Novita Dewi started writing poetry and short stories during her elementary and middle school days. She published in Si Kuncung and Bobo, children magazines, as well as wrote for the children’s columns featured in Kompas and Sinar Harapan (now Suara Pembaruan). She now nurtures her interest in literature by writing articles about literature and translation for scientific journals. Novita is widely published. The short stories translated and published by Dalang Publishing are her first attempts of literary translation.
She currently teaches English literature courses at Sanata Dharma University, Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Novita can be reached at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org.
Jarot’s Independence Day
Some of the folks who lived under the bridge were still asleep; some sat drinking coffee; others fished the river. Still others listened to the radio broadcast: “The President’s Independence Day speech will be followed by the national anthem, Indonesia Raya.”
Jarot was building a shelter to live in when he saw a bass guitar floating in the river. He ran for it. After Jarot caught the instrument, he cleaned it and tried to fix it. He used the inner tubes of a bicycle to make strings for the guitar. Fancying himself performing with the bass guitar to earn money, he tried to pluck. Boom, boom, boom!
Strumming the guitar, Jarot sang, “I’m happy here, I’m happy there. I am happy everywhere. Lalalalalala, lalalalalala, lalalala, lalalalala, lalalalala, lalalala …”
Carrying his bass guitar, Jarot entered the village, decorated with red and white Indonesian flags and banners lining the roadsides in celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day on August 17. He approached a house and began to sing.
“Hello, hello, Bandung, capital of the Periangan. Hello, hello, Bandung, city of memories. I haven’t seen you for a long time; now you’ve become a sea of flames; let’s reclaim it!”
Jarot sang so loud that he made many people smile.
“He is crazy, singing patriotic songs,” someone said, laughing.
Jarot also sang Indonesia Raya with enthusiasm.
“Indonesia is my homeland, the land where I spilled my blood. It’s where I stand to support my fatherland. Indonesia is my nationality, my nation and homeland. Let us shout: Indonesia unite!”
Many people began to sing along, repeating, especially, the phrase “Indonesia unite!” It was such a rousing call that it ignited everyone’s feelings of nationalism. Some children even began to follow the street singer, as he moved about the village.
The elderly, led by a brown-uniformed ex-freedom fighter, also joined. Thus, many adults, including mothers, started to trail behind Jarot.
Jarot’s singing became more and more enthusiastic as he went door to door, visiting food stalls and shops.
His followers looked like a lively street choir. This year’s August celebration of the independence of the Republic of Indonesia seemed livelier and more spirited. Some residents put on their best clothes; others took pails to use as drums. The voices of Jarot and the street choir seemed to make the red-and-white flags and banners decorating the streets flutter faster.
When Jarot saw the flag flying in front of an elementary school, he stopped and shouted, “Attention!” The parents and children who followed him straightened up.
“Salute the colors!” cried Jarot and saluted the flag.
Everyone followed suit.
The bystanders watching them, smiled.
In a food stall, not far from the Jarot-led procession, a number of people were eating and making comments.
“Foolish people. Why are they following Fatso?”
“Jarot unites them. Look! Amongst them are Bataknese, Javanese, and Sundanese. Don’t you think all of them are having a good time together?
Even some of the old people have joined him!” The commenter laughed.
“Hey, what’s the busker’s name?” another asked, pointing at Jarot.
With his flat nose and protruding teeth Jarot looked like the village fool.
“That’s Jarot. Why?”
“He is a busy person. Yesterday, I saw him taking trash out of the river. After he sorted the garbage, separating the biodegradable from the non-biodegradable, he burned some of it. He also planted mango saplings on the riverbanks.”
“Wow! Is that the river he cleaned up over there?”
The food stall owner was listening to the conversation and chimed in, “Yes, Jarot is the one who cleaned it!”
Gradually, over time, a number of residents began helping Jarot clean up the river. Previously very dirty and filled with shrubs, the river was now cleaner and the surroundings were better managed. As time went by, the trees grew bigger and taller, creating a cool and shady environment, a good place for fishing. Sometimes Jarot joined the fishermen and caught a good meal.
At a community meeting, Jarot put forth an idea that was approved by the neighborhood and hamlet leaders. With help from the government’s city funding, the community built a park and children’s playground. Life around the river became more prosperous, and the settlement became a model for other places to develop their rundown areas.
Jarot became increasingly recognized as an environmental activist. The previously dreary life on the riverbanks was now flourishing.
A parking lot and several tent stalls opened near the riverbank to serve visitors. Cellphone shops, barbershops, food stalls, a gasoline outlet, and variety stores now buzzed with customers. Jarot could be credited for the booming businesses of the local residents, as well as for their now thriving lives.
Jarot did not collect any fees from people who wanted to enjoy the park and the children’s playground. Instead, a person from the neighborhood was put in charge of the parking lot, where visitors could place their voluntary donations in a large can. The money was used to help residents with medical expenses, such as childbirth.
