CERPEN Akhiriyati Sundari**
Penerjemah oleh Yahya TP, Editor oleh Matt Woolgar
Mother wants to perform nyekar, the ritual of visiting a grave, with a symbolic scattering of flowers and prayers for the departed. She has repeatedly told me her wish. She wants to do as our neighbours in the village do, preparing for the approaching holy month of Ramadan by performing nyekar. The ritual is usually carried out together with besik, or cleaning the graveyard, concluded with prayers, praying for the departed spirits of the people buried there, along with our ancestors. The day after tomorrow Mother again wants to perform nyekar, after the Ied worship at the village mosque. As it happens, the sarean, or main graveyard, of our village is located right beside the mosque.
Normally, exactly a week before Ramadan, the people of our village carry out a ritual together, besides nyekar. In the field around the graveyard the nyadran, or communal meal, is held. Every family is required to bring an offering of food known as nasi berkat. After the ritual communal prayer led by the village’s religious leader, this food is then exchanged with others and taken home. Only men participate in this ritual. Our family has never taken part in the nyadran. Mother, my two sisters and I, her three children, are all women, so we are not affected by this social obligation.
However, it seems that this is not the main reason that we, as members of the village, have never participated. Only families who have relatives buried in the cemetery can take part in the nyekar and nyadran rituals. Whereas our late father was not buried there. The other people of the village stopped it, they would not allow father to be buried in the village’s public cemetery. For many years we could only keep inside the built up bitter feelings as people who had been shut out. As bitter as the memories implanted in my head in the past.
The instincts of childhood, stuck fast by the accidental overhearing of something in the past, make me tremble every time this compartment of my memory opens up. And most of all when people joyfully carry out the tradition of visiting the cemetery before Ramadhan, but not our family.
* * *
It was early in the morning when a visitor, who it seemed mother knew, came with news. Mother’s lip trembled. I was still little then, peaking and eavesdropping on the conversation from behind the curtain of the front room, and I saw mother in conversation with the guest. Now and then mother appeared to slump back, sighing heavily. My feet feeling as though dragged, the dark tale began.
“The location has been found. It was the person who claims to be the perpetrator who recounted it and showed me. But, let’s not misunderstand. As you already know, Mbakyu. These people didn’t know anything. They were just ordered to do it. Please can we sincerely try to forgive. There is no benefit in us nurturing vengeance. Tomorrow our friends will go there. Please come along with us if Mbakyu wants to.”
The guest spoke in a voice that was gentle, slow, and careful. It was like he was faced with a fragile object. At the end of the conversation I saw my mother’s tears overflow. The visitor bent down. A day later, mother went with the visitor. It was the beginning of the dark days in my life and in my family.
* * *
I was in the middle of watering the ylang-ylang tree when my mother came home bringing a package. “Bring the ylang-ylang flowers, Nis. Also other flowers from the garden. We are going to your father’s grave,” mother said abruptly. I did not understand. In all my life, mother had never invited us, her children, to father’s grave. The story that my mother often repeated was that my father had died as a result of a shipping accident when he was on his way to Makassar. His body was never found. I was still in my mother’s belly at that time. So, whose grave? Whose father?
Later I found out that the package my mother brought back contained bones, said to be those of my father. Together with people who said that mother was also a victim, who knows what a victim of, mother took the bones from a natural cave, like a well, in the southern mountains. People called this kind of cave a Luweng. It’s depths were reputed to end at the ocean to the south. Someone from the past had revealed everything. It seems that father did not die in a shipping accident, but was killed by unidentified people.
I saw mother hurrying. The day was already getting dark. Uncle Martoyo came carrying a mattock and other tools for digging. I was increasingly confused. When we were all ready to leave the house, a group of people suddenly arrived at our home. Their faces were obscured by the shades of twilight. Dark and frightening.
“You can’t bury those bones in the village graveyard. The village could become cursed with the graveyard home to a traitor to the nation, a rebel against the state, such as your husband. If you persist, all us people won’t hesitate to dig up what you bury. You are only permitted to bury those bones in the land around your own home,” a village elder shouted piercingly in front of our house. This was followed by the people behind him shouting back and forth with the same threat. I was scared. Only a child, I cried loudly. My mother covered my mouth and calmed me down.
Mother was still. We were all quiet. The people then went on their way when my mother had said that she would fulfil their wishes. After that painful evening almost weekly my mother and my two older sisters visited the grave in the back yard. Father’s grave. Yes, mother buried father’s bones there. Without ceremony. Without tears.
