(Originally published in issue 26 of the Asia Literary Review. This is a revised expanded version, excerpted from the novel From Now On Everything Will Be Different.)

 

THIS time she breaks into his world with her half-page profile in a Sunday newspaper on a page dedicated to emerging artists.

It was several weeks after the corrupt president had stepped down, and the first time Rizky had heard from Julita since they had graduated from high school four years earlier in 1994. Her photographs of the massive demonstrations and surrounding events punctuated the article: a protester ripping his shirt and baring his tattoo-covered chest before lines of riot police, a writer handing out photocopies of his banned book, five women covering their faces with the sign ‘Do Not Rape, Native Indonesian Muslim’, a student throwing paper airplanes from the top of the parliament building.

Rizky peered at each portrait—faces momentarily stopping whatever they were doing to beam their souls at the camera. How was it possible that these people, who a few months before would have censored their own children’s school reports for fear of drawing attention to themselves, now proudly showed themselves in these photographs? Where had they, after three decades of silence and obedience and fear, suddenly found the courage to protest? These people were so used to submitting to fate. How had they decided that they could break the course of History? The protests impressed him profoundly as the first confirmation that one could indeed bring about change. He would never forget how, along with the sound of thousands of students marching, he had heard God lovingly whisper in his ear, ‘You too can change your life’s course.’

He rifled through his room for his high school yearbook, looked up Julita’s home number, and got her cell number from her parents.

“Hello?” She sounded freshly torn from sleep.

“Hey, it’s Rizky.”

“Who?”

“Riz-ky. From high school. I came to your house when you were suspended.”

He could hear her suspicion through the silence.

“What do you want?”

“I saw the article. I knew it, Juli, I’ve always known you could make it.”

“Oh my God, it comes out today.”

“Where do you live? Let’s meet up. Please.”

When Rizky saw a woman arriving on a motorbike-taxi, wearing a laced long-sleeved dress with a plunging neckline, he didn’t think that it was Julita. Even when she liberated her head from her helmet, he almost didn’t recognize her. She looked taller and more feminine in her short dress and high heels. Her hair fell in neat long layers around her face.

She had picked the place—one of those trendy, roadside tent cafés that celebrities were opening at the time. They said the cafés were aimed at providing work for the people who had lost their job in the crisis. This one was furnished with recycled objects, and the tabletops were covered with funny, politically conscious, mural-style paintings. It was the most creative café around, Julita had said on the phone, and she was happy it had survived the riots unscathed, even though the owner was of Chinese descent.

Her wide eyes immediately found Rizky, sitting near the wooden cart that functioned as the café’s counter, and she glided towards him without breaking eye contact, carrying her camera bag on one hand and her helmet on the other.

 

THE first day he noticed her was Kartini Day, 21st April 1993. As customary, girls came to school heavily made up in traditional dresses, but Julita felt that Kartini, the women’s emancipation figure, would feel more honored if on that day girls were allowed to express what they wanted to be when they grew up. That day Julita wore a paint-smeared dress, a beret, a paintbrush tucked behind one ear, and a camera slung around her neck. Girls sneered, boys whistled, and teachers were furious. Rizky was intrigued.

As he and the rest of the school’s band of bad boys had been caught smoking on the school’s backyard, they found themselves in the principal’s office with Julita. She was the only female.

They were lectured and then sent home. By the gate Julita asked one of the boys to take her picture, and soon they were striking silly, irreverent poses together.

From that day on the boys were friendly to her. In the mornings she let them copy her homework, and after school they invited her to watch their band rehearse. Before long she became the band’s unofficial photographer and the only girl who could hang out with them without becoming anyone’s girlfriend.

Until the day, near the end of their third and final year of high school, she plastered the school’s bulletin wall with her collection Human Delinquency: a teacher smacking a student with a shoe, a teenage couple kissing while a friend was pulling the boy away to join scores of high school students clashing behind them, toddler-toting parents smoking as they lined up to buy lottery tickets, a banknote bearing the face of Soeharto—the country’s corrupt president—stuck on a dartboard.

The school tore down her photos, summoned her parents, and suspended her. The boys also got into trouble because there were photos of them drinking beer and watching porn. Their leader approached Julita, his fist stopped an inch away from her nose. “Too bad you’re a girl,” he said.

Rizky went to her house one afternoon during her suspension. When he arrived she had just finished painting a trickling blood pattern on her bedroom walls. Spotting him through the window, she was startled, but he quickly told her that he only wanted to talk. They ended up sitting on her front porch munching fried tofu.

