The Midnight Intruder

The gaunt old man wore a sarong and a peci, headdress. He entered Aryo’s front yard in the late afternoon rain, limping. It was just past afternoon prayer, and the old man seemed anxious, as if he were trying to hide his nervousness. Even though they were not acquainted with each other, he expected Aryo to have the solution to his problem. The man was cross-eyed and could not focus on Aryo’s face. He extended his right hand, and they shook hands in a warm and friendly manner.

The old man smiled, and said, “It is you who I’ve been looking for.” Refusing to sit in a chair, the old man chose to sit cross-legged on the floor.

Aryo tried to guess why the man had come to his house, and why he had such a humble demeanor.

“Please buy my land, son,” the cross-eyed old man pleaded.

“I have no intention to buy any land,” Aryo replied gently, looking at the raindrops still visible on the old man’s shabby peci.

The old man had placed his hope in Aryo, seeking strength from outside himself. His eyes filled with emotion, he pleaded sincerely.

“Please reconsider, my son. You might be interested. I will sell you my land at a very cheap price. You have the money I need.” The frail old man mentioned a sum.

Aryo was startled by how cheap it was.

“The money is to pay for my wife’s medical expenses,” the old man explained.

Aryo was taken aback, feeling very small indeed. Trying to control his trembling body, he did not dare return the old man’s look. The man’s eyes were a dark pool of bleakness.

“Come back at noon, tomorrow,” Aryo said. “I will pay you the price for your plot in full.”

The old man shook Aryo’s hand, nervously. He then walked away. The drizzle continued to wet his peci as he limped away from the house.

***

As dusk approached, Aryo walked down a dirt path not far from his home and arrived at the plot of land he had purchased from the old man wearing the peci. The lot was located in a valley surrounded by hills. It was enclosed by a bamboo fence, and on it stood a wooden surau, a prayer hut.

Located not far from a row of village houses that had been leveled by bulldozers, the surau, standing in the light rain, seemed to perpetuate silence. The terrain there had been leveled and was now a vast expanse of brownish-red earth, where trunks of trees, felled by chainsaws, lay in disarray, and night moths swarmed the desolate and fragile land. All that was left standing on the parcel was the old man’s house and the centuries-old wooden surau that Aryo had bought.

The old man’s raspy voice called out the azan, the call to evening prayer. He was alone in the surau. Under his sarong, he raised the heel of his right foot and shifted his weight onto the toes of his clubfoot for balance.

He turned when he heard footsteps and gave Aryo a sincere smile.

After the prayer, the old man shook Aryo’s hand and asked, “Now do you know why I sold you this land?”

“No, not really.”

“Look around. All the villagers have left their homes. They sold their land and houses. I’m the only one left. They are going to build a housing complex here. I sold the land to you, because this surau was built by my ancestors. I know that you will preserve it.”

“How do you know me?”

“Your daughter, the little girl, Salsa, likes to play in my field. She and her friends often wait for me to roast some yam or corn and eat them hot. I once took her to your home when it was raining and saw you.”

“So why are you handing this land over to me?”

The old man smiled as if he were laughing at Aryo. There was a calm acceptance in his smile. “I want you to preserve this surau. Don’t sell it,” he said quietly and gave Aryo a penetrating look. “This is the surau of my ancestors.”

***

At dusk-aged, well-dressed man came to Aryo’s house. He waited in the living room for Aryo to come home. When Aryo arrived, the stranger greeted him politely and approached him in a friendly manner. He said, “I came with an offer to buy the field in the center of the housing complex we are building.”

“I have no intention of selling it to anyone. There’s a surau there that I want to preserve.”

“That prayer hut has been abandoned. All the villagers have sold their land.”

“Did the old man do the same?”

“He has sold his land and house and moved to another village.” The middle-aged guest straightened his tie, smugly. “Yours is the only parcel that hasn’t been sold. We’re willing to offer a high price for it. This may be the highest price we’ve ever offered.”

Aryo was astounded at the very high price the well-dressed man was offering. He had just bought the land from the old man and now the price had multiplied many times. He felt guilty—the land had been so cheap. And now, he could no longer hold on to it.

