By M. Anshor Sjahroni
Departing from his normal appearance that afternoon, Sanib turned up in a T-shirt with disheveled hair and a scruffy face. Without waiting to be let in -- well, this is a bad habit he has every time he calls at my house -- he took a seat next to me. I glanced at him briefly and then proceeded to read the afternoon paper.
He was silent and remained so even after I had finished reading the business section. I thought he was engulfed in confusion; perhaps about his fiance. So I asked, "Well, how is it with your wife-to-be? Is she ready to bring you happiness?"
" Uggh ... don't ask me about this right now. I'm in a mess, you see."
"I'm listening. Come on, let me share your troubles. Just lighten your burden a little."
I folded the newspaper and put it on the table. After a gulp of coffee, I lit a cigarette. I was ready to listen to him.
"I have been laid off," he said. His eyes unseeingly stared at the end of the table.
"After so long," I inquired? I could not help staring emptily at Sanib.
I know Sanib very well. He is honest and hard-working. He never sits idle. After we both passed our final senior high school examinations eight years ago, he went to work at a plastics factory. Unlike him, I have remained jobless until now.
"So, what's the story Nib," I asked?
"Well, it's the production controller in the packing division," he said. "I hit him in the nose. He couldn't accept this and reported me to the division head. I was called in by management. I told them, honestly, that this controller was indecently impudent. Just because he is a controller he thinks he can treat an employee as he wishes. He acted as if he was the factory owner himself. I know now that our boss is also one of his victims. But, well, I am really to blame."
In fact, I love to hear Sanib's stories. Not the content of course, but the way he tells the stories. His stories sound real when he relates them to me. Sometimes he tells stories with great zest and at other times with great passion. A simple and ordinary story will become very interesting and take on a new life. Sanib is also an inexhaustible source of stories. He always has something to tell people. Two weeks ago, for example, he swore to me that he would marry Muti, who also worked at the plastics factory, if she was willing to be his girlfriend. Muti agreed to be his girlfriend, but this led to his clash with Makrus, the controller in packing.
Muti, Sanib said, was indecently treated by Makrus. That afternoon, after the bell rang for a work shift change, Makrus called Muti into the bathroom in the corner of the packing room. He suspected her of trying to steal plastic sheets, which he said were hidden in her dress. To prove his allegation, Makrus ordered Muti to take off her clothes. Of course Muti refused. She tried to convince him that she did not steal anything. Makrus did not believe her and began to touch and grope her body. Makrus then threatened to fire Muti if she told anyone about the incident in the bathroom.
"Looking at Makrus' face makes me feel the same kind of repugnance as the musty plastic mixture. It is worse still if you see how he behaves. He often bellows at workers who just want a few minutes rest, or pounds on the bathroom door if he happens to hear us chatting or simply greeting each other. He is rude to the male workers and indecently impudent to the female workers. I have seen him, on several occasions, stroke the back of a female worker or touch her cheeks. Often too, he gropes the bodies of the women to make sure that they are not stealing anything. At first I thought this was part of his job as a controller, but then I realized that what he did went way beyond the scope of his job. Because of him, Muti has also been fired," Sanib said.
"Knock it off," I said, trying to reach my pack of cigarettes on the table. "Most important to you now is to find a new job. Well, how's Muti?"
After finishing my coffee, I lit another cigarette. Meanwhile, Sanib's face began to look serious. His eyes stared off ahead of him, seeing nothing. In this condition, he would speak, fully absorbed by his own story. And I would be carried away by his words.
A few hours ago, Sanib began his story, Muti's younger sister, Nini, dropped in at Muti's house. Sanib was there too. Nini told her elder sister that their uncle, who has worked in Jakarta for many years, asked them to come to the capital to work as maids. He said he new of two families who needed help. "We can stay close to uncle and besides, the salary is quite good," Nini said.
"If you like, you can go there," Muti answered. "I prefer to stay here. Best regards to mom, our brothers and sisters and also uncle."
After Nini left, Sanib asked Muti why she had refused to go to Jakarta and join her uncle. Muti told him that she did not want to be far from him. Besides, she said, she once worked as a maid.
"Before working at the plastics factory," Murti said, "I worked at Mr. Bandot's house. Well, I had a lot to do. Cleaning the house, taking care of the children, washing the car, paying the electricity and telephone bills and cooking. Every evening I also had to listen to his stories. He always asked me to massage him, saying that a massage would help him relax. It was while I was massaging him that he told me all kinds of things, especially about his wife. He said that his wife was not a good wife because she was too fussy. He also said that he could not have a discussion with her. And most important of all, she could not attend to him well."
"Mrs. Bandot herself did not mind my massaging her husband. After a while I began to like massaging Mr. Bandot. I could rest and also I could listen to his stories, which had by then become interesting to me. So, one evening, he told me that he had a story to tell me. He said that he was not friends with a single person at the steel mill where he worked. True, he was acquainted with some people, but these acquaintances were not intimate and were limited to work only."
"As a maid, I should please my employer. And as a good maid, I needed to know what my employer wanted even before he told me. That's why I took pity on him. I knew what he needed, that is, I had to be a good listener to his stories. But then I realized, too late, that I had misjudged not only my master but also myself."
"And something that I had never expected occurred. That evening, he called me to him. This time he did not ask me to massage him, but wanted to massage me. At first he persuaded me with some seductive words and then he forced me and finally he hit me after I struggled to get away from him. So I had to run away from his house. So, that's why I do not want to go to Jakarta."
"And Makrus, what about him then," Sanib asked her?
"Who is Makrus," Muti asked back?
"The controller in the packing division. You don't know his name?"
"You know that I'm in the raw materials processing division. What I know is that he is your controller in packing. But, please, don't misunderstand me. That controller of yours told me that he loves me."
"I cannot accept it. I don't even know him. But he threatened to make my life miserable."
"I don't know what he meant."
"But do you know why you were fired?"
"According to my controller, the factory is reducing the number of workers."
Sanib stopped his story at this point. It was getting dark and Sanib's face was getting darker too.
"So, Muti is still here," I asked, getting up to turn on the lamp?
"It's her own choice," Sanib told me. "When I asked her what she would do after being fired, she just smiled. For the time being, she will rely on her severance pay, she said. So, she is sure that for some time she will be able to buy food. So, she asked me not to worry about her. Then, she said, perhaps she will work as a shop assistant."
"And yourself," I asked?
"You yourself," Sanib asked me back? I was reaching for some matches on the table, but his question stopped my hand in midair. The cigarette between my lips, unlit, hung there. Only then did I realize that I had already smoked a whole pack of cigarettes. And I knew, after Sanib left without a word, that I had often heard this story he had just told me.
Born in Sidoarjo on March 11, 1973, the writer is a sociology student at Airlangga University's School of Social and Political Sciences in Surabaya. His short stories have been published in Surya Daily, Memorandum, Karya Darma and The Jakarta Post.
Translated by Lie Hua