“I’m really sorry I got you into trouble, Riz. It was so stupid of me. I was so proud of my work. I thought the photos would show everyone that we all had our vices. Did Frog threaten to expel you as well?” Frog was what they called their school principal.

“The boys and I, we told Frog that it was the only time we ever tried alcohol and stuff. They can’t prove otherwise. We told them we were really sorry, and they gave us bullshit chores to do after class for a month. It’ll cut into band rehearsal time, but whatever.” His mouth was greasy and fiery because of the green chilies inside the tofu. “My mother was crying and crying like it’s the end of the world. So I told her I’d go to Quran Camp over the holiday, so she’d believe that I was really sorry. That got her to stop, except now I’ll have to spend two weeks in a goddamn—” He growled.

“My mom tried to defend me. She said Mr. Dewo did hit a student with a shoe. I wouldn’t be able to take a picture of him doing it if he didn’t.”

“What did Frog say?”

“He said he had given sanctions to Mr. Dewo. He considered the matter closed, and bringing it back up would only tarnish the school’s reputation. Frog said I should be glad that the school took down my photos before too many people saw them. He said I could really get into trouble because of the Soeharto picture. My dad agreed and thanked him.”

“You’re coming back to school, right?”

“Frog suggested that he would expel me, unless my dad would consider ‘making a contribution to the school’.” She brushed her right index finger against her thumb. “So he did. He told me it cost him three-month salary.”

“Holy shit.”

“Yeah. Don’t tell anyone, though.”

“Why don’t you just transfer to another school?”

“My dad doesn’t want our relatives to hear that their daughter is expelled. He has this image of what a family should look like. Besides, I’ll get perfect scores at final exams. If I could do it in junior high, I can do it again. Then the teachers will have to give me awards in front of everyone. You wait and see.”

He offered her more tofu, but she passed. He offered to go buy some coconut water. He wanted to offer her everything. She said she was fine.

“Is that what you want to be, a photographer?”

“It’s an expensive hobby, photography, but I like that it makes me focus. I think I see so much more through the camera than without it. Once I took photos at my cousin’s birthday and I noticed that his mom always pulled away whenever her husband was trying to touch her. A month later, my mom told me that my cousin’s dad had taken a second wife.”

“That’s amazing. About your noticing it, I mean, not about the second wife.”

“Thanks. What about you?” She studied him with her owlish eyes, but when he met her gaze she quickly looked away.

“My parents want me to go to med school. Being a doctor, that’s my mother’s biggest dream. Her father died when she was fifteen, and she had to work to help send her brothers to college. So she did the next best thing: she married a doctor. My father came from a long line of doctors.”

Rizky was surprised that he could open up to a girl—this girl—who was very far from his type. He usually liked feminine girls with long legs and light skin. Julita was of medium height, but her legs looked as if she played football, her skin was the color of burnt caramel, and, except on Kartini Day, Rizky had never seen her in anything but baggy white-and-gray school uniform and, at that moment, a T-shirt and shorts with drips of red paint all over them. She seemed to take good care of her hair, though, he noticed, she had thick, lustrous blue-black hair, even if she always combed it forwards, covering half her face.

“But what do you like to do?”

Rizky was taken aback. No one had ever asked him that before. “I don’t know. I guess I like making up stories. I’m in the drama club and I’ve been trying to write lyrics for the band.”

“Oh my God, the band…” She jabbed her nails into her shoulders and scratched down her arms. “Oh God… How could I be so stupid? Do you think the boys could forgive me?”

“Well, they want to know why there isn’t any photo of you doing any shit.”

“A girl taking pictures in a bar and during a street fight? That’s my vice. That’s why my grades have fallen since last year. Now instead of memorizing lessons I’m out on the streets hunting for pictures.”

“You see, though, why the boys think it’s a little—what’s the word they use—hypocritical of you?”

“Is that what they’re saying about me? Please, Riz, you have to tell them I’m so sorry.”

But Rizky never even told them that he had gone to see Julita. He was sure they would label him a traitor if he did. When Julita passed them in school, they called her a bitch or a backstabber, and one morning they waited for her by the school gate, jammed side by side to form a fence of leering, spitting monsters. They blocked her way and shoved her back when she tried to pass, even grabbing at her breasts. Rizky stood on the farthest end of the line watching everything. The first time it happened, she caught his eyes to ask for help, but he just looked down. The second time, she looked at him with anger and then stopped looking at him at all.

