(This is an excerpt from a story published in Fixi Novo’s TRASH, part of the trio HEAT FLESH TRASH, Southeast Asian Urban Fiction anthologies).

(Versi bahasa Indonesia: “Puncak“)

.

THE window hasn’t been opened for days and the curtains haven’t been parted. The smell of clove and weed cigarettes dances in the air to the trance music that pumps the room. The thirty men and five women slouch on the floor or on the long sofa dappled with cigarette burns. Some bounce their heads, some chase the swirling light pattern inside the translucent coffee table. The view outside the window shows the dark buildings and blinking pale lights of northern Jakarta.

It’s Saturday evening, the last weekend before Ramadan, their last chance to cut loose before they have to restrict themselves for a whole month. Since Friday they have been moving in and out of this karaoke room, the rooftop dance floor, and a huge club next door. Some of them have been here since Wednesday, some went to work at eight and returned after five, some called in sick, some forgot they had jobs.

The two guys dancing on the coffee table know Patar from work, the guy passed out in the bed, in the concealed bedroom behind the bathroom, knows him from some party, Adisti and Risa have known him since high school. Patar is the glue holding all the people in the room together. He walks out of the bathroom, having showered and wearing fresh clothes, and announces that he has to leave the party and take his girlfriend to a movie. Whines and objections spiral up from around the room.

“Tar, you can’t leave. This is your thing.”

“Just tell her you’re sick.”

Everyone knows better than to suggest that Patar bring Yeni, his girlfriend of six years, to the party. They understand Patar goes to her whenever he wants to be ‘good,’ and to the people in this room whenever he wants to be ‘bad.’ Adisti and Risa have slept with Patar on separate occasions—because it’s much safer to explore your desires with the people you trust—and whenever they meet Yeni at weddings or outings, they chat lightly about fashion or the news.

“How the fuck are you gonna go to her and look sober?” asks Risa. The inside of her lips is bleeding, but she cannot feel it. She’s been grinding her teeth since Friday night, and she’s been out of chewing gum since this afternoon.

Patar isn’t worried. “Listen, I promised to take her out tonight before you all asked me to arrange this party. I’ve never canceled on her before. I’ll take her to the movies, drive her home, and come straight back here. All right?”

Adisti grabs his hand. “You can’t leave me here.”

“Ferdian’s still here,” says Patar, pointing to him. “He’ll watch out for you.”

Adisti isn’t really concerned, was just trying to make Patar stay. Three out of the five girls in the room have their boyfriends with them, so only she and Risa are theoretically available to be hit on—but Adisti trusts that no one in the room would dare bother her because she is a close friend of Patar and Ferdian.

With pronounced jawbones, long sideburns, and fierce wide eyes, Patar radiates the charisma needed to be the leader of their group. His next-in-command, Ferdian, is tall, although a bit chubby, with a round and clean-shaven face. Girls like him for his fair skin, unintimidating boyish look, and overall happy-go-lucky attitude about life. Adisti looks comfortable in a loose golden dress, accessorized with a black choker necklace and a rhinestone bracelet. She likes to paint and doesn’t like to think too much about her clothes, but she wants to look nice all the time, so she wears dresses everywhere. Risa, on the contrary, looks painfully immaculate in a tight-fitting black tube dress. Her face is made up as if she were going to a wedding, her hair falls in curls around her bare shoulders. She is an intern at a national newspaper, and she always struggles with deadlines. Usually she joins Patar’s parties only for a few hours. Adisti is surprised Risa has stayed for two days this time. Earlier, Adisti saw her talking to the club’s bathroom attendant, and security guard. She wonders if Risa is working on an assignment..

Adisti closes her eyes, and a shadow of a man drifts to her. Ikhsan. The last time she entered the club next door with him, a host of high-school-aged prostitutes flocked to him. The girls blocked their way before they even made it to the bar and started whispering in his ears. Ikhsan reached out to Adisti and brushed the length of her arm while apologizing to the girls. One of them pushed ahead and approached her.

“Excuse me, Miss, is he your boyfriend?”

“Yes, he is.”

“Sorry, we didn’t know,” the girl said, and led her friends away.

That was November last year. He left her in February. It is now September. Adisti still reaches for the memories of their times together whenever she needs something to make her smile. As she loses herself, he is with her again, and the time long gone becomes now again.

[…]

*

(To read the full story, get your copy of Trash here.)

(Versi bahasa Indonesia: “Puncak“)

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