Posters

Gekkoleven

De bogen van het balkon op de hoek van mijn Grieks appartement hadden model kunnen staan voor Eschers Droom, een houtgravure uit 1935: in een koude wereld met bogen onder het nachtelijk firmament ligt iemand voor lijk te dromen met een enorm insect op zich, dat hem niet stoort overigens. Hier op het balkon zit ik met mijn hoofd in mijn nek naar het plafond te kijken. De gekko’s dienen zich aan rond twaalven, wanneer de discotheken verderop het volume temperen en de muziek van de cicaden weer de boventoon voert. Mijn favoriete gekko is te laat langs de bogen naar de gevellantaarn komen kruipen, de ideale plek is al ingenomen door een grote gekko. Vlinders en langpootmuggen strijken neer rond de gevellantaarn. Aanvankelijk sluipt de grote gekko behoedzaam naderbij, met pauzes om zijn prooi niet te alarmeren. Maar als de muur eenmaal vol zit met insecten laat de gekko zijn geduld varen en jaagt gulzig in het rond. De kleine gekko, jong en onervaren, is zo vermetel om het territorium van de grote binnen te dringen. Die bolt zijn rug en ziet de kleine dreigend aan. De kleine zwaait met zijn staart en blaast de aftocht. Nadat de grote, volgevreten, de arena heeft verlaten, komt de kleine terug. Tegelijk doemt een nog groter exemplaar op. Dat jaagt de kleine niet weg met lichaamstaal, maar bijt hem bruut in de flank. Ai! De kleine zal lang moeten wachten eer hij eens aan de beurt is. De volgende morgen zit hij er nog. Hij lijkt wel dood, zoals de dromer op de houtgravure van Escher. Is de kleine gekko vandaag gedoemd van insecten te dromen?


© 2002 Alfred Birney
Haagsche Courant, vrijdag 26 juli 2002

Tanpa wajah

Satu-satunya kenanganku akan nenekku adalah makamnya. Satu-satunya kenangan ayahku akan neneknya adalah pemakamannya. Aku tidak tahu apa yang diturunkan nenekku kepadaku. Ayahku tidak tahu apa yang diturunkan neneknya kepadanya, tidak bisa lagi menanyakannya ketika aku bertanya.

Mungkin aku mewarisi suasana hati nenekku yang berubah-ubah. Ayahku berkisah bahwa ibunya sering berganti suasana hati. Ia menulis hal itu kepada seseorang dalam surat yang kemudian aku baca tembusannya. Zaman sekarang pergantian suasana hati dinamakan: kepekaan terhadap suasana. Suasana dikenal ada tiga: tertekan, takut, melankolis. Dari ketiga suasana, melankolis mungkin yang paling indah. Rindu kepada kampung halaman tapi lebih sedih. Mungkin nenekku merindukan negeri yang tidak dikenalnya, negeri ibunya: Tiongkok. Kerinduan yang ditularkan kepadanya oleh ibunya, yang berasal dari sana. Atau yang diwarisi dari neneknya, yang mungkin juga tidak dikenalnya.

Ayahku bercerita bahwa neneknya masih mempunyai kaki-kaki kecil yang diikat. Dengan demikian sebagai perempuan Cina ia telah memenuhi gambaran ideal seorang wanita Cina cantik. Nenek buyutku datang ke Hindia Belanda dari Kanton, kemungkinan besar bersama sebagian keluarganya, karena dalam cerita-cerita ayahku bermunculan paman-paman dan bibi-bibi Cina. Kapan ia datang ke Hindia Belanda, aku tidak tahu. Kelihatannya ia lahir sesudah 1860, ketika perbudakan di Hindia Belanda dilarang dan terjadi kekurangan buruh.

Seperti halnya orang Belanda mencari buruh dari negara-negara sekitar Laut Tengah pada tahun enam puluhan abad yang lalu, begitu juga yang mereka lakukan di pantai-pantai Tiongkok seratus tahun sebelumnya. Dan seperti banyak buruh dari Laut Tengah yang bermukim untuk selamanya di Negeri Belanda, begitu juga yang dilakukan para pendatang di Hindia Belanda. Mereka datang dalam perahu-perahu reyot, dan orang menamakannya ‘koelie’. Aku tidak tahu nama nenek buyutku. Mungkin ia memakai Nio dalam namanya: perempuan.

Ayahku berusia kira-kira empat tahun ketika neneknya meninggal. Tubuh neneknya pasti kecil, tapi dalam ingatan cucunya peti matinya besar dan dibuat dari kayu jati dan berat. Di bawah pimpinan ibunya, orang membuat masakan Cina dan mempersembahkannya kepada para dewa. Ayahku, dua kakak laki-laki dan dua kakak perempuan dilumuri kapur di belakang telinga. Garis-garis kapur itu harus melindungi mereka terhadap roh-roh jahat selama upacara pemakaman.

Siapa lagi yang hadir pada upacara itu? Apakah nenek buyutku meninggalkan seorang suami, ataukah lelaki itu sudah meninggal atau mungkin hidup bersama perempuan lain, yang lebih muda?

Peti diangkat ke atas cikar dan diantar ke tempat pemakaman di Soerabaja. Dengan sebuah upacara Cina perempuan dengan kaki-kaki kecil dititipkan pada tanah, bunga-bunga ditabur dan seorang anak laki-laki kecil melihat bagaimana piring-piring dengan makanan persembahan diatur mengelilingi makam. Seleranya timbul, ia lolos dari perhatian para pelayat dan makan dari hidangan lezat di seputar makam neneknya. Mungkin para dewa dalam kebaikan mereka mengizinkan bocah kecil itu berada di antara mereka?

