“I’m a girl. I’m not allowed to play with kites,” you say, suddenly shattering the darkness of the night.
The kite which Wadi continued to let out appeared smaller and smaller as it rose ever higher until all you could see was a four-cornered spot floating in the clear blue sky, twisting and turning among the gathering clouds drifting northwards. Its fluttering tail and the flaps on either side were no longer visible to the naked eye. Only the line, the end of which was tied to an old milk tin, could be seen arcing downwards while its other end looked as if it was stabbing the sky, piercing the clouds. However, Wadi, the child who was continuing to let out the glass-coated line until it ran out completely, knew that its end was still attached to the swaying kite, though it was barely visible as it was attacked by the wind.
The expression on his face revealed that Wadi was ecstatic and proud of himself because he had managed to fly his kite so high. Every now and again he danced a few steps on the dike. He spread his skinny arms and zoomed like one of the planes he occasionally saw flying over the village. At times he slowed down as if he was losing balance and his body would tilt to one side, but he didn’t tumble. Or maybe he was pretending he was a circus acrobat walking on a tightrope. For a moment he stopped dancing and looked up at the kite as it almost plunged and fell. His left hand was clutching the milk tin on which the string was wound, while his right hand pulled the line, released it, and pulled it again, to stop the kite from tumbling.
“Mama…!” he suddenly screamed. “Come back down to earth. Climb onto my kite, Mama. Come down… come down…!” His screams pierced the clouds, splitting the afternoon sky. But heaven, where his mother was trapped, remained unmoved.
Whenever he asked where his mother was, or in the heat of a nightmare, his father would say with a smile that appeared rather forced—probably to withstand the pain—that his mother now resided in heaven.
“Why does Mama have a house in heaven, Daddy? Why doesn’t she live with us?” he whined one night.
And his father began to tell him about heaven, about the flower gardens, about the grand mansions with rivers of milk and honey and pure water flowing below, about all the facilities and comforts and how everything was laid on for free. Everything wonderful you could ever wish for.
“Why didn’t Mama ask us to go with her?” he whimpered.
“Mama wouldn’t ask us along just then, son, but we will go there one day to be with her. To take up her invitation…”
“But where is heaven, Daddy?”
“Up there, higher than the clouds, higher even than the stars,” he said, looking up and pointing to the stars twinkling through the glass roof tiles.
Wadi looked up too, his eyes swollen from crying, following the direction where his father’s finger was pointing into the night sky. And in the darkness of the sky, among the twinkling stars, there was something that looked like the shape of a kite. Wadi tried to imagine his mother’s face. A graceful young woman with masses of curly hair cascading down her back, just like he’d once seen in a photo. Wadi saw his mother smiling. As sweet as milk. And her still plump cheeks as rosy as a mango. However these images were interchangeable with the faces of the young women in his village who often invited him to come over and play, or with the neighboring housewives, some of whom were widows who just might have designs on his father.
When he was asleep Wadi dreamed he had wings and that he could fly with his father—who had wings too—to his mother’s house, to heaven. They’d live happily ever after in heaven with all the wonderful free facilities. The next day when he woke up, Wadi would practice flapping his arms like a baby bird. Running and zooming along. But he never succeeded in actually flying. His father told him arms were not wings. He nodded, even though he didn’t understand, and he still held on to his dream that one day his arms would turn into wings and fly him to his mother’s house.
One day his dreams crashed, along with the breaking of the branch of the jambu tree where his playmate, Mamad, had been perched. Wadi, who was up in the same tree, could do nothing but quake in fear as he saw Mamad crashing through the branches and landing hard on the stony ground. Not only were the bones in Mamad’s left arm so badly crushed that his arm had to be amputated, but Wadi’s dreams were also crushed and had to be abandoned.
“Dad, tell me about kites,” he begged, after the harvest the previous year. Usually after the harvest a kite festival was held among the people of our village. It wasn’t a grand scale affair involving masses of people, nor was it an inter-provincial or international event. It was just a simple small-scale festival for giving thanks for the meager harvest. The kite festival here was put on just for the village folk, on the condition that it was stayed simple. There was no jury to judge the beauty of the kites themselves, or their prowess in the air, or how loud a sound they made, and so forth. The winning kite was the one that stayed up longest in the sky without breaking or plunging. But Wadi didn’t nag his father to make him a kite like most of the other kids did. He just wanted his father to tell him all about them.
So his father told him about the first kite, Kaghati, from Muna; about a king called La Pasindaedaeno who sacrificed his son, La Rangku, and how later wild yams grew from La Rangku’s grave. He told him about how Kaghati was made from the leaves of a yam plant, with a line made of the fibers of the pineapple plant. Kaghati was flown for seven days and nights until finally its line was severed on the last night. His father told him how the Muna tribe believed Kaghati could fly all the way to the sun and bring blessings upon them.
