Sun, 10 Oct 1999


"Tell me about father, Mom," the son insisted.

She could not say no. Finally, the mother was to tell him what happened to her husband four years ago.

"You were still a baby," she said, trembling.

"At first, the rain that poured from the sky was purple, my son. It rained so hard that the entire forest seemed to fall down, taken out from the roots, and thrust into the earth.

"Lightning struck. The dark world became bright. With the sky as his torch your father left the house."

"How dangerous, Mom, the lightning could strike at anytime. It could burn his body."

"No, my son. Lightning never hurts honest people. Your father was never afraid of lightning, so bravely he went into the rain."

"Father was not afraid of the rain?"

"What he should afraid of? Rain is a blessing. Its soft hands caressed your father's hair. He went out with a machete around his waist. He looked so strong."

"Would father go to war, Mom?"

"No. Your father was not a soldier. It was impossible for him to become one. He couldn't even slaughter a chicken. He was a soft-hearted man. As soft as silk. His heart was as peaceful as the spring. Clear and tranquil. He was never ill-mannered."

"Are soldiers ill-mannered, Mom?"

The mother smiled. A forced smile. She caressed her son's hair and kissed his eyebrow.

"Every time it rains, listen carefully, my son. You will find new rhythm. The music created by nature. Don't be surprised if your father steps into the rain and dances. He used to dance with primitive movements. He was really happy. Your father was enthusiastic about the rhythm of the rain."

"Mother, I also often dance in the rain. But without a machete."

"Your father used the machete to get firewood. Not to fight. He really hated war."

"So, why did he go into the forest?"

"After he went into the rain, indeed he went into the forest. But not deep into the forest".

"Did father see any deer?"

"It was difficult to find deer in the forest, my son."

"An eagle?"

"There were no eagles. It was even difficult to find birds like kepodang (golden oriole), gelatik (paddybird) or betet (parakeet). The snakes used to be frightening animals, but now they are always frightened. They are afraid their skin will be peeled off to be made into bags, wallets, belts, or shoes."

"Who would do those things, Mom?"

"Who else but human beings."

"How cruel they are."

"Not all of them. Your father, for example, was a modest man. He accepted his unlucky fate. With the machete, he could chop down the branches of trees. But he did not do it. He said that the forest was not property inherited from ancestors, but a balanced nature which must be continuously conserved. Your father, as usual, only picked up the twigs. Those which were blown down by the wind. Really, your father never climbed trees and broke the twigs or the branches. He was afraid of committing a sin. His honesty was sometimes annoying."

"What did he do with the twigs, Mom?

"They were called rencek. The waste of woods which was useless. But your father collected them one by one. Your father was meticulous. He took home the rencek. If they were wet, he would dry them under the sun. When they were dry, he tied them right away. He then took them to the city, where they were sold for Rp 2,000 or Rp 3,000. That's how we lived.

"But remember, my son, your father did not sell the twigs in the city every day. Once every two days at the most. The city was quite far -- a five-hour walk.

"Five hours?"

"Your father left exactly at midnight. Holding a torch, he walked along with his friends to the city. There were many things they wanted to sell. Rencek, teak wood leaves, banana leaves, cassava, corn, bananas and other fruit. They never calculated the cost of their energy."

"Poor father."

The mother smiled again. A bitter smile. Once in a while, she caressed the child's dull hair. She kissed his hair, which was usually shampooed with lerak (seeds which produce foam).

"At that time, the rain had not stopped. It rained harder. But your father would not stop working. He even worked harder. Without realizing that there were two pairs of eyes watching over him."

"Were they tigers, Mom?"

"Fiercer than that, my son."

"Ah, how about father, Mom? Was he attacked and his flesh torn?"

The mother saw anxiety in her son's eyes. She did not want to continue her story. But her son must know the truth.

"The rain which was initially purple, suddenly became yellow, my son. And your father was arrested."

"Arrested? Why?"

"Your father was accused of stealing wood."

"But he only collected twigs."

"They did not care. Your father was dragged to the watching post, where he was coerced into confessing that he stole wood."

"Father would never confess."

"No. Your father was really resolute. Even though he was coerced continuously, he did not change his mind. For the sake of the truth, he would put anything at stake."


"The officers were desperate. They started to use violence.

"Your father was slapped, beaten with a broom stick, and hit by a crowbar. His body was burned with cigarettes, his nails were pulled out, he was electrocuted and forced to drink his own urine. He vomited. But only wind came out. Later on it was not wind he threw up, it was blood."

"Oh, father."

The son covered his face with his hands. He could not imagine the horror.

"Who can stand such torture? Who?"

There was silence.

Only crickets were heard.

"After your father vomited blood, they were satisfied. They left your father's body lying on the ground. Later they had a party to celebrate their victory in catching a thief.

"Father was not a thief."

"In their opinion, your father was a thief. They did not care about the truth. What they knew was that they were the only ones who were right.

"Because your father felt insulted by such inhumane treatment, he could not accept it. He preferred to die in protest."

"So father is dead, Mom?"

The mother nodded. Tears rolled from her eyes.

"How could they assault poor people like us."

"Worse, nobody was held responsible for his death. There is no law for us. We are people who are easily discarded and trampled upon."

It was quiet. For hours.

"Mom, are we really free?"

Translated by sim