Seandainya mereka hadir, para dewa itu, dan seandainya mereka marah karena seorang anak kecil makan dari hidangan mereka, mungkin di sinilah letak petunjuk untuk nasib getir yang menanti si bocah kelak. Tapi aku tidak percaya itu. Tepatnya: aku hampir tidak percaya. Itu agak lebih banyak ketimbang tidak percaya sama sekali. Karena aku tidak tahu pasti apakah mereka benar-benar ada, para dewa itu, dan apakah mereka hadir pada pemakaman nenek ayahku.

Aku harap mereka hadir. Bahwa merekalah yang menentukan nasib ayahku. Aku berharap begitu karena aku mencari ketidakbersalahan manusia, keluargaku.

Aku mengenal wajah nenek buyutku dari pihak kakekku dari foto-foto. Aku bahkan tahu namanya: Rabina. Menurut ayahku ia orang Madura. Menurut seorang bibiku, yang menulis sejarah keluarga kami, ia orang Jawa Timur, anak Pak Grimin dan Sayeh. Banyak orang Jawa Timur berasal dari Madura. Rabina tinggal di satu tempat di pojok Timur Pulau Jawa, ketika sepuluh tahun sebelum penghapusan perbudakan, seorang pria muda bernama George Birnie meninggalkan Negeri Belanda dengan kapal layar menuju Hindia Belanda. Ia kemudian membuka sebagian tanah Jawa Timur dan menanaminya dengan kopi dan tembakau. Ia menikahi Rabina, suatu hal yang istimewa pada waktu itu, dan Rabina memberinya delapan orang anak: anak-anak Indo. Mereka dikirim ke Negeri Belanda untuk pendidikan mereka. Rabina kemudian juga diajak ke Negeri Belanda oleh George yang memimpin imperium Birnie dari sana. Wanita itu menguasai dapur di rumah keluarga, di lantai bawah tanah. Tuhanlah yang tahu apa yang dirasakannya.

Dalam kronik keluarga ditulis bahwa George meninggal di negeri Belanda, tetapi tidak ada catatan mengenai nasib Rabina. Penulis kronik hanya memetakan imperium Birnie. Jadi aku tahu apa yang dilakukan para pria. Aku tahu bahwa mereka menamami bidang-bidang tanah di Hindia Belanda. Aku juga tahu bahwa nenek buyutku Rabina masak untuk suami dan anak-anaknya dan bicara bahasa Belanda yang salah-salah dan lucu. Selebihnya aku tidak tahu apa-apa. Sekali lagi: bagaimana perasaannya di Negeri Belanda? Asing? Ataukah ia merasa nyaman di mana pun, selama ia bersama suaminya? Aku menduga Rabina kembali ke Hindia Belanda sepeninggal suaminya dan meninggal di sana. Aku harap begitu, sebab, menurut orang-orang Indo tua, tanah di sana lebih hangat.

Anak keempat George dan Rabina bernama Willem dan lahir tahun 1868 di Djember, Jawa Timur. Indo asli ini menikah dengan saudara sepupunya, wanita dari cabang lain keluarga Birnie. Mereka memperoleh dua orang anak. Aku tidak tahu berapa lama mereka menikah. Secara hukum mungkin seumur hidup. Tapi mereka hidup terpisah. Itu terjadi ketika Willem berjumpa dengan nenekku, anak perempuan dari wanita yang mempunyai kaki-kaki kecil. Ia kemudian hidup bersama dengan perempuan itu, ‘samenleven’, menurut istilah ayahku. Orang lain akan mengatakan: ia mengundang perempuan itu tinggal bersamanya, sebagai pengurus rumah tangga. Dan mengambilnya sebagai ‘nyai’, istilah Indis yang menarik untuk seorang gundik.

Menurut ayahku ia lahir tahun 1893 di Kediri, Jawa Timur, dan bernama Sie Swan Nio, dengan nama keluarganya di depan. Tetapi akte pengakuan ayahku sebagai anak dalam 1925 mencantumkan: Sie Swan Nio, tanpa pekerjaan, beralamat di Soerabaia, Koninginnelaan 3, usia menurut pengakuannya tiga puluh dan lima tahun dan tidak kawin. Berarti tahun kelahirannya 1890? Bisa jadi karena alasan tertentu, uang mungkin, ia berbohong kepada notaris mengenai umurnya.

Jika ia lahir tahun 1890 sesuai keterangannya, ia dari tahun Macan. Kalau ia dari tahun 1893, berarti ia dari tahun Ular.

Ada perbedaan besar antara perempuan yang lahir di tahun Macan dan mereka yang lahir di tahun Ular. Wanita Macan lahir sebagai feminis dan karena itu paling tidak disukai di kalangan Cina kuno. Wanita Ular misterius dan sensual. Hari kelahirannya pasti: 23 Juli, batas antara tanda zodiak Cancer dan Leo menurut astrologi barat sekarang. Ayahku pasti mengingat tanggal itu dengan baik, di kemudian hari, ketika ia sendirian di Negeri Belanda, terpisah untuk selamanya dari keluarganya, karena ia harus melarikan diri dari orang Indonesia sesudah perang.

Sie Swan Nio sudah mempunyai anak sebelumnya, putri seorang pria Cina. Aku tidak tahu apakah ia menikah dengan pria itu. Aku hanya tahu bahwa lelaki itu kecanduan judi. Mungkin juga ini hanya karangan ayahku. Ada teori yang mengatakan bahwa sesudah perceraian, orang mencari seseorang yang mirip dengan pasangan hidup yang lalu, atau memiliki sifat-sifatnya yang paling menonjol. Dalam lakinya yang kedua, nenekku menemukan seorang penjudi lagi.

