By: Ahmad Tohari
Needless to say not a single passenger on the night train coming in from the east agreed that it should stop just before the Pasar Senen station. But in fact it completely halted. No one knew what was going on further ahead.
A lot of the passengers who had woken up grumbled. Three men concurrently looked at their watches with wry faces. The engineer in the cab and two conductors in the front car let out a collective sigh of flustered annoyance. They had pictured themselves having hot cups of coffee in one of the offices at the station. A neat-looking guy came out of one of the train’s toilets holding a toothbrush. In one corner a pious-looking man addressed his fajr prayer while sitting in his seat. And the sounds heard most often were those of female passengers with their kids.
The train stopped at a place where the lives of those living on the sides of railroad tracks pulsate. Their truly free and sovereign lives were beginning to crawl. Yet, most of them still lay in cardboard shacks leaning against the guardrails separating them from the tracks. Some of them left only their legs visible while keeping their upper bodies sheltered under trashy, very low roofing sheets. And to the right hand side of the train, behind defoliated and dusty bush, a man and his little one awoke. Next to them was a woman still asleep, her head padded with a bundle of clothes on a cardboard mat. The sleeping woman’s face looked tired. But she still wore heavy lipstick and blush on her face. God knows, maybe last night she whored herself out until the morning came.
The man got up and walked across the street to a shop that had opened at that time of day, there were even two night watchmen sitting with their coffee cups.
The guy brought a pack of instant noodles in his right hand. At a coffee shop across the street, the corner of the noodle package was carefully torn to make an opening. Sachets of ingredient and sauces were taken out. Afterward, a one-thousand note was handed out to the coffee shop lady who immediately took a thermos and opened the lid. They looked to be tight with one another, were nice to each other and appeared to have been used to working together. Then slowly and cautiously she poured the hot water from the thermos in her hand into the plastic noodles packet through a hole torn in the corner. Enough.
After that, with his typical moves the man tore out the seasoning and sauce sachets with his teeth, poured the seasoning powder through the cutout and turned around heading for the little boy who was awaiting him while staying close to his mother. While walking the guy shook the noodles package that he held with his right hand.
Still walking, the man continued his shaking of the noodles, then jiggled the plastic bag, obviously to make the noodles cooked quickly. Then he squatted beside his son who had his eyes fixed on the packet. His wife or whoever she was still slept. It seemed the guy was aware that in front of him a pair of young eyes were keeping tab on the noodles packet with great expectation. The kid’s still innocent eyes were trailing the sway of his father’s hand that grasped the package. The boy’s face started to grow impatient. It looked as if he had warded off his hunger for a long period of time. His youthful, still innocuous lips mumbled following the movement of the noodles bag his father kept shaking. Sometimes he had his tongue stuck out and spittle dripping in the corner of his mouth. This child had gulped down his saliva a dozen times.
The noodle packet stopped swinging. The boy’s eyes lit up. His lips moved as if they were about to have something to eat. His Adam’s apple moved up and down. And his father shifted the package from his right hand to the left. Afterward, he pressed his right thumb against the forefinger and put them through the cutout at the corner of the noodles packet with caution. When pulled out, his right thumb and forefinger already pinched two pieces of steaming noodles. There were flashes in both the kid’s eyes. But the old man didn’t put the noodles straight away into his son’s opened mouth. Instead, he swung them in the air once again.
“Dad!” the boy cried out to his old man. He seemed vexed. He stared at the pieces of noodles hanging from his father’s hand.
“Hold your horses, it’s still hot. You could burn your mouth.”
“Dad!” the boy beat his own thighs with both hands to vent his irritation. His tears began to flow down his still pure cheeks. There he was, a boy five years of age crying before the swinging pieces of now softened instant noodles.
“Dad, hungry, I’m hungry!”
“I said, wait a minute. It’s still hot,” his father replied. He stopped swaying the pieces of noodles and now blew them with his protruding mouth. His son went sobbing, but then somehow he stood up. He turned around and pushed his pants aside in the thigh. The five-year old boy took a leak.
“Hey! Don’t pee over there. You’ll wee-wee on your mom’s back,” the old man told him off. The boy strained, held his shame and the urine stopped pouring; he made a 90-degree turn, then the yellowish liquid flowed again from the still innocent shame.