***

Evening prayer was over. Kiai Najib had led the prayer in his almost-deserted surau. There were only four people who had joined Kiai Najib for the evening prayers. Kiai Najib, whose body was beginning to weaken, shook hands with three of the people who had participated in his prayers.

Aryo understood the anxiety in the kiai’s eyes.

“Don’t go home yet,” Kiai Najib said. “There’s something I need to talk to you about. This is a very old surau. We need to build a better one so people will want to worship here.”

“Kiai, don’t worry. I will build a better one with the money I received from selling my new land.”

Kiai Najib’s eyes widened.

Aryo nodded to convince the kiai.

***

The old man’s eyes gleamed with anger. Intense anger. Fury emanated from his crossed eyes.

Aryo had not expected the old man to come to his house that afternoon.

Aryo forced a smile. He had no desire to fight the anger of the cross-eyed old man. He was not surprised by the man’s discontent.

“I didn’t give you the land so you could sell it to the developer!” said the cross-eyed old man.

“I could not hold on to it after all the villagers had sold their homes,” responded Aryo. “Yes, I have sold the land, but all the money I received from the sale, I donated to build a surau in this housing complex.”

The fire in the old man’s eyes was extinguished. His thin chest no longer heaved. His shoulders dropped, his face fell. He shook Aryo’s hand and took his leave.

Aryo followed him as he walked away. They halted at the parcel where the new surau was being built.

The cross-eyed old man looked at the construction site for a long time. Smiling, he kept nodding his head. Finally, the frail old man limped away.

Aryo had forgotten to ask where the old crossed-eyed man now lived.

***

Midnight blanketed the newly-constructed surau in darkness. All the rooms were pitch black when a man limped to the front of the surau. He turned on the tap for the ablution water. The water flowed more strongly than the drizzle falling on the guava leaves. Sitting cross-legged, he performed the ritual of midnight prayer. He recited zikr, the short prayers, for a very long time. He was still at it at the break of dawn.

When Kiai Najib entered the dark surau to perform the ritual of his morning prayer, he was shocked to find a stranger. “What are you doing here?” he asked in a sharp tone of voice.

The old man remained quietly engrossed in his zikr.

The kiai’s suspicion of the stranger mounted. No one had ever come into the surau after midnight to worship. “You can’t just do as you please in this surau!”

Remaining seated, cross-legged, the old man did not respond to the kiai’s reprimand; he simply continued his zikr. When he rose, he took the kiai’s hand, smiling. He kissed it, then very calmly limped out of the surau and disappeared into the drizzle. He never looked back.

After the dawn prayer, Kiai Najib approached Aryo and whispered, “Earlier this morning, I found a stubborn man praying in this surau. Since I didn’t know him, I sent him away. He walked with a limp.”

“It was in his name that I donated all the money from the sale of my land to build our surau!” Aryo exclaimed.

“Oh, no. I sent away the wrong person,” Kiai Najib said with remorse.

***

After that, Kiai Najib no longer officiated the prayers in the surau. He was laid up with an illness.

Aryo never imagined that the kiai would fall ill, just when there were more people coming to the previously quiet surau. When Aryo went to visit Kiai Najib in his room, he found the priest lying exhausted on his bed. Yet his voice was clear, “Please convey my apology to that old man,” he said. “I sinned by speaking so roughly to him.”

“I will convey your apology to him, Kiai,” replied Aryo.

***

Every midnight, the limping old man entered the surau with an expression of peace on his face and a serene look in his crossed eyes. Immersed in the silence of his solitude he recited his zikr.

But Aryo, who very much wanted to meet him, never saw him.

The Tale of the Bearded Turtle

A long time ago, when time was still determined by many people and ships relied on shining stars and ancient astronomy, and pirates were the Sultan’s main enemy, there lived a storyteller who relied on lies. When crosswinds controlled the sea, the harbor was crowded with sailors who waited for the sea to calm. At such boisterous time, the storyteller came down from the mountain. He always came to the harbor after asr, the afternoon pray time, for he relied on the generosity of the sailors he mesmerized with his stories.

