Jakarta, January 2001


Dear Rizky,


Thanks again for recommending Dr. Dhanita. She seems to understand what I’m going through. How is Kupang? I hope it’s safe and peaceful there and that you’re adjusting well.


I enrolled in an intro French course today. It’s at the cultural center in Salemba, right across the street from your alma mater. I thought it’d be good to learn something new.


Last week I visited some abandoned buildings in Bulungan where addicts and runaways sleep. I met a girl there who likes to scar herself with safety pins. I showed her my own scars and told her I was looking for people like myself—people who need to feel pain in order to feel alive. She let me take her picture, as long as I promised I wouldn’t show her face. Since then I’ve been asking myself: how can I sever her head without taking away her soul? I must make the body speak. Look at the pictures I’ve attached here—what do you think?





Dear Juli,


I’m happy to hear you’re taking photos again and that you’re trying new things—but promise me you’ll keep going to therapy. Listen, if you ever think of—well, you know—doing it again, just call me, OK? No matter how late.


Kupang is safer now. The churches here spoke out against seeking revenge for the bombings last Christmas. Thank God. It’s still tense sometimes, especially because there are a lot of refugees from East Timor, but I feel safe here. I work at the province hospital, and I share a house with two other new residents.


I like your photos, especially the hands offering a bouquet of flower-shaped scars.






Je m’appelle Bela.” The ethnic-Chinese girl waved across the room, her bangs skimming her eyebrows. “I’m here because next summer I’ll be attending pastry school in Geneva.”


Je m’appelle Desti.” She was stocky with short hair and a sweet, sponge-like face. “I’m twenty-four years old and a new mother. I love my baby very much, but staying home all day long gets boring, so I’m here to make new friends.”


Je m’appelle Ibnu,” said the tall, handsome man with the broad chest and sculpted arms. “I’m here because I’m moving to Paris to live with mon petit ami.”


Excusez-moi,” interrupted the teacher, Madame Aryati, an older woman wearing a silk pashmina draped artfully over her shoulders, “the correct form in this case would be the feminine form, ma petite amie. You don’t want people to think that you have a boyfriend, instead of a girlfriend, do you?”


Ibnu nodded, but then he removed a U-shaped ring from his left pinky and clipped it on his right ear. Julita was fascinated. She’d never met anyone who would volunteer intimate information so easily to a classroom full of strangers, as if all he’d said was that he ate chicken congee for breakfast. She observed the other people in the class. Laras shared the fact that she worked for a human rights organization, and Bowo said that he’d failed the entrance exams at the military academy and was looking for a new career prospect.


After class, Desti suggested they all have coffee together, so they crossed the courtyard to the café. When Julita returned from the bathroom, Desti was already telling a story.


“I finally managed to get my baby out when, all of a sudden, the doctor’s face went pale. I asked him what was wrong, and he said, ‘Your baby’s white.’”


While the others laughed, Desti explained to Julita, “My husband’s Dutch, but the doctors didn’t know that. The bastard was late, he said he got stuck in traffic.”


“You’re really lucky, Desti,” Bela said. “People are so nice to mixed couples if one of them is white. They think it’s so glamorous, they think the babies are so cute – but when I told my parents that I liked a Malay boy, they were beside themselves.” 


Once again Julita was fascinated.


“It’s not easy for us either,” Desti said, “but it does help that Adriaan and I are both Christian.”


"Yes, I think it’s harder to date someone from a different religion than from a different ethnicity,” Laras agreed. She dug a box of candy out of her purse and shook some candies into Bela’s hand before setting it in the middle of their table. “My boyfriend’s Christian, and I’m Muslim. We’ve been hoping to get married for six years, but our parents keep saying they won’t come to our wedding.”


“Why are parents like that?” Bela sighed.


“My first lover was Muslim and Javanese, just like me, but my father was furious,” Ibnu added.


“Because he was a boy?” asked Julita.


“Yeah, of course,” Ibnu answered, straightening his tight orange T-shirt.


Bowo was the only one who cringed. “I’m sure your father was disappointed. Don’t you feel bad for him? If your relatives or neighbors find out, he’ll be humiliated.” He leaned back in his chair and lit a cigarette.


Pretending to scratch his cheek, Ibnu slipped his earring off. “He kicked me out years ago … and still won’t take my calls ...”


“Come on, Bowo,” said Laras, “it’s hard to find happiness in this world. If Ibnu found his, who are we to say he can’t have it?”


“I knew you intentionally said petit ami,” Julita said.


“What about you, Julita? Are you seeing someone?” asked Ibnu.


Julia shook her head. “I have a close friend, but he’s working in Kupang now.”


“Where are you from, Julita?” asked Laras.


“My dad’s Javanese and my mom’s Madurese, but I was born and raised in Jakarta.”


“Thank God you don’t live in Sampit, huh?” said Laras. “Even our organization refuses to go there. We’re trying to help the refugees, but most of them don’t even have any family left in Madura. They’ve lived in Sampit all their lives, but everyone still thinks of them as immigrants.”


Bowo leaned in. “My father’s stationed in Poso, he’s an army captain. My mother insisted on going with him. Last month, she was on a bus heading to the market when a bunch of rioters surrounded the bus and started rocking it back and forth, trying to flip it over. Suddenly, one of the men shouted, ‘Stop! There’s a woman in hijab on the bus!’ And just like that, they scattered. Everyday I thank God that my mother wears hijab.”


By the time he finished his story, Bowo was trembling. He stood up. “I have to go. My mother’s home now, she doesn’t like to be left alone for too long.”




