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Laut Lepas Kita Pergi

Kurnia Effendi was born in Tegal, Central Java, on October 20, 1960. His early writings appeared in 1978 in the magazines Gadis and Aktuil and the newspaper Sinar Harapan. He won thirty fiction contests in the ’80s, with eight as first-place winners.

Effendi has published twenty-five books that include poetry anthologies, short story collections, essays, novels, and memoirs. His novel Kincir Api (GPU, 2005) was shortlisted for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2006. In 2013, Badan Bahasa, The Indonesian Language Center, honored his novel Anak Arloji (Serambi, 2011). Percakapan Interior (Kosa Kata Kita, 2018) was among fourteen honorable mentions of poetry collections on the Indonesian Poetry Day in 2018. Perpusnas, the National Library of the Republic of Indonesia, awarded Mencari Raden Saleh (Diva Press, 2019) as the best poetry collection in 2019

Effendi can be reached at kurnia_ef@yahoo.com.

Published in October 2019. Copyright ©2019 by Kurnia Effendi. Published with permission from the author. Translation copyright ©2019 by Oni Suryaman.

 

 

Laut Lepas Kita Pergi

Sebelum meninggalkan tempat permukiman korban tsunami 26 Desember 2004 di Jantho, Aceh Besar, kurang lebih sepuluh menit yang lalu, Ayah mengatakan, “Aku percaya, kamu bukan pemuda cengeng. Hampir sebulan kita telah menangis bersama-sama. Itu cukup. Tidak perlu diperpanjang lagi. Kita sudah saling berusaha untuk menemukan ibumu. Juga kedua adikmu. Percayakan itu kepada Tuhan. Mungkin kini tempat mereka lebih lapang dibanding kita saat ini. Mungkin tidak ada lagi pikiran yang membebani mereka. Tinggal kita, mau hidup terus atau perlahan-lahan mati.”

Mata Ayah memandangku tidak lagi senyalang elang. Tidak ada kemarahan dalam kata-katanya. Aku merasakan ucapan Ayah begitu sungguh-sungguh, tetapi tidak mengandung tekanan.

Dia bicara seperti sedang menceritakan tentang kegiatan sehari-hari. Begitu datar. Tetapi, hatiku terkesiap mendengarnya. “Aku akan berangkat pagi ini juga, sebelum orang ramai ke jalan-jalan. Sebelum banyak ibu-ibu antri di kamar mandi umum. Sebelum tampak asap di dapur terbuka itu. Aku percaya, kamu akan sanggup menghadapi hari depanmu sendiri. Aku melihat ototmu yang kuat, badanmu yang sehat, dan terutama perasaanmu yang tabah. Ingat! Jangan pernah menangis lagi.”

Bibirku mendadak gemetar. Seperti ada ribuan kata-kata berkerumun di ujung lidah. Berdesakan ingin meletup, mendorong dinding gigi. Membuat rahangku keras seperti terbuat dari logam. Tetapi, tak ada suara yang sanggup keluar dari mulutku.

“Aku menulis surat untukmu, karena kukira kamu tak akan bangun saat subuh. Bacalah setelah matamu tak mampu memandang bayanganku. Sampai suara panggilanmu tak mungkin kudengar lagi.” Ditepuk-tepuknya bahuku, seolah-olah aku sendiri yang berduka dan dia berperan sebagai sang bijak yang berusaha menghiburku. “Maafkan aku jika selama menjadi ayahmu tak pernah membuatmu bahagia.”

Tidak ada pelukan dari Ayah. Tangannya mengusap pipiku, terasa kasar. Keriput yang terbentuk dari serangkaian kerja keras itu berusaha melekat di paras mukaku. Aku mencium bau khas yang barangkali tak terhapus dalam sewindu.

Dan kini Ayah telah melangkah memunggungiku. Ke arah selatan ─ menuju pedalaman, menjauh dari laut.