* * *
I slowly left my childhood behind, but that memory of childhood would not free itself. Every day I built it up into a mass of vengeance. Likewise, every day mother patiently broke it down.
According to mother’s story, our father was not a rebel as people alleged. Father was only a primary school teacher who was usually known as Comrade Teacher. As it happened father had another talent besides being a teacher: acting in Kethoprak (a Javanese drama form). On the date of its anniversary a political party was holding celebrations in the town square, and father was invited to perform. A staging that ended in disaster because that political party was subsequently banned.
Following the disturbances in the country’s capital, father never came home. Mother said father was taken away forcibly in a truck by unknown people. Who knows where to. So in short order mother became a widow. Strangely, mother asked us not to be worried. To forget the tears. Also to forgive her that she hadn’t told us what happened.
Mother’s wise words, which everyday tried to break down the rock in my chest, did not succeed. I felt the fire in the hollows in my heart grow and intensify. Ready to explode and burn everything. I could never accept this family history that had been kept from me and the inhumane treatment of my father’s body.
* * *
Now my mother’s desire to perform nyekar has flared up once again. It makes my heart race. Why wouldn’t it? This time, after many years, after grey hairs have asserted themselves upon our ageing mother, she has surprised us. Mother wants father’s grave moved to the village’s public graveyard. So mother can perform nyekar as is customary for the other people in the village. Performing nyekar together, joyfully welcoming Ramadan and Eid al-Fitr.
Mother and the rest of us know many years have passed together with the passing of the regime that cursed our family. The village elder who barked at us in front of the house also died long ago. People have slowly became more sympathetic towards mother. Indeed all the more so since mother went on the pilgrimage to Mecca. This is something I can’t understand, no matter which way I try to grapple with it.
Mother has succeeded in garnering the sympathy of people who have previously shunned us. People have begun to open their arms to us. They have invited mother to undertake puter kuburan–a ritual for the moving of father’s grave with the necessary ceremony. Mother has never requested more than this. Indeed not even the rehabilitation of father’s name. Mother just requested that father could be buried in the proper way in the village cemetery.
And now, my heart is thumping awaiting what will happen. But after all, everyone knows that for years the mound behind our home has been just a heap of bones that has perhaps already become earth. The puter kuburan memorial is just a tradition, performed by taking a few handfuls of earth from father’s burial mound to be moved. There is nothing to be worried about. But among it all there is something I am worried about.
I follow the process of digging the mound behind the house solemnly. Just as I suspect, not a single bone is found. However, no one is suspicious, and no one knows that anxiety has crept over me. They come to the conclusion that the bones have already turned into soil. Mother nods in resignation when Pak Kaum, who leads the ceremony, requests agreement. Taking a few handfuls of earth, these are brought to the village graveyard and buried.
Not long later, we are in the village graveyard. Pak Kaum requests that we sit facing the new mound of earth. Father’s grave. In the following moments Pak Kaum leads us in prayer. I see mother’s face, absorbed. Also my two older sisters. There is no restlessness. There are no tears. But deep inside my heart trembles greatly. I want to cry.
Quietly the feeling of having done wrong slips into my chest. Creeping like roots. Clenching the pit of my stomach. I feel I have wronged my mother and my family. Pounded by feelings of resentment that I could’t suppress and an oppressive feeling of hopelessness, I have already acted alone. A few months ago, without anyone knowing, I took my father’s bones from the mound behind the house. I moved them in my own way. Burying the bones in the corner of this cemetery. Under the thick foliage of the bamboo and old frangipani trees. For a moment I glance there. Then I shift to the grave markers that are stuck into the two ends of the new mound, right in front of my eyes.
I read my father’s name. My eyes burn…
KULON PROGO, Juni 2008
*Cerpen ini awalnya berjudul NYEKAR, digubah menjadi A Graveside Ritual (lalu dijadikan judul di kaver buku). Bergabung dalam proyek penulisan bersama “Contemporary Indonesian Short-Stories” yang digagas oleh APSAS (Apresiasi Sastra) dengan 11 cerpenis lain se-Indonesia. Diterjemahkan ke dalam bahasa Inggris oleh Yahya TP dari Universitas Sanata Darma Yogyakarta dan disunting naskahnya oleh Matt Woolgar, mahasiswa sejarah program doktoral yang riset tentang sistem kepartaian di Jawa Barat pada tahun 1950an.