Your Stories

Celebrating our tenth anniversary. 

As a part of our tenth anniversary celebration, we like to bring our 12 titles to your attention. We will use the Your Story page to bring you excerpts of our novels in the order they were published. Meanwhile, we are reading short story submissions. Please study our writer’s guidelines and send your submissions to: dalangpublishing@gmail.com   

This page will feature the selected short story of the month along with its English translation.

Bilingual writers, we would appreciate your help with the translation of Indonesian work into English. Please contact us at dalangpublishing@gmail.com

Please adhere to the following maximum word limits:

Short story minimum 2000 words and maximum 3000 words.

Please follow our Writer’s Guidelines for formatting and other submission directions.


Kei

Born in Lipulalongo, a small village of clove growers in Central Sulawesi, Erni Aladjai earned her degree in French literature from the Hasannudin University in Makassar, Sulawesi. She has worked as a journalist and news editor in Makassar.

Several of her poems, essays, and short stories have been published by local as well as national media. Aladjai’s short story Mariantje dan Pasangan Tua first appeared in the Media Indonesia newspaper on April 21, 2013 and was republished in 2014 along with its translation, Mariantje and the old Couple on Dalang Publishing’s website. Her novel, Kei (Gagas Media 2013), took first place in the 2011 Jakarta Arts Council novel competition and was translated under the same title by Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed (Dalang Publishing 2014). Other award-winning works include “Sampo Soie Soe, Si Juru Masak” placed third at the 2012 Jakarta International Literary Festival. Her two novellas, Rumah Perahu and Sebelum Hujan di Seasea, took second and third place in the 2011 Femina Writers Competition. Aladjai is also the author of the novels Ning di Bawah Gerhana (Bumen Pustaka Emas, 2013) and Pesan Cinta dari Hujan (Insist Press, 2010).

Aladjai is currently a full-time writer and a freelance fiction editor. She can be reached at: erni_aladjai@yahoo.com

 

Bab 8

Langgur, Awal Mei 1999

Angin laut lebih gigil dari bulan-bulan kemarin. Di bibir Pantai Langgur, para lelaki tua dan pemuda berdiri berjejer. Suasana mencekam. Dari jauh, tiga buah sampan dengan nyala lentera meliuk-liuk menuju ke bibir Pantai Langgur.

“Semua siap siaga!” perintah Tinus — lelaki berumur 45 tahun itu adalah pembantu raja di bidang hukum dalam tatanan adat. Para lelaki menahan napas sejenak saat sampan-sampan itu mendekat. Semakin sampan mendekat, suara kecipak dayung mereka semakin terdengar jelas. Tiba-tiba salah satu dari mereka mengangkat lampu lenteranya dan berdiri.

“Oooii yaau ya…!” Sosok yang berteriak itu ternyata seorang perempuan berkerudung.

“Apakah kami bisa masuk, kami membawa makanan dan pakaian untuk keluarga kami yang mengungsi di situ,” ujar salah seorang di dalam perahu. Mereka datang membawakan bantuan makanan untuk saudara-saudara mereka yang mengungsi.

“Ya, saudaraku, kalian bisa masuk dengan aman,” seru Tinus.

Semua lega, ternyata mereka bukanlah para penyerang, bukan pula huin demuan — orang-orang penghasut kerusuhan. Tujuan mereka untuk mengguncang Maluku, tetapi di Kei, baik Islam atau Kristen, sama-sama tetaplah orang Kei.

Para lelaki mengantarkan tiga perempuan itu ke tenda pengungsian. Di sana mereka berpelukan dengan kerabat mereka.

“Kalian jangan sedih, tenang-tenang saja dulu. Kami yakin rusuh ini pasti berhenti. Dan kita bisa bersama lagi. Untuk sementara kami tak bisa lama-lama, kalian mengerti, kan? Ini hanya untuk sementara,” kata perempuan yang bersampan itu sembari menghapus air mata kakak kandungnya.

