14 February 2012

Short Story : Itchy

By : MAMAT SASMITA                                                  Sundanese Version
Translated from Sundanese into English by Josephine Natania.

When our body feels itch, maybe we wanted to do one of these, made an incision in our skin, skinned with hinis[1], scaled our skin like we did with fish and dried it under the sun on a gantar[2].
I chose to use all my fingers, except the thumbnails, to scratch ankle, buttocks, calf, back, lips, eyes, cheeks, chest, and groin.
If you saw me scratching my body, you could guess that I was dancing Jaipong[3] dance. The body shook; the eyes blinked, glanced, and opened wide; but my dance was also followed by shivering and cold. Ah, I was unwell. I needed to go to the health centre to see a doctor. Mang[4] Jamal said that the doctor there was kind and beautiful. “Don’t neglect your illness. Just go there. The doctor is beautiful and you can see her breasts, her tapered fingers. When she is examining her parents, she still looks sweet.”   
Mang Jamal was my neighbor. He was a good person and sometimes he gave me meals. He often asked, “Have you cooked rice, Jang[5]?” If I answered I had not, he would bring me a plate of rice. I was ashamed for his always doing that for me, as a result I also often replied yes instead of no.
Si Kuya said that my itchiness was caused by stress since I had not got married. Si Kuya was my schoolmate since we were little boys until junior high school students. I did not continue my education after that, while he finished his until college. He was also my neighbor now besides being a childhood playmate.
I called him Si Kuya because when he was an elementary student, he had a little tortoise (tortoise means “kuya” in Sundanese). On the other side, he called me Si Lege, because once I had a beetle (beetle mean “lege” in Sundanese).
I never forgot his kindness to me. Although he had a good position in his job in town now, he still remembered me. When we were junior high school students, I liked to read book or newspaper in his house. That habit continued up to now and he still sent both second books and magazines to me. He said, “Even you didn’t get higher education, your fondness of reading should never stop.”

I decided to go to the health centre to get some medicines from the doctor. There were a lot of sick people there. Well, of course, health centre was the place for the sick. A market was the place of the healthy and strong, a mosque was the place for worship, but it had not been known where the place for the corrupt was.
After being called, I was told to go inside the examination room. It was true that the doctor was beautiful, but her breasts did not widely open! She did not wear cloth with opened part in that area. Mang Jamal lied to me or maybe because she wore uniform, a white long dress, so the breasts were not seen.
I shared the story of my illness. The doctor listened to me while writing down on her note. Then she asked me to lie down in an examination bed. I was rather trembled to be asked to lie down by a beautiful woman. My chest and my skin were examined thoroughly.
“What’s your job?” she asked.
“Herding ducks.”
“Where do you herd them?”
“In the harvested rice field.”
“And when does the exact time that you feel itch?”
“By the time I watch news on TV.”
She looked at me closely. Perhaps she thought that I was joking.  
I explained to her. When I started to feel itch, first my mouth is watery like seeing belimbing wulung[6] and its sourness came into my mouth before I ate it. Then the itches came out here and there as stung by bed bugs or cloth bugs.
My stomach twisted. My skin turned cold and thickened, with each hair skin erected as a needle. My body stiffened like a board. The itches had deeply absorbed within me as sugar and its molasses. Itches were in every skin pores. They formed my body. Itchy were no longer an adjective, but a noun and a verb.
“Just turn off the TV then,” the doctor suggested.
I replied that if she only could give me an advice like that, instead of her long study time, I need not have gone to her. This easy way out was as same as Mang Jamal’s advice, a duck herdsman. As hearing my words, she looked rather angry, but she smiled in the end. Well, she was a friendly doctor, not a sulky one.
“Well, Kang[7], here’s some medicine. This one is vitamin to keep your body healthy and another one should be taken before you go to sleep.”
I was surprised to be called Akang by a beautiful woman. I nodded and received the medicine. This was the difference between Mang Jamal and the doctor, I told to myself.
Mang Jamal could not give medicine, instead he asked me to pound beluntas[8] leaves and rubbed the body with scratched cardamom. I guessed that what he said was only what came into his mind.  
I could say that the effects of the medicine were amazing. My appetite was increasing. I slept heavily and always snored. I also did not have any desire to watch TV. But when the medicine was all taken, the habit of watching TV returned, so did the disturbing itchiness. 
It had almost been three months. I remembered it was all began when there were news on TV about house lizard and crocodile[9]. Later, this itchiness was overflown after there was a case of Century Bank[10].

