Short Story by Anton Kurnia (The Jakarta Post, July 3, 2017)
After years, after decades, an old wanderer meets this young lady.
It’s a drizzly and windy afternoon. Rain has lovingly left them with mystical puddles. These masonry seats look like they’ve been fatefully set under the bougainvillea shade. They sit next to each other. Quivering bougainvillea leaves dance harmoniously against the softest wind of dusk.
“Tell me about love,” says the young lady.
“Love?” replies the wanderer.
“Yes. Tell me about loyalty.”
“Yes. Tell me about a memory.”
And the wanderer starts his story…
It was a serene night when a wanderer chanced upon an empty, old, wooden house like a bat with its broken wing. A hard life left its marks here and there. Outside, nocturnal beings conveyed their signals to one another like a symphonic theme song. He lay there alone, exhausted after years of fighting with himself. His clothes were as sleazy as his jeans. Those garments had been rinsed by rainwater for so long. Smoke wafted from a cigarette tucked between his bony fingers. In the distance, a song seemed to be playing softly… Nana Mouskouri’s sad song.
Each time he took a puff, he remembered a tale from childhood: a story about a little match-seller girl who waited for somebody to buy her match on a frozen Christmas Eve. After midnight, starving and cold to the bones, she lit her match one by one to warm herself.
Each time she lit a match, she found herself wrapped by the enchanting swirls of a dream: about her mother, now long gone; about small pretty singing dolls; about cute tiny fairies; about sparkling Christmas tree… and after the last match had been ignited, she died from the cold. Alone. The wanderer was savoring similar dreams from his cigarette smokes. He has always enjoyed the act of dreaming.
The wanderer has now succumbed to his dreams. The night is getting murky. Clouds are blanketing the moon up in the sky. The nightingales’ song echoes from afar.
The lonesome wanderer eyes the burning edge of his cigarette. Unexpectedly, a face he recognizes from the past materializes in a blur.
“What are you looking for? Aren’t you tired of wandering?”
A pair of eyes observe him intently, lovingly. There’s warmth in those orbs.
“Hey, is that you? My blue rainbow? My little angel?”
A glimpse of light flashes before him.
“I’ve been looking forward to this moment for years. A moment where we can talk heart to heart. Just you and me. Talk about you, about me, about us. About the good old days. I won’t be too greedy by asking you to talk about future. Tomorrow is yours only. Loving and owning are two different things and if I wasn’t allowed to have both, I’d be happy to go for the first one…”
Her soft fingers caress the man’s face. How he has fully become a man now.
“You know, I still keep you pictures and our photos. I won’t let anybody touch them.”
A mouse sneaks out into a corner.
“I won’t forget our first meeting. I was sitting on that wooden bench; you sat right next to me. Our eyes met. I was astounded and you smiled. Our teacher, she was in front of us.”
“That was seventeen years ago.”
“Do you still remember the moment we waited for the rain stop at school gate? We were waiting for our mothers to take us home.”
She smiles again.
“But reality did set us apart. They took me far to the east. And I only see you in my night dreams, all those restless years. One day I was coming back to your city, wounded. That night you came to me and I have never seen anyone more beautiful. Then you disappeared. I woke up with pain in my chest and I was sweating. A day later, a friend called me and told me you were married. I was too late.”
“I am so sorry. Life is rarely planned. Life mostly is series of coincidences. I’ve never heard about you. You were gone…”
Cigarette smoke is wafting, dancing its way up.
“There’s no use in regretting, what’s done is done. Life is to be lived… ah, time travels so fast, and life is flowing like a stream without estuaries. It is impossible to have all what we want from life, isn’t it? If we don’t have what we like, there’s nothing wrong in liking what we have, right?”
“Since then, many years have come and gone when I try to deal with the possibilities. In the end, I always face failures. I was too naïve for this world full of lies. You are the only one who gave me peace. I am alone now. A solitary wanderer in the middle of the desert…”
“Stop dreaming. Stop adventuring. Try hard to live your life like everybody else.”
The wanderer laughs bitterly, trying to kill the pain. Croaked, he spells parts of a poem: Life is only delaying your losses, getting more alienated from love in elementary school, and there is always unspoken thing, just before we finally surrender…
His cigarette is smoke-less now. Slowly, the beautiful shadow fades away, whisked away by the night breeze.
Now bitter cold reigns the night. On the tip of trees, the moon is almost full. It’s drizzling out.
Under the dense bougainvillea, the old wanderer finishes his story. In his eyes, he reveals a secret. He picks his violin next to him and starts to play a composition. It’s a pathetic sonata.
“Is it the end, old man?” the young girl asks. She has been listening to the story whole-heartedly.
The old wanderer leaves the question unanswered; taken away by the pathetic sonata. It’s flowing, depressing, alluring, teases the loneliest night ever.
Anton Kurnia is an Indonesian short story writer, essayist, editor, and the chief editor of Penerbit Baca.