[SHORT STORY] A SECRET KEPT FOR GOOD

Written by Aris Kurniawan

Translated by Akhlis Purnomo

It is the time when Bardi tells the secret between him and his late wife to them. Bardi knows the secret is not that vital for them to know. But he feels he needs to disclose it anyway. That afternoon after cleaning up the cemetery of his late wife, Bardi plans to drop by at the step child and son-in-law across the village cemetery land. Bardi is standing at the intersection, about to cross the street when suddenly a motorcycle ridden by three teenagers speeding towards him.
**
Back then before he left this house on the 40th days after his wife’s passing ten years ago, Badri apologized to his step child and son-in-law and begged to be allowed to visit the house once in a while in remembrance of his deceased wife. They never forgive Badri wholeheartedly but do not have a heart to drive him away every time he comes around.


In the first year, every Kliwon Friday Bardi visits where his late wife’s body is rested and drops by at his step child’s house. Bardi  would be standing there a long time, staring closely at every inch of the verandah and yard before he knocks the door. His step child would show up and flatly welcome him. The step child would let him take a seat at the verandah and bring him a glass of sweetened tea. There is not any warm conversation between them but ‘how are you?”. 


The next years, Bardi has come less frequently than the first year as he sees the response of the step child and the son-in-law every time he is around. They seem to start to feel annoyed about his visits. They serve him no more tea. These recent five years, Bardi only pays a visit once a year — that is on Lebaran day — to his late wife cemetery. 


Bardi is unemployed. He is a slouch. He always has much time for hanging out and wandering around on his motorcycle he is proud of. 


Bardi has been married to this woman for more than 20 years and during those years he has been a parasite to her. The step child and son-in-law despise him. Every single day he is polishing his motorbike which is already shining and then sitting at the veranda, smoking and sipping his coffee after driving his wife to the market in the wee morning hour to keep the store her previous husband inherited to her. In the afternoon, Bardi would be wandering around. He never shows care when his son-in-law is busily fixing the broken fences, cleaning up the yard from falling dry mango leaves, fixing clogged sewage behind the kitchen or leakage at the roof.
In such a relaxed manner, Bardi ignores it and sits down, sipping his coffee and glancing at the mango tree at the yard. Out of his mouth, he whistles to attract the birds perching on the mango tree branches. He would tell his wife if in any case the step daughter or son-in-law dares to get him to lend a hand while they are fixing up the clogged sewage or leakage at the roof.  That happens once and a quarrel between the mother and daughter breaks. The two has a psywar after that. They keep quiet when encountering each other for some time.  


Such fights often break anytime with the same trigger cause. That makes the step child and her husband stay distant and hostile to Bardi from time to time. But Bardi does not even care about it and gets cocky, knowing his wife stands for him. 


Bardi sees her the first time at the cinema around the downtown subdistrict area, that is what her child hears from rumors. It is the owner of coffee shop (that also serves as an illegal prostitution meeting point). The woman was widowed by a hardworking man. She always thinks living a life without a spouse is a total misery. Once the iddah period expires, she looks for a new man. At the time her pubescent child shows her annoyance every time her mother acts like a whore.


After a number of encounters, the woman gets married to Bardi, spending on the previous husband’s inheritance assets. With it also, the woman lets Bardi live the life of leisure. His step child and son-in-law wonder why Bardi is loved so much by him. He is not particularly charing by any standards — he even looks awful-looking as a man. He is far from genius. He is reserved, thus he does not know much how to flirt. But the woman always stands by him and treats him as if he were a spoiled last-born son in the family. This case seems to be the embodiment of the ridiculous idea that love is blind. Bardi’s step child and son-in-law have the suspicion that the mother is spellbound by Bardi.


They often see their tired mother hastens to go home from the shop only to serve drink and peel some mangoes for Bardi who spends his time all day long watching television and leaving through magazines at home. The woman even apologizes when Bardi comments on how she peels the mangoes. Then Bardi with his sulky face teaches her how to peel mangoes without leaving any skin on the flesh. His step child and son-in-law get aggravated by what they see. They really want to punch him in the face but they can do nothing. All they can do is bury the anger deep down inside, letting it accumulate. 


When the daughter want to talk about the matter, without hesitating the woman scolds her back,”No need to teach me. You know nothing!”


Every time they pray for his doom to come soon. They want him to get hit by a truck on the street while riding his motorbike. But to no avail, the prayers do not seem to be fruitful. Bardi gets more and more spoiled. He changes his motorbike. This time he buys Honda Scoopy. Of course, it is from the money the woman has earned by keeping the grocery store at the market. 


