Short Story by Yudhi Herwibowo (The Jakarta Post, February 12, 2018)
The breeze passing through the leaves sounded like the pitter-patter of rain. The weather slowly became colder. A few seconds later, the atmosphere changed into something subtler and emptier, leaving the sort of silence that felt like eternity.
On the edge of the moonlight that was split by bamboo reeds, two people held hands and hesitantly walked toward the lush forest.
“Is this the right path?” the girl asked as she wiped her sweaty forehead.
The person beside her gave a slight nod, although his movement was unclear. “Indeed, this is,” he replied.
They went deeper into the forest while having to remove the twigs hindering their way. Sometimes, their steps were stopped by things moving around them. They thought there were night beasts lurking around, but actually it was only their fear. Right before reaching their destination, the forest appeared even denser. After trying so hard to clear their pathway, eventually they arrived before a wide overlay of dry land. Tens of swings hung from tree branches; each of them dangling off a large tree that was already dead. Oddly, those swings moved back and forth despite the fact there wasn’t any wind or anyone pushing them.
The girl let go of the man’s hand. She stepped forward and slowly said “Dear Lord! They actually exist…”
The swing hangs on a guava tree that has long been dead. The wind keeps blowing against it, swaying the swing.
I decide to remove the swing again this year. It’s been 10 years since we first hung it on the tree, and since then I don’t know how many times I’ve considered taking it off.
As we return home from our pilgrimage this morning, the desire that has always been there and never ceases urges me to walk into the garage and take the sickle.
Hope — my only child — only looks at me without a word. I ignore her, although I understand what her expression means. Anyhow, she never touches the swing. I never tell her that her life and the swing are somehow connected. She probably can feel it, though.
I keep falling whenever I try to climb the tree. My head hits a big root that surfaces from the ground. I lose consciousness for a while, but then I see images from the past that seem so clear and real. These memories take me to the time I always wish to forget.
About 10 years ago, May — my wife — and I made the decision. We were crying in silence as we decided it, and it was our last choice.
“I wish this would be our last endeavor, my dear,” May whispered to me.
That night, we had a similar dream. I didn’t know why we happened to talk about the dream after the dawn prayer; we rarely, if at all, talked about our dreams.
“He’s an old man with gray hair and a beard,” said May.
“The old man said we can have it if we really want it,” I added.
May nodded and continued, “He spoke of a place in the middle of the forest where all the trees have already died.”
“There are 98 swings on each tree. Supposedly, the number of the swings will never change no matter how many have been taken.” My voice was almost weak and small.
I don’t know how long it’s been since I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I see Aliyah, my little sister, sitting by my side.
“What happened to you?” her question strikes me as I’m still trying to recollect my memory. “Mrs. Salman saw you fall, so she shouted for help.” Slowly I start remembering everything. “Why did you even carry a sickle?”
“I was going to cut off the swing,” my voice sounds hoarse, but my answer silences her for a moment or two.
“Why didn’t you tell me? I’ve told you so many times to chop down the tree, as well as the swing. They’re hideous.”
I can only nod. I know she has never agreed since the first time May and I placed the swing there. Of course, I don’t blame her. Our house is small with a yard of only 40 square meters. It’s odd to have a swing under a big tree there.
However, May and I really had a justified reason for that.
“It was our endeavor, Al,” I reply to her, hoping she would stop shouting at me. “Just consider this a motivation.”
Since then, Aliyah never talks about the swing, although I know she still dislikes it.
The day after the swing was hung on the tree in our front yard, everything changed.
At first, I thought it was only my feeling. The swing always moved back and forth with or without wind. It just moved endlessly, slowly. Nevertheless, the guava tree started to die. The leaves withered and turned dry. It all happened within a week.
I felt something strange, so did May. However, a few days later May told me she was pregnant. I was really happy and I did not care anymore with all the strange feelings I had. Our neighbors spread rumors about the swing, but I could not care less because of my feelings of joy.
“Children who would try to ride the swing always fall…”
“As dusk falls, the atmosphere around the swing feels strange…”
Eventually, the child we had been waiting for was born. We named her Hope.
Suddenly, on the day before May and Hope could return home, May asked me, “Can we now take the swing down?” I could see the flash of fear in her eyes.
As I arrived in the afternoon, I grabbed a sickle in the garage and was ready to cut the swing’s rope. The rope, however, looked rusty and old. I lost count of how many times I fell each time I tried to cut it off.
On the very same day, I was late to find out that May had fallen from her bed in the hospital. Her head hit the bed frame that was made of metal. It was around the same time when I tried to cut the rope. She got up and eventually returned to bed, but she was gone before she could push the emergency button to call the nurses. I arrived there only to see her sleep for eternity.
I raised Hope on my own.
Hope never cried like most infants did when they were born. She was still awake around midnight. Even as she grew older, she never did cry. When she started crawling, all she did was head toward the window facing the swing.
The doctor said Hope was different, that she’s a child with special needs. As much as I agreed with the doctor, I also believed that there was something inexplicable about her.
I always feel there is a gap between Hope and me. Every word I tell her only evaporates right before they reach her ears. Thankfully Aliyah is here. She has been helping me take care of her. Although I never say anything to her, each time she looks at me she seems to understand what has happened.
Deep down, I always try to love Hope. I’m sure May would do the same. Unfortunately, I just can’t. I always feel there is something inside Hope, especially when she stands by the window looking at the swing. Really, it somehow terrifies me. I think whoever knows what May and I did that night, will feel the same about Hope.
I ask some young people who always hung out around the security post to cut down the guava tree along with the swing. I gave them some money for my request.
“Burn the swing until it’s gone,” I tell them repeatedly. “Remember, until there’s nothing left!”
They start moving vigorously. They borrow a chainsaw from a neighbor and start cutting the tree into parts. Within an hour, they’ve already taken down the tree and the swing away from my yard. I imagine they must have started burning them in the village’s landfill.
I accidentally run into Hope, who is standing by the window. Her gaze is empty. Then she begins to cry. I show no empathy to her. I already decided to get rid of the tree and swing in spite of my concerns about what will happen later. I start recalling the night May and I had the same dream, that one sentence that has been echoing in our heads: “The swing will invite a life in your womb. You only have to make sure the swing will always be in your front yard.”
I go to sleep with readiness in my heart. I know, just like what happened to May, my body will later fall and hit something. The next day, my body will be found without a pulse. Aliyah will be the first one to find my corpse, and Hope will perhaps smile with pleasure, just as she did the day I found May’s body lying in hospital.
— Translated by Liswindio Apendicaesar.
Yudhi Herwibowo is a short story writer, novelist and owner of BukuKatta publishing. His recent novel is Halaman Terakhir (Nourabook).
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