A Fate­ful Eve by An­ton Kur­nia

The Jakarta Post - JPlus - - Between The Lines - WORDS AN­TON KUR­NIA ILLUSTRATION BUDHI BUT­TON

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.

Geckos

“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.

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