“That’s how you do it, you shouldn’t pee near your mom’s back. Come on, these noodles are getting a bit cooler,” said the dad. And then his right hand which clamped three pieces of noodles no longer swung, but moved up and down. The son squatted with a little upturned face, an open mouth and half-closed eyes. The father carefully dropped the ends of the spiraling noodles into his son’s mouth. The tiny, still gullible mouth quickly shut; the old man’s right thumb and forefinger let go of the noodles; the other ends of the noodles drooped downward to the boy’s small chin. But they all quickly shot up. A “slurping” sound came out when the noodles were sucked in by the strong draw of the still innocent yet starving mouth. The boy almost choked himself.
“Slow down! Good?”
“Very good, Dad.”
“Yeah. Come on, open your mouth again,” ordered the old man after his fingers again squeezed a few pieces of noodles that were no longer steaming. Like the first mouthful, those pieces of noodles were immediately sucked in and disappeared into the boy’s mouth along with the “slurp”. Shades of pleasure and satisfaction settled on the face of the five-year old.
“Dad, I’m like the kid on the coffee shop lady’s TV, right?”
“On TV; how’s that?”
“See, Dad; there is this kid sucking in instant noodles on TV. He’s good looking. He wears really good clothes. He lives in a really good house. So, now I’m like that kid eating noodles on TV, right?” asked the five-year old lad with an innocuous-looking face. For a second his father looked stunned. But a moment later he burst out laughing. His entire body was shaken. The soup of his noodles spurted out of the plastic bag’s opening he held with his left hand.
“Why are you laughing, Dad?”
“Nothing. Just that you’re better than the noodles-eating kid on TV.”
“Yeah, because now you can wee a bit farther from your mom’s back. Isn’t that great? Now you eat this again, I’ll feed you.”
“Ok, but I want the soup too, Dad.”
“It’s still too hot. Don’t be greedy anyway. The soup’s always for your mom. She likes it.”
“But she’s still sleeping.”
“She’d wake up. Open your mouth again,” commanded the old man. The little guy didn’t respond.
“Does Mom like to suck the soup from the plastic package, Dad?”
“Yes, she does.”
“Do you like to see Mom sucking it from the plastic package?”
“You’re a nosy boy.”
“Bet you like it, Dad.”
“Alright, fine. Yeah, I like it.”
“So why do you like it, Dad?” the boy asked in earnest. His eyes said it all. His father looked unwilling to respond, but after all he gave his answer.
“You see, when your mom sucks the soup from the plastic bag, she appears to have lots of fun, just like a little girl.”
The boy’s eyes rounded. He gave the impression that he was thinking with a little boy’s brain which of course is still utterly ingenuous.
“Yay, superb, Dad. You like to watch Mom sucking the noodles soup from its plastic bag.”
“But that’s true, right? You also love to see Mom’s being like a kid.”
The child fixed his eyes intently on his father’s face, waiting for a response. It was muted. Only splattering noise of the soup from inside the plastic noodle bag that was shaken again. Then the lady stretched herself and got up, sitting down and resting her body on her left hand. The morning light was bright. The woman’s figure became clearer. She was about forties. The lipstick and blush on her cheeks were heavy indeed. Or, it might be heavier the night before when she began walking the streets. And a very dusty life and far from water had made this lady’s look echo her surroundings which were also covered with dust.
“Well, Mom’s awake now. Hi Mom, you like to suck in the soup from the noodle’s plastic bag, don’t you?”
No response. Even less, the old man had handed the noodles packet to his wife or whoever she was who just awakened. And it all turned out to be true; she looked ravenous when she sucked the instant noodle soup directly from the plastic bag. A pair of a little boy’s eyes that looked so clear and true gazed at the movement of his mother’s mouth and cheeks. Those bright eyes subsequently stared at his father’s face. Such immaculate gaze wanted to prove whether it’s true that his father really likes to watch his wife or whoever she was sucking the plastic bag like a child. It was all also true. The five-year old boy’s eyes lit up, his cheeks glowed and his chaste lips were chapped. He had a laugh as he saw his father’s face turning into one of a man taking a great delight.