Still, he watched her from a distance. From time to time he tried to communicate with her through his actions. After one of her photos was chosen as Photo of the Month by Fotomedia magazine, he enrolled in the Jakarta High School Theater Festival and won second prize. When a state official’s arrogant son called her a slut, he scratched the boy’s car with a rusty nail. Julita graduated with perfect scores on Mathematics and English final exams, and Rizky on Indonesian and Chemistry. The teachers handed them trophies in front of the entire school.

“Congratulations, Juli,” he whispered to her as they were stepping down from the stage after receiving their awards and diplomas, “you did it.”

She didn’t even reply. After the stage was cleared, Rizky and his band climbed back up and began playing their song. Graduates cheered and jumped and banged heads. From behind the microphone he watched Julita walk right out of the gate.

 

DRIVING to the cafe Rizky doubted Julita had forgiven him, but when he saw her walking in, he thought she had wanted to impress him. He himself showed up in a pressed metallic red shirt, his short curls were neatly gelled.

They shook hands. She sat down and put her camera bag on the old trunk that served as a table.

“You were the first to congratulate me,” she said.

“I always knew you could make it, Juli. You’ve proven that people like us could make it in this world.”

“Are you still friends with the boys from high school?”

“No,” he lied.

“So what did you mean by ‘us’?”

He looked around for inspiration. “I just meant people like you and me, ‘troublemaker kids’ or whatever.”

She reached inside her bag and fanned several photos across the table. “What do you think?” She leaned forwards.

He knew if he looked down he could see inside her dress. He took the invitation. “I like them.”

“Why?”

“You took pictures of individuals. Other photographers showed burning buildings, the marching army, the students in masses—their photos looked like stills from an epic film. You showed the people behind it all, you made it clear that this was more than about toppling a corrupt government, this was about us coming out of hiding, this was our chance to take control of our lives.”

“That’s exactly my intention,” said Julita. “What I did was, whereas other photographers ran to the scene, I waited, and when I saw someone that looked extraordinary I approached them and asked their name and why they came to the protest. In the beginning people covered their faces and refused to tell me anything, but as the demonstrations got bigger, as the newspapers stopped blurring the words on the posters, they were opening up. They even asked me to take their pictures. They told me their whole stories.” She flipped some of the photos to show a written account of the person’s story. “Right then I knew, a real change was coming.”

“Do you notice that before all this people simply allowed things that have been going on for a long time, even the things that they knew were wrong, like hazing first-year students?” asked Rizky. “They said it was tradition or it was just the way, but now it’s like everyone has been given the license to think differently. It’s an exciting time to be alive, isn’t it?”

Julia nodded. “So, do you wanna see more?”

“Do you wanna show me more?”

She swept her pictures off the table and put them back in her bag. She picked it up, but only to move it to a chair next to her. “Maybe later. What about you? What have you been busy with?”

Rizky pretended his back was sore and was straightening up. He was curious to see where the game would take them. “Preparing for graduation, of course. I’m done with exams—my GPA is almost perfect—but there’s a ton of university stuff. It’s my fault for taking the job as class president.”

“Wow, you must have a lot of responsibilities.”

“When you took photos on my campus, you must’ve seen our new banner spanning the main gate. It used to say Campus for the New Order’s Struggle, but we ripped it and put up a new one: Campus for the People’s Struggle.”

“Too bad I missed it. But you were there then?”

“Of course. We also built a stage on the front yard. We held open-mike events and performed one-act plays. That was my idea. I even wrote and performed a monologue.”

“That’s impressive. Recite a little for me.”

Their exuberance swelled as they discussed how from then on people could voice their views however controversial, artists no longer had to fear censorship or persecution, and previously forbidden subject matters could now be explored to the full. Just when it was their time to enter the real world, a gate of new opportunities had been kicked open before them. “I feel as if God Himself has opened the way for us,” Rizky said, “He wants us to do great things with our lives.” Julita said she wanted to exhibit her photos in a gallery and publish them as a book and apply for a grant to take pictures all over the world. Anything seemed possible. She was excited, he was excited, and it all seemed amplified a thousand fold by the excitement of the time.

When it started to rain he offered to drive her home. He let her fidget with her cell phone before she finally agreed, saying she couldn’t go with her regular motorbike-taxi because of the rain and she was uncomfortable taking taxis because of the recent string of robberies in taxis.

In the car his cell phone kept beeping with incoming text messages.

“Still Mr. Popular, huh?” Julita said.

