December 26

Sean O'Mordha   November 22, 2019   No Comments on December 26

Arif pulled up the too-large T-shirt to cover his nose as the putrid stench of dead bodies rose up from below. Standing on the hotel room’s third-floor balcony, he watched as survivors began gathering them for burial. So many. So very many. Nyai Loro Kidul became angry. The once pristine beach now lay covered by splintered wood and twisted metal carried back as the water returned to the sea. Some of that may have been his house. Some of that may have been his father’s boat. The newly-turned sixteen-year-old’s mind grasped to understand what happened.

The morning dawn clear and warm as his father and older brother took their small junkung out into the bay. Many in his village, a part of a much larger city, earned a meager living by fishing. Arif usually joined them except his mother arranged for him to move heavy boxes at the hotel where she worked. Tourists had eaten their posh breakfasts and began filling the beach. Hot and muggy, sweat oozed from his body and collected into small rivulets. His sweat-soaked sarong stuck to his legs and would like to toss it on the storeroom table with his T-shirt. Still, he’d rather do this than fish. Mr. Alearadi paid well and his best friend worked alongside. Joking and laughing with one another made the task easier.

“I am thinking of asking Siti to be my wife,” Kadek said.

“She seems like a nice girl. Have you spoken with her father?”

“She will be fifteen in two weeks. We do not need anyone’s permission.”

“But she is Muslim. You are not Muslim. That could be a problem.”

“She is not that strong in your faith. Siti is a modern girl. We shared a blanket and expressed our love for one another.”

“That could be dangerous for her. If her father discovered you two have done that, he would cane her.”

Kadek stopped work and turned serious. “She is still a virgin, but if he or anyone tries to do that, I will take it away and whip them.”

Arif stared at his friend for a moment. He had tossed his shirt, too, exposing a dark brown, well-muscled body from work and kickboxing. Kadek could make good his boast. Arif didn’t like Siti’s father, or her brothers, or his brother, Soleh, who administers the cane. Not since several years ago. Soleh’s nephew, Gunadi, lied by accusing Arif of speaking with disrespect. He received three strikes of the wet, bamboo rattan on clothed buttocks. It hurt. A lot.

“I will stand with you,” he said.

Kadek placed a hand on Arif’s shoulder. “Thank you.”

“Did she please you?”

“That was a new experience for both of us, but yes. It was amazing.” His eyes danced with excitement. “She is visiting relatives in Medan and returns later today. She will stay the night with a mutual friend. So will I. I think we will play games.”

Not long after that revelation, the ground shook. They stopped work. Buildings trembled, metal roofs rattled. People ran onto the street. The earthquake felt strong but didn’t last long. Such happened frequently. For some reason, this felt different. Both boys shrugged and resumed work.

Placing the last box inside the stifling hot storeroom, they came outside and froze.A huge wall of water rose up and slammed the beach and head straight for them.


They had no opportunity to react as the water surged up around them. Arif fought against the swirling current as it carried him into the courtyard. A good swimmer, it felt as if in a washing machine. Fighting to get his head above the surface, he gasped to refill his lungs. Taking in water, it sucked him down again. A hand grasped his arm to pulled him up. Kadek. The water continued rising, now to the second level.

“The stairs! Go for the stairs!” Kadek yelled.

Arif struggled to breathe. Kadek pulled him in the direction of the stairs. They had to dodge chunks of wood and debris. Arif saw it too late. A large chunk of wood on a collision course. There was no way to avoid it. Kadek took the brunt of the hit and lost the grip on Arif. The swirling water tore them apart. He sank out of sight. Arif wanted to help, but the water kept rising, swirling. Pushed around, he bumped the stair railing. Grasping with both hands he pulled himself up. He felt metal beneath his feet. The stairs!

Fighting desperately, he managed to rise out of the water and struggle up. The water now reached halfway up the second level but seemed to be slowing. Coming to the third level balcony, he collapsed on the deck, gulping air. The morning’s hard work and now this drained the last strength from his body.

He had no idea how long he lay sprawled on the cement deck. Looking at the sun, it had moved past the mid-day point. Staggering to his feet, Arif grasped the metal railing and looked down into the courtyard. The water had dropped, now level with the second story balcony deck. That’s when he spotted it. A brown body on the balcony on the other side. Racing down, he splashed through ankle-deep water to where it lay face-down. He turned it over.

“Kadek! Kadek!” His best friend’s eyes stared back. There would be no reply. His strong, life-loving friend since toddler children was dead.

Arif cradled Kadek’s head in his lap and wept. Wept until the worse dawned on him. Father and brother were in the bay. Grandmother was at home only minutes away. His mother? She cleaned the rooms on the third level. Leaving Kadek’s body, he raced back up the stairs. Her cart stood by a room. Running, slipping, he came to it. The room door was open.

“Ibu? Ibu?” he called, racing into the room. She wasn’t there. He checked other rooms. The doors were locked. “Momma-a-a-a,” he wailed, dropping to his knees.

Returning to the only unlocked room, he went to the balcony overlooking the ocean. The beach lay buried beneath filthy water and debris. There were no boats in the bay. The realization of what happened petrified his mind. He could neither comprehend or think, a total blank, unaware of sprawling on the bed.

Hunger noises from his stomach awaken the boy. It felt hollow and tight. Walking out the door, he saw Kadek’s body where he left it. The water had dropped to tops of the doors on the main level. Still unable to think, hunger pulled him to the second level. Vending machines with chips, candy, and drinks set on the far end. In sealed wrappers, the flood had not damaged the contents. Using a fire extinguisher, he smashed the glass fronts. A kindly, old man, Mr. Alearadi would understand. Arif would work hard for him to replace them.

For the rest of the day, Arif alternated between the balcony overlooking the ocean and courtyard to check the water level. Finally overcome with exhaustion, he slept.