Jarot’s days were filled with noble activities. Everything continued as usual for many years until one night, he had a strange dream that made him feel uneasy and threatened.
In his dream, a dark shadow appeared and swiftly smothered him until he could hardly breathe. Gasping helplessly, Jarot woke up just as he was about to suffocate. Cold sweat dripped down his forehead.
He didn’t know who the shadow belonged to. Jarot began to investigate things that might explain his nightmare. He looked within himself. He knew that in the community there were people who liked him and people who disliked him. To Jarot, this was to be expected, as long as no one disturbed him. He was a light-hearted person and did not intend to bother others.
But Jarot had always believed his often-proved instinct that some people didn’t like his presence. Jarot figured that one of these people must be the owner of the shadow. His face was dark. When Jarot tried to take a better look, the black veil that covered the strange figure flattened his face. Only his clothes were vaguely visible. Standing in loafers, the figure was dressed in a nice suit and wore a necktie. A gold chain was attached to the watch tucked in his vest’s pocket.
The nightmare returned. This time, the dream was even more sinister. Not only did the shadowy figure rush in, but so did dozens of people. The dark shadow of the “angel of death” was amongst them.
Jarot woke up sweating profusely. The image of the shadow remained, even after Jarot had been awake for a long time. It seemed to be stamped into his memory. Jarot immediately recited a long wirid, hoping that the prayer said after the regular prayers, would calm him.
That day, Jarot fasted.
He wondered if perhaps he had inadvertently done something wrong. He wanted to make up for the bad thing that might have something to do with his recurring nightmare. All day, he tried to do good, but he knew that bad luck could come at any time, unexpectedly.
That evening, after Jarot broke his fast, he prepared himself with his usual enthusiasm for the celebration of Indonesia’s Independence Day. Inside his shack, Jarot was gathering flags for the flag ceremony when suddenly dozens of people stormed the bridge.
“Jarot!” someone shouted.
In the darkness, the riverbank was visible, basking under the moonlight. The light from the lantern at the corner of the bridge, shimmered between the rocks.
There weren’t many people under the bridge that night, and even if there had been, they would have fled when they saw dozens of menacing people arrive.
“Get out!” the people shouted louder.
Jarot staggered, his heart hammering. Quickly, he calmed himself and walked out of his shack.
“What is wrong?” he asked the crowd. “Calm down. Everything can be discussed.”
“To hell with your talk!” Several people charged at Jarot, ganging up on him.
“Calm down, be patient, what do you want? Let’s talk!” Jarot cried before he was overtaken by the mob and repeatedly punched and kicked. His nose was bloodied. His stomach hurt terribly. He was dizzy and ached all over.
“Get out of here if you want to stay alive!”
The beating from the mob accelerated without mercy. Jarot did not fight back. He fell to the ground.
“Get lost! If you’re still around tomorrow, we’ll kill you!”
Several people spat on Jarot’s face. Ptui! Ptui! Ptui!
“Leave! Or you’ll die! We’ll burn this village and kill the residents!”
Later that night, a local government official was holding a conversation with a man standing in loafers, wearing a nice suit fitted with a necktie. A gold chain was attached to the watch tucked in the man’s vest pocket.
“Well?” the official asked.
“We’ve taken care of it, sir.”
“Good! I don’t want to have anything to do with that scumbag. In a few months, the new bridge construction project will start.” The official laughed.
“That’s right, sir,” the man said, joining in the laughter.
The official was satisfied that his scare tactic had worked. Only recently had he noticed a change in the mindset of the population living under the bridge and on the riverbanks. Jarot’s ideas had changed them. This was evidenced by the cleaner and more orderly environment around the river. He was sure that Jarot was not an ordinary person, and he was sure that causes such as human rights activists, leftist NGOs, and labor union groups supported Jarot.
Therefore, the official knew very well the threat that Jarot posed to carrying out his bridge construction plans. He also knew that Jarot had the ability to block the construction project, which could not take place without destroying Jarot’s shack and removing the other villagers in order to tear down the old bridge and replace it with a wider and bigger one. The negative impact that the development would have on the river’s environment was another factor, as was the large factory that a businessman promised to build for him on the riverbank.
But now, all safety measures had been taken. The official had even bribed his government colleagues.
On the eve of Indonesia’s Independence Day, the day when the Indonesian people celebrate their freedom from the colonizers, Jarot left the place he had fallen in love with. He was evicted from the shack under the bridge, which he had called home all this time and pain-ridden from the fateful night that had stripped off his freedom.
On the morning of August 17, there was a big commotion among the villagers. Without Jarot, everyone was confused. And on that Independence Day there was no one to direct the flag ceremony, no one to lead the parades, and no one to direct the street choirs in the riverbank settlement under the bridge.