“Force Majeure” merupakan tema Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale tahun 2007. Pada event sastra itu, para sastrawan dari pelbagai Negara bertemu dan membacakan karya-karyanya. Datang, antara lain Arup Kumar Dutta (India), Chris Keulemans (Netherlands), Cyril Wong (Singapura), Edmundo Paz Soldan (Bolivia), Feryal Ali-Gauhar (Pakistan), Gassan Zaqtan (Palestine), Hau Yu-hsiang (Taiwan) Hassan Daoud (Lebanon), Idanna Pucci (Italy), Jerome Kugan (Malaysia), Kimberly M. Blaeser (USA), Sam Wagan Watson (Australia), Sharanya Manivannan (India), Shin Joon Seun (South Korea), dll. Sementara sastrawan dari Indonesia antara lain Oka Rusmini, Dorothea Rosa Herliany, Shindunata, Darmanto Jatman, Dewi Lestari, Joko Pinurbo, Agus Noor dan beberapa nama lainnya.
Pada Utan Kayu International Literary Biennale itu, Agus Noor tampil membawakan repertoar pendek yang didasarkan atas cerpennya Purnama di Atas Kota. Terjemahan cerpen tersebut, A Full Moon Rising over the Town, bisa dibaca di sini:
A Full Moon Rising over the Town
LOVE often comes when we least expect it, and we don’t always admit it to ourselves straight away. This happened to me when I found a pile of old, charred bones in the rubble of a building that had been destroyed in a riot in which part of the town had been burnt down. The old bones lay in a pile amongst the rubble from a ruined wall, and were still warm when I touched them. It felt as though I was touching a body that was still just barely alive, as though amongst the bones was a heart, still beating faintly. I was mesmerized, and kept on staring at the pile of old bones. Just when I had least expected to, I had fallen in love. You might even say that it was love at first sight.
While around me, tens of people were scratching through the rubble looking for objects of value, I stood there, transfixed, staring at the pile of old bones. It was as though I was looking at a pile of corpses that had been crushed to death, embracing each other. And from a cracked skull, it was as though I could hear a faint echo of a voice calling out in hope, like someone expressing their final wishes on their deathbed. “Please, help me… Take me with you, and I will be your wife and will remain faithful to you for ever…” I trembled when I heard the voice. I felt as though something miraculous was coming towards me, on tiptoes. Perhaps sudden, unexpected love brings miracles with it. There was nothing there except scattered bones, a charred skeleton, but I heard it vow to be my faithful wife. I thought to myself what a wonderful blessing it would be to find a faithful wife in a world where loyalty and faithfulness are no longer much valued. It’s not so easy, in this world we live in, to find a girl who will remain faithful to you. How rare it is to find such a wife! I thought to myself how much better it would be to marry a skeleton, than to marry a girl who would be unfaithful to me.
It was as though a flower bloomed in my heart, as though love was blossoming in the middle of the lonely world I lived in.
The next thing I knew, I found myself picking up the bones, handling them as carefully as though I were holding my hopes and dreams in my hands. I arranged them carefully in a cardboard box. Several people gave me odd looks. Of course, what I was doing must have looked a little bit strange. While everyone else was busy looking for objects of value to take away, I was gathering up bones…
WITH the application and patience of a paleontologist, I arranged the fragments and chipped bones out on a mat. I took special care to arrange of pillow to prop up the occipital bone, just behind the skull, which appeared to be cracked. The joints and the patella were no longer perfectly joined. To me, this looked like a gaping wound. Parts of the spine were fractured and covered in ash, and appeared to be rather brittle. But after I had arranged the ribs and the pelvis bone, the skeleton looked like a girl, sound asleep and lost in a blissful dream. “Ah, my lovely skeleton!” I whispered staring at the fracture lines on the spine. I could also see thin, black lines, cracks on a section of the foot and forearm, and similar, much finer ones on the humerus and radius. The carpal and tarsal bones were also slightly damaged.