By the next morning, the water level had dropped to knee height. He waded down the service hall to the maid’s area. The door stood open. Bodies in white uniforms littered the room. He turned them over one by one. With the seventh, he dropped to his knees to issue a pained howl, weeping until there were no more tears. His mother.

Mind once again numbed, he barely remembered going to the office. Mr. Alearadi’s body lie floating behind the reception desk. He didn’t need to worry about replacing the broken vending machines. Mrs. Alearadi lie in the living section. Taking the passkey, he began searching the rooms on the third floor. He left any valuables, concentrating on collecting clothes. The water ripped off his sarong leaving him with boxers. The rooms contained clothing of over-sized Europeans. Mostly Dutch people stayed at the hotel because it was close to the beach, clean, and cheap. He found the clothing too long or too big around. A teenage boy’s clothes come close to fitting his smaller body. He remembered seeing him heading for the beach in a very small swimsuit.

Walking out of his room on the third morning, the only water remaining was in the pool beneath splintered boards. While scavenging usable food from the Alearadi pantry, he thought to hear voices. Coming out to the front he spotted an army truck. Four soldiers approached.

“What are you doing here,” the leader asked gruffly.

“My friend and I were doing work for Mr. Alearadi. He was the owner of this place.”

“Where are they?”

“Dead. Mr. Alearadi is in the front office. His wife is in the living quarters. My mother and the other hotel people are in the back laundry room. My friend is on the second level balcony.” His answer was flat, emotionless.

“You are the only survivor?”


“How many bodies?” The leader’s tone softened.


“Can you identify them?”

“Yes.” Tears began forming in Arif’s eyes. “I knew them.” He was alright until coming to the laundry room. “That is my mother.” He said, voice quivering. He broke down as they placed her body in a black, plastic bag. He didn’t fare any better when they gathered Kadek’s body.

“Anyone else?”

“I’ve been in all the rooms. No.”

“You steal anything?”

Arif’s anger flared, his response singeing the leader’s ears. The rest of the day he searched for his grandmother. As far as he could see, the ocean swept the earth of everything that hinted of human occupation except the mosque. Standing a distance away, he glared at its stained, white outer shell. Grief faded, clouded by the steam of anger. There was no one to hear his scream except to whom it was directed.

“Why? What kind of god are you to do this? I hate you. I hate you.”

Continuing inland, he came to where bodies were being brought and laid out. He couldn’t believe what he saw. Hundreds. People walking among them as he now did, searching. An occasional howl pierced the incredible silence. He saw people he knew, had grown up around. A young woman with a clipboard approached. Like so many in the community, she wore a scarf over her head.

“Hello. My name is Susan. Do you recognize any of these people?” Her voice was soft and tender.


“Will you tell me their names so we can let any of their family that may have survived to know?”

Arif began. Some bodies had been badly damaged. Bloating contorted features. Yes, he knew them. Neighbors, childhood friends. Those he had gone to school with. His teacher, a kind person. Arif liked her. Further on he stopped and dropped to knees and began crying.

“Mbah,” he managed between sobs. The woman put a hand on his shoulder. That surprised him. She shouldn’t have done that. It was against the law for a woman to touch a man other than her husband or children. Still, that gesture gave comfort. Standing, he looked around, worried. “They will punish you for touching me,” he whispered.

“I am not Muslim. I wear the hijab to make my job easier.”

“What will happen to grandmother?”

“We have no option except to bury them in a common grave. It must be done quickly to prevent the spread of disease. The foreigners will be given to their embassy.”

Arif’s head nodded slightly with understanding. Turning away, he continued down the line until the sun began to approach the horizon.

“Have you eaten today?” she asked as they finished.


“Come with me. There is a Red Cross station where they have food. It is not far from here.”

The line for food was long, the menu limited. He saw helicopters flying in and out, trucks bringing more food, tents, blankets, medical supplies, needed items. The young woman took him to the military line. It was shorter, more than just rice. The man behind the serving table glared at Arif.

“He has spent the day identifying bodies,” the woman said to his unvoiced challenge. “He has not eaten much more than candy bars and potato chips since the tsunami.” The man gave him an extra serving. The sun had nearly set as they finished eating and she said, “Let us find a place for you in the camp.”

“Thank you, no. You have been very kind. I have a place to stay. My father and brother were fishing. I want to look for them.”

“They would have been washed ashore. Your best chance of finding them would be where they bring the bodies. Meet me there tomorrow, and we will look for them.” Arif’s head nodded agreement.

Back at the hotel, the squawk of birds shook the oppressive silence. Strangely, that gave him comfort. The soldiers had opened all the hotel doors searching for identifications, pictures — and valuables. Returning to the hotel, he slept, rising early to scavenge things he could use, hopefully, clothing closer to his size. Near the last room on the first level, he found a suitcase with clothes nearer his size and flip-flops. The Dutch boy’s. He hung the soaked garments over the railing by his room to dry.

If he lived – unlikely given where he went when the wave struck — Arif would give them back. He mentioned this to Susan, a young missionary from Australia. She informed him later that someone found a Dutch boy nearly a mile inland. Cut and bruised, the hospital staff marveled that he survived. He’d been on the beach near the hotel where his family stayed when the tsunami rose up. He survived by clinging to a canoe carried inland.

“A miracle,” she said. “He told them that God had sent his country to save him. It was a red, white, and blue boat with a green eye on the bow.”

“That is my father’s boat,” Arif said, his heart suddenly felt as if lead. “He must be the boy I saw that morning. Can I speak to him? Maybe he knows something about my father and brother.”

“I’m afraid not, Arif. His embassy people sent him home this morning.

Much of that week he met Susan to identify those he recognized. Five times each day the call for salat blared from the mosque. They had a generator. He ignored the call to prayer. Still feeling numb, Arif maintained composure until stopping at the feet of one body. He barely recognized his brother from the bloating. They had been close, yet he had no tears left as he again dropped to knees. Susan waited at a respectful distance until he stood.