Kekerabatan orang Kei memang sangat kompleks. Banyak orang Islam menikah dengan orang Kristen. Jadi, jika sang nenek Islam, bisa jadi anak dan cucunya Kristen. Sang suami Kristen, bisa jadi istrinya Islam, atau jika sang kakak Islam, bisa jadi adiknya Kristen atau sepupunya Katolik. Karena itu juga, semua orang Kei bersaudara. Kompleksitas kekerabatan di Kei sama rumitnya dengan irama lagu Bohemian Rhapsody yang dilantunkan grup musik legendaris Queen.

Di hati orang Kei bersemayam snib — wasiat leluhur mereka, yang selalu mengajarkan untuk menjaga, melindungi dan menghormati kaum perempuan. Mereka akan dilindungi lelaki Kei di mana pun, siapa pun dia dan penganut agama apa pun. Pengiriman bantuan makanan yang dibawa tiga orang perempuan yang bersampan itu biasa di Kei, sebab perempuan tahu, mereka tak akan disakiti.

***

Jauh sebelum musibah rusuh ini menimpa Kepulauan Kei, gereja dibangun sama-sama, masjid dibangun ramai-ramai. Katolik, Protestan, dan orang Islam bergotong royong dengan riang. Orang Kei punya falsafah hidup; kita adalah telur-telur yang berasal dari seekor ikan dan seekor burung yang sama. Orang Kei punya pandangan yang kuat tentang rasa persaudaraan mereka. Rasa persaudaraan itu telah terikat adat dan hukum adat sejak zaman sejarah, dan adat selalu di atas segala-galanya daripada agama yang datang belakangan.

Ketika rusuh pertama kali meletus di Ambon pada bulan Januari 1999, orang Kei tetap tenang, tak ada keberpihakan di antara mereka. Sampai kemudian pada tanggal 31 Maret subuh, rusuh pecah untuk kali pertama di Tual. Orang Kei mengetahui itu pada saat matahari pagi sudah meninggi.

Mereka mengetahui dari siaran televisi dan siaran radio. Kebanyakan dari mereka hanya mengikuti perkembangan rusuh. Mereka yakin bahwa kerusuhan tak akan menyeberang hingga ke Kepulauan Kei. Seorang Imam masjid berkata, “Hukum adat di Kei adalah yang pertama. Setelah itu barulah orang-orang merujuk Al-Quran atau Injil. Hukum terakhir yang kita rujuk adalah Hukum Negara Indonesia.”

Namun, kerusuhan lebih kejam daripada malaikat maut. Pertikaian itu dengan cepat menyeberangi selat ke pulau-pulau kecil di Kei. Rusuh kemudian menjalar ke Elaar dan Watran juga pulau-pulau lainnya.

Ketika kerusuhan mulai memuncak di Kei, raja-raja adat orang Kei asli, para perantau; Bugis, Jawa, Makassar, Buton, dan orang Tionghoa, semua berkumpul dan membicarakan perdamaian.

***

Namira tengah menenangkan dua orang bocah pengungsi.

Mereka bertengkar dan saling merampas gundu, saat Sala datang membawakan sepasang sandal swallow bertali kuning.

Sala tahu kaki Namira tak pernah memakai alas sejak pertama kali dia menjemput gadis itu. Dia tak ingin kaki gadis itu menginjak beling untuk kedua kalinya. Semenjak peristiwa di rumah Max, rasa sayang Sala pada gadis itu semakin hari semakin menjulang. Sala bahkan menyingkirkan niatnya untuk meninggalkan Kepulauan Kei. Sala ingin kerusuhan segera pulih. Lalu, dia mengajak Namira ke Watran. Dia ingin menikah dengan gadis itu di sana.