Night fell, and I became weary. I lay down my head next to the gorgeous skeleton. I stared at her, feeling overwhelmed with a sense of sorrow and affection. It felt like the disappointing wedding night of a newly married couple. I could hear the skeleton breathing softly, just like a bride waiting for her husband to consummate the marriage. I kept on staring at her, feeling happy to have found a friend to banish my loneliness. In the end, weariness overcame me and I closed my eyes. Half asleep and half awake, I could hear the faint sound of traffic passing and see the shadows of the night falling on the windowpane, as though dawn would never come. And then it was completely quiet.
It all felt like a dream…
Vaguely, I could see the faint outline of a woman getting up, putting on her rubber sandals, and walking around the room. I could hear the sound of a door opening, then the creak and the splash of a bucket being lowered into a well. I heard the sound of the sandals shuttling backwards and forwards, of running water and of the clink of plates. The sound of somebody clearing their throat. Together with these faint sounds, I smelt and heard frying oil. I heard the sound of water boiling, then of a spoon against the side of a glass. Then I could smell the pleasing aroma of fried rice and hot coffee….
All this occurred in a haze. It felt like a fading memory, like fragments of pictures from the newspapers scattered around my room. But when I awoke, I found a plate of fried rice accompanied by an omelet and a glass of hot coffee!
Morning had bought miracles with it. I stared at the dining table disbelievingly, but then I began slowly to understand: something had happened. I glanced at the skeleton, which appeared hunched over. She was wearing a sarong over her hips. Then I remembered seeing the silhouette of the woman in the night, as though in a vivid dream of some sort. Then I remembered the flower that had blossomed in my heart when I had first seen the pile of old bones. Could all this be some miracle bought about by love?
I remember being particularly impressed by the story of the wooden puppet who is transformed into a human being. In the story, the old man’s love bought a puppet to life. That story, and many other miraculous fairy stories, had filled my childhood with joy. I often imagined how one day, I would find my own wooden doll at a party attended by princes and beautiful princesses, singing and dancing the night away. These stories had bought color to my childhood, and the miraculous fairy tales had taken root in my brain. Even when I grew to adulthood, the stories from my childhood continued to hold my imagination. These stories, filled with miraculous happenings and eternal love, seemed far more impressive than the reality of my daily life. These stories made me prefer the friendship of witches and gnomes. I wanted to ride on a broom that I had stolen from an old which to the land beyond the rainbow, rather than to associate with my boring, annoying friends in the real world. While I attended college, I much preferred to read from a large collection of fairytale books than to struggle with dictums and theories. I remember how my classmates used to describe me as a dreamer who was disappointed with the real world. Behind my back, they called me “the gloomy–eyed dreamer”.
Actually, I wasn’t disappointed with the real world. I had no desire to escape from life. But why should a fairytale be considered as a form of escape from the real world? I felt that life itself was nothing more than a fairytale. This world is only a fairytale. I like to imagine that the world was created from a growing egg: slowly, the white of the egg transformed itself into the sky, dripping some jellylike liquid on which a piece of earth floated, just as a drop of oil floats on water. Slowly, this resolved itself to become the universe as we know it. I was also taken with the story of how the first human being was created when a giant cow began licking at a large piece of coral covered in ice, causing the ice to begin to melt. And on the third day, a single hair emerged from a section of the ice that had begun to melt because of the cow’s licking. Then, the rock had split open and the first human being emerged into the world. I preferred that story to the story of God creating Adam from mud. I was certain that that was only a fairytale that had been established as a religious belief because it was told through the medium of a holy book. I felt certain that all the stories in the various holy books were little more than fairy tales. The story of the flood covering the earth, the one about the woman being turned into a pillar of salt, the one about the stick turning into a snake, or the ones about the dead returning to life or of a spider that could spin a web across the door of a cave in a split–second – all these were nothing more than miraculous fairy tales. And all these fairy tales made me imagine the existence of a particular miracle that made all other miracles possible. I imagined that there was some kind of miraculous being that organized everything and established the rules and framework that allowed all these miracles to happen – and that these rules and framework were themselves nothing more than a fairytale – which came into being because of this master miracle, which was the source of all these other miracles. And this master miracle (which for most of you goes by the name of God) transformed itself into the most potent and miraculous of all the miraculous fairy tales. And I could never get a complete grasp on this most miraculous of all fairytales, whose story and logical flow is far more miraculous and full of miracles than any other I knew.