“God has said that we will be united with our family and be with him in paradise,” she said.

“I hate God.” Venom dripped from the words. Without saying another word, he walked away.

Passing through the refugee camp on the way back to the hotel he heard a child’s voice cry out. The sound was not from grief but from pain and fear. Arif changed course to cut between two rows of tents, he came to another street lined with tents. Three teenage boys battled to restrain a young girl. Two had their hands full as she squirmed, kicked, and bit. The other was the nephew of the predominant Imam, the one who lead prayers and officiated Sharia courts. He had a personal dislike for that man. He sentenced Arif to three lashes with the rattan. The boy preparing to strike the girl with the cane had spoken false words that caused his public punishment.

“What are you doing?” Arif said in a face-off.

“This girl refuses to wear hajib.”

“She is not Muslim, Gunadi. Sharia law does not apply.”

“It does now.”

“By what authority?”

“I am making it so.”

“Let her go.”

“Stay out of this or you will feel my cane harder than you should have felt before.”

Arif was in no mood to bow to this one. “You’re a stupid, arrogant, lying tai babi.”

No taller than Arif butr heavier, Gunadi swung the three-foot cane sideways striking Arif on the right arm. “Nyokap lo pembokat.”

Big mistake. A person might ignore being called pig shit, but saying that his mother was a worthless maid – Arif’s mind snapped. His brother had been kickboxing for two years to earn extra money for the family. Kadek, too. Arif became their sparring partner. His left hook snapped the aggressor’s head sideways. A rapid-fire right kick to the gut removed air from the lungs, doubling him over. A right fist sent him reeling backward to sprawl semi-conscious on the ground. Snatching up the cane, Arif spun to face the two companions. They began emerging from shock at witnessing the demise of their leader but would not come to their friend’s rescue. Mr. Amsapinar, one of the community’s respected elders, stood between the two much older boys, a hand on each one’s shoulder.

Further threat gone, Arif hurled the cane into a pile that had once been a home. Turning to the girl, he asked, “Where is your family?”

“They are dead.”

“You have no one?” His mind cleared.

“No.” She began to weep.

Gently taking her hand, he said, “Come with me.”

One of the accomplices restrained by Amsapinar yelled, “It is against the law to touch a woman.”

Arif spun around, his voice like an angry lion, “Your law. Not mine.”

As he resumed to leave, Gunadi began moving, barely making it up to lean on one elbow. A kick to the head laid him out, again. He didn’t move. Arif wasn’t sure if he’d killed him or not. He wanted to except for Amsapinar being present. He held a second kick in check.

The elder addressed the friends. “What you are doing is not within your authority. I will accept what happened to Gunadi as sufficient punishment.” He then looked to Arif and the girl as they walked away. Worried.

Face glistening with sweat, body trembled, Arif felt weak, forcing legs to move. “Where are your things?” he asked the girl as they walked.

“I have only what I wear.”

“Then we will go to where I am staying. There are clothes there.”

“Is it proper for you to hold my hand and go to where you live?”

“I’m not Muslim,” he spit out.

The fight had also been witnessed by several people, some appalled at the violence, others wanted to cheer. They knew the imam’s nephew all too well. Unbeknownst to Arif, Susan had witnessed the altercation, secretly knowing this stage of grief would surface. First stunned shock, then grief, then anger. The later seemed excessive until learning of their mutual dislike and that Gunadi insulted the boy’s dead mother. The medic who administered to the boy on the ground diagnosed him to have a concussion. A good one considering the blood oozing from nose and ears.

Arif had not seen this girl before. Shorter than him, petite, shoulder-length, black hair needed a brush to remove tangles. The yellow dress with cartoon characters was soiled and torn not unlike everyone else who lost everything. Something in her dark eyes caused a tingle at the base of his head.

“What is your name?”


“That means rose. I am called Arif.”

“Wise one.”

“Not usually.” Feeling the need to tell what happened, he explained about surviving the tsunami and about his family and friend who died.

“I was on a hill above our house when the water came and climbed a tree. I stayed there all night. I saw papa try to help mama. They disappeared holding hands.”

“How old are you?”


“I am Sixteen.”

“You look older.” She referred to the hint of a mustache.

“That is where I stay,” he said as they approached the hotel. “The man who owned it is dead. The Army removed all the bodies. . . . My mother and friend.” he paused until the pain in his chest lessened. “They went through all the rooms to collect identifications and whatever they could stuff in their pockets. They weren’t interested in clothes. There is one room where a girl must have been. It is on the third level. I think her things will fit you.”

Discarding the soiled dress, she donned shorts and a T-shirt with a pink dragon on the front. Upon stepping out of the bathroom, Arif’s stomach felt funny and hoped he wasn’t becoming sick. Other of the girl’s things they gathered into a suitcase. Mawar clutched a rag doll. As they were about to leave, he spotted something on the bathroom cabinet. Shoving it into his back pocket, he picked up her bag and lead to his room.

“I sleep on the back bed. You can have this one,” he said, setting the suitcase on the first bed near the door. “I’m hungry.”

Returning to the courtyard, he re-built a small fire to heat some canned food salvaged from Mr. Alearadi’s pantry. Sitting across the crackling fire from one another, they talk about family as she used the brush he had taken. A gift.

The small fire’s flickering light played weird shadows on the walls as she brushed out tangles. Beyond that anemic fire, blackness swallowed the world. The sound of waves crashing on shore mixed the debris with crunching and grinding noises. The girl constantly glanced about, sometimes jumping, sometimes issuing a muted squeak.

Arif remained silent for a long time, watching her. He felt warm, his heartbeat rapidly, hands sweat. He hoped not to become ill. “There is nothing to fear of here, Mawar.” His tongue felt thick, mouth dry.

“What if another tsunami comes. How will we know? We wouldn’t see it come.”