Sala membayangkan ketika lelah menempa parang, Namira akan membawakannya secangkir teh dan sepiring singkong goreng. Lamunan pemuda itu mulai dipenuhi dengan kesenangan-kesenangan orang menikah. Sala berpikir, roh ibunya tentu lebih senang jika Sala pulang ke rumah. Mengurus kembali bengkel parang mereka. Sala sadar, Namira menjadi penyemangatnya saat ini.

Di jam-jam pengungsi makan siang, Namira mengurusi makan siang Sala. Kini, dia menjadi olok-olokan di dapur darurat. Para tim sukarelawan itu menjuluki mereka Romie dan Juliet Langgur. Namira jengkel-jengkel senang dengan julukan itu.

“Dia lelaki yang baik, Ra,” kata Rohana. Rohana adalah perempuan bertubuh gemuk. Pipinya bulat dan bertubuh pendek. Dia periang dan senang bergurau.

Namira suka berada di dapur darurat karena ada Rohana, begitu pula dengan semua pengungsi. Perempuan ini senang menceritakan kejadian-kejadian lucu. Mendengar Rohana bercerita, orang akan tertawa terbahak-bahak seolah-olah kerusuhan tak pernah terjadi di Kei.

Namira masih ingat betul hari itu. Para sukarelawan dan pekerja sosial sedang kesal karena bantuan yang diterima dari pemerintah pusat tiba di dapur darurat sudah berjamur.

Selain roti, mereka menerima mi instan yang bungkusnya sudah sobek dan bersemut. Melihat tampang rekan-rekannya yang terlipat, Rohana pun berkicau. Dia menceritakan pada semua orang di sana tentang seorang pemuda bernama Lius.

“Ada satu pemuda, namanya Lius. Dia punya warung langganan. Jadi tiap siang, dia makan di sana. Satu kali dia pergi makan. Lius bertanya, ‘Tante, ada sayur apa hari ini?’

Pemilik warung jawab, ‘Sayur paku, Lius.’ Lius pun memesan sayur paku. Besoknya, Lius datang lagi makan siang. Dia tanya lagi, ‘Tante, ada sayur apa ini hari?’ Ibu pemilik warung menjawab, ‘Sayur bambu Lius.’ Lius pun bercanda pada ibu pemilik warung, ‘Tante, kalau begini terus, bisa-bisa besok saya berak pagar!’

Namira dan semua sukarelawan terbahak-bahak.

Di lain waktu, ketika para sukarelawan sedang murka setelah mendapat kabar tentara ikut terlibat dalam kerusuhan Maluku, Rohana membawa cerita lucu versi lain di dapur darurat. Rohana bilang, kalau kita mencaci, maka kondisi akan bertambah buruk, karena semesta akan mengabulkan kemurkaan. “Jadi, marilah tertawa!” kata Rohana.

Lalu, perempuan itu bercerita tentang seorang anak yang dimarahi gurunya di sekolah. Ketika si anak pulang, dia melapor pada kakeknya. Kakeknya pun marah. Dia lalu berangkat ke sekolah mencari guru yang telah memukuli cucunya.

Tiba di sana, ternyata guru itu sudah kembali ke rumah. Si kakek makin marah. Dia menggelung lengan bajunya, memperlihatkan tatonya. Ketika dia mengetuk pintu rumah si guru, seorang tentara keluar lengkap dengan seragamnya. Tentara itu adalah suami si guru. Si kakek kecut.

Tentara itu kemudian bertanya; “Ada apa, Pak?”

Kakek itu menjawab, “Tidak Komandan! Cuma mau tanya sama Bu Guru, apakah hari ini ada kerja bakti di sekolah?”

Dan begitulah Rohana. Dia membuat, Namira, Sala, serta para sukarelawan dan pengungsi menyukainya.

***

Sala menyentuh kaki Namira. Gadis itu terbangun dan menggosok-gosok matanya. “Maafkan saya,” kata Sala. Pemuda itu merasa kasihan telah membangunkan kekasihnya menjelang subuh.

