Indra Blanquita Hurip was born in Mexico City, where her father was stationed as a diplomat. She grew up in Islamabad and Karachi, where she attended schools that used English as a base language. An avid reader since childhood, Indra loves everything connected with language. Before she left Jakarta for 16 years to accompany her husband on assignments to Batam, Lhokseumawe, and Dumai, she studied French for a few years in college and worked for a French Airline in Jakarta. After her husband retired and Indra finished raising her family, she became a sworn translator and now works as a freelance translator and interpreter.
She can be reached at: email@example.com
The Midnight Intruder
The gaunt old man wore a sarong and a peci, headdress. He entered Aryo’s front yard in the late afternoon rain, limping. It was just past afternoon prayer, and the old man seemed anxious, as if he were trying to hide his nervousness. Even though they were not acquainted with each other, he expected Aryo to have the solution to his problem. The man was cross-eyed and could not focus on Aryo’s face. He extended his right hand, and they shook hands in a warm and friendly manner.
The old man smiled, and said, “It is you who I’ve been looking for.” Refusing to sit in a chair, the old man chose to sit cross-legged on the floor.
Aryo tried to guess why the man had come to his house, and why he had such a humble demeanor.
“Please buy my land, son,” the cross-eyed old man pleaded.
“I have no intention to buy any land,” Aryo replied gently, looking at the raindrops still visible on the old man’s shabby peci.
The old man had placed his hope in Aryo, seeking strength from outside himself. His eyes filled with emotion, he pleaded sincerely.
“Please reconsider, my son. You might be interested. I will sell you my land at a very cheap price. You have the money I need.” The frail old man mentioned a sum.
Aryo was startled by how cheap it was.
“The money is to pay for my wife’s medical expenses,” the old man explained.
Aryo was taken aback, feeling very small indeed. Trying to control his trembling body, he did not dare return the old man’s look. The man’s eyes were a dark pool of bleakness.
“Come back at noon, tomorrow,” Aryo said. “I will pay you the price for your plot in full.”
The old man shook Aryo’s hand, nervously. He then walked away. The drizzle continued to wet his peci as he limped away from the house.
As dusk approached, Aryo walked down a dirt path not far from his home and arrived at the plot of land he had purchased from the old man wearing the peci. The lot was located in a valley surrounded by hills. It was enclosed by a bamboo fence, and on it stood a wooden surau, a prayer hut.
Located not far from a row of village houses that had been leveled by bulldozers, the surau, standing in the light rain, seemed to perpetuate silence. The terrain there had been leveled and was now a vast expanse of brownish-red earth, where trunks of trees, felled by chainsaws, lay in disarray, and night moths swarmed the desolate and fragile land. All that was left standing on the parcel was the old man’s house and the centuries-old wooden surau that Aryo had bought.
The old man’s raspy voice called out the azan, the call to evening prayer. He was alone in the surau. Under his sarong, he raised the heel of his right foot and shifted his weight onto the toes of his clubfoot for balance.
He turned when he heard footsteps and gave Aryo a sincere smile.
After the prayer, the old man shook Aryo’s hand and asked, “Now do you know why I sold you this land?”
“No, not really.”
“Look around. All the villagers have left their homes. They sold their land and houses. I’m the only one left. They are going to build a housing complex here. I sold the land to you, because this surau was built by my ancestors. I know that you will preserve it.”
“How do you know me?”
“Your daughter, the little girl, Salsa, likes to play in my field. She and her friends often wait for me to roast some yam or corn and eat them hot. I once took her to your home when it was raining and saw you.”
“So why are you handing this land over to me?”
The old man smiled as if he were laughing at Aryo. There was a calm acceptance in his smile. “I want you to preserve this surau. Don’t sell it,” he said quietly and gave Aryo a penetrating look. “This is the surau of my ancestors.”
At dusk-aged, well-dressed man came to Aryo’s house. He waited in the living room for Aryo to come home. When Aryo arrived, the stranger greeted him politely and approached him in a friendly manner. He said, “I came with an offer to buy the field in the center of the housing complex we are building.”
“I have no intention of selling it to anyone. There’s a surau there that I want to preserve.”
