Cerpen ini tayang sebagai bagian dari 'Pekan Fiksi VICE: Indonesia 2038'. Redaksi meminta penulis-penulis muda potensial negara ini menjelajahi kemungkinan situasi Indonesia pada 2038. Naskah yang kami terima rata-rata bercorak fiksi ilmiah, menyajikan gaya tutur segar, serta sudut pandang menarik saat mengulas topik seperti teknologi, lingkungan, agama, hingga nasib bahasa di masa mendatang. Kami membebaskan penulis memilih bahasa untuk bertutur. Kali ini, Ziggy memilih menulis dalam Bahasa Inggris.
HEELS OF APOCALYTPIC END
“I was born here.”
“In this city?” “In this city,” she nodded. I liked how her hair moved when she nodded. It’s like a black cascade. I cut it once in a while, and she let me keep the scraps in a tin box. In return, I brought candles; three at a time. She likes real things. Real person. Real fire. Real legs. She’s holding them now, the candles. Close to her breasts, like a mother and her new-born. “Is this still the capital?” she asked. Waiting no affirmation, her face contorted in dazzled frown. “How do they even function as capital?” “Did you hate it?” I asked. Words rolled out of my mouth like a bitter armadillo. I pushed back its acerbic trace down my throat in a gulp of quiet fury. “This city. Did you hate it, back then? Before It happened? Do you?” Her head shook. Not in refusal, but oblivion. “I can’t remember. I was so young when It happened. I have too little impression of what it was like, before It happened. Only the Chains. And the rest…”
A long sigh escaped her lungs. I watched the childish breath fought its way and lost its life in the murdering air of Jakarta. It hurt me. It made me want to hurt somebody. “I’m not sure I can go back there. It’s just never been a good story.” She closed her eyes and trembled on my chest. Behind her shoulders was a rising dead-black smoke. Artificial lights glared through the cloud, forming a man-made constellation on noxious sky. Her body was heavy on me. Savouring the taste of human heat she’d grown to be unaccustomed. On the corner of my eyes, I saw the streetlight flickered. A swarm of bugs pecked on the dimming gleam, scavenging illumination. She limped over me. Her body became a silhouette that casted a long, forlorn shadow upon mine. I wanted to hold her. But I didn’t. I felt her hands sliding across my chest. Lighter. She’s looking for lighter, nothing more. But still I stammered. Touch of a longing child stings with honesty too raw for a man to handle. It swept me under swivels of guilt, pain, rage… and worst of all, hope. “Alates,” I said, breaking the touch. Her eyes proposed a question. I raised my hand and pointed. “On the streetlight. You like them.” She turned her head slightly, studying the fixed point where my eyes wandered. I slipped my hand and gouged a lighter off my breast pocket. I could hear her murmur, “ Laron.” At the word, light escaped her eyes, and she sculpted lifelessness on her face. The pair of lips formed a used-up sentence: “That’s what it used to be called.” Her bony fingers twisted into my hand and squeezed lighter off me. She shimmied away and squatted on asphalt where lined were the three candles—my offering. Neatly fixed in sequence, a triad of wax barbecue. Hair enclosed her face as she cowered over it. She was dark—so dark. Like a witch; in her grandeur, oblivious of conniving torches of common men. She was a ghost breathing terrors and pasts. Fresh and ancient. A necromancer with a headful of long-lost words from forgotten tongue, ritually reciting spells to revive the dead carcass of this city. She was charming in her futility. “How did it start?” I asked. “It. The End.” A manual hollow smile. “It’s on History. That’s The Truth,” she said. Her eyes. It has proclivity to plummet to its death. I could feel it watching me looking away. A man could only see so many self-murder in one night. “Weren’t you there?” “I know,” I said. “But I want to know.” She didn’t reply for quite a while. Her eyes were fixed on the fluttering candlewicks. Her body was eerily still. I mirrored her stillness, watching intently at how her eyes traced an approaching termite. In sudden movement, she picked it by the wings and held it over the fire. She flinched when the light singed her fingers. But still they waited for the fire to swallow its meat. Waiting for a tiny mass of ash. She returned to stillness. “The cars were still,” she said. I roused to her words. “The cars were still. And they’d been, for hours. Humming engines, sweat, boredom. I wanted to pee.” She smiled to herself, and pressed repeat. “I wanted to pee.” It was funny. Too funny. “I asked, how long. I asked so many times, and the answer was always not long. And I looked over the window,”—she looked away, swimming in her memory, reliving it—“but it was long. It was so long. I unlocked the door and leaped to the road. My mother screamed for me to return, but there was no danger. It was still.” She looked at me. “It was more than still. It was dead. “Then I ran. Fast. I was a child. Children run fast, and they squeeze through tiny gaps like rats. I