Maybe I felt a little bit silly trying to imagine this fairy tale. I felt silly because all my imaginings ended with the image of God that I had as a child. As a child, I always imagined God as a tired old man with a long, white beard, nodding off as he looked over the universe. When he coughed, volcanoes erupted; if he spat, floods afflicted the world; if he scratched his itching back, the universe shook or spun round like a top in the hands of a naughty child. After I became an adult, I always imagined God as an old storyteller who arranged all the events of the world through his miraculous fairy tales.
Even now, I can’t quite get rid of this vision, so that I always imagined God as nothing more than a fairytale told to children so that they can sleep peacefully at night. At the very least, the fairy tales about God fulfill a vital function so that we don’t suffer from sorrow and a sense of futility, seeing how little there is to entertain us in our lives in this world. In the final analysis, fairy tales about God are the most soothing of all the fairy tales.
But fairytales convinced me that this life was filled with miracles, miracles such as sudden, unexpected love that comes when we least expect it. Life as a fairytale is a life that makes everything in the world we live in seem fascinating. Thus, I preferred to consider life as a fairytale – nothing more and nothing less. Maybe I was a little bit too obsessed with fairy tales. I always imagined that I was a stepchild who had been exiled into the forest, who, while struggling to find a path out by the light of the fireflies, had come across an old witch who gave me a spell that enabled me to become a prince and to save a princess who was being held by an evil demon. As a lonely prince, I had come to the city, a shining kingdom. I was mesmerized by the shining lights at the top of the towers around me. And the city, that shining kingdom, fascinated me even more because it was filled with miraculous tales and stories: stories of corpses without heads, babies rotting in the gutter, ghosts that roamed in the middle of the night, raiding homes and killing and raping the inhabitants, children who lived in attics while the gorgeous princes and princesses held parties in their luxurious palaces. But the story that excited me most was the story of the dolls that came to life in the night.
Often, late at night, I stood in front of shop windows, staring at the mannequins locked behind the glass, reminding me of the beautiful princess held captive by the evil demon. And when the town clock struck midnight, I saw the mannequins begin to blink their eyes and then begin to move. This made me very happy. When the shops were surrounded by darkness, the mannequins moved in came to life, emerging from behind the glass. These were the happiest moments that these mannequins, when they were free to roam around and speak.
“You are the only human being who has been privileged to witness us come to life and roam around in the night…” Said the mannequin that I had stared at earlier. Then he reached out to squeeze my shoulder, as though wanting to convince me that all this was really happening.
“Would you like to accompany me to the party?”
I was still struck dumb in disbelief.
“Come on, there’s no need to gape and stare…”
After midnight, the mannequins held a party in a place that looked like some kind of luxurious castle. The mannequins arrived from all over the city, in coaches drawn by shining, glowing horses. I did indeed feel very lucky to be invited to the mannequins’ party. I looked around at the ancient castle, reaching up into the skies. I hadn’t been aware that in this city there was a castle such as this, with huge windows through which golden light shone – shining light emerging from every room in the castle so that its magnificence could be seen from afar. The steel portal at the front of the castle was drawn open when the mannequins began to arrive, wearing their multicolored ball gowns.
Such a magnificent castle, I said to myself.
“You can only see this castle at night. By morning, it will be nothing more than a luxurious super mall, a tragic place. At least, tragic for us, the mannequins, who throughout the day must remain as still as statues,” the mannequin explained. “That is why we must finish the party before daybreak. Otherwise, our glorious coaches will be transformed. these proud horses will turn into planks of wood, and nothing will be left of us except the burnt to ashes…”
Holding hands together, like a prince and princess, we entered into that place of luxury and miracles.
The party proceeded at a slow and elegant pace. The mannequins looked like androids, smiling at each other and kissing each other, softly, slowly. The mannequins offered each of the food and drink, they danced together, they walked around the room – which, for some odd reason, smelt of deodorant. It also struck me as rather odd to see a bottle of cleaning lotion amongst the wine, and a pile of tampons stacked up neatly next to the sliced bread; bottles of shampoo, facial tubes, bars of soap, and tubes of toothpaste were presented on silver trays, attractively arranged to tempt the appetite.