Dia, Willem, putra yang beruntung dalam imperium perkebunan Birnie yang kaya dan termasyhur, menurut ayahku memiliki dua belas bedil berburu yang digantung di tembok. Menurut cerita, orang Indo suka berburu. Mereka berburu celeng, babi hutan. Nenekku pasti sering melihatnya berangkat untuk berburu di hutan. Tapi mungkin hutannya terutama merupakan kumpulan alamat-alamat, dengan teman-teman perempuan, dan merekalah korban buruannya.

Menurut ayahku, Willem memiliki kapal uap, usaha binatu dan praktek pengacara. Sesudah itu aku membaca dalam catatan sejarah keluarga bibiku bahwa kakekku adalah enfant terrible, anak nakal keluarganya, bahwa ia mengarang rencana, supaya dapat meminjam uang dari kas keluarga. Tambang batu bara di Borneo, hal-hal semacam itu. Dalam perjalanan ke Negeri Belanda dan kembali ke Hindia ia selalu mampir di kasino di Monaco.

Sang bon vivant tidak mengikuti jejak ayahnya, George, dan tidak pernah mengakui kelima anak yang dilahirkan Sie Swan Nio. Karena itu nenekku sendiri melaporkan kelahiran ayahku, si bungsu. Menurut aktenya ia menunggu sampai saat terakhir, karena bayinya sudah berumur tiga bulan. Undang-undang di kala itu tidak mengizinkan jangka waktu yang lebih lama untuk pelaporan seorang anak. Mungkin selama itu ia berusaha membujuk lakinya untuk mengakui anaknya, agar setidak-tidaknya anak emasnya, anak kesayangannya, dapat menjadi ahli waris dengan masa depan penuh kesempatan gemilang.

Mungkin nenekku lahir dalam tahun Macan dan ia mempertikaikan pengakuan anak yang terakhir dan sang pemburu selalu mengatakan bahwa ia akan mempertimbangkannya dan selalu saja ia lupa, dengan botol wiski di mulutnya. Dalam kronik keluarga tertulis bahwa kakekku pada akhir hidupnya ditempatkan di bawah pengawasan keluarga. Ia menerima uang saku 600 gulden setiap bulan dan selanjutnya tidak boleh mencampuri urusan bisnis keluarga. Ketika sang penjudi meninggal sebelum Perang Dunia Kedua pecah, ia meninggalkan hutang semata-mata.

Mungkin nenekku lahir dalam tahun Ular dan ia menderita karena ketidakhadiran lakinya. Mungkin ia tidak menerima cukup uang untuk bisa hidup pantas. Aku tidak tahu apakah mereka saling mencintai. Kalau memang kakekku mengambilnya sebagai pengurus rumah tangganya, maka kemudian ia menjadi teman tidurnya. Sebagai teman tidurnya ia dapat mengatakan, atau percaya, bahwa ia bukan lagi seorang pengurus rumah tangga. Bahwa ia adalah istri orang penting, toean besar, seseorang dengan uang, kuasa dan wibawa.

Toean besar tidak mempunyai kuasa untuk menceraikan saudara sepupunya. Istrinya yang pertama ini, yang memberinya dua orang anak resmi, menolak untuk bercerai. Mungkin itu karena saham-saham dalam modal keluarga. Atau mungkinkah nenekku merasa bahwa hatinya selalu tertaut pada saudara sepupunya? Keakraban sejati hanya mungkin ada antara dua orang, begitu bunyi I Ching, Buku Perubahan, warisan lama dari Khonghucu dan murid-muridnya, satu-satunya pasporku ke alam pikiran nenek moyangku yang orang Cina: di mana ada tiga orang, akan ada kecemburuan dan satu di antara mereka harus berlalu.

Ayahku bercerita bahwa ibunya dalam tahun-tahun perang beralih dari kepercayaan Khonghucu ke agama Kristen. Artinya: ia mulai membaca Alkitab, dalam bahasa Melayu. Mungkin ia mencari penghiburan untuk kesedihan yang diakibatkan putranya yang bungsu dengan ide-ide politik pro-Belandanya yang tidak perlu, dan terutama dengan aktivitas perangnya.

Ketika orang Jepang memasuki Hindia Belanda, pada pemboman pertama kota Soerabaja separo rumah rusak. Keluarga ayahku harus mengungsi ke tempat lain di kota. Kakaknya yang sulung, yang ditunjuk sebagai walinya, memperoleh bukti-bukti identitas Tionghoa, sehingga keluarga itu dapat melalui perang dengan tidak terlalu banyak kesulitan. Seluruh keluarga, yang berpikir secara Indonesia, percaya ramalan Jayabaya: bahwa sesudah tiga tahun kekuasaan kuning akan kalah dan bangsa Indonesia akan merdeka. Tetapi anak emas nenekku telah kehilangan ayahnya pada usia yang terlalu muda dan mengidolakan ayahnya, Willem yang ‘asli Eropa’ dengan paspor Belandanya. Sudah tiga tahun ayahnya meninggal, ia sendiri berumur 17 tahun dan ia bukan orang Tionghoa bukan orang Indo bukan orang Belanda. Ia dipenuhi kebencian terhadap orang Jepang dan masih lama memendam duka atas kehilangan dua belas jambangan Cina besar pada waktu pemboman.

Apa lagi yang dilakukan nenekku di masa perang kecuali membaca Alkitab? Ia memperoleh penghasilan dengan membuat kecap di halaman belakang rumah. Semasa pendudukan Jepang putri kembarnya bekerja sebagai pelayan di suatu tempat yang juga didatangi perwira-perwira Jepang. Mereka membawa pulang uang dan ketika ayahku memprotesnya, ibunya berkata: ‘Diam kau. Kita harus makan.’ Ketika ayahku sebagai pemuda berusia dua puluh tahun pulang dengan gajinya sebagai serdadu dan mau memberinya kepada ibunya, ia berkata: ‘Aku tidak mau menerimanya. Ada darah melekat pada uang itu.’