saw a man on a truck. Rolled-down window pane. Skinny arm dangling in the air, emptied water bottle… A baby, crying; a mother, tired. People greying behind steering wheel. Then I saw it.” Her breath was cold and sweet like a frozen waffle. She looked deep into the three flames, her eyes almost changed colour. She gasped her words. “Big white car. Even then, I knew what it was. Its siren, blaring red. A second, then it stopped. And there I was,”—bitter sigh—“a kid peeing on flyover.” Then she laughed. She laughed piteously before I realised it was a whimper. She couldn’t cry because they’d taken off her tear ducts. Then, at the end of the revolution. “I climbed a container truck and saw everything. Unending chains of dashboard lights. And I looked back to where I was, and I noticed why the Chain even took shape: no one ran for me. Not even my Mom—no one. No one ran. No one even walked. And I screamed. I screamed, and pissed a little bit more. There, at the top of unmoving container truck.” “And then I ran again. I ran faster. I didn’t stop. I didn’t want to stop.” She curled on the asphalt. How do you cry without tear ducts? “And then they ran. And we all ran. And then that’s it.” That’s not it. I was there. I was there when she was there. I rallied behind her and I opened every car door I passed. I pulled every sitting man, I carried children and hauled waiting mothers with their screaming babies. Because I knew I had to. I had to run after that running child. A running child in tears who tried to change the world. I was there, all the time she was running. I was with her when her fingers were sure and strong; strong enough to hoist our hope, strong enough to break the Chain. And we ran; sure enough to change the world. My heart wept for her fingers.
I touched her thigh and I thought of the city—of the defeated child with severed feet. Just like the deads, this city refused revival and consumed the demented who dared the attempt. And it’s decaying; the smell of dead flesh had pervaded its air. But it’s still refusing life. And she died with it. She was a child. She was innocent. All she wanted was for this city to live again. For men to stir on their God-given limbs. How could this be a sin? They stopped her running. They stopped her tears. They didn’t stop until the running child in tears no longer was. So the world didn’t change. “Come back.” That’s me. The front-runner of fools. I pushed her under the bus and still I wanted her to stand up. “We’re still with you. Everyone. We still want to break the Chain. We still want to move. Everyone who abandoned their cars here that day, they still remember you. They still want to run with you.” “I can’t run anymore,” she said. “How do you run without legs?” She folded herself. Her legs—the one I made—the metals clacked as they bent. They made twinkling clicks on collision. Her body’s like a music box. A little crankshaft, rusting away before its time.
I murmured an emotion under my breath. She looked at me, her face impalpable. Me, I was grief-stricken. I held her hands and kissed them repeatedly. “You’re too young to be a keepsake.”
Her head disagreed. “I don’t think so.” I didn’t have any heart left to be broken. My failing hands trembled in hers. They’re steady now. Like it was, years ago, when we began to run. She steadied herself because I needed to lean. “But I know you tried,” she said. And then, she smiled. This smile was old. Too old, too close to the end. But it was her oldest smile; a dusted-off smile from her childhood. She was so alive in her apocalypse. “Will you come again?” she asked, breaking away. She pushed her body forward, placing her face close to the candle fire. Her lips, she pressed. Puff of air escaped her mouth in company of an accidental whistle. The first flame died. I nodded. “I will come again.” She put off the second candle. “Will you cremate me?” Her palms flattened on her lap. She looked at me, waiting. Alate— laron—sneaked through the crevice between rows of abandoned cars, approaching the last burning candlewick. I saw it inspecting the remains of its predecessor floating on the puddle of melted wax. It trod the burning ember. I looked at her. I nodded. She blew the last candle and pushed her way through the dead flyover. The same back that I saw that night, when she killed this road and revived the humans it captured. The same back that liberated men out of their mobile cages. She climbed the roadside barrier and sat there on the edge of her necropolis. Her eyes watched the horizon of static traffic—the Chains—riveted by minds marred beyond repair.
That again—those dead eyes again. She’s like a winged termite scavenging the last light in the unscathed darkness of this city. Watching revolts after revolts burnt itself to death, their mangled corpses waving warning signs, and still she repeated the arson. And me, I kept on bringing the candles.
The dusk was damask and doleful, and she sat there on the edge like a child on the wait. She wanted the wait to end. I turned my back and walked down the road she once peed on.