Namira bangkit dan bergerak menuju perigi. Mencuci muka dan mengikat rambutnya dengan gelang karet.

Sala menunggui gadis itu, lalu mereka berjalan menuju pohon ketapang. Di bawah pohon ketapang, mereka berhenti. Bayangan mereka yang saling merapat membentuk siluet dari jauh. Cahaya bulan mati menembus sela-sela tunggul dan ranting-ranting ketapang membentuk garis lurus di atas tanah.

Sala memeluk Namira. Subuh ini perasaannya mendadak tak tenang. Kalau bisa, dia hanya ingin menghabiskan waktu dengan menunjukkan rasa sayangnya pada gadis itu.

Beberapa saat kemudian mereka sudah menuju jalan raya dan berjalan ke arah pantai. Mereka melintasi hamparan bunga roro, kerikil, lalu pasir putih yang basah.

Namira membawa keranjang ikan.

Sala memanggul dayung.

Di pantai, perahu kepala desa Langgur telah tertambat. Perahu itu dipakai melaut, agar ada ikan yang dimasakkan untuk pengungsi.

“Perasaanku tak enak subuh ini, sebaiknya kau tak usah pergi melaut,” pinta Namira.

Jauh di dalam hatinya Sala pun berpikiran serupa.

Selain perasaan yang tak enak. Namira tiba-tiba saja membayangkan mayat-mayat mengambang di laut dan ikan-ikan telah menyantapnya. Dia ngeri membayangkan ikan-ikan itu kemudian jadi santapan manusia lagi.

Namira menatap Sala dengan firasat yang rumit. Gadis itu membawa kembali keranjang ikan ke daratan dan Sala mengikutinya. Martina pernah bilang, firasat Perempuan lebih kuat dari ahli nujum.

***

“Tak jadi melaut hari ini, Pela?” sapa seorang sukarelawan.

“Iya, Namira tak izinkan saya turun melaut.”

Ketika matahari setinggi penjolok buah, suara yang menghantui orang-orang selama dua bulan terakhir kembali terdengar. Suara yang sama seperti di Elaar, Watran, Ngursoin. Orang-orang kembali kocar-kacir. Tangisan kembali terdengar. Bunyi senapan kembali meletus. Orang-orang yang entah dari mana datangnya, kini telah mengepung Langgur, seperti tikus-tikus yang tiba-tiba bermunculan dari lubang-lubang tak dikenal, tepat menjelang pecah perang. Tikus-tikus tak dikenal itu membawa parang, seruit, dan panah. Ini adalah perang paling duka. Berperang dengan saudara sendiri.

Dari utara Langgur, bunyi ledakan bom rakitan menggetarkan tanah. Bunyinya seakan tanah Langgur hendak terbelah. Para pengungsi lari tunggang langgang sore itu. Namira hanya bisa terduduk dengan pipi basah. Gadis itu menutup kuping. Rasa trauma sewaktu di Elaar kembali membuatnya tak bisa bergerak.

Seorang sukarelawan mengutuk. “Tentara dan polisi memang bodoh, dari mana amunisi itu didapatkan perusuh, kalau bukan dari mereka?”

“Benar-benar gila,” cercanya lagi.

Jalanan Langgur terbelah. Di sebelah kanan para pengungsi dan kaum lelaki di Langgur. Di kiri, para penyerang telah memblokade jalan. Saling lempar dan anak-anak panah yang lepas dari busurnya bagai bintang melesat menghunjam ke arah kanan.

Batu-batu berserakan di jalanan. Sebuah kios bahan makanan yang tak jauh dari rumah Max terperangkap dalam kobaran api. Tiga lelaki telah rebah di jalanan. Tak ada yang menolong.

Sala menembus blokade orang-orang yang mengenakan ikat kepala merah.

Namira terperangkap di belakang sana, berlindung bersama seorang perempuan sukarelawan di samping sebuah tong berkarat.

