[Following short story is fictitious]
Om Pontjo died yesterday. His funeral service will be held later today.
I will deliver a eulogy for him.
Several occasions before this, friends had asked me to give eulogies but I always declined. It wasn’t the fear of speaking in public. In fact, what prevented me from giving speeches of this kind, among other things, were the sensitivity and intricacy of the subject. It was more about, I have to admit, the fear of misunderstanding other people’s tragedy and, at the same time, being misunderstood for my words of comforts and consolations.
Maybe I was too paranoid and proud of being judged by others.
When I heard that shocking news of his passing away, however, I knew, this time, I couldn’t withhold myself anymore.
I literally begged for the opportunity of delivering the eulogy. My memories with him, Om Pontjo as I remembered him, which I shall later describe, would justify my insistence.
His death was shocking indeed because I didn’t have any information whatsoever, in fact nobody, all of us that were close to him, that he had been battling brain tumour during his last days.
He was fighting the illness by himself while ironically at the same time he was surrounded by so many of his friends that dearly loved him.
But that wasn’t the thing that I would like to speak about in my eulogy.
“If you ask Om Pontjo about someone that both of you know,” I began my eulogy, “Chances are you will always hear positive tones about this person from him.”
I paused for a moment, acknowledging the mourners, “Never in any way, would he talk bad things about other people.
“Once, I tested him, whether he would still talk positively about someone I soon about to ask him. My question that time was: ‘Om Pontjo, What do you think about the Devil?’ I asked this because, I thought, there wasn’t any chance available at his disposal talking something good about this evil personification. Who in their mind, after all, has a good impression about the Devil, right? That was my line of thinking. Well, hear what an answer Om Pontjo gave me: ‘The Devil is a very, very persistent and diligent somebody. He will never, ever, give up until all of us succumb to his temptations and commit badness, evils and horrible things to the world around us!’
“This is one, among many of his fine qualities, that I cherished most from him: he always looks for good things in all of us, his friends and strangers alike.
“Today all of us know: despite relentless onslaughts to undermine his good faith toward goodness in all men and women, all of us that have assembled here, the Devil has failed bitterly. He died with his faith unbroken right to the end. In so doing he has set an example, a legacy, for us to follow. May all of us that assemble here today honour that legacy.”
There were still more, written on the note I held in my hand: about our last end-of-year holiday together to Central Java. About one night when he lifted my spirit and about tears that I saw, for the first and only time, rolling down on his cheeks. But instead I stopped there. My grief and the poignancy of the moments so overcame me and I was afraid if I continued I would crack before the attendance.
One month before our holiday together, we had a private chat in his study.
I called him first, in the middle of the night, whether I could talk with him privately. He didn’t mind at all. Hospitably, he welcomed me to his house.
I didn’t used to sharing about private matters to others, let alone about women troubles. But on that particular night a woman had just broken my heart and I thought I would end up insane if I didn’t talk to someone.
I told him that it wasn’t the first time I had suffered from a broken heart. Like any other normal men of my age, I’ve suffered from it many times before: from unrequited loves or failed romances. But I’d never felt as heartbreaking as I had that night.
I kept talking and talking before him, blaming everything from myself to the world surrounded me.
“Do I know this woman?” he asked softly. It was his first question and complete sentence so far. His eyes were focusing at me, giving his full attention; as he had been doing from the very start. In fact, every time I talked to him, he made me feel as if I was the most important person in the world.
“You see,” he began to look more serious, “love hurts us in an incomprehensible way; we thought we had become immune from the heartaches just because we have experienced them many times before. Here is where most of the people get it wrong; they don’t realise that love is as strong as death itself. The truth is we shall have this painful experience every time love doesn’t choose us. The truth is we shall never be immune to the pain we inflict upon ourselves when love decides to leave after celebrating us for a while.”
“But the good news: you’ll get through this, as you did before. One day, you’ll remember this woman with longing and glad for the love she’s brought into your life.
“It’s nothing wrong with you and nothing is wrong with her too. Love just doesn’t want to stay inside the heart of you and her. Stop blaming yourself, stop blaming her and stop blaming love. It shall return when your heart is ready again, when it deems you’re deserved to receiving its blessings.”
Before ending the chat, I thanked him for his time and for his understanding; he thanked me back for sharing my troubles with him. “You’ve done the right thing. Don’t keep the troubles for yourself. You are dear to many of us your friends. Whenever you need me, you know that I’m just a phone call away.”
By the gate, I said goodnight and offered my hands. He didn’t shake my hands back. He hugged me.
He might not realise it but upon leaving his house I knew that the lost wings of my spirit had returned.
I invited him to accompany me on the holiday that I had planned not long after his only son died of Malaria.
With another mutual friend of us we tried to explore what Central Java could offer in fourteen days: its palaces, temples, highlands, volcanoes and shores.