“That prayer hut has been abandoned. All the villagers have sold their land.”
“Did the old man do the same?”
“He has sold his land and house and moved to another village.” The middle-aged guest straightened his tie, smugly. “Yours is the only parcel that hasn’t been sold. We’re willing to offer a high price for it. This may be the highest price we’ve ever offered.”
Aryo was astounded at the very high price the well-dressed man was offering. He had just bought the land from the old man and now the price had multiplied many times. He felt guilty—the land had been so cheap. And now, he could no longer hold on to it.
Evening prayer was over. Kiai Najib had led the prayer in his almost-deserted surau. There were only four people who had joined Kiai Najib for the evening prayers. Kiai Najib, whose body was beginning to weaken, shook hands with three of the people who had participated in his prayers.
Aryo understood the anxiety in the kiai’s eyes.
“Don’t go home yet,” Kiai Najib said. “There’s something I need to talk to you about. This is a very old surau. We need to build a better one so people will want to worship here.”
“Kiai, don’t worry. I will build a better one with the money I received from selling my new land.”
Kiai Najib’s eyes widened.
Aryo nodded to convince the kiai.
The old man’s eyes gleamed with anger. Intense anger. Fury emanated from his crossed eyes.
Aryo had not expected the old man to come to his house that afternoon.
Aryo forced a smile. He had no desire to fight the anger of the cross-eyed old man. He was not surprised by the man’s discontent.
“I didn’t give you the land so you could sell it to the developer!” said the cross-eyed old man.
“I could not hold on to it after all the villagers had sold their homes,” responded Aryo. “Yes, I have sold the land, but all the money I received from the sale, I donated to build a surau in this housing complex.”
The fire in the old man’s eyes was extinguished. His thin chest no longer heaved. His shoulders dropped, his face fell. He shook Aryo’s hand and took his leave.
Aryo followed him as he walked away. They halted at the parcel where the new surau was being built.
The cross-eyed old man looked at the construction site for a long time. Smiling, he kept nodding his head. Finally, the frail old man limped away.
Aryo had forgotten to ask where the old crossed-eyed man now lived.
Midnight blanketed the newly-constructed surau in darkness. All the rooms were pitch black when a man limped to the front of the surau. He turned on the tap for the ablution water. The water flowed more strongly than the drizzle falling on the guava leaves. Sitting cross-legged, he performed the ritual of midnight prayer. He recited zikr, the short prayers, for a very long time. He was still at it at the break of dawn.
When Kiai Najib entered the dark surau to perform the ritual of his morning prayer, he was shocked to find a stranger. “What are you doing here?” he asked in a sharp tone of voice.
The old man remained quietly engrossed in his zikr.
The kiai’s suspicion of the stranger mounted. No one had ever come into the surau after midnight to worship. “You can’t just do as you please in this surau!”
Remaining seated, cross-legged, the old man did not respond to the kiai’s reprimand; he simply continued his zikr. When he rose, he took the kiai’s hand, smiling. He kissed it, then very calmly limped out of the surau and disappeared into the drizzle. He never looked back.
After the dawn prayer, Kiai Najib approached Aryo and whispered, “Earlier this morning, I found a stubborn man praying in this surau. Since I didn’t know him, I sent him away. He walked with a limp.”
“It was in his name that I donated all the money from the sale of my land to build our surau!” Aryo exclaimed.
“Oh, no. I sent away the wrong person,” Kiai Najib said with remorse.
After that, Kiai Najib no longer officiated the prayers in the surau. He was laid up with an illness.
Aryo never imagined that the kiai would fall ill, just when there were more people coming to the previously quiet surau. When Aryo went to visit Kiai Najib in his room, he found the priest lying exhausted on his bed. Yet his voice was clear, “Please convey my apology to that old man,” he said. “I sinned by speaking so roughly to him.”
“I will convey your apology to him, Kiai,” replied Aryo.
Every midnight, the limping old man entered the surau with an expression of peace on his face and a serene look in his crossed eyes. Immersed in the silence of his solitude he recited his zikr.
But Aryo, who very much wanted to meet him, never saw him.