Ten minutes before the floodwaters arrived, Pak Prawiro died. Who knows to where his soul sped off. Now only his body remained by his cramped house. Stretched out as though he were just sleeping. Not a single soul appeared saddened by his death. You have to understand, no one knew Pak Prawiro’s origins and background.
Five minutes before the floodwaters arrived, a neighbour found Pak Prawiro sprawled on the ground in the cassava patch next to his house. ‘Pak Prawiro fainted,’ he said to himself, before enlisting the help of another neighbor in carrying Pak Prawiro into his house. ‘He’s dead,’ said yet another neighbour. ‘Just check his pulse.’
Sure enough, he had no pulse, his heart had stopped pumping, and his body had grown cold. They laid Pak Prawiro down on the couch and covered him with a sheet, as if he were napping. Someone tied a white cloth around his head so his mouth wouldn’t hang open. Another closed his eyes.
One minute before the floodwaters arrived, someone shouted ‘Look, the river has reached the top of the embankment!’
‘Relax,’ another answered, ‘It never floods here. The farthest it’s come is up to the road.’
No one was thinking it might flood. The housing complex had been built seven years ago and the river had never spilled over its banks and flooded. They were still in the deceased’s house, wanting to do something for Pak Prawiro, but there was nothing else to be done.
‘The owners of the house will be back soon anyway,’ someone said.
Sunset arrived. The dusk sky was coloured by bright streaks of orange. Office workers were heading home, passing through the neighbourhood gate one by one. A yellow paper banner on a pole was fixed in front of Pak Prawiro’s house. But people just kept walking by.
‘I’ll go back later,’ they thought, ‘now I’m just too tired.’
To be sure, all the neighbours lived together peacefully without disturbing each another but it seemed they didn’t know one other either. How could anyone know Pak Prawiro? He was just an elderly man who never talked about himself. He could have been 60, possibly 70, but he also could have been 55. Don’t most people look older than they actually are? Even more so if they’ve suffered grief, sorrow, disappointment and misery. Pak Prawiro probably hadn’t suffered so much, but really, no one knew because no one knew him. It was even highly likely that not everyone knew his name was Pak Prawiro.
He lived with a married couple who left the house early in the morning and never came out again after returning home, so people didn’t really remember their names either. Of course, their names were recorded in the Neighbourhood Chairman’s official logbook, but even the Neighbourhood Chairman never managed to remember their names. You have to understand, though, everyone lived like this. People came and went. People only left their homes to go to work. People came home to collapse in bed after Jakarta wore them out. Once in a while, someone might knock on the door to shake hands and say goodbye because they were moving to a more beautiful place where the walls were made of cheese and sugar, and the faucets run with sarsaparilla.
So there was no reason for anyone at all to notice much less feel sad and shed tears over Pak Prawiro’s death. Especially as the hissing of the water was growing louder. The river began to spill onto the street. The streets on both sides of the river began to flow with water.
‘Water is overflowing onto the street,’ someone said.
People immediately went to the riverbank. Even those in the house where Pak Prawiro’s body lay as though he was asleep.
‘It won’t get any higher than this,’ said another person, ‘I’ve lived here since before this complex was built and the river has never flooded.’
Sunset turned into night. The bright sky darkened, adorned by the moon and stars. People went home again even though the water was rising, overflowing and filling the street. People coming home from the office on foot carried their shoes in their hands, rolled up their pants, and hiked their skirts up in order to make it home with dry clothes, but the cars and motorbikes cruising through the streets made waves that splashed and soaked their clothes anyway.
The river’s hissing was becoming a roar. The embankment burst near the neighbourhood gate. The water in the street rose higher, merging with the river and flowing into people’s yards. Inside the houses, people were absorbed in watching football on television. The cheers of the spectators in the stadium thundered, echoing in the ear-splitting sound of home stereo speakers.
