Short Story by AK Rini (The Jakarta Post, June 19, 2017)
Uta watches as the water comes bursting out of the fountain at the Italian Garden in Hyde Park. It shot high into the sky, forming shades of rainbow on their tracks. Uta sinks even deeper into his wooden chair, stretching out his long legs to make himself comfortable. He crosses his arms and hums quietly while enjoying the warm sunlight across his face. It is almost 11. If he were in Jakarta, he would be sweating from all the heat. But this is London in the spring. Like other Londoners, Uta is appreciating every inch of sunlight he can get when the sun is out. This morning, the weather forecast had predicted a sunny day. So Uta decided to leave his work behind for an hour or two and enjoy the sun.
Uta smiles at the sight of a little boy and girl playing with their dog near the garden fence. It’s a big dog — a St. Bernard — and presently it is torn between looking after its young masters or catch the oblivious squirrel nearby. The squirrel is too busy collecting food that it barely pays attention to the dog.
Or, it knows the dog will stick to his training, which is protecting its masters regardless of the urge to go hunting. The dog does exactly that. Snorting a bit, the loyal animal turns its head when the little boy gives him a pat and his sister tells them to follow a middle-aged woman toward a small path next to the Serpentine. The three walk past the Peter Pan statue and are quickly swallowed by the surrounding trees. Ah, Peter, thought Uta. The symbol of a true and ageless dreamer.
He leans back and sighs. He always does that whenever he is thinking about how to keep his dream alive and how his stubbornness to pursue said dream has led him to make the riskiest decision he’s ever made in his life. Not that he regrets it, not with all the achievements awarding him in his pursuit, telling him that he has done the right thing by coming to this city, living out his dream. He likes London. Since the first time he stepped off the plane, and then when he rode in a taxi and going through traffic, Uta always feels as though the city is giving him an endless welcome. It is the same atmosphere he used to feel back in his hometown.
Uta reaches inside his coat pocket and takes out a pink invitation. On that meticulously printed invitation is the name he knows all too well: Uria. It is his brother’s name. His identical twin brother’s name. His brother is getting married next month. He swipes a thumb over his brother’s and a woman’s name printed below his. His brother has found the love of his life. Uta smiles to himself. Uria has always been the responsible one. Ever since they were kids, his brother has always pleased their parents by being obedient. Uta, on the other hand, is known for his antics. Deep down Uta thinks his parents have somehow prepared themselves to see what may become of him. Perhaps he’ll spread his wings and fly off like Icarus soaring against all odds.
“I thought you might be here,” the voice startles him. Uta turns around to find a young woman standing near him.
“Millie,” Uta clears his throat and makes a room for the petite ginger to sit next to him. “Did you come to drag me back to the studio?”
He eyes her suspiciously.
Millie laughs and shakes her head, letting her curls dance in mid-air. She stretches her body and takes a deep breath. “Nah, I know you,” she says. “You’ll be back after an hour. Besides, you could use the break. Cecil asked me to come here to give you some company. She probably noticed I needed some break too.”
They sit in silence for quite some time. Then, Uta shows her the invitation. Millie’s eyes grow wide almost as soon as she finishes reading the invitation.
“This is the reason why you were a bit weird this morning!” she exclaims. “You are contemplating to go home…”
Uta chuckles. “I don’t need to contemplate anything, Millie. The second I received the invitation, I knew I need to go home. It’s my twin brother’s wedding. I need to be there for him.”
“Are you sure? I thought you’ve vowed to never go back to that city.”
A thin bittersweet smile breaches Uta’s face. “I could never hate her, though. She will always be the one place I call home.”
“It always amuses me how you refer to your hometown with a female pronoun. I thought London makes you feel that way too…”
“He does. Both of them do.”
“And… there goes the male pronoun for London,” Millie laughs.
“Well, Freud did say that England, principally London, has a masculine virtue. He is the very polar of the feminine and seductive Paris. I guess I’m just giving affirmation to his opinion. London is strong, yet it has a condescending nature of a fatherly figure. He lets his children grow up in their own unique personalities, but always keeps them in a certain traditional conformity and self-control,” says Uta.
Millie lets out another roll of laughter. “What about your hometown, then? What kind of female figure is it?”
Uta’s eyes sparkle in amusement as he talks. “She is beautiful by nature and has all the potential in the world to build herself with a gentle character. However, the colonial government forced her to be strong and bold, to be the melting pot of extreme diversity. In fact, only the boldest of them could survive living there. She does not respond to romance, either. You will hardly find parks like this there. She is a hard worker. Efficiency in time and work are the ultimate requirements of survival there.”
Millie wrinkles her nose. “Seems like a tough city to live in. No wonder you left.”
Uta laughs and shakes his head. “I came here to escape my family, not the city. I actually love her dualism. Because once you see her at night, you would see her initial soft nature all around her. She was forced to be tough to support our country’s growth, but at the same time she is always ready to offer all her children some comfort. You can feel it in the way twilight envelopes it.”
“I don’t think I’ll ever understand it,” Millie cracks an apologetic smile.
They look at each other and easily surrender to the silence. The sun is radiant above them, but the breeze is teasing them with her cool fingers. Millie sneezes and chases away a pair of doves that have come to approach them looking for treats. Uta laughs and offers her his scarf, which she accepts after making a face. Uta smiles again and watches her putting on the scarf. A thought crosses his mind.
“Hey,” he says. Millie raises her head, arching her brows. “Maybe you should come see Jakarta with me.”
Uta gazes deep into her eyes. “Yeah.”
AK Rini is an Indonesian writer. She lives in Tangerang.