21 January 2012


By : MAMAT SASMITA                                                                 Sundanese Version
Translated from Sundanese into English by Josephine Natania.
In the early hours of a day, when the world was still in silence, the train station could not miss the rumbling sounds of passing trains. Goods trains often passed in the time like this since the dusk fell few hours ago, but they rarely stopped at the station.
            Nevertheless, this was not a disturbance for Eulis and Ma[1] Inung. They slept peacefully besides the railway. Used cardboards were stood up against the station wall to prevent the wind blowing in, but the night wind still could be felt through the crack between the wall and the boards. This made Ma Inung coiled deeper and cuddled Eulis firmly.
            Eulis was sleeping when a goods train passed. She was woken up and blinked her eyes. Then she raised her body and stared outside from the crack. Her eyes caught some shiny lights hopping around. They looked like scattered away everywhere because of the train’s heavy blow.
            She became curious. Her fingers strongly held Ma Inung’s blanket.
            “MaMa…” She shook Ma Inung. The old woman finally woke up.
            “What happened?” She was sure in her heart that there was a police patrol.
            “But, it’s not their regular time,” she thought, having not heard the adzan[2] call.
            It was not unusual for Ma Inung to get caught while the police was patrolling. She would just get up from her sleep and obey the order. If she had a nice proper place to sleep, she certainly would not have to take a rest in that poor place.
            “Over there!” Eulis pointed out. She infected Ma Inung with her curiosity. Ma Inung slid the boards to see what made Eulis so interested. Afar from there, a patrol police in deep blue uniform with belt and golden tassel stood guarding. He brought a lance with him.
            If it was not a police, then what?
Her eyes roamed the station. Moments later, she was flabbergasted, seeing a bunch of lights under the waiting room bench. The lights were like twinkling stars in the sky, spreading beautiful green, ivory, gold, and silver sparkles.       
Ma Inung was confused. Her mind told her to be stern, but inside her heart she was afraid too. The lights could be gold or diamonds which fell down from passenger train last evening. She asked for God’s forgiveness several times while trying to strengthen her heart. She forced herself to move though she was still sleepy.
“Eulis, let’s take a look!”
This invitation was greeted by the young girl’s convulsive grab.
They observed the lights coming under the bench.
“Were they fireflies?” asked Eulis.
“No,” replied Ma Inung.
 “Hmmmm…maybe gold?”
“……I don’t know.”
“Or diamonds?”
“No idea.”
Along with the last answer given, Ma Inung tried to take one to know what that really was. But when it was almost in her palm, it swiftly flew. Well, it looked like catching a fly or taming a pigeon. The light shook slowly, blew by the wind, moved to another place and sparkled again.
Ma Inung pondered a while. Maybe they did not belong to her as it could not get caught. Surely blessings would not go anywhere.
Ma, I got it!” Eulis’s voice sounded excited.
“Put it on plastic bag!”   

Ma Inung followed Eulis who was fussing around while catching the other lights. Eulis looked extremely happy to pick them up. Ma Inung also clasped the plastic bag, which was usually used for storing chips, so that it would not loose.

Eulis collected all the lights until she reached Kebon Kawung street. Beyond their expectation, the street glowed with the lights too! There were much more towards the east, gathering around like ants on sugar.
Her hands had been filled up so she came closer to Ma Inung.
Ma, the bag, please.”
“Wait. Carry with your skirt first.”
Ma Inung walked with fast paces to the east. She determined to scoop the lights. Maybe it was easier to get one or two if they were in group. She kicked and stepped down anywhere. 
Ah! Got one!
When she admired the light… Bump! Her forehead knocked against a wall.
She lifted up her head while rubbing the pain. Her eyed fixed unto the big wall.
The wall was pure white with sharp iron tip on top of it. In each three meter, there were lamps which were still turned on. The wall looked like covered by millions of fireflies. How satisfied it would be to scoop them all with a sieve, a net, or maybe a half part of coconut shell!
Ma Inung saw that near an arc in the east part, there were many more lights, mixed with the rays of the rising sun. She shook her head. It was unbelievable! She could not count how many times had she asked for God’s forgiveness.
Eulis then came to her. She grabbed the plastic bag and poured out all the lights she managed to catch.
“There were many more over there!” She pointed.
Ma Inung nodded with agreement.

Ma Inung slowly walked towards the arc. Her hand traced the wall’s surface. Eulis was in front of her, walking with quick steps. They were at a building’s yard now.
A military guard was seen being sleepy on his post. His head nodded forward several times. He wore the same uniform as the station police’s. Dark blue uniform with golden tassel, complete with a belt and a lance. “Internal Security Guard” was written on the belt. The sharp protruding point of the lace headed above. Ma Inung fixed her eyes on his and then slowly moved on.

An enormous building stood before their eyes. The size of the pillars was amazing! It was like a coconut tree or waist of a pregnant woman or stomach of a buffalo.
In the terrace, the lamps shone brightly. The floor glittered. Every door handle was gold in color.
“What building is this?” Eulis asked.
“I don’t know.”