Seorang lelaki berikat kepala merah lalu datang mengarahkan seruit ke arah mereka. Keringat dingin mencuat dari pori-pori gadis itu. “Nona Islam?” tanya dia. Namira gemetar. Si sukarelawan di sampingnya memejamkan mata. Barangkali dia berpikir, maut ganas ini akan disambutnya dengan anggun. Dengan kelopak mata mengatup.

“Oii, Pela, jangan lukai kedua gadis itu jika kau tak ingin terluka pula!” suara itu seperti auman harimau, menembus kedua telinga Namira. Suara yang amat dikenalnya.

Sala kini berhadapan dengan lelaki berikat kepala merah. “Saya tak akan berkelahi denganmu, Pela, saya tak ingin membuat orang-orang yang menginginkan pertumpahan darah ini bertepuk tangan.” Namira memandang Sala dengan tegang.

Sukarelawan di sampingnya menceracau. “Oh Allah. Yesus. Ellohim. Halleluya. Dalai Lama. Dewa-dewi Langit. Damaikanlah Kei!”

Sala mendekati lelaki yang menanyai Namira. “Saya juga sama sepertimu. Punya agama yang sama. Tapi jika kita ikut melakukan pembantaian, kita menyenangkan orang-orang yang menginginkan Maluku kacau!” kata Sala.

Ajaib. Pemuda berikat kepala merah itu terdiam. Mungkin dia hanya dibayar untuk sesuatu yang dia ragu lakukan.

Sala menarik tangan Namira.

Gadis itu tersungkur ke pelukan Sala. Dia menangis keras.

“Tolong cari tahu kabar Esme Labetubun,” bisik Namira di sela-sela tangisnya.

***

Asap hitam kembali menyelubungi Langgur. Asap yang sama di pulau-pulai lainnya. Asap hitam itu bagai sekumpulan burung gagak melintasi langit. Aroma kematian seperti wangi kamboja yang menusuk di malam hari.

Pengungsi yang masih selamat, bersama perempuan dan anak-anak Desa Langgur menaiki perahu motor dan speedboat puskesmas. Mereka kembali mengungsi ke pulau lainnya. Menuju Pulau Evu.

Sala meminta Namira mengungsi di Pulau Evu. Sementara dirinya tetap tinggal di Langgur bersama para kaum lelaki. Mereka tetap menjaga keamanan kampung. Menjaga fasilitas umum agar apa yang terjadi di pulau seberang — pulau yang tak perlu disebutkan namanya secara detail untuk menjaga kesopanan dan kengerian. Di sana, sebuah perigi yang merupakan satu-satunya tempat warga mengambil air, telah dipenuhi dengan potongan-potongan tubuh manusia. Mengeluarkan bau sengak menusuk.

Rusuh ini memunculkan banyak kengerian; rasa pusing. Rasa mual. Potongan-potongan yang telah mayat. Tubuh-tubuh tak berlengan. Tak berkepala. Tak berkaki. Tak berbahu atau tak berdada. Sebuah kabar pernah datang pula ke telinga para lelaki di Langgur, di sebuah pulau di pantai selatan, ditemukan sebuah karung goni menggelembung di belakang masjid. Di dalamnya, ada mayat seorang lelaki yang telah dikerubungi belatung-belatung gemuk.

***

Namira memandang Sala dengan air mata menggenang di kelopak matanya. Gadis itu turun kembali dari perahu motor. Dia memeluk Sala dengan tangis mengisak.

Sala memeluknya lekat. Membelai kepalanya. Lelaki itu menitikkan air mata. Setitik air mata jauh lebih sedih dari tangis yang meraung-raung. “Pergilah, tunggulah di Evu! Saya akan mencarimu di sana. Jangan cemas! Musibah ini pasti akan lelah dan berhenti. Beta sayang ale.” Sala melepaskan kedua tangan Namira yang melingkar di pinggangnya. Pemuda itu mengantarkan kembali kekasihnya menaiki perahu motor. Kapal itu melaju. Buih-buih ombak menampar lambung kapal.