Aku mendengar cerita itu berpuluh-puluh kali dari ibuku, seorang sahabat pena Belanda ayahku, yang diperkenalkan kepadanya oleh seorang serdadu Belanda dari Selatan Negeri Belanda.

Orang Jepang menyerah dan tentara Belanda berusaha menguasai Hindia kembali dengan apa yang mereka namakan Aksi Polisionil. Orang Indonesia tidak mau dikuasai lagi, mereka mengangkat senjata dan kekacauan terjadi di Hindia, yang kemudian menjadi Indonesia. Ayahku memilih pihak Belanda – bukankah almarhum ayahnya yang tidak mau mengakuinya juga orang Belanda – dan ikut Aksi Polisionil Pertama. Ia menghantam ranjau darat dan harus tinggal di tangsi pada Aksi Polisionil Kedua.

Aku tahu itu semua dari memoarnya, yang pernah ditulisnya atas permintaanku. Satu hari ia pulang cuti. Menurut ceritanya ia sedang memakai seragamnya dan membawa senapan. Aku tidak tahu apakah itu bisa, sebab bila seorang tentara cuti, ia harus meninggalkan senjatanya di tangsi. Ia mendengar seorang bayi menangis, menengok di kamar belakang dan melihat anak kecil dengan raut muka Jepang. Ia mengangkat senapannya, mengisinya dengan peluru dan membidikkannya ke sang bocah. Para pembantu berteriak-teriak dan mohon ampun. Ia pergi, sangat terhina karena kakak perempuannya telah melahirkan anak dari seorang perwira Jepang, seorang musuh.

Ke mana ia pergi, di mana ia biasanya berada? Di tangsi? Menurut memoarnya ia sering keluyuran di kota, di mana kelompok-kelompok kecil mulai saling menyerang. Ia tidak menulis bahwa dan bagaimana dalam masa yang kacau itu pacar kakaknya, seorang perwira Jepang, dibunuh pada suatu malam di kota.

Kelak di Negeri Belanda, ketika kami duduk mengelilingi pemanas batu bara dan mendengarkan kisah-kisah perangnya yang setiap malam diceritakannya, ia menyebut kakaknya Lea seorang kolaborator, perempuan penghibur, pelacur Jepang. Sebagai anak kecil sia-sia aku mencoba memahami apa yang dimaksudnya. Dan bertahun-tahun kemudian aku mulai bertukar surat dengan dia, Tante Lea. Aku menjadi salah satu dari Indo Generasi Kedua yang membuat perjalanan mencari akar diriku ke Indonesia. Di samping itu seorang penulis harus mempunyai kerangka untuk cerita-ceritanya, sebanyak mungkin suara mengenai hal yang sama, dari sudut pandang yang berbeda-beda.

Selama lima minggu aku tinggal di rumah Tante Lea, yang paling dekat dengan nenekku karena ia merawatnya praktis sampai akhir hidupnya. Sekarang ia tinggal dalam rumah baru di sebuah jalan di daerah dekat Stasiun Gubeng di Surabaya. Tante Lea tinggal di situ dengan putrinya yang setengah Jepang, yang dinamakannya Josta, mirip nama ayahnya, perwira Jepang Josida.

Josta mempunya tiga orang anak dari pria Cina, seorang pemborong bangunan yang bekerja keras yang datang beberapa kali dalam seminggu dan kadang-kadang menginap. Istrinya yang pertama tinggal di tempat lain di kota. Sama seperti nenek kami, Josta juga seorang gundik, wanita piaraan, meski dalam semacam varian Cina-Buddha.

Anak laki-laki Josta, Joshi, mempunyai satu angan-angan: mengunjungi Jepang, negara kakeknya yang tidak dikenalnya. Wanita cantik idealnya adalah wanita Jepang. Sebuah kalender dengan model-model Jepang tergantung di atas tempat tidurnya. Anak perempuan Josta, Linda, suka hal-hal yang Cina dan pacarnya seorang pemuda Tionghoa. Setiap malam sepulang dari pekerjaannya ia ramai bercerita mengenai apa yang dialami, yang akan dikerjakan, yang disukai dan yang tidak disukainya. Orang mengatakan ia mirip nenekku, Sie Swan Nio. Tapi Linda banyak ketawa, dan ayahku mengatakan bahwa ibunya jarang tertawa. Putri bungsu saudaraku Josta bernama Ervina.

Kalau ketiga nama disimak dalam urutan usianya, bedanya tampak: Joshi, Linda, Ervina. Yang pertama membawa jejak-jejak kakeknya yang tidak dikenalnya dalam namanya. Yang kedua nama yang bagus untuk seorang gadis Tionghoa modern. Yang ketiga bunyinya Indonesia.

Aku tidak merasa nyaman di jalan-jalan di Indonesia. Tapi aku senang di teras depan rumah bibiku. Mungkin karena serambi depan mengingatkan aku pada cerita-cerita ayahku mengenai Hindia Belanda. Aku duduk di situ sepanjang malam dan berjam-jam melihat cecak-cecak di dinding. Kadal tembok ini di tahun enam puluhan selalu tergantung dalam bahan kuningan di dinding rumah orang Indo di Belanda, sekarang mungkin masih begitu di rumah orang-orang Indo tua.

Tante Lea sering berada di dapur, di mana ia setiap hari mendengarkan wayang di radio dan mengerjakan tugas-tugas rumah tangga ringan. Malam hari ia mengunjungi aku di teras depan, berdiri di belakangku dan selalu menyapaku dengan pijatan tangannya pada bahuku, leherku, yang kaku Belanda, dalam penantian tegang akan cerita-ceritanya.