Begitu sadar Ayah telah semakin jauh — hanya kulihat punggungnya yang setengah bungkuk dan segerumbul pohon yang miring di ujung pandangan siap mengaburkannya — aku segera berlari ke dalam tenda. Jika benar Ayah menulis surat untukku, tentu disimpan tak jauh dari alas tidurku. Memang kutemukan selipat kertas lembap yang tampak baru saja disisipkan ke bawah timbunan sarung.

Aku berdebar membuka lipatan surat itu seakan-akan hendak membaca isi surat wasiat. Ternyata hanya beberapa baris kalimat yang mudah dihapal setelah membaca dua kali.

Mustafa, anakku. Aku terlampau sedih dalam peristiwa kehilangan ini, dan mungkin sebentar lagi menjadi gila. Aku akan pergi. Mudah-mudahan kamu tetap kuat untuk tinggal. Aku ternyata seorang pengecut. Selamat tinggal.

Aku melompat bagai tersengat kalajengking. Tanpa sadar aku telah melanggar permintaannya untuk tidak memanggilnya. Aku berlari sekencang-kencangnya menuju arah Ayah berjalan. Tapi sampai aku terengah-engah, tak kutemui lagi bayangan Ayah. Mungkin tikungan, atau bekas tikungan, telah menyembunyikan arah langkahnya. Sandalku telah lepas entah ke mana. Tanah becek dan kerikil yang menghunjam telapak kakiku tak benar-benar kurasakan sakitnya. Lebih sakit perasaan dalam relung dadaku. Pisau sepi menoreh begitu dalam. Baru saja Ayah pergi, tapi kesepian begitu lekas menyergap. Aku seperti menjadi seorang diri di dunia. Dari seorang piatu menjadi sekaligus yatim dan sebatang kara. Terasa hidup sendiri di bawah langit yang selalu mendung. Jauh dari laut tapi gemuruh itu tak pernah mau hilang dari rongga telingaku.

Kini aku berjalan lunglai kembali ke permukiman sementara. Kata sementara itu mulai terasa tak terbatas. Terutama bagiku yang kini sudah tidak memiliki siapa-siapa lagi. Satu-satunya tumpuan harapan telah meninggalkanku. Pergi begitu saja. Hanya meninggalkan kata-kata yang justru membuatku semakin terpuruk.

Memang sekarang bukan lagi saatnya untuk terus menangis. Setiap hari kuhabiskan waktuku untuk menanyakan kabar dari timur, barat, selatan, dan utara. Dari seluruh penjuru mata angin. Adakah yang menemukan Meutia? Adakah yang mendapatkan sosok Hasan? Adakah yang sempat bersimpang jalan dengan Siti Salamah?

Bahkan andai kata telah berbentuk jenazah!

Atau mungkin tinggal serangkai belulang dari tubuhnya yang terhimpit rangka bangunan. Bekas perjalanan yang tak lazim: terseret sekian kilometer bersama puing dan ombak berwarna coklat. Terhempas dan hanyut berkali-kali.

Atau sekadar sobekan pakaian terakhir yang dikenakannya menjelang gelombang tsunami datang. Mungkin aku masih sanggup mencium wangi sisa tubuhnya, di antara lumpur dan segala yang hancur. Aku akan memeluknya untuk penghabisan kali sebelum kurelakan masuk ke dalam lubang bersama mayat lain yang baru ditemukan. Tanpa nama, kecuali jika aku menandainya dengan setulus hati, lalu berusaha mengingat letaknya.

“Ayah, mungkinkah kita akan sanggup menziarahi mereka?”

Namun, aku tidak lagi bersama Ayah. Dia sudah pergi dan kini mungkin telah tiba di wilayah lain yang juga tidak dikenalnya karena suasananya sudah berubah. Sementara aku akan tetap tinggal di sini, bersama beberapa penduduk yang masih bertahan dengan keadaan seperti ini. Bersama beberapa tentara yang kulihat juga mulai bosan dan kusut mukanya.

***

Ketika Ayah memberiku sepucuk rencong, aku baru saja selesai menunaikan SMP. Umurku menjelang lima belas tahun.