Dear Rizky, here’s a photo of my left arm. You can see that the scars are healing and there aren’t any fresh ones. As further proof, I’m sending a photo of my right arm, too. —J


I’m glad to see that, Juli. But how can I be sure that you’re not cutting other parts of your body? Send me photos of your whole body. Otherwise, I’ll be too worried about you to get any sleep tonight. ;) —R


I’ve never showed my arms to anyone else before. Be satisfied with that for now. Promise you’ll never show those pictures to anyone. —J


I promise, Juli. How was your first day of class? A friend told me there were bomb threats around my old campus. Please be careful.




Wednesday after class, Desti suggested going out for lunch together.


"Let’s go to the med school across the street,” said Julita. “My best friend said the kiosk behind the geriatrics faculty serves the best pecel ayam in town.”


Even though the day was much too hot for spicy food, everyone agreed, except Bowo, who had to go home and check in on his mother. The road in front of the cultural center shimmered from the heat, creating a mirage. Cars darted past like steel sharks in silver water. On the far side of the road, Julita saw police officers carrying billy clubs and shields. She was still watching when Bela pulled her toward the rushing traffic.


“Why don’t we use the bridge?” Julita shouted as a car sped by, blowing dust into her face.


“It’s faster this way.” With a raised finger Bela ordered each car to stop, like a schoolteacher scolding her unruly pupils.


Desti clasped Julita’s left arm. “Don’t be scared, the cops are too far away.”


“I’m not scared. It’s the Reformasi era, let’s be responsible citizens.”


“Too late for that!” Desti grinned as she pointed at Bela and Ibnu, who were jumping over the road divider like professional gymnasts.


They reached the campus’s main gate and walked under a banner proclaiming, “Welcome to the Campus of the People’s Struggle.” Julita remembered Rizky had told her that the banner used to say, “Welcome to the Campus of the New Order’s Struggle,” but three years ago, in ’98, students had torn down the old banner and replaced it with the new one.


A few minutes later, they found the chicken kiosk, which was packed with customers. The ground was bare beneath the wooden tables and benches that were arranged around the little kitchen. A plump woman was bent over a soot-covered kerosene stove that hissed each time she dropped a piece of chicken into the hot oil. Behind the counter, a man crushed tomatoes and chilies into a bloody pulp in a wide stone mortar.


Julita thought Bela, because she was wearing brand-name clothes, would hate to sit on a dirty bench like that, but she kindly asked people to make room for her group, and then she put her leather bag on the ground under her seat.


“Bel, can you get me some Chinese herbs that’ll help my husband gain weight?” Desti asked after they placed their orders. “He doesn’t like Indonesian food, so he’s getting really skinny.”


“I’ll have to ask my dad where to find them,” said Bela, “but I’m sure it won’t be a problem.”


“Thanks, Bel. I’ll give you some eggs from our farm in exchange.”


“You have a farm?” asked Ibnu.


“We have an egg farm in West Java,” said Desti. “Adriaan used to run one back in the Netherlands. We met when I went to visit my sister who was in school there. When I got pregnant we moved to Jakarta so I could be close to my mother.”


“What about you, Ibnu? How did you meet your petit ami?” asked Julita.


“I’m a traditional dancer,” he said. “My troupe was performing in Paris, and after the show, some of us went out to this bar, which was supposed to be the meeting place for people of my kind. I was wishing and wishing for a Tom Cruise lookalike, but I got a daddy instead. Oh, well. Philippe’s good to me.”


Ibnu fished a photograph of a showgirl in a glittering, feathered costume out of his wallet. “That’s me at night,” Ibnu passed it to Julita, who squeezed between him and Bela on the narrow bench, “my stage name is Linda.”


Julita gaped. Ibnu asked her to pass the photo to their other classmates, but she hesitated. She eyed the sweaty strangers around them, tearing off pieces of flesh, crunching into crackers, red sauce dripping from their fingers. Every now and then a lone grain of rice or shred of onion would cling to the corner of their lips, like a lonely outcast or scapegoat, only to be obliterated with a swipe of their greasy hands.


Bela snatched the photo. “Oh, you look so pretty!”


Ibnu beamed. “How about you, Bel? How’d you meet your boyfriend?”


Julita had asked for a spoon and a fork, but Bela was eating with her fingers like everyone around them. “I met Anwar at culinary school in Kuala Lumpur. He sat next to me in class, and we started hanging out after school. He and his friends were the first Malay friends I ever had. My Chinese friends used to ask me, ‘Bel, what are you doing hanging out with them?’ So I’d say, ‘If you don’t wanna hang out with them, then you can’t hang out with me.’ Since my Chinese friends didn’t have any other friends, they started to hang out with us, and they ended up telling me, ‘You’re right, Bela, they’re good people.’”


“Good for you, Bela,” said Laras.


“I bet their parents are just like mine,” Bela continued, “always telling me not to hang out with the natives, like you guys.”


“My dad likes to say the same kind of stuff about the Chinese—that they’re cheaters, that they’re a bunch of pork-eaters,” Julita whispered to Bela.


“That’s why I always tell my dad not to cheat our customers. Just like I told him it was wrong to stockpile rice back in ’98.”


“Were you here during the riots?” asked Laras.


Bela nodded. “I was supposed to start school in KL three months after they started.”


One question was at the tip of everyone’s tongues, but they stuffed their mouths instead.