He tossed her his phone. “Reply for me, will you? I’m out of excuses.”

Julita saw messages from Puti, Vera, Ratna, and others. One of them wrote: ‘It’s really cold out, I could use some warming up. Interested?’

“How about you, Juli? Any boyfriend?”

“Me? Boyfriend?” She scoffed. “But if you mean the occasional man…”

Rizky burst out laughing. “I knew it.”

“You knew what?”

“That you would. Do it.”

“How did you know?”

“You just seemed that kind of girl.”

“The slutty kind?”

“No! The kind that—I don’t know—doesn’t measure her value by… I’m sorry, I didn’t mean—”

“Relax, I’m just teasing.”

“Was it a hard decision, though?”

“You mean the first time?”

This time he felt stupid. “I didn’t mean to pry—I just—this girl I knew, she said she wanted to die afterwards.”

“Maybe I did feel a little sinful,” she said, “but I wanted to do it. I was so angry at the time, I wanted to sever all ties to this society. I wanted to do something from which there would be no return, so I thought that was what I had to do.” She became quiet for a while, as if looking into herself. “I felt a bit disoriented afterwards, as if I was alone in a small boat floating in strange waters…” She shook her head. “But I wanted to do it, so…”

His discomfort went away. Outside the rain was pouring so densely that the whole world seemed to be melting, and he felt snug inside the car with her, protected from the torrents outside.

“That girl I mentioned, she was my first. I was so drunk when it happened and afterwards I just lay there staring at the ceiling. She’d already dozed off. Everything I’d been taught in life told me that what I did was wrong. When she woke up, she saw me staring into space like an idiot, and then like a bigger idiot I told her that it was my first time. She said she couldn’t tell that I was a first-timer, so that cheered me up a bit. She then told me about her own first time, how she thought she’d ruined her chances of marriage and family, and she couldn’t get out of bed for a week. Then one morning she woke up and realized she didn’t have to follow other people’s rules anymore, she could find people who would accept her for who she was. And then she got dressed and said goodbye. I never saw her again, but no one had better tell me our encounter was meaningless.”

“I said thank you to the guy after my first time,” said Julita.

“You what? You’re insane! Did he ask, ‘Thanks for what?’ Then what would you have said?”

As they approached her building, Rizky wondered if she was going to invite him in. But she simply thanked him and ran inside clutching her camera bag to her chest. He realized he was disappointed. Then he saw her helmet wobbling on the back seat like a laughing head.

Shaking his head, he drove off.

 

THE day after their meeting Rizky ignored Julita’s call twice and then picked up on the third time. He promised to meet her at the National Gallery and bring her helmet. Before hanging up he mustered the courage to say, “By the way, do you know some theater people that you can introduce me to? It’s not a big deal or anything, but I really miss acting. I haven’t done it since med school, but performing that monologue made me think I wanna try it again.”

“I’m going to a birthday party next weekend for an actor friend of mine from art school. Why don’t you come with me?”

When Rizky and Julita arrived, a burly man with shoulder-length hair wearing a leather jacket separated himself from a circle of smokers in front of the house and opened the taxi door. Julita emerged and pecked him on both cheeks. “Happy birthday.”

He spotted Rizky and said to her, “New guy?”

“Hush! This is my friend Rizky. He won first prize for lead actor at Jakarta High School Theater Festival in ’94.”

“Really?” The birthday boy seemed impressed. “Are you with any group? Come, I’ll introduce you.”

Rizky decided not to say that he only won second prize. He followed the birthday boy to the smokers’ circle. From the fence Julita sent him a wink before disappearing inside.

While smoking a clove cigarette, Rizky told the actors that he’d been going to see their performance for years and he’d admired how their group was always clever enough to poke fun at those in power and get away with it. The actors asked him what new plays he wanted them to mount, now that they could perform whatever they want—perhaps something about the ’65 mass murders or a rendition of one of the banned Pramoedya novels? Rizky knew little about either, but he said yes, he’d go see those plays.

After Rizky went inside, he met the director of the group, a portly man in his fifties with eyes sharply piercing through his thick glasses. While drinking pletok beer, he told Rizky that the most important requirement to join their group was the commitment to read a play or a book every week.

“I already do that,” said Rizky, “I’ve been doing that for years.”

“Then you should join us,” said the director. He gave Rizky his card and left.

