Laras the butterfly

Senin, 23 November 2009 by: Forum Lingkar Pena

Short story by Hamzah Puadi Ilyas
Published in The Jakarta Post | Sun, 01/11/2009

Kamil, a thin black man, met long-haired Laras in the deep of the night at a deserted bus stop near a pedestrian overpass.

Kamil was in his masculine prime while Laras was desperately in need of shelter to protect her slim frame dressed in a thin green blouse from the bite of the night wind.

Night brought a different charm from daytime. The whispers of the heart teased a hidden passion. Anything could happen, in the blink of an eye. After the first burst of passion, more suspect seductions would follow, moving through the blood until a sigh was heard. Kamil and Laras felt it.

Laras looked so attractive under the beam of street lamps, Kamil just wanted to embrace her tightly. Moreover, the night wind kept blowing harder, making the air colder. He imagined her soft skin and sweet-smelling long black hair. They would be taste enhancers for his loneliness, especially in the dark nights.

Laras appeared beautiful in Kamil's eyes when they arrived at Kamil's small, dirty rented house. Laras smelled that ordinary musty aroma that hangs in the rooms of economy inns or frugal lodgings.

Laras saw a guitar in the corner of. A sudden urge to hear the strumming of guitar's strings struck her.

"Can you sing?" Laras asked.

"Of course," replied Kamil. "I'm a street singer. I sing every day on the bus."

Laras stood up and walked slowly to the corner. Her soft hand reached for the guitar. She brought it back to Kamil who couldn't keep his eyes from her long black hair. His eyes did not blink, his mouth hung open as he gazed admiringly at her.

"Sing for me," said Laras. Her gaze returned Kamil's unblinking stare. She smiled, her lips red and her teeth pearly white.

As if bewitched, Kamil took the guitar and started to strum a tune. He began singing the lyrics to his favorite song.

That girl with the long black hair Walks under the moonlight, Toward the moon's circle, That will bestow peace upon her. She turned into a butterfly Flitting everywhere 'Cause she belongs to no one.

Laras clapped her hands. Softly she said, "Did you know? That the song is about me, but nobody knows and cares. You sang it very melodiously."

Kamil did not hear what Laras said. He was already blind drunk on love wine, being unable to say a word and staring at every inch of Laras' body.

Seeing Kamil, Laras smiled with pleasure. It was the sweetest smile he had ever seen. He kept staring at her body. Night crawled, he could control his heartbeat no longer. It beat harder and harder, sounding like a wild ox that sees a waving red cloth. The pounding finally left when morning light broke.

"Stay here with me forever." Kamil's voice trembled when there was no more space between their bodies.

"But I am a free creature," said Laras. "I do not serve human beings."

"I don't care," Kamil said.

"And I am a butterfly which is bound up with the moon."

"Still, I don't care," said Kamil. "Even if you are a caterpillar."

Kamil pulled Laras' fingers to his chest so she could feel his heartbeat through her fingertips, which had reached tranquility now. His long-faithful beloved -- loneliness -- had been far away.

Gradually, without raising Laras' fingers from his chest, Kamil brought her fingers to his dark brown lips. He played them around his lips. Laras was simply quiet, giving a chance for Kamil to satisfy his thirst and hunger of a woman. Every night, Kamil dreamt of a woman sleeping beside him.

"I'll do anything you want as long as you stay here with me, becoming my spouse, my soul mate," Kamil begged.

Laras smiled. Her wings understood. It was not yet the right time to flap and fly to the full moon. It was still very far away. So she nodded. Seeing that, Kamil looked as though he had seen heaven unrolled in his future life. He felt he was the real man now.

The next few days became more beautiful for Kamil. Singing songs on the buses seemed more enjoyable. In the morning, there was a glass of coffee before working, and in the evening, arriving at home, he found a plate of rice complete with its side dishes.

His work schedule was already fixed, and he was very delighted when the time to go home had come. His longing always reminded him what time it was. Having a spouse in life was perfect and completed his life, everybody's dream.