“This wine is particularly delicious…” One mannequin said as it offered me a drink. “It really is an extraordinary wine. We always drink it at our parties. You don’t even need to pour it into a glass. You just spray into your mouth, like this…” It said, as it held out an aerosol can of mosquito repellent to me. “Go on, drink…”
The party became more and more lively. The party was heading towards a climax, a conclusion, as it drew closer to dawn and everything would fade away. The mannequins began to take their clothes off, as though preparing to play some kind of game or sport. I saw how smooth their bodies were, as though they were half human being, half alien – without body hair or pubic hair or sex.
It was the strangest orgy I had ever seen. The mannequins, with their smooth, sexless bodies, drew close to each other and embraced each other. The mannequins had sex in a rather odd fashion: they rubbed each other’s smooth pubic regions, until they grew hot and glowed red…
“Come on, what are you waiting for? Why are you just staring like that?”
They pulled me over to join them. They took my clothes off. but the mannequins were startled: they stared and began to feel my pubic region.
And the mannequins gathered around me, laughing as they played with my sexual organ – which must have looked weird and strange to them (of course it must have looked strange, considering that I was the only one amongst them to have sexual organs!) – then they rubbed my organ until it grew erect. After that, everything was as in a fairytale. Before dawn broke over the city, the mannequins returned to their respective places. Everything appeared just as it had the night before. The shops and malls opened again. It was as though nothing had happened. As though all the events of the night before had been merely a fairytale. Just a fairytale, a fairytale that had bought me a brief moment of joy.
But is not life itself merely a fairytale? Yes! Yes, I believe that life is nothing more than a fairytale. At least for a gloomy dreamer like me.
THE rainy season bought with it nothing except pain. Then the hot season bought with it nothing except anxiety and fear. Every day felt the same, the same weary grind, over and over again. I often dreamt of the mannequins. Even so, I still felt the same overwhelming sense of loneliness. Everything moved in slow motion, like the sound of a large iron bar, reverberating as it fell on asphalt road. Yet in the midst of all this, I had managed to find some small happiness, something that helped me bear the pain of routine existence. Now, as I returned home, I could feel my heart beginning to beat a little bit faster: now, I knew that someone was waiting for me to return. I often thought to bring some little snacks or treats with me. Maybe a packet of noodles or sweet bread, pancakes, steamed peanuts, or some slices of raisin cake. as a token of my appreciation for the other person in my life.
If I came home late, I always found my room neat and tidy. My freshly cleaned clothes were neatly piled up next to the wardrobe. The appearance of the rooms suggested care and attention: the walls look whiter, the floors look cleaner, and my things went scattered round all over the place. And there, on top of the bright red bedcover, I saw my skeleton, lying peacefully under the dim light; she looks so peaceful in the light of the fading lamp. Ah, my beautiful skeleton!
Gently, I touched her arm bone and kissed her charred skull. “Sleep well, my darling…”
A thin layer of ash clung to my lips. I wiped it away, leaving a grey line on the palm of my hand. Sitting myself in the chair, I stared at the skeleton. What had she been like before? Was she a mannequin who had been transformed into a human being? A mannequin like the one at the party? Or had she been a sales clerk, who had been trapped when the riots broke out? Maybe she had been a young woman, doing the shopping, looking to buy a new dress to wear at the birthday party of her boyfriend. But maybe the skeleton had been a beautiful girl who had been cursed: maybe it was her fate to be burnt alive. I could hear the screams, the sound of people panicking and trying to escape from the burning plains that had destroyed the shop…
Now she lay there peacefully. Noting that the sheet that had covered the skeleton was drawn back slightly, I was startled. Looking at her long, elegant leg bones, I found myself becoming aroused! I found myself overcome by lust in the dark, quiet night.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I found myself obsessed by a crazy idea: what would it be like to have sex with her?