“We would know if our butts become wet, then we run-up to the third level and be dry.” They giggled, a nervous, unconvinced sound.

“What will you do now?”

So caught up in the present, there had been no time to think about the future. “I don’t know. All I know is fishing. If I do not find my father’s boat, I have no money to buy one.”

“Many washed ashore. Maybe you can find one that no longer has an owner.”


“We could look for one tomorrow.”


“Let me brush your hair.” She moved to kneel behind him. “You are shivering.”

Arif thought it strange, but his body randomly shook despite the night air still retained the day’s heat. He ignored the comment.

“It is not good to be alone. You will want to find a wife.”

That sucked his emotions into a whirlwind. “I suppose.”

“I am tired. Can we go back to your room?”

Arif jumped up to stretch out a hand and help the girl up. They looked at one another for a few moments before climbing the stairs, their hands remaining together. She disappeared into the bathroom, re-emerging in a thin, white, ankle-length gown. In the dim candlelight, he stared. He had removed his clothes except for boxer shorts. She stared at him. Bidding each a good night, he stretched out on top of the bed, hands locked behind his head, remembering Kadek’s last words.

“It was a new experience for both of us, but yes. It was amazing.” They planned to spend the night at a mutual friend. Arif vividly remembered how his friend’s eyes danced with excitement.

He slept little, tossing and turning, too agitated to sleep. That next morning, the girl dressed again in the shorts and funny T-shirt and white sandals with little flowers on them. The day had already started warm. It would turn hot. Pulling on his old, baggy pants of thin material that hung well above the ankles, he slipped into the Dutch boy’s flip flops, foregoing a shirt.

It became necessary to take Mawar’s hand as the two worked through areas of piled debris. They didn’t leave go until joining the long line already formed to get food and water. Sitting on the ground side by side to eat, he spotted Susan’s approach. She sat facing them, knees drawn up, ankles crossed.

“The boy you had a problem with yesterday is in the hospital. He may not be right in the head for some time.”

“He never was,” Arif exhaled a cloud of smoke from a cigarette.

“They have brought more bodies. Will you help me identify them?”

He looked at Mawar who nodded that he should do that.

“Okay, but I will leave after the noon meal. I need to find a boat to go fish.”

They spent four hours looking at bodies, not a pleasant task. The stench intensified with the rising heat. He couldn’t help. Some he’d seen but did not know their names. Neither did Mawar, both glad when the ordeal ended.

“Are those the only clothes you have?” Susan asked before they left.

“We are not Muslim. They can take their stupid laws and . . . ” Mawar squeezed his hand to cut him off.

“It is that they stare. That doesn’t make you feel uncomfortable?”

“They stare because they have never seen a pretty girl and that makes them horny. They need to learn to control themselves.”

Susan covered a faint smile, noticing that Mawar’s cheeks darkened slightly as her eyes opened a bit wider. “I bet no one ever told you that,” she thought.

Returning to the beach, it smelled like a sewer, but not as gut-wrenching as at the body collection area. Their first task – find a boat. Large ones carried inland well away from the shore were damaged, some more than others. Smaller jukungs, pontooned boats like his father’s, lay piled on the beach smashed into kindling or severely damaged. Then, Mawar called out from behind a beached yacht.

“This does not look too bad,” he said.

“What if the owner is alive?”

“I will give it to him in better shape than it is now. I will need to replace the rudder, outriggers, and mast. A sail, too.”

“I saw something back the way we came that might work for a mast.”

Marwar’s sharp eyes indeed spotted one. Its rolled-up sail bore many tears, the mast usable. They found a repairable net. By late afternoon, they had assembled everything necessary to make the boat usable. A search of the laundry room produced sewing materials for Mawar to fashion a sail from bedsheets. He worked on the net using line salvaged from another that had been badly torn. With plenty of bottled water in the storage room and usable food in the pantry, they didn’t need to waste time traveling to the food distribution area thus avoiding disapproving stares. After a hot meal, they worked until it grew dark, and then retired for the night. Again, sleep did not come easily. He tossed and turned. Muffled sobs drift through the dark.

“Are you alright, Mawar?”

“I’m frightened, Arif.”

Back when life was “normal,” he sometimes awoke from a bad dream. His brother lie beside him to hold him. Muslim law would not permit him from giving her the comfort and needed reassurance. It would not permit him to sleep in the same room with a woman not his wife.

“Sialan hukum mereka,” his mind spit. “Damn their laws. I want nothing to do with them or their god.” Sliding out of bed, he lift the cover and lie next to her.

A small arm draped over his chest. The warmth and feeling of security she must have felt did nothing for his agitation except to intensified it. She placed her head on his arm. He could feel her shivering body relax, the pounding of her heart slowing. Within minutes she had gone to sleep. Though agitated, he felt more secure, too.

His mother once suggested filling his mind with a happy thought as a way to go to sleep. He concentrated on one of many times he and Kadek played on the beach. It eventually worked as exhaustion and depression overcame the turmoil swirling in his mind like the floodwaters that tried to take his life. Then, the vision of the ocean pouring into the hotel knifed its way in. Eyes popped open to stare at the ceiling. Head turning to one side, he found the bed empty. He hadn’t been aware when the girl left to prepare breakfast. The aroma aroused his stomach. It became necessary to sponge off.

The first time it happened, he ran to his brother to show him. “Elang! Elang! Look! It has happened.” Mimpi basah.” The summer of Arif’s eleventh year he’d experienced his first emission. Outwardly, Elang rejoiced. His brother was becoming a man. Inside, he felt a bit sad. Little brother was losing that magical time of carefree childhood.

Donning a pair of short shorts from the Dutch boy’s wardrobe, he went down to where Mawar had breakfast ready. They sat across the fire from each other. Neither spoke much while exchanging furtive glances. He didn’t feel like eating. His stomach began fluttering again. Mawar had gone to a great deal of effort to make breakfast, so to not make her sad, he forced himself to eat.