Kamil became less choosy about which bus to ride. After he was done busking in one, he moved to another straightaway. There was always money coming into the plastic bag he'd been using for ten years. He thought Laras had brought him luck.


Months passed. Laras started to get bored by the unchanging atmosphere of the slum, the cry of neighbor children, quarrels between neighbors. All day was the same: the sound of food vendors and water hawkers, seeing tradespeople selling goods on credit going from one house to another, with vistas of laundry lines decked out with cheap, old and worn-out clothes.

"I'll give you what you want. Just tell me," said Kamil when he saw Laras' gloomy face one morning. Laras was thinking about the musty places which used to imprison her, before she would finally be free when the full moon shone.

"I am a butterfly who came from a caterpillar and a cocoon," she said amid the jangle of cooking pots the next-door neighbor was washing. "Here I feel like going back to the cocoon. It's hot and close. I don't feel at home."

"Don't worry, I'll buy you a fan so you don't feel the heat."

Kamil did not understand.

Ignoring Laras who was trying to say something, Kamil went out carrying his guitar. He thought to work harder to earn more money. He sang very seriously so his voice became sweeter, and the bus passengers started passing him more coins. He economized, eating a simple meal to save more money.

Passing a market, Kamil stopped in at an electronics store and asked the price of a standing fan. It cost more than 100,000 rupiah. Kamil was convinced he could collect that much money in a week if he worked much harder.

Coming out of the store, Kamil met an old friend who worked loading and unloading trucks at the market. Kamil asked him his wage, and got interested because it was more than he made trading song for coin. He would also get free meals and cigarettes. He decided to join his friend.

Inexperienced working by relying on his physical power, after the first few hours Kamil felt aches and pains all over his body. He could shoulder only a few sacks of rice before exhaustion hit.

"You'll get used to it," his friend said.

Because he wanted to buy Laras a fan, Kamil kept at it. In the evening when he got his wages, he felt as if his body had cracked.

"Save this money to buy a fan," Kamil said, passing his earnings to Laras.

Laras just followed Kamil's instructions because she thought it was useless to talk to him. Kamil would never understand who she really was.

Actually, Laras sense her wings would appear soon because the full moon was due to appear in a few more days. The wings had started to irritate her soul, urging her to go to the moon. Her heart had been away in a different place, a place that induced tranquility.

That day, Kamil could not budge from the bed. His body was sore all over, with the slightest movement. In his mind he recounted the money already saved to buy a fan.

The next day, Kamil decided not to keep working as a day laborer. He felt God had created him to be a street singer. Imagining a fan in his mind, Kamil sang so seriously he earned plenty.

At dusk, Kamil counted his bills and coins. His eyes gleamed when he realized the money would be enough to buy a fan along with the savings Laras was holding. He hurried home. Hearing Laras taking a bath, he silently took the savings and went on to the electronics store.


Laras finished her bath. Then she stared out the window intently. Her heart pounded as she waited for the full moon to rise.

Slowly her wings grew as the first arc of the moon appeared. The wings opened fully when the moon formed a complete circle above the horizon, radiating its cool light. Moonbeams touched all parts of the room. Laras could not resist letting her wings pump, throb and fill.

That girl with the long black hair Walks under the moonlight, Toward the moon circle, That will bestow peace upon her. She turned into a butterfly Flitting everywhere 'Cause she belongs to no one.

Kamil arrived home and called for Laras, fan in his hands. But the house was quiet. No lights were on. All was dark and dead. Groping in the air, he managed to enter his bedroom.

Opening the door, Kamil saw the trail of moonlight crossing the room. He dashed to the window and pushed it wide open.

Kamil stared at the full moon, its golden light gradually fading. Unconsciously, Kamil's right hand dropped the fan and reached for the butterfly flapping its wings as it rose in the direction of the moon.

"Laras." Kamil's lips trembled, the corner's dripping with tears.

He at last understood Laras was really a butterfly.