I was lying on my back looking up high at the sky hoping I could find some comfort – a coat over the turmoil of my surrounding. The sky was gray in the dusk. A pale star shivered in distance – alone. It drew my gaze to its lonely figure. Shapeless clouds painted over the rest of the sky. My friend, Hamid, interrupted me by bringing his exhausted face blocking the sky view and asked, “Where would you wish to be now?”
Without hesitation, I sharply said, “here!” Looking at my arduous day of walking for twenty-five kilometers with blistered feet under burning sun at some places under heavy rain, it was the only answer that came to my mind. Even the fear of Indonesian military forces, that in a hundred meters distance putting their combat uniform to walk over us, did not deter me from that answer.
He said, “No, no, if this situation did not exist where you wished to be?” I saw his answer to the question behind his weary round eyes. I suddenly got the answer in my mind.
“Hmm, coming from work, I would be cooking for my family – a wife – a little child maybe!” I chuckled to its improbability, “In my home in a country would want me,” I said with a freeing smile and saw its reflection on Hamid’s face. The question functioned much better untangling me from the surrounding turmoil than the murky sky.
“Where would you like to be?” I asked.
An innocent smile appeared on his face before the answer. “I would come from work calling my wife. You don’t need to trouble yourself cooking. I will bring prepared food from restaurant, and have it with my family”
Adding to the sweetness of our talk I said, “Maybe ask her to get ready to go out?” It brought him saying “yes, yes!” then both of us laughed.
My head leaning to the side, my eyes again met the faint clouds, “Our wishes are like that clouds – dim and out of reach,” I said. It brought us both to a deep sad sigh to wash over the unpleasant reminder.
Many times happened to me, when people looking into my eyes then open up about their personal matters. I tell you I have not disappointed anyone yet. I listened! Hamid began talking about his mom and dad… in a fun not serious way. But it didn’t take much to read the pain behind his words. He saw an image of his dad eating kabab the other day. Wondering he asked his dad whether he could eat kabab at that age without his body showing discomfort reaction. Because Hamid, himself has a mysterious illness in his belly that impaired him from enjoying food for years.
As our conversation ended, the surrounding discomfort crept back under my skin. My feet were cold and dry so was the skin at the back of my hands, and my palms were gooey. A wish that I did not want to die was cramming under my belly wall – almost made me to throw up. I didn’t want to die, at least, not with a heavy blow of the police that had not yet finished putting their armors. The feeling was not new. Its marks on my memory was potent, especially, back in I.D.C. (Immigration Detention Center). When we were chanting freedom into the night knew that it would disturb the surrounding locals and the immigration officers, who did not see but calmness from us in the four years before, every minute, armored police were expected to show up. The feeling revived within me with the flickering blue light of the combat vehicles that were pushing the dim air around us.
A firefighter-like truck entered the scene with a visible sign on the front glass – glued in capital letter “DAMKAR,” which seemed to be a water container. We had not seen it before upon many weeks we came to protest and went back with daylights. Now its presence added up to the fright that two combat vehicles brought.
I had many unpublished works; short stories, poems, and essays. I wished that someone had access to them and would let the world see them. I did not want to die anonymously. More important than that, I had many untold stories with my dad. Many unshared hugs with my mom. Many unrecorded memories with my young brother and sister that I wanted to experience – one day. And it had not yet come to my mind to wish for it. Perhaps the important matters surface as death closes.
The same level of fear was as loud in some other refugees around as it was quiet within me. “They just show-off – trying to scare us. They will not come.” Ali shouted in disbelief as he restlessly sat around a group of other refugees in few meters distance to my left. But, all together, people grew quieter – carrying both the exhaustion of long walks and the threat of police within themselves.
I had learned to dispel the dissonances within me with words. It is not so hard to convince yourself, momentarily, you can still hope for tomorrow. I would wake up in the morning feeling sunrise on my face and trying to begin a normal day – given the dissonance of uncertain future that would wash over me late at night in the past seven years. You can calm yourself into thinking that God would protect your family in the face of war. It worked for me in the many sleepless nights I have been thinking about my family and future.
Let it be, was the first surrendering thought that appeared on my mind. Even if a possible death awaits you it is for the right cause. You are fighting to be you. You are fighting to become the man who takes care of his family. I was soaked in that thoughts when the Police lieutenant found it difficult to convince us to go back to our accommodation and resume our protest the following day. His previous aggression changed into an almost begging tone.
By the time, we knew the armed forces were mere a frightening strategy. They couldn’t justify suppressing a few hundred defenseless and exhausted refugees. Refugees, who walked for twenty-five kilometers to show their misery to the world and Indonesian people, yet determined enough to fight their will even to the cost of their lives. The lieutenant saw it in our firm setting against their threat.
Half an hour later, the lieutenant said “I understand you all. You can stay the night if you want. And I will leave some cops for your protection. But you need to go back to your accommodation in the morning. The Governor’s office that you want to march toward, you may not find him there without prior arrangement. I suggest you come back the day after tomorrow. I will coordinate a meeting with him.” The words were so new to my ears. I hadn’t heard from the position of authority in past seven and half years of my life as a refugee. Words that we all were waiting to hear. Words that worked better in convincing us to return than their usual threat and aggression.
I was sitting at the back of the police van with nine other refugees feeling the cold breeze on my face. The van was open on the sides and back with two long narrow steel seats back to back. It moved as fast as the night allowed with its siren on, leaving regular cars behind. It was more like an act of authority than being in hurry. We certainly did not rush to get back to our accommodation. Everybody around me had the relief in their voice – chanting and joking, but I had it quiet within me – unmoved to their jokes. My feet warmed as we arrived half an hour later to our accommodation.
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Hussain Shah Rezaie is an Afghan writer and assistant editor in the archipelago. His work has been published in widely-read publications including The Jakarta Post, the Cincinnati Review, the Southeast Asia Globe, the archipelago and Project Multatuli.Hussain Shah Rezaie, dari Afghanistan, adalah penulis dan asisten editor di the archipelago. Karyanya telah diterbitkan di The Jakarta Post, The Cincinnati Review, The Southeast Asia Globe, dan the Archipelago.