A short story by Bernard Batubara
Translated by Toni Pollard
It was unthinkable to Suhana that she’d have to wait such a seemingly endless long time. She was forced to remain patient. One of her good friends told her, “To be patient is a test from God and it goes on forever.” Forever? Yes, forever. Suhana felt she’d have to remain patient for far longer than that. Even though she could barely breathe or stem the flow of tears.
Wanto was the boy’s name. And he’d promised Suhana that he’d meet her. At the usual time and at the usual place, the Goa Maria swimming pool. But the meeting never took place. There was not even a glimpse of a hair on his head. No, even though the row of acacia trees had shed the last of their leaves and the seasons had rolled around. Still Suhana waited.
Suhana’s first meeting with Wanto had been quite unplanned. Maybe it was God who’d planned it, Suhana whispered to herself. At the time she’d been playing around on the edge of the Goa Maria swimming pool, swinging her legs over the surface of the water. All of a sudden she was startled by a hand pushing her from behind causing her to fall in. As she gasped for breath under the water she could faintly hear the sound of someone laughing. She panicked, as she didn’t know how to swim. Eyes squeezed shut, hands and legs groping in the hope of connecting with something, she knew the pool was deep, more than three meters, and she felt that nothing she did would be of any use.
Suhana felt everything go dark when a firm hand grabbed her encircling her body, and brought her up to the surface. Coughing her heart out on the edge of the pool, Suhana was still able to make out the faint voice of someone very angry: “What are you? Some kind of lout to treat a woman like that!”
The person who’d just rescued her was a boy. He’d left straight away once he’d assured himself that Suhana was fine. Even while Suhana was still in shock from what had just happened, she was certain of one thing-she had to thank him.
Some time passed before Suhana found out from a friend that the boy who had been her angel of mercy in broad daylight that time was someone called Wanto. He was the son of Wak Mahmud, the vegetable seller in the market. She remembered a few occasions when she’d shopped there but had never seen Wanto. Maybe back then Wanto was of no importance to her so she hadn’t even noticed him.
Suhana wasted no time in thanking Wanto when they met again again one day at Goa Maria. She had only just found out that he in fact worked there as the pool cleaner. Each Thursday he cleanded out the pool. There were no visitors on Thursday, as a sign on the gate read: “POOL CLOSED FOR CLEANING TODAY”. However Suhana came anyway, the sole visitor every Thursday while Wanto was working. Wanto wondered why she came even though the pool was drained. All she did was sit on the edge and watch him scrub the sides and bottom of the pool, smiling from time to time. But gradually he got used to it, even enjoyed it. Suhana was like a goddess who motivated him, giving him the energy to work.
In short, they began to like each other. Suhana saw him as a dashing angel while he saw her as a sweet and cheerful goddess. They declared their love by the edge of the pool, blessed by the hundreds of leaves falling from the acacias. “It seems our love is too heavy for the branches to bear,” Wanto said with a smile. Suhana was embarrassed. Too heavy? Yes, their love was great which made it heavy, unable to be supported by the leaves of the acacias along the main road and beside the pool at Goa Maria.
“So we have to support our love ourselves,” replied Suhana, smiling at Wanto. Their eyes met in the air, piercing the invisible mist, forming a thread between them. They were bound to each other in that gaze and they each fell, disappearing into the eyes of the other. Ah, all it takes is a pair of eyes to make someone fall further and deeper in love.
“What do you mean, Hana? The boy’s nothing but the son of a vegetable seller. He doesn’t even have a job! How could you possibly love him?”
“But, Father, love has got nothing to do with whose son he is or what work he does,” Suhana sobbed.
“You’re out of your mind! You think you can live on sprouts and cabbages? Or do you plan to live on love alone?”
“Father, this is a matter of the heart. I’m sure, given the chance, Wanto’s going to find a more suitable job.”
“Matter of the heart indeed. You’d do better just to eat heart!”
