Wikan Satriati is a graduate from the Faculty of Letters of Gadjah Mada University in Yogyakarta, Indonesia. Wikan is an experienced editor specializing in manuscripts of literary and cultural content, and works as a freelance translator. She translated Harry Aveling’s essays from English into Indonesian for inclusion in an anthology of Indonesian poetry, Secrets Need Words: Indonesian Poetry 1966–1998 (Center for International Studies, Ohio University, 2001). IndonesiaTera published the Indonesian translation in 2004 by under the title Rahasia Membutuhkan Kata: Puisi Indonesia 1966–1998. Yayasan Adikarya IKAPI (Indonesian Book Publishers Association) Book Program chose the publication as a quality book.
Wikan is the author of two children books: Gadis Kecil Penjaga Bintang (The Star’s Caretaker), published by KataKita in 2008, and Melangkah dengan Bismillah (Walking with the Name of God) by KataKita, 2006. Currently she works as a publication assistant at the Lontar Foundation, a non-profit institution whose primarily goal is the introduction of Indonesian literature to a world readership through translations of Indonesian literary works into English.
Wikan can be reached at email@example.com.
The Statues’ Conversation
At dawn, a silvery moon the size of a watermelon hung in the city sky. Its soft light layered with mist illuminated the five statues of the heroes on top of the Joang Monument, a neglected war memorial that now served as a shelter for the homeless. The moonlight seemed to energize the statues, enabling them to move out of their rigid pose. It was as if they took the opportunity to free themselves from the grip of the townsmen who were still sound asleep in the folds of their blankets.
Each of the five statues, three men and two women, shook their legs and moved their hands. Some of them sat, while others lay down. Standing for more than forty years had tired them out. The rigid faces cast in concrete often grimaced like living people that moan, complain, scream, and shout.
The statue known as Wibagso unslung his rifle. “In the past when our bodies lay here, the town was very quiet. At night only a few dozen lights glowed like fireflies. Now, tens, even hundreds of lights, shine as bright as daylight. This country is really great.”
“But look there, Brother Wibagso. A group of hobos jostle each other like maggots feasting on a dog’s corpse. And there, rows of rickety huts where the homeless are crammed together like parasites clinging to the walls of buildings.
“The odor coming from their gaping mouths is like the stench of decaying corpses and attracts millions of flies. Oh, my Lord, they’re chewing those trapped flies,” hissed the statue of a man named Durmo.
Ratri, the statue of a woman known as a spy for the guerrillas, snapped, “That’s normal, Brother Durmo. In an affluent country, poverty is always nurtured as an inspiration for progress. We should be proud. This country is very rich. Look there, rows of luxury homes are occupied by happy families. There are luxury cars, private golf courses, and even private airplanes. And over there, people dance until the morning. Gosh, they’re even having an orgy.”
Sidik, whose statue examined the world around him with dazed eyes, moaned like a cow facing death in the slaughterhouse. “They are only concerned with their own stomachs and genitals. I’m really sorry to have participated in the liberation of this country.”
“I too am no longer sure about being a hero,” Durmo said. “We stand here being nothing more than scarecrows in the fields. They show us no consideration, let alone respect. They uproot anything shamelessly.”
“Do not get too sentimental. I think we still have their respect. As you can see, they built a magnificent monument for us,” said Wibagso.
“But why did they put us in this narrow spot? How come a memorial for war heroes is tucked away here?” the statue of Cempluk, a woman known as a soup kitchen worker, bellowed.
The morning breeze brought a new day. The homeless sleeping at the foot of the monument woke and stretched. They yawned in unison. A foul odor from their yellowed teeth filled the surrounding air and wafted by the statues of the heroes.
The statues returned hurriedly to their own place before the quiet morning was claimed by the hustle and bustle of the city, before the hot cloudy breath of the city polluted the clean morning air.
Standing in their original positions, the statues kept mumbling.
Yu Seblak, the senior prostitute known as caretaker of the monument, sat in prayer at the foot of the monument. She held a pot of smoldering incense as she raised her hands above her head. A whirl of dancing smoke followed the movements of Yu Seblak’s hands—to the right, left, up, and down. Yu Seblak’s gestures were followed by the handful of people that sat behind the woman with striking makeup. She chanted a mantra.