The sounds of the stadium blended with the viewers’ cheers in their homes. They didn’t hear the civil defense guard beating out warnings on the wooden kentongan tube.
‘Flood! Flood! Alert! Water’s up to houses!’
Water was seeping in through the cracks in doorways. Water gushed in through the bathroom plumbing. Water seeped in through the pipes behind houses. People were shocked. The floors, mats, and carpets were suddenly sopping wet. They opened their doors and were surprised to find themselves seemingly in the midst of a rushing river.
Water rushed to all corners of the house. Televisions were hoisted aloft, many bobbing in the water before anyone could move them. People tried to save their cars, but many stalled and their owners were forced to push them against the current. Mothers were busy saving their babies, jewellery, money, and documents. A group of people worked to repair the embankment, going back and forth with sandbags. Still, the water continued to overflow.
Inside the houses, the water was already knee deep. People with an upper storey simply went upstairs and settled down to sleep. Those without upper storeys fled in droves to the homes of those who did. The neighbors who had them, awakened from sleep, met the evacuees with sour faces. People lined the windows of the upper floors watching the floodwaters. The housing complex was like a huge ship afloat on the sea.
Outside there were still considerable numbers of people wandering about. Some carried suitcases with the idea of evacuating the complex. Others carried torches and, lord knows why, shined them here and there. A few kids made the most of the situation, swimming about in inner-tubes while shrieking with laughter. The electricity was out. Luckily, the moon was bright enough in a clear sky filled with stars. There was no rain, no wind, but the housing complex was under water. The Neighbourhood Chairman began to think this must have been caused by the piling up and flattening of earth in the real estate development where the faucets ran with sarsaparilla.
Suddenly people heard shouting.
‘Pak Prawiro! Pak Prawiro!’
Pak Prawiro’s body, it turns out, was floating.
At first it was his place of rest, the couch, that began to float, the waves from outside knocking it against the walls of the house. One collision was hard enough to roll Pak Prawiro’s body right off into the water. His corpse was carried out the wide-open door by the current. It caught briefly on the fence, but as the water rose, Pak Prawiro was carried along by the flow. His eyes, formerly closed, now opened once again. Someone flashing a torch here and there spotted him.
‘Pak Prawiro! The current is taking Pak Prawiro’s body!’
He tried to get closer, but because the water was already waist-high it was slow going. Pak Prawiro’s body floated along as though he were doing the backstroke, though without moving his arms.
‘Help! Catch Pak Prawiro’s body.’
Some people evacuating tried to block him. But it was as if he didn’t want to be caught. He slid away from them at an angle and shot off just like a fish riding the current as it sped up around a corner. Sometimes Pak Prawiro turned face down only to roll over once again as though still alive.
‘Stop him over there! Hurry! Block him on that side!’
Some even tried to give chase by swimming, so they could move more nimbly, but oddly, Pak Prawiro’s body was faster still. Blocked on the left, he lurched to the right. Blocked on the right, he slipped through the middle. Someone leapt to grab his shirt, but Pak Prawiro’s arm slapped him away and he escaped.
‘He got away! Block him at the end of the lane over there!’
But before he came to the end of the lane, some bushes snagged Pak Prawiro. His hand hung there as though it were waving them over. People laughed.
‘Yeah, yeah, just a second’ said a drenched security guard.
The guard was only a few steps away when the corpse broke free again.
‘Heeyy! Pak Prawiro is on the loose again! After him! Stop him!’
In the end, someone ran after him across the rooftops. Of course it was easier that way. From roof to roof he followed Pak Prawiro’s body as it explored every lane and alleyway in the housing complex. Once, Pak Prawiro’s head bumped against a window, shoving it open. Pak Prawiro entered a house lit only by candles, causing its occupants to shriek. Instead of welcoming him, they shoved his body right back out the door. And so the current pulled Pak Prawiro’s corpse along once again. The cloth binding Pak Prawiro’s jaw had come off so that his mouth kept opening and closing as though he were taking a drink of water. Pak Prawiro’s body stopped at a whirlpool that had formed in an intersection, spinning around and around in the eddy. His pursuer on the rooftops pointed to him immediately.
