Nobody asked you to be tough, to always stand tall for everybody. I didn’t know where you’d gotten the idea from.
A few months after your father’s funeral, you moved out. That new job was located far away from home. You needed a rented room nearby, because the traffic was always heavy.
Like all mothers, I never wanted you to leave. If possible, I’d rather keep you close for always.
However, I knew that would make you feel unhappy. I know that doesn’t mean you don’t love me, despite their accusations on you. You’ve longed for an independent life since you were 18.
“Besides,” you told me, “this is my turn to start taking care of you, not the other way around.”
I sighed. Very well, then.
Three years later, it’s still the same. We’ve been living separately, even in the same city. You only return home once in a while, mostly on the weekends. Sometimes we meet up at some restaurant or mall and hang out all day.
I miss you. I miss our Sunday mornings together by the front porch, with our coffee and my crosswords puzzles. Sometimes you read a book or write on your notebook too.
We don’t talk much anymore. I understand that you’re busy. You’ve grown up too. Perhaps you think it’s time you solved your own problems.
Be careful what you wish for. You know many rarely take that seriously until it happens.
You stayed over that weekend. As usual, you slept in your old room that night. I passed by your door when I suddenly heard you mumbling. Obviously, you were talking in your sleep, so I quietly opened the door and entered your room.
“Stop.” You were frowning with your eyes closed. You looked angry. “Stop it. You stop it. Stop looking at her! Look at me. I’m your daughter too, for God’s sake!”
I froze, unable to believe what I’d just heard. Is that why you’ve stopped sharing stories with me? You think I love your sister more?
That’s not true. You know I love you too. It’s just that, your sister has always asked for more attention. You’ve mostly kept quiet. All that time, I thought you were okay.
I’m sorry you feel that I’ve pushed you away…
“I miss Tobey…”
This time, you sounded sad. My heart just went out to you. You’ve always wanted a big brother. I love your hazel-eyed best friend too. Tobey has always been protective of you. He was so caring whenever he was around.
I know you always miss him when he returns to his home country, dear…
I thought that was it, but then you mentioned another name in your sleep:
Who is it? Your frown was not just of anger, but also…fear. You started moving about in your sleep, your mumblings growing louder and much clearer.
“Stop it. I don’t want it. Max, stop it! You’re hurting me.”
My blood ran cold. Who was Max, baby? Why was he hurting you?
I had to grab hold of your hands when you started clawing at your own arms. No, not clawing, I realised. You looked like you were trying to let go of someone’s grip.
“Let me go, Max. I said no! Stop it, you’re hurting me.” You were sobbing now. I shook you awake, pleading:
“Wake up. Honey, please wake up!”
You finally stopped and opened your eyes. I thought you were fully awake, so I said, “Sssh, it’s okay. You’re okay now. Sssh…”
Then you went back to sleep. For the rest of that night, I was lying next to you, holding your hand and stroking your hair…
— // —
You looked completely different in the morning light. Gone were the frown and the tears from the night before. Had I imagined them all? You smiled at me while having your breakfast.
“Everything okay, Mommy?”
“What? Oh, yes.” So I joined you for breakfast. Silence filled the room, mixed with our gulps and clanking of the spoons against the bowl.
After that, it was your time to leave again. The weekend was almost over. The weekdays were ahead. Time to start working again.
“Do you need to bring anything else?” I suddenly asked. When you shook your head, I smiled and said, “Take care, dear.”
“I love you so much, Mommy.” You were smiling back at me, which made me see the ghost of your father for a while then. I silently choked, thinking:
Have I failed her, Ray? I wish you were still here. You’d always understood her better.
I didn’t know why your eyes reminded me of the time you were six, accidentally breaking my favourite china. You hadn’t been crying, but your eyes were pleading – a silent apology.
“I love you too, baby.” There. I’d just missed another opportunity. I stood there as I let you kiss my cheek, turn around, and walk away. The moment the door closed, I sat down and cried.
Do you hide your tears too, everytime you turn away? I think your violent dreams have been enough. I’ve heard more than enough in your sleep.