Seekor elang laut terbang di atas langit Pulau Langgur ⸺ pulang menemui keluarganya. Di bawahnya, orang-orang yang terjebak rusuh tak ada harapan bertemu keluarga.

Namira menekuri sandal jepit bertali kuning di kakinya. Sandal itu seolah-olah bagai isyarat sebuah perjalanan jauh yang akan dilaluinya. Di kejauhan, Sala masih berdiri di bibir pantai.

*****

Kei

Nurhayat Indriyatno Mohamed is the managing editor of the Jakarta Globe, an English-language newspaper in Jakarta. He was born and raised in Tanzania, and has a degree in mechanical engineering from the University of Natal, Durban, in South Africa. At age 24 Hayat decided to move to Indonesia, the land of his father’s birth, and was immediately smitten by the novelty of it all.
A chance encounter led to a newspaper job, and another presented him with the opportunity to translate into English a book by the award-winning author Okky Madasari. Hayat translated Erni Aladjai’s award winning novel Kei (GagasMedia 2013) under the same title for Dalang Publishing in 2014.

Hayat can be reached at: hayat.indriyatno@yahoo.com

 

 

 

 

 

Chapter 8

Langgur, May 1999

The wind from the sea was colder than in previous months. Old and young men lined up on the beach. In the distance, a group of three rowboats lit by lanterns snaked their way closer to the shore.

“Everyone get ready.” At forty-five, Tinus was the tribal leader’s assistant for legal matters. The men held their breath as the rowboats approached. As they drew closer, the sound of the oars churning the water grew clearer. Someone in one of the boats held a lantern aloft and stood up.

“Hey, brothers, we are here,” shouted a woman wearing a jilbab.

“Can we come ashore? We have food and clothes for our families taking refuge here,” another person in the boat said.

“Yes, my brothers and sisters, you can come ashore,” Tinus called out.

Everyone was relieved. They were not attackers or people trying to instigate violence. The latter were out to destabilize Maluku, but on Kei, whether Muslim or Christian, everyone was still a Kei.

The men escorted three of the women from the rowboat to the refugee camp. Once there, they embraced their relatives. “Don’t be sad, just calm down. The conflict will end soon and we can be together again. We can’t do anything for now, do you understand? This is only temporary.” One of the women wiped the tears from her sister’s eyes.

The personal ties among the Kei people had always been complex. Many Muslims married Christians, so if a woman was a Muslim, her grandchild could very well be a Christian. A Christian husband could have a Muslim wife, and a Muslim’s sibling could be Protestant and their cousin Catholic. That was part of the reason why the Kei were brothers. Their relationships were as complex as the arrangement of the song “Bohemian Rhapsody” by Queen.

In the heart of the Kei lived snib — a sacred legacy of the ancestors to always guard, protect, and respect women. Kei men had to protect women everywhere, no matter who they were or what religion they followed. The bringing of food by the women in the rowboats was common in Kei. They knew they would never be hurt.

***

Long before the conflict came to the Kei islands, the people had built churches and mosques together. Catholics, Protestants, and Muslims alike joined in cheerfully. The Kei had a life philosophy: we are all eggs from the same fish and the same bird. Their traditions and tribal laws dated back to historic times, prevailing through the years and superseding all else, including religious doctrine.

When the conflict started in Ambon in January 1999, the Kei stayed calm and refused to take sides. Then on March 31, just before daybreak, violence erupted in Tual. The Kei people learned about it from television and radio reports after the sun had risen high in the sky. Most of them following the developments were convinced the conflict would never leap to the Kei islands. An imam at a mosque said: “The traditional laws of Kei come first. Only after that do people heed the Qur’an or the Bible. The last law we obey is the law of the State of Indonesia.”

The conflict was crueler than the angel of death. It spread quickly to the small villages and islands in the area, reaching Elaar and Watraan and other places.

