A short story by Bamby Cahyadi
Translated by Annie Tucker
My father died suddenly. A heart attack. According to the doctor, he suffered from cardiovascular disease. Cholesterol built up like layers of wax inside his veins, making his heart unable to beat. I didn’t really understand, to me he looked just fine.
My father worked as a detective. A low-level policeman, Dad was scrupulously honest, pure, not corrupt, and of course, poor. He never accepted bribes from the criminals that he arrested. So the day he died, he didn’t leave any inheritance—no property, no assets, no nothing.
After he was buried, in a simple fashion befitting his position as a low-level member of the reserves, I truly felt the loss of my father. I became an orphan. My mother was already long gone from our lives. That woman couldn’t bear to stay with a poor policeman like my dad.
I had been sitting and ruminating for a long time in my father’s old room when my gaze was drawn to a black box under his bed frame. Intrigued, I opened it.
Shocking! I found a pistol. Just a standard pistol for a poor detective, I thought. Nothing like the fancy FBI pistols I saw all the time on television. The pistol felt cold in my hand. But wait a minute, this pistol was filled with bullets, the magazine was still full. Was it possible that Dad had never shot this pistol, not even at the criminals he captured?
My Dad worked himself half to death, until he truly died (and all of a sudden at that) because he was struggling to earn money for me. When I was just a little kid, I was diagnosed with epilepsy. Whenever my sickness relapsed, I became like a crazy person, like a person possessed. So maybe it’s not so shocking that my dad would handcuff me whenever I had a fit.
Truthfully, I feel tormented by this epilepsy. Maybe pretty soon I’ll have another episode but up until now, with the night dissolving into morning, I haven’t had any fits. I desperately hope that I’ve recovered for good.
The pistol that I found in the black box was now in my hand. I pointed and aimed it all around like a cowboy. “Hands up!” I shouted at the mirror. Then I laughed aloud to myself, with my hands on my hips.
Then I twirled the pistol with my fingers. And I blew on its muzzle. The pistol allured me more and more. I forgot all the feelings of sadness and isolation that had overwhelmed me at Dad’s grave earlier that afternoon. I had a new friend now, the pistol my father left me.
Out of nowhere, the pistol barked. No, sorry. The pistol greeted me, out of the blue.
“Good evening, you haven’t gone to bed yet?”
Of course, I was shocked. The pistol could talk? But I answered the pistol’s greeting.
“Not yet, I’m not tired yet. These days I can’t fall asleep until almost dawn. It’s possible that in addition to having epilepsy, I also suffer from acute insomnia. So, seriously, you can talk?”
“Of course I can, I’m one of God’s creations, of course I can talk and what’s more, I can feel. Oh man, I’m really sad that Father Detective died.”
“Thanks for your condolences.”
“I’m sad because Father Detective died in such a common way, just like an ordinary person.”
“Hey wait a minute, my dad dropped dead out of the blue, and you’re saying the way he died was ordinary?”
“ Yeah! I remember Father Detective, your dad, wanted to die in the most heroic way possible. He wanted to die, at the very least, shot by a bad guy he was pursuing. But, your dad was such a clever policemen, he always managed to capture bad guys empty handed, and even some of the thugs he caught surrendered without a fight. So obviously I was almost always left to laze around unemployed.”
“My dad was an amazing policeman dammit!”
“Yes, clearly he was an amazing man. He was honest, but poor. It’s really a pity.”
“Why would you pity my father?”
“Of course I feel pity when I think of your father’s fate. The fact is, even your own mother fled into the arms of another man. Your mom, she couldn’t stand to be poor. And you, you have epilepsy. He talked about you all the time, when he was on a break at the station. Your dad, he didn’t have a lot of friends. All the other detectives were afraid to hang out with your dad, they thought he was a spy placed undercover by the regional chief of police, to trap other policemen who misbehaved.”
“Sorry, but I’m really not interested in hearing about my dad’s job. Why don’t you tell me what else he said about me?”
“OK, listen up.”
I feel that God really isn’t just. Never in my whole life have I felt truly happy. My life is full of suffering, suffering that never ends, like a story that’s always “to be continued.” But, I’m not the type of guy who just surrenders himself to fate or destiny. I fight. I fight, until at some point, I give up.
God created suffering upon endless suffering. I only have a little education. I only got through middle school. But luckily, I was accepted into the Police Academy. I made sure of that, even if I was given the lowest position. And even though I was just a low-ranking officer, in the eyes of a woman, all policemen are attractive and captivating. And I don’t have to explain, how policemen are seen in the eyes of the people. You know all about that.
Karmila. She was a woman who was totally drawn in by the glamour of the force. So, when I asked her to marry me, she was more than ready. She was so proud to have a husband who was a policeman, even just a low-ranking officer.
