He came into the room so suddenly. At least that was I thought. I didn’t know when he arrived: a little boy, perhaps about nine or ten years old. It wasn’t the mess and the smell that he carried with him that had attracted my attention although, quite frankly, I was disturbed and annoyed by his presence.
“Why on earth that the owner of this barber shop allows him to enter the room?” I thought to myself. I almost fell asleep, as I always do, when someone touches my head and this small boy had stolen the little rest I so desperately needed.
Self-assuredly, he went to the fridge, next to the chair I was seated, deftly opened it and found the cold drink he wanted. The beverages inside were meant for sale and this boy just took it like that? I wondered. I was sure he isn’t related whatsoever to the owner and was tempted to confirm it to my barber.
He took a seat and reached for the newspaper, reading it on his crossed legs while his right hand held the drink. He was reading in an undertone and sounded like someone murmuring while every now and then gulping the rest of his drink until I heard him gasping for breath and looked at his empty bottle. What a boy, I thought to myself: the way he placed the bottled into his hand and took the drink was manly to say the least.
Closing his eyes, he leant to the sofa with his hands on top of his belly. It was his sweats that, I realised, produced the offensive odour. His forehead and cheeks were coloured by traces of sweats and dirt and so was the wet t-shirt he wore.
His eyes looked heavy and eventually he fell asleep. He was deserved sleep more than I was, I had to admit. Outside was punishingly hot and it was smartness in his part to find refuge in this air-conditioned room, for the price of a bottle of cold drink.
A few minutes later he woke up and, as sudden as he came in, he stood and went to the mirror checked his hair out while mumbled something. He took coins out of his shorts pocket, counted the money he owed for the drink then placed them into a box on top of the fridge.
“Thank you, Bang (literally, older brother)!” He said to the barber before closing the door behind him.
“He’s going to continue ngamen (sing for money) on the buses and whenever he is thirsty or tired he will come here.” Voluntarily, the barber told me about the boy. “We get used to him. Nice boy.”
I agreed with him. It was his entirely adult mannerism that had stolen my attention at first place, the young boy who was mature too soon, enforced upon him by life’s harsh reality.
So like the boy had done before, I continued my interrupted little sleep. But unlike the boy, for me this time, it was the barber’s fingers that were roaming on my head.
(Jakarta, May 15, 2007)