Usai menerima pengumuman kelulusan, aku bersama teman- teman merayakan dengan cara membakar baju seragam di tengah ladang. Anak seorang juragan kambing menyumbangkan seekor kambing untuk pesta syukuran. Aku pulang menjelang magrib dengan perasaan mekar sumringah. Setelah libur panjang aku akan memasuki dunia sekolah yang lain. Seolah- olah ada selembar kertas harapan untuk ditulisi segala keinginan. Dicoret-coret dengan gambar impian sekehendak hati. Aku pun berjalan sambil bersiul-siul.

Di pintu pagar rumah aku mendapatkan mata Ayah yang nyalang seperti elang. Aku serentak menduga ada hal yang sangat penting dan mungkin akan disampaikan dengan nada marah. Firasat itu begitu kuat, membuat dadaku berdegup kencang. Rasa takut menjalar. Semua ingar-bingar yang tadi mengepung api unggun perayaan pesta lulus sekolah, langsung sirna.

“Mustafa!” panggil Ayah.

“Ya, Ayah.” Aku mempercepat langkah. Dengan dada terbuka seperti ini, tentu tampak bagai menantang. Tapi, ya, bajuku sudah sempurna menjadi abu di persawahan kering dua jam yang lalu.

“Ayah mau amanatkan sesuatu kepadamu! Duduklah!”

Perasaanku mengkerut. Serambi rumah tampak sepi. Langit redup. Sebentar lagi akan terdengar suara azan dari surau di belakang rumah. Aku segera duduk di bangku kayu yang terletak setengah miring di teras.

“Ayah, hari ini aku lulus sekolah.” Aku mencoba meredakan gejolak dengan cara menyampaikan berita gembira. Siapa tahu akan menurunkan kemarahan Ayah. Tapi ternyata tak mengubah apa pun.

“Aku tahu! Karena itulah aku memanggilmu. Sudah saatnya kamu menerima ini,” Ayah mengangsurkan sebuah benda yang masih tertutup oleh kain putih, “Bukalah!”

Dengan agak gentar, aku melolos kain kafan yang sudah tidak baru lagi. Serta merta terkejut, meski sudah menduga dari bentuknya, ketika mendapatkan sebuah rencong yang masih mengkilat meskipun gagangnya berupa kayu yang sudah berumur panjang.

Mendadak tanganku gemetar. Apa maksud Ayah memberiku sebuah benda tajam yang berbahaya ini? Setiap menghadapi logam tajam, apalagi dengan beberapa lengkung yang mirip ukiran, aku merasa sedang berhadapan dengan masalah besar.

“Ayah… ini sebuah rencong….”

“Syukurlah kamu tahu. Aku tak bisa menunda waktu lagi. Sudah saatnya kamu memahami arti bahaya di luar sana.”

Aku memandang sekitar. Kukira Ayah keliru dalam menilai keadaan. Desa kami daerah yang paling aman. Bahkan, jarang menjadi lintasan anggota Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, secara terang-terangan maupun menyamar.

“Kamu mulai bertanggung jawab melindungi keluargamu. Bahu-membahu dengan Ayah. Jaga keselamatan Meutia dan Hasan. Sementara aku akan menjaga Salamah, ibumu.”

Tanganku semakin gemetar mendengar penjelasan Ayah. Seperti sebentar lagi akan meletus perang. Sementara angin senja kala bertiup lebih dingin dari biasa. Kemudian terdengar azan magrib berkumandang. Entah siapa yang menjadi muadzin sore ini, meskipun suaranya terdengar mendayu-dayu, terasa mengiris liang telinga seperti pipih sembilu.

“Ayo lekas simpan rencong itu! Kini menjadi milikmu. Jangan dibiarkan telanjang, salah-salah disambar iblis.” Ayah mengingatkan.

Setelah aku kembali dari menyimpan senjata yang baru saja kudapatkan, Ayah bangkit dan berkata, “Sekarang kita ke surau.”