The sailors gave him Coromandel cloths, ceramics from Campa, Persian carpets, Javanese batik, Barus incense, opium from Magrib, and their voyage stories. After they left, the storyteller sold the gifts and the sailor’s tales became fodder for his new stories. He mixed them with such skill that the original stories were barely recognizeable. His mouth reshaped the stories the same as a sharp knife whittled a piece of wood. The poor sailors never realized that his stories were the same as the ones they had told him.

Life in Technicolor

The man had stopped in front of you and let the reach of the rainbow be a trail. You slapped him in the face with the Holy Spirit before placing a stream in such a way to ensure his heart remain on its chosen path. His right shoe was ripped, toes exposed. Take note, on those shaken toes would settle no dust. Who prayed for your nights of pure air and who looked after your slumber in the kingdom of heaven?

And the secret sunk back to its depths. The path you chose did not cover even half the surface. If God never existed, would you love him still? Your donkey was waiting at the gate of a ruined old city: Jerusalem, a cry of all nations, a mother hen who lost her chicks. Tears were created to protect you from erroneous love, from the joy of healed ones reluctant to return to the healer. Sounds of the forest, whizzing bullets, wind-eroded valleys, falling droplets of water; what did they use to paint the nimbus of the holy ones behind your head?

Before this simple path, you will fare well. What lies before you are merely the tall grasses you have defeated numerous times with metaphor.

(Naimata, 2014)

CEMETERIES OF LONDON

They ran. They entered it.
The sweep of an absent wave.

The sun took shelter behind a shattered piece of its face.

A grain of the earth hung in a cluster
Among the stems of a sheaf of wheat.

When it was shaken loose from the sheaf,
Earth would grow an opening for photosynthesis
Exposing it to the mist escaped from the canopy slit.

Behind this crack,
They waited.

They partied,
Filled their lamps with oil,
Distinguished the donkey’s rhythm from traces of the aged wind.

And the story was forever changed:
He no longer surreptitiously visits like a thief
In the night.

(Naimata, 2014)

YES

The dog waited for an Amen
Before the meat
Got tossed from the tip of a spear.

Out of the scales of a dragon slain
By a woman,
The spearhead had been made.

The dog did not care,
If the slain dragon fell from heaven
Or if the woman slayer
Was still a virgin,
If the tip of the spearhead was dipped
In lamb’s blood.

The dog only knew, that mere sayings
Could not satisfy its hunger
If they did not turn into meat.

(Naimata, 2014)

A Great Day for Mrs. Wagu

No one understood Mrs. Wagu better than her dogs. Nor was there anyone more loyal to her. She had started to look after dogs when her husband had died and her children had left home. The dogs were called Chocolate, Coffee, Milk and Black Tea.

“Oh, it’s good to hear, Mum. It’s better than being lonely,” her youngest child said one day while calling from another city. “But are you sure that they aren’t a problem for your neighbours?”

“No, I look after them well.”

Mrs. Wagu’s neighbours had known from the beginning that she kept dogs. Their religion held that a dog’s saliva was a kind of najis—something dirty and unholy, but they just quietly murmured among themselves. Until one day, when Mrs. Wagu let her dogs go out on the main road in front of her house.

Chocolate, Coffee, Milk and Black Tea chased each other and also the neighbours’ children who were riding their bikes home from the Qur’an learning centre near the local mosque. The children dashed home in fear, screaming and crying.

When her neighbours came to complain, Mrs. Wagu said, “I was in the kitchen. I didn’t hear the noise outside.” One of the neighbors had a large stick with him, presumably to use to beat the dogs.

“The dogs should be locked up, so they don’t cause any problems.”

Mrs. Wagu nodded, but, in her heart, she was reluctant to do so. She felt that the dogs had the right to roam free. She affected patience and acted as if she had never noticed the call to prayer that blared loudly at dawn – so why should the freedom of her dogs be limited?

Mrs. Wagu never understood the behaviour of her neighbours. She lived in a state-owned housing complex. This meant that the houses were lined up close together. It was very easy to overhear what one’s neighbours were talking about. Even the slightest disturbance had a big impact and caused some discomfort.

