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Daughter Of Papua (Chapter 8)

Stefanny Irawan is a published short story writer, , freelance editor, and translator. Her first short story collection, Tidak Ada Kelinci di Bulan! (No Bunny on the Moon!), was published in 2006. She is passionate about theatre and received her Master’s degree in Arts Management at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo under the Fulbright scholarship. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia.

She can be reached at



Chapter 8



I want to play with Yosi longer. We have exciting games we haven’t played, but Mama Helda’s yelling is too loud to ignore.

Yosi cringes like she feels her mother pulling her ears. “I need to go.” She walks away, then smiles and waves goodbye.

I try not to stop my best friend with words that will only make her sadder. While I untie the rubber band string from the pinang tree by the fence, I give her a sorry look. It’s hard for her to leave our rubber skipping game. She was one jump away from winning the merdeka jump. More than that, I know Yosi shares my feeling. After being locked in the house for more than a week because of the war, being able to play outside again feels like a dream come true.

“Good news. The war is over. Both sides lost the same number of men, ten highlanders and ten lowlanders,” said Mama Mote, the mama messenger, when she came yesterday. She showed up with shiny eyes and mixed feelings: happy, relieved, and miserable at the same time because it meant that her visits wouldn’t be needed anymore.

I played house by myself under the table. Mace said we had to keep our doors and windows closed all the time to make sure the danger stayed outside, so I pretended that a war had also happened in my imaginary world. I hid under the table where the hanging ends of the stiff and dirty tablecloth protected me like walls of a castle. I stayed there until the mama messenger sat on a wooden chair in front of me and began to talk with nonstop excitement.

“The main street is empty and the corpses have been cleared. There are only blood pools, arrows, and wooden sticks on the ground. A few armed guards are in place just in case something happens. Those who died were still young.”
Mama Mote muttered to herself, saying she would go to the hospital to find out about the poor kids. Maybe she could help deliver the bad news to their family. She kept going until Mabel interrupted.

“Meanwhile, Papua lost another twenty brainless people. Brave but stupid men who were easily poisoned to kill their own brothers. They died so young over something so trivial. When will these people realize….”

Mama Mote answered Mabel with silence. From under the table, I saw her hand reaching down. She’d rather scratch the scabies on her calf until there were long white lines than comment on what Mabel said. But a reaction came from another direction in a form of a loud sigh. I turned my head and watched Mace’s feet with their cracked soles that reminded me of dry ground. The sound must have come from her. I knew her well enough that I could imagine how she frowned when worried. I never know why she behaves like that every time Mabel says things I can’t understand. She acted like Mabel had let out a big secret that would put us in danger if someone found out. I did the same when Yosi accidentally spilled our secret to Karel that I had found a treasure in the field. But usually, Mabel didn’t seem to care that much.

In the next minute, Mace stomped to the kitchen. She came back soon afterward and talked politely.

“Please have some pinang, Mama Mote.”

She tried to swallow her anger in front of her guest.

Just like how kids were not allowed to talk about any ghost or spirit they saw so as not to be possessed, the talk switched from war to the price of things. Mace gave her opinion that we should raise the price of pinang since other things were already getting more expensive. Meanwhile, I got bored playing alone and decided to end my imaginary war to go to Yosi’s house.

“Leksi, where are you going? Can’t you see that no one is out on the street?” Mace’s warning stopped me. My smile turned into a frown. I really wanted to play. I tried to sulk for a few seconds, hoping she would let me go outside. It didn’t work.

“You can play tomorrow. I’m sure Yosi isn’t allowed out today. Try to be patient, Leksi. Tomorrow you can play all you want until late.”

That’s what Mace promised me yesterday, but Mama Helda didn’t make the same promise to Yosi. I’m saying this because when we met again, Yosi had to make dinner for her family like she did every day.

“Leksi!” Yosi’s loud yell startled me, and woke me from my daydreaming. I saw her skinny figure near her porch. With one hand waving, Yosi mouthed words. She tried to send me a silent message from far away. Too bad I couldn’t understand what she said. Somehow, I was sure she made a promise to play together tomorrow. I answered her with a big grin. It was the right answer because I saw her start to smile. Her look of fear returned when Mama Helda’s yelling came thundering from inside the house, “Yosi, move it, or do you want me to hit you?”


