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This page will feature the selected short story, poem, or article of the month along with its English translation.

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Pohon Pu Tao Tua

Teguh Afandi likes to write short stories, essays, and book reviews. He won The Golden PEN Award from the Strategic Human Resource Program, took first place in the Femina Short Story Competition, and placed third at the Green Pen Award issued by the Indonesian Department of Forestry. Teguh’s short stories have been published by several newspapers, including Harian Pikiran Rakyat, Tribun Jabar, and Femina, a women magazine. His book reviews have been featured in Koran Tempo, Jawa Pos, and Jurnal Ruang, an online publication.

Teguh is employed as an editor at a Jakarta-based publishing house.

He can be reached at teguhafandi@gmail.com.

Copyright ©2018 by Teguh Afandi. Published with permission from the author. Translation copyright ©2018 by Laura Harsoyo.

 

Pohon Pu Tao Tua

 

Di halaman rumah Boneo, sebatang pohon pu tao yang lebih sering disebut pohon jamblang, tampak payah menopang tubuhnya yang semakin tua. Tinggi batangnya tak melebihi genting rumah. Cecabangan menyeruak membuat tajuk mendompol, tetapi kering karena banyak daun rebah ke tanah oleh kelelahan. Pohon pu tao itu berdiri sama tua dengan rumah si empunya. Hanya, rumah yang dulu berlantai tegel hitam dan berdinding papan kayu nangka kini sudah berubah dengan lantai keramik warna metalik dan dinding bata dan jendela kaca.

Sudah lama pula pohon pu tao itu tak pernah berbuah. Memang, ketika musim berbuah datang, akan tumbuh bunga dan bakal buah yang merimbuni tajuk. Namun, pohon pu tao terlalu lemah untuk mempertahankan sebiji buah pun. Walau pu tao berbuah lebat sekalipun, tidak akan ada yang berniat memakannya. Buah dari pohon tua itu sudah disingkirkan dari meja makan. Buahnya masam tidak menimbulkan minat.

Meski pohon pu tao itu sudah sedemikian tua, Boneo belum berniat menebangnya. Dia masih takut akan nasihat ibunya.

Kata Harmunik, jangan sampai ditebang pohon pu tao itu sebelum Boneo menikah dan punya keluarga baru. Bagaimanapun, pohon itu kenangan hidup atas almarhum ayah dan hari kelahiran Boneo.

Ayahnya menanam pohon pu tao ketika tahu anak pertamanya adalah lelaki. Anak lelaki kelak membawa tanggung jawab untuk mikul dhuwur mendhem jero. Mengangkat derajat orangtuanya dan mewarisi nama keluarga.

Harmunik terus marah-marah. Akhir-akhir ini, banyak hal kecil yang mengusik kemarahan Harmunik. Seolah-olah segala sesuatunya tidak berada di tempat semestinya dan membangkitkan kekesalan. Dedaunan pu tao yang luruh karena angin membuatnya mengomel. Suara anak-anak yang riuh sepulang sekolah membuatnya gerah. Semua dirasakannya salah. Penyebab utamanya ialah Boneo yang belum juga menikah. Seperti pohon yang masuk musimnya, tapi enggan menumbuhkan buah.

“Kamu ini kenapa, Boneo? Pekerjaan sudah mapan, harta juga sudah cukup, tapi masih belum juga mau menikah,” Harmunik berbicara dengan nada yang cukup tinggi. Anak satu-satunya itu seperti menutup telinga dari semua omongan Harmunik dan para tetangga.

“Belum ada yang cocok,” Boneo menjawab santai. “Meski menikah adalah hukum alam, tidak mungkin bila dipaksakan.”

Kesendirian Boneo sempat menimbulkan desas-desus kurang baik, bahwa dia adalah keturunan Luth yang ditenggelamkan hujan batu karena suka sesama jenis. Bagaimana mungkin seorang lelaki bereperawakan kekar, wajah tak terlalu buruk, pendidikan tinggi (yang membawanya ke kedudukan yang baik di kantor), tapi terus melajang hingga umur kepala empat. Pastilah ada sesuatu di benak Boneo yang tidak beres.

Akan tetapi, desas-desus itu terbantahkan ketika suatu kali Boneo pulang bersama seorang wanita berpipi kuning mentega. Para tetangga –yang selalu tidak sabar bila melihat berita baru– tersenyum bangga.