After having kept her dogs inside for several days, Mrs. Wagu pretended to have forgot to lock her front gate. Soon after, a child, on his way home from the Qur’an learning centre, started to scream in fear. In tears, he quickly pedalled home. Behind him, the largest dog chased him, barking.

Mrs. Wagu’s neighbours one by one came out of their houses: “What’s happening?” “What is all this noise?” As soon as they realised that the source of the trouble was those accursed dogs, they were ready to rebuke the owner.

Mrs. Wagu called out: “Dian! Iwan! Jaka! Nita!” She’d trained the dogs to respond to new names. “Come home!”

The neighbours stood, staring, as the dogs ran home. Four of the neighbours were in fact called Dian, Iwan, Jaka and Nita.

“So rude!” said Nita.

“Mrs. Wagu has gone against our customs. She’s insulted all of us!” said Dian. Iwan, Jaka and Nita nodded in agreement.

“We should just shun her,” said Jaka.

“Yes. Let her be. She thinks she is capable of living by herself. If she dies, let her dogs telephone her children and tell them what has happened,” said Iwan.

Mrs. Wagu didn’t care too much about the trouble from her neighbours. She didn’t need them. Living alone with Chocolate, eh, Dian, Coffee, no Iwan, Milk, no Jaka, and Black Tea, no Nita for company was more than enough. “You’re the only ones who understand.”

The four dogs yelped in agreement.

 

ONE AFTERNOON, MRS. Wagu received a letter from the neighbourhood head, informing her that the dogs were not allowed to roam the streets; they must be kept inside in her yard.

“We’ve already discussed the decision,” he explained.

“Discussed it with who? Not with me.”

“With the other locals…”

Mrs. Wagu was taken aback. “But, I am a part of this community too.”

“Your dogs clearly disturb the ambiance of those who wish to perform their religious obligations by praying together at the mosque.”

“I always lock up my dogs whenever I hear the call to prayer.”

“They chase the children on their way to or coming home from school. That’s what I meant.” The neighbourhood head quickly changed his tack.

“You can’t make such a decision just like that.”

“The decision is for the good of the community.”

“You must at least consider my point of view.”

“We made the decision at the gentlemen’s monthly gather. Of course you couldn’t have been a part of the discussion.”

His answers were all over the place! thought Mrs. Wagu. She screwed up her face in annoyance as she began to lose her patience. “But…”

“The decision is final,” the neighbourhoodhead said, taking his leave. “I’ve got many other tasks to do, Mrs. Wagu. Goodbye.”

 

AFTER RECEIVING WRITTEN notification of the decision, Mrs. Wagu stopped socialising with her neighbours. So that she wouldn’t get too bored just being all alone at home, she re-started some of her hobbies. There was a big yard on one side of her house. Rather than leaving it empty, two years earlier she had started a tempe-producing business with her late husband. At first a cottage industry, to her surprise her business grew so quickly that she was soon employing twenty local youngsters.

When she called to see if her former employees were still available, Mrs. Wagu remembered how her neighbours complained that the waste from the tempe production clogged the drains and made them smell bad.

“You pollute the drains even though you’re living in a housing complex. That’s not right,” said her neighbours. “It stinks to high heaven!” “They should buy a house on the outskirts of the city or out in the country, and produce their tempe there.” “They’re so selfish. They do whatever they like, without caring about their neighbours.”

The problem was discussed at a meeting with the neighbourhood leader. Mr. Wagu was admonished, and promised that he would find somewhere else to dispose of the waste.

“There’s no time for that. This order takes effect from tomorrow. You can’t use the drains any more. Moreover, you should have thought about this earlier. You’re outrageous!” shouted one of their neighbours.

“We didn’t realise that the soy bean water would create such a bad smell…” Mr. Wagu tried to  get some empathy from them.

“Whatever. We don’t care.”

Mr. Wagu died before they could find another way of getting rid of the waste. There was no suspicious cause of death, just old age. The production of tempe stopped. Mrs. Wagu was too sad; she spent her days crying.

