Short Story by Sonia Vashishta Oberoi (The Jakarta Post, January 29, 2018)
Seventy-year-old Bapak Gilang sat in his favorite rocking chair in his spacious villa in South Jakarta. He was staring at the evening sky through the window. It was dusk already, and the weather was quite windy. He observed the dark clouds and thought it would soon rain heavily. Bapak Gilang was a little pensive today. He reflected that like the dusk sky, his twilight years also were wrapped in dark clouds of loneliness. He closed the book he was reading, folded his hands in his lap, closed his eyes and took a deep breath. He wondered why Matang did not call yet. Matang told him last Saturday that he would call him today, but he still had not. He opened his eyes and looked at the family photo on the side table. In front of the photo laid Putri’s letter. Bapak Gilang had read the letter many times. He was glad to know that Putri was happy in the new city. She had written in the letter that she liked her new office also. He tried to smile. He felt proud that both of his children were doing well in their lives.
Bapak Gilang had spent many years in Jakarta. He had witnessed the upheavals and chaos of the city, as well as the progress and advancement. Originally he was from Kota Batu in East Java. He was the eldest son in the family and his father loved him a lot. His father always wanted him to study hard and get a good job. He fulfilled the dream of his father. He worked hard and got a good government job in Jakarta. His father felt sad upon hearing the news because he did not want to be separated from his son. He waved his dearest son goodbye with a heavy heart. Gilang promised his father that once he had settled in the new city he would call him to stay with them. It never happened. Though Gilang visited Batu whenever he managed to take time off from his busy schedule, his father was never ready to leave his own house. Gilang’s younger brother took up the same job that their father did for many years and stayed with their father in the same house.
Sitting in his favorite rocking chair, Bapak Gilang remembered when he first came to Jakarta. His wife, Diah, was only 20 at the time, and she was overwhelmed by the city. She had never gone out of Batu, so she was nervous all the time. A smile appeared on Bapak Gilang’s face remembering the young and innocent face of Diah. The last five years without her had been long and boring. Diah died so quickly that Bapak Gilang was not even able to take her to the hospital. One minute she gave him a cup of hot jasmine tea, and the next minute he heard a loud thud. He ran to the kitchen, where Diah lay on the floor clutching at her chest. He wanted to run and call the doctor, but Diah told him not to leave her. She told him to sit with her, and he did as she asked. Two minutes later, with her hand still clutching at her chest, Diah breathed her last breath.
Bapak Gilang wished Diah could have lived a little longer. Right at that moment he felt somebody was behind him, and he snapped out of his reveries. He turned around and saw Bulan calling him and wiping her hands across her apron. She told him it was time for her to go. She had finished her work and she had put dinner on the table. She told him lovingly that today she had made his favorite dish. Bulan was exactly the age of Putri, his daughter, and in fact, he had never treated her as a servant.
Bulan was five when she visited his house for the first time with her mother. Her mother used to help Diah with household chores. Putri and Bulan liked each other immediately and they became good friends gradually. Though Bulan was now married, she had never stopped taking care of Bapak Gilang, especially after Diah’s death. Bapak Gilang waved Bulan goodbye and got up to close the door behind her. After closing the door, Bapak Gilang did some stretches and yawned. He felt a slight ache in his legs. It had been a long day. It was a Saturday, so in the morning he went for his weekly get-together in the park with his retired friends. It was a ritual that all of them had done for last 10 years. They rarely missed those meetings. They used to go for long walks, and then they had their breakfast together and reminisced.
He remembered how much Diah cried when Matang, their son, left to Singapore to complete his MBA. She missed him, and whenever Matang used to come home, there were emotional outbursts. Matang also landed himself a well-paying job in Singapore after completing his MBA. After that, he was seldom home for more than two to three days. When Matang got married, he also spent about the same time in Jakarta. It was different for Putri, who went abroad to pursue her degree, but then returned to settle down.
After Diah’s death Putri used to stop by Bapak Gilang’s place on her way home from work. Then every weekend, Bulan would cook for him and Sunday became Bapak Gilang’s favorite day. Bulan always cooked extra on Sundays.
Last week, Putri moved to Hong Kong after her husband received a promotion, and she was very hopeful that she would also get a good job there.
He checked his cell phone once again for any messages or calls from Matang or Putri but only Diah’s picture that he had set as the wallpaper stared back at him. He looked at the clock. It was only six in the evening. He had another hour before he had to have his dinner. So he decided to cover himself with something warm and sit outside in the garden with a cup of hot tea for a while. It had not started raining yet. He sat on a bench and kept his feet up on a table. Diah used to love sitting in their small but beautiful garden, and she always insisted that they should have their evening tea there, especially on weekends. Diah was a charming and good-hearted woman. She took good care of the house and their children while he was busy at his job. She never fought with him and never asked for anything
Suddenly his eyes grew misty. He was crying. Then he checked his watch — it was almost time for dinner. He got up from the bench and wrapped the blanket snugly around his body. It was getting colder now.
Right at that moment, the doorbell rang. He wondered who could be visiting him at this hour. Then he heard giggling and hushed voices. He felt annoyed and decided not to open the door, but then he heard something he had not heard for the past week.
“Ayah, open the door Ayah.”
A wave of happiness ran through his entire body. He thought Putri had come to meet him by herself. She didn’t though.
“Who is it?” he asked. “Has Matang come to see me? I hear the giggling of children, so he must have come along with his kids. I mean with his whole family. Oh, I am so happy.” He mumbled.
Tears started to fall again, for the second time in the past hour. He hurried to the door and opened it as wide as he could. He saw Matang standing there, smiling. His grandson and granddaughter ran toward him and hugged him tightly.
They all came and sat inside the cozy living room, and Matang shared the wonderful news with Bapak Gilang that he had been transferred to Jakarta. Now all of them would stay together. Bapak Gilang felt extremely happy. He got up and gave Matang a tight hug. He realized that it was one of the happiest moments of his life.
But the next minute he became worried about a very petty issue: He looked at the pots on the dining table to check whether there was enough food for everybody, and to his great surprise, he noticed that Bulan had cooked extra. He looked at Matang, who winked at him.
“In my house, there is always enough food for everybody,” he said proudly.
Suddenly it occurred to Bapak Gilang that Bulan knew all along about Matang’s visit.
Bapak Gilang felt relieved and content. He sat down on the mat with his grandchildren, who were eagerly opening their backpacks to show him the cards they had made for him. He glanced outside the window and admired the kaleidoscopic colors of the Jakarta dusk sky.
Dr. Sonia Vashishta Oberoi recently moved to Jakarta from India. She has worked in various educational institutions in India.
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