The Last Party (by Linda Christanty)

Posted in Fiction by Linda Christanty on 02/09/2015

The afternoon wind was sharp and arid. The air in the park was dusty. The shallow pond resembling buffalo wallow gave off rancid smell of mud. Wilted and rotten lotus leaves drifted on the brown murky surface. In the corner of the pool, a fat woman statue holding a jar had been blanketed with dust. 


An old man stood straight in the front of an open window, looking straight at the statue at the pond. Dust, dust... How to scrape the dust thickening in his mind? He saw falling leaves flying from the trees. He felt there was something funny with his life. But his eyes watered, it felt sore.

Before the summer arrived, clean water poured out in torrent from that jar. Now there was no sound of splashing water. Some surviving catfish on the pond’s base rested there instead of swimming here and there. They surrendered to death. Most of the fish died as the temperature rose to 30 degrees Celsius at the beginning of last month. The gardener had been occupied with the dead fish that had to be taken from the pond with a brail and to be buried in a hole before green flies came swarming in.

The pond was in the middle of the park. Around 15 meters from its bank where brown leaved grass was decaying, a house stood with its large columns supporting its ceiling.

That old man was the owner of the house. He lived with his daughter.

He was ruminating in his study that lied across the pond. A notebook was laid open on the desk. That plain bright red tablecloth covering the square desk was topsy-turvy due to hand movements pushing and grabbing the notebook over and over. One side of the tablecloth swept the floor while another hung below the engraved teakwood table of almost a century old. In a moment he leered at the old alarm clock, old Citizen that was never produced anymore, on the book shelf. Almost four. Oh lala, in a minute the house would be uproarious. Friends and family would gather here. He could imagine their chatter, chimed with four months old baby’s shrilling cry. It was his youngest grandchild, a granddaughter.

Alma spread 23 invitation cards last week and it means each card rounded up a family consisted of father, mother, in-laws and grandchildren. Twenty three invitation cards could present around 100 guests of three generations, he thought, shaking his head in awe. I’ll prepare dishes for a hundred people, Papa, so we won’t miss any guests, Alma then mentioned the menu she’d serve.

His pair of eyes had admired the dishes that were being kept warm on the table. Alma was a real cook indeed. There was tomato filled with grilled beef, chicken covered with cheese and powder, crab cream soup... He didn’t remember each name of the dishes but his mouth started to water. He just enjoyed himself, always saying good, good, good, each time Alma asked him to taste something while urging, what do we miss, Papa. How lucky he was, still able to taste good meals without the burden of heart disease, hypertension, or chronic ulcer like most of his contemporary friends. He was blessed with double lucks, a long life and a healthy body. Who wouldn’t be jealous or curse in admiration in their hearts? He chuckled and caressed his lean stomach. His pantaloons size was still 32.

Alma also arranged red and orange roses in crystal jars and put them in the center of the table. The petals looked fresh and wet. The fragrant floated everywhere. In this dry season it was difficult to find flowers these good and I ordered this specifically with a special price, Papa, Alma said, kissing his loose, wrinkled cheek. What if the little insects on those petals fell to the guests’ meals, honey, he asked, worried. His daughter looked up in surprise and then answered in a spoiled manner, let it spice up the meals. Oh lala. He pinched his daughter’s cheek, still supple at her forties and single too.

The hot wind wiped his skin again in this room and left stinging feeling and sore at the pores. He walked calmly to the sink, turned on the tap, and washed his face with the cold flowing water.

This dry season only made him nauseous and dizzy. Alma was worried, yesterday she made haste to take him to the doctor. The result? Your father is healthy, but transitional season shocks the body, said the doctor to Alma. Ah, alright then, thank you, Alma replied happily. They returned to the car and drove on the hot traffic jam in a steaming afternoon. On the way home he got nauseous and dizzy again. The fast tempo music made his head throbbing all the more. Thump... thump... thump... His head’s nerves were like strings being picked. Tango, cha-cha, salsa... he had begun to get rid of them.

“Please, turn off the radio, Al. My head is aching so much.”

“Maybe Papa must drink a lot and have lots of fruits.”

“I have had a lot of water and fruits. Yesterday I ate up a kilo of sweet orange all by myself.”

“Maybe you have many things in your mind, plus this heat.”

“Who told you? People like my age must enjoy life that won’t be long anymore, what do I have many things in my mind for? Ne, ne, ne, ne, ne, ne....”

He moved his right index finger just like when he banned little Alma from playing in the rain.

“Don’t say that, Pa. Who knows there’s something disturbing you. Just who knows, okay.”

