By Harris Effendi Thahar
AS soon as the monthly Aug. 17th ceremony was over, I rushed to the canteen behind the office. Apparently Hamsad had been waiting for me. He was not wearing the Korpri’s batik uniform, a sign that he didn’t attend the ceremony.
“Sit here. I really need you,” Hamsad said, shoving a chair toward me.
The canteen started to fill in with civil servants who did not have time to eat breakfast at home because they had to hurry to be on time for the flag hoisting ceremony which was held at seven o’clock sharp.
“What do you want from me?”
“First, order your meal before they sell out. Let me order for you.”
He shouted, “Coffee with milk and nasi pecal.”
Hamsad kept touching the folded paper in his shirt pocket. It was as if he wanted to take it out, but each time he changed his mind. It must be an important letter, but I would not ask. Hamsad usually did not like to be questioned. He was high-strung. A trait I didn’t like. Easily provoked, but very sentimental, too. I liked the fact he would apologize as soon as he felt he had done others wrong.
“I want to apologize, the other day I met Pak Syamsul, the chief personnel of the provincial office you introduced me to,” he said.
I remember introducing him to Pak Syamsul three months ago at a wedding reception of the son of the provincial office’s head.
“I should have asked you to come along. But I thought, this is a sensitive matter I am dealing with. It concerns bribery. I heard it took Rp 4 million to make my wife a high school teacher. Cash. After two failed tests, I had to find a short cut, although my wife’s IP is high enough. Besides, they still need a lot of English teachers. But, that’s it. If you want to reap profits, first you must suffer losses. That is what people told me. Except you. That’s why I didn’t ask you to compromise in this matter.”
“You are terrific, Sad. Where did you get the money from? Is there a guarantee your wife will be appointed as teacher? Is there a receipt for the four million? I doubt it.”
“I doubt it too. But it’s not her promotion I worry about. I am scared of getting arrested,” Hamsad said, half whispering in my ear.
“Arrested? Did you steal?” I asked in a similar hushed tone.
“No. I mugged someone.”
I could not believe what I had heard. “When? Where?” I asked.
“That’s the thing I want to tell you. I feel like I am being chased by my sin. But I didn’t kill anyone.”
“You have to repent and ask God for His forgiveness.”
“Never mind. Finish your breakfast.”
I never told anyone about Hamsad’s problem to enter his wife into the trap of the mafia behind the placement of high school teachers. I know my wife disapproves of such practices. She is also a high school teacher who has been teaching for five years.
“Teachers who pass due to bribery will damage the education system. If they don’t pass the test, they must realize their own weakness,” was her response to bribing your way into a teaching position.
How could I tell her about Hamsad who mugged some one for the bribe? My wife has never been sympathetic towards Hamsad’s family. I don’t know why. It could be because Hamsad often forgets the time when he visits me and then invites me to a
soccer games after the rather long visit.
I know, my wife would be furious with me if I mentioned that it was her uncle, the personnel head, on the other end of the bribe. She always compares herself to other people.
“Just as I graduated from IKIP, I took the test directly, and passed. It was not because my uncle was involved. It was really because of my capability. So, if someone gives money to my uncle in order to pass the test, it is their own fault. If there is case of a bribery, the one who gives the money should be questioned first,” was her reasoning.
It had been more than a month since I last talked seriously to Hamsad. Each time we met at the office, he only smiled dryly, as if avoiding me. I came to think that Hamsad was afraid of me ever since he told me his secret. It could also be that he had a new problem. But that was not Hamsad’s usual attitude. He was always cheerful, frank and enthusiastic. We work in the same office, but in different departments. He was my comrade in the academy. We dated IKIP students together and both of us married IKIP graduates. But Hamsad had turned cold on me.
“Hey, come here. I’ll treat you to pecal,” I shouted from the corner of the canteen when I saw Hamsad crossing the badminton court at the rear of the office.
“I hate you,” he blared.
“I don’t,” I shouted back.
I saw his old self when I saw him return, heading towards me. I waited for him at the outside corner of the canteen.
“They made the announcement. My wife did not pass.”
“Oh, what a pity. I thought you were afraid that I reported you to the police.”
“It’s not that. You should have helped me lobby your wife’s uncle after I handed him the four million sometime ago.”
“You didn’t want me to, did you? You said the problem was sensitive. You remember, don’t you? Let’s see. Why don’t I see the chief personnel in his office tomorrow?”
“It’s useless. They have made the announcement.”
“Who knows it still could be done.”
I saw his eyes brighten. He stared at me long and hard.
“But I don’t promise anything. It depends on the result of my talk with my wife’s uncle…” I started to say, so as not to feel burdened.
“That’s you. That’s the thing I hate about you. Try to think, Har. We graduated from the academy together. Our wives are IKIP graduates. Now you are happy to have a house you pay on installment because your wife earns a salary too. Me? I haven’t even paid the rent and already I have to look for another house to rent for the next six months. That’s why I always say life is unfair. If other people can commit robbery, why I can’t? I have lost faith in being a good person, Har.”
“That’s the thing I hate about you, Sad. Be patient. Pray and believe that you always get His protection. He does, for you haven’t been arrested, have you?”
