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“Don’t forget to return the book!” Lia said from the door I left open. She was the girl next door in this two-floored boarding-house which was located not very far from the busiest street in town.
“Okey! … and thanks!” I replied.
It wasn’t an unusual thing for her to remind me that way because it was her card that I used to borrow the book from the local library – which was strictly forbidden of course but, that happened anyway. I was too lazy to get the member card since my application form was turned out because it was signed by “the wrong person” – according to the local library’s version – but, according to my campus’ version, she was “the right one “ to sign the form. I didn’t like to go through confusing procedure which placed the applicants in the vulnerable position.
“I wonder, why you look so enjoyable sitting next to your window.” She asked.
“Ohh … just some fresh air!”
“Some fresh air, heh? Then go outside and you’ll get a bunch of it, Babe!”
“For this time, it’s enough for me to get the fresh air by the window.” I smiled.
“Lazy girl!” She laughed and I did too, with her.
“I’m leaving now, enjoy your by-the-window fresh air!”
“Good luck with your exam!” I had to shout because she already left. She almost reached the stairs when she replied me, also shouting,
“Oh … don’t mention any luck with that spooky person!”
I just laughed to hear her. Her, and her trouble with that “spooky” lecturer, me and my fresh air by the window.
Well, actually it wasn’t all about the fresh air but the sight I saw from behind my window. Right from my window, across the street, there was another building whose windows overlooking the street and facing my boarding-house. From one of those large windows I saw him, “an angel without wings”, (quoting Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s in “The Saint”) who contemplated the books spread on the desk in front of him. His dark eyes which were framed by a couple of black, round-framed glasses, were busy with the materials laid in front of him. Only sometimes he looked at other direction, mostly at the big tree outside his building. At my direction? So far, he only took a glance or two and I was sure that he didn’t notice me looking at him. I thought his glasses weren’t big help for him to look as far as my place.
“There’s a phone call for you!” My matron – my spooky Mrs. Bambang – already stood in my door.
“I’ll get it right away.” I got up immediately to get the phone but Mrs. Bambang still stood there.
“I wonder what you’re doing by your window!” Her eyes challenged me.
“It’s lighter there.” A short answer from me and I left her to the phone. She said nothing else.
It was Lia again. She said that her exam wa delayed until 11.00 and she was totally bored. She called me also to remind me about the book. When she found out that I still did nothing, she said she’d talk to me about it. I had no idea why this thing bothered her much. The library would still be open until 2 pm. and it was still nine, so, why a rush?
Not long after Lia’s call, I dressed up and was about to leave for the library when I looked across my window, “my angel” seemed to joke with his friends. Then, I locked my door and got down the street.
It was a quite hot day in the rainy season. Although the sun seemed to hide behind the dark clouds up above but, the temperature wasn’t friendly. The buses were full with sweating people. The streets were full with restless ones walking along its dusty path.
I just left the library. I went out of that high-shelved place when the clock struck 01 pm. When I got to my boarding-house, Lia was already there, sitting on a chair near my room. She looked so busy with a magazine on her laps, or she made people think her that way.
“My Dear Arie, where’ve you been?” She asked.
“To the library, returned the book as you reminded me.” I sat next to her and gave her card back.
“Thanks.” I said.
“No problem!” She took her card and looked at me.
“What?” I asked her.
“You never acted this … weird, before.”
“What do you mean by “weird”?”
“Sitting by your open woindow, looking for some fresh air, you said? And do nothing! You’ve delayed too many things.”
“You mean the book? It was only late for … a few days, I guess.” Although I knew that I had to pay 10-day fine.
“Your few days were almost two weeks!!!”
“Really? Sorry …!” I pretended as if I hadn’t known anything.
“And I heard that you haven’t paid your room rent for … three months?” I just sighed.
“What’s wrong with you … you’re so indifferent now.”
“Look! Thank you for concerning me but I’m tired now and I do need some rest.” I got up and headed to my room. When I was turning on the key of my door, Lia said,
“And … one more thing, you like to avoid everyone lately!”
“Perhaps, I need some space for my own now.” I replied her and came into my room and closed the door behind me.
So, being indifferent was not all about being a person who left all behind and noone seemed to be bothered. I opened my window and looked straight at the glass window across the street. But there was nobody. It was only an empty, tacit room left by its settler.