Finished, he stood. “I want to check the boat for leaks,” he said. “Thank you for the meal. It was very good.” She replied with a faint smile.

Taking the boat into the water, he paddled out a few meters. The hull proved sound, more than Arif’s mind. Paying attention to the boat’s idiosyncrasies proved a challenge as his thoughts shift to Mawar. Repeatedly looking toward the hotel, he worried that the girl would be alright, that no one would bother her in his absence. During such interludes, his heart raced. Drawing in a deep breath, he let it out slowly to relax and refocus.

Returning with a satisfied report, he resumed mending the net as she finished the sail and prepared a noon meal. After that, the moment of truth arrived for a true test of his ability to handle their boat. Setting the mast, he deployed the triangular, lateen sail. A gentle breeze and calm sea, it handled well and his nervous anxiety abated.

Arif knew the jukung’s previous owner by sight only, so could not give Susan a name upon seeing his body. He sold the day’s catch to the hotels. Amsapinar moved about consoling and encouraging the people. Arif seemed to frequently garner his attention.

During one of his brief encounters, the elder said, “Death respects no one.”

It certainly didn’t – rich, poor, babies, children, parents, old people, foreigners – death took them.

Battered, bruised, and scraped, the boat’s brightly-colored hull held out thewater. Twelve-feet from tip to tip, it was not quite two-feet wide. Bamboo outriggers set out one and a quarter meters from each side stabilized the craft even in heavy seas. On the shore, they gave the boat the appearance of a gull in flight – or a very large, four-legged spider. Mawar’s name was a better description – Naga Terbang – Dragon Flying.

Other boats patrolled the water, collecting bodies floating among the debris. He pointed the Dragon’s bow to take them beyond the debris and stench of rotting flesh. It was there, seated at the tiller, laughing as if children again, that they share their first kiss. A playful peck on his cheek. A sobering moment. Staring into each other’s eyes their lips slowly moved closer until touching, lingering. Arif felt no fireworks, or electric shocks, or nervous tremors. He felt at peace.

When night arrived and time to retire, he lay on his back, again thinking about what Kadek said about his first experience with a girl. The only light came from one of several Catholic candles in glass jars with pictures of Saints on them. They could burn for twenty-hours. They used them judiciously. Mawar came out of the bathroom where she had been brushing her hair and blew all but one out. Before pulling back the covers of her bed, she stopped.

“What’s wrong,” he asked.

“I am afraid to close my eyes, Arif. I see the water coming. People running and screaming. Momma and Papa . . . ” He pulled his bed cover back.

The nervous anxiety racking his mind and body since meeting Mawar slammed him, slammed him hard as she pressed close to his side. He liked the feel of her soft warmth. Turning onto his side each wrapped arms over the other. A sense of security came over them. Yet, how often had he heard from the pious that such behavior was forbidden and would set his feet on the road to hell. In response, Elang secretly rejected that teaching.

“A man and a woman were created and commanded to populate the world. How can that happen if neither knows how? We are to figure it out on the wedding night? Stupid.”

Religion was not strong in Arif’s family nor among those around him. They were too busy trying to exist from day-to-day. On more than one occasion, he listened as his brother spoke among friends.

“How is it possible to pray five times a day? I am a mile, two miles, sometimes more from land. Unless the wind is just right, I can not hear the call to prayer. And then, if I did, how do I keep my boat pointed in the right direction when the wind blows? If it turns sideways, it is narrow, no room to bow. If I do, I will fall into the water. Does God accept wet prayers?” The friends laughed.

Then, on a more sour note, “I am not allowed to find my own wife. My parents are to arrange that. Any girl who comes from a wealthy family is not available. We are poor fishermen. We can not marry because she is berkulit putih, white, because she is never exposed to the sun. I am kelam, black. Can I prevent that? I am in the sun every day trying to help feed our family. Oh, you can not marry that girl. She is Shia, you are Sunni. I would have no idea how pretty she may be, but to them, I look like wajah babi bodoh, a pig-faced moron. I am either too young or too old. Sorry, this is the only girl we can find. You will learn to love her. And what if I do not? Divorce her and go through the whole nightmare of finding another?

“I want to find a girl to have as a wife that I have feelings for. Someone I can be proud to say she is the mother of my children, a woman I can respect as my partner. Well, I am not letting anyone find “an appropriate” woman. I will do that myself.”

Facing one another, Mawar looked into Arif’s dark eyes reflecting the flicker of the one candle. His finger traced down her nose and over the lips. She pursed them to kiss his finger. He smiled before leaning forward, the kiss a gentle caress. Each backed away, smiled. Leaning toward the other they kiss again – longer.

“Have you ever had sex with a girl?” she asked, having parted.

“No. Have you?”

“No. Not with boys, either.” They giggled. Their lips met again, a quick peck – several in succession.

His brother had been searching for a girl to become his wife. Less than a week before the tsunami Arif asked why he didn’t masturbate anymore.

“I do not need to do that. I have found someone who does that for me.” Despite a barrage of questions, Elang would not elaborate.

“Will you marry this person?”

“Maybe. We have feelings for each other.”

“What feelings?”

“You will know when you meet the right girl. Now, do what you need to do and go to sleep. We have much work tomorrow.”

Cupping a hand behind Mawar’s neck prevented them from separating. Her hand caressed his back and side as each swam in a euphoric embrace. Placing his hand atop hers, he moved it down and gently pushed the delicate fingers beneath the elastic waistband.

As dawn peeked through the window, Arif lay on his back, hands tucked behind his head. Mawar’s hand explored his body until turning onto his side to face her. He had come to understand what his brother said.

“I love you Mawar. I want you to stay with me. Will you become my wife.”

“I would need . . . I have no one to give permission.”

