Short Story by Eric Musa Piliang (The Jakarta Post, September 10, 2018)

Know Thy Neighbors ilustration Budhi Button - The Jakarta Post.jpg
Know Thy Neighbors ilustration Budhi Button/The Jakarta Post 

Ibu, they’re getting closer,” my 7-year old daughter screams. Anxiety in her voice.

“They’re setting fire to the car showroom,” she shrieks not a minute later.

I had asked her to watch from the window on the upper floor and to report any new developments she sees on the street. I had shifted the sofa to near the windowpane so she could stand on it and get a full view of the main street lined up with shops, including our own. Her brother, three years younger, joins her on the sofa but he is quite content sitting and keeping quiet.

“Now they are breaking into Om Halim’s store,” she says, calmer than before but still sounding anxious.

We call him om (uncle) though we are not related. We are neighbors and he and my late husband had been close friends. Halim and his family run the paint shop 10 buildings up the street.

Read also: Life is a Coffee Bean – Short Story by Eric Musa Piliang (The Jakarta Post, March 26, 2018)

I hear my daughter’s updates almost by the minute while I shuttle between ground and upper floors, where the living room and bedroom are, moving up our valuables. I started with the safe where I keep money collected from daily sales and documents related to the business, banks and the property certificates.

Now I am moving up the heavier stuff, the pricier ones like bottles of cooking oil and gunny sacks of rice from the storage room in the back room on the ground floor.

I am nearly out of breath.

What am I thinking? What good will this do if they are going to burn the entire store? Should I not be moving stuff outside instead? Should we not be running for our lives?

Halim had called from the airport last night, telling me to leave the house soon. Leave town if you have to, find somewhere safe, I remember him saying.

“What about the stuff in the shop?” I asked.

“Leave them. We left everything behind. We only packed one suitcase for the entire family.”

Read also: The Ambulance Driver – Short Story by Ben Loory (The Jakarta Post, August 27, 2018)

After a brief pause, he added: “I hope you have insurance for the shop.”

No, I mumbled to myself, regretting the many times I dismissed insurance proposals as a waste of money that were adding unnecessary costs of running the grocery store.

“But what is going to happen, Om Halim? Why?” I asked.

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