As the conflict escalated, the tribal leaders and settlers — the Buginese, Javanese, Makassarese, Buton, and Chinese — gathered to talk about peace.

***

Namira was trying to calm two young boys at the refugee camp who were arguing and trying to snatch each other’s marbles when Sala came along carrying a pair of yellow flip-flops. He knew she had not worn footwear since he first met her, and did not want her stepping on any more glass shards. Since the night at Max’s house, Sala’s love for Namira had grown by the day. He abandoned his plan of leaving the Kei islands. He wanted the conflict to be over quickly so he could take Namira to Watraan. He wanted to marry her there.

Sala imagined that after a tiring day of forging knives, she would bring him a cup of tea and a plate of fried cassava. His daydreams were filled with the small pleasures of married life. He believed his mother’s soul would be at peace if he went back home and revived the metal shop.

Namira was all the encouragement he needed.

At lunch at the camp, Namira busied herself preparing Sala’s food. It became the talk of everyone working in the kitchen. The volunteers called her and Sala the Romeo and uliet of Langgur. It annoyed and pleased Namira.

“He’s a good man, Ra,” said Rohana. She was short and fat, with round cheeks, and always joking and cheerful.

Namira liked Rohana, and so did many of the other refugees. She told funny stories that made the others laugh as though the violence in Kei had never happened.

One day, the volunteers and social workers were upset because the food aid sent by the government had spoiled. The bread was moldy and the instant noodle packets were torn and infested with ants. Seeing the others upset, Rohana started to chatter.

“A young man named Lius went to the same food stall at lunchtime. One day he asked the woman owning the stall, ‘Aunty, what stew do you have?’

“The owner said, ‘Nail stew, Lius.’

“He ordered the nail stew. The next day he came again at lunchtime. He asked, ‘Aunty, what stew do you have?’

“The woman answered, ‘Bamboo stew, Lius.’

“Then Lius said, ‘Aunty, if this keeps up, tomorrow I’ll
shit a fence.’

”Another time, when the volunteers were gloomy because of news that the military had entered the conflict in Maluku, Rohana had another funny story to tell. She said that when people complain, things only get worse because the universe repays them with more grief. “So let go and laugh,” she said.

The story went like this: A child went home after he was scolded by his teacher at school and told his grandfather. The grandfather became angry and went to the school looking for the teacher. But when he arrived, the teacher had gone home. The grandfather became angrier and went to the teacher’s house. He rolled up his sleeves, revealing his tattoos. When he knocked on the teacher’s door, a soldier in full uniform answered. The soldier was the teacher’s husband. The grandfather suddenly turned coward.

The soldier asked, “Can I help you, pak?”

The grandfather answered, “I wanted to ask the teacher if there was community service at the school today.”

Rohana was endearing to Namira, Sala, other volunteers, and the refugees.

***

Sala touched Namira’s leg. She woke and rubbed her eyes.

“Sorry.” He felt bad waking her up before daybreak.

Namira rose and went to the well. She washed her face and tied her hair back while Sala waited for her. They walked to the ketapang tree and stood so close they formed a single silhouette. Moonlight seeped between the leaves and branches, and fell in a straight line across the ground. Sala pulled Namira into an embrace. He felt uneasy, yet wished he could spend all of his time showing her his love.

A moment later, they headed toward the road and the beach. They walked through patches of beach morning glory and gravel before they reached the white, wet sand. Namira brought a fish basket and Sala carried a set of oars. The village chief ’s boat was moored on the beach. It was used for fishing so there would be food for the refugees.

“I don’t have a good feeling about today. Maybe you should stay on land,” Namira said. Besides her premonition, she had a vision of corpses floating on the water and the fish nibbling on them. She shuddered to think people ate the same fish.

Namira looked at Sala, her intuition tied up in knots. She took the fish basket back out of the boat and Sala followed her.

