Sun, 07 Dec 2003

Done deal

Broto Dharma

The bus swayed violently but Dino stood erect, as though standing at attention, staring impassively ahead of him. He was removed from the chatter of the other passengers, deaf to the appeals of the busker and the beggar, immune to the fetid smell of sweaty bodies at the end of the day.

Tiny beads of sweat formed on his upper lip and around the dark of his brow, betraying his anxiety.

He was startled by a rough tug on his coat sleeve.

"It's your stop, right?" the conductor said.

Dino alighted and stood on the street for a moment, collecting his thoughts. The blue ink of the address written on a piece of paper had become a blurred etching in his palm.

He walked a few steps and found the number 54, the house he needed. It was an old house, the paint on the facade faded to a drab, mottled white in the dusk, the front yard overrun, a jungle of weeds and scattered garbage.

Fear overwhelmed him; his hands shook, even when he clasped them together. He had only a small cup of coffee today, too nervous to keep any food down, but he had the sudden urge to piss, stepping back onto the street and relieving himself in the gutter.

He walked to the house and knocked on the door. A woman answered; she was not young and her skin was dark, but it was caked with powder, a mauve lipstick and rouge dabbed in big, untidy circles on her cheeks.

"What do you need? she asked, her tone lilting and affected.

She pursed her lips slightly as she said it and looked him straight in the eye, her fleshy tan breasts showing through the white of her blouse.

"I'm looking for Yon -- is he here?"

His voice was hoarse with nervousness, but the woman had other things on her mind, scowling as she said, "Should be -- it's the room at the end of the hall".

He brushed past her, through the intermingling odors of grease and a musty, damp smell of old buildings.

He was at the room now, standing before it, his heart beating fast, his throat constricted by ear. The door was slightly ajar, and Dino nudged it, saying in a low voice, "Is that Yon?"

* * *

"We have to do something, he's threatened us, we're dead," Sabar had said two mornings ago when he arrived at the bank, breathless, his voice barely a whisper from fear, his eyes streaked with red.

When he heard what had happened, Dino was furious, their plan in ruins, their futures uncertain.

And it was all Sabar's fault. Stupidly, he had got high with Yon, one of the other residents at his boardinghouse, letting slip how he and Dino had plundered a dormant account at the bank, first taking in dribs and drabs with Sabar forging the signature, then ever larger amounts.

They had only done it for the past year, and the person who had left it obviously had no need for it; he was either dead or had moved abroad, or was so rich that the amount of Rp 80 million meant little to him.

Sobered up the next day, Yon remembered the story, and he wanted a piece of the action.

"He said that if we don't give him a cut, he's going to the authorities, that he'll get a reward anyway for turning us in," Sabar said, now almost sobbing, drawing stares from the other tellers already at work.

Dino wanted to smack his stupid, unthinking, sniveling face, wishing he had never met him when he needed to get ganja, but he ushered him outside to the parking lot.

He took a long drag on a cigarette, and thought about all the things they had used the money for: Sending his mother on the haj ("Why, what a thoughtful son you are, remembering that your old mother comes first," she had said to him), Sabar buying a new motorbike, the cell phones with the picture-function. He had treated his family to the best Idul Fitri ever.

"He's alone, right?" Dino asked.

"Yup, his father comes down from the village sometimes, but there's nobody else ... he wouldn't be missed, if that's what you mean."

"When is he there?"

"Every day, he's got nothing going on except dealing. Saturday afternoon is good, most of the others are gone, the house is empty. But he knows me, that would be too dangerous."

Dino walked a few steps, thinking about what lay ahead, what he had to do. He imagined skulking away from the cameras, his picture under a headline "Bank corruptor lived on easy street" in the tabloids, the deep shame on his mother's face (it would kill her, he knew that for sure), the hurt for his sisters, the sniggers of the teachers of his nieces and nephews.

He stubbed out the cigarette, and with no word to Sabar, he walked back into his office. It was a done deal.

* * *

There was no reply, and Dino walked in. Yon was asleep on a mattress, his hands clasped over his chest. He was snoring loudly, a great wheezing sound, and Dino was surprised because he was older than he expected.

He moved quietly, squatting down on his haunches over Yon's head and flinging his jacket over a chair. He could see the white of his scalp and his hairline where the blue-black of hair dye was fading. His skin was old and weathered, like newspapers left to age in a closet, parched and discolored, brown blotches painting his forehead and cheeks.

He took out the knife; he was so afraid that the muscles in his armed ached although the knife was light. He leaned forward slightly, lifting the knife above his head and bringing it down hard on Yon's throat. He stirred slightly and his hands lifted, as though in prayer, but Dino brought it down once again on his neck.

Yon did not stir again, and the wheeze became a slow gurgle; he looked like he was still asleep but for the trickles of blood from his mouth and right eye.

He wiped the knife on the mattress, and put on his jacket, his limbs feeling numb. But he felt a rush, like the first time you do something you feared, like standing in front of a class and giving a speech, the relief that comes with knowing that it's not so bad after all.

He closed the door and hurried down the hall. The woman was sitting at a table in the front room, and as he went by she said, "Leaving so soon? What's the hurry."

She was lounging back in her chair, a cigarette dangling from her mouth.

He ignored her, but another man came in through the door, brushing against him as he went outside. The woman cried out from behind him, "Here, Yon, this man wanted to see you" -- there was something utterly desperate about her as she continued to call, "Mister, wait up, Yon's back."

He walked on, his steps breaking out into a run. At the end of the street, he stopped at the ditch and threw up, his throat sore from the retching. It was not a done deal after all.