I did realise that I had delayed so many things although I didn’t want it that way. The dusty street was below my window and the heating sun was up above the sky. Both always filled my days lately besides some matters I had to settle down. Some things were indeed so troublesome sometimes. A new place with new situation would perhaps help this condition. A bunch of fresh air …
A week later, things didn’t seem to be better for me. I still enjoyed sitting by my window and looking at the people on the street, or I pulled myself behind the curtain and looked through my window to the glass window opposite my direction. I didn’t wanna be caught to act that way. It’d be shameful.
I sometimes smiled to myself when I saw some funny things happened. A middle-aged lady who had to fight the wind which blew her opened umbrella, a man with a brown hat who looked sonfused when he realised that he didn’t bring his wallet when he was about to pay his taxi, etc. Perhaps people would think that I was mad to smile at myself but I’d let them think that way.
Lia could be the first person who noticed me acting that way. There was a soft touch on my shoulder which woke me from my reverie and Lia’s voice came with it,
“Sorry, I didn’t knock. You didn’t lock your door.” I was surprised for a while.
“Heh …? Oh … that’s fine. Come and sit down!” She sat on my bed which was also close to the window.
“Look, sorry for what I said last week.” I apologized.
“Forget it! What’s wrong with you? You rarely join us these days?”
“It’s true that sometimes, one needs to have a space for his own but I believed that most of the times he likes it filled with other people, friends, family, …”
I looked at her and sighed …
“You don’t wanna share your burden? Not even with me?” Lia was my best friend. “How could you bear it?”
“It’s not easy for me either. I feel like I’ve ignored my friends for a very long time. Yet, I don’t know how to end this.”
“Forget it! Look at yourself. You’ve ignored yourself too and I think … I hate to tell you this but, you seem to be … different.” She looked uneasy when she said this.
“You mean, …I’m kind of mad?” I smiled and she did the same.
“Yeah … sort of. You know, you often smile to yourself and even laugh and I don’t think that it’s not right but, for them who don’t know you, will think differently.”
“I think I can explain this. Come!” I asked her to move very close to the window and pulled the curtain off. And I asked her to look below, to the street where people were. For a while we enjoyed the sight below. And always, there were funny things done by them. We laughed together and commented on the incidents that happened there. We were like looking at a big TV screen which had a live show. Indeed, it was a very “live” show, people and their behavior.
We were still busy with ourselves when suddenly a plum figure stood in my doorway. It was our spooky Mrs. Bambang.
“What are you guys laughing at?”
It surprised us and we couldn’t answer her at once. But then Lia said,
“Mmm…nothing Mam, just …” A little tremble in her voice and nothing came out of my mouth.
“Well, that’s fine. Laugh as you like today, especially for you Arie, ‘cause you won’t be welcome in this place anymore. You don’t belong here! I give you one week to find another place for you to stay.”
Her angry voice ran through the air in my small room. Well, in the small room I rented, the one belonged to her.
“But why?” A question finally came out of my mouth.
“Why?” She questioned me back. Lia still seemed to be confused.
“It’s been three months. I don’t give this place for free. Look, Child, I’m not your kind Aunt who’ll let her room go for nothing. Besides, I just hate to see somebody spend most of her time sitting by the window doing nothing.”
“Why? It’s her right to do what she likes!” Lia insisted.
“So, you defend her? Fine, but remember that she’s owing me three-month-rent money. I don’t need any other reasons to get her out of my place. There’re many people who can pay without delay but need a place to stay. Do you get that?” Her anger exploded.
I imagined her as two-horned demon who was losing control. The smoke came out from her horned head. Her face was red with anger. And we could say … nothing.
“Remember, one week only!!!” She looked at us sharply and left us and slammed the door.
We looked at each other and said nothing. But then Lia said,
“So, it’s all about the money?” I nodded.
“Why should I hear so many “why-s” today?” I asked. “I’m tired!”
“Cause every “why” has its own “because”. Then what’s yours?” I didn’t reply her.
“You could borrow mine first, couldn’t you? Or at least, you could tell me about it.”
“Mm … actually, I need to save more money and to find a cheper place than this one.”
“But …” She hadn’t finished.
“ …I could tell you about it.” She nodded.
“Okey, I’ll tell you something.” I stood very close to her and looked across the street, as I usually did. I saw him there.
“Do you see the room behind that big tree. The one which is exactly facing my window?” She nodded.