One quiet night, the drizzle was keeping people off the street. Wet from the rain, I hurried home. I took off my shirt and trousers and stood there, naked, unaware that someone was staring at me from the darkness. Then I saw that the skeleton was sitting in the corner of the room, staring at me shyly, staring at me in my nakedness. I felt shy, and hurriedly wrapped a sarong around my waist.
From the shyness in her eye sockets, I could see that she was thinking of leaving. She appeared to be overcome by guilt that she couldn’t express. I could see that she was holding a packet of her things in her arm bones.
“You want to leave me?”
“I know how my presence disturbs you in the night…”
She stood up.
“Where will you go?”
“I don’t know.”
I touched her finger bones – Ah, how cold they were! “Stay here…” I said in a pleading tone. “This is our home, I thought you understood that.” Then I held her to me. She caused me pain, but because of her, I could bear this world.
We held each other and held each other. I could feel her dried bones against me. She nestled her skull against my chest. I heard the bones of her spine creek every time she moved, as though trying to snuggle closer to me, as though she wanted our skeletons to be as one. I felt at peace, just happy to hold her. As I held her, I felt warmer and warmer towards her. And then, just like that, we were kissing. I felt the skeleton begin to grow warm, like a coal that still retains some heat after it is taken from the fire.
Over and over again, I had fantasized about having sex with mannequins or dolls, but I had never imagined that one day, I would be making love with my beautiful skeleton. And now it was all happening, just like that. The skeleton straddled me, and I felt pain in my sexual organ as it was pinched between her iskium crevice and pubic bone. She moaned and wept.
A week later, we decided to get married. Several of our neighbors came, bringing gifts of old tin cans and a wedding cake made from cow shit with candles made from dried-out dogs penises. They blessed us with the following words: “We hope that you suffer together ever after, and that you will remain together and faithful to each other until you go to hell…”
The skeleton just laughed. She had an extraordinary laugh, a laugh that reminded me of a flock of hungry crows, cawing in the sky.
I drank wine from a cup. Ah, in this worthless, futile life, I had finally found happiness. Sometimes, we would chatter away to each other in a cemetery, sometimes we would walk together, hand in hand, through the shopping centers, just like any other young couple in love.
“Those two are made for each other!” Said people as they saw us. But we didn’t care. All day long, we enjoyed the love will be shared between us. At night, we slept together in a coffin, like a pair of mummies that awoke each morning.
I felt as though I was the happiest husband in the world. I had the most understanding, loyal wife in the world. As happy as a prophet who has just received a revelation, I embraced my skeleton.
“Maybe I am thoughtless. All this time together, and I still don’t know your name, my beautiful wife,” I said, after we had made particularly passionate love.
“Do you really need to know, my husband?”
I gently stroked my wife’s swelling stomach, which now held our baby to be. In fact, perhaps I didn’t really need to know, whatever her name had been or whoever she had been. Perhaps, it caused her pain to think back to remember what her name had been. And because of that, she didn’t want to remember it. I respected that. Everyone has the right to keep their pasts to themselves. Let her past remain her own secret. Let me know her as my beautiful skeleton.
I look at the baby growing in her abdominal cavity. I could see the fetus, because of course, as a skeleton, she had no skin to cover it. It was as though the baby was just floating, like that, in her abdominal cavity, covered in red, slimy, sticky placenta. Over time, the fetus continued to grow and develop, its little hands and feet slowly taking shape. I couldn’t help thinking that sooner or later, the baby would want to know more about who its mother was.
“What are you thinking about, my husband?”
“Nothing, my wife,” they answered, trying to smile. “I was just thinking about our baby.”
Just as with any other baby, our baby was born after nine months and ten days. Not through the vagina, however. It just burst out through the placenta they had covered it.
At last, I was a father. I was happy. Nothing can bring greater joy to a man than the birth of the child for which he has waited for years. I held the baby in my arms. Its crying startled the neighbors. But I was too happy to care about them.