“We can tell them your father gave permission. All records were destroyed in the Mosque and government office. We can say we were united a few days before the tsunami. No one is alive to dispute what we say.”

“Except that bully and his friends.” He’d forgotten that.

“If anyone asks, we tell them we are husband and wife. How is none of their business.”

“My grandmother once said that the man who would be my husband should promise to provide a home, food, and clothing, and I should promise to manage the home, finances, and provide him children.”

“I have heard that, as well. I promise to provide you a home, food, and clothing, but there should be respect and love, not just the love that makes children, but . . . I don’t know. A feeling of being one?”

“And I promise to manage our home, the finances, and give you as many children as you desire, and the respect and love you deserve.”

They kissed, the lingering, passionate kiss of true love. She gave a gentle tug. From deep in the human mind rose up from hiding the urge to propagate the species for its survival. He had an idea of what to do. With Mawar’s silent message, Arif rolled to lie on top. Later, exhausted, his headrest on her shoulder. Mawar wrapped both arms and legs around his body as if trying to press them into one person. She felt his warm breath in her ear, felt his heart pound – rapid but slowing until falling asleep. She had listened to others talk about such moments, but it was beyond comprehension – until now. Awaking sometime later, Arif awoke to terminate the beginning of a dream of his friend’s death. He lie sprawled on his back staring at the ceiling.

“Kadek, you were so right, but you never really experienced truly amazing.” He then felt sad that his friend had not felt all the wonderful sensations of uniting with a woman. “If there is a life after this one, will he have that opportunity?” He hoped so. As the aroma of something cooking drift through the open door, he rose, slipped back into his boxers, and went to squat by the fire.

“My best friend told me before he died that he spent some time with a girl he wanted to marry. I asked if she pleased him. He said that it was a new experience for both of them, but it was amazing. He died before discovering how amazing.”

“I thought that, too. Do you have to hurry off to fish?”


The sun had passed its zenith when he left the hotel. Returning several hours later, workers cleaning the beach met him, offering to purchase his catch. He refused to accept money.

“Many fish seem willing to sacrifice themselves for our needs. There are more than I can use. Take what you need to feed your families.” His generosity spread, the number of people waiting on shore grew larger as the days past. Others formed a fishing group as their boats became available and followed Arif’s example of generosity. Those who had money gave what they could that he might be able to buy necessities. Others paid with salvaged items or labor to begin repairing the hotel rooms.

Bodies were finally gathered and buried. He never found his father. The debris cleared, the beach nearly returned to its former condition. Everyone recognized the hotel as his property, but it would not become a place for tourists. He began allowing others to move in and renovate their space in return for free housing.

Gunadi recovered from the beating to continue pushing Sharia law, placing him on a direct collision course with Arif. While his brain may not be working on all cylinders, he knew to avoid direct conflict. Arif’s stature in the community grew. The Muslim community comprised half of the remaining population. Because of Arif’s generosity, many of them sided with him in addition to the non-Muslims. Gunadi could only wait and pray for something to happen to give him an advantage.

 ~    ~    ~    ~

When Arif and Mawar first lay together, hormones played a major role in what they did. Following his nocturnal emission, his father taught him the law of his religion – celibacy until marriage. More pragmatic, Arif’s brother explained how to please a woman and keep her from becoming pregnant. The night Amsapinar made their marriage official, husband and wife discussed when to have a baby. They made the mutual decision to begin that night. Ten months following the destruction of their former lives and the city, Mawar presented Arif with a daughter. A friend who spoke Swahili suggested Azizi, beloved precious treasure. So perfect, they considered nothing else.

During this time, the community and government cleared away the destruction and began re-building. Arif thought to rebuild the hotel as an apartment house. Opening the door to the next room he expanded their living quarters. He could have easily moved into Mr. Alearadi’s more spacious home except that the trauma of the flood still resurrected nightmares bordering on terror attacks. On the third level, they would not be trapped. Amsapinar’s family filled that living space, insisting on paying rent.

Gunadi’s ambitions became stymied to take over his uncle’s position in the mosque. Older men declared him not yet worthy. He did not yet know enough. That sent him to intense study. When Mawar delivered a son sixteen months after Azizi, his knowledge of the Koran put him in position to lead prayers in the Mosque. The district governors decided to replace the old laws with Sharia law. He joined the Jufliwan Islamic police. He now set to take revenge on Arif.

The young man was not unaware of the threat. Laws made on anyone’s interpretation now applied to everyone, Muslim or not. Whipping became common, the oppression stifling. Evening conversations between husband and wife too frequently focused on the problems. Amsapinar lead a moderate voice drown out by more extreme factions.

“This is no longer the home we knew. I think we should leave this place,” Arif said.

“But where will we go?”

“I don’t know, Mawar. I hear that other places are doing the same thing. I don’t know.” The depression in his voice and on his face made him appear much older than eighteen.

As dawn came the morning following this conversation, he went to where his boat sat on the beach. Others had done as he, repairing or building boats from the ruins of their city, to feed their families and others. Helping one another launch the boats, the flotilla set out into the bay. Thickening clouds portend rain, the sea swells increased The jukung easily handled the waves, but the fish went deep, the catch meager to non-existent. This gave Arif time to think.

Palau Whe lie twelve miles north. He heard that it was free of the oppression he now lived under although embracing a similar but milder law. That was enough to turn his thoughts elsewhere. Limited to what others said, he knew nothing of other countries in this part of the world. Schooling had been minimal until the tsunami and then non-existent as he struggled to survive and provide for a growing family. He did not consider himself poor. They had adequate shelter, and food, and a little money from the fish he sold, and Amsapinar’s rent. He and Mawar were happy until recently.

Of course, living this close put the elderly cleric in Arif’s hip pocket to work to more consistently to help him regain his religious beliefs. Not an easy task to accomplish with a person whose heart burned with hate. Re-conversion would take time. Pushing too hard would only exasperate the problem. One of his “official” acts was to rectify Arif and Mawar’s marriage.