Wibagso followed the ceremony led by Yu Seblak. “I hear people pray to us. They even bring us offerings, flowers, snacks, and incense cigarettes.”
“Damn! They consider us ghosts. Some of them even asked for a prediction of a winning lottery number. What the hell is this, Wibagso?” Durmo shouted.
“Shhh. Calm down. What’s wrong with giving them a little happiness? Think of this as an intermezzo in our journey toward eternity,” Wibagso said.
“When they ask heroes to predict winning lottery numbers, it is too much,” Cempluk protested.
“Their lives are troubled, Comrade Cempluk. They can only complain to us. No one among the living cares. They only berate them,” said Ratri.
Yu Seblak continued her chanting in a fast rhythm. After she was done with her prayers, Yu Seblak received various complaints from her “patients.”
“It is impossible to ask the heroes to prevent hookers from being arrested. It’s not proper.”
“I always get arrested, Yu. That’s how I lost my customers. Who knows? The city officials might fear Kanjeng Wibagso and the other heroes and not arrest me again. Please help me, Yu.” Ajeng smoothly handed Yu Seblak an envelope.
Yu Seblak quickly slipped the envelope into her bra. “Let’s see. Hopefully, His Excellency Wibagso and his colleagues will consider your request.”
Durmo looked offended. “They are hopeless. The arrests of prostitutes, beggars, and bums are none of our business. They should complain to Parliament, with representatives of the community among its members.”
“The parliamentarians are more interested in vying for power and dividing the bribes they receive for breaking regulations and laws. Or they are too busy trying to put their hands on the country’s money. The parliamentarians won’t do anything,” said Sidik.
“You only think of politics. Let’s just collect their complaints,” said Wibagso.
Durmo looked into the distance. “But we have many things to do, man. We still have the responsibility to account for what we did when we were alive. During combat, I shot our enemies mercilessly, just like I’d shoot a rat.”
Wibagso tried to cheer up Durmo. “Why are you bothered? War allows everything. We could not be gentle to an enemy that preyed on our lives. We did not kill them for the satisfaction of seeing their bodies convulse as they died. We only claimed our rights.”
“We have to regard everything we experienced as a consequence of the choice we made, and believe that the angels recorded our good deeds and will see to it that we are rewarded,” Ratri chimed in.
The next night the homeless went back to sleep at the foot of monument. Some of them looked restless, others seemed calm and snored. The statues looked with pity and affection at the homeless who faithfully kept them company.
From a cigarette stall beside the monument, a radio broadcasted the evening news: “The Joang Monument, which is a tribute to five warriors killed in the Kota Baru battle against the Dutch army, will be restored. A proposal to raise the heroes’ status from local to national heroes has been issued. The district government has earmarked three billion rupiah for the refurbishment fund.”
The five statues heard the news. Wibagso jumped up in delight. Ratri began to dance, but Cempluk seemed unhappy. She appeared to be quietly thinking. Durmo remained anxious while Sidik stood motionless, statue-like, even though he had been a statue for decades.
“Why are you silent? We should celebrate,” Wibagso said.
“What’s so important? I don’t care what they will do to this monument. Let them restore it or whatever, I just don’t care. I’m not proud to be a hero. The country I fought for became a cornucopia for only a few people, while millions of others are sentenced to be garbage cans for the remnants of the party,” Sidik said, somberly.
“The affairs of this country are no longer our business. We did our jobs. We only have to be grateful to see our children and grandchildren live happily,” Wibagso snapped.
“But millions of ill fated people continue to scream. Their screams pound at my heart.” Sidik glared at Wibagso.
“Please, you’re a spirit now. How can you be so sentimental? Don’t worry about it.”
“But my heart is still alive.”
Wibagso embraced Sidik. “Brother, don’t keep thinking about this. It will make you tired and frustrated. It’s time for us to rest.”
“So, we just keep quiet? Do nothing while so much wrong happens in front of us? Is that what you want?” Sidik was furious.
“But what can we do now? We’re no longer alive, we’re only spirits.”
“Whatever you call it, we can’t do anything any more. We live in a different world than those who survived. Regarding our country, it’s true, not everything makes us happy. Some people have a good life and others don’t. That’s normal, right? You also have to remember that life is a race. There will be winners as well as losers.”