“I wasn’t raped,” Bela said, “It was sheer luck. That day, a crowd had already gathered around the outskirts of our neighborhood by dawn. They were carrying crowbars and shovels. My dad and the neighborhood men made a barricade out of spare tires. The crowd kept getting bigger and bigger, so my dad poured gasoline all over the barricade. He was going to set it on fire if the crowd attacked. Then we heard a couple of gunshots. My dad said the crowd was running towards the barricade, so he torched it, hoping the fire would keep them back. Then he rushed home.”


“Dad said that if the rioters caught us, they’d rape us. He thought that if we were wearing maxi-pads, they might get grossed out and leave us alone. So my mom, my sister, and I all put on pads. The rioters were just outside. They broke into houses and dragged stuff out, you could hear screams coming from every direction.”


“Dad told us to run to the car. Before the banks collapsed, he’d withdrawn as much as he could and put it in a suitcase. He grabbed that suitcase, and we made it into the car, but before long we were blocked by a crowd that had been waiting at the other end of our neighborhood. Rows after rows of them. They surrounded our car, rocking it back and forth, hitting and kicking it. Those faces—they weren’t men anymore, they’d turned into demons. Dad rolled his window down, just enough to throw out a couple bundles of cash. The crowd went wild trying to get their hands on the money and a path cleared for us.


“We raced to the airport. We couldn’t get tickets going anywhere, so we camped out there for a whole week. When we heard that the riots had died down, we decided to take a chance and go back home. When we reached our neighborhood, we saw that our house had been emptied out and burned down, like a lot of the other houses we’d passed on our way home. The rioters had stopped targeting people—Chinese or Indonesian native, they burned everything to the ground.”


Everyone had forgotten to keep chewing during Bela’s story, now they forgot their words. But Bela’s eyes were still bright and dry. “Go on, eat,” she said, “We’re okay now.”


Not knowing what to say, Julita put her arm around Bela’s waist and rested her head on her shoulder.




Dear Rizky,


After hearing Bela’s story, I decided to come home and see my parents. We were having tea in the living room when I told them about my French course and about Bela. When I finished talking, Dad looked me right in the eyes and said, “But they deserved it, didn’t they? They’re Chinese after all.”


He might as well have punched me in the gut.


I suspect he said it to piss me off, to put me in my place for daring to try to teach him something, but still ... He knew I was talking about a friend, not some news story!


I stormed out of there so fast, but I know no matter how far I go, I can never escape him and what he is—my father, my origin. The seeds of hate run through my veins. A history of hatred runs through our country. What does that make me? What does that make us?




Juli, pick up the phone.

Please pick up. 


Juli, pick up right now! I need to know you're ok.


If you don't pick up, I'm going to call Dr. Dhanita.


I'll be all right, Riz. Don't worry. It just helps me calm down a little.


Oh Juli, please don't hurt yourself because you don't like what you're made of. Hatred is not some hereditary blood disease. If it's any consolation, my father used to say the same things to me. I guess that just makes it worse. Sorry. Look, we're going to be totally different from our parents. We're the reformist generation, remember? We're going to write a new history.




The next day after class, Julita and her classmates were sitting together at the café. As usual, Desti was telling a story, “My mother showed up yesterday with this huge teddy bear. She saw Adriaan scrubbing the bathroom, and her face turned bright red. She said it was supposed to be my job. She got mad at me and started apologizing to Adriaan over and over. He just kept repeating that he didn’t mind sharing the housework.”


Shaking her head, Bela pulled a photograph out of her wallet. “Here’s a picture of Anwar and me two years ago. Promise you won’t laugh.”


After her friends nodded, Bela handed over the photo: a young man with a thick mustache had his arm around Bela, who looked at least forty pounds heavier.


Desti, Laras, Ibnu, and Julita burst out laughing.


“Sorry, Bel,” Desti gasped, “but you slimmed down really nicely. Good for you. You must have an iron will.”


Julita—who was wearing a sweater that was much too hot for the weather—noticed that Anwar was holding a butterfly-print handbag, which she assumed was Bela’s. “He seems really nice, Bel,” she said.


Ibnu passed around a photo of Philippe with his teenage son and daughter. “Philippe had a wife for fifteen years until he realized that he was my kind.”


Julita noticed that Ibnu never used the term gay or queer, instead he said ‘my kind’.


“Can you get married legally in France?” Laras asked.


“Well, we can live together at least. I’m going to fight so that we can get married.”


“What about your family?” asked Desti.


Ibnu’s face lost its luster. He could only look away.


“Listen, I’m gonna take an imam to talk to my parents next weekend,” said Laras. “He’s pretty well-known and he’s not against intermarriage. He’s been kind enough to offer to help me with my parents. He told me not to ask for their blessings, though, because it’ll probably be too hard for them. He said I should only ask for their understanding.” She reached for Ibnu’s hands. “I’m not sure what the imam thinks about, uh, your kind, but if you want me to, I can ask him. Who knows, maybe he could help you talk to your parents.”


Ibnu jumped to his feet and wrapped his arms around Laras. “Thank you, Ras!”


As the others continued talking, Julita was working up the courage to tell Bela what her dad had said. When the others started to leave, she asked Bela to stay a little while longer.


At the end of Julita’s story, Bela said, “Promise me, we’ll be better than our parents.” She put her arm around Julita and rested her head on her shoulder.




Dear Rizky,


Thanks for looking out for me last night. I’m sorry if I made you worry. Your attention meant a lot to me, but I guess I was too afraid to answer the phone. I don’t know if I could even tell you half the things I’ve told you if you were still here. I guess it’s easier to type words on the screen rather than speaking to someone face-to-face. Anyway, it’s a big step for me to share my problems with someone, so thank you for listening.


