Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Through The Godless Hours (19)

In the small house that she had once shared with her parents, Ramani set the kitchen table with a place for one, just as she had almost every day since her son left for Jakarta, five years earlier. It was only on those rare occasions when Anath paid her a visit that the household would bloom in rediscovery of its former life; the food shelves becoming stocked once more with an array of spices and other tasty ingredients. And his visits were infrequent because whilst he adored his mother, he was reminded each time he returned there of the relentless torment he had suffered when growing up in the Kampung and its environs.

When he did manage to visit, Ramani always ensured that her boy was offered the full range of all his favourite local recipes – tastes he often yearned for during the quiet evenings that shaped his frugal existence in the capital. But today she was alone and disinclined to waste time preparing something special, just for herself. So, on what had started out as another ordinary Sunday, she sat down after a morning’s housework to savour a simple meal of ikan asin with steamed rice. Taking her food in the silence, she stared intently at the framed picture of her son that she had kept on top of the kitchen table ever since his departure. Ramani’s thoughts now drifted off, in reflection of that strange day, during his adolescence, when Anath had done something so completely out of character, being no longer able to prevent the anger that was simmering inside from finally boiling over…

…She rushed from the kitchen to the front door of the house, a loud and incessant rapping on its flimsy wooden panels summoning her urgent attention. Opening it, she was instantly taken aback by the sight of one of the village elders clutching her son by the collar. The boy’s head was bowed, in apparent shame. “I hope that in future you will find some way of teaching this…this bandel better manners,” the man spat, unkindly. A look of contempt was writ large across his face. “What happened..? Anath..?” she enquired, her voice trembling with concern. “I’m sorry, Moth –…” But the unforgiving elder had already cut him off: “Not only has he been throwing stones – breaking windows at the academy, would you believe?” he lectured. “But when I caught him, instead of feeling ashamed and apologising for his behaviour, he told me in no uncertain terms to mind my own business. And I could then scarcely believe my ears when he compounded his crime by insulting me.” The old man turned to glare at Anath. “He called me a mongrel!” “Anath! Is this true?” his mother enquired, looking surprised. But while she might have been genuinely shocked that her son would ever vandalise property, her response to his throwing an insult such as this – especially at someone of high office – was somewhat different. There was in fact a large part of her that found a certain amusement in the whole scenario, forcing her to stifle an inappropriate smile. Instead, she now began to publicly express her dismay that her generally well behaved son had apparently let himself down, when, suddenly pulling free of the man’s clutches, Anath pushed roughly past her, disappearing inside the house before slamming shut his bedroom door. “I’m terribly sorry, ’Pak,” she now offered, with a degree of fake sincerity. “I will deal with him and pay for…” But the man had already shown her his back and was now traipsing away, down the short path that led out of her modest property. He did not want to hear her promises – assumed she could not, in any event, afford to reimburse the trustees of the academy for the damage her son had inflicted. More than this, though, he was secretly pleased that the bastard kid had screwed up. Avoiding her platitudes meant that he would be able to express the full extent of his indignation to all who would listen. And he knew there were many villagers who would. Indeed, the elder would be seeking to make much of today’s events for some time to come…

…She turned the handle of his bedroom door, only to find it locked. “Anath? Open the door,” she instructed, a little too sternly at first. Then, on hearing the sobs from within, she pleaded with her troubled son in a gentler tone. After a few moments’ silence she heard a rustling and then his bare footsteps slapping on the tiled floor within. The key turned in the lock, and she pushed open the door to enter. Anath was lying on his bed, on top of the sheets, curled in a ball. His face was turned away from her, towards the wall. She could hear that he was still weeping. Sitting on the edge of his bed, she listened as her son began his explanation. “I’m sorry, ’Bu. I’m so sorry,” he sobbed. “But I want a father, like all the other boys. Where is my dad? Why did he go away? Did I do something wrong – was it because of me?” “Shhh…” she soothed him, now gently stroking his back. “I understand how you feel, my son. Hush, now… You’ll just have to be patient – wait until you’re older, when you can go and find him. It’s too complicated for me to explain. I also went through the pain you’re feeling – felt lost when I knew I couldn’t reach him, that I would probably never see him again. I even banged my fists into my own father’s chest: blamed him for everything, for what I saw as his betrayal. And then I turned my anger towards your father, the man I still love. Because he never came for me when I prayed above everything else that he would. He never even wrote me a letter, or asked about you. But then, over time, I realised that the only person to blame was myself. I allowed the situation to happen. Encouraged it, even. But I can assure you of one thing.” She paused. “What’s that?” the boy, now comforted by her wisdom, then asked. “I don’t regret it,” she replied.

posted by Kirk at 9:10 pm  

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