Perjaka mapan yang tidak lekas kawin penanda dua hal, sakit jiwa atau tenggelam dalam kemaksiatan. Nyatanya hubungan dengan wanita berpipi mentega itu tak lebih dari selembar almanak bulanan. Boneo kembali berjalan sendirian sambil mengulum senyum tanpa penyesalan.

“Ayahmu pasti menangis di kuburnya, Boneo!”

“Mengapa?”

“Keturunannya putus di kamu,” Harmunik terhenti sampai di situ. “Percuma ayahnya menanam pohon pu tao ini, penanda kebusukanmu.” Ada keputusasaan dalam nada bicara Harmonik.

“Apa tidak menikah itu tanda busuk, Bu?”

“Apa yang hendak kamu cari setelah semuanya kamu dapatkan? Pendidikan, pekerjaan? Apa tidak hendak kamu mencari pasangan?” Pertanyaan Boneo dijawab dengan pertanyaan kembali.

“Belum ada yang cocok,” selalu itu yang dikatakan Boneo sebagai alasan penutup percakapan.

Seolah aneka alasan lain akan dibantah Harmunik, kecuali yang satu ini.

Kerutan yang telah berdiam di wajah Boneo semakin dalam ketika dia tersenyum dan melaju meninggalkan Harmunik. Air mata membasahi pipi Harmunik. Dia meraung seperti koak sepasang gagak yang mewartakan kematian bagi keturunan Boneo.

***

Harmunik mulai sering melamun. Mata sayu menatap dahan putau yang semakin sepuh. Kulit kayu mengelupas dierami sarang semut. Beberapa klarapsejenis kadal yang mampu terbang, beranak-pinak di rongga pokok pu tao. Rasanya, ada bagian di hatinya yang mulai keropos. Saban hari, sindiran dan gunjingan tetangga seperti jarum kasur yang dilesatkan tepat ke dada Harmunik.

“Silsilah keluarga seperti pohon semakin ke tua semakin rimbun. Banyak keturunan,” kata suami Harmunik ketika menanam pu tao tepat pada hari menanam ari-ari Boneo. Pohon pu tao adalah tanda keberlanjutan keturunan. Selama keturunannya masih hidup, pu tao harus tetap dijaga. Sebaliknya, selama pu tao masih berdiri tegak, selama itu pula keturunannya harus dilanjutkan.

Darah yang tumpah di dipan saat melahirkan Boneo tidak boleh sekejap menguap. Terlebih, dulu, pernikahan Harmunik ditentang semua orang. Bagaimana mungkin, Harmunik yang sekadar putri penjual serabi kuah minggah bale dengan menikahi lelaki bergaris biru di pembuluh nadinya. Meski tidak beroleh restu keluarga mertua, Harmunik menikah dengan dampak tak diperkenankan menggunakan nama keluarga. Sudah dilepas menjadi sebatang pohon baru yang tidak ada kaitannya dengan dahan induk.

“Makanya aku pilih pu tao,” Harmunik mengingat perkataan suaminya. “Pu tao tidak berharga, tapi selalu ada buah yang memaniskan lidah.”

***

Semakin lama, pohon pu tao semakin tidak menunjukkan daya. Sebagaimana Harmunik yang tak kuasa menahan kuasa tua. Angin kencang mematahkan beberapa dahan. Dedaunan rontok ke tanah. Halaman rumah Harmunik dipenuhi rerontokan daun dan cabang-cabang pu tao yang saling silang. Hingga selesai masa duha, Harmunik tak berniat membersihkannya. Dia hanya menunggu kepulangan Boneo dari perjalanan dinas luar kota. Harmunik memendam gejolak perasaan yang beriak laiknya air di buluh yang digoyang lindu.

“Bu, kutebang saja ya pohon pu tao itu?” tanya Boneo sore itu, selepas perjalanan dinas.

Harmunik masih diam.

“Bu, Boneo janji, tahun depan akan menikah. Hanya, Boneo belum menemukan calon yang sesuai.”

“Apa saja, terserah kamu,” Harmunik tidak berselera menjawab.

“Sekarang, Boneo mau menebang pohon pu tao tua itu,” Boneo gegas berdiri.