Sehabis sembahyang aku merenung di dalam bilik. Rupanya hari ini berlangsung dihiasi berbagai peristiwa yang mendebarkan. Sejak pagi aku sudah berdebar-debar menunggu pengumuman ujian akhir. Aku tidak terlampau bodoh. Tetapi, bukan berarti pasti lulus.

Ketika membuat api unggun dan membakar baju-baju, angin bertiup cukup kencang. Kemarau telah berhasil membuat setiap petak ladang menjadi kering, tumpukan jerami bertebaran di mana-mana. Tentu kami berdebar-debar dan selalu terkesiap setiap kali melihat api meliuk ke arah gubuk.

Dan, senja ini, sebuah rencong diwariskan kepadaku! Begitu mendadak, seakan-akan musuh sudah berada di balik dinding rumah. Telinga kami menduga, ada semacam keresek langkah kaki orang jahat yang mendekat. Ya. Aku telah menjadi pemuda!

Ketika Ayah memintaku untuk khitan, Hasan belum lahir. Dia masih berada dalam perut Ibu yang membuncit seperti mendekap ember di balik kain sarungnya. Sedangkan Meutia mulai sekolah seminggu tiga kali di madrasah terdekat.

“Sudah waktunya kamu memotong ujung kulupmu. Itu sumber penyakit! Mau berangkat sendiri atau kuantar?”

Aku terkesima. Mengapa Ayah tidak menunggu aku benar-benar khatam Al Quran dengan tartil dan lafal yang benar? Atau membiarkan aku mengalami mimpi basah yang pertama?

“Tidak!” Seolah Ayah mendengar keragu-raguanku. “Sunat sekarang atau tidak usah masuk ke dalam rumah.”

“Ambillah kain sarung yang baru, Mustafa.” Ucapan Ibu lebih lembut. “Sudah kusiapkan di ranjangmu.”

Aku pun mengangguk. Aku tak pernah tega menolak permintaan Ibu. Sesulit apa pun. Setakut apa pun.

Aku belum menjumpai petualangan yang seru, selain lomba berenang di arus sungai yang deras. Tapi pengalaman dipotong ujung pelirku tentu merupakan salah satu keberanian seorang anak laki-laki. Jangan menangis! Ya, jangan menangis Mustafa!

“Aku percaya, kamu bukan anak cengeng, Mustafa!” ujar Ayah membekali perjalananku.

Maka, berangkatlah aku ke seorang dukun sunat. Menyerahkan kelaminku yang gemetar untuk dipotong, dijahit, dan diperban, setelah sebelumnya dibius dengan suntikan di sekitar “burung”-ku itu. Aku meringis saat perih menjalar, menembus tabir pembiusan.

Akan tetapi, aku berhasil mempertahankan agar mataku tetap nyalang, tanpa setitik air menggenang di sudutnya. Aku berhasil dan begitu bangga. Aku seorang anak yang berani. Tidak cengeng! Aku hanya malu kepada Ibu yang tak pernah takut untuk melahirkan. Sebentar lagi akan ada bayi ketiga yang melewati pintu rahimnya. Pasti sakit luar biasa, karena ukuran bayi tidak sebanding dengan diameter lubang yang hendak dilaluinya. Itu menurut akalku, yang masih duduk di kelas empat sekolah dasar.

“Inilah anak Ayah yang pemberani.” Ayah menepuk bahuku, ketika sedang kunikmati seekor ayam panggang yang khusus dimasak oleh Ibu. “Aku percaya, kamu bukan anak cengeng!”

***

Akan tetapi, lihatlah hari ini, di ambang waktu dhuha, ternyata akhirnya aku menangis.

Dadaku seperti mau meledak oleh himpitan kesepian. Padahal, aku tahu, di sekitarku masih ada orang-orang lain yang setengah gila akibat perasaan kehilangan. Ibu-ibu yang putus asa. Anak-anak kecil yang bermain tapi tidak tahu meski mencari pelukan siapa ketika lapar datang. Dan, beberapa tentara yang rindu keluarganya. Juga para relawan yang sudah nyaris mabuk oleh bau busuk yang melayang-layang sepanjang pekan.

