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: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Mr. Dwija’s Secret
Even though we had been neighbors for a long time, Mr. Dwija and I only became friends after we both attended the wake of another villager on a hot mid-August afternoon in 1985. Adi Malela, a war veteran, had died of old age. According to rumors, the departed was a friend of Supriyadi, a famous figure of the Defenders of the Fatherland (PETA) warriors who had fought Japan in the uprising on February 14, 1945. The presence of Mr. Dwija at the wake revealed the relationship between himself and the late Adi Malela. Apparently, both of them had vowed to keep their friendship a deep secret. In his eulogy at the wake, before departing for the burial, Mr. Dwija confirmed what had only been a rumor all this time.
“Let us bow our heads in honor of Adi Malela. We met during the Japanese occupation, in the military academy in Bogor. Together, we were assigned to Blitar, where we were trusted to lead the troops and enforce discipline with katanas, Japanese swords. It was not an easy responsibility. The deceased and I had indeed become Supriyadi’s sympathizers. This was an experience we shared. In fact, this was the reason we were both tried and convicted in Jakarta by the Japanese military.” Mr. Dwija cleared his throat and gazed into the distance before he continued in a heavy, shaky voice. “Now, Adi Malela has completed his life and struggles. May he receive eternal rest with the Creator of Life.”
After the death of the revolutionist Adi Malela, Mr. Dwija’s temperament changed one hundred and eighty degrees. He was no longer a kind and cheerful father. Most of the time, he looked depressed and was easily agitated.
Often, around midnight, shouts came from Mr. Dwija’s house. Because our house was next door, we were forced to listen. Some of the other neighbors said that they heard the shouts, too.
I often saw Mr. Dwija sitting on his porch when I passed by his house on my way home from school in the afternoon. He always seemed deep in thought.
One such afternoon, about a month after the death of Adi Malela, Mr. Dwija’s hoarse voice called out as I passed by his house. “Son, come by! You study history, right?”
“Yes, sir,” I answered from outside his fence while getting off my bicycle. I was returning from campus. Aside from exchanging and discussing ideas with my academic advisor during this final semester, I was also preoccupied with preparing my final thesis in the field of local history. Field work and a lot of reading material required my attention.
“Come, come, I need some historical information,” Mr. Dwija beckoned. “I want to hear stories from the era of the Singhasari and Majapahit kingdoms. Who knows, maybe that will help me.”
Out of respect, I accepted his invitation, and we engaged in a long conversation on the porch of his house.
After that day, Mr. Dwija invited me often to tell him about the history of the kingdoms in the East Java region and other regions of the archipelago, as well as give him information about the rulers and other various stories around those times. These visits became an opportunity for me to revisit and further develop the lectures I had attended and to deepen my understanding of the books I had read.
One day, Mr. Dwija started our conversation in an unexpected way. “Many times, my children tell me that I should write about my past experiences. I remain silent every time they bring up the idea. I refused their request to write down the experiences of my youth during that time.” Mr. Dwija seemed nervous about sharing this information with me.
I waited, with my head slightly bowed, for his next sentence.
“Do you know the life story of Mr. Adi Malela?” Mr. Dwija asked, as if checking how much I knew about his deceased friend.
“I didn’t really know him, sir,” I responded cautiously. “According to some of the closest neighbors, he was a rather peculiar person.”
“His story did not become clearer after all I revealed during the funeral?” Mr. Dwija asked.
“I don’t know much. Rumors have it that Mr. Adi kept a katana in his house. That is an expensive item, sir. There are people who duplicate and trade them. Heirlooms that are treated as merchandise,” I said abruptly.
“Hush! Don’t refer to a samurai sword as an expensive item.” Mr. Dwija’s cloudy eyes looked into the distance. Squeezing his hands together, he muttered, “It’s what often makes me scream at night.”
His statement confused me, and because I didn’t know how to respond, I kept quiet.
Mr. Dwija cleared his throat several times and then began his story. “So, here it is. Mr. Adi Malela and I once underwent training at Rensei-tai, a platoon commander school for PETA soldiers, Defenders of the Fatherland. We once served as chudanco, company commanders. We were addressed as Chudanco Adi Malela and Chudanco Dwija. We were assigned together at the Educational Battalion of the PETA at the Command Headquarters in Blitar. We were barely thirty years old then. At that time, Supriyadi was a platoon commander, a shodanco. We were actually his superiors …” Mr. Dwija’s voice trailed away.
“I’ve never heard that before,” I said truthfully.
“Shhh, this indeed was our secret,” Mr. Dwija said, holding my eyes firmly with his own. “For more than forty years, we lived with our secrets and kept things under wraps.
