It is a starry night in Surabaya, Indonesia and the month is May. My parents don’t live here. Actually, my parents don’t live anywhere; they travel, they wander. My father is a political activist and my mother is an engineer; my father is a philosopher and my mother is a scientist. They are both academics and geniuses, and I am biased.
They are just passing through. My pregnant mother is inflicted with a stomach flu, which requires them to stay in town for longer than planned. She is admitted to the hospital and that night, my father initiates a political movement while my mother initiates a bowel movement, and among the shit and chaos, I initiate a movement called birth.
My name is derived from a verse in the Qur’an, an Arabic word that means ‘the women’. I am not given a surname because my name is chosen in a hurry, by a close-your-eyes-and-point-to-a-random-word method that my father performs in order to check out of the hospital and skedaddle on outta there as soon as possible. On my birth certificate, I have a one-word name, like Prince or Bono. My current surname is chosen five years later for administrative purposes when I enter the school system in Canada.
My umbilical stump dries and falls off. My father takes it with him on a trip through the seas. In Indonesian culture, the umbilical stump is usually buried in the front yard of the home as it is said to be the newborn’s spirit doppelganger and keeping it close to home will keep the newborn close to its roots. My father throws my spirit doppelganger into the Pacific Ocean. While my younger sister and brother are close to their roots, I am nomadic, probably because my spirit doppelganger is lying in a whale’s belly somewhere or being chucked in the trash behind a local sushi joint in Okinawa.
My mother is in Vancouver, Canada studying computer science. My baby sister is with my mother’s mother in East Java. It is just Father and I in a moss green Volkswagen Safari driving along Java Island at night. My father pulls the car over and spreads out a cheap woollen blanket on the hood of the car. It is a starry night. Father tells me about his brother’s children who are named after constellations and points to the sky. Father tells of Antares, the heart of Scorpio, the sixteenth brightest star in the night-time sky and also my cousin’s name. I hear a bus roaring past before I drift off to sleep.
I have the chicken pox. It is winter and snowing and I see traces of blood on my pineapple Popsicle that I’ve just yanked out of my mouth. It is so cold that my tongue had stuck to the Popsicle stick. Father carries little me in his arms and I slowly lick the salty red and yellow goodness, looking over his shoulder at the stampeding people behind him, undulating down the stairs into the Côte-des-Neiges Metro station. Everyone is in a hurry. There is a sudden jerk and I feel like I’m floating in slow motion until I hear a hard thud and the world is upside down. We are on the ground; Father had slipped on some ice and fallen down the staircase with me in his arms.
People are gathering around us and I hear many questions.
“Ah non! Êtes-vous d’accord, Monsieur?”
“O! Pauvre petit!”
I am not hurt. Father’s hands cup my head. Father is hurt. There is more blood and dirt on my Popsicle.
I eat my meal in the car. It’s parked in the driveway. I like being in the car – so many switches and buttons. I feel like the Wizard of Oz.
Hmm, I wonder what this thing does? I touch it.
The car slowly rolls down the slanted driveway and crashes into the corrugated fence. Oh no. I see my father running towards me. He flings the car door open and jerks me out. He has a wild look in his eyes. My meal spills all over the concrete. He holds me up and shakes me hard, accusingly. “Why did you do that?! You stupid girl! Why did you do that?!” I start to cry. He shakes me even harder. “Stop crying, you little bitch. Look what you did!” He turns me to the fence. It is still corrugated. But the car is corrugated along with it. My father yanks me up so I am taller than he is. I’ve never seen him from this vantage point before. The hair on the very top of his head has a slight discolouration. Or maybe it’s just the sunlight.
“Do you see what you did?! Stupid worthless child! Say sorry! Say sorry!” I think he really wants me to say sorry. So I say sorry, but my sobs make it sound like I’m saying, “Wawa.”
“Say sorry! Do you understand what you did?!” His grasp is hurting my chest. He continues to shake me and his roaring voice rumbles in my ears. It’s like thunder. He throws me to the ground and towers over me, still shouting, but I can’t make out the words anymore.
Some of the neighbours come to watch. Tears blur my vision. The only thing louder than my choked wailing is my father’s voice. “You stupid child!”
I am on a boat with my father and the sun is just rising. We set off the Coast of Sumatra Island a few hours ago and from my blanketed nook I could see birds. Father once told me that that means we are nearing land. This is good because–ironically, amidst all that water–I really need to pee. We reach land and I make a dash for it. I see Father unloading the boat. We take inventory; a guitar, a flashlight, a knife, some water, a tarp, Father’s bag, and a battery-powered radio, although it plays no music really, just static. Father starts to hunt for fish.
“Go and find some dry wood and leaves, my little monkey. Remember; turn around when you can’t hear the water anymore. And remember, I love you,” Father tells me. I take the flashlight with me and walk in-land into the trees until I can’t hear the crashing waves, then I turn around and walk back, just like my Father said. I am five years old; I don’t know fear yet. I only know my Father.