Dia kemudian memanggul kapak lalu mendekati pokok pu tao. Dengan beberapa tebas saja, pohon pu tao sudah rebah ke tanah. Dengan kapak juga, Boneo merampasi dahan-dahan lalu memotong-motongnya menjadi beberapa bagian dengan ukuran sepadan. Dia menumpuk potongan dahan itu di tepian teras. Bisa dijadikan kayu bakar atau arang untuk membakar jagung, pikirnya. Boneo mengelap peluh di dahi dan bahu. Lalu, dia masuk ke dalam rumah, ingin mendinginkan suhu badan.

Harmunik masih terdiam di kursi. Sebingkai foto pernikahannya tergeletak di pangkuan. Matanya terpejam. Beberapa jenak sebelumnya, ketika pertama kali terdengar suara berdebam, saat pokok pu tao tua membentur tanah pekarangan, Harmunik menyebut-nyebut nama Allah, mewiridkannya dengan suara begitu lemah.

Cahaya senja menerobos lewat kisi-kisi jendela, membentuk pola di kulit Harmunik. Pohon pu tao yang biasa menghalau cahaya kini sudah tiada.

“Bu, sekarang rumah kita lebih cerah. Tidak ada penghalang sinar matahari lagi.” sambil meraih segelas air dingin, Boneo melanjutkan, “Bu, kemarin Boneo bertemu dengan Amhar, kawan kuliah dulu, yang sama-sama belum punya pasangan. Besok, Boneo kenalkan sama ibu.” Senyum Boneo mengembang.

“Bu, kalau tidur di kamar,” kata Boneo. Dia mendekati tubuh Harmunik yang sudah lemas.

Pohon pu tao itu sudah ditebang. Harmunik tak lagi merisaukannya.

***

Old Pu Tao Tree

Laura Harsoyo was born in Makassar, South Sulawesi, and grew up in Palembang (South Sumatra) and Surabaya (East Java), where she graduated in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in English literature from Airlangga University. She loves to read literary works and is interested in writing fiction. During her 21-year career in the hospitality industry, she wrote articles for Chef!, a culinary magazine in Jakarta, as well as translated some articles in organizational publications. She currently works as a freelance translator in fiction and nonfiction writing. Laura translates from Indonesian into English.

Laura can be reached at: harsoyolaura@gmail.com.

 

 

 

The Old Pu Tao Tree

 

In Boneo’s front yard, a pu tao tree—better known as a jamblang or Java plum tree—seemed to have trouble holding up its aging frame. The height of the trunk did not break the roofline of the house. Its branches created a thick canopy, but the foliage was dry; many leaves had fallen to the ground.

The pu tao tree was as old as its owner’s house. The house had originally been built with black tile flooring and walls made of jackfruit wood boards, but now had a ceramic tile floor in a metallic color, brick walls, and glass windows.

It had been a long time since the pu tao tree had borne any fruit. After the tree flowered, young fruits would fill the leafy canopy. However, the pu tao tree was too weak to mature even a single fruit. And even if the tree had borne fruits, no one would be interested in eating them. The fruit of the pu tao tree was no longer served at the table; its sourness made it undesirable.

Even though the pu tao tree was old, Boneo had no intention of cutting it down. He still respected his mother’s advice.

Harmunik had said not to cut the pu tao tree down before Boneo married and had his own family. After all, the tree was a living memory of his late father, as well as of Boneo’s birth.

His father had planted the pu tao tree when he found out that his firstborn was a boy. A son would carry the responsibility of upholding his parents’ reputation while covering up their shortcomings. He would raise his parents’ stature and inherit the family’s royal surname.

Lately, many little things incited Harmunik’s anger. It was as if everything was not where it should be, and that provoked her resentment. The pu tao leaves that the wind had blown to the ground bothered her. The loud voices of children returning from school annoyed her. Everything felt wrong. The main cause was Boneo, who had no plans to marry. He was like a mature tree that was reluctant to bear fruit.

“What’s wrong with you, Boneo? You have a steady job, you have enough money, and still you don’t want to marry.” Harmunik spoke in an agitated voice. It seemed her only child had no ears for her words or the neighbors’ gossip.

“I haven’t found the right one yet,” Boneo answered casually. “Even though marriage is a law of nature, it’s impossible to enforce.”

Boneo’s extended bachelorhood had provoked an unfavorable rumor that he was like the people in the story of Lot, who were struck by a meteor shower for being attracted to the same sex. How was it possible that an athletic, handsome man, with a good education (which had landed him a good position in his office), stayed single until he was in his forties? Something must have gone wrong in Boneo’s mind.

