By Maria Magdalena Bhoernomo
After completing his term of office as village head, Pak Tulada was racked with pain. He would groan and groan, prompting his worried children to call a doctor. After a careful examination, the doctor was always perplexed because he could find nothing wrong.
"How is it, doctor? What is my father suffering from?" Lulu, Pak Tulada's eldest daughter, would ask with obvious concern. Lulu felt sorry for her father and was always worried about him. As the eldest child, she could understand her father's attitude better than her siblings. When he was still the village head, he never complained of feeling ill.
It was a different matter once he left the position. It was as though he had fallen from a great height, and sustained injuries all over his body.
Lulu often broke into tears when she heard her father. His moans would rip her heart into pieces and make her think of her late mother. When she was still alive, mother would always massage her husband to make him feel better. Indeed, she really took good care of her husband's health.
Lulu wanted to be like her mother and was always ready to massage her father when he cried out.
Often, her touch did no good. Her father would continue complaining of pain, a sensation that even the painkiller that the doctor prescribed could not overcome. Pak Tulada kept on groaning.
Lulu started to speculate about what was wrong with her father. Perhaps he wanted to remarry. After all, he was often lonely.
One day she told him he should get married again. She said all the children agreed to the idea.
His reply was a flat no.
"I'm old. What will people say if I, with one foot in the grave, get married again? No. I will never get married again. I once swore that I would get married only once in my lifetime."
"If you get married again, you will always have somebody with you, Dad. There will always somebody who will massage you, then!" Lulu insisted.
Pak Tulada flared in anger.
"It must be that taking care of me is already too burdensome for you, heh?" he shouted.
"No, it's no burden to me at all, Dad! But if you continue complaining of pain, perhaps this is an indication that you need a special someone!" Lulu said, her eyes wet with tears.
Pak Tulada snorted. Then he lay on the bed, groaning in pain. The pain shooting throughout his body was excruciating.
Pak Tulada commanded everybody's respect when he was village head, an authoritative bearing he earned thanks to his long struggle against the Dutch colonists and the rebellion by the Indonesian Communist Party (PKI). All villagers respected him. It enabled him to cling to his position for over three decades.
Then the reform drive arrived. The young voiced the demand for reform in all aspects of life. Village heads holding on to their positions for a long time were forced to step down in the interest, the young people argued, of progress. Tulada decided to give up his position.
However, the young people were not content for his resignation alone. They dug up all the mistakes that he committed in the past. They demanded that he be tried and that all his assets be confiscated. They also threatened to bring his children to court for extravagantly spending the village's funds to enjoy themselves.
"If Pak Tulada dies, I will piss on his grave," said a young man while chatting in a sentry post close to the former village head's house.
"As for me, I just want to set fire to his gravestone!"
"I will ask everybody to expel his children from this village. They must never set foot in here again. If need be, they must be stoned to death! Owing to their extravagant lifestyles, our village is now the poorest!"
Pak Tulada and all his children heard what the young people were saying and their words made them sad. Yet they preferred to keep quiet. There was no use in responding to the young people's comments because they were intoxicated by the euphoria of the reform movement.
To Pak Tulada himself, what the youngsters said was an inevitable consequence of his former position. To him, every village leader would have to face the villagers' dissatisfaction. There would never be a perfect village head, he always said to himself. No matter how good a village head is, he may have his shortcomings and may make mistakes. And if a village head is already old, it is time for him to step down. After he stepped down, some would surely condemn and find fault with him.
He believed that not every villager despised him. He knew quite a few villagers praised him because, despite whatever mistakes he had committed, he brought a lot of progress to the village. Village roads, previously muddy and in need of repair, had been asphalted. True, the roads in some alleys were still in a bad condition but it was because the village administration did not have enough money to repair them.
He realized that he made a lot of mistakes during his term of office. He often turned a blind eye to some of his men in the village administration who took bribes from some of the villagers. He himself felt pleased when some villagers came to him at the office with packets of cigarettes when they needed papers processed. It became the norm.
If there were extra funds in the budget allocated for village development, he would often consider it idle money that he could freely put into his own pocket. He considered all of it as something natural because he believed that all other village heads would do the same thing.
Pak Tulada's groaning in pain was no longer the family's secret. Every villager had heard him groan. None, however, would spare the time to visit him. Even his former assistants did not want to visit him, and only his relatives would visit him occasionally.
At the sentry posts, many youngsters prayed that Pak Tulada would die a painful death. They cursed him, their words dripping with enmity.
"A very sinful man will live long but he will be sickly. This is proof of the law of karma!"
"Right you are! He is indeed now suffering from the law of karma. It is karmic punishment. His doctor always says that there is nothing wrong with him but he continually groans in pain. This means that he is suffering because of the karmic punishment and not because of an ordinary illness!"
"Perhaps he will go crazy?"
"Hasn't he been crazy for a long time now? He has an unquenchable desire for power, hasn't he?"
"Well, he may be pretending to be sick so that we can take pity on him and will not ask him to account for his deeds! He is a sly bastard!"
Visiting relatives told Pak Tulada and his children about what was being said. They were deeply hurt.
"Should we leave this village, Pa?" Lulu asked.
"No. In the end they will stop making such comments, that is, when I die!" griped Pak Tulada.
"However, the more they talk the more their comments become unbearable to us, Pa."
"In that case, turn a deaf ear."
Lulu and her siblings were offended and they also began to complain of pain. They were plagued by headaches, shortness of breath and colic. They could not sleep and lost their appetite. All the wealth meant nothing when they could no longer enjoy it.
While busy taking care of her father, Lulu often let her mind drift back to the past when her father was still powerful. Well, she and her siblings lived in luxury. They would simply go to the restaurant when they did not feel like eating at home. Bored in the home, they would make trips out of the village.
Lulu realized those days were gone. They simply let their fat bank accounts accrue interest.
The days, painful and depressing, were hard to endure. The groans of their father sounded to Lulu and her siblings like the ticking time bomb that would explode any time and destroy them all.
Glossary: Pak = Mr.
-- Translated by Lie Hua