It was a dim, shabby place, not much spoken of in the centre of the village, if ever.  Placed up on the side of the hill, on the way up to all the restaurants where tourists could get a cheap meal, photos of the volcano, and food poisoning.  The sort of place that people did not aspire to go to, nor did they avoid it.  Just another dusty group of streets, woven together like an old woman’s basket in such a way that they looked as though they had grown up out of the grass naturally, not been beaten into the grass with sticks or hot feet with everywhere to go, no time to lose, and yet understanding every perfect stone beneath them.
     This street in particular was quite unremarkable.  If you were to ask me which street in this group of streets it was,  I could not tell you more than I think it was the southernmost street, or perhaps the one two up from that, or it could indeed have been the middle or the northernmost.  They were all much the same, really, apart from the small, insignificant fact that none of the other streets had a box.
     It was neither suspicious nor particularly interesting, just a Hessian-covered box in the middle of the street.  It had always been there, and nobody questioned it.  They drove their motorcycles and their becaks and their taxis and their scooters around it.  It was so comfy and settled-looking in its place that even the tourists, loud Americans, confused Europeans, curious Japanese and laughing Australians glanced at it without the thought even registering in their minds that it might, in another place or time, be strange for a box to be sitting in the middle of the road.  It just emanated the feeling of rightness, as though there was nowhere else in all this universe or indeed any other that would be more right for this box to be.  It was happy, and, because it was so happy, no one really bothered about it.  Who can be bothered with someone who is happy?  We have worries and daily lives to attend to.

      Hari Minggu came around.  Usually in stories, a lazy Sunday afternoon is when something happens.  But nothing happened on the Sunday in this story.

     The people in this story had to wait for the next Hari Jumat. Of course, they didn’t know they were waiting, apart from Putu.  Putu knew she was waiting. She had been waiting for over fifteen minutes, and she was tired of waiting.  It was hot, and as much as she loved watching fat tourists climb the hill in tiny cars, today really wasn’t the day for it.  Her little brother Nyoman was supposed to meet her here after school, and he was late.  He wasn’t usually late, but she supposed he was playing in the dirt with his grotty little friends as usual, and had forgotten about meeting her to go to Bu Pat’s house.  Or maybe he “forgot”… extra Math wasn’t really his idea of fun.
     Either way, Putu’s legs were tired and she wanted to go home.  She told herself she would way five more minutes and then leave.

     At this point in a story, something strange or different usually occurs to change the direction of what we have come to see as the “everyday” plot into something intriguing, or at least interesting enough to keep us reading, and throw the characters out of their comfort zones.  Not so in this story.  In this story, the strange and different occurrence has already happened.
     In this story, the strange and different thing had happened last time Putu had walked through that wholly unremarkable street.  Something had changed that hadn’t changed for a long time.  Perhaps someone kicked a certain pebble further or faster than it had ever been kicked before.  Perhaps a small child dropped a leaf in a shadow which was a different shape to any shadow the leaf had ever been dropped in before.  Nobody knows, but the result of this mysterious and entirely unimportant happening was that an image of the street stood up, shook itself a little, and curled up asleep in Putu’s mind.  She had been through that street many times; it was identical to the other streets, all woven together like an old woman’s basket.  She would never have remembered it before.  But on that day this most contrary image which had never been in anyone’s mind before, suddenly decided (due to the mysterious and entirely unimportant happening) that it wished to find a mind to sit upon.  And so it did, and so it was that Putu unconsciously passed the image, duplicated due to incubation in her mind, onto her brother, and randomly chose it as their meeting place for that Friday.  In doing so she also changed the street and everything in it, including the box, in some minute and unnoticeable way, which made it in some minute way more noticeable.

I digress.