Ketika Ayah meninggalkan tempat permukiman, yang terdiri atas tenda-tenda militer dan sebagian lagi berupa bangunan kayu yang berdiri tanpa fondasi, hanya kulihat punggungnya yang setengah bungkuk. Kemejanya yang lusuh mengandung banyak lipatan di sana-sini, warnanya buram, diperoleh dari kardus yang dilempar oleh sebuah helikopter yang gemuruh di suatu siang bermega pekat. Dia tadi berjalan tidak terlampau cepat, tapi jarak antara kami demikian pasti menjadi semakin jauh. Semakin terasa bahwa telah terbentang ruang yang memisahkan kami. Mungkin satu, dua, atau bahkan ratusan kilometer.

Apakah aku masih perlu mencari Meutia? Hasan? Atau ibuku? Yang entah berkubur di mana. Tsunami yang perkasa telah merebutnya dari kami tanpa memberi kesempatan untuk belajar cemburu lebih dulu. Maafkan aku.

***

Catatan :

Judul “Laut Lepas Kita Pergi” dipetik dari judul lagu Leo Kristi di album “Nyanyian Malam”, 1977

To The Sea We Surrender

 

Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.

Read some of his essays and book reviews at: http://onisur.wordpress.com and http://semuareview.wordpress.com

He can be reached at oni.suryaman@gmail.com.

 

 

 

 

 

 

To The Sea We Surrender

Some ten minutes before he left the shelter for the Jantho tsunami victims in Aceh Besar, Sumatra, Ayah, father, said to me, “You’re not a crybaby, but we’ve been crying together for almost a month. It’s enough. We’ve tried to find your mother, your younger brother, and older sister. There’s no need to continue. Let God take care of them. Maybe they’re now in a happier place than we are. Perhaps they have been released from all burdens. Now, you and I are the only ones left. It’s up to us to decide to keep on living or slowly die.”

Ayah’s eyes were no longer sharp like an eagle’s. There was no anger in his words. He spoke without emotion, as if he was talking about normal activities.

Listening to him with a tightening chest, I felt his sincerity, even though he spoke in a monotone.

“I’m leaving this morning,” he said. “Before the road is too crowded, before the women line up in front of the public bathroom, before the smoke rises from the soup kitchen. I’m certain you can face your own future. I can see that you are strong, healthy, and, above all, determined. Remember! Never cry again.”

My lips quivered. Thousands of words crowded onto the tip of my tongue, wanting to escape, pushing against my teeth. But my jaws locked as if made of metal. No sound could escape my mouth.

“I wrote you a letter, because I thought you would not yet be up this early,” Ayah continued. “Read it when you can no longer see my shadow, when your voice can no longer reach me.” He patted my shoulder, as if I was the one mourning and he was the wise man comforting me. “Forgive me if I’ve never made you happy.”

Ayah didn’t embrace me. He stroked my cheek. His hand felt rough, and the callouses from his life of hard labor scraped against my face. I smelled a distinct scent that I would not forget for many years to come.

And then, Ayah walked away from the only home we’d known since the Dec. 26, 2004, tsunami. His back turned toward me, he headed south ─  inland, away from the sea.

When I could just barely see Ayah’s bent back disappearing into a grove of leaning trees, I ran to our tent. If he did write me a letter, he must have left it near my sleeping mat. Indeed, I found a damp piece of paper tucked under the pile of sarongs on my mat.

My heart pounding, I unfolded the paper as if I were about to read a will. The note contained only a few sentences, which I easily memorized after reading them twice.

Mustafa, my son. This loss has made me so sad, I may soon go mad. I must leave. Hopefully, you are strong enough to stay. I am just a weakling. Goodbye.