Inviting Arif and Mawar along with good friends, Rahmet and Malek and their families to dinner one evening, he sprung the surprise.

“The exchange of the promises was good, but to avoid complications later, we should make your marriage official,” he said. “Rahmet and Malek, as Muslims, you can serve as the two, required witnesses.” He then asked Arif three times if he accepted Mawar in marriage according to the terms of their initial, verbal Nikah or contract.

Arif looked at his wife and smiled, each time answering with a resolute, “Yes.”

He then asked Mawar the same question three times. Each time she answered, “Yes.”

“Then sign this document and the marriage is official.”

A week later, Arif chanced to meet a vacationing teacher from Thailand while seated next to his boat mending the fishnet. He taught school in Ko Phuket 400 kilometers northeast across the ocean in Malaysia. Sailing his fishing boat there would take two or three days given favorable seas and wind. Doable but dangerous if a storm came up. It was that time of the season. Yet, that seemed the nearest place he could find a safe place to raise his family.

Over the next week, the growing threats to his freedom increased the turmoil troubling his mind. Dwelling on this, he cast the net one more time. So far, it had not been a productive day until now. He managed to bring in three good fish that the rebuilt resort would purchase. A good omen considering how things had been going. He cast again. Two more fish, and then five. As it was growing late, he decided to head back. With a freshening breeze, the return would take an hour. A mile from shore, he encountered Rahmat, heading toward him. By his waiving, there must be something important. Their boats pulled alongside.

“Gunadi and some of his goons came looking for you. He says you have profaned the Prophet and you are to be arrested. When he didn’t find you, he took your wife. He says you are not married and are living in violation of Sharia law. Your children are with my family.”

Panic and anger churned a violent storm throughout his body as his paddle dug deep into the water. Rahmat had difficulty keeping up but had to prevent his friend from doing something irrational. His words finally broke through.

“The only reason he arrested Mawar is to force you to come to him. It will do no good to play into his hands. Think of your children. They need you.”

Each fisherman decorated their boat with distinctive designs. Knowing someone would be watching where he normally put to shore, they traded boats. He put in further down the coast while Rahmat came to Arif’s place on the beach. He no sooner anchored the boat than several police officers confronted him.

“Where is the owner of that boat?” The officer, no older than Rahmat, acted tough and rude.

“My boat needed repair and could not go out this morning. Arif caught his needs and returned at noon and loaned me his boat.”

“Where did he go? He was not at his house when I arrested the harlot he lives with.”

Rahmat looked at his name tag. “I am not sure about now, Officer Gunadi. He would take his catch to one of the hotels. He did say something about needing a new net if they gave him enough money.”

“Which hotel?”

“Any of them along the beach.” He pointed in the opposite direction than Arif had rowed.

Several other fishermen came to Rahmat’s side and confirmed the story. A close-knit group, each one owed Arif a favor or two because of his generosity and help following the tsunami. Disgruntled, Gunadi stomped away. Having added his catch to Arif’s, Rahmat sold it to the hotels and restaurants, careful to separate his earnings from what belonged to his friend.

Mawar had been locked in jail pending a court hearing. Attempting to getting her out would play into Gunadi’s hands; however, Arif made friends, many friends, since the disaster. Gunadi waited for Arif to come. He did not anticipate who walked into the room with his commanding officer.

“You arrested a young woman today,” the no-nonsense, superior officer said. The tone of voice shook Gunadi.”

“She is a harlot living with one who denies his faith and refuses to answer the call to prayer. They say they are married, but it is not true,” he answered, eyeing the man standing next to the commander.

“What is your proof they are not married?” Amsapinar asked, his voice resonating in the large room.

“I was there when they first met after the tsunami. There is no record of them being officially joined.”

Amsapinar pulled a piece of paper from beneath his jacket and handed it to the commander. “An arranged marriage, I performed the union myself before the tsunami. This is a copy of the contract.” Then to himself, “May Allah forgive my lying lips.”

“You will release the woman immediately. As for the other charge against her husband, denying his faith is a serious. You will conduct a thorough investigation and produce evidence other than hearsay.” the commander’s brusque order indicated a dislike for Gunadi.

“And credible witnesses,” Amsapinar added.

Returning to an empty home, Mawar began to panic until Lestari, the oldest daughter of a neighbor, appeared.

“The children are with Rahmat.”

Re-united, husband and wife sat to a meal Rahmat’s wife and daughters prepared. Neither could eat. The discussion depressing.

“Gunadi will be like a shark stalking its prey,” Arif said. “He will not be satisfied until I am dead. We must leave.”

“Where will you go?” Rahmat asked.

“I have a little money. Hopefully enough to buy passage to Ko Phuket in Thailand. I know a person there, a teacher I met. He might be able to help.”

“When will you go?”

“We can not wait. It must be tonight. I will go to our place and gather what we need for the trip.” He placed a hand on Rahmat’s shoulder. “You have been a good friend. I give you my boat. It does not leak.” Both had tears in their eyes as they hugged.

Climbing to their third level home, Arif stepped inside, switched on the electric light, and froze. Gunadi sat on the ground by the back patio door, a pistol pointed at him.

“I am a patient man. I knew you would come sooner or later.” He stood slowly. “Put your hands behind your head and go to your knees.”

“Why are you arresting me?”

“I will prove that marriage contract is phony. You and that woman live together but are not married. And, I will have Amsapinar put away as a liar and blasphemer. Perhaps I will charge him with conspiracy and treason for helping you. He interfered and opposed my becoming Imam.”

“Unless you have witnesses, you have no proof of any of those accusations.”

“I can provide witnesses, that is no problem, but your confession will be enough.”

“That you will never have.”

