A belief will never die; You can never muffle; or distort truth; as it will eventually prevail. Buru Island '75
So ran the final line of a poem which the old man had written down in the filthy-looking notebook beside him. The small diary meant the world to him as it painted a picture of the days he had served in Buru Island Prison.
His fingers caressed his typewriter, which was almost as old as he, and his eyes radiated complete satisfaction, as he had worked so hard for the last five months to accomplish a tough mission.
It all began when he recently came across an old friend, whom he would never have expected to see, at an acquaintance's party. The old man had lost his self confidence since he had heard that his friend had become a man of great importance, a director of a state-owned enterprise.
""How are you, Mas? Have you forgotten me? I'm Darto, Mas,"" his friend said, shaking his hand and embracing him warmly.
""F.. Fine, Dik,"" he answered in an awkward tone. Never before had he looked so immensely embarrassed. To be warmly embraced by a widely known man like Sudarto Singodimejo, and to be stared at by many pairs of eyes made him really elated. Perhaps the people around him could not help wondering why an important figure like Sudarto had hugged him so intimately.
""We haven't seen each other for a long time, have we?""
""Yes, you are right. And now you are a very important person,"" the old man said in a nervous tone.
""Don't say that, Mas. It is you who made me into the person I am now,"" Darto said, with the typical laugh of a government official.
During the short encounter, the two long-lost friends were absorbed in an endless conversation fraught with questions about each other's lives. It seemed the two friends had nothing to hide between them.
""Why don't you just write a white book for your defense,"" Darto suggested after a pause.
""A white book?""
""Yes, some sort of statement to defend yourself if you're not involved.""
It took him quite a long time to digest his friend's words.
""Ah, but if I write such a book, would anyone want to publish it, Dik?"" he said in a doubtful tone.
""Why not? Even the biography of a comedian, a new singer or a corruptor will sell well, much more than people like us. Did they know how difficult it was for you to take this office back from the Japanese?"" his friend encouraged him.
""But I am not flawless, Dik.""
""Pramoedya Ananta Toer was once imprisoned on Buru Island, and his books became best-sellers. Forget it, Mas! Give it a try and when it's done I'll recommend it to my friend, a publisher.""
After that, the old man started to write his own biography, beginning from the days of his childhood, his adulthood and up to his life in exile. He was a diligent and brilliant man, one who was not only known to be disciplined and professional, but also one who valued time highly. He kept the documents of his life, such as photographs, certificates and important papers, neatly in his cupboard to enable him to keep track of important events.
His biography, consisting of almost 500 pages and neatly typed on meticulously clean paper, took almost five months to complete. All that he had done reflected his seriousness in his work.
At school, he had always been a champion in his classes, completing his studies at Hollandsch Inlandsche School, a primary school for native Indonesians of the elite class, and at Meer Uitgebreid Lager Onderwijs, a Dutch-language secondary school of the colonial period, with ease. However, his dream to continue his education at the Institute of Technology in Bandung were dashed owing to clashes with the Dutch, which thrust him into war.
After the war was over, he quit the military and was assigned to work at a topography office in line with his skills. It was here that he started his career. Known for his bravery in fighting and in stripping Japanese soldiers of their weapons, he was promoted as the head of the office later in life. Darto was then one of his staff.
Prior to the bloody Sept. 30 incident of the Indonesian Communist Party, he had the chance to study in Russia for one year. Unfortunately, a few days after he came home, the rebellion broke out.
People say that politics is dirty. Although he had never felt involved in any political movement, the soldiers found complete data on the old man. Reported as a member of the outlawed party, he was dismissed from the office, arrested and exiled to prison on Buru Island for almost twenty years.
There was nothing he could have done to save himself. He accepted his bad luck as part of his destiny.
He was really different from his subordinate, Darto. Though lower in rank, Darto was smart and more calculating. Almost all the office's staff were said to have been implicated in the movement, but strangely enough, Darto was declared clean. He was even able to jump on the bandwagon of every succeeding regime. Perhaps that is what people call good luck.
