Sun, 02 Feb 2003


Chairil Gibran Ramadhan

Emerging with the aroma of death, an angel wearing a long black robe came to take Rasdali's life. Rasdali was blowing out the candles on his birthday cake at the time.

"I'll take your life in three hours, you damned bastard! Get yourself ready. But I'll spare your life for a while. I have to take the life of a former official who was just acquitted of all charges thank to his lawyer. This lawyer always defends corruptors and now the official is now having sex with a whore in a luxury hotel. Tonight I'll take the life of his lawyer in the same situation."

Rasdali's wife screamed hysterically, and at the same time his three daughters, son-in-law and two grandchildren turned into coarse, dirty sand, swirling into the air and then forming a small hill. He tried to contact his relatives in his hometown, talk to people related to his wife, but none of them were willing to come, nor were his acquaintances living in luxurious residential complexes.

"It is impossible for us to come. We can't. We are now busy making money. Moreover, we are scared to see Izrail, the Angel of Death, as we are afraid of being turned into sand. It's not funny if he turns us into sand, is it?"

"It's certainly not funny! But please help me! Angel Izrail is coming to take my life in three hours."

"We can't and we don't want to risk our lives," one acquaintance said with an air of finality, slamming down the receiver.

Rasdali cried in horror. He tried to find his three maids but to no avail. They had left the house at dawn. They had left him because their master had not given them their salaries for two months as punishment for their accidentally breaking a plate and two glasses. Besides, they could not stand having to eat the same meal every day: a piece of fried soybean cake and half a bowl of boiled vegetables for six months, so different from the expensive meals they cooked for their master and family. The master only allowed them to drink tea or coffee without sugar.

Screaming, Rasdali banged on the doors of his neighbors, who lived in front, behind, on the right and left side of his house. "Help, help me, please! The Angel of Death is coming to take my life in three hours."

When one neighbor saw Rasdali's frightened face, he slammed the door shut. "Go get some help from the devils. All these years you and your family never wanted to know us. Now you are in trouble, you turn to us. You should be ashamed of yourself. And besides, who cares? You're lying, it's impossible for Izrail not to have taken your life right away if he did come, idiot!"

Rasdali screamed again in fear. He came to a small congregation in a mosque, followed by a waft of coarse, dirty sand made up of the bodies of his three daughters, his son-in-law and his two grandchildren. Religious leaders, clerics, hajis and prayers were sitting on the floor waiting for Ashar. "Help, help me, please!"

They stared at Rasdali's face and said: "Help?"

"Yes, please, help me."

"For all these years you and your family have treated us as mere trifles. Your grandson even dared to call us dirty and ugly country bumpkins. You humiliate us even though you live among us. So now it's time for us to take revenge."

"But please, help us, just this time! The Angel of Death is coming back in three hours to take my life."

They burst out laughing. "Get out of here, you liar! You are telling us lies!"

Rasdali again screamed. He came to a group of youngsters sitting at the end of the street. "Please, dik, help me!"

They stared at Rasdali's face. "You're asking us for help? For all this time you and your family despised and looked at us as thieves. It hurt us, you know! So, why would we help you?"

"Please, help, only this time! Angel Izrail is coming to take my life in three hours!"

The boys burst into laughter. "Get out here. You should be ashamed of yourself! You're lying, man! Izrail would have already taken your life if he came!"

Rasdali again cried in horror. He ran along Jl. Saemin, circling Pondok Sirih village, but everyone he met turned him away. All of the villagers, men, women, young and old, did not seem to be bothered by Rasdali's screams for help and his horrified face.

"That arrogant creature must have gone insane. Angel Izrail does not tell you when he will take your life. I have never heard of such a thing from anyone, or even read about it in the history of the Prophet Muhammad. The Angel never notified Muhammad of his death, much more that damned fool!"

"Stuck-up people like that think it's all right to use the name of an Angel to tell lies."

Helpless, Rasdali, followed by the coarse, dirty sand, returned to his luxury house. The mansion, surrounded by a large yard, was located at number 41 on Jl. Saemin. At home, he made preparations for his death: many kinds of flowers, a few bottles of rose-scented water, cotton, moth balls, white fabric, water scented with pandanus leaves, a tombstone and mattocks.

Rasdali was always able to make things happen in his way. Through cunning, he was able to complete his studies at university and become a civil servant, something everyone dreamed about when he was growing up. By hook and by crook, he secured a high position in the department in charge of the moral values of the nation, and sent his three children a famous university. He knew that religious teachings detested greed, but he built himself and his family a huge mansion, the most prominent in the village of Pondok Sirih, even though his religious teacher advised him that stealing was a sin.