I jumped up as though a scorpion had stung me. Unintentionally, I violated Ayah’s instructions, and I ran after him as fast as I could. Even after I ran out of breath, I could still not find his shadow. His footsteps were lost in the bend of the road or what must have been a bend in the road. And I had lost my sandals somewhere along the way.

I ignored the mud and painful pebbles that hurt the soles of my feet. The pain deep in my heart hurt much more.

Ayah had only just left, but loneliness had already struck me. It was as if I were the only person in this world. I had gone from losing a mother to losing both parents. I was left all by myself under the forever-cloudy sky. Though the sea was far away, I still kept hearing the roaring waves.

I limped back to the temporary shelter. The word “temporary” started to feel like “forever,” especially to me, who no longer had anyone. The only person I could rely on had just left me. He simply left ─ only leaving behind words that made me feel even more dejected.

Indeed, this was not the time to continue crying. Every day, I spent my time searching for news from the east, the west, the south, and the north — from all cardinal directions. “Did you find my sister, Meutia?” “Did you see my brother, Hasan?” “Have you come across my mother, Siti Salamah?”

“Tell me,” I would plead, “even if all you saw was their dead bodies, even if all you saw was what was left of their bodies, stuck in the ruins, after being dragged and tossed along with debris for several kilometers by brown waves, repeatedly flung away and sucked back in.”

Or, I begged, “Tell me if you found even a piece of clothing they were wearing before the tsunami hit. Perhaps I can still smell their scent between the stench of mud and debris. At least I could hold them one last time before releasing them for the mass-grave burial with all the other dead bodies.”

The mass grave would be unmarked, unless I marked it in my heart and made an effort to remember the location.

“Ayah,” I cried, “will we ever be able to visit their graves?”

But I was no longer with Ayah. He was gone now. He might have reached another location ─ unrecognizable because the tsunami had changed everything. For now, I would stay here at the shelter with other residents who were still trying to survive ─ along with a few soldiers who were weary and depressed.

***

When I was almost fifteen years old and had just graduated from middle school, Ayah gave me a rencong, a traditional dagger from Aceh.

My friends and I celebrated our graduation by burning our school uniforms in the middle of a rice field. A goat farmer’s son provided us with a goat for the celebration. Around dusk, I went home, feeling elated. After the long break, I would enter a new school environment. My future was a blank piece of paper that I could write all my hopes and dreams on. I walked home, whistling.

As I approached the gate of our yard, I saw Ayah. His eyes were as sharp as an eagle’s. I knew immediately that he had something very important to say and that he might deliver it harshly. The feeling was so strong, my heart started to race. Fear ran through me. All the excitement from the graduation celebration vanished.

“Mustafa!”

“Yes, Ayah.” I quickened my steps. I was bare-chested; my shirt had turned into ash in the rice field two hours ago.

“I have something important to tell you. Sit down.”

My heart sank. It was quiet as we walked to the porch. The sky was now dark. Soon we would hear the call to prayer from the surau, mosque behind the house. I quickly took a seat on the wooden porch bench.

“Ayah, I graduated today,” I said, trying to ease the tension with my good news. But it didn’t change anything.

“I know!” Ayah said. “That’s why I called you. It is time for you to have this.” Ayah thrusted something wrapped in a white cloth toward me. “Open it!”

Shaking, I loosened the old cloth. Even though I could have guessed what it was from the shape, I was still surprised when I held a rencong in my hand. The blade was shiny, even though the wood of the hilt was aged.

My hand trembled. Why did my father give me such a dangerous weapon? Every time I looked at the sharp metal blade, especially its serrated edge, I felt that I was in deep trouble.

“Ayah, this is a rencong …”

“It is good that you know that,” Ayah said. “I can no longer delay this. It is time you understand the dangers of the world out there.”

I looked around. I thought that my father’s evaluation of the situation was mistaken.  Despite the uprising and the growing tensions between rebels and authorities our village was in the safest area. Even the members of Gerakan Aceh Merdeka, the Free Aceh Movement, never passed through this area.