Sidik looked annoyed and reluctantly listened to Wibagso. “I’m tired of listening to sermons. When I was alive, I was preached to all the time. My elders filled me with advice. And wouldn’t you know, I’m expected to listen to advice even after my death. I am tired, Brother, I am tired.”
Ratri glared at Sidik and said, “Don’t tell me you fought the revolution half-heartedly, Brother Sidik.”
“How can you say that?” Sidik responded angrily. “My crooked foot is a result of the battle, and I even exposed my chest to their bullets.”
“In that case, I suffered worse. When I seized an enemy-controlled city, dozens of bullets were fired at me mercilessly and perforated my body. But I was satisfied. My bravery encouraged our friends and we managed to win the battle in the end. All of it happened thanks to me,” said Wibagso.
“It’s easy to stake your claim to fame,” Durmo snapped. “During that battle, Sidik and I stood in the very front of the battlefield. We faced the enemies at the front line. Where were you, Wibagso? You scampered into the forest and mountains and shamelessly claimed to be a guerilla fighter.”
“But I had the idea to attack. I also led the attack that dawn,” Wibagso retorted.
“Who made you our leader, Wibagso? We were nothing more than a group of young men with lots of guts. There were no official positions, no hierarchy. Especially no commanders of the war,” said Durmo.
“To win the battle, we not only needed physical power, we needed brains too. We needed to use strategy,” said Wibagso.
“But strategy without guts is like having a head without legs,” Durmo argued.
“Brother Wibagso,” Sidik said, “Why are you busy tallying merits that actually amount to nothing?”
Wibagso blushed. “Learn to appreciate accomplishments of others. Don’t act as if you were the only hero.”
“I don’t remember boasting. When did I do so? I left when the commander in chief came to visit after we successfully destroyed the enemy. I could have enlisted as an official soldier and be recorded in the state’s annuals. If I had done that, today I would be a high state official and acquire many projects. Thank God I died before that happened,” said Sidik.
Durmo retorted. “I told my children and other descendants not to mention my services just to get a meager allowance, which would also have many deductions.”
“All of you are hypocrites,” Wibagso railed.
The moon blinked.
The air was heavy.
The city breathed again. Hobos, prostitutes, and pickpockets woke and started their daily activities. Some went hawking, and others went begging or to polish shoes. Then there were those who lazily stretched on their sleeping mats.
“Where are you going, Ajeng?” asked Yu Seblak.
“To the motel. I have an appointment.” She applied her lipstick.
“You’ll be making a lot of money. Who is your date today, Jeng?” Yu Seblak teased.
“Why do you want to know? It’s a secret.”
“It’s Jumingan, the police officer. He’s crazy about you. By the way, don’t forget to bring me back gudeg rice with egg. This happened because I sent your prayer to the heroes.”
Ajeng laughed happily. “Sure, Yu. You can even ask for gudeg with chicken wings or thighs.”
“You look gorgeous. Just go now.”
Kalur, a skilled pickpocket, woke and drank his remaining mineral water. He sat down beside Karep who was called the intellectual bum because he liked to read and spoke in long sentences that were difficult to understand. Karep was absorbed in the newspaper.
“According to my analysis, the monument restoration plan is a trick of the government. There must be a hidden agenda,” Karep commented.
“If the monument is restored, we won’t be able to live here, right?” asked Kalur.
“Yep, that’s right.”
“What will we do if it really happens?”
“We will take to the street. We’ll mobilize all the homeless in this city.”
Their conversation was interrupted by the newscast from Yu Seblak’s transistor radio. “Dr. Gingsir, the new mayor who replaced Raden Mas Picis, has canceled the Joang Monument restoration plan. According to him, the project is superfluous. Moreover, the petition to raise the status of Wibagso and his colleagues to that of national heroes has been rejected by the national history expert team. The fund of three billion rupiah will be used to provide food stamps to the poor.”
Some of the bums cheered and started to dance. Others banged on mineral water containers, biscuit cans, bottles, and buckets. They danced while drinking cheap liquor.
Fog cloaked the pale moon. The city had gone back to sleep. However, in the local government building, the lights were still on.