     This odd but not entirely unmarked sequence of events led to this tired and fed-up Putu noticing the never-before noticed box in the middle of the street.  Her legs were aching, and there was nowhere else to sit, so she wandered over to it and sat down on it.  It felt as though it were a hollow crate made of wood.  She ran her thin fingers over the dusty brown Hessian, and a stray (but not untimely) breeze blew her long brown hair over her face, causing her to become irritated and toss her head.
     There was only one other person in the street at that point, and his name was Wayan.  He was about a year younger than Putu (give or take a few months,) and he had been watching her standing restlessly in the dust waiting as he had wandered up the street. He had noticed, as boys his age do, the shape and curve of her legs, arms, stomach, breasts, chin, and lips.  But now, as he walked past her, he noticed her face.  (To tell you the truth it would have been difficult not to, the way she was flicking her hair around.)

     To make this story less drawn-out and more pleasant to read, I shall say simply that he fell in love with her, heels-over-head, tip-over-arse, whatever you may feel inclined to call it.  Her brother arrived, they left, Wayan just stood there gaping like something that gapes a lot, and watched her go.  (If you were wondering, she did notice him, mainly because she met him once when they were both ten and he was a complete idiot.  He didn’t remember, so maybe he was still a complete idiot.)  He went home.  He daydreamt about her. That night he lay awake and dreamt about her.  Then he fell asleep and dreamt about her.  He woke up and dreamt about her some more, and was scolded by his mother for dawdling.  But he didn’t care.  Hari Sabtu was Market Day, and he knew she would be walking down the same street.  (Don’t ask how he knew, it helps the story if you don’t.)  So of course he hurried to get there before she did.
     He failed miserably, but the next day he went there again, and had only moments to wait before Putu wandered down the street.  He held his breath, as people do in the tense parts of stories like this.  She walked.  He held his breath, with two hands if possible.  She walked.  And as he stepped forward to say hello to her, she turned away from him to look at the box in the middle of the street. Something drew her to it – perhaps it was the lack of its previous rightness, I don’t know, and I’m sure she didn’t, but drawn she was, like water from a well.  And when she touched the faded sacking that covered it, she disappeared.
     No one noticed apart from Wayan, of course, because that’s the way things go in these stories.  He let out a little cry of shock, and in two strides stood in the spot where Putu had been moments before.

     The box exhaled, as much as a box can, and settled again.  It returned to its contentedness, its rightness, and it and the street became once again as inconspicuous as it had always been.  But of course something was there to thwart that, and his name was Wayan.  He had noticed, he had seen Putu disappear, and within half a second of the rightness returning it was gone again, because an image of Putu’s disappearance was burnt into Wayan’s mind.  This prevented the unremarkable from being so.  Wayan grabbed the box with both hands and searched its surface.  He found what he knew had not been there before.  The word “bapak” was etched into the wood under a small hole in the Hessian.
     Wayan didn’t even consider turning the box over, or searching any more.  What remained of the rightness prevented him.  He simply clutched at his temple in despair and confusion, and made his way home.  The rightness had only been removed by the smallest amount, and yet that street was never the same again.  Someone tripped over the box.  More people began to notice the box and the strange, dim little street it lived on.  And of course, much to the distaste of the fast-dwindling rightness, the more people noticed it, the more noticeable and suspicious it became, until the street was regarded as “mysterious and strange” and was avoided.  

     The street and the box became the place in which hundreds – thousands, even – of stories were made, because it was “mysterious and strange”, and stories are drawn to places like that.  But nobody ever questions how these places become like that.  Well, now you know a story – well, half a story – of how thousands of stories were made.

      I do hope Nyoman didn’t fail Maths.

 July ’05


2 Responses to “Bapak”

  1. 1 qentank January 9, 2008 at 12:55 pm

    Wow. How come you know Indonesian words? That’s cool 🙂 You’ve been to Bali then? (I notice the names “Putu” and “Wayan”, both are Balinese names).
    I am an Indonesian btw. 🙂

  2. 2 Bec January 13, 2008 at 10:29 pm

    🙂 I’m glad you enjoyed the story! I learnt Indonesian in primary school for like 4 years or something, always loved the language 🙂 and yes, I went to Bali about four years ago.

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This blog is the collection of my poetry and prose, in chronological order from most recent to oldest.

Constructive critique is actively encouraged!

I am usually singing words as well as writing them, and make lots of other art. You can find me & my other art at any of the below links. x





All content on this blog © Rebecca Tilley, 2003-present

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