I’ve been thinking a lot about my classmates. I’m sure there are more people like them, but we don’t hear much about people like that. All our lives, we’re told to be extremely careful when talking about ethnicity, religion, and race, and now everyone’s afraid to mention those things. Isn’t it important for a country as diverse as Indonesia to talk about stuff like that and to figure out a way to forge a stronger bond between all of us? After three decades of the New Order’s policy of suppressing difficult topics for the sake of harmony, we can finally express our ethnic and religious identities and advocate for our group’s interests and values. But it seems like we haven’t learned how to do it without chipping away at other people’s interest, or how to make others respect our values without forcing those values on others. Don’t you think that’s one reason why we have so many riots nowadays?


I want us to be able to talk about our differences and connections in a way that increases our appreciation of each other. I want to offer portraits of love conquering all kinds of division, so we don’t see nothing but images of violence and hate from around the country. I want to take pictures of my classmates. I’ll call the collection Us + Them.


Wish me luck.



Jakarta, Januari 2001


Halo Rizky


Terima kasih sudah merekomendasikan Dr. Dhanita, ia sepertinya memahami masalahku. Bagaimana keadaan di Kupang? Semoga kamu tetap aman dan betah di sana.


Hari ini aku mendaftar kursus di pusat budaya Prancis di Salemba, tepat di seberang alma matermu. Kupikir bagus bagiku belajar sesuatu yang baru.


Minggu lalu aku mengunjungi sebuah bangunan telantar di Bulungan yang dipakai untuk tidur oleh remaja jalanan. Aku ketemu seorang cewek yang suka menyayat kulitnya dengan peniti. Aku tunjukkan padanya luka-lukaku sendiri, kubilang aku cari orang-orang sepertiku, orang-orang yang butuh merasakan sakit supaya merasa hidup. Dia izinkan aku memotretnya, asal aku janji tak menunjukkan wajahnya. Sejak saat itu, aku jadi banyak tanya: bagaimana memenggal kepala tanpa merenggut jiwa? Aku harus membuat tubuh bicara! Lihat foto-foto yang kusematkan, menurutmu bagus enggak?


– Julita


Halo Juli,


Aku senang dengar kamu beraktivitas lagi, tapi teruskan terapi ya. Begini deh, kalau kamu ingin begitu lagi, telepon aku, oke? Semalam apa pun.


Kupang sekarang relatif damai, sebab gereja langsung mengecam jemaah yang coba balas dendam atas pengeboman malam Natal yang lalu. Syukurlah. Kadang-kadang suasana memang tegang, juga karena di sini banyak pengungsi dari Timtim, tapi aku merasa aman.


Aku kerja di rumah sakit provinsi dan tinggal serumah dengan dua orang dokter lain yang juga PTT di sini. Aku suka foto-fotomu, terutama kedua tangan yang mempersembahkan bekas luka berbentuk bunga di telapak.


– Rizky




Je m’appelle Bela.” Gadis etnis Tionghoa itu melambai ke sekeliling ruangan, poninya menyapu alisnya. “Saya ikut kursus karena akan melanjutkan sekolah pastri di Jenewa.”


Je m’appelle Desti.” Ia tomboi dengan rambut cepak dan wajah manis dengan pori-pori yang lebar. “Saya dua puluh empat tahun, belum lama ini saya melahirkan anak pertama. Saya senang sekali jadi ibu, tapi bosan tinggal di rumah seharian. Jadi saya ikut kursus untuk cari teman baru.”


Je m’appelle Ibnu.” Ia tinggi dan berdada bidang, serta berotot lengannya. “Saya ikut kursus karena saya bakal pindah ke Paris bareng petit ami.”


Excusez-moi, Ibnu,” sela guru mereka, Madame Aryati, perempuan baya dengan selendang sutra ditata dengan apik di sekeliling pundak, “bentuk yang benar untuk Anda adalah yang feminin: petite amie. Anda mau bilang girlfriend, bukan? Jangan sampai keliru dengan boyfriend.”


Ibnu mengangguk, kemudian melepas cincin berbentuk U dari kelingking kiri dan menjepitkannya ke telinga kanan. Julita terpesona. Berani betul Ibnu membagi informasi itu di hadapan seruangan orang-orang tak dikenal, seolah bilang ia makan bubur ayam saat sarapan. Julita mengamati rekan-rekan sekelasnya. Laras bilang ia bekerja pada sebuah organisasi HAM, sedangkan Bowo bilang ia gagal masuk Akademi Militer dan kini mencari prospek karier lain.


Seusai kelas, Desti mengajak mereka semua minum kopi. Mereka menyeberang pekarangan pusat kebudayaan menuju kafe. Ketika Julita kembali dari toilet, Desti tengah bercerita, “Akhirnya bayi gue keluar juga, tapi muka dokter langsung pucat. ‘Kenapa bayi saya, Dok?’ gue tanya, cemas. Dia jawab, ‘Bayinya kok bule ya?’”


Sementara yang lain tertawa, Desti menjelaskan kepada Julita, “Suami gue orang Belanda, tapi dokter-dokter enggak tahu. Dia terlambat datang. Dasar, katanya kena macet.”


“Lu beruntung banget, Des,” kata Bela. “Orang-orang senang lihat pasangan campuran, kalau salah satunya bule. Waktu gue bilang gue naksir cowok pribumi, orangtua gue justru marah.”