He never gave a damn about what others said. Feeling like he was living in the middle of a gang of robbers who wanted to break into his house and steal his belongings, he surrounded his mansion with a massive wall topped by shards of broken glass and barbed wire. He kept two Doberman pinschers and paid three guards to watch his house, something his neighbors, mostly poor people and unemployed youngsters, considered offensive.

"Ill-gotten wealth will always be kept that way."

"What do you mean that way?"

"Tightly guarded."


"Do human beings not always try to cover up their sins?"

"Corruption has made him rich, I am pretty sure, just like the others."

"But they always seem to have noble hearts."

"That is only a mask. That's why God is punishing this country. God loathes masks," said the five young men who spent their days playing dominoes, their faces striped with wet charcoal and cigarette smoke filling the surrounding air.

"Most probably he is a corrupt official, because, though he spent lots of money on an academic degree from a distant country, he still has no manners at all."

"There are so many people like him around, aren't there?"

"Only people with good manners deserve to have such a degree."

"But what's money for, after all?"

That was a short conversation that took place between two housewives who were carefully picking out the least expensive vegetables from the cart of a vegetable seller. They had to watch every last rupiah to survive on their husbands' meager salaries.

"Every time a neighbor dies, Rasdali never takes the time just to express his sympathy, saying that he doesn't know the deceased."

"Such a weird person!"

"Ignoring mourners and the bereaved, just like stray dogs that know nothing about manners, he drives by the house of the deceased in his fancy car with its tinted windows. He should know the difference between man and beast. He should have known better than that."

"When a neighbor holds a ceremony, be it a circumcision or a wedding ceremony, he and his family never answer the invitation, saying they don't know the people."

"That's preposterous."

"When other people open up their homes during Lebaran to welcome guests, he keeps his iron gate locked and only opens it for his wife's or his relatives, and for friends who live in luxury housing complexes."

"Are they the ones who drive luxury cars?"

"None of them are poor."

"Worse still, he did not invite any of the neighbors to his first daughter's wedding party."

"That's too bad."

"He did not even think of repairing the village road that was damaged by the big trucks that carried the construction materials for his house."

"A man like him should be banished to a jungle to live by himself," said the 40 men were busy weeding the public graveyard at the edge of the village.

"He has never participated in the neighborhood watch for nine years now. Instead he pays Hasan, a garbageman, to replace him once in a while for the nightwatch. He thinks sleepiness and the cold night air are worth a Rp 10,000 banknote and that all can be taken care of with his wealth."

"People say he is very stingy."

"He is. The chief of the neighborhood association has repeatedly warned him about it, but he just ignored him."

"What about his son-in-law?"

"Crazy just like him."

"He once said he didn't have to take part in the neighborhood watch because he has dogs and guards."

"We'd be better off not having him around."

The two men were still at the security post although the call for dawn prayers was already echoing over the mosque's loudspeakers.

Rasdali had become the talk of the town. People always talked about him and his vices because they never saw him show any virtues, and their hatred for him grew by the day.

One day, Rasdali paid for his sins. Eight burglars broke into his house and made off with his five sedans and other belongings while he, his wife and his three daughters were fast asleep. Satiated, the family had fallen asleep after attending a party thrown by a former official to celebrate his acquittal on criminal charges.

The next morning, Rasdali was restlessly pacing the floor, cursing his dogs for having gobbled down some pieces of poisoned meat and his three night watchmen, bound and gagged, for their foolishness.

His neighbors looked on, but no one seemed to empathize with him. With their dogs sniffing around, the police seemed to be busily doing their job, but their faces looked radiant at the thought that they might get some money from Rasdali. Rasdali kept accusing the unemployed young people living around his house of having robbed him. "I'm sure they are the culprits."

"Please, accept this check for Rp 50 million, Angel Izrail, but please don't take my life. I want to get married again and stay rich," cried Rasdali when the angel returned three hours later. Rasdali's arrogant face turned deathly pale.

Annoyed, the Angel Izrail slapped him across the face, knocking the white hat which Rasdali had been so proud of into the gutter. The slap instantly killed him.

Rasdali died at the age of 55 years and five hours. Life in the village went on as usual. His death made no difference to anybody. Alone, he had dug his own grave in his front yard, bathed his body with water scented with pandanus leaves, plugged every hole and cavity in his body with cotton and wrapped himself in white fabric, tied the upper and lower ends of the white fabric then buried himself in his grave. The coarse, dirty sand that had been his wife, three daughters, son-in-law and two grandchildren followed him into the grave.

Translated by Faldy Rasyidie