Deep in his heart, he felt the same. Martina had told him that a woman’s intuition is stronger than a fortuneteller’s prediction.

***

“Not going out to sea today, pela?” a volunteer asked.

“No, Namira won’t let me.”

When the sun was directly overhead, the sound that had haunted everyone for the past two months returned. It was heard in Elaar, Watraan, and Ngursoin. The refugees scattered. Once again, there was crying and the noise of gunshots. A mob appeared from nowhere and surrounded Langgur, like “rats that suddenly appear from unknown holes, right at the eruption of war.”

These unknown rats came with machetes, spears, and arrows. This was the most sorrowful conflict of all — against one’s brothers.

A bomb exploded north of Langgur and shook the ground. It felt as though the village would split apart. The refugees ran every direction. Namira could only sit with her wet cheeks and cover her ears. The trauma she experienced in Elaar made her unable to move.

“Those goddamned police and soldiers. Where did these people get their guns if not from them?” One of the volunteers cursed aloud and added, “This is truly crazy.”

Langgur’s main street was divided. To the right were the local men and refugees, and to the left the attackers who barricaded the road. The parties threw rocks at each other and the attackers shot arrows that showered the other side like shooting stars.

The road was strewn with rocks. A food kiosk close to Max’s house caught fire. Three men lay still on the road. No one helped them. Sala broke through the blockade of men wearing red bandanas. Namira was left behind and hid with another volunteer beside a rusty barrel. A man wearing a red bandana pointed his spear at them.

Namira broke out in a cold sweat.

“Are you Muslim?” he asked.

Namira trembled. The volunteer next to her shut her eyes tight, ready to meet her barbaric end with dignity.

“Hey, pela, don’t you hurt those girls or you’ll get hurt yourself.” A voice like a tiger’s roar pierced Namira’s ears. Sala stood in front of the man with the red bandana. “I won’t fight you, pela. I don’t want to give those seeking bloodshed any reasons to cheer.”

Namira looked intently at Sala.

The volunteer babbled, “Oh, Allah, Jesus, Elohim, Hallelujah, Dalai Lama, gods of the sky, bring peace to Kei.”

Sala stepped up to the man with the spear.

“I’m the same as you, I have the same religion. But if we join in the slaughter, we’ll only satisfy those who want to see chaos in Maluku,” Sala said.

It was like a miracle. The man with the red bandana was quiet. He had only been paid to do something that he was reluctant to do. Sala pulled Namira by the arm. She collapsed in his embrace, sobbing. “Please find Esme,” she said between tears.

***

Black smoke blanketed Langgur and the other villages, resembling a flock of crows passing overhead. The stench of death was like the scent of frangipani at night. The refugees who were still alive fled in boats along with the women and children of the village. This time they headed to Evu.

Sala asked Namira to go there too. He had to remain in Langgur with the other men and protect the village. They planned to secure the public facilities so the village did not have the same fate as the one on the other island — it was best not to mention the name out of decency and horror. The well in that village, the people’s only source of fresh water, was filled with severed body parts. The stench was overwhelming.

The unrest had caused many horrors, stories of corpses without arms or legs, or heads or shoulders or chests. One report from an island to the south reached Langgur, about a gunnysack being found behind the mosque filled with the body of a man and swarming with fat maggots.

***

Namira gazed at Sala with tears in her eyes. She jumped out of the boat and hugged him, crying. Sala held her tight and stroked her hair. He shed a teardrop. It held sadness more profound than the most hysterical crying.

“Go, wait in Evu. Don’t worry. I’ll find you. The conflict will soon wear itself out. I love you.”

Sala peeled Namira’s arms from his waist and took her to the boat. Once on the water, sea foam lapped at its hull. A sea eagle soared in the sky above Langgur, returning to its nest. Below the bird were people without hope of being reunited with their families.

Namira stared at the yellow flip-flops on her feet. They looked like the sign of a long journey ahead of her.

Far away, Sala stood on the beach.

 

 

*****

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