Brown Waters 12

Full and content, he looked around, and felt out of place. He pulled a pack of Gudang Garam from the pocket of his pants.

The young man beside him smiled “you can’t smoke here you know”.

He looked back at the young man, somehow felt a little bit provoked “ah, really?”

“No, nowhere within the school complex, and certainly not here at the hall.”

Nipi put the pack on the table, pulled his right hand from his pocket, leaving the lighter inside. He could almost see the liquid gas inside its yellow plastic case, and the scent of the gas burning. He thought that the situation was scandalous. How could someone not smoking after such hefty meal? The table was full with the remnants of their business. Saksang, pig soup, the entirety of a roasted chicken, bawal fish with tomato sauce, fried floured shrimps, chicken satay, beef satay, pork satay, and various kinds of vegetables that he didn’t bother to recall but were tasty nevertheless.

Sweet, sour, and hot. The combination left a familiar sensation inside his mouth, down somewhat halfway through his throat, longing for all the goodness of tobacco.

The young man beside him smiled. What was his name again? He couldn’t recall. But it didn’t matter. That stupid young face didn’t deserve a name. No name should be reserved for a young airhead who thought that he had the credibility talking about a rule forbidding people to smoke. A name should only be reserved for a character.

The young man still smiled. He seemed to enjoy his victory, his projected power over the fate and enjoyment of others, when Nipi pulled his hand from the pack. He pulled off a projection. One day the prick would become a local official, which was rather a certainty considering that he was a Dayaknese. Then he would satisfy his unquenchable thirst for power.

Nipi looked at the man to his right, still busy eating. The man clearly displayed his distaste towards Nipi, after he abruptly took the seat from the man’s five year old daughter, who was then standing beside his father waiting scoops from her father’s hand. The woman in front of him was busy with her phone; she was living the moment, somewhere else. Nipi sat there because he had nowhere else to sit. He didn’t know any of those people, and at that moment, he didn’t care anymore. He got what he came for. Two men agreed to take him to Mandor. One of them claimed that he knew Nipi. He said that his brother married Nipi’s cousin, which should make them quite close. This made them brothers, or lae to be precise. That’s why he agreed to take him. Eben was his name. The other one, he entirely forgot.

They planned to leave as soon as the wedding procession was over. Or to be more accurate, after the feast began, so they could leave with full stomach. The thought of leaving the place bothered him a bit. That place was a huge complex of school rooms, boarding houses, along with a church and a hall. Islands of green grasses with healthy trees separated by small dirt roads. It’s so peaceful there.

He shed his eyes around the hall, where the bride was busy with some of the guests taking selfies, and the groom was conversing with some acquaintances. Most other guests were busy with their plates, enjoying the richness of the festive mood shared by the two families. The parents of the bride looked solemn. The bride’s father was a tall man, rather skinny, but on his old face, a pair of dark eyes projecting who he had been, a man you don’t want to trifle with. Nipi wondered how the groom overcame such barrier. His wife, the tiny skinny woman, was your ordinary mother and wife, a woman who stood beside her husband, come what may. Those protruding bones under her skin might be the result of years of self containment.

The father of the groom was a completely unassuming man. Skinny, short, with youthful skin. Somewhat typical of a Dayaknese. Like his counterpart, he didn’t talk much. His wife however, was a lively woman. With her short yet voluptuous body, she moved around ordering the people, meeting guests, arranging the procession, minding the food, and giving instructions to the bride and groom. With her red lips and red kebaya, she was enticing. She wasn’t noisy; her voice was rather soft and agreeable. Nipi couldn’t take his eyes off her. Perhaps that’s why she looked at him disagreeably when their eyes locked.

Nipi was not a guest at the wedding. Mathew, however, knew the reverent. So to cut cost, they decided to stay there. Which local reverent won’t take a “bule” in? They would take him as a fellow Christian coming from the land where Christianity in this area originated. But Mathew was not a Christian, and the reverent was not a local. They knew each other back in Jakarta. The reverent belonged to a wealthy Christian foundation, with their own agenda, to be carried out in the region. Hence, the huge missionary like complex. One of the primary concerns of the foundation, according to the reverent, was the well-being of the Dayaknese people there, and as it turned out, was in line with what Mathew was fighting for.

Nipi didn’t care. He knew what Mathew was fighting for. And the well-being of others had ceased to be his objective. As for the foundation? They were just another corporation with a specific target market, venturing new terrain, creating market. The business of saving souls. Nipi was busy looking at the high school girls passing by and thinking of fucking them while the people in the room were delicately lying to each other.

They arrived there on Friday afternoon. The reverent tried to convince them to stay until Monday. The decorations were the reason. The reverent told them that there would be a wedding between a Dayaknese man and a Bataknese woman. And since he had asked of Nipi’s ethnicity, he assumed that Nipi would know the people who would come to the procession. He assumed too much.

Mathew left that morning back to Sintang. Nipi was planned to leave toward Mandor that morning. But they thought, since some of the families were locals, Nipi might stay and got some stories that might help with their trip. They both were rather desperate. But of course, in such occasion, nobody would share any ill thought. They won’t talk about the dead, about gaharu, diamonds and gold. They would rather wear gold and basked themselves upon the gaze of others, exchanging jealousy.