To avoid making the same mistake again, Mrs. Wagu asked her employees to dump the waste in a river some distance away. The waste was poured into large jerrycans, then loaded onto pickup trucks and emptied into the river.

Her neighbours knew of her new method, but they couldn’t protest. They just wondered when the local government would give her a fine for polluting the river.

When the neighbours couldn’t stop the production of tempe, they tried another way. They started warning against buying Mrs. Wagu’s tempe: “Don’t buy Mrs. Wagu’s tempe as it may have been sullied by the saliva of her pet dogs. As a good Muslim, it is obligatory to make sure that the food one eats is halal and pure.”

The tempe that Mrs. Wagu gave to a vegetable seller, who sold his food around the complex, would always return unsold and going off. It would be brown and watery.

They’re so mean. They don’t know how to behave, Mrs. Wagu thought to herself dejectedly. What does it mean to live in a community, when people get such a thrill out of oppressing a weak minority?

Mrs. Wagu was too exhausted to take revenge. She avoided her neighbours totally and didn’t have anything to do with them. When it was time for the ladies’ monthly get-together, she came but only to give her money and then to sit silently in the corner. Neither did she take part in the activities held to celebrate the anniversary of Independence Day in August. If she bumped into one of her neighbours on the street, she would stare blankly, as if she hadn’t seen anyone.

“It might be best if you soften your attitude a little, mum,“ said Mrs. Wagu’s eldest child over the telephone. “If one or two people dislike you, it’s just their problem. But if a whole neighbourhood doesn’t like you, it might be time for some introspection.“

So even her own child was supporting her neighbours, rather than herself, thought Mrs. Wagu.

“Moreover, you’re old, now, mum. It’s time to focus on being calm. It’s not the time to be childish and to create conflict with others.“

Mrs. Wagu was already fixed in her mind. She no longer had anything to do with her neighbours. All of her needs were being met. She had some employees who could be relied upon. She had her dogs to talk with and tell of her problems.

“I love you,“ she told her dogs. “As long as I have you, I don’t need anyone else.“

 

THE FASTING MONTH passed as usual. The mosque blurted out the call to prayer, and throughout the night readings of Qur’anic verses also came from the speakers. After finally falling asleep at 11 pm, Mrs. Wagu be woken up at 3 am by another loud voice coming from the speaker, ‘Sahur! Sahur!’ announcing the pre-dawn mealtime. Then, as she was drifting back to sleep: ‘Imsyaak…!’, the warning that dawn was about to break. Then soon after, the call to prayer would ring out.

Mrs. Wagu continued her production of tempe throughout the fasting month, waiting for the Eid holiday – the time when people left their cities to go and visit relatives. Her housing complex would be quiet. She would be free. At least for three or four days.

The long-awaited day arrived. The employees, those who celebrated Eid and those who didn’t, were given a holiday and their yearly bonus. After the Eid prayers, the neighbours dressed in their finery gathered in the square. They greeted each other and asked for forgiveness. Mrs. Wagu stayed at home. She was still too hurt by her neighbours’ actions to venture out.

“We don’t want to visit you until you have changed your attitude.“ This time it was her youngest child who called. “It’s true, you’ve been cornered by them. But you still have to maintain good relations.“

“You don’t understand how I feel.” Mrs. Wagu tried to cover up her sadness as she spoke. “You’ve called me selfish, but you don’t know what I’m going through.”

“We are not saying that you’re trying to get your own way. It’s just that—”

“It doesn’t matter if you don’t want to come here,” Mrs. Wagu said softly. Perhaps that would be her fate: she would be lonely in her old age. The children that she had brought up, loving and protecting them, were now not showing any understanding of her difficulties.

“Even though we have time off for Eid, we have decided not to visit you this year.” The youngest child was still trying to get her to change her mind. “We won’t visit you unless you promise to make nice with your neigh—”

Mrs. Wagu hung up. To continue the conversation would only cause more pain.

The noise of the morning began to subside. Cars full of families headed out of town. The housing complex became quiet. It was calm and pleasant.

Mrs. Wagu let her four dogs out of the gate. They ran around, wagging their tales, barking, chasing one another as they pleased. Then, late in the afternoon, she called them home.

