Short Story by Eric Musa Piliang (The Jakarta Post, December 17, 2018)

Rose ilustration Budhi Button - The Jakarta Postw.jpg
Rose ilustration Budhi Button/The Jakarta Post 

Her big smile somehow eclipsed her small and slouching figure as she extended a greeting hand:

“My name is Rose. I’ll be your neighbor.”

We could not have asked for a warmer welcome after a long and tiring journey as we were to begin a new life far away from home.

Rose was in her mid-60s, a little younger than both our mothers back home.

The second-floor apartment, where we would live for the next 10 months, shared a landing with Rose’s. It was late in the evening. My wife and I were struggling to move four big heavy suitcases up the two flights of stairs. She must have heard the commotion before she came out to greet us in the dimly lit corridor.

“How do you do?”

We gave her our names, going through one syllable at a time to make sure she would be able to pronounce them correctly. She got them right the second time. I was impressed.

“We’re from Indonesia.”

Her facial expression changed. She squinted and gave each one of us a probing look.

“I know your people,” she said, a crooked point finger raised like a professor.

If she knew something about Indonesia, it could not have been good.

“They’ll kill me in your country,” she said, her left hand moving right to left at neck level.

Why would we want to cut the neck of such a sweet old lady? I kept silent, waiting for what was to come next.

“I’m reading this,” suddenly she shoved a thick hardcover book at us, seemingly out of nowhere.

I had not read Jessica Stern’s Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, but I was familiar with the newly released book because terrorism was the theme of my research for the coming year at the university here in this town.

Stern, the Harvard University expert on terrorism, had included in her book the 2002 bombings in Indonesia’s Bali island as part of a Al Qaeda terror campaign that began with the 9-11 attacks in the United States a year earlier.