• Extract#3 from Eliza Vitri Handayani's 'From Now On Everything Will Be Different.' Ubud Peaceful Protest Tshirt #3.

    Wednesday after class Desti suggested they go somewhere together for lunch. “Let’s go to the med school across the street,” said Julita. “My best friend said the hut behind the geriatrics building served the best pecel ayam in town.”

    Although the day was much too hot for spicy food, everyone agreed, except Bowo, who had to go home and be with his mother. The road in front of the cultural center shimmered, creating a mirage. Cars were dashing through like steel sharks in silver water. On the far side of the road Julita saw police officers carrying sticks and shields. She was still observing them when Bela pulled her to the rushing traffic.

    “Why don’t we use the bridge?” Julita shouted as a car sped by, blowing dust to her face.

    “It’s faster this way.” With her finger Bela ordered each car to stop, like a schoolteacher with her pupils.

    Desti clasped Julita’s left arm. “Don’t be scared, the cops are too far away.”

    “I’m not scared. It’s Reformasi era, let’s be more disciplined.”

    “Too late for that.” Desti pointed at Bela and Ibnu jumping over the road divider like a seasoned gymnast.

    They arrived at the main gate of the campus and walked under the banner Campus for the People’s Struggle. Rizky had told Julita the banner used to say Campus for the New Order, but three years ago in ‘98 students had ripped the old banner and put up that new one.

    Five minutes later, they found the chicken hut, packed with customers. It had no tiles, only wooden tables and benches arranged around the cooking space, where a plump woman was bending over a soot-covered oil stove. It hissed with every piece of chicken it deep-fried. Behind the counter, in a wide stone mortar, a man crushed tomatoes and chilies into a bloody pulp.

    Julita thought Bela with her brand-name clothes would hate to sit on a dirty bench like that, but she kindly asked people to make room for her group, and then she put her leather bag on the ground under her seat.

    “Bel, do you think you can give me some Chinese herbs to help my husband gain weight?” asked Desti after they ordered. “He doesn’t like the food here, so he’s become very skinny.”

    “I’ll have to ask my dad where to get such a thing,” said Bela, “I hope it’s be no problem.”

    “Thanks, Bel. I’ll give you eggs from our farm.”

    “You have a farm?” asked Ibnu.

    “We have an egg farm in West Java,” said Desti. “Adriaan used to run one back in Holland. We met when I was visiting my sister who was studying there. When I got pregnant we moved to Jakarta, so I could be close to my mother.”

    “What about you, Ibnu? How did you meet your petit ami?” asked Julita.

    “I’m a traditional dancer,” he said. “My troupe was performing in Paris, and then we went out to this bar, which was supposed to be the meeting place for people of my kind. Oh, how I hoped for a Tom Cruise lookalike, but I got a daddy instead. Oh well. Philippe’s really good to me.”

    From his wallet Ibnu took out a photograph of a showgirl in a glittering, feathered costume. “This is me at night,” Ibnu passed it to Julita, who was squeezed between him and Bela, “my stage name is Linda.”

    Ibnu asked her to pass the photo to their classmates, but Julita hesitated. She eyed the sweaty strangers around them, tearing a piece of flesh, biting off crackers, red sauce dripping from their fingers. Occasionally a lone grain of rice or piece of shallot was left on the corner of their lips, like a lonely outcast or scapegoat, which then they obliterated with a swipe of their hand.

    Bela snatched the photo. “You’re very pretty.”
    Ibnu beamed. “How about you, Bel? How did you meet your boyfriend?”
    Whereas Julita asked for a spoon and a fork, Bela ate with her fingers like everyone around them.

    “I met Anwar at culinary school in KL. He sat next to me in class, and we started hanging out after school. He and his friends were the first Malay friends I ever had. My Chinese friends used to say to me, ‘Bel, what are you doing hanging out with them?’ I said, ‘If you don’t wanna hang out with them, then you can’t hang out with me.’ In the end my Chinese friends had no other friends, so they started joining us, and then they said, ‘You’re right, Bela, they’re good people.’”

    “Good on you, Bela,” said Laras.

    “I bet their parents are similar to mine,” Bela continued, “always telling me not to hang out with the natives, like you people.”

    “My dad likes to say the same things about the Chinese—they are cheaters, pork-eaters,” whispered Julita to Bela.

    “That’s why I always tell my dad not to cheat our customers. Just like I told him it was wrong to stockpile rice back in ’98.”

    “Were you here during the riots?” asked Laras.
    Bela nodded. “It was three months before I was supposed to start school in KL.”

    The others knew what they wanted to ask next, but everyone stuffed their mouth instead. “I wasn’t raped,” Bela said, “by sheer luck. On that day at dawn we already saw a crowd gathering by the end of our neighborhood, carrying crowbars and shovels. My dad and the neighborhood men made a barricade from spare tires. As the crowd grew bigger, my dad poured gasoline on it, ready to set it on fire should the crowd attack. Then we heard gunshots. My dad said the crowd was running towards the barricade, so he torched it, hoping the fire would repel them. Then he ran back home.

    “Dad said that if the rioters caught us, they’d rape us. He hoped that if they saw us wearing pads, they’d get disgusted and leave us alone. So Mom, my sister, and I wore a pad. Meanwhile, the rioters were already outside. They broke into houses and dragged stuff out, there were screams everywhere.

    “Dad told us to run to the car. Before the banks failed, he had withdrawn what he could and put it in a suitcase. He grabbed that suitcase, and we made it into the car, but before long we were blocked by a crowd waiting at the other end of our neighborhood. Layers and layers of them. They surrounded our car, shaking it, punching it. Those faces—they were not men anymore, they’d become demons. Dad rolled down his window, just enough to throw out bricks of cash. The crowd went crazy after the money and our path opened.

    “We raced to the airport. Because we couldn’t get tickets, we camped there for a week. When we heard on the news that the riots had died down, we took our chance to come home. When we arrived, our house had been emptied and burned, like so many houses along the way. Whoever had done it didn’t even discriminate anymore—houses of Chinese, native Indonesians, they burned everything.”

    Everyone had forgotten to chew, now they forgot their words. But Bela’s eyes remained bright and dry. “Eat,” she said, “we turned out all right.”

    Not knowing what to say, Julita put her arm around Bela and rested her head on her shoulder.

    Eliza Vitri Handayani with Raedhu Basha and Dwi Ratih Ramadhany at Ubud Writers Festival, 2015.


    Eliza Vitri Handayani, 'From Now On Everything Will Be Different', pp.51-55.

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