‘He’s spinning around in the intersection. Hurry up!’
People came running from every direction.
‘Now we’ve gotcha,’ said someone as they lunged at him. He fell atop Pak Prawiro’s corpse with his full weight and they both dove under the water. When the assailant resurfaced, all he held was an undershirt .
‘Where’d he go?’
People were dumbfounded. Then they saw Pak Prawiro’s sarong. But only the sarong. Then they appeared to see his hand, but no, it wasn’t. You can imagine that in the streets, long since become rivers, all sorts of things were floating by. Plastic pails, flip-flops, chairs, volleyballs, underpants, garbage bins and letters, not to mention civet cats swimming here and there. Pak Prawiro’s body was nowhere to be seen.
Most likely the corpse hadn’t yet gone too far. It was probably caught on something somewhere, who knows where. To be honest, even if it had been carried a ways downstream it could still be pursued by car from outside the complex and captured. However, they were already weary, hungry, sleepy and chilled. And besides, who was Pak Prawiro anyway? They already spent a chunk of time chasing after him. People were still in a panic thinking of their own families’ safety. True, this flood wasn’t too terrifying, but anyone who had not yet experienced a flood was certain to feel some panic, anxiety, and take offense at the goldfish from the neighbour’s pond swimming through their house. At a time like that, who cared about Pak Prawiro’s body? Even more so given they had only just learned that his name was Pak Prawiro.
‘Let’s call it a night, and besides, we’ll find him when the flood recedes anyway,’ said the Security Guard.
At dawn, the water began to recede. People left for their offices, rolling up their pants and carrying their shoes. By late morning, housewives were drying their mattresses in the sun on their fences or rooftops. The streets were dirty and piled with mud. The house where Pak Prawiro had lived was still empty. The couple who lived there hadn’t yet come home. They’d probably slept in their car, one of a long row of cars parked outside the complex. From there, they’d gone directly to work, showering at the office after buying some clothes in a shop.
Today, the couple came home earlier than usual. Perhaps they were thinking about Pak Prawiro. Their connection to the old man was never completely clear. The Neighbourhood Chairman saw them enter the empty home. The yellow banner in front of the house had been carried away by the flood. There was nothing to indicate that the elderly man who had shared their home had not only died, but that his body had been swept away by the flood and lost. The Neighbourhood Chairman was pondering the most appropriate words to say to them, while trying to recall, at the very least, even one of their names.
ABOUT THE CONTRIBUTOR
Seno Gumira Ajidarmais one of Indonesia’s best known and most widely published writers. He has authored many novels, collections of short stories, essays, and several plays and volumes of poetry. He has won multiple awards for his work including the prestigious SEAWrite award for his contributions to Southeast Asian literature in 1997. Translations of his works include his collection of short stories focused on Indonesia’s brutal occupation of East Timor, Eyewitness (1995); a collection of short stories, essays and a play centering on the end of the Suharto regime, Jakarta at a Certain Point in Time (2002); and his experimental novel, Jazz, Perfume, and the Incident (2013). Seno lives in Jakarta and is currently working on a multi-volume martial arts epic novel, Nagabumi.
Michael Bodden is Professor of Pacific and Asian Studies at the University of Victoria. He is author of Resistance on the National Stage: Theater and Politics in Late New Order Indonesia (2010) and edited the second volume of The Lontar Anthology of Indonesian Drama (Building a National Theatre) to which he also contributed translations of several plays. He has published widely on Indonesian theatre, literature, and popular culture, and has translated the fiction, poetry, and plays of Indonesian writers such as Putu Wijaya, Nurhidayat Poso, Afrizal Malna, and Seno Gumira Ajidarma.