truly happy. My mom complained that one piece of chicken is never enough, she said he could eat a whole chicken.
My dad just shook his head quietly and muttered, “Your mom can’t stand to see me happy,” but he kept eating the chicken and ate no rice.
“Rice puts my sugar levels up,” he explained.
Mom said he just wanted to eat more chicken. Dad didn’t get to eat it very often but he could eat rice three times a day.
When my father finished his third piece of chicken, my mother glared at him and snarled, “You pig! I wanted to keep that for dinner.”
My father sighed, shrugged his shoulders and kept eating. His mouth continued to chew but his eyes began to water. My mother became angrier still. My heart was breaking, the chicken and rice that I was eating, at first so delicious, became bitter in my mouth.
When I’m with my parents I never think about making love, but that day I tried to picture myself with my lover to escape the scene at our dinner table. It didn’t work. I couldn’t escape my mother’s increasingly hysterical outburst. She was ranting, swearing and screaming at my father.
I don’t know what was going on in my father’s head. He seemed to be successfully ignoring the tirade. He had started on his seventh piece of chicken when his eyes started bulging and his mouth dropped open without making a sound. It all happened so quickly.
I didn’t know what was happening. But my mother continued unabated. My mom’s eyes were so full of tears, and her heart so full of anger, she couldn’t see my father dying at the end of the table. I tried to calm her, but she just kept screaming. My father was choking to death on his chicken, but he somehow seemed happy that he was leaving.
That afternoon my father was pronounced death on arrival at the emergency room at the public hospital. My mother was still very much alive and full of anger.
On the way to hospital she kept yelling at my father’s body, “How many times have I told you not to eat like a pig? Now you die with a full mouth and a full stomach. Look at all the problems you have left me. You never cared about me!”
The flood of my mother’s tears could not stop the torrent of abuse. I was silent.
Fragments of dark memories gathered in my head. A picture of my mother raising 11 children. A picture of my mother betraying her values by lending money so our family could scratch a living from the interest when my father had been out of work for years. A picture of my mother tearing her hair out when she found my father had been with a prostitute.
A picture of my mother’s twisted fingers washing my father’s clothes and doing the dishes. A picture of my mother heating and carrying water for my father’s bath. A picture of my mother cutting the chicken’s throat and collecting the blood to make manuk na nigota. At every hardship my mother was there. Where was my father?
My mother was right.
After that I took pleasure from every bad word my mother said about my father. When the mourners had left, and my brothers and sisters had returned home for the wake, I stood with my mother at my father’s grave and we cursed him together.
Picture taken from: http://www.teach-nology.com/worksheets/early_childhood/wordofweek/family/father/
I want to love you
like I love a plate of
steamed Jasmine rice
that cures my hunger
and satisfies me
I want to love you
like a man loves his power
over his woman
I want to love you
like a little girl’s love
for the color
and feels fine,
yet it’s draining and
A backyard with birds eating
the dog’s food,
A puppy lost and found,
Firm mattress on wooden bed-frame
White walls, with framed photos of our
A car that runs thousands of miles,
Kitchen and fridge filled with foods,
Broken toys, books, piano, and toddler clothes.
But where are we, really?
Arizona, Oct 2011