Rizky was so happy that he bounced out to the backyard. There a band was playing a dangdut cover to a crowd of around thirty—they were shaking their hips and punching to the melody as it looped around them. A purple-haired girl approached him. Rizky flirted with her while stealing glances at Julita, who was dancing with the birthday boy and stealing glances at Rizky too.

How sexy she looked, wearing nothing but elbow-length gloves and a long piece of white cloth, which she wrapped and pinned around her body, like a mummy-wrapping, to form a dress with the end of the cloth flowing over her bare shoulder. She had spray-painted the demands of the students on her dress: eradicate corruption, kick the military out of politics, clean up the judicial system.

Later in the night Rizky sat on the grass thinking of the hours he had spent studying for university entrance exam, campaigning for class presidency, organizing activities for his fellow students almost entirely by himself, and after all that not once did Mother say, ‘That’s great, Riz. I’m proud of you.’

‘Enough,’ he thought. ‘From now on I will do what I want with my life.’

On the taxi ride home, with alcohol sloshing about in his veins, Rizky asked Julita if he could see her place.

“Sure.”

It was three in the morning when they arrived, but a group of neighborhood men were still watching a live World Cup match on a fourteen-inch screen in the guard’s post, cheering and sighing with the players’ every move.

Julita led Rizky through the dim motel-like corridor of the house, passing a communal kitchen that smelled of salted fish, and then up the stairs. He noticed a mix of women’s and men’s shoes in front of several doors—he knew that she had to live in a co-ed, ‘liberal’ building, which had no curfew and where residents were allowed to bring overnight guests.

When they reached her room, she turned on the lights and sat on the bed. He followed her in and was transfixed by the images covering every inch of her walls: reproductions of photographs or paintings, postcards, magazine covers, advertisements. As he walked around the room he recognized reproductions of Affandi’s self-portraits with the sun, a painting of twin women with exposed hearts held together by a bleeding vein, pictures of a blond woman as different characters in black-and-white film stills… Above the table beside the bed hung three corkboards covered with sketches, schedules, and quotes from people that Rizky assumed were great artists or photographers. Opposite the bed a body-length mirror was mounted on an easel. A rush of expectation coursed through him.

He sat beside her and caressed the back of her neck. She twitched at his touch.

“Do you want some coffee?” She jumped towards the shelves and turned on the water-heater.

“Listen, thanks for taking me tonight. The party was awesome. I can’t believe I got to meet—”

“Riz, why didn’t you help me when the boys were harassing me?”

He felt a sharp pain in his stomach. “Come on, Juli, it was a long time ago.”

“You came to my house, you said you were my friend, and then you watched them push me around. You got a kick out of that?”

“Do we have to talk about it now?”

“Why do you think I invited you here?”

“You’re joking, right?”

“No, I’ve been meaning to ask you for a long time.”

The boiling water gurgled behind her.

Rizky got off the bed and paced around the room. “You think I don’t feel awful? I hated myself so much I burned my arm with a cigarette once!” He showed her a round burn-mark on his inner arm.

“Then why didn’t you help me?”

The images staring at him from the walls were making him dizzy. “You know what, I don’t need this.” He was about to walk out the door, but then he turned around and closed it again. “Juli, I didn’t know they were going to do what they did, all right? We were just hanging out by the gate, and when they saw you coming they got the idea. I told them to let it go, but nobody listened.”

“What about the second time? At least you could’ve helped me run away.”

“And let the others beat me up? Fine, if that was all. What if the teachers saw us fighting? I was on my last legs then. If I get into any more trouble, the school would surely expel me. None of it would’ve happened if you never put up your stupid photos in school!”

“So you’re saying I brought it on myself? Screw you!”

“No, but— You got a week off school, whereas the boys and I had to scrub the floors for a month. Our family isn’t like yours, willing to cough up bribe money.”

“Hey, that was my dad’s decision. There was nothing I could do to stop him. At least now I’m doing what I love to do, and you’re still doing what your mommy—”

“Watch it, Juli!”

She protected her face with both arms, even though Rizky didn’t budge from the door.

“What do you want me to say? That I was being a coward? I was. When Frog met with my mother, he showed her your pictures. As evidence of my misbehavior. My mother squeezed my hands and said, ‘Please be a good boy, Rizky, I know you can make me proud.’ I swear it was all I thought about when the boys were harassing you. I wanted to stand up for you, but I couldn’t afford to get into any more trouble.”

“Just admit it, you wanted to keep hanging out with the popular boys.”