Mrs. Wagu stood in her front yard, looking up. Her four dogs sat around her. They also looked up, in the same manner. The sun was setting. The sky was orange; it was wide and empty without the sound of the evening call to prayer.

It wasn’t that Mrs. Wagu hated the five calls to prayer. There was nothing wrong with calling people to carry out their religious obligations. There was nothing wrong with the freedom to hold and carry out a religion. It was just that… just that..

When Mr. Wagu was still alive, they would be asked by their Christian friends to hold religious services once a year. They would recite prayers and sing a couple of hymns. These were solemn and moving moments to them. But not for the neighbours.

During their services, the neighbours would walk past the front of the house, coughing loudly. Some would grumble, “This singing is really disturbing our peace.”  There would also be children out, noisily playing war or chasing each other on bicycles. When the service was over, the congregation would be greeted with vicious stares from the neighbours.

“They’re allowed to create so much noise by using a loudspeaker stuck on top of the mosque, why aren’t we occasionally allowed to hold our services?” muttered Mrs. Wagu.

“It doesn’t matter,“ Mr. Wagu would say. “They’re just threats. What is important is that we’ve held our service and everything went okay and finished fine.’

Eid was beautifully calm. Mrs. Wagu felt a deep peace. Because of the silence, she was able to appreciate the holy day of another religion. A day without the noisy call to prayer, without the whispers of her neighbours and without suspicious looks. Without any problems.

Mrs. Wagu felt like God was showering her with attention. She felt that God had blessed her, and blessed her pets who were now whimpering softly.

She turned to them and said, “This is a truly glorious day.”

Sway of the swing

The breeze passing through the leaves sounded like the pitter-patter of rain. The weather slowly became colder. A few seconds later, the atmosphere changed into something subtler and emptier, leaving the sort of silence that felt like eternity.

On the edge of the moonlight that was split by bamboo reeds, two people held hands and hesitantly walked toward the lush forest.

“Is this the right path?” the girl asked as she wiped her sweaty forehead.

The person beside her gave a slight nod, although his movement was unclear. “Indeed, this is,” he replied.

They went deeper into the forest while having to remove the twigs hindering their way. Sometimes, their steps were stopped by things moving around them. They thought there were night beasts lurking around, but actually it was only their fear. Right before reaching their destination, the forest appeared even denser. After trying so hard to clear their pathway, eventually they arrived before a wide overlay of dry land. Tens of swings hung from tree branches; each of them dangling off a large tree that was already dead. Oddly, those swings moved back and forth despite the fact there wasn’t any wind or anyone pushing them.

The girl let go of the man’s hand. She stepped forward and slowly said “Dear Lord! They actually exist…”

 

***

 

The swing hangs on a guava tree that has long been dead. The wind keeps blowing against it, swaying the swing.

I decide to remove the swing again this year. It’s been 10 years since we first hung it on the tree, and since then I don’t know how many times I’ve considered taking it off.

As we return home from our pilgrimage this morning, the desire that has always been there and never ceases urges me to walk into the garage and take the sickle.

Hope — my only child — only looks at me without a word. I ignore her, although I understand what her expression means. Anyhow, she never touches the swing. I never tell her that her life and the swing are somehow connected. She probably can feel it, though.

I keep falling whenever I try to climb the tree. My head hits a big root that surfaces from the ground. I lose consciousness for a while, but then I see images from the past that seem so clear and real. These memories take me to the time I always wish to forget.

About 10 years ago, May — my wife — and I made the decision. We were crying in silence as we decided it, and it was our last choice.

“I wish this would be our last endeavor, my dear,” May whispered to me.

I nodded.

That night, we had a similar dream. I didn’t know why we happened to talk about the dream after the dawn prayer; we rarely, if at all, talked about our dreams.

“He’s an old man with gray hair and a beard,” said May.

“The old man said we can have it if we really want it,” I added.

May nodded and continued, “He spoke of a place in the middle of the forest where all the trees have already died.”

“There are 98 swings on each tree. Supposedly, the number of the swings will never change no matter how many have been taken.” My voice was almost weak and small.