The rumor became disputable, however, when Boneo came home with a woman who had a smooth, creamy complexion. The neighbors—who were always eager to check out good news—smiled proudly.

If a well-established bachelor didn’t marry, it could only point to two facts: either he was mentally ill or steeped in immorality. It turned out that Boneo’s relationship with the fair-skinned woman did not last longer than a month. After that, Boneo walked alone again, smiling and without regrets.

“Your father must be crying in his grave, Boneo.”

“Why?”

“His lineage will end with you.” Harmunik stopped. “It’s pointless that your father planted this pu tao tree; now it’s a sign of your corruptness.” There was despair in her voice.

“Is being single a sign of corruptness, Mom?”

“What are you looking for, after all that you’ve acquired? Education? More money? Don’t you want to find a partner?” Harmunik answered Boneo’s question with questions.

“I haven’t found the right one yet,” Boneo said to end the conversation.

Harmunik disputed all other reasons except for this one.

Boneo’s smile deepened the wrinkles around his eyes; he started to leave.

Tears ran down Harmunik’s cheeks. Her howling sounded like a pair of crows proclaiming the demise of Boneo’s descendants.

***

Harmunik began to daydream frequently. She often rested her glazed eyes on the old pu tao tree. Ants had nested in the bark, and klarap— flying lizards—had bred in the tree’s hollow. She felt that a part of her heart had started to become hollow. The neighbors’ daily innuendos and gossip were large needles that pierced into her chest.

“A family is like a tree. The older it gets, the denser its foliage becomes. More descendants,” Harmunik’s husband had said when planting the pu tao on the day Boneo’s placenta was buried. The pu tao tree was a symbol of the continuity of the family’s lineage. As long as the descendants were still alive, the pu tao tree must be kept. Conversely, as long as the pu tao tree was still standing, the procreation must continue.

The blood that had been spilled while giving birth to Boneo could not be removed. From the onset, Harmunik’s marriage was opposed by everyone. Harmunik, daughter of a serabi kuah vendor—a Javanese rice pancake vendor—was fortunate to marry a man with royal bloodlines. Harmunik’s marriage went forward without her in-laws’ blessings, and, as a result, she was not allowed to use the family’s royal surname. She was an offshoot that had been deemed incompatible with the parent tree.

“That’s why I chose the pu tao,” Harmunik remembered her husband saying. “The pu tao might be worthless, but it is a prolific producer and will always provide a snack.”

***

Just like Harmunik, who couldn’t hold back the aging process, the pu tao tree was getting older and losing its vigor. A strong wind broke some of its branches, and Harmunik’s yard was filled with broken, tangled branches and rotting leaves. Even though it was past the Duha praying time—around nine in the morning—Harmunik had no intention of cleaning up. She was waiting for Boneo to return from an out-of-town business trip. Harmunik was filled with turmoil; she felt as if she was pounding water in a mortar. After he returned from his business trip that afternoon, Boneo asked, “Mom, should I just cut down the pu tao tree?”

Harmunik remained silent.

“Mom, I promise I will get married next year. It’s just that I haven’t found the right one yet.”

“I don’t care; it’s up to you.” Harmunik did not feel like responding.

“All right, then I’ll cut down that old pu tao tree.” Boneo sprung to his feet and went to fetch an ax. With a few strikes, he felled the pu tao. Boneo stripped the branches and cut them into pieces of equal size. He piled the wood on the edge of the porch. It could be used as firewood or charcoal to roast corn. Boneo wiped the sweat off his forehead and shoulders, then went inside to cool off.

Harmunik was still sitting silently in her chair. Her wedding photo lay on her lap. Her eyes were closed. A few moments earlier, when she heard the thud that the old tree made as it hit the ground, Harmunik had called the name of Allah repeatedly, in a weak voice.

The light of dusk broke through the window lattice and formed a pattern on Harmunik’s skin. The pu tao tree that used to shade the room was gone now.

“Mom, our house is brighter now. Nothing is blocking the sunlight.” Reaching for a glass of cold water, Boneo continued, “Mom, yesterday I met with Amhar, a college friend, who’s also still single.” Boneo’s smile widened. “Tomorrow, I will introduce Amhar to you,” he said. “Mom, you better take a nap in the bedroom.” Boneo approached Harmunik’s limp body.

The pu tao tree had been cut down, and Harmunik no longer worried about him.

***

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