And so there he was. Sitting among the seemingly happy people. Among the shades of the trees, the colourful balloons that marked the steps that the couple had taken when they entered the premises, among the laughter, mediocre singers, sounds of the birds, hectic tables, the sound of the man to his right sucking pig bones, and the peaceful property. He didn’t want to leave. The sight before him that seemed so normal yet so foreign, was so inviting. He was thinking about talking to the bride, she might have sisters or friends that she could introduce to him. He also came to the conclusion that some of the women at the hall were rather tempting. Normal life might not be so bad.

“Hey, lae, we’re leaving.”

Nipi turned his head, a black large hand upon his shoulder. “Ok.”

Eben didn’t wait for him. He sped up towards the basket ball field which had turned into a temporary parking lot. Nipi snatched his cigarettes, grabbed his bag, and left without even nodding to his fellow diners.

He ran towards the basketball field and saw both men at the front seats of a Datsun, engine ready. Nipi jumped in to the second row. They retreated from the field, turned the vehicle around, and rolling slowly onto the dirt road.

The man who drove, the one whose name Nipi had forgotten, looked at him “are you in a hurry?”

“I’ll adjust.”

“That’s more like it.” The driver smiled.

“Do you smoke lae?” Eben offered him his cigarettes, a pack of white Marlboros.

“Yes, and thank you, I have mine.”

“Shall we?” Eben asked the man who drove.

“Ya, sure, I’ve been holding myself since a couple of hours ago.”

Then all the windows of the car were opened wide, and soon they were busy lighting up. Exhales of satisfaction preceded the smoke that flowed around the interior of the car and out through the windows.


Brown Waters 11

And he walks.

The bridge shines under the warmth of the afternoon sunlight. The drops of water, the after taste of the rain that stopped a while ago, have turned into a display of diamonds and crystal gems, glisten on the surface of its silvery skin.

New paint job, old dirt. There’s no part set aside for the walkway, just a road, about two meters wide, filled with gravels and residues of broken asphalt. Occasionally some scooters would pass, utterly convinced of its worthiness. Cars that come from the direction of the marketplace would take the slight left turn, yonder through the bigger bridge, as do the majority of the motorbikes. The metal bones, plates, and cables look sturdy. The river with its brown water is 100 meters below. It’s where Kapuas embraces Landak.

There’s a sweet scent in the air, he can only guess its source. Perhaps it’s the leafs on the trees, can be seen in abundance around the bridge, sheltering the banks of the river. Perhaps it’s the logs of woods on the barge being pulled by a bandung, perhaps it’s the wet dirt by the side of road, perhaps there’s a young woman somewhere behind the window of the houses on the lush part of land at the other end of the bridge, prepping herself for an intimate evening ride with a lively man from the office. Perhaps all of those scents intertwined together carried by the wind, swirling around and engulfs him, to remind him of unfulfilled promises and of melancholy.

It’s the scent of a girl from a distant past, straight black reddish hair to her shoulder, fair yet burned by the young sun, the bandana on her hair with the color of the rainbow, and floral dress that swept through the tall grasses, as she walked before him towards the river. Her hand beckoned him as she pressed through. The excitement, the energy, the heat of the afternoon sun, the scent of her body filled his senses. But the awkward jeans, the old slippers, and the mushy peat soil conspired to betray him.

He fell.

And she disappeared behind the thick vegetation, never to be seen again. Her scent however, forever lingers, vanished from his memory, only to suddenly come again to seize his mind at curious times, and haunt him with unreasonable, almost painful longing. Almost an explanation to his constant and restless search. With the scent as the only clue that will bring him back to her, back to that path when he followed her.

It’s the scent of the river, the scent of unfulfilled promises and lost dreams

He remembers this area. This is the old road. Up and further through this road there will be an elevation and an even smaller road that they took when they went to the attorney’s house. Just before the elevation, there’s an intersection, with the tennis and volley ball fields pitting the road. The fields where everyone who is anyone plays with their group, consists of police officers, judges, and functionaries of government offices.

He wants to see that intersection again, the road that he went through when he wanted to play with his friends. Walking wasn’t a big deal back then, the gang would scourge the area kilometers after kilometers, just stopping to scare any random man or woman who worked at the plantation by placing a rubber snake in the middle of the road. They had some good laughs; some people didn’t seem to have the basic ability to differentiate real snakes from fake ones.

At the end of the climbing road, there was a big tree with its branches reaching wide providing blissful shelter for them while they were busy with their ice tea and sarsaparillas. They would sit on the spot overlooking the new establishment below, while sharing stories of ghosts, of a madman that went around town with a sickle (or a machete, versions varied) and a goni sack, hunting kids who walk alone to cut their heads off, and of Flash Gordon.

He wants to see that road.

The phone in his pocket rings. He picks it up and listens. He puts it back.

He accelerates. At the end of the bridge he turns left. Gets himself into one of the alleys, through the shadows among the houses, quiet houses. If not for occasional sounds of TVs, he would have thought that the houses are empty. Concrete and soil cover the floor of the alley, the sun is blocked, the air cools down. Fungus covers some parts of the walls along the way. Unreasonable fear creeps through his spine and on his skin. Down and down he goes, surely and convincingly towards the river bank. There, the ray of the sun slaps the left side of his face, like an old friend clenching his throat digging for any trace of his sanity. He tightens the straps of his bag as he bolts towards Landak Bridge.