Sekali lagi Julita terpesona.


“Hidup gue juga ada susahnya, Bel,” kata Desti, “tapi untung gue dan Adriaan sama-sama Kristen.”


“Menurut pengalamanku, berpacaran antaragama memang lebih sulit daripada antarsuku,” kata Laras, ia mengeluarkan sekotak permen dari dalam tas, menawarkannya kepada Bela, lalu menaruhnya di tengah meja. “Pacarku Katolik, dan aku Muslim. Kami ingin nikah sejak enam tahun lalu, tapi orangtua kami selalu bilang mereka enggak mau datang ke pernikahan.”


“Kenapa ya orangtua begitu?” desah Bela.


“Pacar pertama gue Muslim dan orang Jawa, sama dengan gue, tapi bapak gue tetap murka,” kata Ibnu.


“Karena dia cowok?” tebak Julita.


“Ya dong,” kata Ibnu, dengan bangga meluruskan kaus oranye ketatnya.


Bowo satu-satunya yang mengernyit. “Jelas ayahmu marah. Dia pasti kecewa. Apa kamu enggak kasihan? Kalau saudara-saudara dan tetangga-tetanggamu tahu, pasti dia malu.” Ia mendorong kursinya menjauh dan menyalakan rokok.


Pura-pura menggaruk pipi, Ibnu mencopot antingnya. “Udah bertahun-tahun Bapak enggak bicara sama gue, padahal gue sering telepon...”


“Udahlah, Bowo,” kata Laras, “sulit cari kebahagiaan di dunia ini. Kalau si Ibnu bahagia, masa kamu tega rampas?”


“Gue tahu tadi lu sengaja bilang petit ami,” kata Julita.


“Kalau lu, Jul? Lu punya pacar?” tanya Ibnu.


Julita menggeleng. “Gue punya teman dekat, tapi sekarang dia tugas di Kupang.”


“Kamu asalnya dari mana, Jul?” tanya Laras.


“Papa gue Jawa, Mama gue Madura,” jawab Julita, “tapi gue lahir dan besar di Jakarta.”


“Untung kalian enggak tinggal di Sampit ya?” kata Laras. “LSM-ku enggak berani ke sana. Kami coba bantu para pengungsi, tapi banyak yang enggak punya keluarga lagi di Madura. Mereka tinggal di Sampit seumur hidup, tapi bagi orang-orang sana mereka tetap pendatang.”


Bowo beringsut mendekat. “Bapakku kapten, ditempatkan di Poso,” katanya. “Ibu bersikeras ikut. Bulan lalu Ibu naik bus ke pasar, tahu-tahu ada kerusuhan, bus Ibu dikepung, didorong-dorong, mau dijungkirbalikkan. Tiba-tiba ada yang teriak, ‘Stop! Ada yang pakai jilbab di dalam!’ Para perusuh langsung bubar. Sampai sekarang aku terus ucap alhamdulillah Ibu pakai jilbab.” Bowo kini gemetar. Sambil berpegangan ke meja, ia berdiri. “Aku pulang ya. Ibu di rumah sekarang, beliau enggak suka ditinggal sendiri lama-lama.”




Hai Rizky, ini foto lengan kiriku. Kamu lihat sendiri luka-lukanya kering, dan enggak ada luka baru. Supaya kamu lebih yakin, ini kuikutkan foto lengan kananku. – J


Aku senang lihat foto-foto itu, Juli, tapi mana bisa aku yakin kamu enggak mengiris bagian tubuh yang lain? Ayo kirim foto seluruh tubuhmu! Kalau enggak, aku enggak akan bisa tidur karena cemas memikirkanmu. ;) – R


Aku enggak pernah tunjukkan lenganku ke orang lain sebelumnya. Cukuplah itu dulu sekarang. Janji kamu enggak bakal tunjukkan foto-foto itu ke orang lain! – J


Aku janji, Juli. Bagaimana hari pertama kursus? Kata temanku ada ancaman bom di dekat kampus. Hati-hati.




Rabu setelah kursus, Desti mengajak teman-teman sekelas makan siang bersama.


“Kita ke kampus di seberang yuk,” kata Julita, “sobat gue bilang di belakang gedung geriatri ada warung pecel ayam terenak sekota.”


Meskipun hari terlalu panas untuk makan pedas, semua setuju, kecuali Bowo yang harus pulang untuk menemani ibunya. Saking teriknya matahari, jalan di depan pusat kebudayaan tampak berombak—mobil-mobil melesat bagai hiu baja di laut perak. Jauh di ujung jalan, Julita melihat selusin polisi menenteng pentungan dan perisai. Ia masih mengamati mereka ketika Bela menariknya ke tengah jalan.


“Naik jembatan yuk!” teriak Julita seraya sebuah mobil mengebut di hadapannya, menyipratkan debu ke wajahnya.


“Malas ah. Lebih cepat begini.” Bela melambai ke tiap mobil, menyuruhnya berhenti seperti guru dengan muridnya.


Desti mengamit lengan Julita. “Jangan takut, polisi terlalu jauh.”


“Gue enggak takut. Ayo kita lebih disiplin! Ini kan zaman Reformasi.”


“Terlambat.” Desti menunjuk Bela dan Ibnu yang melompati pagar pemisah jalan seperti pesenam unggul.


Akhirnya mereka tiba di gerbang kampus. Spanduk lebar membentang di atasnya: Kampus Perjuangan Rakyat. Rizky pernah bercerita kepada Julita dulu spanduk itu bertuliskan Kampus Perjuangan Orde Baru—tiga tahun silam mahasiswa menyobek spanduk lama dan memasang yang baru itu.


