Read an Excerpt from Rain Chudori's New Novel 'An Imaginary City'
The Indonesian author's book is out this month.
Image by Muhammad Rasyid Prabowo via Flickr
Rain Chudori is a big city girl. In her second book and first ever novel, she invites us all to experience the city she imagines and lives in. An Imaginary City follows a restless young woman who revisits the city in which she's born, and falls in love with a man most familiar to her. The book will be published on October 14. VICE is premiering an excerpt of its second chapter here. —VICE Staff
In the haste to become, the city is built within a blur of decisions. There is no certainty here, not for seasons and not for sentiments. That is why she has returned. The city is as lost as I am, and therefore, we are always searching for one another. The effect of the wine had worn off, and in trying to escape the crowd and the heat, she stepped out into the empty rooftop. She had been invited to a party held by a friend whose main occupation it seemed was to live beautifully. She had known him for years, and they had always regarded each other with mutual respect. "The prodigal poet-" he introduced her as, "-who always returns."
The night was dark and starless, with a gentle wind that stirred the trees that was tenderly planted by the talented hands of a landscape artist. Beyond the balcony, there were skyscrapers, highways, and a bridge that had been in construction for more than a decade. It was an eternally unfinished city, and yet it was indestructible. Invincible from colonialists, from natural disasters, and from mythologies. She loved every part of the city, the heat, the chaos, the intricacy of its consciousness, how it was constantly moving and expanding, yet not necessarily transforming. But perhaps what she loved most was the honesty of the lights that clearly and carefully illuminated the most beautiful parts of the city.
There was a sudden stillness in the air, as if there was a quality that he possessed was able to suspend, not only other people, but also the wind and the trees and the city lights. She too, it seemed, was suspended. He was not particularly handsome or tall, but he maintained his youthful demeanor, and most importantly, he possessed a quality that captured the attention of everyone in his presence. What he had could not be learned, this talent, this unexplainable remarkability. He was talking to everyone, maneuvering effortlessly between the intoxicated crowd, and she was struck by a sudden urge to hide. But then he saw her, he saw her watching him from behind the sliding doors, and so he moved across the room, to enter the balcony.
"Hello," he said.
"Hello," she said.
"You're here," he said.
"For a few weeks now," she told him.
She thought of the many years that had passed since they had seen each other. They were children then, fourteen or fifteen, when they had first met. Every memory she had of him was distant and impersonal. Over the years, she heard that he was living in a city two hours from theirs and had become an architect. Beyond that, she had no recollection of his character or interests, and she no longer had the vibrancy that she possessed earlier in the night. He understood this, perhaps, and didn't immediately speak.
"Why aren't you inside?" He asked. She looked at the glow from the party, the constantly moving crowd as they talked, laughed, smoked, kissed each other's cheek, the warmth that passed through each and every one of them. There were times when she found it difficult to be part of something so light, so wondrous.
"I know," he said. She looked at him and smiled.
"Where do we start?" She asked.
"What do you want to know?" He asked.
"Everything," she said. He laughed, openly and earnestly. He took out a box of cigarettes from his pocket and offered one to her. At first she hesitated as she did not smoke, but she felt that something important was occurring and because of her sentimentality, she took a cigarette. He lit his but she placed hers in her pocket.
"You're an architect now," she said. He nodded. He was restoring a house from the 1870s that would be turned into a small hotel. He told her about the condition of the house, a little more than ruined, with broken doors and windows, missing walls, a decayed roof filled with mice, and centuries old foundation that had to be reconstructed. And as he told her about this house, she could feel how the weariness in his voice shifted into something else, something that existed beyond the space that they inhabited. She wanted to see this house that could hold such a profound effect towards him.
"It sounds beautiful."
"It really is," he said, "It will take a while for it to finish, but in a way, I want it to go on forever."
"And you? What have you been occupied with?"
"I'm relearning the city."
"Do you feel like it has changed since you left?"
"Cities don't change, we do," she said. He smiled at this remark.
"I'm sorry, I shouldn't be saying this to you. It's just that, I feel like this city has always stayed the same. It's beautiful and brutal at the same time. And I'm trying to move against it."
"Is it working?"
"I'm not sure."
"So why don't you let the city carry you for once?"
"Why not?" She shook her head and laughed. She never had any explanations for her decisions, it occurs to her suddenly, like the striking of a match.
"I see," he said, nodding, as he crushed his cigarette on the balcony handrail and tossed it aside, "You're that kind of person."
"What kind of person is that?'
"The kind of person with willpower."
"Of course," she said, "The only thing you can be sure of in the world is yourself."
He was struck by the subtle tremor in her voice, and realizing that she had let slip a hint of vulnerability, turned her face away from him. They were quiet for a few seconds. Are you still awake? His message had said. They had not spoken for years, and reading his message, she was surprised by the fact that he still had her number, or that he even still remembered her. I was asleep. Did you need something? She asked. I don't know but I wanted to talk, he said. If you still want to, I'll be at the party tonight, she told him. I will see you there, he replied.
"Why did you come here?"
"Because you asked me to."
"Because you sent me a message."
"Why did you?"
"I don't know."
"What did you want to tell me?" She asked.
"You know, I think you might be right about this city," he said, turning away from her. It would be a constant occurrence in their interaction, this unwillingness to look at each other, to make sure that their expression would not betray the story that they told each other.
"It's all in your hands now," she said.
"Yes. You. You can make this city more beautiful or more brutal."
"I'm not sure I can change anything," he said. He looked at her and she realized that somewhere within him is a room that has been hidden for a long time. Sometimes it's called a secret, other times it's called the truth.
"There is something that you're carrying within you, and perhaps it's time to forgive yourself and rest for a little while." She said. He turned away, his hands trembling, and without thinking, she placed her hand gently on his arm. It was something he would return to repeatedly for the rest of his life: the distant laughter of the crowd, the city lights, and the warm pressure of her small hands.
"How do you know?" He asked.
"Because I'm still trying to forgive myself too." She said.
"Can I take you home?"
"It's a long way from here."
"So is mine."