“My defense broke when Chudanco Adi Malela passed away,” Dwija continued. “He was my best friend. It seems that there is a gaping hole in my life. After his death, I have many nightmares about our bitter experiences, such as being beaten by the Japanese soldiers. Those of us at the company and battalion levels bore the consequences …”
Mr. Dwija began to tremble and his voice faltered. He squeezed his hands together as if trying to calm himself before sending me a sad look.
“Thank you for allowing me to hear your stories in of the past,” I said.
After a moment of silence, Mr. Dwija abruptly switched the subject. “You’re studying the history of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, aren’t you?” He seemed interested in the theme of my thesis.
“Yes, sir. It is a new subject, and several of our lecturers have expertise in this field,” I answered candidly.
“No wonder. When I research deeper about the Singhasari and Majapahit eras, it is always said that they are an archeological site, due to the temple ruins. Or, Ancient Javanese literature is mentioned, as it is related to literary manuscripts of the era. Perhaps, son, you should know that when I was studying to become a teacher, I studied the Ancient Javanese language. Our teachers back then were happy to invite students to read the writings of Adi Parwa, the beginning part of the Mahabharata story, and the likes. It seems that now this course is no longer taught.”
“I didn’t know that you used to be a school teacher,” I interrupted.
“Yes, there are not many people who know that I was a school teacher. That was in the past.”
“But you were fortunate to read and be invited to explore the sources that are full of characteristic teachings from the Ancient Javanese literary heritage as well as the history around them,” I said. “Nowadays, the disciplines are separated, sir. Archeology is a separate subject; Ancient Javanese literature is another subject; and history is a subject of its own. It is as if they are not interrelated with each other. Being familiar with the language most information of each discipline can be found in is yet another requirement. For history, I had to make a great effort to master the Dutch language, as most of the books and documents are in Dutch. It was only recently that I was able to read the resource material I need.”
“Yes, I was a teacher for several years,” Mr. Dwija continued. “A young teacher, according to the meaning of my name. My teaching career was interrupted by the arrival of the Japanese troops. Everything got messed up. Schools were taken over. The Japanese needed people who could lead the others to take care of and train the young people gathered from various regions. Adi and I were among them. We were forced to form a people’s army to fight against the Allied forces – forced to join in suppressing the romusha, forced laborers, who suffered to build roads and army facilities. We had to turn a blind eye to kumiai, an extortion and deprivation of people’s properties through various taxes which made them even more miserable. It was a difficult time. It was really very difficult.”
Mr. Dwija halted while reminiscing, then said, “I can’t continue the story. I can’t. Perhaps I need more time to digest the bitter memories that are still haunting me. And, oh, those excruciating tortures were really beyond humanity.” Mr. Dwija took a deep breath.
I sat quietly, not daring to comment.
“I’ll tell you again, some other time,” he said, ending the conversation.
I asked to be excused and left.
That night, I heard screams from Mr. Dwija’s house. I couldn’t understand a single word, and I did not intend to find out. I wondered if Mrs. Dwija or their children understood what Mr. Dwija’s was screaming about. I couldn’t imagine Mr. Dwija’s anxiety, nor the anxiety that Mrs. Dwija and their children faced on such nights.
In the morning, it was as if nothing had happened. Mr. Dwija went to work, his children went to school, and Mrs. Dwija went to her job at the hospital.
The family’s housemaid, who was in charge of cleaning the house, washing clothes, and cooking, also did not seem worried about anything. She did her chores as if nothing had happened. After all, she had served Mr. Dwija’s family for decades. Everything continued as normal, as if Mr. Dwija’s delirious screaming during the night would certainly pass and did not need to be worried about.
As usual, Mr. Dwija was waiting for me when I rode my bike home from campus. We took a seat on the porch together. In the middle of our conversation, Mr. Dwija started to reveal his horrific memories. “I was tried in the Gunritsu Kaigi, the Japanese military court in Jakarta. So was the late Chudanco Adi Malela. From Blitar, we were transported by truck to Jakarta,” he paused; then continued, “They promised that nothing would happen to us, but we were put in prison. We were stripped of our clothes except for our underwear. Several commanders, including Adi Malela and me, were held separately. Other members were placed in one room. We were considered to be the key figures who had designed the February uprising.
“Yes, the Japanese soldiers were very cruel to the PETA trainers and instructors who were suspected of being involved in the rebellion. I was beaten with a sinai, a club made from a piece of bamboo that was split and filled with iron springs.”
Mr. Dwija paused, then continued. “It was hard to lose Chudanco Adi Malela, who suffered the same fate. All this time, he was like a beacon for me. He became a friend who was present when various difficulties struck. In fact, when the burden of raising so many children almost destroyed me, he helped and encouraged me. Now that he is gone, I have to dig up all those hardships and remember them. It takes a lot of effort to write them down.”
