By Jujur Prananto
It had been his intention now for some time to return to his village and visit his aged mother as soon as he wrapped up his tour of several foreign countries.
Over the last two months he had read news on the Internet and in newspapers, and heard on television that the situation in the country continued to improve. Furthermore, a colleague wrote an email saying “”it’s safe enough for you to go home without being harassed by anyone””.
And when he got off his plane, he saw that it was true that the country was improving. The immigration officer attended to the passengers respectfully, far from giving the impression of someone hunting for prohibited items. At the departure gate there were no more illegal taxi drivers offering their services. Legal taxis and airport buses formed a neat line outside the terminal. The streets of the capital were clean. At the street lights there were no more hawkers, buskers or beggars. Bus terminals were free from scalpers and people formed orderly lines at the ticket windows.
Hendaru had difficulty understanding how his country, which had been torn apart by injustice and dictatorship for 10 years, resulting in the complete absence of legal certainty, was able to make this transition to a calm, safe and peaceful country.
Indeed, after the “”Oppressive Order”” regime of President Amangkurat was toppled and the High Assembly successfully organized a general election which, according to the United Nations, was “”very credible””, the situation in the country had changed rapidly. The elected president, Prof. Dr. Gunadarma, SH, SE, MSc., and his new Cabinet successfully formed a credible government. And law enforcement, which formed the backbone of the new government, was reliable and answerable to both the government and the people.
* * * *
“”Where are you getting off, Mas?”” Hendaru awoke from his daydreams at the sound of the driver’s voice, becoming conscious of the fact that he was the only passenger left in the vehicle.
“”At the next crossroad, the one to Sekartaji village.””
“”Are you going to visit your mother?””
“”How do you know?””
“”I heard it on the news on TV last night. The newscaster said Mas Hendaru was returning to his village.””
“”Oh … “”
“”I’ll tell you, I’m proud to have Mas Hendaru in my van.””
“”Ah, but who am I really.””
“”Everybody in the village knows that Mas Hendaru is the most zealous student to wave the revolutionary flag in our country. I always read the news about the demonstrations you led, Mas. I didn’t believe banners could topple the government, but apparently they did. I am amazed at what you did, Mas.””
“”But my struggle is nothing if it is not supported by all of society.””
“”That’s true, Mas. That is true. Will you get off here?””
“”Oh, yes.”” Hendaru took some money from his wallet, but the driver refused it. “”No, Mas. It’s not necessary.””
“”Please, take it. I’m just an ordinary passenger who must pay.””
“”No, I’m the one who should pay you, Mas.””
“”Why should you pay me?””
“”Thanks to your struggle Mas, my daily needs are affordable. The price of gas has decreased, spare parts too. The bank interest rates are very low, and it’s easy to get a loan, too. I now own this car. I bought it with assistance from the Bank Perkreditan Desa’s car leasing program.””
“”I appreciate your point that everything is more affordable, but still you shouldn’t refuse to accept the money I owe you.””
After several more seconds of offering and refusing the money, the driver finally relented. But as he was putting the money in his pocket, the driver looked at it with confusion. “”I’m sorry, Mas. What kind of money is this?””
“”Oh, I’m sorry. Those are American dollars.””
* * * *
Hendaru’s mother welcomed her son with tears of joy that streamed from her nearly blind eyes. She had not believed her neighbors who said her son would return home, dismissing the news that they had heard on the television.
“”So, is it true you have become an important person?””
“”That is just talk, Mom.””
“”But it’s true you have traveled around the world as far as America?””
“”It’s not going around the world, Mom. Though it is true America is far away.””
Suddenly Hendaru didn’t have the strength to answer even the simplest question from his mother. He did not want to say “”I am an activist””, because his mother would again ask him, “”What’s an activist?”” He did not want to say “”I am a fighter for democracy””, because he did not know how to explain the concept of democracy to his mother. So, after thinking for several seconds, he finally replied, “”I am like Pak de Tarmiji, Mom.””
“”Oh, you are an information specialist?””
“”Something like that. The difference is Pak de Tarmiji gives information to people in the villages about how to increase their crops, while I give information to people in other countries about the situation in our country.””
“”Oh, my God … so you’re a civil servant now?””
“”Not yet, Mom, not yet. I mean, no, I’m not. I’m still a student.””
“”Goodness, you haven’t finished your studies?””
* * * *
Resting in his quiet and comfortable old house, Hendaru began to feel the aches and pains he had been too preoccupied to notice before. His leg, which had been smashed by a rifle butt during a demonstration in the front of the presidential palace, hurt again. His kidney, where he had been kicked by soldiers when he was abducted, ached. And his lungs, which had been damaged during the months he had been locked up in a special cell in the Kampung Manggis prison, had not recovered.
All these problems forced him to the regency hospital for treatment, and it took about a month of visits before he finally felt able to leave the village. So, he said good-bye to his mother and went back to the capital and his leased house, which had been the headquarters for the struggle.
There was Maruli, the youngest, most militant, most loyal member of the struggle, sleeping soundly on the long bench in the back room. Maruli had been a gifted student with vision, but riot police had beaten him, causing a cerebral hemorrhage and damaging his nervous system. He was never the same person, emotionally or mentally, and sometimes it seemed as if he had reverted to the age of an elementary school student.
