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The Loud and The Quiet

(This is the translated work of my Indonesian short story “Yang Lantang dan Yang Diam” – the source: https://ugc.production.linktr.ee/40ad6f8a-bca9-4641-a768-797d1a14ff67_-Vol.37FEB2024.pdf )

By Ruby AstariPublished 3 months ago 5 min read
The Loud and The Quiet
Photo by Julien L on Unsplash

I don’t understand these people in this housing complex. When I first moved here with Mom, I figured they’d be just as ordinary. Friendly, the kind to exchange greetings and news with each other.

Then, when I started interacting with them more, there was this nagging feeling inside. Don’t get me wrong. It turned out that, each time I listened to their conversations, I felt far from comfortable. I don’t know why they just loved commenting on other people’s affairs which they found normal to do, but those affairs were actually other people’s personal business.

“Eh, Little Dinar. How are you? Have you gained weight?” (What an annoying small talk, especially since the last time we met was just a few days ago, not by years.)

“Did you see Adam yesterday? He was out with that guy again. No wonder he has no girlfriend. What if ... eww, what a shame. He’s so handsome!”

“Jeng Bina, when is your eldest daughter getting married? She’s been outrun by her younger sisters. She’s basically an old maid now. Is she too picky with men or what?”

Ugh. I couldn’t believe what I was hearing. It was almost 2024, but there were still too many Indonesians like this prowling around. Both men and women among them are the same. Sniding, gossiping, competing over petty things, and faking friendliness yet they were bitching about each other in secret.

“Let it go, Din,” Mom talked me out of it every time I vented about our neighbours’ attitude toward each other. “This is what being neighbours in Indonesia is like. There are many characters. Just take them lightly, not personally."

Aw, Ma. She was never the type to cause trouble and would prefer keeping the peace with as many people as possible. Her intention was admirable. However, there were times when we ought to call them out when they went overboard, instead of keeping quiet. They would feel it was okay to cross your boundaries and they’d do it again without feeling any guilt.

Speaking of gossiping and calling each other out, here is another thing which had irked me about them:

There was one family living about three houses from mine. They consisted of a father, a mother, and their four little children. If I remembered correctly, the eldest child was in the fifth grade.

It wasn’t the first or second time I passed their house and heard a loud argument. The two adults at home were clearly yelling at each other, sometimes with curse words and a slap. More often I heard the mother or the children cried.

“Sssh, leave it,” Ibu Eva, one of the elderly neighbours, once told me as I stared at the house too long – listening to the fights inside. “They’ll probably be okay tomorrow. It’s their domestic affairs. It’s none of our concern.”

Really? I’d had a bad feeling about it.

-***-

More than once I noticed the oddities in that small family with their four children. First, they rarely interacted with the neighbours around them. The mother rarely went out. Once she did, it was usually to take her kids to school or shop for groceries. I didn’t know what her husband did. I noticed that he’d been mostly at home too.

I’d tried approaching that woman once at the market as we ran into each other. As I was about to introduce myself, she smiled nervously at me before hurrying off. I saw a terrible bump on her arm, slightly covered by the sleeve of her oversized blouse.

Damn, domestic violence ...

I sometimes saw their eldest child walk to the small shop near their home. I once caught him looking confused when he wanted to buy some snacks. Awkwardly, the small little boy checked the pocket of his shorts. I greeted him with a smile, “What is it, kiddo?”

The boy looked at me for a while before looking down with embarrassment. Mpok Hani blurted out, “He’s 2000 rupiahs short.”

“Ohh.” I took out a 2000-rupiah-bill from inside my wallet. “Here you go, kid. It’s okay.”

To my surprise, the boy looked scared and he shook his head. “Hmm ... it’s okay, Ma’am. No need to,” he stammered. He quickly grabbed some of the snacks he’d bought, leaving a chocolate bar on the counter. “Thanks, Ma’am. I’ll leave the chocolate here.”

“Kid ... “

Too late. The boy had already run far away back to his house. I stared after him for a while, before exchanging glances with Mpok Hani. The small shop owner only shrugged, equally confused as I was.

-***-

I had grown more irritated with my petty yet cowardly neighbours. Whenever they spotted one’s shortcomings – despite being irrelevant and it was none of their business, they somehow felt the need to comment.

“Little Dinar, don’t come home late at night alone too often. It’s not a good thing for young women. You’d better fetch yourself a husband, so you no longer need to work.”

“See? It turned out Adam was like that. Eww ... what an embarrassment to his parents ... “

“Jeng Bina, was it her boyfriend who drove your eldest daughter home that night? He looks so old he could be her uncle ... “

However, when it comes to domestic violence which was happening to Pandu’s family (I’d just learned the abusive husband’s name), they chose to steer clear. If they didn’t eavesdrop, they’d see Pandu once dragging his wife roughly in public. Bu Eva claimed that when the Head District tried to interfere, Pandu yelled at him:

“You stay out of this! This is between me and my family!”

So it was true, nobody dared interfere. They’d even stopped me from knocking on the front door of Pandu’s family home, when I heard the familiar screams and slaps and the children cry again.

“Leave it, Little Dinar. Let them be.”

“But ... “

“It’s none of our business.”

-***-

Until one day, what I’d feared happened ...

The police were parking in front of Pandu’s family home. They were setting the police line, the yellow line that I often see on crime news and films about police. The neighbours were gathering outside, noisily talking to each other. I looked at that house, my heart pounding.

My knees went weak as soon as I saw the police coming out of the house with five body bags. Pandu, looking rather wasted or high, was cuffed and dragged outside. The front of his shirt was soaked with blood.

“Pandu was butchering his own family ... “

“ ... the devil of a man ... “

“Poor kids ... “

“SHUT UP!” I suddenly screamed. All eyes were on me now, who was glaring back angrily at them. “DON’T PRETEND YOU’RE SORRY FOR THEM! WHY DID YOU STAY QUIET THE LAST TIME?!”

Nobody dared answer me. I didn’t need their answers. I just turned around and ran back into my house. My tears blurred my vision. It seemed that I would never be able to forget the faces of the mother and her four children ... especially the eldest one ...

The end.

family

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    RAWritten by Ruby Astari

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