However, I had a feeling that my happiness would not last for a very long time, when my wife drew me to her. “It may be time for me to leave,” she whispered softly. I saw how the skeleton’s color was fading to white, as though death was coming to take her for a second time. I could see that she was at peace. Maybe that was because he already knew what it was like to be dead. She had been burnt alive, a horrible way to die, but at least she could imagine what the flames of hell would be like. And now she was going to die again, in peace and calm. She was completely at peace with the idea of death. Perhaps, for her, death was nothing more than a melancholy poem, in which a door swung open and bright light shone through. The smell of jasmine flowers, and Death smiling at her when the clock struck. I felt my heart begin to beat faster.
“Why are you trembling? Why are you suddenly so attached to this brief life of ours?” She said.
And then it was quiet. Oh, so quiet! I could hear the splash of my tears as they fell onto her skull.
“You needn’t make a fuss. Just throw my old bones into the river. Or put them out in the rubbish bin, so that the dogs can have them.”
Just before dawn, the skeleton died. I prayed to God that he would send her to hell. The steady rain outside added to my gloom. Staring at the baby in front of me and hearing the sounds of the world outside, I felt my world begin to grow dark again.
The baby grow up fast, much faster than my white hair grew from my head. Old-age often leaves us confused. But the baby, my child, confused me even more. He grew up without talking much, and like to stay in the shadows. Our eyes met only occasionally, and I trembled to see his black eyes. His eyes reminded me of the eye sockets of the skeleton. They were eyes that held a grudge, that stared at me accusingly. Most often, he roamed in the darkness, coming back in the middle of the night with a black eye and a bloody nose.
“What happened, my child?!”
“ Fight!” He answered shortly.
“Why are you always fighting, my child?”
“They always say that I’m a skeleton’s child. It’s too much for me, my father!”
I stroked his head. This is what I had feared most. I had to explain to him who his mother had been. How could I tell him everything about his mother? I wanted him to be proud of her. He was still a child, he should have happy and pleasing memories of his mother. Then I remembered my own grandmother, who, in my childhood, had told the stories of the fairies. I felt I could tell the same stories to my own child. I asked him to sit down calmly and listen to what I had to say, and then I began to tell him a story about his mother.
One day, a fairy had come to Earth from beyond the rainbow. With her friends, the fairy had bathed in a calm lake. The fairies had played in the water, swimming and splashing each other and laughing together. The forest had echoed with the sound of their laughter and playing. Just at that moment, a man was walking through the forest, looking for wood. He heard the sound of the fairies laughing. He had crept up to the edge of the lake and seen the fairies bathing. The man fell in love at once. He stole a scarf of one of the fairies, so that she couldn’t fly away to heaven. And the fairy had become the wife of the man.
“Now, that fairy was your mother,” I said, concluding the story.
“So who was the man?”
“Well, your father, of course!”
“So, you used to be a thief, then, my father?”
“Ha, ha, ha! Sometimes, men have to steal.”
“Well, if that’s the case, isn’t it also true that sometimes men have to fight?!”
“Yes, that’s true. Sometimes a man can only be a real man if he has the courage to fight.” I looked at his gloomy little face. “But your mother wouldn’t be happy, if she knew you fought all the time.”
“But they always say she was a skeleton.”
“No. Your mother was a fairy.”
“And you were a thief.”
“Ha ha ha…”
“Ha ha ha…”
And then he withdrew into the darkness. I had no idea what he did under the cover of the shadows. For days at a time, he would lose himself in the darkness. He only appeared at the time of the full moon. I had told him how his mother would come to meet him at this time of the month. Because of this, he always looked happier when the full moon rose into the sky over the city. Every time the full moon appeared, he came out of the darkness to wait for his mother.
Lying in the darkness, I used to watch his shadow as he sneaked out in the darkness and began clawing the walls of a nearby building. With nails as sharp and strong as those of a wolf, he crawled up the walls. And when he reached the top, he would howl for his mother. As the moon waned, its fading light cast its rays upon him as stood there, longing for his mother. As the moonlight faded, the buildings were transformed into silhouettes, and the boy looked more and more like a wolf, howling long and loud at the moon over the buildings. His howls echoed and reverberated in the skies over the city.
You will surely have heard the sound of him roaring. When you hear it, it must terrify you. But I merely sink uneasily into the silence.
(Translation by: Irfan Kortzchak)