Short Story by Hamzah Puadi Ilyas
Published in The Jakarta Post, Sun, 08/09/2009 11:35 AM
Marina started to dislike playing with children in her neighborhood. She was often offended by them. They said her mother was crazy about orange. She didn't really know whether her mother really liked eating orange or not. When Marina asked her friends from whom they knew that her mother liked eating orange, they said they knew from their own mother.
Soon curiosity emerged. Arriving home from school and knowing that her mother was not in the house, Marina directly went into her mother's bedroom. There was a big wooden wardrobe beside the bed. She opened its door. It was locked. Hopelessly, she sat on the bed, her legs swaying. Suddenly her right heel touched something under the bed.
Marina got out of the bed. When pushing aside the bed sheet, she saw a dark wooden box. She pulled it quickly. Opening it, she found golden oranges. She counted the fruit. There were twenty-five. Why does mother keep these oranges under the bed? Marina thought.
The longer she looked at the oranges, the more golden the color was. They were blinking. There was attractiveness to eat the fruit. They must be very sweet. Before much longer, one orange had been in Marina's grip. When she wanted to peel, she heard the roar of a car coming to the house.
Marina quickly put the orange back, pushed the box, ran out of her mother's room, and closed the door. She went into her bedroom and pretended to be asleep. She could hear the steps, more than one person.
The steps approaching her room, Marina moved her body. Her back faced the door. Then the door was slowly open. She knew that it must be her mother, checking whether or not she was sleeping. She regulated her breath as though it sounded sleeping. Then she heard the door was closed.
Marina could hear her mother's voice talking to a person. Their talk alternated with giggle. Marina tried to not care but she couldn't sleep. She moved her body several times, her eyes staring at ceiling. Suddenly she remembered oranges in her mother's room and her friend's ridicule about her mother's fondness for orange. Again, her curiosity emerged. She wanted to see with her own eyes when her mother was eating the fruit and how she ate the fruit.
Marina went out of her room. The living room was quiet. She looked closely at her mother's bedroom. Its door was open a bit. Then she could hear a hushed voice coming from the room. It could be mother's voice eating oranges, thought she. Her curiosity grew stronger.
Tiptoeing, Marina came closer to the door. It was slightly open. The sound coming from her mother's room was more audible-murmur and moaning. What sound was it? Marina really wanted to know what was happening inside the room. Peeping into the room, she could vaguely see her mother's white back and shoulder-length hair.
Next, Marina slowly pushed the door. She was rather taken aback by what she saw, her mother being naked and tightly hugging a stark naked young woman. They were laughing happily while feeding an orange each other. The smell of oranges was so strong. Marina seemed to feel faint. She saw stars on the ceiling.
Marina missed her father a lot. She felt her mother no longer paid attention to her. Her mother stopped picking her up at school. The distance between school and her house was certainly not too far, but she was envious to other kids who were accompanied by their mothers or fathers.
Marina's father came home once in four months. Once her mother said her father was working in the middle of ocean, sometimes in the middle of jungle. But she still remembered her father's story saying that he was a hunter. He hunted sharks in the middle of ocean and tigers in the middle of jungle. He sold them to pay Marina's tuition fee.
Marina strongly believed him. When her teacher asked every student to tell what their father did, Marina told that her father was a great hunter. He brought a rifle and spear everywhere he went. Her teacher just smiled listening to the story.
That morning Marina was sitting in the dining room. On the table in front of her were bread, boiled eggs, and milk. Her mother came in and sat across her. The color of her mother's lips was similar to the color of orange skin. Her body also smelled the fruit of orange.
"Mom, why do you like oranges so much?" asked Marina.
Her mother was surprised, her eyes widely open and her eye brow rising. Her hand that would reach bread stopped.
"How do you know?"
"The kids told me," answered Marina. "Their mothers told them."
Her mother tried to smile, but her face showed that she was mad. "Don't care about what they are saying. They're just jealous and they don't understand that orange is very good for our health. It can make us stay young. When you grow up, you can choose any fruit you like."
All kinds of fruit -melon, watermelon, apple, grape, mangosteen, pineapple, guava, salak, durian, and jackfruit sketched in Marina's mind. But she would not choose those fruit, she preferred banana.
After having breakfast, Marina wheedled, asking her mother to accompany her to school. But her mother said she was in a hurry to workplace. Marina kept wheedling and asked her mother not to work that day.
