Two short stories on the theme of cultural change and Islamization in Indonesia.
Vote for your favourite below.
Duke, out of Jakarta on family business, left Lestari to cope with the rainy season's rigours and Ramadan's. She'd look after their kontrakkan, time still to help out in her pal Sinta's warung.
When Duke touched down at Soekarno Hatta, he rang. No answer, no worries - probably shopping or at Sinta's. He shouldered past rip-off cabbies,caught a Bluebird.
Disembarking on the corner, he sensed something amiss, quickened his pace. Faces peering over fences, normal nosiness, but this day unsmiling, Something in the pembantus' expressions raised his hackles, on edge immediately.
Their garden gate lay flattened. He charged through, as Sinta called his name.
"Pak Duke! Ma'afkan saya!"
Tearful bursts of ululating prose told him of the DOGS, Defenders of God's Statutes. They'd raided her warung (despite respectful curtains shielding hyper-sensitive fasters from the horrors of Christian meal-times) white-capped faces snarling at this 'blasphemous' affront to the devout.
In vain Sinta declared herself a Christian, unobliged to puasa; should she demand customers' KTPs before serving them?
They'd slapped her about, shredded the curtains, wrecked the warung. Lestari interceded, till a spiteful tukang jammu yelped that here was a Muslim living with a bule - the huffy old bag's seasonal sembako'd fallen short of expectations.
That revelation provoked fearsome rage, the thugs heedless of the fact that Duke had 'converted' when they'd married.
' A bule's cheap bitch!'
They turned on her,
'Where's your jilbab?'
She'd fled, along the little kali, swollen by the floods. Panic blinding her to danger, she'd stumbled into a cavernous flooded pothole, fast swept away.
'She surfaced once, Pak, called out, then...gone,'
Sinta choked up, led Duke indoors, scenes of ransacked chaos. Hoodlums, not content with manslaughter, had returned to loot the bule's home.
Busy, it transpired (hadn't they also been too 'busy' to relieve the siege of Tempo by a tycoon's hired gangsters?) with riots, flood problems; after all, the DOGS hadn't killed her. Death by misadventure, they'd said.
"Because she was fleeing terrorised by those swine.'
Duke's wrath frightened Sinta, her broad Javanese face convulsed.
'We put up decorations together when I was young, she helped at Christmas, me at Ramadan...'
By invoking civilised times past, Sinta sought to distance all the wong cilik from the new jihadism.
He put a hand on her shoulder, thanked her...by waiting for him here, she 'd done more than anybody else, he realised. If only he'd returned a day earlier. if only she'd stayed out of it...
Lestari's demise never made the papers, Islamist depredations these days barely rating a paragraph.
Duke quietly strove to rebuild his life, sought solace in favoured Jaksa watering-holes with buddies, Falatehan's finest sedulous in their efforts to assuage his stress..
But alone at home, cecaks his sole companions now, he slithered down King Lear's path - 'this way lies madness.'
Fury gnawed relentlessly as he hassled officialdom and the media. No body, no funeral...a missing person, he'd been advised, so not a lot they could chase the perps for, except 'disorder,' and God knew Jakarta had plenty.
He''d been in the Big Durian long enough to understand that but also to have met useful people.
If Lestari's killers weren't to answer for their crime, anguish pointed another way to give her her day in court.
A late-night tryst with an amiable preman in Pappa Cafe on Jalan Jaksa secured what he most required, a country-boy's life-long love, a gun.
Availing himself of the internet, he tracked down the DOGS' kennel, a notorious pesantren school in Grogol, run by the elderly fanatic, camelious-faced Ustad Basam, who thrived on propagation of hatred.
For the first time in his life, Duke appreciated his erstwhile in-laws' intransigent intolerance. They'd forced his conversion to Islam. Indonesian marriage law, bigotry entrenched, lovers of diverse faiths persecuted if they lived outwith wedding vows, yet banned from marrying - unless one of them turned apostate. Muslims who chose that option, said the venerable Basam, merited death.
So Duke had knuckled under, for love. Subsequently he'd eschewed participation in its rites, but first he'd explored the doctrines, trying to comprehend how anyone these days justified pedophilia or polygamy, affronts, indeed, to decent Muslims; but not confrontable, misguided adherence to the 'ummat' concept, sectarian solidarity above all.
Turning that very concept to his advantage. Well-versed in Islamic lore, he knew the format and timing of prayers, could blend into any mosque, even Basam's, which had once echoed to exhortations to assault foreign tourists.
Night fell at 6pm, as always in Grogol, when Duke approached, his tanned but patently foreign features drawing askance glances. But he assured the toughs by the entrance that he was a convert, come to pay his respects. They'd heard of Aussie turncoats serving with the Taliban, whose heroic exploits - throwing acid into unveiled faces and burning girls' schools - they admired.