My father always makes my lunches. He’s not very good at it, but I eat it anyway. Today it’s a slice of Kraft cheese between brown bread, grilled in the sandwich press. He cut off the crust because he knows I don’t like crust. Father is very considerate. He sings to me every morning as he’s making my lunch and tells me stories. Sometimes I stand on his toes and we dance in the kitchen while he sings. He’s a big fan of The Beatles, but he only has one album. He always kisses me before I run out the door to the Montreal City school bus. He always yells out behind me, “Remember; I love you, my little monkey.” Always. Even if I can’t hear it because ‘Here, There, and Everywhere’ is playing so loud.
I get home from school and the house is quiet. I head to the kitchen to make myself a peanut butter snack. It was another hot day in Jakarta, my school uniform is sticky and the thin white nylon fabric has turned a bit translucent. I hear movement. It’s coming from Father’s room. The door is locked.
I knock on the door.
I hear a thud from behind the door.
I start banging my fist on the hollow wood.
“Daddy! Buka pintu-nya!” Which in Indonesian means ‘Daddy, open up’.
I panic. Fuck, not again.
I run to the backroom and grab the hammer that has never been used for nailing, only for times like these.
I lodge the narrow edge of the hammerhead into the doorway and pry the door open. There are marks on the door from the last time.
I find my dad in bed, mouth slightly open and wet, an empty bottle of Aspirin strewn ajar on the floor. Sleeping pills on the bedside table. There is some yellow stuff on his pillow. I call the police. Then I call my mother.
Father is really not taking this divorce well. He does this again in about a month’s time.
I feel death. I can physically feel death in my bones. No one ever told me it was going to feel like this. I’m cold and sweaty and itchy and sad and happy and stoic and everything and nothing, all at the same time. It’s winter in Melbourne so we would sit outdoors near the fire-belching pillars at the Crown Casino, although I couldn’t really feel the cold then; I’d be high. So high. But I feel the cold now, even though I’m indoors and the heater is raging.
I really shouldn’t be here. Legally. I shouldn’t be here. My visa ran out two months ago. I’m here because of a boy. I’m here on this land and on this high because of a boy. The boy loves me hard. So hard, it would bruise. The boy reminds me of Father.
Father used to send me three hundred dollars every month but he doesn’t anymore. I think he forgot about me. Or maybe it’s because I kept asking him for more money. Heroin ain’t cheap, y’know. But of course Father doesn’t know. He doesn’t know I medicate. He doesn’t know I sell this medication to other people to buy myself more medication. And he doesn’t know how good this medication feels.
Sometimes I think Father wasn’t very smart for using Aspirin and sleeping pills to get over the rough times. I mean; this is so much better. But not right now, at this moment, this is so much worse. Probably worse than dying, but I wouldn’t know. The kind-hearted social worker at the clinic said that it was going to be tough but that I was making the right decision. I didn’t realise he was lying through his fucking teeth. Tough is an understatement. A maths test is tough. This is not tough. This is murder.
I call Father. He picks up. I hide the turmoil in my voice. Goodness forbid Father’d have to use a hammer to pry open the door to save me, that’d be rude of me. So I hide the turmoil. Father is a changed man nowadays. He sounds like the dad in The Brady Bunch, his voice sounds like that of a haloed man with sparkling white teeth and healthy pink gums. He gets irritated when I talk about things that don’t shine; he hangs up on me when my words are grey and clammy.
My skin is grey and clammy.
I hold the phone to my ear. Father and I talk about the weather, and the latest book he read, and his new fitness regime, and his perfect blood pressure levels, and his kitchen remodel, and how he just serviced his Toyota, and how his best friend John is moving house. I don’t say a thing throughout the phone call, even though I think it’ll be the last time I speak to Father. I’m in so much pain.
I really want to say to him, “Help me, I’m dying,” but of course I won’t. It’d disrupt Father’s halo. It’d make him try to kill himself again. So I say nothing.
Before we hang up the phone, Father says to me, “Remember; I love you, my little monkey.”
I am nervous. My sister tells me I look beautiful in my white dress, but I am nervous. What if I trip and fall? I am nervous. Father comes into the room and starts to cry. He tells me he’s very proud of me. He apologises for being a bad father but I never thought he was a bad father so I don’t know why he said that.
The music plays, everyone stands up. I am still nervous. Father takes my hand and we walk. It’s a long walk. It’s a long aisle. My husband-to-be looks beautiful. He fidgets as he stands there. Father and I keep walking. It really is a long walk. Actually, it’s been a very long walk. I’ve seen two engagements and a near overdose during my walk. I never stopped walking because no man has ever lived up to my Father. So, it’s a long walk. ‘Here, There, and Everywhere’ by The Beatles plays in the background.
Father turns to me and says, “Remember; I love you, my little monkey.”
We stop walking. I stop walking. I’m here.
Image: Kimberly Richards