Dr. Gingsir sipped his wine and said, “I agree with your idea to build a mall here, Den Bei Taipan.”
“Thank you. You are very supportive, sir. I’ve set everything up, including the necessary funds. I agree the main purpose of this collaboration is to share the profits. What do you think if I offered a thirty–seventy split?” Den Bei gulped his wine.
“Den Bei, I have to propose this plan to the zoning board. Usually they need quite a bit of time to respond. As you know, they will also need angpao, a bribe. That’s just the way it is, and the way things are handled depends on the size of bribe we provide,” Gingsir said with laugh. “Is there a problem with the profit share?”
“You figure that one out. You’re a smart businessman.”
“How about thirty-five–sixty-five? This is huge. No one will give you such a crazy offer.”
“It’s too small. I can offer the project to others. I know some great businessmen in the capital,” Gingsir bluffed.
Den Bei’s face darkened. His forehead wrinkled. “How about forty–sixty? This is a very progressive and significant enhancement.”
“Well, well, well. That’s a good number.”
Both of them laughed.
“You will have the opportunity to build as many malls in this city as you want. Just choose the place: the city square, the old Rotenberg fortress, or the Joang Monument.”
“I’ll take all of them. But because of space, I will build my first mall in Joang Monument location. It’s a very viable site, right in the middle of the city.”
“That’s a smart choice, even visionary. I don’t mind having that crumbling monument removed.”
They laughed and shook hands.
A few days later, the heat of the sun was met by upheaval around the monument.
“Traitor. Liar. Cheater. Windbag. The authorities come and go, and are all the same. They continue to stab us in the back with their betrayals.” Wibagso stamped his foot and made the monument shake.
“They think we’re nothing but blocks of cold stone. They want to grind us into the grains of a dark past,” Ratri said.
Sidik, Durmo, and Cempluk smiled.
“Why are you silent? We will be destroyed. Look at those bulldozers coming. March on. We have to survive,” cried Wibagso.
An eviction officer shouted through a loudspeaker, “You have to leave. Get out.” His voice overlapped the roar of bulldozers.
In front of the monument, Yu Seblak led her friends to stop the eviction. “We have to survive. We will head off the bulldozers. Ajeng, Karep, Kalur, where are you?” cried Yu Seblak. Her face lit up.
“We are here. Right behind you,” they replied in unison.
The roar of bulldozer engines grew louder and surrounded the monument. Eviction officers and heavily armed police stood guard. The bulldozers pushed ahead, their compact boomers ready to plow into the monument.
“Though they’re just bums, they still try to defend us. You should be ashamed,” said Wibagso.
“We don’t fight to defend our pride as heroes. We fight for those who have the right to defend their lives,” cried Sidik.
Wibagso organized their defense as if he were ordering the revolutionist when fighting the colonial army. “I don’t need any explanation, just your firm support. Ratri, jump into the cab and strangle the driver. Cempluk, hold the boom and block it with your body. Sidik and Durmo, destroy the engines. Go, hurry.”
The bulldozers moved ahead and ran into the remaining homeless. Karep, Ajeng, and the others scampered.
“You are cowards,” said Yu Seblak.
“It is useless to fight. They’re so many of them,” said Kalur.
“Let’s just get out. If they are willing to crush the heroes, they definitely won’t care about cockroaches like us. Get out. Get out.” Karep tried to drag Yu Seblak, who stood a few meters from the bulldozers.
Yu Seblak remained. Still fighting, she took off her clothes until she wore only her panties and bra. She fluttered her dress in the air.
“Hey, you bullies. Come and fight me. Come on!”
The bulldozers pushed ahead and crushed Yu Seblak. There was a scream.
Wibagso startled. Ratri screamed hysterically. Durmo, Sidik, and Cempluk, went crazy. In a rampage they hit the bulldozers with anything they could get their hands on. But all their efforts were in vain. The bulldozers toppled the statues, collapsed and crushed the heroes.
The moon blinked in the sky. The wind died.
“You have killed us twice,” Wibagso said in a whisper.
His voice penetrated Dr. Gingsir’s speech at the official opening of the mall. The voices of the heroes will echo through the passing of time, but only an ear sharp enough to hear silence can hear those voices, those grievances.