Aku harus menunggu berhari-berhari, berminggu-minggu, cerita mengenai Josida, perwira Jepang, yang begitu dibenci oleh ayahku. Cerita itu sampai kepadaku dalam dua versi. Pertama-tama dalam versi saudaraku Josta, kemudian dalam versi bibiku Lea.

Josta berkisah, sambil mengepel lantai, bagaimana ayahnya yang tak dikenalnya pada suatu malam membeli rokok. Jepang telah menyerah dan serdadu-serdadu Jepang menunggu pemulangan ke negeri mereka. Waktu itu masa ‘Bersiap’: beberapa orang Jepang bertempur, bersama-sama dengan orang Indonesia melawan Belanda, yang lainnya bersembunyi di gudang-gudang pelabuhan atau di rumah-rumah yang pernah mereka sita ketika menduduki Hindia Belanda. Ada juga yang bersembunyi di rumah pacarnya, seperti Josida.

Kebanyakan orang Indonesia tidak mengganggu orang Jepang, tapi ada juga desperado berkeliaran, orang nekat, termasuk orang Indo yang masih ingin menyelesaikan urusan dengan bekas musuh mereka. Ya, seperti ayahku. Orang Jepang yang malam hari masih berkeliaran di jalan sendirian benar-benar tolol. Karena itu Josida tidak pergi sendirian, tapi ditemani saudaranya, juga seorang perwira. Tante Lea menantinya, tapi tidak melihatnya kembali. Ia pergi mencari dan mendengar bahwa ada orang yang kedapatan mati di pasar. Wajahnya rusak, pada waktu identifikasi dia hampir tidak bisa dikenali kembali. Dia saudara Josida.

Dan Josida sendiri?

Ja, lari tentunya. Dia tidak berani kembali, toh. Mama masih mencoba mencarinya, sampai jauh sesudah perang. Sampai di Tokio, kamu tahu jauhnya seperti apa, lewat perantaraan orang-orang lain. Tapi ia tidak pernah lagi mendengar kabarnya. Kasian ibuku, ya.

Berhari-hari kemudian, di serambi depan, sebelum aku pulang ke Belanda, bibiku Lea menemaniku duduk. Ia tidak menyapaku dengan jari-jarinya yang memijat, ia ingin bercerita sesuatu. Tanpa berkata-kata ia memandang ke depan, ke jalan yang gelap dan sepi. Ia meletakkan tangan-tangannya yang tua di pangkuannya, dan ia bercerita bahwa pada suatu malam Josida pergi membeli rokok. Di luar berbahaya, jadi ia ditemani saudaranya. Itu terakhir kali ia melihat Josida yang dikasihinya, karena mereka tidak kembali. Berdua mereka mati di pasar, wajah mereka dirusak dengan senjata tajam.

Berdua?

Ya, berdua. Sesudah Josida bibimu tidak pernah mempunyai laki lain. Tapi aku punya Josta, dan Josida terus hidup di dalamnya, jadi ia selalu berada di dekatku. Linda mirip omamu, kamu tahu ia ingin pergi ke Cina. Dan Joshi, dia rupanya mirip sekali dengan kakeknya, karena itu ia memimpikan gadis Jepang dan negeri Jepang.

Tapi Josta mengatakan hanya saudaranya Josida yang ditemukan mati.

Ya, aku tidak menceritakan semuanya padanya. Kasian toh dia. Tapi sekarang dia tidur, jadi aku sekarang bisa cerita padamu. Kau bisa punya suami yang tidak selalu di rumah, atau kekasih yang meninggalkanmu. Tapi siapa yang mau punya ayah tanpa wajah.

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Alih bahasa: Widjajanti Dharmowijono. Hak cipta © 2001 pada Alfred Birney. Terjemahan di atas dimuat di majalah mingguan Femina no. 33, 16-22 Agustus 2001, Jakarta

Without a face

My only memory of my grandmother is the one of her grave. My father’s only memory of his grandmother is the one of her funeral. I don’t know what I received from my grandmother by way of heredity. My father doesn’t know what he received from his grandmother, and couldn’t ask her anymore by the time I asked him about it.

Maybe I inherited my grandmother’s moods. My father recalled his mother was moody. He wrote this once in a letter to somebody, a carbon copy of which I later read. Nowadays moodiness is called: sensitivity to moods. Moods are subdivided into depressions, fears, and melancholy. Melancholy is probably the finest among these three moods. Homesickness in a minor key. Maybe my grandmother was homesick for a country she didn’t know, her mother’s country: China. Homesickness handed down from her mother, who was from there. Or inherited from her grandmother, whom she in turn perhaps also hadn’t known.

My father recalled that his grandmother still had those little bound feet. As a Chinese woman she had thus complied with the old Chinese ideal of beauty. My great-grandmother came to the Dutch East Indies from Canton a long time ago, probably with part of her family, because Chinese uncles and aunts wandered around in the stories my father told. Exactly when she came to the Dutch East Indies, I don’t know. She would have been born after 1860, when slavery in the Dutch East Indies was abolished and the Indies had to struggle with a lack of personnel.

The Dutch went to the Mediterranean to scour up guest workers during the sixties of the last century, as they did on the Chinese coasts back then, 100 years earlier. Many guest workers settled in Holland for good, as they did in the Dutch East Indies. There they arrived in rickety little boats, and they were called koelies. I don’t know what she was called, my great-grandmother. She may have had Nio in her name: girl.

My father was about four years old when he lost his grandmother. She must have been slight of build, but in his memory her coffin was big and made of djati-wood and heavy to lift. Under his mother’s supervision, Chinese dishes were prepared and offered to the gods. My father, his two brothers, and two sisters got chalk smeared behind their ears. Those chalk smudges were to protect them from evil spirits at the funeral service.