It’s been said that familiarity breeds contempt. But it was during those fourteen days of close interactions that I learnt that because of familiarity, people are more ready to share their experiences and wisdoms and thus comes understanding, acceptance and personal gratitude.
In Parangtritis beach, while waiting for the sun to rise from the lazy and chilly morning resulting from the rain of previous night, two of us sat and talked by this much revered South Sea.
I had something to tell him: “Remember the woman I told you? As a matter of fact, she’s a Javanese and currently lives in Solo.”
“You must have met her when we were there yesterday, I guess?” he looked genuinely surprised.
“I didn’t. She’s moved to Semarang several months ago.” I said. “But I met her friend. “
“I thought you wanted to let her go?”
“Yes. But that doesn’t mean that I’ve to cut the line of communication between us. I just can’t kick her out entirely of my life like that. We still can be good friends although I know that I can’t change her heart.”
“It’s very nice of you.” He gave a mysterious smile.
“Her friend told me everything, two of which I like most: first, she didn’t want the engagement at first place; it was her parents’ wish. Second, she doesn’t admit the relationship beyond the family circle.”
“You planned this holiday because you were eager to meet her, correct?”
“The short answer is no. But what her friend told me changed everything. I now would like to meet her in Semarang.”
There was a silence. I took a deep breath, the smell was a mixture of smells coming from the sea and burnt incenses. When I looked at the hill on our left, the sunshine was already seen from the back of it.
“Can you see the waves breaking the shore over there?” Om Pontjo broke the silence first. His forefinger was pointing at the shore to the direction of the sun.
“Be careful with your heart.” Gently he said.
“Waves? My heart?”
“Look carefully at the waves and please tell me more detail of what you see.”
“I see the waves and people who are praying and burning incense, possibly for an offering to Nyi Roro Kidul. Further down, two people are riding horses.”
“Thank you. You answered more detail than I’ve expected….
“There are more going on to those waves. After breaking into the shore, the waves would rush back into the sea. For small waves, the retreat is like any other normal receding waters; but for bigger waves, it can turn into fatal ripple currents and drag to the vast ocean everything standing on its way…
“Don’t stand by the shorelines that produce such fatal currents, even if you think you are a good swimmer. Overconfidence can kill you.
“People of whom once we’ve come to love are similar. Some are like the small waves: they can no longer overpower us with our memory with them. But a few of the rest is like the bigger waves: they still have the capability, for the time being, to paralysing and killing our future with our shared past that no longer exist.
“You know which women are the bigger waves in your life. Don’t trust your heart even if you think you are strong. Overconfidence can be very fatal. Let them go. For as long as you are tied to your past you won’t come forward to welcome your future.
“Letting go isn’t standing by any of those shorelines, both safe and dangerous alike, but to take your board and go for surfing instead.” He raised, brushed the sands off his pants and gestured me to return to our inn.
“Let me know your decision after we have lunch.”
I didn’t need to make decision. I’d made up my mind. With or without him telling about the waves, I would find the girl in Semarang.
But when he talked about letting go, I paused and took my moment to respect the man that had endured life so much. Obviously, he was sharing one of life’s greatest lessons directly from his own. And that was the thing that I respected from him: He was the man of his own words. He practiced what he preached; if he preached at all.
I knew this man and I knew what he was talking about. How can a man or woman doesn’t feel bitter after life has treated them so badly?
Upon the death of his son because of a medical malpractice, it was me that was very angry in the hospital because in my place, Talaud Island, the northernmost and one of the most remote part of Indonesia, a hotbed of malaria, no one, let alone a doctor, can misdiagnose malaria. I offered my help to sue the hospital if he was willing.
But he just wanted it to let go. I love my son, he said, but doctors were also human. They’ve done their best. They, like me, I believe, didn’t want my son to die.
It was very difficult, nonetheless, for me to lose his son, my friend, at the tender age of twenty when he had still so much to offer. How could he just let it passed like that when it was him alone who raised his son following his wife’s death, ironically, after giving born to this boy?
“If that’s your decision, then we need to sit down and calculate our next steps.”
“Making decision based on our emotional impulses very often produces regrettable consequences. What are you going to do is not just about meeting a girl you are fond of; no, you’re going to meet a woman who’s been engaged to be married with another man with motives other than just meeting her.
“Remember too, that although she loves you, she may, like most of Javanese women, prefer to deny her own wish than to disappoint her parents. But if she does listen to her heart and follow you, getting married is not easy either, if not impossible, without her parents’ consent. True, you may solve this problem by getting married overseas but you and she will end up being pariahs for her family. You may be liable to prosecution too…
“That’s why we need to sit down and consider everything.”
“What about the consequences that I mentioned?”