We weren’t married for very long when Karmila got pregnant. We were blessed with a son. I was so proud, and Karmila was so happy to have a little baby boy who was chubby and strong. But not very soon afterwards it turned out my child was sick. He would stiffen up and foam at the mouth. People said we were cursed. What kind of curse, I wanted to know. People said Karmila was cursed because she wasn’t pure. And it turned out that the gossip about my wife was true. She snuck out and cheated on me while I was on night duty. She didn’t care if her child had a fit while she ran away from home.
I raised Kartiko myself. Sometimes, I almost gave up trying to care for my child all alone. Especially with his condition that was getting worse and worse. It seemed that as he approached adolescence, the older he got the more fits he had.
When he had a fit, what I did was handcuff him. I didn’t want him to hit anyone, including me, when he relapsed. With a stinging and bitter heart I tied up Kartiko’s hands and feet. I never treated any of the criminals I caught as roughly or as degradingly as I treated Kartiko.
But when he was healthy and doing fine, he was a really bright kid. He was smart even though he didn’t go to school. I took care of his need for education by buying him a television. He learned all he needed to know from the shows and movies he watched.
I scraped together some money little by little, just enough to treat my only child. No more than that. Of course there was a lot of temptation, especially when I arrested a high-class criminal. Sometimes, when I was grappling with a big-time crook, all of a sudden the pockets of my leather jacket would be filled with money. If you added it all up, it might be tens of millions. Maybe it was even hundred of millions of rupiah, like the time I arrested a killer who had been paid by a national official. I returned it all via my supervisors. I never knew, whether that money was returned to the state or just went into my supervisors’ coffers.
But even if I came up short, so be it, I didn’t want to support Kartiko with illegitimate money. Let me live a poor life, as long as I make my fortune in a righteous way. I made sure the blood that flowed through Kartiko’s veins was blood from food that was obtained in a halal manner.
Whenever I remember Kartiko or talk about him, I feel melancholy. All of sudden I feel sad. My heart gets misty. He’s already a teenager now, but of course kids grow up. He’s 17 years old. I’m sure he already understands how life goes. And understands his dad’s life too. It goes without saying, I wish he had a girlfriend. I want him to be able to hold hands with a woman, to know how it feels to kiss his girlfriend on the lips.
These days, my chest hurts all the time. Maybe because I smoke too much, or maybe because I too often find myself chasing criminals through these polluted streets. But the pain in my chest quickly subsides if Kartiko greets me when I come home in the evening.
You know, you are my faithful friend. You’re like a brother, you’re my flesh and blood, just like Kartiko. Tell him that I really care about him. I feel that working as a detective I have a slim chance of survival. My obsession is that my life will end while I’m at work. I want to die in the middle of combat, by getting shot by one of the criminals I’m apprehending. Maybe, that’s the most heroic way to die. The most respectable way to die.
But why does my chest still hurt all the time? I even stopped smoking three weeks ago. I traded my cigarettes in for mint-flavored gum that I chew every day. And I’ll keep chewing it, every day, until my teeth turn white again.
I hope you’re not too bored with me spilling my guts to you all the time. I don’t have any good friends. You’re the closest to me. Tell that to Kartiko some day.
The pistol barked at me again. No, no, sorry. The pistol addressed me again. It seemed I was swept away by what I had just heard. I was speechless.
“Hello, are you still paying attention?”
“Do I have to 100% believe your story?”
“That’s up to you my friend. I mean, if you hadn’t opened that black box where I was sprawled out sleeping, maybe we never would have even had this conversation.”
“You’re right! Pistol, did my dad ever use you to kill anybody?”
“I already told you, as long as I have been in the hand of Father Detective, I never killed anybody.”
“Do you want me to shoot one of the bullets from inside your body into somebody else’s brain?”
“Of course! Being a pistol, that’s something that I have waited for my whole life.”
“What do you want to shoot?”
“Well first of all, your mother, who ran off with another man. She’s a woman who really doesn’t know her place!”
“And after that?”
“A criminal… No, to be exact, corruptors. I really want to shoot each one of them in the head, so that the bullet goes straight through their brains.”
“Maybe writers. Writers that make fiction seem like fact. They ruin normal people’s imagination, basically ruin people in general.”
“It’s really too bad, my friend, but I can’t kill even one of those people. Shoot them in your dreams!”
“What do you mean?”
The pistol really barked. Breaking the silence for just a second. Then immediately quieting in stillness, like the beating of bat’s wings when they land on the roof of a house on their journey home. The dawn sky was turning grey. The scent of gunpowder lingered in my nose. It smelled amazing, truly enchanting.
In the corner of the room, near the cupboard. A mouse that would never squeak again, its body destroyed like a firecracker that that just exploded.
“Disturber of the peace!” I cursed, while blowing on the muzzle of the pistol over and over. Over and over. Over and over.
Jakarta, 11 March 2010