Quote Today

    If you pretend to be good, the world takes you very seriously. If you pretend to be bad, it doesn't. Such is the astounding stupidity of optimism.
    - Oscar Wilde

    Tuesday, January 20, 2009

    Not What I Want of You Share

    Nothing. Not a tear wet her cheeks as she sat beside him, as if drowned in disbelief that the man who had been by her side now lay lifeless, silent by nature. I searched deep into her face, at every line and crease, at the heavy folds under her eyes, her thinned lips losing color with age - where is it, where is the sadness, the loss that she must be feeling at times like these. I feel it, the loss of somebody I never really knew but loved so dearly, and as I stood in front of the opened window, looking out on to the ruai panjai, my grandfather lay still.

    * * * * * * * * *

    The forest was peaceful, not a sound was heard, except for the smooth rustling of the leaves and roosters greeting the early light of dawn. But Jamu knew it was going to be short-lived - the villagers have never went a day without encountering Japanese troops breaking the solitary quietness with the thunder of rifles and grenades. Nevertheless he knew he had to convince the villagers to go on with their daily lives, again, today. Jamu gave a sigh, his body aching for rest. He saw his wife walked up to him across the ruai and smiled - his first for the day.

    "Ambai, you must rest. You have not slept at all for the past three days...what will the villagers think if their leader cannot lead them well..."

    "No, Maba. I cannot risk it...the Japanese have been coming on strong lately. I will take my rest once they have left the forest. You go on and tend to the children."

    Jamu wished he could rest but he knew that that would be selfish of him. It wouldn't be what his late father had wanted him to do, to falter so easily. Jamu's succesion as tuai rumah was sudden with the death of his father, but the villagers believed he was ready to lead them. He couldn't afford to let the villagers down, even more so his tribal warriors with whom he had trained - and now was to lead them into battle..."Not now, not ever", he thought.

    (Later that afternoon...)

    Through the distance down the open field, Jamu saw a figure running, staggering almost. He squinted, his palm on his forehead as a shield from the blinding afternoon sun, trying to register into his mind "an injured villager? the local (malay) medicine man? a Japanese soldier?..."

    "Jamu! Jamu! They're destroying them! All of them..."

    Jamu jumped onto his feet at the sound and recognized the figure. It was Lutu, his first cousin.

    "What is it? Destroying what? Who?!"

    "The Japs...," Lutu began, gasping for air in between words, "the japs...they're...they're destorying our crops..."

    For a moment, Jamu didn't know what to do next. His thoughts were of how the villagers had labored so hard under the scorching sun, tending to the padi and corn fields and now to have it all destroyed by "squinted-eyed-foreigners." He was shaken out of his thoughts by Lutu's strong grip on his shoulders.

    "Jamu, you must do something. If not, we will lose a whole year's supply of food for the whole village!"

    "Gather the warriors at the sadau at once. There's not a moment to lose, Lutu."

    * * * * * * * * *

    Maba wiped the sweat on her forehead with her sarong while she breast-fed her young child, lying sleeping in her arms. Her worries for Jamu came to her almost immediately when she heard him call for a tribal meet up at the sadau that evening. She didn't know why - Jamu had been to other battles before but she had never held such a concern for his safety because she knew he would make it, and he had, for all that time. That day, she felt as if something wasn't right, different. Refusing her instincts, she shrugged it off and continued fanning her sleeping child. Still, she could not quell her growing unease.
    * * * * * * * * *

    Up at the
    sadau, Jamu sat broad-shouldered, facing his fellow warriors, watching them arguing about what to do. Despite all the plans his fellow warriors came up with, he couldn't hear any of it, only a chaos of sounds seemed to fill the air. He could not let things be.

    "Silence!" he bellowed. " The Japanese are destroying our crops. The women, the villagers have labored tirelessly...with callused hands they have worked on the fields. The Japanese wants to see us stumble, they want us to fear them. But we will not!"

    "But Jamu, without food, we cannot survive. We have lost everything."

    "No, we have not lost everything," Jamu started with a quiet reassurance. "It is our crops they have destroyed, not our strength, not our perseverance, not our spirit. They have not destroyed us!"

    Jamu looked at them with a fierce determination and thundered, " Agi idup, agi ngelaban!" As if on cue the tribe chanted in unison.

    * * * * * * * * *

    That night, the air was tense, even inside the longhouse. The warriors were inevitably prepared to go into battle and Jamu knew he should be too. But deep down, he knew, too, that he wasn't prepared. The thought of having to leave Maba and his children again, and into the dark forest to seek out "squinted-eyed-foreigners" and not knowing whether he'd ever come back to them - "No," he thought, "I shall fight for my people...and for my family."

    "Come along now, warriors! Before the break of dawn, we will have their heads as our trophies and tuak to celebrate with!"

    Jamu started for the forest after his warriors, but turned, as if for one last look at his wife. Maba stood at the edge of the top of the stilt stairs on the tanju, her features distraught. It was horribly painful to see the abandonment of grief on her face which was so habitually placid. Jamu ran back up halfway the stilt stairs and took hold both of Maba's arms.

    "Don't worry, Maba. I will be back. I am sure of it."

    "Please do. I will cry forever if the warriors only bring back your shield. Jamu, anang ke utan. Aku sayau ka nuan..."

    "Maba, you can cry all you want now that I have to go. And you can cry again when I come back to you and the children. But you will promise me that you will not cry should my warriors only bring back my shield...it isn't what I want of you - not your tears at my death..."

    * * * * * * * * *

    Grandmother sat beside grandfather for hours, oblivious to the many relatives and villagers that had come to pay their last respects to the now deceased tuai rumah. I will probably never find out the reason for grandmother's lack of emotions, dressed in black, as she sat beside grandfather, clothed in white sheets, his features frozen in a state of pain, yet so peaceful at the same time. He was a wise leader, a fierce warrior, a loving father - he was my dear grandfather. My grandmother was...is a strong person, I had reckoned. I knew it wouldn't be what my grandfather wanted of me - I didn't cry.

    * * * End * * *

    (This was a short-story assignment I wrote for Language Development III. Although the characters were inspired by real persons, the events are purely fictional. Ideas in the story have not been researched thoroughly - as was said, this was just an assignment. However, I dedicate this piece of penmanship to my dear grandfather who passed away years ago, but still able to stir my heart with emotions with just the memory of him...I love and miss you...)


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