Who else would have been at the funeral? Did my Chinese great-grandmother leave a husband behind, had he already passed away, or was he living with another, a younger woman meanwhile?

The bier was loaded onto a tjikar, an oxcart. The procession went to the Chinese cemetery in Soerabaja. With Chinese ceremony, the woman with the little feet was consecrated to the earth, flowers were strewn, and the little boy’s mouth watered as he looked at the way the dishes with offerings were being placed around the grave. He escaped the notice of the mourners, and sampled all that deliciousness around his grandmother’s grave. Maybe the gods would be so good as to tolerate a little boy in their midst for a moment?

If they were there, those gods, and if they became wrathful because the little boy had stolen a taste of their foods, then perhaps here lies a clue regarding the bitter fate that later awaited the boy. But I do not believe this. More precisely: hardly. That’s a little more than not. Because you can’t be sure, if they exist or not, those gods, or if they were present at my father’s grandmother’s funeral.

I hope that they were there. That it was the gods who took my father’s fate into their hands. I hope so, because I look for the innocence in people, my family.

As for my great-grandmother on my grandfather’s side, I know her face from photographs. I even know her name: Rabina. According to my father she was Madoerese. According to an aunt of mine, who wrote a private family chronicle, she was East Javanese, the daughter of Pa Grimin and Sayeh. Many East Javanese are of Madoerese origin. Rabina most likely lived somewhere in the Eastern part of Java, when, a decade before slavery was abolished, a young man by the name of George Birnie left Holland and sailed for the Dutch East Indies. He was to bring a portion of East Java under cultivation by planting coffee and tobacco. He married Rabina, pretty exceptional in those days, and Rabina presented him, as that was called, with eight children: Indisch children: Indos. They were sent to the Netherlands to be raised and educated. Later, George also took Rabina to the Netherlands, from where he ran the Birnie empire. There this woman took control of the kitchen in the family home, located somewhere in the basement. God only knows how she felt over there.

In the family chronicle it is written that George passed away in the Netherlands, but it doesn’t state how things ended up for Rabina. The writer only charts the Birnie empire. So I know what the men did. I know that they brought tracts of land under cultivation in the Dutch East Indies. I also know that my great-grandmother Rabina cooked for her husband and children and spoke comically broken Dutch. For the rest I know nothing. Again: how did she feel in the Netherlands? Uprooted? Or did she feel at home anywhere in the world, as long as she was with her husband? I take it that after her husband’s death, Rabina returned to the Dutch East Indies, and that she passed away there. I hope so, because, as the older Indos say, the ground is warmer there.

The fourth of George and Rabina’s children was named Willem, and entered the world in 1868 in Djamber, East Java. This pure-blooded Indo first married his cousin, a woman of another branch of the Birnie family. They had two children. I don’t know how long their marriage lasted. Legally probably their entire lives. But they ended up living apart. That was when Willem met my grandmother, one of the two daughters of the Chinese woman with the little feet. He lived together with her, as my father would say. Others would say: he took her into his house as a maid. Then took her as a consort, a njai , the intriguing Indisch word for concubine.

According to my father she was born in 1893 in Kediri, East Java, and was named Sie Swan Nio, the family name at the beginning. However, the 1925 certificate recognizing him as their child reads: Sie Swan Nio, without profession, residing in Soerabaia, Koninginnelaan 3, according to her admission, thirty-five years of age and unwed. Was the year of her birth 1890, then? It could be that for some reason or other, maybe money, she lied to the notary about her age.

If she is of the year 1890, according to her admission, then she is of the Chinese Year of the Tiger. If she is of the year 1893, then she is of the Chinese Year of the Snake.

There is a big difference between women born in the Year of the Tiger and those born in that of the Snake. Tiger women are born feminists, and therefore the least liked among the old Chinese. Snake women are mysterious and sensual. What is certain is that the date of her birth: July 23, is on the cusp between the zodiac signs of Cancer and Leo in Western astrology. Undoubtedly my father remembered her birthday well later, when he was all alone in the Netherlands, separated from his family for good because he was forced to flee the Indonesians after the war.

Sie Swan Nio already had a previous child, a daughter by a Chinese man. I don’t know if she was ever married to that man. I only know that he was addicted to gambling. Could also have been something my father made up. There is a theory that says that after a divorce, you look for somebody who is like your previous partner, or who at least substantially shares this partner’s traits. My grandmother found another gambler in her second husband.

He, Willem, a privileged descendant of the Birnies’ meanwhile rich and renowned plantation-owners’ empire, had 12 hunting rifles up on the wall according to my father. They say that Indos enjoyed the hunt. They hunted tjellengs, wild pigs. My grandmother definitely would have seen him set off on regular trips into the jungle, to go hunting there. But perhaps his jungle was mostly a mishmash of private addresses, with lovers, and that these were the tjellengs he hunted.

According to my father, Willem owned a steamship, a laundry, and a legal practice. Later, I read in my aunt’s family chronicle that the man had been the enfant terrible of the family, that he dreamed up enterprises with respect to his family, to borrow money from the family funds. A coal mine in Borneo, that kind of thing. Traveling between Holland and the Indies, he always stopped in at the casino in Monaco.

The bon vivant did not walk in his father George’s footsteps, and never recognized the five children he had fathered through her. For this reason she herself had gone to report the birth of my father, a late arrival. According to the certificate, she waited until the last moment to do this, because he was already three months old. The law did not permit a longer period of time. Maybe she tried all that time to move her husband to recognize his son, so that at least her anak mas, her favorite child, could become an heir with the prospect of a privileged future.