A little while later, Eulis exclaimed with happiness looking at a beautiful garden in front of the building. She jumped towards it and found herself being surrounded by meticulously planted flowers. The buds blossomed well, a sign that they were taken with very good care. She felt as if she had been a princess who was playing in the royal garden. The flowers and the lights both shone beautifully. She never saw such a magnificent view in her life before and now she barely held herself to kiss the flowers and play with the floating lights.
Ma Inung stared at this little princess.
“How pity you are, my child.” She spoke in her heart, remembering Eulis’s parents whose presence unknown.

It seemed that the military guard heard the noise came out of the garden. His eyes were heavy to open. He slowly got up and grasped the lance.
“Who’s that?” The voice sounded hoarse.
No answer. Silent.
Ma Inung felt her body trembled, afraid of having secretly entered a yard.
The sound of the stripped black and white shoes stepping the ground was heard. A big tall figure appeared. He played the lance. Ma Inung shuddered and Eulis was still as quiet as a mouse.
They were seized and brought to a guard post, feeling like a buffalo which was pulled by a rope through its nose. Afterwards, there came an interrogation. The questions were given with rapid speed one after another. Name, place of origin, age, job, address, and identity card. Ma Inung’s status of being a widow also did not lose their attention. The main question was certainly, why were they so bold to enter the yard?
Ma Inung answered all questions with total frankness. She was Inung from Selaawi village, a 60-year-old widow with no job. She stayed inside card boards next to railways in the train station. Never studied at school, only at pesantren[3]. No identity card. Eulis was the next person she explained. This 8-year-old girl was her granddaughter. She only schooled till grade two because her grandma did not have any money. While her parents worked in a faraway place, in Saudi Arabia. They sold their house and a small block of their rice field to go there. They left Eulis in the guidance of her grandma. Sadly, it had been two years since they left but no money ever sent from there.
If she had not been a beggar, what would have they eaten? She had no money for buying rice since the price became more expensive. That was the reason why they entered the garden in order to catch lights.
Ma Inung apologized for their mistake and hoped that the guard would be kind enough to forgive them.
Nini[4], don’t go anywhere! Just stay here lest this be a trouble. I still had things to do. There would be many guests to attend coffee morning today,” ordered the guard and went out as hearing his friend called him.
“Ready, commandant!” shouted the guards outside altogether.

Meanwhile, Ma Inung and Eulis hid themselves on the corner. They just waited, spoke a little, and held the plastic bag firmly. The guard asked them to keep the bag as a proof.
Short time later, a shiny fine red car strolled down.
Eulis glanced from a window then whispered,” Ma… there were lights on the car wheels.” Ma Inung quickly looked out. That was true! The passengers got out of the car and the lights shivered down from their body and clothes too!
She threw a sidelong glance to the terrace. A man was sweeping out the lights. She got more confused. This was too obscured to her. Why did those precious lights seem valueless here? They were wasted, swept away, ran over by car, and thrown away from body and clothes?
She uttered no words, kept her mouth closed, and just stroked Eulis’s head.
There were many more cars to come when the day grew brighter. The lights on the car wheels were more subdued by the shining sun.

After the coffee morning ended and all the guests went back home, the guard went back to his post.
Nini, where’s the plastic bag?”
“Here it is.” Ma Inung handed the bag which was believed containing priceless lights.
 He opened and examined it carefully.

A minute later…
“Why, you lied, did you? There’s nothing special in it. They’re just torn pieces of newspaper. They’re all small pieces; you even can’t do anything with it.” He handed back the bag.
Ma Inung was bewildered. She opened the bag and found torn newspaper pieces, as small as a child’s little finger.
She was so ashamed as to become speechless. The hope that she set high washed away. She thought that the lights came from gold, diamonds, or something else valuable and could be used for affording their daily needs.
Adén[5],… it’s true that I took lights at dawn and put them in this plastic bag. They glittered everywhere, in the garden, on the street, in that terrace, even on the wheels of the cars that came this morning.” She tried to convince him while taking a piece of torn newspaper for him to see.
He examined it once again. His eyes caught some words written on it.
“Honesty, justice, duty, wisdom, vow, promise”
It made him absorbed in deep thought.
At last he spoke,” Nini, listen. About this lights matter, it’s up to you. But what’s important is that you must never enter this building again, though it’s only passing through the arc, understand?”
Ma Inung replied, “I’m so sorry, Adén. It wouldn’t happen again. But, may I know what building is this?”
“This is Gedong Pakuan[6]. The king lives here. The guests coming this morning were rich people from government offices who rule this capital city. They came to have a coffee with the king while discussing about the people. Now, Nini, bring back the bag. It’s just garbage here.”  

[1] Mother (as an address by children)
[2] Morning salat time for Moslem
[3] A kind of school where the students are mostly taught about Islam religion
[4] Grandmother (also as a term of address to an old woman in general)
[5] A friendly term of address for boys or young men
[6] The office and residence of the governor of West Java province

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