Duke, nodded through to an unassuming back-seat, heard the obnoxious brute enliven his flock, another rant against Zionist-Crusaders.
Basam revelling in rapturous appreciation from the 'born-again' preman who constituted his audience, Duke stepped forward, levelled the hand-gun under his floppy shirt, put one in the head, one in the gut, a classic free-lance execution.
Swirling around, racing for the street, before anyone grasped what was afoot. (his armed status meant few of the yellow-bellies would seek to obstruct his exit) he'd no wish to escape. He wanted be taken by the police.. for that day in court.
Touch and go, but the police van escaped the mob, who, once Duke was disarmed, went frenziedly after him. Solitary confinement ensured survival in pre-trial custody. Worldwide headlines made Lestari famous.
Months passed till the big day. Cretinous Islamists frothed publicly for hukum mati; international awareness had diplomats in attendance for the guilty verdict - 'twas how he'd pled.
But his speech from the dock echoed round the archipelago, reinforcing the shame his Lestari's fate had inspired among thinking citizens.
"Basam's life was an ode to hatred. Who hates humanity is an enemy of God, who created mankind. Don't all your religions denounce Satan, not the pura2 Great Satan those mongrels..'
here he pointed at the DOGS...
invoke to stoke prejudice, but the real Satan, who delights in death and mayhem. I'll serve my sentence. But I killed a pig, not a High Court judge, Your Honours!. And I did it myself, not second-hand. Five years max, please! I've exorcised one demon. Up to Indonesian justice to get the rest!
Even in the Istana Negara, heads jerked up, took notice. In Pappa Cafe, a chorus of 'Good on yer, Duke!' erupted. Fights broke out there, and at universities.
The judges weren't fools, deliberated for ten days. 'Diminished responsibility.' 'Temporary insanity.'
Time served in custody, plus deportation.
Rioting lasted till next Ramadan, but so antagonised police and public that finally the DOGS were banned and simliar dregs of society rounded up, interned, pursuant to prosecution for treason against the Pancasila State.
Deprived of access to his duchy, Duke of Jalan Jaksa drank himself to death in exile in Dili instead. But he died happy, no virgins waiting in Paradise, just Lestari...
The ferry showed first as a flickering blemish between towers of dark cloud on the melting horizon; then it loomed tall in middle distance; now it was turning on the oily water of the inner harbour.
The ferry was big and beige with a high, sharp prow. Stocky men in blue boiler-suits were flinging ropes and shouting. There was a clamour of voices on the quayside, and behind it the tock-tock-tock of the bakso-seller tapping a cracked bowl with a dirty spoon. There were piles of bulging white sacks, and second-hand motorbikes, armour-plated with sheets of old cardboard, ready for shipping.
The Muslims floated like pale ghosts in the middle of the shifting crowd – men in their best black pecis, women in pink head-scarves – watching the ferry eagerly as it backed against the buffers. They had hired the best vehicle on the Island – a minibus, silver-grey with tinted windows – and made a banner for the occasion. It was strung along the side of the minibus, marked in childish block capitals: "WELCOME HAJJIS OF THE YEAR 2008".
The ferry squeezed up against the jetty and dark boys in long shorts launched themselves up the mooring ropes like broken spiders. A first rush of passengers surged down the narrow gangway and head-carried loads bobbed in the crowd.
The Muslims shifted and strained:
"Where are they?"
And then three men appeared at the top of the gangway and they hissed excitedly –
"There they are!"
The three men were paler ghosts even than the Muslims on the quayside. They wore white skullcaps and long shirts and yellow sarongs. All three had red-and-white Arab keffiyehs draped across their shoulders. There was a lean youth with a tuft of black hair at his chin and a dark, stocky man. Between them they supported a thin old man with papery skin. From the top of the gangway the old man looked out with cloudy eyes, beyond the rotting roofs of the little port, north along the empty coastline of the Island.
The Island was small and far in the east. It drifted alone and behind it was the emptiest ocean on earth. Half a century ago the islanders believed only in their own ancestors. They lived in tall houses and the Ancestors lived above them. But they called themselves Christian now, and in their own language they called the church the Bitter House.
The Muslims – a dozen families – lived only in the little port. They had been there for four hundred years and their forefathers came – the story used to go – from Makassar, riding on the back of a giant swordfish. The swordfish beat across shining water between curls of white foam and the Muslims clung to its quivering sail and it ground ashore at the Turtle Beach, a strip of white sand north of the little port.
That used to be the story, and every year, on the day of the first full moon in August, the Muslims would walk to the Turtle Beach and kill ten chickens, and the blood would run into the hissing water and they would remember the swordfish.
