Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Sale of Ustazah Nung’s House
You’d have to see for yourself how the youngest son acted out for his mother’s benefit. He knew that his mother felt sorry for him and that she was quickly affected by whatever he complained about. He was dim-witted regarding many issues, but not this one. He stifled his three older siblings: two sisters and one brother. They could only yield when their mother finally decided to grant Dulah’s wish: sell the family legacy.
“Dulah can no longer live alone. Dulah wanth to get married ath thoon ath pothible,” Dulah said, wiping tears off his chubby cheeks.
Despite being a thirty-eight-year-old man, Dulah always referred to himself by name. He had a distended belly and bald head and couldn’t pronounce the letter “s” because he had lost two front teeth. Dulah was, indeed, the spoiled youngest of the siblings.
I don’t know what would have gone through your mind if you had been present that afternoon of the family meeting to witness a grown man refer to himself by his own name, something only acceptable from a toddler or young girl. Maybe you’d want to slap him. His three siblings felt like killing him.
“Don’t you ever think about Umi?” asked one of his sisters.
“Mother can buy a thmall houth in the nearby village. Why do we need a houth thith big when only Umi and Dulah live in it? Moreover, after getting married, Dulah altho wanth to get hith own houth, hith own car, hith own buthineth, juth like you all!”
His name, indeed, was Abdulah, and he was called Dulah. But believe me, it was embarrassing to see a grown-up man, with the appearance I described before, refer to himself by name. It was even worse when hearing him lisp in the middle of a sentence.
“But Umi might not be comfortable in a new house,” snapped his other sister.
“It’s true, in addition to the many memories of Father in this house, Umi also holds religious study groups here, which provide her with entertainment at her old age.” Now, the brother started talking.
Dulah rose. “Entertain? It might be entertainment for you all, becauth you already have everything! All of you are thelfith! You…” Unable to finish his sentence, he sat down. Sobbing, he covered his face with his hands.
His siblings, who sat across from him, remained silent, while his mother, who sat next to him, seemed confused. Maybe she was at odds about dealing with a situation like this, especially because her mind was still troubled by Dulah’s statement a week ago.
After being single for eight years, her youngest son made the announcement that he wanted to remarry, with complaints. He had never been happy, he said, and now, he wanted to enjoy life before he was too old. Ustazah Nung — that’s what the neighbors called Dulah’s mother — had become even more worried when she found out who her son wanted to remarry.
Once he stopped crying, Dulah continued. “You never think about Dulath wretched life, hith lonelineth, hith not having a family, not having anything!”
“We all think about your life, and you are free to marry any bitch you desire,” his oldest sister said. “But we absolutely do not agree with your proposal to sell this house. We also need to think about Umi’s life!”
“Umi will be fine!” Dulah cried. “You all are exaggerating! Right now, real estate priceth are high; what are you waiting for? Do you have the heart to thee Dulah thuffering like thith for many yearth to come? If thith continueth, Dulah will walk naked in front of the houth!”
In the end, Ustazah Nung made a decision. Firmly, she said, “I will sell this house and divide the proceeds according to your rightful share of inheritance.” The old woman’s voice cracked with emotion.
Let me tell you now how Abdulah lost his two front teeth — and a few other things.
If Dulah were not so stupid, his front teeth and marriage might still be intact. But he was too stupid to keep either.
It all started with a young woman named Lola, Dulah’s first love. He had been head-over-heels in love with Lola since high school. Abdulah was a senior, and Lola was a tenth-grader, but they graduated at the same time because Abdulah had to repeat two years of school. (Abdulah had repeated school years before; two times in elementary school and once in junior high.)
During the three years that Abdulah and Lola were schoolmates, he didn’t succeed in making Lola his girlfriend. Lola’s willingness to always accept anything he gave her, be it money or presents, was enough to make him happy. Abdulah was jubilant when Lola asked him every week for spending money. He considered this a sign that she was willing to be his wife.
“I agree, Lola is a beautiful girl,” said Ustazah Nung when Abdulah asked her to ask Lola’s mother for Lola’s hand, six months after they graduated from high school. “But I don’t think she’s a good girl. I’ve often seen her smoking in Bu Maneh’s stall.”
“Lola is Dulah’s first love, no one can replace her,” Abdulah replied.
With great reluctance, Ustazah Nung finally went to Lola’s house to convey Dulah’s marriage proposal to Lola’s mother. But Ustazah Nung went home with bad news for her beloved son. Lola was already betrothed to a businessman who owned a travel agency. They were to be married the following year.
Abdulah became depressed and often brooded. Ustazah Nung worried about his condition for almost two years, until one day, one of her sisters came to visit and brought along a woman named Hilda.
“She is my friend’s daughter,” said Ustazah Nung’s sister, as she introduced Hilda to Abdulah. “She is from Tasikmalaya and came to Jakarta to find a job.”
Six months later, Abdulah and Hilda married.
Ustazah Nung sold a piece of land to finance the wedding and gave the remainder of the money to Abdulah to use as capital to open a goat meat satay stall on Otista Street.
Contrary to the expectations of many people who knew him, Abdulah succeeded in managing his stall. Day by day, the number of customers to his Warung Sate Kambing Bang Dulang goat meat satay stall increased. In two years, Abdulah had the confidence to purchase a car on credit.