Lima menit kemudian, mereka menemukan warung yang mereka cari di belakang gedung geriatri, sarat dengan pelanggan. Ia tak berubin, hanya berisi meja dan bangku yang disusun mengelilingi tempat masak. Di sana seorang perempuan berkonde membungkuk di hadapan kompor yang mendesis tiap kali potongan ayam ia ceburkan ke dalam minyak. Seorang pria menumbuk tomat dan cabe jadi bubur merah darah.


Julita kira Bela dengan pakaiannya yang bermerk akan risih duduk di bangku kotor seperti itu, tapi Bela dengan ramah meminta orang-orang bergeser, lalu ia letakkan tas kulitnya di tanah di bawah tempat duduknya.


“Bel, bisa enggak lu bawa obat tradisional buat bantu suami gue naik berat badan?” tanya Desti setelah mereka memesan makanan. “Dia enggak suka makanan Indonesia, jadi dia kurus banget sekarang.”


“Wah, gue mesti tanya Papa soal itu,” kata Bela. “Gue coba ya.”


“Trims, Bel. Nanti gue kasih lu telur dari peternakan.”


“Lu punya peternakan?” tanya Ibnu.


“Peternakan telur di Sukabumi,” kata Desti. “Adriaan juga punya di Belanda. Kami ketemu waktu gue jenguk adik yang kuliah di sana. Waktu gue hamil, kami pindah ke Jakarta, sebab gue ingin tinggal dekat Mama.”


“Kalau lu, Ibnu? Kapan lu ketemu cowok lu?” tanya Julita.


“Kalau siang, gue penari tradisional,” katanya. “Grup gue tampil di Paris, terus malamnya kami bareng-bareng jalan ke bar yang katanya tempat kumpul nomor satu buat orang-orang kayak gue. Tadinya gue berharap banget dapat yang mirip Tom Cruise, tapi malah dapat yang tuwira. Ya udahlah, enggak apa-apa, Philippe sayang banget kok sama gue.”


Dari dompetnya Ibnu mengeluarkan potret seorang penari dengan kostum berbulu-bulu bekerlapan. “Kalau malam, ini gue,” Ibnu mengoper foto itu kepada Julita yang terjepit di antaranya dan Bela, “nama panggung gue Linda.”


Julita melongo. Ibnu memintanya mengedarkan foto itu ke teman-teman mereka, tapi Julita ragu. Diliriknya wajah-wajah asing berlumur keringat di sekitarnya, menyobek sepotong daging, menggigit putus kerupuk, sambal merah menetes dari jemari. Sesekali sebutir nasi atau seiris bawang goreng tersisa di pinggir bibir mereka, bagai seorang minoritas atau kambing hitam, yang kemudian mereka enyahkan dengan sapuan tangan.


Bela menyabet foto itu. “Lu cantik banget.”


Ibnu berseri-seri. “Kalau lu, Bel, di mana lu ketemu cowok lu?”


Sementara Julita meminta sendok dan garpu, Bela makan dengan tangan seperti orang-orang di sekitar mereka. “Di akademi kuliner di Kuala Lumpur. Namanya Anwar. Dia teman sekelas gue, dan kami sering jalan bareng setelah kuliah. Dia teman pribumi gue yang pertama. Teman-teman Tionghoa gue dulu sering bilang, ‘Bela, buat apa sih lu berteman dengan mereka?’ Gue jawab, ‘Kalau kalian enggak mau berteman dengan mereka, enggak usah kalian berteman dengan gue.’ Akhirnya teman-teman Tionghoa gue enggak punya teman, baru deh mereka mau gabung. Terus mereka bilang, ‘Lu benar, Bela, mereka baik.’”


“Kamu hebat, Bel,” kata Laras.


“Bukan salah mereka juga sih,” lanjut Bela. “Orangtua mereka pasti enggak beda jauh dengan orangtua gue, sering larang gue bergaul dengan orang pribumi.”


“Papa gue juga sering ngomong yang jelek-jelek tentang kalian—kalian sering curang di pasar, kalian pemakan babi,” bisik Julita kepada Bela.


“Makanya gue selalu ingatkan Papa supaya jangan curang. Waktu ’98 gue juga bilang jangan timbun beras.”


“Kamu ada di sini waktu kerusuhan?” tanya Laras.


Bela mengangguk. “Waktu itu tiga bulan sebelum gue mulai kuliah di KL.”


Semua tahu apa yang ingin mereka tanyakan berikutnya, tapi mereka justru menyumpal mulut dengan nasi.


“Gue enggak diperkosa kok,” kata Bela, “tapi nyaris. Hari itu subuh-subuh kami lihat banyak orang berkerumun di muka perumahan, bawa-bawa linggis dan golok. Papa bareng tetangga laki-laki buru-buru bikin blokade dari ban serep. Ketika kerumunan tambah besar, Papa tuang bensin ke blokade, supaya bisa dibakar kalau orang-orang itu menyerang. Tiba-tiba kami dengar tembakan. Kata Papa orang-orang mulai berlari ke arah perumahan, jadi blokade Papa bakar. Terus, Papa lari pulang.


“Begitu sampai rumah, Papa teriak, ‘Pakai pembalut sekarang!’ Kata Papa, kalau kami ditangkap dan mereka lihat kami pakai pembalut, mereka bakal jijik. Jadi aku, Adik, dan Mama pakai pembalut. Sementara itu, para perusuh sampai di luar. Mereka mendobrak rumah-rumah, menyeret barang-barang ke jalan. Ada jeritan di mana-mana.


