(This is an excerpt of story published in the Griffith Review no.49. To read the entire story, please buy your copy here.)

(Baca versi bahasa Indonesia di sini.)


GR49.NewAsiaNow-227x346AFTER school, the Kardus kids and I stayed in class to work on our song. Everyone took off their shirt, revealing a rebellious T-shirt underneath. As I wore nothing but a singlet under my shirt, I was the only one who remained in uniform.

At the start I felt like someone who arrived late at the cinema – the movie had rolled half way and I didn’t understand what the characters were talking about. They mentioned something about working at a car shop and Eris’s mother who was in the hospital.

‘How bad is your mother, Eris?’ Boldly I jumped into the screen.

‘She’s got cancer,’ he said.


Regret flitted across his eyes.

‘Look, you can’t tell Dara or anyone, OK? If word gets out, I’ll assume it came from you.’

‘I’m not a gossip, I promise. Listen, do you wanna try to write a song for your mother?’

Eris considered it and said, ‘Naaah, she doesn’t like that I’m in a band. She wants me to focus only on school.’

‘Maybe if you write a song especially for her, she’ll soften up. A slow song. Even punk bands can have a slow song, right?’

‘It does sound good,’ said Eris. ‘If not for the band, then just for me and my sisters.’

‘Awesome,’ said Revo, he dragged a chair between Eris and me and plopped himself down.

I inhaled the masculine warmth of his body.

‘But first let’s write a song for Battle, OK?’

‘Fine,’ said Eris. ‘Thanks, Vit.’

‘I think the chorus should be simpler,’ said Revo. ‘I like to jump around when I sing, so don’t give me big words.’


‘I like the second verse,’ said Eris, ‘I think it adds depth to the song.’

My cheeks blushed. ‘Thanks, Eris.’

‘So how about the chorus?’ asked Revo.

‘I have an idea, but… May I ask you something? Don’t be mad.’


‘You know people sometimes say that you’re bad kids, troublemakers. How do you feel about that?’

‘I’ve been labelled bad since I could crawl, and I’m still alive,’ said Revo.

‘Bad is fine,’ said Ilham, ‘but I don’t like it when people say we’re lost. Just because we’re different, doesn’t mean we’re lost, right?’

That afternoon was nothing short of the perfect first date. Finally, I could talk to Revo about how he viewed himself and the things that he cared about. I felt awful for Dara, she really wanted to be here, but when I asked if she might join us, Eris said, ‘Sorry, band members only.’

There were only two other girls with us: Lena, who was going out with Ilham (kids called her a slut behind her back, but I admired how she was often brave enough to speak her mind), and Selin, who was going out with Hektor. She liked to draw tattoo-like objects on her wrists and ankles. That day she’d drawn a cluster of eyes on the back of her left palm.

When Revo and Eris were busy figuring out the melody, I asked the girls if Elok – Revo’s girlfriend – would be joining us.

Selin said, ‘No way, Revo won’t allow it.’

‘I’ve seen Elok watching Kardus perform at Talent Shows,’ I said.

‘Talent Shows are OK,’ Lena said. ‘Eris even takes his sisters to watch Open Stage, but he won’t let them anywhere near the gang.’

‘You both hang out with the gang,’ I said.

‘We’re not like Elok,’ Lena said, ‘obviously.’

School forbade boys and girls to touch, but this afternoon I’d seen Selin sharing a cigarette with Hektor by the window, and Lena sitting on Ilham’s lap as he showed her how to play the bass. So my fantasies were not so crazy after all. I wondered if this was why Revo didn’t want Elok here – maybe he was worried for her reputation.

I was working up the nerve to ask if they had done anything more than kissing, when Selin shouted, ‘Oh my God, I’ve got a brilliant idea! I want to paint bad labels on your foreheads!’

Revo laughed. ‘Yes! Do it! Label me Incorrigible!’

‘I’ll take Creep,’ said Hektor.

Ingrate,’ said Eris, and his face darkened.

Scumbag, Good-for-nothing,’ Ilham suggested. ‘Playboy for Dex.’

Dex from 9A grinned with stupid pride.

Butt-ugly for Jimbonk,’ said Ilham again.

Jerk!’ Jimbonk from 9C snapped back.

‘For Lena Slut,’ Dex said, provoking laughter all around.

But Lena wasn’t laughing. ‘How dare you call me that, asshole!’ Her mouth unleashed a tornado, her face raged with hellfire.

‘Babe, the point is: although people call us names, it won’t bring us down. It shouldn’t bring you down either,’ said Ilham.

‘Yeah, Len, chill,’ said Dex again.

He was smirking until Lena threw a thick book at him. Only a second later did we see that it was the Quran, which was easily available on every desk.

‘Len, what the fuck?’ shouted Revo.

‘Shut up, all of you!’ The earth seemed to quake under Lena’s feet, she looked like a pillar on the brink of collapsing. She grabbed her backpack and scampered away.

‘Len, wait!’ Ilham went after her.

The rest of us could only look at one another with confusion and some guilt.



(To read the entire story, please buy your copy here.)

(Baca versi bahasa Indonesia di sini.)

New Asia Now

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