And at that time, Lola showed up again in his life. Two years of marriage were apparently not enough to douse Dulah’s flame for Lola, his first love.
Lola, who had not married the travel agency owner or anyone else, came to Dulah’s stall. “Your satay is delicious,” she said when she paid for the satay.
“You don’t need to pay,” said Abdulah, shaking.
Lola handed him two pieces of paper: one, a 50,000 rupiah bill; the other, a note with her cell phone number.
Abdulah trembled like someone suffering from Parkinson’s disease when Lola deliberately brushed her finger across his hand, which was soaked with cold sweat. Abdulah quickly put the two pieces of paper into the drawer and forgot to give Lola the change.
Less than two weeks after that encounter, village rumors ran rampant that Abdulah and Lola had been seen together. According to hearsay, Abdulah had given Lola spending money. Supposedly, Abdulah had also purchased Lola’s new scooter.
The rumors finally reached Hilda’s ears.
One Sunday afternoon, Abdulah went to the kitchen to get a glass of water. Hilda, who was washing a wok, asked, “Is it true what people are saying about your relationship with Lola?”
It is hard to know what was going on inside Abdulah’s head. Initially, he didn’t say anything. He merely glanced at Hilda and looked out of the window for a while. But after his wife said, “Just tell me the truth. I would rather hear it from you,” Abdulah blurted out everything.
Abdulah confirmed all the rumors people were spreading. He ended his confession, smiling. “Maybe Dulah still loves Lola.”
The back of the wok hit Abdulah’s mouth with such force that it broke his two front teeth.
Hearing the uproar, Ustazah Nung, who was resting in her bedroom, hurried to the kitchen. Seeing Abdulah’s bloody mouth, she screamed.
That night, Hilda returned to Tasikmalaya and never returned.
Meanwhile, Lola chose to leave the village.
People said she stayed with one of her cousins in the city. Supposedly, she worked at a restaurant that had karaoke entertainment, and she came home, once a month.
Once again, Abdulah became depressed and often fretted. He neglected his satay stall, and it closed three months later. Not long afterwards, two debt collectors visited his house and confiscated his car.
During the following years, Abdulah mostly wasted his time by smoking, wandering through the house, and moving from one chair to another. Every time his mother suggested that he remarry, he responded by shaking his head.
Until one night, eight years later, after several weeks of primping in front of the mirror trying to hide his baldness with a comb-over, Abdulah approached his mother and said that he wanted to marry Lola.
Abdulah said that he had seen Lola several times during the past month. Lola, who was now a widow, had told him that she loved him and wanted him to be the new father for her only son. Abdulah’s eyes filled with tears when he told his mother that the three-year-old boy, after only a short time of knowing him, already called him “Papa.”
“It is perfect!” exclaimed the real estate agents familiar with the properties in the surrounding area of Ustazah Nung’s house. The size was perfect, the deed “clean.” The old house was located right on Jalan Raya Kampung Melayu Besar, an arterial thoroughfare. The property frontage was 98 feet, while the depth was 164 feet — excellent for the site of a four-story building. Many four-story buildings had already been built to the left and right of Ustazah Nung’s house.
The land developers had repeatedly asked Bang Sanip, the old real estate broker who controlled the market in that area, about Ustazah Nung’s house.
Bang Sanip knew the history of almost every property in the area. After the construction of the flyover to downtown three years ago, the properties had become the target of every land developer and speculator. Their value had skyrocketed. Most of the property owners chose to sell their land and move to the suburbs, where land value was much lower. Ustazah Nung was one of the few inhabitants who had chosen to remain and keep her inherited property.
“This is a golden opportunity; the price is attractive,” Bank Sanip had urged Ustazah many times. “You could buy a new house, go on a hajj, a pilgrimage. The rest of the money could be deposited in a shariah, an Islamic bank, and would last for more than seven generations.” Bank Sanip and two of his brokers were now on their third visit to Ustazah’s house.
“I still like to live here,” answered Ustazah Nung.
Bang Sanip and the brokers left Ustazah Nung’s house. They had finished drinking the water she served them, but their mouths were still dry. They had spent almost an hour trying to persuade Ustazah Nung to sell her house, but the veiled woman didn’t seem to know anything else to say than, “I still like to live here.”
Ustazah Nung’s brief response to his long-winded persuasions frustrated Bang Sanip. Both of his brokers, who had been tasked to confirm everything he said, were also frustrated. They felt that all of their short affirmations — such as, “that’s true,” “exactly,” and “precisely” — that they had interspersed in Bang Sanip’s speech had not influenced the outcome of the situation at all.
Once outside the fence of Ustazah Nung’s house, Bang Sanip turned around and glanced at the old house. Ahh, such, such valuable real estate, if only the owner were not repeating the same sentence over and over again, “I still like to live here.”
It was then that Bang Sanip saw Abdulah walk out of the house.
While adjusting his sarong, Abdulah headed to the old couch in the corner of the porch. He sat down and pulled up his legs before lighting a cigarette. He looked disheveled, like someone who had not slept for days.
Suddenly, Bang Sanip wiped his mouth, hiding a smile. An image of Lola filled his head. Scurrying, he caught up with his two brokers. He quickly told them about the treacherous love affair of Abdulah and Lola.
Bang Sanip knew where to find Lola, and he also knew what the woman needed right now.
That night, the real estate brokers held a meeting that lasted till the break of dawn.