Maybe my grandmother was a Tiger and quarreled about legitimizing their last child, and maybe the hunter kept saying that he would think about it but kept on forgetting, a bottle of whiskey at his lips. In the family chronicle it is written that at the end of his life my grandfather was placed under family supervision. He received an allowance of 600 guilders per month and furthermore was not to involve himself in family affairs anymore. When the gambler died, just before the Second World War broke out, he left nothing but debts.

Maybe my grandmother was a Snake and suffered during the regular absence of her man. Maybe he didn’t give her enough money to be able to live decently. I don’t know if they loved each other. If it is the case that he first took her on as a maid, she became his lover afterward. As a lover you could say, or believe, that you were no longer a maid. That you were the wife of a big man, a toean besar, somebody with money, power, and standing.

The toean besar did not have the power to divorce his cousin. This first wife, with whom he had two legal children, refused to divorce, and maybe that had something to do with shares in the family stock. Or did my grandmother feel that his heart had always stayed with his cousin? True intimacy is only possible between two persons, says the I Ching, the Book of Changes, an old legacy of Confucius and his students, my only passport to my Chinese forebears’ thought: Where three are together, jealousy arises, and one of them will have to yield.

My father said that during the war years his mother switched from Confucianism to Christianity. This means: she began to read the Bible, in Malay. Maybe she sought comfort for the sadness that her youngest son caused her with his needless, pro-Dutch, political ideas and particularly with his actions during the war.

When the Japanese invaded the Dutch East Indies, during the first bombing of Soerabaja, half the house was demolished. The family had to find shelter elsewhere in the city. My father’s oldest brother, who had been appointed his guardian, managed to get Chinese identity papers, so the family made it through the war years reasonably well. Thinking pretty much in Indonesian fashion, the entire family clung to Djojobojo’s prediction: that after three years the yellow domination would give way and the Indonesian people would be free. However, my grandmother’s anak mas had lost his father too early, and he had started romanticizing about him, this “real European” Willem, with his Dutch passport. It was now three years after Willem’s death, and he himself had meanwhile turned seventeen. He was neither Chinese, nor Indo, nor Dutch. He walked around with a Chinese brooch pinned to his chest, but at home he hung a portrait of the Dutch queen above his bed. He had acquired a hatred of the Japanese, and for many years would still grieve the loss of twelve enormous Chinese vases during the bombing.

What else did my grandmother do during the war besides read the Bible? She earned her money by preparing ketjap in her back yard. During the Japanese occupation her twin daughters went out to work as serving girls in an establishment catering to Japanese officers. They brought home money, and when my father protested, she said, “Shut up. We have to eat.” When, as a young man in his early twenties, he came home with his first soldier’s pay, ready to hand it to his mother, she said, “I don’t want that money. It’s soaked in blood.”

That story was told to me dozens of times by my mother, a Dutch correspondent of my father’s, introduced to him by a southern Dutch soldier.

The Japanese had capitulated, and the Dutch army tried to grab power over the Indies with what were called Police Actions. The Indonesians did not desire guardianship anymore, took up weapons, and the Indies turned into a chaos that would finally be called Indonesia. My father chose the side of the Dutch-as his late illegal father was after all Dutch-and participated in the First Police Action. He drove over a landmine, and during the Second Police Action had to remain in the barracks.

I got all of this from his memoir, which he wrote at my request some time ago. One day he went home on leave. He was, according to his own writing, in uniform and had his pistol with him. I don’t know if that’s possible, because when on leave, the men had to leave their weapons behind at the barracks. He heard a baby crying, took a peek into the back room, and saw a little child with Japanese features. He took out his pistol, loaded it, and aimed the barrel at the baby. The babus (nannies) wailed, and begged for mercy. He walked away, deeply offended that one of his sisters had had the baby of a Japanese officer, of the enemy.

Where did he go, where did he spend his time? At the barracks? According to his memoir he hung around a lot in the city, where factions were starting to fight one another. He does not write that, or in what manner, one night in the city during that chaotic period, his sister’s boyfriend, the Japanese officer, was murdered.

Later, in the Netherlands, whenever we sat around the coal stove, listening to the war stories that were on his lips every evening, he called his sister Ella a collaborator, a hostess, a Jap-whore. As a young boy I tried fruitlessly to understand what he was always going on about. It was many years later that I started writing her, my aunt Ella. I was to become one of those Second Generation Indos who would take a roots trip to Indonesia. Aside from which, writers need a framework for their stories, as many different voices as possible on the same subject, from different perspectives.

I visited my grandmother’s grave and stayed five weeks at my aunt Ella’s, who was closest to my grandmother because her mother had lived in with her practically until her mother’s death. Now she was living in a new house somewhere in a “corridor,” a street in the Kertajaya, a district in Surabaya. Aunt Ella lived there with her half-Japanese daughter, whom she had called Yosta, after her father, the Japanese officer Yoshida.

Yosta had three children with a Chinese man, a hardworking contractor who came by a couple of times a week, and sometimes stayed over. He had a first wife somewhere in the city. Imitating our grandmother, Yosta was also a consort, a concubine, albeit a Chinese-Buddhist variation.

Yosta’s son, Yongky, had one great desire: to see Japan, the country of his unknown grandfather. His ideal of beauty was the Japanese woman. There was a calendar above his bed of Japanese fashion models. Yosta’s daughter, Lily, had a liking for things Chinese and had a Chinese boyfriend. Every evening she would come home from work chattering busily, and would rattle on about everything she had seen, what she was going to do, what she liked, and what she didn’t like. They said that she resembled my grandmother, Sie Swan Nio. But Lily laughed a lot, and my father said that his mother rarely laughed. My cousin Yosta’s youngest child was a girl and she was called Ervina.

