Short story by Hamzah Puadi Ilyas
Published in The Jakarta Post | Sun, 09/28/2008
I didn't want to call my wife an angel anymore as I used to, when she managed to cool of the blaze in my chest that could stop my horse breathing.
She was already gone, away with a man of golden teeth. I was convinced, now she was enjoying the gold's glitter in his tight embrace. I hoped their corpses were found in a cheap hotel room.
Thinking about them, I became sorrowful, mad and disappointed. The cute palace I had built was useless. I had worked my fingers to the bone while she was at home being served by a maid. She said her skin could get burnt cooking, her palm of hands could get coarse when washing clothes, and her body could gradually be hunchbacked when sweeping the floor.
In fact, to get her, I went through many obstacles, competing with one thousand men to satisfy my thirst for love. I sacrificed everything.
But after being with her, she started showing peculiarities. She said she was bored to tears with an empty house and her uncovered body. She said there was gold wound around the necks, arms, fingers, and legs of our neighbors. Their houses were also cool and full of expensive furniture.
I said she had to be patient. I would fill the house step by step. Deduction from my monthly wage wasn't yet finished. I used the money to build what I called a palace, but she called it a sheep's pen.
I got into a rage, so I slapped her face. She cried, taunting me with vile languages. She said she bitterly regretted choosing me as a husband.
I committed an error. I felt very sorry and asked for forgiveness.
But she did not take my apology. Instead, she committed adultery. Some neighbors said she always received a visitor, the man of golden teeth, when I worked.
Initially I did not believe, but when I saw a golden ring on her ring finger I had a sneaking suspicion. Then I asked her about the ring. She said she bought it using her savings from the money I gave her every month.
I did not trust her straightaway. Then I made a plan. She had a big smile on her face when I told her I would have a four-day training program in Puncak. Actually I hid in one of my neighbor's houses. All day long I peeped from behind a window curtain.
Finally, a man approached my house. My neighbor signaled to me that it was the man who often visited my wife. I saw her smile. The man smiled too. Glitter spouted from his mouth. I came to realize that the glitter was from his golden teeth. My wife closed the door.
Furiously I walked toward my house. I kicked the door vigorously. I saw her holding a golden necklace and the man putting his arms around her tightly. As quick as a flash, my right hand balled up into a fist. The fist hit him exactly on the mouth. He backed up several steps, his mouth open. Some of his golden teeth fell to the floor. Then he lunged toward me and ran as fast as his legs could carry him.
I observed my wife intently, my emotion being filled with a sense of outrage. Then I commanded her to pick up the golden teeth spread on the floor. Surprisingly, she said they were a gift for me who never gave her glittery jewelry. Quickly she went into the room and came back again with a big bag, leaving me without saying a word.
I sold my house, my palace, leaving all memories that have colored my life. I wanted to find a new color in another place.
I ventured out of my place with no direction by taking a bus. Arriving at a bus station, quickly I moved to another bus without asking where it would go. I roved for weeks until my money was running low. Then I decided to stay in a small city. I did not know its name.
I rented a house with only a bed and bathroom. The house could be reached from the main road by going through an alley. On the right side of the alley was a wall two and a half metres high, while on the left side was an old house with a damaged wire fence. The old house faced the main road and cassava tress grew beside it.
In the daytime, when looking for a job, I always saw the window of the old house through the cassava trees. The window looked gloomy, making the house wall, which peeled off here and there, duller. But I felt quite attracted to knowing what was behind the window.
Going through the alley for days, I always turned my face to look at the window. There were no sign of life, only the wind which swayed the cassava trees once in a while. In the end, I thought the house was unoccupied.
Finally I got a job at a restaurant. I was so pleased that I often went home late. I just wanted to show the restaurant owner that I was a good employee.
One midnight I went home tired and sleepy. When going through the alley, as always I turned to the old house. The wind blew in the stiff breeze, I drew my jacket tighter. The wind blew harder, swinging the cassava trees. Suddenly I saw the window open. In the twinkling of an eye, I saw a girl waving her hand. I was surprised, and then tried to find a better position to see her. When the cassava trees swayed again, I could see her clearly.
The girl was still waving her hand. I looked to the right and left. Nobody was around in the alley. Again I looked at the window. The girl was still waving her hand as though she asked me to come closer to her.
I pulled the damaged fence wire in order to enter. Stooping down and walking among the cassava trees, I heard the girl's voice, asking me to go faster. Her voice was so sweet. I imagined that she had the face of an angel.
It was true, she was gorgeous. She had long black hair with bright eyes, a sweet smile coming from her red lips. My hands held the window sill.
"What's your name?" I asked.
"Is that your real name?"
"Your name is as beautiful as your face."
She smiled again. I felt like drinking a cup of love wine. My body didn't feel anything, only the flame which was getting hotter. She stuck out her hands. I reached for them quickly. They were as soft as cotton.
"Please come in, if you want." She said.
Out of the blue, I was already beside her.
I found a new angel in my life. I was not wrong to have chosen this small city. Seeing myself in the mirror, I always said what a lucky man I was. Life was so beautiful and I became a real man again. I was working harder and the restaurant owner raised my salary. He said he was very happy to have me as one of his employees.
For several days I had not seen Angel. As usual, the window was closed. I longed for her. Was the time not appropriate? So, one day I decided to go home at midnight to repeat that beautiful and unforgettable moment.
The sky was without the moon, I was alone in the alley. People must have been in a deep slumber. I was standing, staring at the window and hoping Angel would open it.
I looked forward to the wind that swayed the cassava trees, but even the smallest blowing did not happen. My hands held the wire fence for more than one hour, the window was kept shut. After the pounding in my heart subsided, I left the place bitterly disappointed.
A small coffee shop near my rented house was still open. Empty glasses containing coffee grounds were scattered along a long wooden chair. I sat down after cleaning the chair's surface from nutshells. The shop owner was half asleep. I woke him up to buy a cigarette.
"Work overtime, Mas?" he asked.
I inhaled the smoke very deeply, the imagination of Angel appearing. The shop owner sat beside me.
"Who is the owner of the house with many cassava trees?" I asked, the smoke from my mouth billowing upwards.
"Is it the house beside the alley, Mas?"
"Ooh, that's an empty house."
I turned to him in a sudden brief shock, swallowing a clump of cigarette smoke.
"Three years ago a married couple rented the house. But the wife committed suicide after knowing her husband had an affair with a very young woman. The husband has been gone ever since. In fact, the owner of the house wants to sell it, but up to now nobody wants it. So, he just plants the side yard with cassava trees."
I coughed uncontrollably and incessantly, my hands trembling.
"What was the wife's name?"
"Angel. If I am not mistaken."
My mouth wide open, the nape of my neck as cold as ice, sending shivers down my spine. I felt as though fingers as soft as cotton were stroking my chest, then the top of the fingers dropped blood. The blood smelled rancid.
Short story by Hamzah Puadi Ilyas