Haji Samad, Suhana’s father, left the room slamming the door behind him. Suhana knew he was angry, but she was angry too. Why did he have to see Wanto in terms of whose son he was and what job he did? Wasn’t love a matter of the heart and of feelings and of trust? Her heart and Wanto’s were already tightly bound. They loved each other and she was sure Wanto was faithful. So what was the problem? Suhana wept and buried her anger deep inside.
“That’s enough, Hana. You deserve a better man. That’s all your father wants for you,” said her mother as she gave her a hug.
Suhana didn’t say anything. She felt it was useless arguing with her father and mother. Her father was too fixed in his thinking and her mother was too submissive. She and Wanto really did have to support their love themselves. They had no one but themselves to rely on. It was their love. A heavy love, Wanto had called it. A great love, Suhana had responded.
The following day Suhana went to Goa Maria to see Wanto. Strangely, he wasn’t there although it was the day he worled. Even if it hadn’t been a Thursday he’d normally be there anyway. Maybe he had something on and would come later, Suhana said to herself. So she waited.
Days went by with no news from Wanto. She’d gone to Goa Maria several times, but hadn’t seen him. The last few days she hadn’t been able to get there because of helping her father with his Koranic teaching at home. Then calamity struck in the form of some bad news: Wanto had got a girl pregnant. Suhana was completely floored by it! She couldn’t believe it, but almost the whole village was talking of it. The girl was the daughter of the fish merchant, and Wak Mahmud had already made plans to marry them off.
“I told you that boy wasn’t right for you. So you believe me now,” snapped Haij Samad, after the visitors had left.
Suhana couldn’t wait to hear Wanto’s side of the story. She wanted to hear for herself from the boy who had become her angel.
She went straight to Goa Maria. It was crowded with people, some jogging others swimming. It wasn’t a Thursday but surely Wanto would be there-had to be there, she thought. She looked nervously around hoping to catch sight of him, but he was nowhere to be seen. She was on the point of despair when a voice suddenly called out to her.
“Hey, Hana!” The old man she knew to be the caretaker at Goa Maria was shuffling towards her. “Here’s a letter for you.”
Suhana frowned as she took the sheet of paper from the old man’s wrinkled hand. Anxiously she opened it and read it in silence:
Forgive me, Suhana. Truly. What am I compared to you, the virgin daughter of a haji? I’m just the son of vegetable seller, with no job, as I’m sure your father says, right? I love you and our love is not wrong. It’s just that I don’t want you to waste your time on a man who has an uncertain future like me. You should marry that soldier who came to Goa Maria one day. You’ll be snapped up! There is no way you won’t get a good man who’s well off.
Once again, forgive me. In all sincerity I never for moment intended to hurt you, let alone do you any harm. I value you as highly as any man can. I’m going to marry Diana, the daughter of the fish merchant next to my father’s market stall. My father is getting old and I don’t want to raise his hopes too high. Approaching you and thinking I can have you is like raising my father way into the sky then letting him drop when your parents reject me. So I’ve chosen what’s right for me and for my father too.
But to me, Suhana, you will always be the goddess who motivates me. I promise I’ll meet you as soon as the wedding is over. Yet again, forgive me.
“Wanto doesn’t work here any more. He’s gone to his in-laws’ place and will probably be staying there with his wife,” the old man said, once he knew she’d read the letter. “So if you mean to wait around for him, I’ll tell you now, there’s no point.”
Suhana didn’t say anything. She knew her heart had been broken when she’d first heard the rumours. And now she had no longer had any idea what state her heart was in.
The afternoon prayers had been hours ago and now at the sunset, the call to prayers reached into the far corners of the village. Suhana was still sitting on the edge of the Goa Maria pool, waiting in vain. She just stared at the surface of the water, her face blank. Amidst the disappointment, hope, anger and sadness, everything mingled in the ripples from her dripping tears. If I throw myself in maybe Wanto will come and rescue me again, she thought.
At the deserted Goa Maria pool Suhana drowned herself. Wanto never did come back.