When you list the names in a row, descending by age, you can taste the differences: Yongky, Lily, Ervina. The first carries traces of his unknown Japanese grandfather in his name. The second is a nice name for a modern Chinese girl. The third sounds Indonesian.

I didn’t feel at home out on the street in Indonesia. I did on my aunt’s front veranda. Maybe because the veranda was more reminiscent of my father’s stories about the Dutch East Indies. I spent my evenings there and looked at the tjitjaks on the walls for hours. These lizards were always up in brass on the walls of Indo homes in the Netherlands during the sixties, and maybe still are in the homes of older Indos.

Aunt Ella had her spot in the kitchen where she listened to her wajang-radio play every day and preoccupied herself with light household duties. In the evening she would visit me out on the porch, stand behind me, and always greet me with her pidjit-ing hands on my shoulders and my neck, which was stiffly Dutch in tense anticipation of her stories.

I had to wait for days, for weeks for her story about Yoshida, the Japanese officer who was so hated by my father. The story came to me in two versions. First in my cousin Yosta’s version, after that in my aunt Ella’s version.

Yosta told me, while mopping the floor, about how her unknown father had gone out to get cigarettes one night. Japan had capitulated and the Japanese soldiers were waiting to be repatriated to their homeland. It was Bersiap: some Japanese started fighting side-by-side with the Indonesians against the Dutch, others hid in the warehouses at the harbor or in houses that they had confiscated before, when they invaded the Dutch East Indies. There were also those who hid out at the homes of their girlfriends, like Yoshida.

Most Indonesians left the Japanese alone, but desperados roamed around, including Indos who still had scores to settle with their former adversaries. Yes, like my father. You would have had to be an idiot to be out on the streets by yourself if you were Japanese. This is why Yoshida didn’t go alone, but in the company of his cousin, also an officer. Aunt Ella had waited, but not seen him come back. She had gone out to look, and learned that someone had been found dead on the pasar . His face had been mutilated, he was hardly recognizable at the identifikasie. It was Yoshida’s cousin.

And Yoshida?

Well, he ran away of course. He doesn’t dare go back, you see? Mama still tried to track him down, until long after the war. All the way to Tokyo, you know how far that is, through go-betweens. But she never got to know anything about him. Kasian, a pity for my mother, it is.

Days later, out on the front porch, right before my departure for the Netherlands, my aunt Ella comes over and sits beside me. She doesn’t greet me with her pidjit-fingers, she has something to tell me. First she looks off in silence for a while at the corridor, the street where it is dark, and quiet. Then she lays her old hands in her lap, and tells me that one particular evening Yoshida went out to get cigarettes. It is dangerous outside, and that’s why he goes together with his cousin. It will be the last time that she sees her beloved Yoshida, because they will not come back. Both find their deaths in the marketplace, their faces are mutilated by sharp weapons.

Both of them?

Yes, both of them. After Yoshida, your aunt never had another man. But I have Yosta, and Yoshida lives on in her, and so he is always around me. Lily resembles your grandma, you know she would prefer to go to China. And Jongky, he looks strikingly like his grandfather, that’s why he dreams of a Japanese girl and Japan.

But Yosta told me that only Yoshida’s cousin had been found dead.

Yes, I didn’t tell her everything. Kasian, it would be a pity for her. But she’s asleep now, so I can tell you. You can have a man who isn’t always there, or a lover who leaves you. But who wants a father without a face?

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Notes from the author:

I utilize the old spellling Soerabaja when I am talking about prior to or during the war, and Surabaya when I’m talking about after
Indonesian independence. The spelling of Malay words I present in the classical Dutch spelling, because many of these words enriched Dutch dictionaries in this form. Moreover, my story is Indisch and not Indonesian. This is why I decided against modern Indonesian spelling elsewhere.

King Jojobojo, the “Javanese Nostradamus,” ruled over one of the Hindu realms on Java around 900. The king had two residences: in Daha (unknown) and in Kediri (East Java). One day he received a visit from the Arabic scholar Maulana Ali Samsujin. Jojobojo was impressed by this Moslem’s supernatural gifts, and steeped himself in the science of the occult. It turned out that he, too, possessed prophetic gifts. By means of seven platters of food, Jojobojo predicted seven periods during which seven great realms would succeed one another. Among them were seafaring nations, the Dutch and the Japanese, respectively, who would transform Java into a cesspit of vice. These would finally be driven out, after which the kings of Java would be able to regain the power to rule. As with all true predictions, Jojobojo’s is capable of more than one explanation on various points. Thus the length of the domination by the strange yellow people (the Japanese) was compared with the time corn needs to mature, namely three-and-a-half months. But the faded handwriting in which the prediction is written has become illegible in some places. Was the king referring to “djagoeng” or “djago”? Corn or Rooster? If it was “djago,” rooster, then it would take three-and-a-half years before liberation, because this is how long it takes a rooster to reach its full maturity.

Copyright ©2000, Alfred Birney. Original title: Zonder gezicht. From the collection of stories and essays on the Dutch East Indies Vertrouwd en vreemd. Ontmoetingen tussen Nederland, Indië en Indonesië. A compilation by Esther Captain, Marieke Hellevoort & Marian van der Klein (red.). A publication of Uitgeverij Verloren, Hilversum, The Netherlands, 2000. This biographical story is translated from the Dutch by Wanda Boeke. No reproducing is allowed in any form without written permission from both the author and translator.

Hallo

 

Hallo, ik ben een meerval en zwem rond in een paar boeken van deze geheimzinnige schrijver. Ik weet zelf niet precies welke boektitels dat zijn, want ik kan niet lezen. Eerlijk gezegd vreet ik de boeken van Alfred Birney liever gewoon op, snapt u wel?