Tomorrow will be a new beginning. A beginning for a revolution, a beginning for new changes in the calendar. Of course, not for me. For years, I’ve synced out of the calendar, or I’ve been synced out. It doesn’t matter—the point is: no calendar can keep track of my days, and tomorrow will be like the one before and like the thousands of days before that.
“Hey, Ali!” My friend, Farid, called in excitement from distance as he approached me.
I was lounging on an old sofa in front of my room, with my eyes locked on a thin, golden-hued clouds that stretched like a rainbow on the horizon. I squeezed myself to the left end of the sofa, making room for him to sit, but he refused to sit and leaned on one knee with his index finger pressed on the sofa’s armrest.
“Are you going somewhere?” I asked. I knew why he put on his black pants and blue t-shirt and where he was going too. But I asked anyway.
“Well, come on, let’s go. It’s getting late. We have to get there before seven and have dinner with Ahmad and my Indonesian friends,” Farid said hastily in his usual high-pitched voice.
I sat still, trapped between my thoughts and his words then uttered “I, I, I….”
“Don’t worry about Immigration Officers. There’s no surprising headcount like last year. One of the officers messaged Dawood—they are not coming,” a genuine smile appeared on his face. “Look! There will be lots of people. We can stay for the ceremony and see the fireworks, like the one in video I showed you from last year. You don’t want to miss it this year. Do you?” I remained still without saying anything. He followed, “Look, there will be lots of girls too. It may turn into a lucky year, and I would see you get out of this singlehood,” he poked my shoulder as he finished his talk.
“Come on, you go. I have to make a call. I promise I’ll go tomorrow—people still celebrate New Year tomorrow, right?” I disentangled my eyes from Farid to catch the golden-hued clouds—its left end morphed behind the trees in front of my room. Birds chirped along with low, whizzing sound of the water pump.
“You’ll get plenty of time for your call,” he said sharply.
“No, no, you go—I have to be here. Not everyone from my eating group goes out tonight. I have to warm dinner for them,” I looked forcibly into his eyes for a few second, hoping I’ve convinced him.
“Nothing. Everything is fine.” I said faintly and I looked down at my right fingers scuffing the wooden color of the sofa’s armrest.
“One thing you are not good at is lying,” he said, searching for eye contact.
A few second passed in silence before words formed on my mouth, “Well, you know, it’s hard? It’s just…it’s hard to enjoy the Eve.” My eyes met Farid’s look of unveiled pain and a wish that my words hadn’t surface it as I glanced up and quickly looked down.
He waited for me to finish. “New Year’s Eve is so special for us. You know that. It’s special with our family. Without them I … after all these years I haven’t found myself to enjoy it.”
I looked at him. His eyes shifted to the ground, and he swallowed with effort. “It’s ironic—I was sad in the morning at not being sad.” I puzzled for a few second before he continued. “I wonder why it doesn’t grieve me as it did ten years ago. Do you think I lost my sense of love for my family?” He asked with a subtle vulnerability in his voice that I rarely had seen before.
A minute passed by in silence. “I think that’s just the next stage—the numbness. The next stage for me,” I said supportively with a forced smile.
We sat still, saying nothing til the golden clouds blackened.
“No excuse for tomorrow, ok? I promise it’ll be fun,” Farid said loudly for me to hear as he disappeared behind the rambutan tree to left corner of my room. He didn’t wait for my response. That meant I had no other choice but to go with him.
The following morning, I sat with my legs crossed trying to imagine New Year morning greetings with my family, the same ritual I have done every New Year morning since I left them many years ago—soothing myself. I would close my eyes and open the living-room’s door to see that my mom has just came from baking bread and is unfolding the sofra on the ground. She takes some yellow crispy bread fresh from the furnace and puts it on the sofra. My little sister helps to pour tea on the sparkly glasses. My dad lies undisturbed on his side, listening to his radio. “Mom, Happy New Year,” I say. She stands and wraps me tight in her arms and kisses my brow and says, “Happy New Year my son, my only one.” Then, I draw her hand to my mouth and kiss it. I crouch down to hold my little sister in my arms. My dad dials down his radio and stands to his feet. “Dad, Happy New Year.” “Happy New Year, son,” he says with the warmth of his heart and opens his arms to hug me. Then we all sit at the sofra to have the New Year’s breakfast.
But this year, whenever I closed my eyes, I got interrupted by the image of a pale wall in front of my retina with me moaning behind the locked door of our living room. I no longer had the aids of my senses nor was my memory helping me to picture my family in my head. I couldn’t bring to life the gray thread in my dad’s hair and the wrinkles on the back of his hands, as I saw it in his latest picture, or the sagginess under my mom’s eyes … perhaps I was a big part in causing that sagginess. I would not be crouching down hugging my little sister because she has grown to meet my shoulder.
My phone rang. It jolted me out of my turmoil state. It was Farid. He said he was outside warming his motorcycle engine, and I should be outside in a few minutes. Without saying much, I said “okay.”
Nothing of last dusk sadness was evident on Farid’s face. His usual carefree smile gleaming with the happy touch of New Year’s morning.
After an hour’s ride, we arrived at Lagoi’s parking lot. It was packed with hundreds of cars and motorcycles. I got off Farid’s back. He disappeared in distance amidst the parked motorcycles.
