Brown Waters 13

I’m Eben.

I first came here in 1989. You were, what, eight? Nine? I don’t know, elementary school student? Nah, maybe kindergarten. I did some jobs, here and there, when I first came here. But only for a year. I applied for a job at PLN. A brother, a Sinaga told me about some openings in the company. So I applied. And I was accepted.

I was sent deeper into the region, but it was alright. It wasn’t much that time you know. We got just around 200.000 to 300.000 rupiah a month. But then, blessings came from various sources. You know, God is good. I usually got more money from going to people’s houses, fixing their installation problems. Sometimes I got more than what I got from PLN.

People liked me, you know. When they came to the office they came looking for me. I was in Sekadau at that time. Anyway, they were always looking for me, because I always knew what their problems were. Actually electrical installations are simple. Tricky, but simple. They don’t change much.

People also chose to call me because I’m an honest man. I won’t say that something costs more than it is, just to trick them to give me more money. I always informed them about the condition of their installation, the possible risks that might happen if we do one thing or the other. I always rejected the money they offered.

The coolest moments were when I came to the Chinese shops. Like one time, there’s this shop where we had a short circuit problem. The “maknya” was frantic, forcing me to check the entire installation, and replace anything that needed replacement. I thought that was crazy, so I checked it a bit and was done in short amount of time. I just used their spare cables to bypass the old and worn out cables that they had near the circuit.

And you know what? The “tauke” offered me 200.000 rupiah! He just folded the money and shoved them into my hands. Of course I said no. I told him “Why should you do that? This is my job.” But he said “It’s ok, it’s your blessing for today, it’s bad luck if you reject it.” So I took the money.

In those days I could wear Levis and banded clothings, they were expensive, but like they say, good quality comes with price. I climbed a folded stair once to fix an installation, when the stair fell I was dangling down with only the pants holding me up. It wasn’t even ripped, and I still wore it ever since.

But being single, I threw away my money just like that. Sometimes we had parties with my coworkers. I usually became the head of the gang you know. My friends were passive, so I asked my boss to leave us some money, you know, to buy some fish, may be chicken with beers and liquors. Usually when the boss went away to the capital or Jakarta, I took the initiatives to take the money with some friends and did some grilling.

There weren’t a lot of amusement back then you know. So rather than being stressed out, we took matters into our hands and had some fun. It’s a lot better than being admitted to the hospital because of strange illnesses don’t you think? I think it all depends on our state of mind. When we are happy, we won’t get sick easily. Heck, we might even feel great. Smoking and drinking don’t do anything to you; it’s your mind that will take you to the hospital.

I was very naughty when I was young. I admit that. We usually gambled with some friends. We usually came to the fair or coffee shops and setup a game there. We had done everything; dice, cups, cards, you name it. We usually came home with a lot of money in our pocket. “But how?” you might ask. Well, we plotted the game. So we distributed the money among us so that each of us can act as a player. We assigned one of us as the house, usually me. So we would come separately but almost always near the same time. I opened the game, and the rest of the guys would influence the other players. Sometimes they win yes, but we always came home having more money than we had before. Sometimes a lot more.

We lived together in a house owned by my boss at that time. He knew of our ways. One day he set up bank accounts for us, and it became an obligation for us to save our money. It’s actually a good thing, you know, now that I think of it. But we didn’t see it then. Sometimes we couldn’t set our plans in motion, because some of our money was in the savings. You might think it’s funny, but the wife of the boss held our books. She always scorned us of our habits. But at that time we thought, those were our money; she didn’t have any right to keep them. Once we just sat in front of her house, grumbling, and she came out angry, and threw away our saving books, saying “it’s up to you what you want to do with it, it’s up to you what you want to do with your life, I don’t care anymore, you lots are loathsome!”

She was mad, we were happy. We spent the money just like that.

Remember I told you that I lived only two months in Serimbu? It was because of gambling. I was caught in Sekadau, so they sent me to Serimbu. When I was in Serimbu, I set up games with my friends, and here’s the funny part, the head of the district saw me at the gambling place and said “I know you, you were the one who gambled with my men in the middle of the independence day ceremony, such a disgrace!” So, I suppose he contacted my boss and I was transferred again to Tayan and then to Bengkayang. Those were interesting days.

By the way, are you married? Why haven’t you? What seems to be the problem? It’s not about the complexities lae, it’s about the determination!

I met my wife in Sekadau. We’ve had quite a lot of Bataknese in this region at that time. Not long after I met her, I decided to ask her to go with me to Sumatra. It came just like that. So I brought her home to Sumatra to meet her parents, and plans were set in motion. I was afraid, I didn’t have the money, I was still thinking about our tickets then. Yes I brought money, but I was afraid that it won’t cover our tickets to go back to Kalimantan. You know how it is with these kinds of events. With all the ceremonies and the families and guests to feed, not to mention the sinamot.

But I didn’t care; I thought the show must go on. So there it was, with my siblings’ and parents’ contribution, we held the ceremony. I stayed in Sumatra just a bit over a month at that time. You see, the plan was just for a trip to visit my parents. Hence the permission I got from the office was just for a short leave. My boss was angry, but I contacted him telling him about the situation. He even issued a warning. But all went well. I got home with my wife, back to Sekadau.

I had to change the situation though. I had been living as a bachelor up to the moment. The place I lived in was empty, save for dirty clothes. I didn’t have a lot of money left, and my wife warned me to leave my old ways behind. Yes, you can smile lae, but really, you have to follow what they say. This woman, what she has been saying has brought nothing but goodness into my life.

Anyway, I went to the market. News spread quickly in such a place. There were these electronic shops owners who told me to take the refrigerator and the rice cooker. I told them that I didn’t have the money. They just told me to bring them home and pay them later. They said those were wedding gifts for my wife, not for me. When my wife went to the market, the greengrocers gave her free vegetables. The Bataknese people who lived there gave us various plates, bowls, spoons and forks. Imagine that! I didn’t even think of having such things back then.

Life was good, people were good. If you are good to people, people will be good to you, I believe that. I even befriended the thugs, you know, those people who hang out at the terminal near the market. Every time I passed in front of the market, they always called my name. Usually I stopped by and drank with them.

Once I took my wife to the market on our motorbike. I didn’t realize at that time that my wife fell off the bike. Funny right? The motorbike didn’t even feel different. Only when the thugs shouted that I knew what had happened. I looked back and saw my wife limping to the side of the road. It was so funny. They helped my wife to sit down, and then we took her to the clinic. Luckily she was okay, she is a tough woman.

There was a reverent that came to the area. He asked me “why do the thugs treat you so good?” I told him “Father, we have to be good to everyone, regardless of their background, right? The Lord Jesus has told us to do so, those tugs are actually good at heart, and they can help us in times when we need them.” The reverent agreed with me, he said “You are right.” He befriended them ever since.

Just like us, we should help each other, no?

Anyway, have you remembered me yet? My brother married your cousin, that’s why we can call each other lae. What do you do by the way? What are you going to do in Mandor? Shall we stop by for a cup of coffee?


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