Bad luck did not befall only the old man. His children were also treated unfairly. When he was still in jail, he often received letters from his children saying that they had had to go through red tape in finding a school or a job. But what could he do? Was not a political prisoner considered more disgraceful than a robber or a killer?
None of his children became civil servants because they had all been failed in the exams after it became known that their father was in Buru Island prison. Despite repeated failures, his children remained strong and managed to live a relatively good life.
This morning, he was getting ready to see his old friend. After dressing and eating two slices of bread and drinking a cup of coffee his wife had prepared, he set off, carrying a bundle of papers which he had finished typing.
""I'm leaving, Bu,"" he said, stepping out of the house.
Taking a bus, he headed for his friend's office, the address written on his friend's business card. He was happy riding on the overcrowded bus. The day before, his son-in-law had offered to take him to the office, but he had declined the offer, not wanting to bother him.
Feeling hesitant, he entered the 15-story building. A security officer about the age of his youngest son stopped him at the door.
""I want to see Pak Sudarto Singodimejo,"" he said.
With great suspicion, the security guard scrutinized him.
""Which charitable foundation are you from, Pak?"" the security guard asked.
""I am not from any charitable foundation. I'm an old friend of his.""
""Do you have an appointment?""
He shook his head.
""If you don't have an appointment, you can't see him. The director is very busy today,"" the guard snapped.
Feeling humiliated, the old man became indignant. First, he had been mistaken for a man seeking donations, and now he had been denied entry into the building.
""Would you please tell Pak Darto, Dik, that an old friend wants to see him?"" he pressed the guard.
""I'm sorry, Pak. You'd better make an appointment first. If you have something important to give him, you can leave it with me. I'll give it to him later.""
The old man almost lost his temper. He was ready to snap at the guard, but he managed to hold his anger. Finally, he gave up.
""Fine, if I can't see him now, perhaps I can see him some other time,"" he said, leaving the building.
The scorching sun over the city of Jakarta began to make his throat dry. He was overwhelmed by feelings of annoyance, anger and insult. All the effort he had made to see an old friend had come to nothing. No matter that he had gone and called at the office for who knows how many times, he had always failed to see the director. With various excuses, the guards and the secretary had always turned him away, saying that the director had a meeting, the boss had a guest, or that he had just stepped out. Now, he realized how difficult it was to see an important person.
He recalled the days when he had a position above Darto and how he had never made things difficult.
Perhaps the times have changed, he thought.
A bus with its horn blaring screeched to a halt and shocked him awake from his daydream.
""Damn it, watch it when you cross the street! Do you want to die?"" barked the bus driver.
The old man tried to walk to the side of the road, acknowledging his mistake as he had tried to cross the street while oblivious to the passing cars. It was a near miss. He would have died if he had been hit by the bus.
His head began to swim, making him sway dizzily. His body was soaked through with a cold sweat. His heart beat faster and faster, but he managed to find a concrete bench to sit on. He then tried to calm his nerves, fanning himself with the papers in his hand. Alas, they didn't help him much, and he trembled violently before he felt his vision become completely blurred.
Holding a bundle of papers in his hand, a street child singer tried to spell out its title: ""Su...bur Su...es His-to-ry.""
""Mak, Mak! I've found a bundle of papers,"" he cried to his mother, who was sitting on a concrete bench nearby.
""Yea, just put them in my basket, Nang. We can use them for wrapping up fried bananas, so we don't have to buy old papers,"" his mother said, breast-feeding her other child.
But Subur -- as the old man was called -- would never know that the papers found by the street child singer was his autobiography.
His body, lying stiff and facing north, is now draped in fabric, his wife, children, in-laws and grandchildren weeping beside him.
Translated by Faldy Rasyidie
Mas: ""older brother"", when addressing an older man
Dik: little brother or sister
Nang: son, diminutive