“Oh, you will confess. We have such enjoyable ways to convince even the most stubborn to confess. I have thought on this and waited for retribution to what you did to me. You were born into a Muslim family, yet you deny and do not practice your faith. A mere 100 lashes for apostasy is not enough. ”

Arif did not respond. What Gunadi said rang true. He denied God. He cursed Him and walked away from the faith after the tsunami. He felt justified.

“However, as you showed me this night, you have a formidable friend who could interfere with justice. I will not take that chance.”

“What are you going to do?” Mawar asked, her voice strained.

“Arif will resist arrest and I will reluctantly be forced to shoot him.” He snickered.

“And what of my wife?”

“There can be no witness.”

Arif tensed, preparing to leap forward regardless of the outcome when a voice intervened. “Then you intend to shoot all witnesses?” Rahmat stepped through the door to stand with his friend.

Gunadi faltered for a moment as his mouth turned downward. “If necessary.”

“Then be sure to have enough bullets,” another voice said as Malek, and then a third and fourth man stepped into the room. Friends from Arif’s fishing group. Then an elderly man stepped in.

Though of some age, Amsapinar stood erect, taller than the others at 5-9. He had lost much of his family in the flood, but not the fire to press on, a fire that inspired the people to rebuild their lives. A devout man, he patiently worked with Arif and others who had lost their way to bring them back into the faith. His appearance caused Gunadi’s face to pale. His hand began to shake.

“Put the gun down,” Amsapinar said, his voice deep, commanding.

“No. He spoke blasphemy against the Prophet. The heretic must die!” The whites of his eyes shown like light bulbs with a small, dark spot in each.

“Mati aja lo, Tai anjing .”

Gunadi turned the gun back toward Arif. Focused on Arif he failed to notice Mawar move enough to the right and grasp the handle of a frying pan. His peripheral vision caught it sailing through the air but not in time as it smashed his forearm. The pistol discharge as it was knocked aside and out of his hand. Arif leaped up, planting a front foot into his adversary’s chest throwing Gunadi back. Although winded, he fought back.

His police training might have given him a slight edge, it wasn’t enough to overcome Arif’s rage as it exploded. While he had not practiced kickboxing much since the flood, his mind went to automatic. Deflecting Gunadi’s fist, it grazed his cheek. In return, Arif landed a blow to Gunadi’s right jaw.

“Liar!” He struck again. Gunadi’s eyes glazed. “Murder my wife would you.” A powerful, right kick to the head spun him around. His face slammed into the back wall.

Turning around, blood poured from a broken nose. Arif landed a kick to the gut that bent him double. Another to the head spun him completely around and stagger onto the balcony.

Rahmat took a step forward to stop the bludgeoning. An old, weathered hand lay on his shoulder.

Gunadi began to collapse on the deck. As it did, he struck the railing and flipped over. The silent fall ended with a sickening thud on the cement below. Amsapinar rushed out onto the deck.

Rahmat grabbed his friend’s arm. “Arif! It is done.”

On the walkway below, Gunadi’s body lie on its back in an unnatural position in pooling blood. Amsapinar turned back to stare at Arif, his expression of great sadness.

“It seems the police officer is dead. This is not good.” He took a deep breath. “It is best you leave the country, Arif. Two of you take the body out into the bay, tie a heavyweight to the feet, and bury him. Arif, gather what you need and come with me.”

“Where are we going?”

“To find a boat that will take you away from here never to return. The rest of you, carry God’s justice to your grave.”

Packing clothes and other necessities, Arif and his family loaded into the elderly man’s car and drove eastward along the coast, passed the new hotels. Amsapinar made a phone call while driving. Stopping at a particular pier, they were met by a middle-aged man wearing a long-sleeve Batik shirt. Dark gray with a light gray diamond pattern, it overlay a black sarong. A woven, light brown and gold cap rest on his head, tight curls pushing out below. He cast long stares at the young family as Amsapinar spoke with him. Arif shivered as he held Mawar close.

“Arif, this is my son, Akmed. I told him what happened. He had problems with Gunadi as well. He will take you to Karon. That is in Thailand. Our Australian friend, Susan, is teaching there and will help you get settled. Despite what you believe now, may God continue to protect, guide, and help you prosper in your new life.”

“That you. The hotel is yours. It will make you a wealthy man.”

“At my age, I need blessings, not money. I shall let it continue to do that for those who need a place to live.”

Arif sat on the stern of the large, motorized boat, his family asleep by his feet. The lights of his home slowly grew smaller and then disappeared, like a curtain closing the scene of a play. His mind dwell on all that happened since the tsunami. That had been something he always tried blocking out because of the pain. It would not be shunned this time because of the questions.

If his mother had not arranged the work for him and Kadesh at the hotel, he would have been with his grandmother. The wave struck so suddenly there could be no escape. He would have died with her. If they had not stepped from the storeroom, he would have been trapped like his mother and would have died. If Kadesh had not been a strong swimmer, he would have drowned. If his friend had not seen the timber and put himself in its path, he would have been struck. So many ifs.

Coming upon Mawar at the hands of Gunadi, they would not have met. She would not have become his wife, and he would not have two beautiful children. Then, fishing, something he didn’t like doing. Not one day passed that he return empty thus acquiring money to buy food and those things Mawar needed to make a home and help the poor. And yes, their home. The hotel became his by right of possession.

When Gunadi came to kill him, his friends put their lives on the line to protect him. The sudden appearance of Amsapinar to protect him and then arrange for him and his family to leave the country. He even arranged the start of a new life.

The more he dwell upon all this it seemed that his life had been orchestrated in a neat order perhaps for some future purpose. Now, it became impossible to put away what Amsapinar repeatedly said about God. Arif had put that notion away out of the grief and pain of losing all those he loved. From deep within his breast arose the feeling that he might have been wrong.

The rising of the sun not only begun a new day but like a curtain, it rose to begin the next act of his story. And if God was writing the script, perhaps they should get to know one another.


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