Then Wadi returned to having dreams, of being La Rangku, of being a kite, and flying towards the sun. But Wadi didn’t actually want to fly to the sun. He wanted to fly to heaven, where his mother was. He wanted to fly with his father to see his mother again, and take up the invitation to join her. To live happily ever after in a grand mansion below which flowed rivers of milk and honey and pure, clear water. Aren’t the sun and heaven both higher than the clouds, higher even than the stars, he asked himself. So Wadi eventually asked his father to make him a kite.
Tonight I discover the silence that often settles wistfully on your back. Maybe the chill of that silence is the same as the chill of the night itself, which is pouring with rain. Tonight, because of the heavy rain, the stones are slippery and the ground muddy. The tents are soaked through and leaking and the campfire has been dampened in a matter of seconds. The rain is also making me feel increasingly anxious. In my growing restlessness we shelter to no avail, because the rain and howling chill wind have penetrated my clothes and probably yours, too. The foliage is soaked and some of the temporary shelters have collapsed. The thundering of the waterfall is getting louder and louder. My clothes are wet through and the cold seeps into my bones. To get warm again after the rain has stopped we decide to cook up some instant noodles inside the dripping tent. Despite the blue of the gas flame, its warmth doesn’t penetrate my skin and reach my heart. I’m still shivering, still anxious. But you don’t care. After fetching some water from the spout without saying a word, you soon heat it up and cook several packets of noodles. For some reason, I make an effort to take comfort in this particular scene. Recording every movement of your body, enjoying the shivering, noting the silence that is stiffer than ever on your back, and from time to time I take comfort in a segment of your cheek, a corner of your eye when you turn. Turn and let me see the perfection of your eye. And I will enter your world in silence…[Insert note: *) This a translation of two lines from the poem “Memandangmu di Balik Permainan” (“Gazing At You Behind the Game) by Herwan FR.] Like my kite flying to heaven in silence.
And in silence too, at three in the morning I find you by the waterfall, which is spilling who knows how many liters of water per minute from a height of about twenty meters. Perhaps the same volume of water as the tears I shed every time I long for my mother. Who knows? Only the air and the atmosphere here remains the same as it was before. Silent. Damp. Shivering. Restless. All you can hear is the chirping of crickets competing with the pounding of the waterfall, Gurug Gumawang, travelling through the night.
In silence, cold and under a hazy full moon, we remain separated by quite a distance. Still not speaking to each other and rigid as statues, though not totally still, due to the occasional shiver and tremble. And perhaps too, such is my way of taking comfort in the series of scenes we’re acting out tonight, albeit with not much skill and no stage direction, I take comfort in the silence, silently. Maybe there is still some love there, but language often fails to express it and can no longer be trusted. So silence becomes a safer option. Although I have recently begun to suspect that love is just some brightly colored cork attracting attention as it bobs around in dark water in the vessel I call a heart. A cork is our love—maybe mine, maybe my mother’s, maybe yours?—for someone or something. And all the while that cork goes on bobbing about, dancing to its heart’s content. Its color flares up with the frequency of our meetings and at the intensity of our ongoing togetherness. How the cork blazes with glory. Emitting light that glows in all directions and dances the most beautiful dance in history.
However—who would believe it?—a heavy, blinding shower of rain is pounding down on the vessel. Making ripples that circle out until they form waves. The dark water once calm is now heaving. Some of the splashing from the vessel is overflowing somewhere and have maybe vanished into the barren earth. I gaze at the landscape and say something. You gaze at the landscape and say something. But maybe also silently, unbeknownst to me, you are in the middle of weaving a dream from a spider’s web. Like my dream, which I wove from the fibers of the pineapple plant.
Ah, I long to ask you to speak, to walk on tiptoe, to play kites, to swim, to learn to fly. However, this rain has quite unsettled me, unnerved me, reminding me of all the kites I flew and brought down 14 years ago. Is this the night my mother will meet me? Or will my kite be defeated by the weather? Falling, broken and torn to shreds? Oh, it’s true. I am La Rangku, who was roasted by the sun, every time it pours with rain. “I’m a girl. I’m not allowed to play with kites,” you say, suddenly shattering the darkness of the night. But it’s as if you are speaking to yourself.
I want to say: “Do you want to play kites with me? And we can wait for my mother’s blessing together.” But the words stick in my throat.
Niduparas Erlang was born in 1986 in Serang, Banten. A prolific writer of prose, he has already won several national short story and essay writing contests. His book La Rangku was awarded Best Short Story anthology at the Surabaya Arts Festival in 2011.