It hurt him that she didn’t believe him, although what she said was also true. He rested his forehead on the wall. “You know, when they called you a radical, a slut, a wacko, I—” He shook his head. “I can’t talk anymore.” He walked out the door and stumbled over the shoes placed on the mat.

Behind him he could hear her giggling and shouting at him, “I should’ve taken a picture of your face in the taxi. The same grin I saw when I walked into that tent wearing that dress. You thought you were such a god. You thought I’d be so happy to have you I’d just lie down and spread. How are you feeling now?”

He wanted to walk back and punch her door, but he kept on going, leaving a trail of curses in his wake.

He was so humiliated that he never called the theater director. He imagined Julita telling everyone in that group how she’d made a fool of him, how he’d been such a coward in high school, and then they’d all laugh until they fell over and spilled their beer.

After weeks of textbook insomnia, regret overclouded his anger. As he walked up the stage to receive his bachelor’s diploma, he promised he would give the director a call. To celebrate his graduation, his parents invited their relatives and neighbors to their house. His father invited his colleagues and introduced Rizky to them, saying he would be lucky to do his residency with them. Everyone congratulated him, but Rizky was withdrawn and sour. When his mother pulled him aside and asked him why, he considered telling her that he might not want to continue med school, but then he hesitated and told her that he was thinking about taking some time off.

“Could you please not do that?” said his mother. “My brothers took some time off and they never finished college. All my efforts wasted. I don’t want that to happen to you.” And she went on as usual: “It will mean the world to me if you become a doctor. You know I never had the opportunity.”

Sometimes she reminded Rizky that he was a difficult birth, that she couldn’t have any more children after him, that her two wishes before dying was to see her son become a doctor and to see him get married. Rizky would feel manipulated, but powerless to defy her. It was also because of her that he still lived at home. He endured it because, since he was male, his parents let him stay out late, sometimes even all night, with few questions asked.

November, during the Extraordinary Meeting of the People’s Representatives, students stormed the streets once again to demand the trial of Soeharto, the removal of the military from politics, and the investigation of the former first family’s wealth. At the start thousands, then tens of thousands filled the central areas of Semanggi, Sudirman, and Kuningan. Rizky volunteered in the hospital every day tending to fellow students who were wounded, beaten, or shot. He picked up stories about army snipers and radical infiltrators, he saw the military police forcing their way into the hospital and people throwing lit cigarettes at them, he carried flyers distributed by the families of the students who had disappeared and tried to find faces that match the photographs. At nights he wandered around the wards and corridors, hoping to see Julita among the photographers immortalizing the heroes and victims of the struggle, but it was in vain.

Weeks turned into months, and in June Rizky saw the nation hold its first free election since the New Order. Forty-eight parties with various ideologies screamed out their existence—Pancasila, Islamic, Nationalist, Christian, Socialist—after having been for so long melted into three government-approved faces. Even Rizky’s parents were moved to vote. They never bothered before, it was a waste of time—the winning party and the president were already decided before the campaigns even began. This time, the first time since thirty years ago, a party other than the status quo’s won the election.

The nation went on to elect a new president and amend the constitution, Indonesian filmmakers started making films again after a decade of inactivity, and in September once more students overwhelmed the roads around the House of Representatives complex to protest a bill that would give more power to the military. Many laid their lives to safeguard the Reformasi, so why couldn’t Rizky just stand up to Mother? Most days he was thankful that he could contribute to the struggle by treating the wounded at the hospital, other days he felt he was letting everyone down. The revolution was giving him the opportunity to be the master of his own fate, so why was he still stuck in a life chosen for him by someone else? After his shifts he went out drinking to drown his shame, but the pool of clear drinks reflected it back to him.

Several weeks before the celebration of the new millennium, Julita burst into his world with a poster, plastered on a bulletin board on campus, for her exhibition From Now On Everything Will Be Different at the renowned Antara Gallery for Photojournalism. Some of her photos were shown: a student carrying the Red-and-White flag leading a late night protest in Semanggi, individuals dressed in striking costumes campaigning for their parties on the streets, a couple of teenagers high-fiving in the air in front of an election booth.

He stared at the poster for a long time, proud and ashamed at once. He wrote down the date and time of the opening, but he doubted he would go. In seven months he would graduate from med. school. Then, he vowed, he would leave his parents’ house and join a theater group. After that, perhaps, he’d call Julita. Invite her to see his play. Maybe then he’d have the guts. After all, it’d be a whole new millennium, a clean slate.

Satu tanggapan untuk “From Now on Everything will be Different (excerpt)

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