“Nothing. I don’t have anything disturbing me.”

“You’re having a girlfriend again?”

“Girlfriend? Where does that come from? How about yourself?”

“He will come later.”

“Really? I’m curious.”

To be honest, he never felt old let alone ugly. His blood pumped up like waves on the shore when he ran into young girls. Sometimes he teasingly whistled to girls who were jogging on the street in front of the house and watched their buttocks. Alma only laughed at his father’s behavior, being more meticulous than any tailor. Since young he had adored woman’s beauty.

Three women had been his wives. Countless mistresses and girlfriends scattered in various cities and countries he stepped on. The last one, an Italian woman, had a wide hip and liked to sing. He left her out of boredom. Alma was his child from his last wife. His first wife, Connie, an Indo-Dutch, asked for a divorce after having caught him in an affair with another woman who was to be his second. He and Connie had a son, Tito, who gave him three cute grandchildren. Connie remained being a widow until now; she still had her heartache and always refused a meeting. His second one, a Jambi-Malay, the woman he loved most, disappeared when the political climate in his homeland turned chaotic. Sukarno fell. The military was in power. Blood flood everywhere. He asked his wife who was working at the palace to hide until peace was restored. Alijah sought refuge in another city, bringing a number of important documents. When the new regime came to power, there was no news from Alijah until today. Once he told Alma to find that woman and take care of her like her own mother whenever he was gone. Alma said yes. But where should I find her, Papa? She asked. Yes, where? He thought that it was curiosity and misery of being left that made his love for Alijah seemed to be eternal, yes, as if it was eternal. Alma’s biological mother, his third wife, died three years ago. Heart attack. She chased Harini back then because he was crazy about dimples on that woman’s cheeks whenever a smile or laugh cheered her round face. But who could tie up a wanton man? He and Harini decided to separate when Alma was 12 although they were still husband and wife. Harini gave all her life for their daughter. He gave all his life for women. Oh lala.

He remembered Mursid, his best friend. Mursid was against his lewd behavior the hardest, Come on, Mar, one would never be depleted. Mursid was one of the invited guests and he had promised to come with his wife and oldest son. IT had been two years since he came back to this city and twice already he had his birthday party. Mursid always came. He had gone through many ups and downs with Mursid as much as their opposite personalities. Mursid was a little quiet while he was sociable. But friendship was blind, wasn’t it? Besides between a sheep’s and a wolf’s fur, it was a little difficult to tell in the beginning.

He met Mursid in a food stall in Jakarta, a place where poor artists owed a glass of coffee or a plate of nasi campur. After an exchange about art, they both agreed to act together in a play and organized road shows to villages. Girls adored his character on the stage and he happily dated them. Mursid’s first love was even his umpteenth lover. Mursid relented too much. On the contrary, he was the kind who lost all control. After shows, Mursid and he would be drunk from arrack in someone’s yard and then bathed in a clean creek. Resentment from the stage or daily interaction was gone in alcohol’s aroma and fresh water’s cleanse. When he got married, Mursid acted as the women’s guardian, three times. No way you could marry all women in the world, Mar, Mursid whispered to the groom who grinned naughtily. But their courses of life changed when Sukarno fell.

UNCLE Mursid is a friend in need, he said to Alma many times. He told her fluently about his real friendship with Mursid, from cell to cell, from prison to prison.

“You really love Uncle Mursid, don’t you?”

“Ah, of course, kid. We have gone through the good and the bad together.”

As the result, Alma often sent his father’s best friend’s family her delicious cooking every week. He had donated to Mursid regularly who didn’t have a fixed income for the last ten years. Every month he sent money order to his best friend’s address that was enough to buy rice and dishes in the market. When Mursid’s son graduated from high school, he offered him to work in a government office. How can you have a connection there, Mar? asked Mursid in awe. Not a connection, but my brother’s in-law has a respected position there, he replied, as sincere as possible. Mursid hugged him, repeatedly saying he was a best friend on earth and beyond. He smiled curtly and felt a little annoyed with the title. But, well, what could he do. He wanted to re-read the guest list. Has Alma invited all of his best friends?

He pulled a drawer and read a note on it; the names of guests written by Alma. Mursid’s name was on top, yes, yes, and then Arsyad. After Arsyad was consecutively Hendro’s name, Yusmin, Ali... Two of his other friends remained only in memories. Hartono was shot to death. Kasman, ah, he lost him, either dead or alive he didn’t know.

