[Following short story, mostly fictitious, has been published in The Jakarta Post, Sunday, July 01, 2007]
A package had arrived by post when Ungke returned from work that evening.
He reached for the package, which was almost the same size as a shoe box. He looked for the sender’s name: Yanti Suryanto Putri, Solo, Central Java.
Slowly, he pronounced the name. How could his heart not miss a beat when throughout today it was she who had always been on his mind? That it was she who had turned his life upside down?
The way Ungke had come to know Yanti was hard to fathom. Ungke lived in Jakarta, Yanti in Solo. With almost 500 kilometers separating them, what was the chance their lives would cross each other? Ungke thought the probability was almost zero.
When two of his friends, who didn’t know each other — who didn’t even know that the other existed — brought his life into contact with Yanti, he thought something interesting must have been in store for him.
The first mentioned Yanti when he had just returned from vacationing in Solo, telling him that someone as unique as her did exist and lived in the city. At first, Ungke politely declined his friend’s efforts to matchmake him with Yanti.
It wasn’t that Ungke didn’t believe in long-distance relationships. It was more his skepticism about being in love at the first sight of Yanti. Simply put, he did not believe in love at first sight — period.
For him, the attraction must come from observation of the other person’s character, from spending time with the person until he knew them better. Then love was a possibility.
The distance between them was simply too great to allow Ungke to make the judgment he needed; he was simply going to waste his time.
Trouble was, Ungke was the type of person who believed strongly in signs. When things happened and he interpreted them as signs then his unease about love at first sight could temporarily be put aside.
This sign, he perceived, came through the second friend who, like the first, offered to matchmake him with Yanti. How on earth, he thought, could two men who didn’t even know each other mention Yanti, all the way in Solo, to him?
It was the sign that he had been hoping for, to go ahead with Yanti.
He contacted her. She responded. Modern communications technology was on their side, helping them to connect: telephone, text messages, chatting and so on. Finally, they got to know more about each other.
But mind you, Ungke still did not fall in love with Yanti at first sight. He fell in love with Yanti at first sound.
It was her voice that struck him initially, a female voice that, to his ears, sounded so melodious and calm, the like of which he’d never heard before.
Her laughter was so carefree, able to convince him that it could carry both of them to the sky without worrying about falling back to earth.
How he missed her voice and laughter!
Forty-five days and astronomical phone bills later, they finally met in Yanti’s city. It was a week before an earthquake shattered Yogyakarta, a neighboring city, which affected people in Solo too.
Without being disrespectful to victims of the quake, Ungke, once again, perceived it to be a sign that the universe had given him a green light to go ahead with Yanti.
He arrived at this conclusion because they had agreed to meet a week later; that is, the time when the quake took place, because the long weekend would allow Ungke more time away from Jakarta.
At that time, they had to decide the day of their meeting: either one week before or after the long weekend but not during it because Yanti had another engagement in another town.
When Ungke chose the first option, Yanti could not disagree more. Although he did not know it, he somehow felt that if he did not meet Yanti sooner, his chance of winning the girl might be in jeopardy. And he was proven right.
Ungke felt like a victor able to cheat and bypass fate.
They met, but the rest is not history because otherwise the story would end here.
It’s not difficult for a person who is in love to know whether the object of their affection loves them in return. At least this notion could be applied to Ungke and Yanti when, for the first time, they looked into each other’s face.
It’s said that our face is the mirror of the heart that shines ever brightly when we are in love. He didn’t see the moon on Yanti’s face; he saw two suns.
They went to see the movie The Da Vinci Code and upon returning to her house he gave her a Swarovski crystal ring, saying to her that the ring was purchased in the basement of the Louvre, Paris — the same museum that they had just seen in the movie.
She returned his jacket that he had used to keep her warm inside the cinema. “Keep it,” he told her, “So that I can always protect you and I will always be close to your heart.”
When Ungke returned to Jakarta he was thinking about how to maintain what he understood to be the mutual attraction between them and turn it into a love they could both share.
However, the love didn’t develop as he had expected. Slowly, he could sense that Yanti was avoiding him. He was concerned about their relationship.
Yanti, on the other hand, tried to convince him that nothing was wrong between them. But just as we are able to sense that someone likes and loves us, we too can sense if someone is hiding something from us.
Ungke never knew what it was that Yanti was hiding from him, at least until he received the package from her.
His trembling hands shook as he opened the package. The last time he called her was a week ago but it was a bit uncomfortable because it seemed that something had been occupying her, something that she felt she should share but couldn’t articulate.
His worst fear was confirmed when he looked into the contents of the package: the ring and jacket he had given her.
A brief note accompanied the items: Thank you for this ring and jacket. I really appreciate them and have to admit that the ring is beautiful and the jacket warm.
However — and I’m really sorry about this — I must return them to you. The closeness that I allowed to develop between us goes only as far as friendship.
Your ring and jacket, however, are far too close to me, crossing the border that I have set. Thank you for everything that you have kindly done for me.
He took the contents out. Slowly he folded the note. He slipped the ring onto his finger; when he put the jacket on, he could smell the perfume that remained on it, the one he detected when he met Yanti in Solo.
In his confusion he felt that his world had come to an end. He called Yanti but she no longer responded.
What had he done to cause Yanti to change her attitude?
“Is it because I’m not as courteous as Javanese men? Or perhaps I didn’t give her enough attention, praise and compliments? Isn’t it true that women crave such things?”
He searched for a reason.
Maybe it was because he once told Yanti about the women who had come into his life? He remembered that not long after he told her about them, she brought the subject up again, saying that she didn’t want to get involved in any rebound relationships.
She didn’t like being his emotional escape route. What Yanti really desired was to be loved by someone free from the burden of the past.
It took some time for Ungke to convince Yanti that, yes, it was truly unfair, not only to her but to both of them, if in loving her he was still under the shadow of his past.
However, he told her quite frankly that it was also unfair and in a way somewhat hypocritical to say that we can completely forget all the people that we have come to love.
When someone we once loved leaves, they don’t just do so empty-handed. There’s a piece of our heart that they take along with them, but the wound heals. Time helps. We can rise again. And their memory shall forever stay with us.
If this is the reason, why was he punished for being honest?
“Why?” he asked Yanti, who was surprised to find him standing before her. Unknown to her, he had returned to see her.
“What have I done to make you change?”
“You did nothing wrong.”
Those four words sealed it.
“But why we must end this way?” Ungke wanted to keep up the pressure on Yanti until he was satisfied by her reply. But he had to let her go.
Sometimes, letting go is the best way because the person is happier without you, and you without them. We can and shouldn’t force someone into loving us. We deserve unconditional love.
Why? Ungke no longer asked Yanti. He was now asking the universe. After all of this, he felt that the universe was mocking him. He felt like a hungry man being shown food but when he reached out, it was withdrawn.
Ungke concluded that the universe was playing a game with him over signs. Because this was a game, he would no longer believe in signs.
What he had thought were signs turned out to be no more than random acts that had occurred by accident.
(Jakarta, December 21, 2006)