Maruli was surprised to wake up and see Hendaru standing over him.
“”Ah! It’s been too long, Abang. All of our friends have gone. It’s just me here, living in this office, for this office, for the sake of our struggle!””
“”How do you get food?””
“”Our friends give me some money each month. What about you?””
Hendaru was suddenly aware that he also needed a means of survival, he needed to eat and to drink like other people, but what little savings he had would run out soon if he didn’t find some way to make money. The problem was: what could he do?
He switched on the computer, opened the group’s financial report and was surprised to see there was no more than Rp 5 million in the coffers. They had received Rp 300 million from the Benz Foundation four months ago — a large part of which was used to finance a march through the capital by 2,000 students to “”celebrate freedom”” in front of the High Assembly — and after that there was no more income. But the bills would keep coming, the rent on the house, the electricity, the telephone and the water.
Hendaru started calling his comrades, but he could only reach a few of them, and only several of them promised to meet with him. One of these was Bagaskoro, the former secretary of the group who was now the youngest official in the Ministry of Trade, holding a key position.
* * * *
When Hendaru entered the room, Bagaskoro stood up and threw his arms around him, yelling: “”Viva our hero of the revolution, Hendaru Jatisulistyo!””
After the two exchanged news and reminisced, Hendaru broached the subject of his future and his need to find some work. Bagaskoro fell silent for some minutes before speaking, choosing his words carefully.
“”Hendaru, I would like to help you by giving you work, but it’s impossible. As you know, the new government just enacted the Law on Nepotism and Cronyism in response to our criticism of the collusion, nepotism and cronyism of the Amangkurat regime. If I helped you, I would be violating the law and violating the ideals of our struggle.””
“”Yes, yes, I understand. But I wasn’t asking you for work, I just wanted your ideas.””
Hendaru went to other old comrades, including those who had taken executive positions at leading companies, but he received similar responses.
“”As a friend, I would like to hire you, but it is impossible because I don’t want to damage the spirit of anti-nepotism and anti-cronyism that is now coloring the whole culture in our country. Out there, there are dozens of new university graduates with impeccable credentials, all waiting for me to look over their job applications. If I hired you, who never finished college, it would be just because you are my friend. Those were the kinds of things that we hated about the Amangkurat regime, right? Those were the kinds of things we fought to put an end to, right?
* * * *
The days turned into months, and Hendaru and Maruli continued to survive by doing odd jobs, sending articles to various mass media (unfortunately many of these were rejected because they were not considered to be “”in line with the post-revolutionary era””), printing flyers and advertisements with the equipment they had used to make posters for their demonstrations.
They survived, but the longing to lead, to move thousands of people, remained a spiritual need they couldn’t fulfill. Maruli, who had been an avid watcher of the television news and who devoured the newspapers, just stopped paying any attention to the news. He said the news was too good and neat, in the same way it had been during the Amangkurat regime. There was nothing dynamic in the reports; the news was completely frigid, almost unemotional.
So they continued living and surviving, until one night, at about midnight, Maruli began screaming like a man possessed. “”Bang! Bang! Wake up, Bang!””
Hendaru awoke like a shot, instantly alert for danger. “”What’s happened?””
“”A female worker was killed at a factory, Bang! I just saw it on the television. It’s a big story, Bang. The whole world will take notice of this, precisely because it happened under the watch of our new government, which is recognized as democratic. It’s obviously a threat. A drop of indigo which could damage an ocean of milk as broad as our country. Our struggle will have been in vain because of this incident. Because, in fact, there are still violent elements who have survived from the Amangkurat regime.
“”We must move, Bang! We will organize demonstrations again! I will contact our comrades at the labor unions. I’ll write a proposal to raise funds. I still remember the name of the file in the computer. All I have to do is change the names of the victims. The budget will be just like in the past, but with the exchange rate now the money will be worth even more. We will be able to extend the house’s lease for at least another year. We can pay the bills for our telephone, the electricity, the water … “”
Hendaru got up, lifted the telephone and called some of his contacts. After several minutes he put the phone down, lay back down on his bed, yawned and closed his eyes.
“”You’re wrong. You were too eager and you got it wrong. She died because she fell into a ditch when the factory compound was inundated. She was not killed because she was demanding a raise.””
Mas: Javanese term used to address contemporary/older males.
Abang: Older brother, usually used to address older males.
Pak de: Javanese term used to address the older brother of a mother/father.
Bank Perkreditan Desa: Secondary bank.
Translated by Darul AqshaThe writer was born in the Central Java town of Salatiga on June 30, 1960. He graduated from the School of Cinematography at the Jakarta Arts Institute in 1984, after which he began writing for Zaman magazine. His first short story appeared in Kompas daily in 1985 and his second, titled Parmin, was later developed into a script for TV. It was chosen as the best TV teleplay of the year.
Another of his short stories was selected as best short story in 1992 by Kompas, the country’s largest newspaper. Following this, he concentrated on writing scripts for TV. His short story Setelah Revolution (After the Revolution) appears in Dua Tengkorak Kepala: Cerpen Pilihan Kompas 2000 (Two Skulls: Kompas’ Best Short Stories 2000). It is printed here courtesy of Kompas.
The Jakarta Post
Sunday, April 15, 1999