“Terrific, Dad,” shouted the boy, clapping his hands. “Dad really likes to watch Mom sucking in instant noodles soup from its plastic bag. Like a kid you said, huh? Hooray!”
His father stayed put, didn’t change the direction of his gaze, didn’t even blink. The man stared at his wife or whoever she was who was now sitting half looking up, her mouth connected perfectly with the cutout in the corner of the instant noodles packet put above her face. The newly awakened lady who still wore heavy make-up attempted to suck in the soup till the last drop. Tongue-smacking and lips-clicking sounds were heard as she sipped the thick chemical seasoning sludge in the last drops of the soup. Afterward, with the palm of her right hand she flicked the package she was sucking in again and again so the remaining noodle crumbs dropped and fell into her mouth.
The packet had been perfectly empty, then cast aside by that lady in heavy make-up with indifference. The plastic bag got caught in a defoliated and dusty branch of the bush. The smile she wore made her mouth look like some part of a mask. But she really looked content. By and by, a yellow dog with white streaks passed them by. Right at the feet of an iron pole supporting a light signal it stopped. In a very graceful manner, it lifted its rear left leg, tilted its hips and then relieved itself wetting the iron pole. The five-year old lad stared at the dog and was transfixed. Then he reached for his groin and was about to pee too. But the boy was stupefied by a sudden loud noise of his father.
“Don’t you dare pee over there! You do that and you’ll make on your mom’s clothes bundle. You nearly peed near her back, and now you’re gonna wee near the bundle?”
The boy put his pants right. He didn’t have a strong urge to urinate, he was just bewitched by the urinating dog that took a leak on the bottom of the pole.
“I wasn’t allowed to pee near Mom’s back. Peeing near the bundle also not allowed. So where can I pee, Dad?”
His dad smiled. His expression really showed the face of a free, independent man, a typical face of life by the sides of railroad tracks.
“Listen, you may pee all over Jakarta; in Menteng, on the sides of the Thamrin Road, in the field behind the Gambir station, along the side walks of Kebayoran Baru, you may also urinate in Senayan. Got it?”
The five-year old boy’s eyes rounded. Confused, because he didn’t know the places his father just brought up. Silence fell on them momentarily. The old man waited; Mom descended into laughter. And at that moment suddenly they heard somebody’s coughing from behind them. Simultaneously the three railroad track dwellers looked back. And dumbfounded. There, the nearest car’s door was open already. Or had long been opened. A conductor and a passenger stood upright at the door. They gave the impression that they had been watching a play presented by citizens of a different world. Then the two guys backed off to the walls behind each of them for a third person was about to step out. The third person was a waitress who was as pretty as a flight attendant. In her hands was a black bag, which surely contained food leftovers. The bag was thrown down and fell 4 m in front of those three railroad track dwellers. Leftover rice, fried chicken bones, also a fried chicken drumstick remaining fully intact, pieces of grilled meat, all scattered in the coral patch.
Who knew what the intention of the leftover dumping lady from the dining car was? Were the leftovers thrown out and meant for those three railroad track people? Glory be to God the Omniscient. The eyes of the five-year old boy glistened and rounded upon looking at a fried chicken drumstick lying among the jumble of leftovers. But the dog that made water on the feet of the light signal moved faster. The lad was held back. What’s more, his father grabbed the little guy’s shoulders so he couldn’t race forward.
There was some kind of tension. The little railroad track dweller felt his father’s hands getting cold and slightly trembling. Who knows that actually the old man was worried because he said his son might piss anyplace in Jakarta as long as it’s nowhere near his mother’s back? Are these words heard by those who were standing at the car’s door?
“Let’s get out of here,” said the old man to his son and his wife or whoever she was. “We’re just making a scene here.”
In a minute the three railroad track dwellers packed up their gear. The old man took a small cardboard box from under the dusty, deciduous shrub. His wife or whoever she was grabbed her bundle of clothes, and the little one took his favorite treasure which was a former radio canopy antenna. After that, all three of them moved against the train’s direction. Once they got a bit far away they were having a laugh.
“When I was sleeping, what were you two talking about? This kid would pee all over Jakarta?” asked that woman. The old man and his son looked at each other, smiled and laughed louder. It’s true, they are three railroad track people leading a happy and liberated life.(*)