Inside the cramped cell in Salemba Prison back then, they had betted their fate for months. He didn’t stand it. It was mostly his desire. Many times he masturbated when his friends had already lying asleep after torturing corvée all day long. When an officer approached him and offered a work, he consented. He was only asked to give names that he thought were dangerous. How difficult it is to jot down some names? After that you can be free and go to your wife and kids, said the officer. Yes, how difficult it is? He instantly wrote names of his seven cell mates with a special mark on Mursid’s name: ideologist.

He wondered himself for overdoing it. It came all of a sudden. His hand just wrote names. The next day when the sun was one-fourth rising two officers dragged his seven friends out of the cell. They were sent with the first ship to that island prison. He was safe.

YEARS later he still wrote and reported names. His life was prosperous thanks to his job as a record keeper. The fund for fun abounded. He could go all over countries and have sex with women of all nations.

One day little Alma asked about his job. “What do you do, Papa?”

“I’m a record keeper.”

“A record keeper?” Little Alma laughed.

“Yes,” he answered firmly. But in his daughter’s report book he wrote: entrepreneur. Yes, he traded humans. He chuckled, amused. Suddenly there seemed to be a snap in his heart and he felt sad. Alma emerged on the doorway. He was startled.

“Papa, Uncle Ali can’t come. His wife just called. She said he was brought to the emergency unit. Liver, Papa.”

“Oh God, how about the others, Al?”

“Uncle Yusmin said he can’t come too. He sent happy birthday to you. He said that he happens to have no money. His house is far from here, Papa.”

“Why didn’t he tell yesterday, we can have the driver pick him up.”

Alma shrugged her shoulders. That woman felt useless for having prepared so much meal.

“Al, Uncle Mursid has promised to come. How about Uncle Hendro and Uncle Arsyad? Give them a call.”

“Oh, Pa, but they don’t have telephones.”

“Ah, right, right... what should I do?”

AT five o’clock his family came flocking in. He welcomed them at the living room. There were Tito, her daughter-in-law Usi, their three children, and two dark sweet chubby babysitters who were present for the first time. Alma introduced his lover, whispering, “A widower with two kids, Papa, but cool, isn’t he?” He smiled, had chit-chats with the guests and dashed to the study room. He brooded. His head started to ache and her stomach was nauseous. He felt again the dry season wind, blowing sharp and arid into the room. He saw dust flying in the garden, over and over, coating leaves and flower petals that were left on the twigs and making them dull. Two of his grandchildren were running around the pool. They kept on picking up gravels on the ground and threw them to the pool. No adult kept watch for them. Oh lala.

He only observed from afar, from across the window. His joints felt weak. His chest suffocated.

“Pa, Uncle Mursid is here!”

“Tell him to come in, Al!”

“Yes, yes!” Mursid emerged at the door. Thin and fragile. He welcomed him with a warm hug. He couldn’t help a teardrop as Mursid whispered, happy birthday, my friend on earth and beyond. Really? His teardrops fell. Mursid stroked his back. Now he began to sob. After that he guided Mursid to the sofa and blinked his eyes. Mursid’s hand was shaken in his grip.

He wanted to confess. Maybe this is my last party, he said in melancholy. “Sid, I would like to talk about something, from a long time ago.”

“Oh, yes, yes, talk, about anything.”

“I want to apologize. Humans don’t live forever....”

“Come on, come on, don’t curse yourself. I’m the one who get sick all the time and I still want to live. You’re still healthy but you’re being a crybaby.”

“Sid, I....”

Suddenly a scream was heard from the pool. One of his grandchildren pointed into the pool. Now where is the other one? Oh God, Sena fell down. Oh lala. He ran through the open door. People in the house were frantic. Mursid was stupefied on the sofa. The dry season wind hissed in the room again. The rancid smell of mud traveled in the air. An old man squatted by the pool, ready to pick up her grandchild. A gardener was seen in a rush carrying a staircase. A woman ran to the garden carrying a baby.***


*Translated by Dini Andarnuswari 

Linda Christanty is an author and journalist. Her writing has been recognized by various awards including the national literary award in Indonesia (Khatulistiwa Literary Award 2004 and 2010), award from the Language Center of the Ministry of National Education (2010 and 2013), and The Best Short Stories version by Kompas daily (1989). Her essay "Militarism and Violence in East Timor" won a Human Rights Award for Best Essay in 1998. She has also written script for plays on conflict, disaster and peace transformation in Aceh. It was performed in the World P.E.N Forum (P.E.N Japan and P.E.N International Forum) in Tokyo, Japan (2008). She received the Southeast Asian writers award, S.E.A Write Award, in 2013.

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