Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Through The Godless Hours (11)

Daman’s first impression of the Kampung was of its remarkable cleanliness. Wherever he looked, he saw evidence of the villagers’ considerable efforts to keep up their tidy environment. And almost exclusively, it was the women of the community who were the most industrious. There were some stooped over, an arm folded behind for balance, while they swept dust from doorways or sprinkled water to damp down the patches of red earth outside their homes. And to one side of a well, a gathering of older crones was sat, busy hand-washing their extended families’ clothes. This particular collection of toothless hags was creating most of the noise in the vicinity: chattering loudly, they cackled at the odd coarse joke while their soapy water danced and spilled. But most impressive of all in this rural panorama, he marvelled, were the hoards of pristine children whose brilliant white school uniforms dazzled in reflection of the bright sunlight. Heralding from among the group that made up Java’s poorest class, and bereft of almost every material wealth, these spotless urchins ceaselessly radiated their joy at just being. Fascinated, their observer watched fixedly as they passed in front of him, shrieking and laughing, the anticipation of returning from class to have something-with-rice put inside their hungry bellies fuel enough to fire their excitement. This is an oasis of purity, Daman reflected, after a while. A time and place that has remained totally unspoiled by the avarice that has become the city’s malaise. For his idealistic young mind had already begun to conclude that the upwardly mobile society he inhabited was incurably diseased.

Venturing deeper into the heart of the Kampung that day, Daman cycled absently along a random route, content to take in the sights, sounds and smells this unprepossessing village had to offer. His attention thus distracted, he did not at first notice the shapely girl who balanced a water pitcher on one of her hips, and with whom he almost collided when blindly rounding a corner. But as his eyes then fell upon her for the first time and she returned a glittering smile despite his negligence, there was nothing in this world or the next that could alter the course of their converging destinies.

Every day after work he began to meet Ramani secretly on the outskirts of the village, where they would walk and make nervous small talk, or sometimes pause to discuss the deeper issues that troubled one or other of them. And as they sat during these moments of relaxation she would often shyly confess to her ignorance of city ways, in which he would then patiently try and instruct her. Growing ever closer, the couple soon learned to share a joke that the root of both their names – aman – meant ‘safe’ in the local dialect. “You’re safe with me…” he would often quip, teasing her. And for seventeen year-old Ramani this relationship was now developing into her defining moment: the intelligent, handsome man she had patiently awaited, that she instinctively knew would come, was at last here. It was the anticipation of his arrival that had earlier led her to rebuff so many other worthy suitors, without so much as an apology. Daman was the yang to her yin – her spiritual match – and she had known it instantly. For her, the moment they met was like an exothermic starburst of romantic fusion, through which the essence of purest love was distilled. And ever since, she had been floating on its gentle waters – buoyant with this brand new sensation. Daman was equally entranced, both by her obvious physical beauty and what he now began to realise was the considerable depth of her character. At an age where he judged most things in black or white terms, this strong-willed young man was either passionately committed to a cause, or totally disinterested by it. And right from the start, he knew that his feelings for this girl were firmly in the former category. Yes, this was love all right: in its most potent, youthful form. But it was love’s less refined and coarser half-brother – lust – that was to make the first move in this particular game…

It was with a heavy heart that Daman sat in contemplation of the long journey that had led him to this moment today, hunched over on the trackside grass hugging his knees, while staring absently down at his feet. Twenty-five years without her – it seemed a lifetime – and now locked in a loveless marriage, with time no longer on his side. Why had he continued to endure this pain, to uphold the contract he made with his father, for so long? Where was the girl that had since become a mature woman? Did she keep the memory as close to her heart as did he? And as the tears dripped down on to his shoes, Daman’s thoughts now turned to the child: his only child. A son and heir, he reminded himself, inwardly. The child he was told to forget – another part of the bargain. A boy who had now grown up – what was he doing? It broke his heart into a thousand pieces when he considered all the years that had passed without his being able to look at, touch, hold, comfort his boy – now a young man who probably knew nothing of him. He felt utterly helpless, certain he would never recover from this gut-wrenching life experience. That he would never be able to enjoy what it felt like to be free from guilt, or pain. What must his son think of him? he reflected. A selfish, heartless bastard-maker who had walked out on his beautiful and caring mother at the very moment she was most in need of his support?

But it had not been like that. Not at all. And he wanted to explain, to wipe the slate and make amends. Was desperate for the opportunity to tell his side of the story. Of how he, too, had suffered all these years – in truth as much as anybody. Indeed, the sacrifices he had made had left him hollow inside. Daman once more ran his fingers through his hair, his head bowed and turning slowly from side to side, stretching the tense muscles of his neck. For an unbearable pressure was building within, such that he felt he might burst if persisting with this train of thought. That ultimately he would explode, if forced to continue living the lie that was a crack his family had papered over for so long.

posted by Kirk at 12:47 am  

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