“I regret that as much as you do. Why did I only take four million from that man? He had more than ten million. But, that’s it, just like me, a stupid person indeed. All I could think of was to find the four million to make my wife a teacher. It’s real
bad luck for me.”
“You are still lucky.”
“I am lucky, you said, while my fate remains unchanged.”
“Learn to be patient and to think ahead,” I offered.
“OK. Now I patiently wait for the result of your talk with that man.”
“Let me treat to lunch you now.”
“No thank you. I am still full from seeing reality. Wait until I’m starving. It will taste better and will help me forget how poor civil servants like me are.”
“It’s your own fault. Who told you to be a civil servant? Why don’t you start a tire repair business?”
“Don’t you look down on my father’s profession. If I didn’t take up my father’s business, what would the world say? I studied hard and high in Jakarta only to slave on the roadside? Go have a drink. I need some fresh air.”
If it was not for solidarity, I would not have been able to wait that long in front of the office of my wife’s uncle. The office hours had ended a long time ago. One by one the guests entered his room, summoned by the satpam who arranged their turns according to the guest book in which I had scribbled my name an hour ago. As usual, close to six o’clock every working day, my wife’s uncle went home.
When the satpam called my name, I tried to appear as friendly as possible before my wife’s uncle. My personal relations with him were rather strained because he was one of those who opposed my marriage with his niece. People said it was because I only managed a third-degree diploma, while his niece was a full graduate. But he seemed friendly enough. There were two of his staff who were still with him. One of them was showing him where to initial a paper, and which ones he must sign.
“Please come in. You are alone?”
“Sam, Rus, this is my nephew.”
Both of my uncle’s staff shook my hand respectfully. Then I opened the talk as smoothly as possible. My uncle’s facial expression started to change. He tapped the end of his pen on the thick glass which covered his desk, his eyes staring far away through the tinted windows.
“It was lucky I did not send your friend to prison.”
“What happened, Uncle?”
“He robbed my staff, Sam, in the parking lot of Reka Bank before he brought in the money for his wife’s appointment.”
I was shocked, really shocked that Hamsad had robbed a staff member of my wife’s uncle.
“Are you sure?”
“Ask Sam,” he said, pointing at the fat, bald staffer. Sam seemed to be about my age.
“That’s right, Pak, ha, Mas. I remember well, that day was Friday, when Bapak ordered me to withdraw the ten million rupiah from the bank. That person was also drawing some money from his savings account next to my counter. He even smiled at me when I counted the bundles of money before I put it into the bag. He left the bank with me and we walked together to the parking lot. Maybe because he saw I was alone in the car, suddenly he entered from the left door and immediately pointed a knife at me, threatening me, ‘You are dead if you scream or resist me. Now give me four million.’ Maybe he saw me trembling and sweating, he grabbed four bundles and put them into his shirt and got away on his motorbike.” My uncle just smirked at Sam’s story.
“Well,” my uncle said, “when he was leaving this room, Sam entered and got the shock of his life. Then he whispered to me that the man who had just came out of the room was the one who robbed him the previous day. I was surprised and thought of you. Then, thinking that the money had been returned as a deposit for his wife’s appointment, I thought, ‘forget it’. It’s lucky you came here soon. If not, I would think you were involved.” He said his entire retort while continuing to examine the letters from teachers in the regions asking to be transferred into the city.
I took a deep breath, offended.
“I remember he was from your village and is also your colleague.”
“I’m leaving, Uncle,” I said, as a sign I was offended.
“Wait. Take this money to your wife.”
“No, thank you Uncle. My wife doesn’t like to eat human meat.”
I arrived home when maghrib was drawing near. Sam was just
leaving. He nodded to me,
“I was ordered by Bapak to meet Mas’ wife.” He slammed his jeep’s door and left through the narrow road in front of my house. My wife was in the doorway, waving the fat envelope at me.
“See this? This is enough for four installments for our house.”
“It’s from your uncle, isn’t it?”
“Do you think it comes from my illicit boyfriend? You are just jealous.”
Translated by Darul AqshaBorn in Tembilahan, Riau on Jan. 4, 1950, Harris Effendi Thahar graduated from IKIP Padang in 1994, majoring in language and literature. He started writing short stories in 1971. He has also written children’s stories, serials and essays on literature. His books include Lagu Sederhana Merdeka, Bendera Kertas and Daun Jati. His short story Rampok first appeared in the Kompas daily on May 8, 1994, and is included in Laki-Laki Yang Kawin Dengan Peri: Cerpen Pilihan Kompas 1995 (The Man who Married the Fairy: Kompas Selected Short Stories 1995). It is printed here courtesy of Kompas.
Korpri = Indonesian Civil Servants Corps
IP = Indonesian abbreviation for ‘Indeks Prestasi’ (Grade Point Average)
Nasi pecal = steamed rice with boiled vegetables eaten with peanut sauce
Satpam = security guard
Pak/Bapak = address for father; older or respected men; superior
Mas = Javanese address for older brother; older or respected men
Maghrib = the time of the sunset Islamic prayer
IKIP = Teachers’ Training Institute
The Jakarta Post
Sun, Jun 09 1996