I can’t wait to finish my class today. I think about which exciting games I’ll play with Yosi later. But when I get home and tell her the choice I made before the school bell rang, she tells me her mother won’t let her play. She has to take care of Kaye, her sick youngest brother.

“Kaye has a fever, Leksi. Mama told me to take care of him and not to leave the house, let alone play.”

I should have known. Kaye has shown signs of coming down with a fever since early morning. He was so cranky that I woke earlier than normal. His yelling made the roosters crow before they saw the sun. Dogs barked too. Meanwhile, Mabel washed our clothes by the well and guessed at the reason for Kaye’s painful crying.

“Was he beaten or did he fall? Or maybe accidentally squashed in the door?”

Before I leave for school, I see Yosi sweeping the yard. “Yosi, are we going to play later?”

“You bet, Leksi,” she answers. “You decide what game we’ll play.”

She doesn’t expect her mother to give her the duty of caring for her sick brother. When I ask about Kaye, she cheerfully says, “It’s just a fever, but my mama is taking care of him. She might not go to the field today.”

Kaye is only three but he acts like a giant baby. He cries and sulks too easily. Even Mama Helda can’t stand his crankiness.

Yosi is very patient and caring. She never pinches or scolds Kaye when he acts up. She talks to him, buys him candy when she has money, or lets him interrupt her game.

“We’ll play when Kaye is well. I’m sure his fever will be gone by tomorrow,” Yosi says before Kaye’s crying calls her back into the house.

I thought I would be angry all day because my plan to play with Yosi fell through, but that old woman came at the right moment. It was almost noon and I was very bored playing with dirt by myself.

Our guest was Mabel’s. She arrived from Biak. When they meet, the two old ladies shout greetings and hug with tears running down their cheeks for quite a while. Mabel introduces her as her oldest best friend, but the guest corrects her, saying that she is a relative who has gone without seeing Mabel for a long time. Her name is Mama Kori.

“This is my granddaughter. Leksi,” Mabel said, introducing me.

“Leksi? My, my, what a sweet girl. Really sweet.” She praises me in her warm voice and pinches me lovingly in the cheek. I give her my most perfect smile, a smile that gradually fades when she continues with a question to Mabel, “Is she Johanis’ daughter?”

“Yes. That’s her.”

“Oh, no wonder. She has his eyes. And his nose too.”

As she says this, I touch my eyes and nose. Are they like his? In what way? At this moment, I want to run to the mirror in the bedroom and see and enjoy what is alike in our faces — father’s and mine — the way Mama Kori says, because I have never seen his face. I find it really hard to leave the living room. I want to hear the many new things from our guest. I decide to check in the mirror later and stay on Mace’s lap. Mabel introduces her as Johanis’ wife.

“Lisbeth.” Mace says her name as she politely shakes our guest’s hand.

At noon, our house is more cheerful than usual. Not only does Mama Kori bring many souvenirs, she also has stories that make us laugh, although some of them surprise me.

Mama Kori tells about how naughty my father was as a child, including the time they had to take him to the clinic because a goose had pecked his butt. She makes Mabel blush when she tells the story of the charming young man who came to Mabel’s house every day, bringing her the harvest from his field.

“You know, Leksi, that young man was crazy about your Mabel. Back then she was the most beautiful of all. Nobody could compete with her.”


Mama Kori says like it’s just us: “Believe me, child.” She throws a glance at Mabel, who shouts in return.

“Ah, Kori. Come on, just stop this story.”

“No way, Annabel. Your granddaughter must know a little about her grandmother’s past.” She continues: “Just so you know, Leksi, before those wrinkles appeared, your Mabel glowed in beauty like you. Yes, just like you.”

Hearing that, my chest puffs proudly and I smile. Being praised like that by someone I just met was different from being praised by Mabel or Mace. My smile faded in the next second and it was gone completely when I thought about something.

“Mama Kori, will there be a young man coming here every day, bringing me the harvest from his field?”

Again, laughter fills our cramped house, right when Mace finishes placing lunch on the table. “Let us eat, Mama.”

“Thank you, Lisbeth.”

Pum shows up out of nowhere and Mama Kori recognizes him right away. “My goodness, Pum. Is that really you? Looks like we’ve both grown old.”

This day, lunch is a lot merrier than usual.



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