Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Through The Godless Hours (4)

When, at the age of seventeen, Anath had first aired his intention to look for work in the capital, his mother would hear none of it. Fearing she might forever lose the sole companion who gave meaning to her existence, she continued to insist they could get by on the money earned from the menial labour she undertook. But however diligently she worked as housemaid for a small group of neighbours – those few who were steadfast enough to advertise their enduring sympathy for her situation – Ramani secretly knew that her limited earnings would increasingly fail to meet the needs of the handsome young man into which her son had grown. Moreover, she realised that Anath needed the experience of a broader reach of life – one stretching far beyond village horizons. That most of the Kampung’s blinkered inhabitants had persistently rejected her outstanding boy made it finally easy for her to relent. So as he turned nineteen he was permitted also to take his first steps towards becoming a man. Late one balmy summer evening, he kissed the tears from his mother’s cheeks and set off confidently for Jakarta with no plan except to return news of his situation within a week of arriving there. The overnight bus ride was mercifully uneventful considering the terrain traversed, over poorly maintained hillside passes and across ramshackle bridges. On several occasions, however, the driver was forced to demonstrate his surprising agility when skilfully avoiding collisions with a succession of oncoming vehicles that were recklessly taking up both lanes. In his excitement at finally embarking upon his great adventure, Anath slept not a wink until just before arriving at the city’s main terminus, when a fellow passenger gently shook him from the deep and instant sleep to which he had surrendered only moments before. Dazed and blinking, he stepped down from the dilapidated bus and into his new life, with no immediate idea of what he was going to do.

It was at the stroke of noon that Anath’s body suddenly tensed, as he saw the surly officer emerge from his green army-issue car. A second figure – female – was quietly getting out of the other side of the vehicle as the soldier, bedecked in full combat fatigues, began marching briskly towards the newsstand. The hairs on Anath’s neck bristled at the chilling prospect of having once again to face this embodiment of evil. Strangely, the Captain’s chauffeur – a bubbly character with whom he had often joined in conversation – did not appear to be driving today. But although he considered this odd, Anath quickly dismissed the thought and steeled himself for the encounter he had subconsciously anticipated all morning. Since waking, a mild dread had been lying in the pit of his stomach and it was perhaps this, he now reflected – and not the lingering memory of the vagrant’s sickening odour – that had impaired his early morning appetite. For of all the restaurant’s customers, it was the uniformed man now approaching him that he instinctively feared, with whom he connected the least. Whatever the reason, the Captain was the sole person that seemed able to break through Anath’s wall of confidence, who so easily unnerved him. And now, as he moved in on the newsstand, the officer’s lifeless eyes did nothing to disguise his contempt for the ‘ignorant’ country boy who stood before him. Effortless, he thought to himself, as yet again he sensed the terror he could create by just standing there, by just being – his inaction challenging the other to make what might easily prove a costly first move. Anath busied himself instead, needlessly rotating the stacks of papers while trying his best to avoid eye contact with the uniformed man. Even during his darkest village days, when goaded by hate-filled bigots, not once did he sense the presence of evil such as a close encounter with this reptile of a man could suggest. The Captain was at once handsome and lifeless, a facsimile of the perfectly chiselled male, but someone who ultimately disappointed for his lack of soul. A man, it seemed, who was in the grip of an evil spirit that had taken up residence in a cold place within, where his heart should rightfully have lived. And what Anath wanted more than anything at this moment was to slip away on some false errand, to swiftly put as much distance between him and his icy adversary as possible. Visibly spooked, he continued to fuss over his wares, ignoring the vacant glare that was now directed, aggressively, at his back. But today the Captain was not prepared to allow the young Kampung dweller to ignore him. Knowing that on previous encounters the kid had been enraged by his taunts, he now attempted to raise the ante by doling out another typical insult: “Well, well, well. Take a look at this, would you? Ironic, isn’t it? An illiterate peasant selling newspapers. Can you read then, ’Nak? What’s today’s headline? Eh?”

A small part of Anath would have liked to take him on, to unleash the spiteful side of his nature – something out of character but which was real, nonetheless, it having been fed for years on the cruel barbs thrown at him back in the village. But as on earlier occasions, he managed to suppress his quick and youthful anger, remaining tight-lipped despite the fury that burned inside. Sensing this, the Captain grinned a sickly smile, certain that the moment would someday come when the boy finally lost his self-control, allowing him to mete out some cruel yet undeserved punishment. Appearing from behind the officer and aware of the game being played, the same unremarkable woman that always accompanied him now tugged smartly at his sleeve, urging him to give it up, to move on. Anath watched as the couple then silently disappeared into the restaurant, noticing that the woman cast a glance in his direction before entering behind the Captain, whom he presumed was her husband. And this was no casual gaze, more a deliberate attempt to convey some kind of message. Be careful of this man… He can be even more terrifying than you imagine… And so it was with a mild frown, but considerable relief that this latest encounter had passed once again without serious incident, that he drew in a sharp breath, puffed out his cheeks and slowly exhaled.

posted by Kirk at 12:06 am  

1 Comment »

  1. Very impressed – Looking forward to getting a signed copy of your first book.

    Comment by BB girl — November 24, 2007 @ 4:08 pm

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