“I’m going downtown, Mam, watching drama. Get bored at home. Mami don’t have to go with me. Just spare me some money later,” pleads Bardi, one afternoon.
“Okay, Pi. Maybe you need some break. Bring me something later,” she replies while her hand is slipping some money into his shirt pocket. She asks him no more. The daughter and the husband want to go to get their vomit buckets. They stop eating. They are losing appetite after feeling so stuffed with only little food. Immediately after Bardi’s motorbike noise is gone, the daughter argues with the mother. A huge fight between them breaks once again.


The day after that, when Bardi is sitting down and sipping his coffee as usual, the daughter and son-in-law can no longer hold the resentment. After Bardi’s motorbike runs over a soursop tree just planted days before. Together they reprimand Bardi. The man shows no remorse and looks at them with complete disgust, hatred and slight threat. They no longer care about Bardi’s telling it all to the woman.


That really happens. After she is home from the market, the woman without any warning gets extremely furious like a hurt serpent. She kicks all the flower pots nicely put at the porch. The pots are now broken. She is pulling out all the soursop trees from the ground,  throwing away the entire book collection of his step daughter and son in-law on the yard, while at the same time throwing a verbal tantrum. At the highest point of her anger, the woman tells both of them to leave the house. 


“Leave this house now, you ungrateful child!!! You know no manners!”


Taking the threat seriously, they are soon leaving the house. They move and rent a house next door. For weeks, both mother and daughter ignore each other. 


But after that, according to some neighbors, the woman often weeps for she really regrets what she did. These neighbors keep telling the woman wants her daughter back. But the daughter and son in-law are reluctant to do so. They say they will never go back to the house before Bardi gets kicked out.


Despite that, both of them keep an eye on the woman. Day by day, the woman looks even more thinner. She has more debts than ever before. They now start to take pity on her but they still hold grudge. Besides, it is too much hassle to move along with all their belongings. 


Until one day, the neighbors shout out loud to call the daughter. She is told high blood pressure is hitting her mother. The woman falls down off the rickshaw.


Without delay they take her and rush to the nearest hospital. Three days later, the woman passes away in the Intensive Care Unit. Her blood vessel breaks out. Right before she slips into comma which leads her to death, she leaves a message to both her daughter and son in-law that they need to take care of Bardi no matter what and live with him. 


Bardi shows up just when his wife’s body is about to be taken to the graveyard. Like a meek teenage girl, he is crying beside the corpse.
**
Bardi gropes the tombstone thickly covered with moss, on which his wife’s name is engraved. He patiently gets rid of the moss off the tombstone surface. It is as if he were rubbing and polishing and retrieving all the fond memories of their first encounter.


Bardi met her for the first time long before they met at the cinema. And that coffee shop owner had never match them together. Bardi had planned it all. After he was back from the last adventure, he wrote Ramini a letter in which he told her when and where to meet each other. And he decided it was at a coffee shop across the cinema.
“Bardi, you’re really back,” Ramini said with her nervous yet happy tone of voice. It was a long time ago since Bardi left the village. It was exactly the time when Bardi left his parents to pursue his dream of becoming an actor. Ramini’s love could never hold Bardi back.


Since her teenagehood, Ramini lived with Bardi as a domestic helper. The girl was only one of many helpers employed at the most respected onion whole seller in the village. After Bardi’s leaving, his parents gradually sank into bankruptcy. But Ramini stayed with Bardi’s parents without getting paid a single dime, with the only hope in mind that Bardi would be back and marry her someday.


After a long time, Bardi never showed up. Finally Ramini forgot her first love and was married to a son of another onion seller in a neighboring village. Their marriage ran smoothly, especially after a daughter was born only to make the marrital ties even tighter. 


However, as Ramini’s daughter grew up as a teenage girl, she heard Bardi was back. He was back for something or someone other than Ramini but she persisted on seeing him in person. 


In a clandestine fashion, she managed to see Bardi. She stopped him while he was walking down the outskirt of the village when he was about to depart to somewhere. Bardi and Ramini talked for hours at a small food stall at an old quay, nearby a flock of mangroves.


“Ramini, go home soon. Off I go now. I’ll write you a letter.” 


The letter Bardi promised came after years later to set up their meeting ata ciffee shop across the cinema. Whether it was a sheer coincidence or not, Ramini just lost her husband. That was the secret Bardi had never been able to share with his step daughter and son in-law. 


Bardi has no time to elude his fated doom, too. A motorbike with three teenagers is rushing rapidly towards him. The motorbike knocks over him and Bardi falls down with his head hitting the cemetery walls.  (*)

Cirebon, August 2016


Aris Kurniawan was born in Cirebon, 24 Agustus 1976. He is writing short stories, reports, essays for a number of publications. His books are “Lagu Cinta untuk Tuhan” (Love Songs for God) (A short story collection, Logung Pustaka, 2005), “Lari dari Persembunyian” (Run away from the Hideaway) (A collection of poems, Kampung Djiwa Community, 2007). The father of three children works as a freelance journalist in a number Jakarta media outlets.
 
 
 

About akhlis

Writer & yogi
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