Pilgrimage

By: Dewi Kharisma Michellia

(source text: https://lakonhidup.wordpress.com/2012/11/05/ziarah-2)

APRIL 21, 1978.

THOSE were the epitaphs inscribed on two wooden grave markers planted at the top of the hill that morning. Under the same weather, 20 years ago, I remember perfectly, I almost didn’t recognize half the people standing around me under their black umbrellas.

Walking along the footpath back home, I recalled how big, long cars took me, off with people I barely knew for a day. Earlier at midnight, the family who lived next door—the only neighbor close to my family—brought them to me. Still half-awake next to my parents’ coffins, I heard them talking, but then I stopped listening.

They came over to me and introduced themselves as my father’s relatives, who’d shelter me after all the funeral processions completed. At the time I was scared to death.

I remember exactly what took my parents away. When I heard the news, on my return from hunting rabbits with friends of mine, I ran down the path several kilometers away, just to make sure I could still save my parents.

When I got there, fire had consumed the shed where my dad used to work. I went around inside the house, looking for my dad. I found my neighbors struggling to put out the fire with water from the wooden buckets they carried. Some of them told me my mother was also trapped inside.

They thwarted all my attempts to get to the shed. They flocked around me and stopped me from breaking through the walls of fire. They quelled all my screaming and held me back with all their might.

Hours later the fire eventually snuffed out, and what I found was just the skulls of my mom and dad with little meat and scorched skin left, they are tied back to back to an iron stake that I’d never seen before. One thing I knew for sure. Of course God didn’t deliberately put the iron stake in there and roast both my parents in the shed. There must be others who did the job.

I suppose it had something to do with my father’s work. Until now, I don’t have the slightest idea of what my dad did in his workplace, even though my mother told me once that someday I’d know.

Today, upon entering the living room, I saw vines spreading across the wooden house. It was there that I took a seat that moment, with my chest puffed up, facing people I didn’t recognize.

“We’ll take you in.” I remember a fair-skinned tall man with round-rimmed glasses sat in the middle, face to face with me. “There your grandpa and grandma have waited for you. Your extended family will take care of you.”

I never knew that my grandparents were still alive. My mom and dad never told me anything about their pasts, for a dozen years into the formative stage of my life, I took it for granted; as if my parents were in fact born of stone.

“I’m your dad’s little brother.”

“I don’t buy it.”

“We know you’d need evidence. Your dad and his wife went into seclusion here as soon as he graduated from the college in the Netherlands. You can find everything about him in these documents. ”

Then he flicked his fingers and some guys came in carrying iron chests on their shoulders. Everything was then placed before me.

He stepped back a little and opened the padlocks that secured the chests with small keys from his pocket, showing all the documents concerning my father’s life.

I was perplexed. It turned out he was no ordinary person.

I read a few pieces on the papers from the clippings along with my father’s personal documents, I read stories about my parents. On the loss of two important figures in the history of the nation’s independence. Both of them. They retreated into the woods immediately after the 30 September event took place. Two years later, I was born into the world. Even at the time I could get the picture, beginning to wonder what my dad was actually doing. What kind of mother was the woman who gave birth to me from her womb? They did…. Things I didn’t know the reasons why.

Everything seemed to really turn into a dream when the guy said, “We don’t think you’ve got any other choices than to come with us.”

***

AND they began to dress me up like a typical girl. Ribboned dress, black ballet shoes and a pearl necklace. My hair which normally coiled into a bun was then combed and tied up in ribbons. They powdered my face and put lipstick on my lips, my cheeks flushed thanks to the sweeps of blush-on and they shaped up my eyebrows too.

Every day I studied extra learning materials at home. I was also taught about archery, manners and economics as well as state politics. Sometimes, I played around with tubes and beakers containing chemical too. Something that people thought must be running in my family. It just occurred to me then that my parents were both chemists too. However, weeks after they taught me about chemistry, I still hadn’t demonstrated any knack for it.

In addition to home schooling, I didn’t go to the HIS anymore, where the bumiputera (natives) could study together with those of Dutch descent. I went to the ELS instead, where half Chinese like me, according to my family—they were no longer strangers to me, should go pursuing knowledge. In front of the mirror I nodded in agreement with them, I have cream-colored complexion and slanted eyes, I just realized it after staying with them.

***

APRIL 21, 1981.

YEAR after year went by. After three years attending MULO, at AMS now at all times I heard of kids my age uttering rhetoric, “What can I do for my country.” Inside the classroom we talked about many issues. From the writings on movements, the revolutions in western countries to the Aufklarung, occultism and the universe. Whatever shape their struggle might take, my friends were always fighting for something.

Over the next three years, we studied so hard for making it in the university admission tests. My aim was to go to the Netherlands, following in my father’s footsteps.