“Papa suruh kami masuk ke mobil. Sebelum bank-bank bangkrut, Papa sempat tarik uang, dan itu Papa simpan di koper. Koper ini Papa sambar. Kami berhasil meluncur, tapi enggak lama kemudian kami dihadang sebuah kerumunan lain yang menunggu di ujung perumahan. Mobil kami diguncang-guncang, digedor-gedor. Gue enggak bakal lupa muka-muka mereka – bukan seperti manusia lagi, udah jadi setan semuanya. Papa turunkan jendela mobil sedikit, lalu lempar bergepok-gepok uang ke luar. Orang-orang menghambur berebut uang. Jalan kami terbuka.


“Kami ngebut ke bandara. Karena enggak dapat tiket, kami menginap di sana seminggu. Setelah dengar berita bahwa kerusuhan udah reda, kami asbil risiko pulang. Begitu sampai, kami lihat rumah kami kosong dan hangus, juga banyak rumah lain, segala macam barang teronggok di jalan. Siapa pun pelakunya enggak pandang bulu lagi—rumah warga keturunan, pribumi, semua dibakar.”


Setelah lupa mengunyah, kini Julita dan kawan-kawan lupa segala kata. Namun, mata Bela tetap kering dan cerah. “Ayo makan,” katanya, “sekarang kami baik-baik aja.”


Tak tahu harus berkata apa, Julita merangkul Bela, lalu menyandarkan kepalanya di pundaknya.






Cerita Bela memberiku inspirasi untuk pulang dan bicara dengan orangtua. Sambil minum teh di ruang tamu, kuceritakan pada Mama dan Papa tentang kursus Prancis dan Bela. Setelah ceritaku selesai, Papa menatapku telak di mata dan bilang, “Pantas kan mereka dibegitukan, orang Cina?”


Rasanya sama sakitnya andai ia menonjokku di perut.


Kurasa ia sengaja bilang begitu supaya aku tahu diri karena berani mengajari bapak sendiri. Tapi... ia kan tahu aku bicara tentang seorang teman, bukan berita nun jauh di sana.


Cepat sekali aku hengkang dari sana, tapi aku tahu sejauh apa pun aku lari, aku takkan pernah bisa lepas darinya – ayahku, asalku. Dalam darahku mengalir benih benci. Dalam bangsa kita mengalir sejarah benci. Kalau begitu apa jadinya aku? Apa jadinya kita?


– Julita


Juli, angkat telepon!

Tolong angkat. 

Juli, angkat sekarang!Aku perlu tahu kamu enggak apa-apa. 


Juli, kalau kamu enggak angkat, aku telepon Dr. Dhanita. 

 Jangan khawatir, Riz, Saku cuma butuh tenangkan diri sedikit.

Aduh Juli, jangan salahkan diri sendiri. Benci bukan penyakit turunan. Ayahku juga sering ngomong seperti itu hok. Eh, itu justru bikin tambah sedih ya? Sori. Kita akan jadi sama sekali berbeda dengan orangtua. Kita generasi reformasi, ingat? Kita akan tulis sejarah baru.






Hari berikutnya, selepas kursus Julita dan kawan-kawan kembali bertandang di kafe. Seperti biasa, Desti asyik bercerita. “Kemarin Mama datang ke rumah bawa boneka beruang besar banget. Terus, Mama lihat Adriaan mengosek kamar mandi. Wah, muka Mama langsung merah. Mama minta maaf pada Adriaan, katanya itu semestinya tugas gue. Gue kena marah deh, padahal Adriaan sendiri bilang dia enggak keberatan membagi tugas rumah tangga.”


Sambil menggeleng-geleng, Bela mengeluarkan selembar foto dari dalam tasnya. “Ini foto gue dan Anwar dua tahun yang lalu. Jangan ketawa ya.”


Setelah teman-temannya mengangguk, Bela mengungkap foto itu: di depan sebuah bioskop, seorang pemuda berkumis merangkul Bela yang berbobot dua puluh kilo lebih berat.


Desti, Laras, Ibnu, dan Julita meledak tertawa.


“Sori, Bel,” kata Desti. “Kok bisa sih lu sekarang langsing banget? Lu pasti bertekad baja.”


Julita—mengenakan kaus lengan panjang yang terlalu panas untuk hawa yang gerah—memperhatikan Anwar menyandang tas bergambar kupu-kupu. Julita yakin itu milik Bela. “Dia kelihatan baik, Bel.” Ibnu menunjukkan foto Philippe bersama anak perempuan dan laki-lakinya yang berusia remaja. “Philippe punya istri selama lima belas tahun, sebelum akhirnya dia mengaku bahwa dia orang kayak gue.”


“Kalian bisa menikah di Prancis?” tanya Laras.


“Seenggaknya kami bisa tinggal bareng,” kata Ibnu. “Gue bakal berjuang supaya kami bisa.”


“Terus, keluarga lu?” tanya Desti.


Wajah Ibnu yang percaya diri sekejap berubah mendung. Ia menunduk.


“Minggu depan aku mau ajak kyai aku ke rumah orangtua,” kata Laras. “Beliau enggak menentang pernikahan antaragama dan mau bantu kami. Beliau bilang sebaiknya aku jangan minta restu, sebab kemungkinan besar itu terlalu berat buat orangtua, cukup minta pengertian.” Laras menggenggam tangan Ibnu. “Aku enggak yakin pandangan beliau tentang... eh, orang-orang kayak kamu, tapi kalau kamu mau, aku bisa tanya. Siapa tahu beliau mau bicara dengan orangtuamu.”