Mr. Dwija went inside the house, leaving me on the porch. When he returned, he held an envelope and a katana.
“In these notes, I have recorded almost all the incidents I can remember that have haunted me after the death of Chudanco Adi Malela. I still haven’t written down all of them. All this time, we kept these experiences to ourselves because each of us knew what we shared. But after he died, those terrible events appeared in my mind and dreams without warning. My family says that I always scream wildly in the middle of my sleep. My eldest son once casually advised me, ‘Dad, you should write down all those shocking memories.’ What shocks! What does he know about my experiences!”
“Ah, never mind.” Mr. Dwija brushed the memory aside. “Here are some notes. There are also several maps and a painting of Supriyadi’s face. Please, son, let me give you this since you will be a historian.” Mr. Dwija handed me the envelope filled with papers.
At a loss of words, I accepted them with glistening eyes.
“Shhh, son. This is the katana I told you about before.” Mr. Dwija showed me a rusty katana. The handle was still sturdy, although there was no hand guard. Mr. Dwija laid it on the table. His gaze wandered.
“Can I hold it?” I asked.
“Don’t!” Mr. Dwija said sternly. “Don’t you understand it is not a toy?” Mr. Dwija’s tone of voice was harsher than the way he usually talked to me. He sat up straight and did not look at me as he normally did when we spoke. He swallowed before continuing his story.
“We were both convicted by the Japanese military court. Shodanco Supriyadi had managed to escape. He simply disappeared and never returned. We battalion members, who were his superiors, and other PETA members, who served under him were all tried at the Japanese military court in Jakarta. The Japanese kept asking us about Shodanco Supriyadi’s whereabouts. The memory of the long tortures that accompanied the trial is what makes me scream at night. I am unable to bear the burden after the passing of Chudanco Adi Malela.”
I remained silent and did not dare look at Mr. Dwija, who remained seated rigidly in his chair.
“I am sorry, son. Maybe I should write more. Yes, my children and my son-in-law have suggested it. Please, son, go home now.”
“Yes, sir. Thank you.” I said and added, “I’ll be waiting for the story of the katana.”
“Thank you,” Mr. Dwija rose and stood silently next to me, as if wanting me to move from my seat.
I too rose and, facing Mr. Dwija, bowed my head deeply towards him before saying goodbye.
“Yes, please,” he answered, briefly.
A few days passed, and I didn’t see Mr. Dwija on his porch when I biked by on my way home from school. Usually, he would ask me to stop for some conversation. He’d ask me about my thesis assignment or tell me about his experiences. I missed our talks.
And the story of the katana was unfinished. I was still waiting for the story to continue. Ah, one day Mr. Dwija would tell me the rest of it.
Then, one afternoon, Mrs. Dwija hailed me.
“Son, please stop by for a while,” she said kindly.
I sat at my usual seat on the porch.
Mrs. Dwija went into the house and returned with several pieces of paper in her hand.
“For the past few days, Mr. Dwija has been ill,” she said. “In fact, he is sleeping right now. He asked me to give you these papers, son. He asked that you read them here. Please.” She handed me the papers.
Mrs. Dwija went into the house, then returned with a cup of tea for me.
I began reading Mr. Dwija’s handwriting. Being a teacher before the arrival of the Japanese, the letters of his handwriting flowed with a certain rhythm across the page.
I read: “Finally, after a month of interrogations, a Japanese military court passed our sentence. Chudanco Adi Malela and I were sentenced to fifteen years in prison. Other penalties varied. Our bodies were bloody and scarred from lashings. Two of my teeth were broken. We didn’t know what our fate was going to be.
“A few months after the independence, we were released from prison. Chudanco Adi Malela and I agreed to return to Blitar. We hoped that someone in Blitar would still remember us. Two katanas, left in the former Defenders of the Fatherland Educational Battalion at the Daidan Blitar Command Headquarters, were handed to us. Those who had escaped the Japanese court still recognized us. We were truly moved.
“Both of us were offered the chance to be members of the Indonesian People’s Army with the rank of Lieutenant Colonel. We wondered if we were worthy of the position and decided to leave the military. How could the Indonesian army have members like us who were still traumatized by the torture of the Japanese soldiers? Ah, it would only be a disgrace. We chose to work in the private sector and went our separate ways, only to be reunited again in this village. Now that Chudanco Adi Malela has passed, I wonder when it’s my turn.”
There, Mr. Dwija’s writing ended.
I looked at the empty chair in front of me, where Mr. Dwija usually sat. I looked at the empty table, where Mr. Dwija had once placed his katana.
I put down the papers I had read and slowly leaned back in my chair.