A Fateful Eve by Anton Kurnia
The sky was overcast that night. The moon was hiding behind heavy clouds. It was dark and the rain was pounding hard against the wet ground. Ibung adjusted his jacket over the seat of his motorbike as he rode down the street. For a moment, his body shivered against the cold wind. His hair, let loose, had turned damp from the rain. Slowly, he hummed a sad tune, which he remembered from God knows when.
The motorbike sped across the street all through the night, down the center of the road flanked with rows of trees. Laughter “If you want to stay safe, don’t even think about writing about this case in your paper. Write about good things. Anything you like, but leave this alone. I’m serious. You hear me?”
Ibung didn’t respond. He ground his teeth to hold back the anger, while the fingers of his right hand were clenched inside his jacket pocket.
“I’ve already spoken to your boss. He said he’d fix everything.”
“My boss? Who are you talking about?”
“Yes, your boss. Mr. Behom.” “Behom?” Since when did Behom become my boss? Ibung thought. He imagined Behom’s emaciated figure. Behom works as an editor at the newspaper where he is a reporter. The man is notorious in various gambling circles.
The world has turned upside down. Every good thing he had hoped for was corrupted by the strange reality of life. Ibung’s mouth twisted in a grimace. He laughed, trying to conceal the pain. Is there nothing these days that money can’t buy? “I’m surprised at you! You declined the money we gave you. You turned down everything that was offered to you. But this is your last warning. I’m not mucking around here.”
The well-dressed man hurried off and left Ibung alone inside the cramped front room of a rented house. The man was a crooked local official whose name had come up while Ibung was researching a case in which there were missing funds meant to provide small business loans for the village poor. This is what happens: people stealing from other people in all sorts of ways.
Outside, there wasn’t a star in the sky. Dark clouds hovered above the city. Ibung’s mind traveled back into a distant past.
“I’m off to Halmahera next week to visit a gold mine. It’s an Australian company. How about you? Still bent on being a journalist? What on earth are you doing that for? It’s not as if there aren’t any other jobs.”
Ibung stared at the beautiful dancing lips which only a few minutes ago had been pressed against his lips. He took a deep drag of the cigarette he was holding. Gea, it seems as if you still don’t understand… thought Ibung.
He had known Gea from when they were both studying geology at the university back in their hometown. Soon after she graduated, Gea received an offer to work at a multinational company; while Ibung, who had always been more interested in the arts and journalism, decided to drop out of the university. He wanted to pursue a career as a journalist. Ibung turned away from the girl’s slender body. Oh, he thought, why do I always get involved with the wrong woman?
The girl traced Ibung’s chest with her fingers. As she snuggled in his arms, the girl’s alabaster shoulder appeared from under the covers. Her breasts were outlined under the thin sheet.
“Bung, come with me to Calista Café tomorrow. It’s Agnes’s birthday. She’s throwing a small party. When we get back we can go clubbing. After all, tomorrow’s Saturday night…”
“Tomorrow I’m going to the Cultural Centre. There’s a poetry reading followed by a discussion. Sorry, but it looks like I can’t go with you.”
“You always do this. Every time I want you to go out for a bit of fun, you’re sure to have some excuse why you can’t,” she pouted.
Ibung remained silent. He gazed at the ceiling where two geckos were embroiled in an intimate runaround. He envied them. Were they falling in love?
It was as if the geckos had no worries at all. They led a carefree life — going with the flow without bothering much with the conventions and matters considered to be of great importance that are often unavoidable in an ordinary human life.
On the radio, Bob Dylan’s song played ever so softly.
How many roads must a man walk down, before you call him a man?
How many ears must one man have, before he can hear people cry? The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind. The answer is blowin’ in the wind… Mystery Ibung’s motorbike pressed on. The moon curiously lurked from behind a heavy cloud. To his left was a dark and deserted cemetery, where a canopy of shrubs hung low. The trees surrounding the cemetery appeared monstrous in the dark. Ibung glanced sideways at the cemetery. He felt his hair standing on end as he listened to the sounds of a night bird cawing.
The cemetery led his mind to thoughts of death, a mystery as well as the source of fascination for many. A destination we will all get to at some point. And death also reminded him of all the people he loved, and the people who had loved him the most — his father, grandfather, mother — who were no longer with him.
When he was young, his mother had told him a story. His father, who had died before Ibung had even been circumcised, was a simple man who loved his family and loved reading literature. When his mother was pregnant with Ibung, his father had been reading a novel about the struggles of a people in a foreign country who fought to achieve their rights. The novel, which had really affected him, was written by Jose Rizal, a Filipino doctor who was considered a patriot and who was very passionate about everything he did in life.
They agreed that if they had a son he’d be given the name of the martyr in the novel, who had been willing to sacrifice his life for the ideals of the people: Ibarra. And one rainy night Ibung was born — Ibung being the nickname of Ibarra — into this hostile world.
A pothole gaped open in the road, slowing Ibung’s speed. He managed to avoid it by veering sharply. On the right side of the road there were old tree stumps, looming darkly across the pepper plantation. The pepper farmers — they were called sahang here in Bangka — had had to burn the stumps as fertilizer for new seedlings. Then they waited for the hands
of angels to make them grow while they tended to them with sweat and patience. When the time came, they would sell the fruits of their labor in order to marry off their daughters.
Ibung kept his fingers on the gas and went on slowly, but surely. The rain had yet abated, the road was still wet. The evening breeze whipped at the strands of Ibung’s hair and caressed his face. He kept going straight ahead. Dagger “Are you sure he’s coming this way?” “Yes. Every night he always comes past here.”
The two muscular men zipped up their jackets. One of them was clutching the hilt of a dagger, hidden inside his jacket. His companion was sitting on the saddle of his motorbike, which was parked behind a thick bush on the side of the road.
There was a lake nearby — a former tin mine which had been abandoned. The vast hole had gradually become inundated with water. Occasionally, a gust of wind would send ripples across the calm surface of the water.
The sound of a running motorbike engine could be heard from a distance. Slowly, the silhouette of a man riding a motorbike came into view. The strands of his hair were flying in the wind. The two hefty quickly set off on their own motorbikes. Their breath had smell of death. In the distance, wild dogs howled into the night.