For the second time, I went to the health centre. Si Kuya and Mang Jamal accompanied me. They supposed that I had serious illness because of during three days I could not herd ducks.
Itchiness was not just felt in my skin, but it traced along to the heart and mind. Itchiness made me floating, swinging, flying between the clouds, landing on the tip of the young leaves. I dropped itchiness on plants through the morning dew. I stuck it over the mud, on the sand, on the water, in the air, on the fire. Sea, lake, river, mountain, forest, they all became itchy.
I was carried up and laid down in the examination bed. I guessed that the doctor was worried about me as it was heard from her voice. She examined me with worry. I also heard Si Kuya explained my condition to her.
I laid down quietly with some random ideas in my mind. A line of fishing rod….rope…cotton sewing for mattress…palm fiber rope…  Then it was warded off by a sudden healthy idea. Yes, it was the medicine for me! I thought about it back and fro.
I got up and with loud voice I said, “Kuya! I found the medicine.” I got down from the bed, began to walk jolty to the doctor’s table. Si Kuya hurriedly clutched me, afraid that I might have fallen down. I had been fasting since three days ago.
Actually, I did not want to fast, I was just being lazy to cook rice. The food stall was quite far from my house and there was no one to be asked for help, so I could not buy some cooked food.
Usually Mang Jamal was ready to accompany me, but at that time he herded ducks in the rice field on the other side of the village. Unless Si Kuya picked him up from his usual favorite place, he could not accompany me right now.
“Pardon me, Doctor. I’m just so happy as to find the medicine.”
“And what’s that?”
“I must become a duck!”
“What?! Lege, are you crazy?” Si Kuya shouted.
“How dare you call me crazy. Kuya, you’d better buy some food at the stall, I’m very hungry. I’ll tell you later about this.”
Si Kuya apologized to the doctor for having disturbed her because I insisted on going home to eat. He still talked with her for a few more minutes, while Mang Jamal carried me away. Then when we were walking home, Si Kuya told me that the doctor asked why I was not taken care by my own family. He replied that it was because I had no family anymore since my parents died when I was a first grader in senior high school.

I came to the health centre for the third time. This time was not for taking some medicines, but for giving my wedding invitation to the doctor.
“Congratulations. Who is she?”
“Ah, she’s just a friend of mine in the village. She’s a daughter of DPR[11] (Dagang Peuyeum Ripuh = it’s so hard to sell peuyeum[12]). She comes from the same class as mine, a duck herdsman and a daughter of peuyeum seller.”
“And how about the itchy medicine that you found?”
“I must become a duck, that’s all. I have to follow Lord’s will too… and it’s enough to watch Sule[13]’s jokes on TV.”    

[1]Fiber of the outer bark of the bamboo
[2] Long thin straight bamboo sticks with forked branch in the end
[3] A traditional dance of West Java, Indonesia
[4] A term of address to men of an older generation in general
[5] A term of address to a lad
[6] Averhoa bilimbi L.
[7] The abbreviation of Akang. A friendly/intimate term of address for an older brother, also used by a wife to her husband
[8] Pluchea indica L.
[9] A confrontation between two law enforcement institution, KPK (Komisi Pemberantasan Korupsi = Corruption Eradication Committee), which was personified as the “house lizard” and the police authorities which were personified as the “crocodile”
[10] The bail-out case of Century Bank, an unhealthy bank in Indonesia. It had no feasibility to receive aid by the government, but it still did.
[11] DPR is actually the Indonesian legislative assembly. It stands for “Dewan Perwakilan Rakyat”. But in this story, the abbreviation of DPR was made as an allusion for the legislative members
[12] A kind of delicacy fermented cassava
[13] A popular Indonesian comedian

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