Sun, 09 Mar 2003

The man in the rain

By Teguh Wiharso AS

The night was pitch dark as the electricity was out. The floodwater began to surge into the house, forcing Darsi and Binhar to hurriedly climb up into the attic. With their faces still smeared with grime, they curled up under a dingy, dull- looking blanket. The two skinny children at times trembled with hunger and cold, oblivious that their books, uniforms, shoes, schoolbags had all been washed away or torn apart by the raging torrent. They had been trapped there for twenty-four hours after the water had suddenly surrounded their home.

The water had nearly reached the ceiling when Darsi and Binhar fell into a deep slumber. Claps of thunder occasionally pierced the silence of the night, followed by more heavy rain. The water surging through the house slapped against the walls, slowly creeping up and licking the wooden floor of the attic. The floorboards creaked and moaned eerily under the strain. The two fell asleep from hunger, oblivious now to the pouring rain, creaking floorboards or the splashing, slowly rising floodwaters.

At midnight Darsi woke up moaning, rubbing her belly as her stomach began to rumble. "I'm hungry. Has dad come home yet?" Darsi's hoarse voice was muffled in her throat. Her lips, dry and cracked, trembled. Her eyes blinked trying to see through the night. Next to her, Binhar was snoring -- the 12-year-old boy was sleeping like a log. Not wanting to wake him up, Darsi pulled the blanket up to cover herself and tried to go to sleep again.

A few mosquitoes buzzed around her ears and at times dived onto her face. She tried to slap them away but to no avail.

Binhar woke up with a start, rubbing his eyes. Peering through the dark, he was able to make out the figure of his sister sitting beside him. He slipped out of the blanket and sat next to her. Scratching his head, he asked. "You're still awake, eh?" The pouring rain almost drowned out his mournful voice. Darsi, who was busy with the mosquitoes, did not answer him immediately.

"I'm hungry," Darsi said, her face pitiful. "Why hasn't dad come home?"

"He'll be back in a minute, go back to sleep." Binhar took a deep breath, trying to reassure his sister. "Dad will bring some food for us."

"Is dad going to swim again like he did when he was leaving home?"

Glancing at Darsi he shook his head, smiling. "No, he will come in a boat to take us out of this house. Unfortunately, our house is a bit isolated so the rescue team couldn't reach us." His face showed a little disappointment while Darsi's looked sad and blank.

The rain kept pouring down. The heavens seemed to be furious. The floodwaters that licked her feet made Darsi jump up and scream. However, Binhar was quick to act. With his remaining strength, he pushed the long table in the corner toward the other table, making them into a bigger and safer bed to sleep on. He gestured to his sister to climb up on the table. Darsi obeyed. But her blanket, lying on the floor, was now soaked. Then Binhar followed up on to the table.

The floor was completely covered with dirty, splashing water. Her blanket drifted away. At times, Binhar felt the table move under him. At other times, he heard strange sounds from the thick bamboo stems clacking against each other in the strong wind. Wrapping his sister in his arms, Binhar recorded the sounds in mind.

"What if the water keeps rising? I'm scared."

Binhar held his sister tighter. "No, the flood is going to recede soon," he assured her.

To his relief, he saw the rain begin to ease off outside. Binhar wanted to go back to sleep. But he did not feel sleepy anymore, and now his eyes were wide awake. Feeling worried, Binhar recalled that his dad had been gone since sunset. "Has dad forgotten his way home because the neighborhood is all under water? Is it too dark for him to see his way?" He remembered his father swimming away from the house to get some food and find a boat to rescue them as it began to get dark. "It must have been hours ago." Binhar was not able to figure out the time, but he knew it was already very late.

Worn out, he tried to close his eyes. Cold drafts of wind started to blow in, piercing his skin. He fell asleep, curled up without a blanket. Beside him Darsi lay fast asleep also, her face deathly pale.

In the drizzle a man, his face black and blue, bathed in blood, was crawling on the ground. Around him stood dozens of angry people holding clubs and stones staring at him. Some pieces of bread, a few packs of noodles, cigarettes and matches lay scattered and trodden on the street but the passers-by were more interested in his smeared and swollen face. The blood oozing from his wounds glistened under the street lights.

More people began to crowd around, shouting and yelling hysterically at him. They took turns at beating and kicking him, turning the cold night into a hot, tumultuous inferno of hate.

The commotion woke people up from their sleep. They rushed outside to see what was happening. He moaned in pain, begging for mercy, but muscular hands and arms kept raining blows down on.

"Don't spare the life of a thief."

"Cut his hands off."

"Kill him, hang him up."

Throught his extreme pain, he vaguely heard the maniacal yells of the enraged mob. It was not death he was afraid of but the fate of the children he had left behind. The fear of losing them flashed through his mind. Suddenly he felt strong as if there was no more pain from the wounds. He stopped crawling. Some of the people looked astounded but others became even more hysterical. With an expression of submission, he tried to take all the blows and kicks. From a gas kiosk nearby, a man with tattoos on his arms carrying a jerry-can of gasoline came shouting:"Set him alight, burn him alive."

A woman's yell from amid the crowd suddenly prevented him from unscrewing the cap. Panting and pushing her way through the mob, she yelled. "Stop it, stop it! Don't do it!" The crowd looked at one another in surprise.

"But he's a thief. He must be killed!"

"Do not take the law into your own hands, young man!" the woman said, looking into his eyes. Trembling she said, "I heard he stole something from my shop. It's no problem for me, but take him to the police."

The crowd grew quiet. A police car with its siren wailing arrived at the scene and the crowd dispersed, sticks and stones suddenly hidden.

In the back seat, the torn and bloodied man sat handcuffed, his head nodding. The gaping wounds more horrendous, but the man did not even wince.


He was happy as the police set him free the next day. Even the owner of the shop, who also went to the police station on the night he was caught, took pity on him after hearing his story. She then gave him some food to take home.

With a bagful of food on his back, the man staggered toward his home in the drizzle. At times he looked upwards to the skies to check if it was going to rain heavily again.

The flooded street was deserted. He waded down it against the swift current of the turbid floodwater. Occasionally he tripped and almost fell, but he tried his best to keep the food in his bag dry. To him the food meant much more than his wounds or even his life.

On an elevated spot in the street, he stood gazing around at his flooded village. Smiling a small smile and mustering all his strength, he swam back toward his house. Despite his efforts, he could not locate it. Time and again, he rubbed his eyes, now red and smarting from the dirty water. To his shock, he suddenly realized that his village had turned into a big lake of rippling, brown-colored water. No house nor roof was visible.

The bag of food tied on his back broke loose. Along with it, went his strength and his spirit to survive. He hobbled toward the bridge. The water under the bridge roared like thunder. With great care he climbed up, keeping a tight grip on the steel girders. He stood there long enough, observing. He was not really looking for where his house had been, but rather waiting for the right moment to end it all. His body fell through the air for a few seconds before plunging into the torrent. There was a momentary swirl and then he was no more. No one saw it happen. No one!.

Translated by Faldy Rasyidie