"If I don't work, we'll never have a new car. Your father's wage is not enough. Tomorrow we'll have a maid. Every day you will be accompanied by her. And I don't have to cook and take care of the house by myself any longer. I am busy and tired."
Frowning, Marina went to school. Her look was full of sullen resentment. Arriving at school, she didn't want to enter the classroom, just playing on slides. Her teacher's persuading her was in vain. When the school principal talked to her, she cried. Finally they gave up and let her play alone until study hour ended.
The house was quiet. Marina still felt displeased. She had planned to go into her mother's bedroom and throw away all oranges under the bed. When opening the gate, she saw her father sitting on veranda. Her resentment gone out of the blue, she ran toward him, yelling excitedly. Seeing her, he stretched his arms and then hugged her.
"You're growing up."
Marina asked. "Were you managed to catch shark and tiger?"
"Of course, Dear! I even caught a very big whale. Now I have a lot of money," he said, "by the way, where is your mother?"
Then Marina told him that her mother already worked. She no longer accompanied her to school even though she already had a new car. The man was quiet for a moment. His look was strange to Marina.
"All right," he said. "Let's go to our favorite restaurant, and you may eat as much as ice cream you want."
Along the way, actually Marina really wanted to tell him that presently her mother liked eating orange very much, her body smelled orange, and her lips' color was like the color of orange skin. But there seemed to be like something that stopped her telling about her mother.
They went back home when the color of sky was black. Marina was very sleepy because she didn't sleep after school. Her mother was not home yet. She directly went into her bedroom without taking off her shocks and fell asleep. She didn't know what his father was doing.
After sleeping for several hours, Marina was waken up by a loud noise. She could hear her mother's scream, followed by her father's yell. Marina got out of bed. She wanted to see what was going on. But when getting closer to the door, she heard shocking sound - something was banged on the floor. She became scared, got back to bed, covered her body with blanket, closed her eyes, and tried to sleep.
Marina got up in the morning. No sound was heard. She went to the living room. There were pieces of broken things on the floor. She carefully stepped to avoid them. She saw her father sleeping on the sofa. All of a sudden, there was a knock on the door. She didn't move. The knock was heard again, his father waking up. He stood up and opened the door lazily.
A very plump woman and a young woman stood. The older woman nodded and said today she already promised to introduce a new maid to Marina's mother. Marina's father looked confused and looked toward Marina who was standing still among the pieces of broken things. Then he asked them to wait and sit on the veranda.
It had been almost one year since Marina smelled orange and saw her mother. She asked her father why her mother never came home, but he simply said that Marina didn't need to remember her mother again.
"Why?" asked Marina.
"Because your mother is very busy enjoying her oranges."
"What do you mean?"
"Don't ask again." Said he. "One day you'll understand."
Now Marina lived with her father and a maid named Marni. And her father no longer worked in the ocean. But once in a while Marina missed her mother who was good at making baked bread with different kinds of jam.
That day Marina went home alone. Marni went to her hometown for four day because her older sister got married. Since the teacher was sick, the class was sent home earlier. Upon arriving at home, Marina smelled long lost aroma. Yes, she remembered - the smell of oranges. Soon she tried to find out where the smell came from. It turned out that the smell came from her father's room. The room used to belong to her mother.
When approaching the door of the room, Marina heard the sound of groaning and moaning. The smell of orange was getting strong. She remembered what her mother did with younger woman. Is she already home now? Marina thought. Her longing to her mother quickly appeared. She wanted to eat baked bread filled with strawberry jam and baked banana. Her mother's cooking was the most delicious of all.
Marina held the door handle and slowly pushed it. In fact, it was not her mother but her father. He was completely naked, hugging a man who looked very young. The young man was also without clothes at all. There was an orange with golden skin in their mouth. They were laughing happily. Some were scattered on the bed.
Marina's body was numb with shock. She was tongue-tied albeit she really wanted to utter something. The sentence only reverberated in the bottom of her heart, "Daddy, why is there an orange in your mouth? I hate that fruit."
The smell of orange was getting more powerful, making her very dizzy. Marina couldn't endure any longer, feeling very much giddy. In the blink of an eye, everything changed grey then black. In a few second, she completely fainted. The very strong smell of oranges had been present in every part of the house.
Short Story by Hamzah Puadi Ilyas