Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (61)

It was a weary, anxious mother who rode the bus towards the capital, her mind racing in spite of her fatigue. Urging herself to stay calm, Ramani repeatedly tried forcing herself to doze, only to reawaken after each attempt, wide-eyed, to the nagging fear that nestled deep inside her. Every bump in the road or switch in camber seemed intent on rocking her head against the window by her side, adding to her discomfort. She fiddled with her overnight bag, opening and shutting it for no reason. And although she had brought along some kacang disco for the ride, the ever-present churning sensation in her stomach saw to it that she had little appetite for this, her favourite snack. Less than twenty minutes into the journey she was already losing patience, willing the driver to accelerate, to overtake recklessly around the succession of blind bends she knew were to come. Come on, come on. For God’s sake, get us there quickly, she urged. At all costs.

Ramani shook her head, annoyed at her own stupidity. The trip would take just as long as it was going to, and there was nothing she or any other passenger could do about it. Once again she closed her eyes and tried to get some sleep. There was, after all, no better way to endure what she knew from experience to be a wholly featureless journey. But still she could not rest, fidgeting this way and that, then back again – much to the annoyance, she imagined, of the passenger sitting beside her. With this in mind, she at last made a conscious decision to still herself, closing her eyes to settle for the appearance of sleep. For Ramani was nothing if not considerate. But inside, her thoughts continued to whir away, cartwheeling through her mind, as flashback after flashback of Anath the toddler, Anath learning to read, Anath in his teens mercilessly tormented her. My boy. I must see my boy. And there it was again: a surge of dread. And again. What are you trying to tell me? Please? she begged the demon inside.

By now, the rain had left the village and raced ahead of them across the plains of West Java, on its way to Jakarta. As the bus rounded a bend in the road, she saw with a slight turn of her head the black sky far in the distance, sitting ominously above the city like the shroud of night. A black cloak over the capital, she thought to herself. It could only portend the worst. Ramani shifted nervously in her seat again, casting an apologetic glance in the direction of her neighbour, whose irritation she imagined must surely be growing. Sit still. Growling its way along the route, the bus meanwhile continued to bellow dust and smoke into the countless shops, shacks and stalls that lined the arterial road leading to the big city. Stretch by stretch, mile by mile, they were completing the sections which, laid end-to-end, would lead them to their destination. As she continued to look aimlessly through the window, ignoring as best she could the man sat beside her, Ramani now resolved to take her mind off things. She recalled the short summer she had spent with her only lover, now a quarter century ago, even managing the suggestion of a smile as the words formed soundlessly on her lips. You’re safe with me. Sighing heavily, she then glanced for no reason to her right, at which exact moment her fellow passenger suddenly struck up conversation.

“Don’t fret, ’Bu,” she thought she heard him say. “It’ll be all right.” He did. He did say it. Ramani froze, suddenly fearing that the man possessed a third eye, could see inside her head. “Going to the city, ’Bu?” he then enquired – a question that was more accurately a statement, given that the bus had only one destination. But whilst mundane in nature, it was a line of enquiry she was nevertheless relieved to hear. “Ya, ’Pak. Actually I’m going to visit my son,” she replied after a pause, shuffling in her seat so that she sat in a more upright, formal posture. “It’s a… a surprise visit.” “Oh, I see… daerah mana?Which district? “Maybe we can share a ride.” The old man flashed her a warm, toothless smile. Ramani responded to what had now become a rather intrusive line of questioning in the submissive way she had been taught, which after half a lifetime was now instinct. In the wake of her response, she learned to her surprise that the stranger was heading for the same part of the capital. Without suspicion, she agreed immediately to join him on the final leg of her journey.

Taking out the kacang from her overnight bag, she tore open the packet before offering him some. The old man held out a palm, gratefully. Ramani paused. Was that some kind of look in his eye? Something more than just polite acknowledgement? She continued, pouring the flour-coated peanuts into his hand. Ramani could not be sure, but for a moment she felt certain there was something he wanted to say, something that was more than just idle conversation. But instead he coughed, choking on the nuts his aging jaw now found difficult to chew, and the moment passed. Then clearing his throat, the man began to deliver a lilting monologue, describing as her eyes grew heavy his life in the desa from where they had recently embarked, the extent to which he missed his dear, departed wife, and his other devotion: that to the generous employer for whom he had worked his entire life. His soft baritone seemed hypnotic to Ramani, soothing her such that within a few minutes she was able to fall into the deep slumber she had so desperately sought at the journey’s outset. For the old man, the first part of his mission was now complete.

posted by Kirk at 11:55 pm  

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