Ibnu bangkit dan memeluk Laras dari belakang. “Aduh, trims ya, Ras.”


Sementara yang lain terus mengobrol, Julita menimba keberanian untuk bercerita kepada Bela tentang apa yang dikatakan ayahnya. Akhirnya, ketika yang lain beranjak pergi, Julita meminta Bela tinggal sebentar.


Di akhir cerita Julita, Bela berkata, “Janji ya, kita akan jadi lebih baik daripada orangtua kita.” Ia merangkul Julita, lalu menyandarkan kepalanya di pundaknya.




Halo Rizky,

Maaf aku buat kamu khawatir semalam. Aku terharu akan perhatianmu, tapi takut angkat telepon. Andai kamu di sini, mungkin aku enggak akan cerita semua yang telah kuceritakan kepadamu. Jauh lebih gampang mengetik di hadapan layar komputer daripada bicara langsung di hadapan manusia lain. Meskipun begitu, kemajuan besar bagiku mampu membagi masalahku dengan orang lain.Terima kasih kamu mau dengarkan.


Belakangan ini aku banyak memikirkan teman-teman sekelas. Pasti banyak pasangan lain seperti mereka, tapi kita jarang dengar. Seumur hidup kita diwanti-wanti agar jangan memunculkan hal-hal yang berbau SARA, tapi apa itu artinya? Kita tak boleh membicarakan perihal suku, agama, ras, dan golongan kita? Bukankah justru penting bagi negara sebineka Indonesia untuk membicarakan sumber identitas dan budaya warganya serta bagaimana kita bisa membangun hubungan yang lebih kuat antara kita? Setelah tiga dekade Orde Baru yang mengagungkan stabilitas dengan mengorbankan keberagaman suara, akhirnya sekarang kita dapat mengekspresikan identitas dan kepentingan masing-masing. Namun, sepertinya kita belum belajar bagaimana menyuarakan kepentingan itu tanpa mengorbankan kepentingan orang lain, atau bagaimana membuat nilai-nilai kita dihormati tanpa memaksakan nilai-nilai itu pada orang lain. Jangan-jangan itu salah satu alasan sekarang banyak kerusuhan?


Aku ingin kita mampu bicara, dengan bebas dan sensitif, tentang perbedaan dan kesamaan kita. Aku ingin menawarkan potret cinta yang melampaui berbagai jenis pengelompokan, supaya tidak melulu potret kekerasan antarkelompok yang kita lihat di media. Aku ingin memfoto teman-teman sekelas. Koleksi itu akan kuberi judul Us + Them.

Doakan aku berhasil.

– Julita

Translator's Note

Translating my work has proven to be an effective editing tool, it is a chance to see my work with as fresh pair of eyes as I can get.

This story takes place three years after the student protests that started the democratic reforms in Indonesia. The country was going through difficult times, and there were sectarian conflicts going on in many provinces. I mentioned many places in the story, such as Kupang, Sampit, Madura, Poso, which might be unfamiliar to English-speaking readers. While they don’t have to know exactly where these places are located, it’s crucial for them to get a sense of what was going on there.

By translating the story into English and having in mind readers with no knowledge of Indonesia, I get to triple-check that all the necessary information is there. For example, Kupang is far away from Jakarta, it is close to East Timor, and there were unrest due to church bombings and revenge acts. In Sampit the local people were attacking the Madurese immigrants. In Poso there were conflicts between Christians and Muslims. Each of these conflicts has a complex, painful history behind it, but I cannot delve into it here. Set against these harrowing events, I hope to make Julita’s meeting with her classmates who were involved in interfaith or interracial relationships more poignant.

The language Jakartans use in informal settings differs significantly from what they use in writing or formal occasions. In the original, readers will find more formal language in the narration and less formal language within quotation marks. Also, Indonesians use a variety of pronouns to refer to each other—which pronoun to use depends on where the speaker is from (if they speak the regional language), the gender of the person they’re addressing, their age, and their social position relative to the speaker. In the original, readers will find the characters using the formal first and second person pronouns “saya” and “anda” when talking to their teacher, and the less formal “aku” and “kamu,” or the local variants “gue” and “lu,” when talking to their classmates. This richness is unfortunately lost in translation, because I could only translate the pronouns as “I” and “you”. Yet I could differentiate between the characters who have a more proper relationship with their parents and those who have a more relaxed relationship, by having the former say “father” and “mother” and the latter say “dad” and “mom”. Additionally, Ibnu uses slang words, which are often associated with the queer community, such as “tuwira” — a play on the word “tua,” which means “old.” I thought the English expression “daddy” in this case was a good equivalent.

The dish pecel ayam is also mentioned. I decided not to translate the name of this dish, because the original name would convey that it is indeed a traditional Indonesian dish, and readers could get a sense of what the dish was by the details provided in the story.

In the translation process, I realized that it might not be so easily acceptable to English-speaking readers that the characters could immediately bond and become friends. Indonesians are very friendly, and there are unspoken expectations that you make friends with classmates and co-workers. To make their friendship even more plausible, I tweaked Desti’s character so that she took the course specifically to make new friends. And I hope readers understand that because they all found themselves involved in relationships often forbidden by others, it was easier for these characters to sympathize with one another.

Eliza Vitri Handayani


In the Classroom