But how do I get you to talk to me in your waking hours? How do I convince you that no, I’m not going to be angry? I promise you, baby, even when I’m not ready. I just need to knw what’s been bothering you lately.
Please, you can tell Mommy…
Nobody has ever asked you to always be tough, so I’m wondering why you’ve chosen to go down that road anyway…
(Jakarta, 19/10/2017 – for Jakarta’s Couchsurfing Writers’ Club Weekly Writing Challenge at Caribou Coffee, Sarinah – Thamrin, Central Jakarta. Topic: “sleep”.)
I believe there’s a reason
your shattered heart’s been revealed
even when you refuse to mention
or worry you may never heal
I know I’m just a stranger
in this other part of universe
I don’t even know how to make you feel better
Even a single poke might turn it worse
Hello, shattered heart
Once again, I’m taking a break from my logic
just to mend your hidden scars
Hopefully, you’ll no longer get sick
Talk to me
I’m right here
(Jakarta, 17/10/2017 – 8:40 am)
For a very long time, probably most of my early life, I’ve never really cared for any beauty pageant contests. If you look at me, you’ll probably assume that it has something to do with the fact that I am chubby.
However, that’s not exactly the case. I’ve always disliked the idea of standardised beauty or human objectification. Still, I don’t strongly condemn it either. If anyone wants to take part in it, I won’t even bother. I prefer doing something else, though.
So I was assigned to hunt for a story at this event. They were promoting new beauty products and this beauty pageant queen – let’s call her “Kay” – was the ambassador.
Everything went well at first. Then when the product PR figure started the show, he irked me. I understand that he had to promote the products, but did he have to say something like this?
“You know, Indonesians are obsessed with white skin. If you have dark skin, you’re considered not beautiful enough.”
I sat there, agape. Wow, that’s stereotyping. Me, for example, I love my mocca-coloured tan.
Besides, why did he have to make dark-skinned Indonesians (especially women) feel self-conscious about their appearance? That’s racist and unfair. If that’s how he urges people to buy his products, then I won’t be one of the customers.
Then Kay walked gracefully up to the stage. Of course, as expected, all media people at present – including bloggers – started taking pictures of her. So did I.
After that, the interview with her began. Again, I was miffed. The female host started asking about Kay’s beauty secrets. Kay talked about eating healthy foods and regularly doing sports like yoga and kickboxing. I noticed that these were the typical questions for Kay. I was sure she’d grown tired of them, seeing her suddenly tight expression.
Kay was about to explain her mission and future programs when the host suddenly asked, “Do you have a boyfriend?”
“What?” Kay looked taken aback this time. “Uh, no.”
“Really?” The host snickered and laughed. “You’re lying.”
“No.” I could tell that Kay was annoyed, even when she still tried to smile. “Do you?”
“Of course I do,” the host anwered proudly. “Why don’t you?”
Kay looked exasperated. “Do I have to?”
That’s it. I couldn’t take it anymore. The moment Kay said, “No, I don’t think so”, I started clapping my hands. Really hard, until the audience joined the applause.
Both women on stage looked at me since I was sitting in the front row. Kay smiled gratefully, but the host wasn’t too happy. She smirked.
“Yang jomblo tepuk tangan.” (The singles have just clapped their hands.)
Oh, well. I decided to let that slide. Not worth it. I was satisfied enough.
It turns out that Indonesians still need a long, long way to be enlightened. Many are still stuck in false beliefs that the beauty of a woman is validated just by the fairness of her skin…and the existence of a boyfriend.
What a shame.
I know you didn’t mean to see me through
It’s something you can’t help
and what you wish you never had
That was what you said that night
when we decided to reunite
How are you, old friend?
I’m glad we’ve reconnected
It was good to see you again
after over a decade
I am thankful, though
You’ve put yout ‘abilities’ to good use
instead of trying to gain control
towards other people
I know I’ll always have these questions
about what your ‘third eye’ has ‘seen’
You were right; it’s better unmentioned
Never again will I let that affect me
In the end, God decides
We don’t own all the light
We can only do our best
and let Him do the rest.
(Jakarta, 30/8/2017 – 10:00 am)