“I like to see that guy, studying the books lay on his desk. He looks so peaceful.” She looked at me.
“You waste your time to look at that guy whom I totally believe, you don’t know?”
“Why not? Now, what’s your “because”?”
“Because, it’s totally time-wasting to do such a thing and at the same time you delay so many other more important things.” Her voice was raising.
“He helps me think.”
“I don’t know but, by looking at him, it’s like I lose the
burden I have to carry on my shoulders. I mean, I never saw him upset, I never
even saw him walking around the room. I only saw him when he laughed with his
friends or like this time as you see.”
“I wanna be that peaceful, no burden I need to endure, nothing.”
“Aren’t you being exaggerated?”
“I know that, just …”
“Nobody felt threatened living on the slope of Merapi until it erupted. Even when it did, people still thought how peaceful it was when it was over.” I just looked at her.
“I’m sorry …”
“No, you shouldn’t say that. It’s your right to keep your own secret. But I hope you can always take the consequences.”
“Don’t worry about it. I’ve been trying to find another place but it hasn’t worked now.”
“I’ll help you.”
She then left me. I then sat on my chair, facing my window. This time I didn’t feel worried to be caught by anybody across the street. For this time, I wanted him to notice me looking at him. I knew it was crazy but I wanted to see him smiling at me before I left. His tacit, peaceful face would perhaps lessen my burden.
He looked tired with his books and then he lookes at the clock on his desk and …he looked straight at my direction. Our eyes met. I thought his glasses wouldn’t help him to look at the place as far as mine but I was wrong. He smiled. My angel finally smiled. I smiled back at him. Then, he waved at me, I did the same. We laughed at ourselves. But, it didn’t last long, Tina, another boarding-house mate called me to help her with her assignment. I waved him goodbye and left the room.
In one morning I went out with Lia to find a new boarding-house for me. We just came out of our place and reached the busiest street in town. The town had stirred. Most of the shops were already opened. Then, I stopped in front of a jewelry store. I looked in its display. Lia looked puzzled.
“Why do we stop here?” I pointed a gold ring with diamonds on it.
“What? Do you wanna buy that one?” I nodded.
“What?” Another short question which I rather liked to call it as an exclamation. I looked at her.
“For that precious, small thing, I let Mrs. Bambang drive me out of her place.” She still puzzled.
“I’ve been saving to buy that ring.”
“What? You need your money for a more important thing but you spend it on the other? What’s wrong woith you. Don’t you have any priority?”
“That’s my priority now.” I wlaked away from the jewelry store. She followed me and still questioned me.
“What’s on your mind, Arie?”
“I know that you think I’ll buy that ring for myself but no! I want to buy it for my mother. You still don’t get it?” She shook her head.
“My mother’s been too busy to dress me up, “to dress” my brain up, sent me to the best schools. And it seems that she has no time to pay any heed for herself. She hardly saves her money for herself, she saves it for me! Now, I want her to have something for herself to wear. That’s why I was late to pay my room-rent. I’m saving the money for her and I’ll find a cheaper place.”
“I know, but, I wanna give her something she never thought to buy.”
“Your success will be a very special thing for her.”
“I know, but ..”
“I get it.”
We continued walking along that busy street. When we reached in front of a book store, we saw him, “my angel without wings …” I was shocked, well … a little. We said hi, asked the weather and everything. It was a surprised to meet him there although his place was close to mine. But still, a meeting with him was something I never thought before.
“Now, you know his name.” Lia said, smiling when we already reached the next block. I just nodded. I knew that she just teased me.
I was still shocked actually. That peaceful appearance I used to see from my window wasn’t peaceful at all. The smile I saw, the way he joked with his friends, the way he studied his books, the way he looked at the big tree outside his room, never told me the way he felt exactly.
I believed that it was hard to live on a wheelchair. And he had to live his life that way. Behind his smile, he had to endure the ordeal of life which wouldn’t make him any easier. I once envied him for what he had but now, I was ashamed of myself to remember that once in my life I felt that way to him. Perhaps now he envied me. Only perhaps …
And perhaps, Lia was right, nobody felt threatened living on the slope of a volcano until it erupted. And, … he had his own. Everybody had one, I believed, that volcano. I thought people would’ve to live side by side with the volcano. Sometimes, it gave us hot lava which could kill us anytime, but sometimes it helped the huge canvas painted by the Invicible Hand to present its beauty to the eyes of the wanderes …