But it had been more than twenty years since anyone killed a chicken at the Turtle Beach. The Muslims all claimed Arab blood and no one mentioned the swordfish.
If you wanted to hear the story now you had to ask the Bitter House People. They could still tell you how the swordfish had charged the bright water, its purple fins humming, and how the Muslims had stepped ashore amongst the laying turtles and founded the little port. Some of them could even tell you how, long before the swordfish, the Muslims had washed from the sea in Makassar as fish eggs the colour of milky pearls, and how they had swum onto the land like raindrops on glass and coagulated in the form of men.
But none of the Muslims would tell you that story any more.
Things changed when the Arab arrived, one hundred years ago. The Arab came from the pirate port at Ende to buy horses and sandalwood. He wasn’t really an Arab. His grandfather had indeed come from Yemen, but he was of slave stock, not a Sayyid. He came to Java and married a woman from a village in the trees below Gunung Muria, and his son married a Madurese girl.
The Arab traded on just one-quarter of his bloodline, but he told everyone that he was a Sayyid, and the Muslims of the Island made small changes because they thought it would please him.
First they stopped eating pigs. Then they stopped drinking palm wine. Later some of them learnt to say their prayers, and after the Arab went away they began to intimate that the Arab had been their own grandfather. The truth was that too much palm wine in Ende had made the Arab impotent long before he arrived. But no one remembered that.
The Muslims were shopkeepers and traders. In a hundred years they had earned money to send their children to schools in Java. The girls came back in pink headscarves; the boys came back with tufts of black hair on their chins.
They earned money to buy televisions and motorbikes and they stopped going to their neighbours’ ceremonies. Once a year, in August, they still went to the Turtle Beach, but by the end it was just a picnic with sticky rice and dirty blankets and men going off to piss in the yellow scrub and at midday the kyai saying some prayers. No one killed any chickens, and only the old women thought about the swordfish.
And then the Muslims earned money to go on the pilgrimage to Mecca, and after that no one ever went to the Turtle Beach.
This year three men had gone on the outbound ferry to Java, and then on an aeroplane. The aeroplane was the same colour as the ferry and it beat across shining sky between curls of white cloud and landed on a strip of black tarmac in Saudi Arabia. The three men were a youth who had studied in Java, his shopkeeper uncle, and his grandfather who had eyes like milky pearls.
In the desert heat the youth was voluble and intense. The uncle smiled like he was on a picnic. The old man was silent.
The old man had never eaten pig or drunken palm wine, and one day, sitting in the heavy shade of the veranda, looking out at the dark ridgeback where the villages were, he had said to his sons
"These people are infidels."
It was the first time anyone on the Island had ever said that teeth-to-lip swearword.
"One day there will be trouble here,"
he had said, putting down his cup of grainy black coffee and placing the sticky metal cap over it to keep out the flies.
"What kind of trouble?"
asked his sons.
"Poso trouble. These people are infidels."
But now, in the desert, he said nothing, and when he slept at night in the mortuary ranks in the white tents his sleep was rotten with dreams. He dreamed of a giant swordfish.
The next day the old man said nothing, and saw nothing but a blank white crowd turning like water at the bottom of an emptying tank. His son and grandson had to carry him back to the white tents.
Two days later, on the Hill of Forgiveness when he should have been praying, he dreamed again of the giant swordfish. It ran hard through a shining sea and the water bulged before it and it came bigger and bigger under a sky scattered with tumbling white birds. The old man was on the scorched sand of the Turtle Beach watching its sail-fin looming tall in middle distance, and it grew larger and larger and roared onto the shore and its sword plunged into the old man’s heart and he woke with the desert sun in his eyes and said,
"I am dying."
The youth was with him.
"If you die here it is a great thing, Grandfather. There is no better place for a Muslim to die."
"There is a better place for me to die,"
said the old man.
The last sunlight was coming through the clouds in bright bars and the ferry was rolling against the jetty like a bound buffalo. The youth and his uncle were bearing the old man down the gangway and the Muslims on the quayside were shifting like cotton plants in the wind.
As the old man stepped onto the concrete the red-and-white keffiyeh slipped from his shoulder and went under the feet of the crowd. The youth tried to bend to pick it up, but he could not reach it. And then they were in the floating white midst of the welcoming party. The wind was chasing waves through the cloth of the banner – "WELCOME HAJJIS…"
Women in pink headscarves were beaming and men in black pecis were holding out their hands. Everyone was muttering phrases of mispronounced Arabic, and real questions between them:
"How was it?" "Praise God!"
The old man’s pearly eyes shifted over them.
"I am dying,"
he said, but no one heard him.
"How do you feel now?" "God is great!" "Was it hot?" "God has willed it!"
"I am dying,"
said the old man, a little more loudly this time. A pocket of silence grew around him.
"Take me to the Turtle Beach."