“You, along with me, are now responsible for protecting our family. You have to protect Meutia and Hasan, while I protect your mother, Salamah.”

Listening to my father scared me. It was as though soon, the war would explode. The evening breeze felt cooler than usual. The call for the maghrib, evening prayer, filled the air. I didn’t know who the muadzin, prayer caller, was, but his lilting voice pierced my ears like a sharp blade.

“Now, hurry ─ put it away,” Ayah warned. “It is yours now. Never leave it unsheathed, or the devil might possess it.”

When I returned from putting away my suddenly acquired weapon, Ayah rose and said, “Now let’s go to the surau.”

After the prayer, back in my room, I reflected on the day that had just passed. The day had been filled with many exciting events.

That morning, I had anxiously waited for the result of my final middle school exams. I was not stupid, but that didn’t mean I was guaranteed to pass. The wind had been blowing hard when we burned our uniform shirts that afternoon. The dry season had parched every patch of the field; piles of dry straw were everywhere. Of course, we had worried and gasped every time the flames veered toward the shanties in the field.

And then, this evening, I had inherited a rencong­! It was all too sudden, as if enemies were already lurking behind the walls of the house. We were always alert and treated every rustle as the sound of approaching danger. Yes! I now had become a man!

***

I was in fourth grade when Ayah told me to get circumcised. Hasan had not yet been born. Mother’s bulging belly looked as if she hid a bucket in the folds of her sarong.

Meutia had started attending the madrasah, the Islamic elementary school nearby, three times a week.

“It is time to cut your foreskin,” my father said. “It is the source of disease. Will you go by yourself or should I accompany you?”

Why didn’t Ayah wait until I had mastered my Quran recitation with the correct rhythm and tone? Or until I had experienced my first wet dream?

“No!” he exclaimed, as though sensing my hesitation. “You get circumcised now or don’t ever set foot in this house again.”

“Mustafa, take the new sarong I placed on your bed,” my mother said gently.

I nodded. I never had the heart to refuse my mother’s requests — no matter how hard, no matter how frightful.

I had never had an exciting adventure, other than a swim race in the fast-flowing river. Having my foreskin removed would definitely prove I was a courageous boy. Don’t cry! Don’t you ever cry, Mustafa!

“I trust you not to be a crybaby, Mustafa,” Ayah said, handing me money as I left.

So, I went to the circumciser and presented him my shivering penis, to be anesthetized, cut, stitched, and bandaged. I cringed as the pain penetrated the anesthetic.

During the process, I kept my eyes open, with no tears welling at the corners. I had succeeded and was bursting with pride! I had proven I was courageous and not a crybaby.

I only felt shame in front of my mother, who was never afraid to give birth. The third baby would soon pass through her womb. It must hurt terribly, because a baby was much larger than the opening it had to pass through. At least, that was my reasoning as a fourth-grader.

“Here is my brave boy.” Ayah patted my shoulder, while I enjoyed the roasted chicken my mother had made especially for me. “I know you’re not a crybaby!”

***

But now, today, early in the morning at the temporary shelter, before dhuha prayer time, I did cry.

Even though I knew I was surrounded by people who were half-mad with suffering from their loss, my chest felt as if it might explode under the pressure of loneliness. I was surrounded by desperate mothers, by children playing without knowing where to turn for a hug when they were hungry, by soldiers who missed their family, and by volunteers who almost passed out, overwhelmed by the stench that had hung in the air for the whole week.

When Ayah left the shelter, which consisted of military tents and some wooden structures without a foundation, I only saw his bent back. I knew, his shabby, faded, and crumpled shirt came from a box thrown out of a roaring helicopter on a cloudy afternoon.

Ayah didn’t walk fast, but the distance between us increased steadily. I could feel the space separating us realizing in maybe one, two, or even hundreds of kilometers.

Do I still need to look for my sister Meutia? And Hasan, my brother? And my mother, who might all be buried God knows where? The mighty tsunami took them from me without giving me a chance to say goodbye. Please, forgive me.

***

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