“I’ll take the risk. I think it’s still better than being shunned and disassociated by the society because committing crimes. In fact, I shall feel honoured for being able to do this for the sake of love.”
“Then I assume that you know what you are doing. My advice: do it thoroughly. Don’t just test the water, immerse yourself in it. This is your last chance. By the time your meeting with her is over you must have known the answer in a very clear term. You may not like what you hear but you will be satisfied knowing that you’ve done your very best.”
“Your engagement rings?” I saw two rings, one on each of her middle finger while I was sitting tete a tete with her in our rendezvous. Sad that I had to ask that kind of question but glad nonetheless for the opportunity to see her face and to be near her again. I wanted to freeze the moment and keep her for myself. Oh, I didn’t want to let her go.
“No.” She replied with the same tender voice that I had missed so much. I didn’t believe my luck and frankly it was the sweetest one negative word that I ever heard.
“Have you been proposed?”
“No.” My heart leapt with joy.
“Then let’s go back to Solo. I will propose you to your parents.” By this, I’ve passed the point of no return.
“It’s again the principles.”
“What principles?” She didn’t answer my question. “True, I’m not engaged nor been proposed for marriage yet but families from both sides have met.”
I didn’t want to give up. It wasn’t running on my blood. “Do you love your Mas yourself?”
“No, I don’t love him. I worship him.” It was the furthest point I allowed myself to go. Who was I that could magically turn a woman from her love?
“I’m sure someday you’ll meet a better woman than I am.” I hoped she wasn’t joking. And in that rare moment of time, I felt sad but satisfied at the same time because I knew I had done my best to winning my love.
I promised to show ‘something special’ to Om Pontjo when we’d have returned from the holiday.
So one night, a week after we had returned to Jakarta, I brought him to a Manadonese restaurant in Setiabudi area where I enjoyed its kuah asam fish soup, a peculiar North Sulawesi cuisine, very much.
“It’s truly a nice fish soup.” He said upon tasting it. From his face, I knew he wasn’t just being polite. And being confirmed by a cook himself (he was a cook and once had a restaurant business), the soup must be truly delicious.
“This is something special you want to show me?”
“No. I will show it later.”
After we finished our last dinner course, I asked him to turn back and wait for a moment until I called him again. I was ready to show him something special that would surprise him: ‘his son’.
Prior to this, a young man had taken me by surprise from the very first time my eyes got caught of him because of his uncanny resemblance to Om Pontjo’s son. I thought that either his son had a twin or had risen from his grave. I thought it was a good practical joke for Om Pontjo.
When he turned around and looked at the young man before him, like me, he looked very surprised; he almost touched the young man’s cheeks then withdrew his tremor fingers, taken back, he mumbled something in an intelligible voice.
Next, I saw tears rolling down on his cheeks. Not long after, he left me without words.
The next day I called him to apologise but he said that nothing was to be forgiven for because I did nothing wrong; then he explained what happened:
“When I saw the young man in front of me, I thought I had a hallucination from closing my eyes too long but then I realised it was real: ‘my son’ was standing in front of me. I almost believed that…..” he stopped talking for a while before continuing.
“But then I realised again that it would be heretical for me to believe that my son would have been resurrected in this present system of things. I had plan, until I saw him last night to welcome him, not here in this troubled world that we currently live in but in the restored earth, a true Paradise on earth, in our new house that I would have built for him and his mother. At the end of it, I felt ashamed for thinking that it was indeed ‘my son’.”
The funeral was over. Besides attending the funeral service in his house, I went to the cemetery as well and stayed there until all the mourners had left. Until that moment, I had tried to keep the tears for myself. And somehow, behind dark glasses, I managed to doing just that.
The sun almost set. Afternoon shadows had befallen to most of the area inside the graveyard. The wind began to be felt a bit colder and I could smell the frangipani flowers all over the places.
I came closer and sat on the soil of Om Pontjo’s grave which were still wet and looked into the two graves next to it: his wife’s and his son’s. From where I sat I still could read sacred texts on their epitaphs, reflecting their belief in the resurrection of the dead.
On his wife’s epitaphs: O that thou wouldest hide me in the grave, that thou wouldest appoint me a set time, and remember me! All the days of my appointed time will I wait, till my change come. Thou shalt call, and I will answer thee: thou wilt have a desire to the work of thine hands.
On his son’s epitaph: Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice and shall come forth.
On Om Pontjo’s grave, I spread the notes that I used in my eulogy. There were more memories on them that I failed to tell: about one particular night when he lifted my spirit, about our conversation in Parangtritis beach and the first and only time I saw tears rolling down on his cheeks.
The evening now had arrived. I couldn’t hold my tears anymore. Finally, here, by the graves of these people who believe in the resurrection, I knelt and wept.
(Jakarta, August 24, 2007)
Copyright (C) 2007 Julitra Anaada