I waited him under a small tree’s shade for a moment still carrying my sad state. “Let’s go!” Farid called, taking quick step toward me, as if a large audience waited him to sing. Not much in the world seemed to rob the smile from Farid’s face. His smile was always contagious to me. I smiled back and stretched my arm toward him—to help me getting onto my feet. The celebratory atmosphere of Lagoi washed over my down state. I had not seen this many people crammed here in the two times I had come before. As if New Year rung everyone’s door on the island. Children were playing in the park to the left side. Their parents were watching from behind the plastic yellow fences. You never knew whether they were watching after their children or imagining themselves sliding off the inflated plastic slides. Either way they weren’t worried, but smiling involuntarily. There was a music band rehearsing on a large stage to the right side. A few people who stood in front of them, mimicking every beat of the music with their bodies. My mind was already filled with the anticipation of joy ahead. Off, behind the stage, countless families sat in the shade of royal palm trees. Some came in three people, some in four, and some in ten people. A little girl locked everyone’s eyes on herself. She sat on her dad’s belly and pulling a rubber band off her dad’s brow then would release it. Her dad feignedly creamed at its burning strike, then both burst into laughter along with everyone around them.
A short lady with a shawl wrapped neatly around her fat face was not looking at the little girl. She was looking at us. Her uninterrupted gaze untangled me from the scenery. She looked at me like most people had looked at me when I first step into Indonesian soil—a stranger that belonged to somewhere else. Someplace where I would celebrate New Year with my family like her and her family pack. Before I would seek for the same hunting look around me, Farid pulled my arm to continue going to the right side.
As we passed the beach shower, a small crowd caught my attention. People pressed themselves closely to one another, making it impossible to see through them until we got close enough. A middle-aged-man in a white cap, yellow with dirt around its rim, held a one-and-half-meter giant yellow and white dotted python on his shoulder. Its head was hanging in the air off his index finger and thumb. He swung the python in the air with a dominating smile on his little eyes inviting children and teenagers to touch the snake. Everyone’s face shone with fear and curiosity. It was the curiosity that pinned their feet around the python. The snake-man laughed at the fear in the audience’s faces. My eyes and jaw widened in excitement as I saw it. There were a few small snakes inside a plastic box to man’s side.
I grew up in an airy, treeless mountainous area of Afghanistan with many snakes around. Snakes were one of the playing tools when my friends and I took sheep to the mountains to graze. We would look for snakes in the bushes and beneath the rocks. Once we found one, we’d throw it around with long stick. Before it managed to bite, we would exhaust it to death. None of the snakes I had touched before was as big as that python. I turned my head to Farid in a daring pose. A fearful smile escaped off his face. “No, no,” he said as he edged backward.
“Just watch me!” I said.
A kid half my size stepped forward before me with his hand held behind his back in courtesy. His friends around the same age made a WO-WO sounds. Everybody’s eyes were wide open – watching him. The snake-man took the snake off his shoulder like a piece of fabric, indifferent to what it was. He waved its head at the boy and empathically asked, “Ayu, lebih dekat?” The boy froze for a few seconds then glanced back at his friends with pale eyes. Any retreat could belittle him in front them. The snake-man placed the python’s head placidly on the kid’s right hand and its body on his shoulder. The weight of the python limped the boy’s shoulder, and his bloodless lips shivered along with his hands. Suddenly, the cheering noise faded in my ears. The same distress in the little kid’s eyes mirrored my own many upset eyes in the glass at midnight – remembering my mom’s crying voice wishing to see me again before anything would happened to her and my own helplessness to fulfill her wish would set me to cry.. I turned back and pierced through the crowd in front of me to gasp some air.
After a moment, Farid came tapped on my shoulder from behind, “Let’s go.” As he passed by, he was talking on the phone.
“Go back to accommodation”? I pleaded, “I want to go back!”
“No!” he stopped and shot an unintentional glance through the corner of his eyes, still talking on the phone, then continued walking.
My neck muscles were stiff from inside. Air found it difficult to channel through. I didn’t know if he heard me correctly. I saw him suddenly rushed in the direction of the short woman, and he disappeared in the crowd. Not to lose his track, I followed him—wishing that he would get his motorcycle ready to go back.
When I got to where families sat in trees’ shades, Farid’s voice startled me. “Ali! Ali!” He was restraining his voice so as not to attract attention. He waved his hand at me to join them. He sat with an Indonesian family in the shade: a fifty-years-old lady with a man of the same age, a woman in her thirty with two little children around her knees, and a teenage girl. All were looking at me. A discomforting shyness added to my dismal state. It was in the least of my interest to join them. I stood still for a moment…then the two little kids and the lady joined Farid waving their hands.
I greeted them in my broken Indonesian language. It turned out that they all could speak English except the two little kids. The old lady insisted me to sit next to her. She emphatically asked, in a great interest like my mom did, about my day, and I lied to her, just like I had lied to my mom every time I talked with her on the phone, telling her that my day was great. But she saw something else in my eyes or in my shy voice and didn’t say anything, instead, she rubbed my knee to sooth me whenever she found the right time. Her intimate touch did coat my pain.
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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.