But as time moved on, so much had changed. I no longer knew who I was. I’d mingled with people I just knew. Even if I set my sights on going to the school my father attended, my goal didn’t have anything to do with my past, but something I fancied more to achieve; an ideal state. But, what did we expect from our country? I still didn’t get it then, but I just rode the waves.

***

AFTER compelling my family to allow me to burn some of my parents’ skull bones and bring their ashes to the Netherlands with me, I finally set off for the Land of Windmills with their ashes. I put the urns storing my parents’ ashes in my apartment.

In the Netherlands I often paid a visit to my aunt, my dad’s little sister, in Groningen, from whom I always got enough to live on. I lived a very ordinary life, when I went home from the classes I sat in Sneltrein bringing a bouquet of tulips all the time, I did it all the way through April for five years I stayed there. And though everything was well provided, I still signed up for part-time work at the embassy, where I met someone who would go on to break my heart.

“Even if I broke your heart, please don’t return to Indonesia. Be a citizen of the Netherlands.” After many nights sleeping with me, after imbuing with all his knowledge of the falsity of the world, he uttered those words. A few weeks later, I was left devastated in my rented apartment, learning that the guy had married a woman who conceived his child.

My next lover was an artist. There in the same city, after graduating from the college in Utrecht, I was settled and had a career as a painter; sometimes I wrote too. I stopped putting the sciences I learned during my four-year time in college into practice. I grew more familiar with going on adventures in the canals, discussing theology or philosophy figures, than remaining inside the lab working and analyzing molecules.

But fate took another twist out of control, a professor who spotted my talents and advised me during my thesis preparation in the latter years of my study forced me to partake in his lab works. While painting, while studying European culture, while enjoying life at my 20s, I agreed to become her assistant in several elaborate research studies conducted in collaboration with other countries in the Indo-European region.

Some of the people I met during the studies, which forced me to move from one place to another, which also got me separated from my artist lover, turned out to have known my mom and dad. But when I delved deeper, they just said they only knew them by their names. And soon after that, I found myself no longer working for the professor.

A week later, I went back to Utrecht, found my love married to another man. I was stunned by the change in her sexual preference within just a few months. After spending many hours cursing and throwing chinas in every corner of the room, I packed up my stuff, and decided to leave the country for good.

I moved to another country, of which the languages I had taught myself for years.

***

ZURICH is indeed a city with that magical aura. I started to practice the French and German I learned since the very first day, and it was perfect, I guess I did have the flair of a polyglot.

Everything steadily improved, including my state of mind. Yet, a few weeks later I learned about the deaths of my uncle and aunt in Groningen, falling victim to a serial killing. For a whole week I was there to pay a condolence call and pack up the stuff my aunt left for me. Quite overwhelming to see how my cousins who were still toddlers were orphaned immediately. But alas, there was nothing I could do when later they were taken to Indonesia by another uncle and aunt of mine. They also forced me to go home, but I refused and instead decided to return to Zurich.

Intent to fully draw myself away from the turmoil sprung inside of me, upon returning to my apartment in Zurich I started donating all my stuff to several foundations, and with a little saving as well as a little bit of other provisions, I decided to embark on an adventure around the world. Back in my college days, I was quite fond of the transcendental concept and, although it wasn’t so interesting, I also finished reading Thoreau‘s Journal.

***

APRIL 21, 1998.

I was 31 years old, had travelled around the whole world, but after returning to my homeland, I was forced to take part in contriving the reform. And I did that together with friends who used to always aspire to the same ideal state.

Meanwhile, my uncle and aunt moved to the Netherlands, taking my Dutch cousins back to their homeland.

At the time, I felt I was betrayed. Also I still had no clue as to why my father and mother were burned at the stake twenty years ago. Was it for the same thing, which forced them to move away to the woods? But why only the two of them?

The people around me felt great about themselves. While I continued to roll with them, I still felt I messed up with my life.

Later in May that year, I saw what we all sought after earlier in the 70’s came to fruition. However, those people were not the same school friends whose thoughts I used to adore 20 years ago. People change.

***

DONE with partying and reveling in the enemy’s defeat, over the next few months I stayed in a vacant family house in Jakarta on my own. All the members of my family, somehow, had switched nationalities and agreed not to return to Indonesia, no matter what.

I felt that fate, time and people I’d known had double-crossed me. Thus, perhaps only those who had time to think about themselves, those who shared my feelings, would feel that we had lived such a long, long dream. The place where I was at now, not the place I expected many years ago.

Gulping down the remaining shot glass of tequila, while here and there recalling how my hand completed a thin hatching of a girl with a sombrero on her head while I was in Mexico, I decided to go back to the place where it all began. I thought I should, before I die, find out the cause of my parents’ deaths. In the past, it might not be both of them who died. It could have been me, and I went to different places and met completely different people, and lived my own death for twenty years.(*)

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