 

***

 

I don’t know how long it’s been since I fainted. When I regained consciousness, I see Aliyah, my little sister, sitting by my side.

“What happened to you?” her question strikes me as I’m still trying to recollect my memory. “Mrs. Salman saw you fall, so she shouted for help.” Slowly I start remembering everything. “Why did you even carry a sickle?”

“I was going to cut off the swing,” my voice sounds hoarse, but my answer silences her for a moment or two.

“Why didn’t you tell me? I’ve told you so many times to chop down the tree, as well as the swing. They’re hideous.”

I can only nod. I know she has never agreed since the first time May and I placed the swing there. Of course, I don’t blame her. Our house is small with a yard of only 40 square meters. It’s odd to have a swing under a big tree there.

However, May and I really had a justified reason for that.

“It was our endeavor, Al,” I reply to her, hoping she would stop shouting at me. “Just consider this a motivation.”

Since then, Aliyah never talks about the swing, although I know she still dislikes it.

 

***

 

The day after the swing was hung on the tree in our front yard, everything changed.

At first, I thought it was only my feeling. The swing always moved back and forth with or without wind. It just moved endlessly, slowly. Nevertheless, the guava tree started to die. The leaves withered and turned dry. It all happened within a week.

I felt something strange, so did May. However, a few days later May told me she was pregnant. I was really happy and I did not care anymore with all the strange feelings I had. Our neighbors spread rumors about the swing, but I could not care less because of my feelings of joy.

“Children who would try to ride the swing always fall…”

“As dusk falls, the atmosphere around the swing feels strange…”

Eventually, the child we had been waiting for was born. We named her Hope.

Suddenly, on the day before May and Hope could return home, May asked me, “Can we now take the swing down?” I could see the flash of fear in her eyes.

As I arrived in the afternoon, I grabbed a sickle in the garage and was ready to cut the swing’s rope. The rope, however, looked rusty and old. I lost count of how many times I fell each time I tried to cut it off.

On the very same day, I was late to find out that May had fallen from her bed in the hospital. Her head hit the bed frame that was made of metal. It was around the same time when I tried to cut the rope. She got up and eventually returned to bed, but she was gone before she could push the emergency button to call the nurses. I arrived there only to see her sleep for eternity.

 

***

 

I raised Hope on my own.

Hope never cried like most infants did when they were born. She was still awake around midnight. Even as she grew older, she never did cry. When she started crawling, all she did was head toward the window facing the swing.

The doctor said Hope was different, that she’s a child with special needs. As much as I agreed with the doctor, I also believed that there was something inexplicable about her.

I always feel there is a gap between Hope and me. Every word I tell her only evaporates right before they reach her ears. Thankfully Aliyah is here. She has been helping me take care of her. Although I never say anything to her, each time she looks at me she seems to understand what has happened.

Deep down, I always try to love Hope. I’m sure May would do the same. Unfortunately, I just can’t. I always feel there is something inside Hope, especially when she stands by the window looking at the swing. Really, it somehow terrifies me. I think whoever knows what May and I did that night, will feel the same about Hope.

 

***

 

I ask some young people who always hung out around the security post to cut down the guava tree along with the swing. I gave them some money for my request.

“Burn the swing until it’s gone,” I tell them repeatedly. “Remember, until there’s nothing left!”

They start moving vigorously. They borrow a chainsaw from a neighbor and start cutting the tree into parts. Within an hour, they’ve already taken down the tree and the swing away from my yard. I imagine they must have started burning them in the village’s landfill.

I accidentally run into Hope, who is standing by the window. Her gaze is empty. Then she begins to cry. I show no empathy to her. I already decided to get rid of the tree and swing in spite of my concerns about what will happen later. I start recalling the night May and I had the same dream, that one sentence that has been echoing in our heads: “The swing will invite a life in your womb. You only have to make sure the swing will always be in your front yard.”

I go to sleep with readiness in my heart. I know, just like what happened to May, my body will later fall and hit something. The next day, my body will be found without a pulse. Aliyah will be the first one to find my corpse, and Hope will perhaps smile with pleasure, just as she did the day I found May’s body lying in hospital.

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