Photo: Kukuh Napaki/Unsplash
An outdoor hallway outside a classroom | 1,000 words | Translated by Sarah Leys
The weather is overcast, a wind blows aggressively. The trees surrounding the school are being compelled to drop their leaves – as if surrendering to the gusts. Many of the leaves are falling into the school courtyard, like they’re seeking to add to the school-attendant’s burden.
It’s afternoon, and classes are over for the day. Four kids are still sitting and chilling on the tiled outdoor hallway immediately in front of the row of classrooms. Maybe they think home is boring. Maybe they just want to keep playing.
Because I’ve already finished my tasks and am just waiting to formally clock out, I’m killing time by sitting on the tiles with these Sixth Grade kids, who are busy playing with ice-cream sticks.
This game has recently got popular in schoolchildren circles. Lot of kids when they head to school in the morning will bring along in their bags dozens of ice-cream sticks – though they forget to bring their homework. It’s apparently much easier to remember sticks.
How you play is pretty simple. Two kids face each other, holding their most-trusted sticks. Usually the sticks will be covered in scrawled drawings or stickers. Maybe to add to the stick’s heaviness so it’s easier to win, maybe just to look cooler. It does seem that whoever ultimately wins the game is a minor issue.
Each stick is placed on the floor, and the kids fan them with both their hands, so that wind is created which pushes the sticks along. The kid whose stick comes to sit on top of their opponent’s stick is the winner. The loser surrenders their stick to the winner.
I watch these four kids, so clearly at home here. I think: ‘even though this weather is perfect for going straight home and lying around doing nothing. But they’re totally happy to stay at school playing this game’. The thoughts of adults and children are very different.
‘Hey, how come you all haven’t gone home yet?’ I reprimand them lightly while they continue to play rapturously. ‘It’s going to rain soon, guys…’
‘No biggie Pak! If it rains we’ll just muck around in it on the walk home’. This is Bayu, a bit on the heavy side, with side-parted hair, answering while still focussed on the stick-game.
‘Yeah, Pak! We’ve got to keep at this, it’s getting good!’ Rian, currently facing Bayu as his stick opponent, chimes in.
‘So none of you are hungry yet?’
‘That’s no problem either Pak, later when we go home we’ll just make instant noodles!’ While glued on the game, Bayu marshals his best possible answer.
‘Hey now, but don’t eat instant noodles too often, though, okay – that’s not good for you’, I say. ‘The child of a friend of mine ate noodles too often and he went to the hospital, alright?’
‘Pff! Really, Pak? But instant noodles are so good, Pak!’
‘Hmm, don’t believe me? Okay, let me tell you the story’.
I turn around and face them fully. I see the kids’ interest has been kindled by this discussion of instant noodles’ unhealthiness. Meanwhile the sky is getting darker and darker, a drizzle is starting to fall, and the air is cooler – and I find myself licking my lips. Talking about instant noodles is making me imagine them: the deliciousness of a serve put onto boil, and then all the satchelled spices poured on top. Especially if enjoyed during weather like this.
‘So, yeah, my friend had a child, three years old. And that child didn’t want to eat if the food wasn’t noodles. Given rice, didn’t want it, given congee, didn’t want it, given a hundred thousand rupiah to buy noodles with, also didn’t want it. All he was interested in getting were noodles’.
‘Hey – what’d you mean he didn’t want money?’
‘Yeah, you know, if it was me I’d want the money – I could buy internet data. Play games as much as I want!’
‘Well, but that’s just how three year old kids are, right’. Rian has decided to defend me. ‘They don’t understand money yet. Even counting they stuff up’.
‘So’, I continued, ‘because he just ate noodles on and on, soon enough, that child cried for a whole day. His parents of course were worried, so finally he was brought to hospital. After he was checked, it turned out there was a problem with his stomach because of all the noodles. And two days later, he died’.
‘Ah, you’re just trying to scare us!’
‘No no: this is real. Do you know that a long time ago I also liked to eat instant noodles, when I was at university, until finally I got sick too. I had to be in hospital for a week’.
Suddenly a skinny kid called Ilham, whose uniform is already starting to get too small for him, blurts out: ‘Oh yeah, so how come you didn’t die then?’
I’m annoyed – even though I can’t help but chuckle at the same time – that he has used the less respectful word for death, ‘mati’ instead of ‘meninggal’. Even though, well… either way, it’s still not very polite to ask me why I didn’t die.
‘Well, I was still very sick’, I say. ‘It wasn’t fun, I’ll tell you that’.
The drizzle is starting to turn into heavy rain. As they watch water pour torrentially out of the sky, these kids begin to get mischievous glints in their eyes.
‘Hey, heavy rain – let’s go home!’ Bayu extends this invitation to his friends.
‘Let’s go, let’s hoof it!’ Impatiently Rian is shoving sticks inside his bag.
With not a care in the world for me – who am still feeling like slapping that kid Ilham. Hurriedly they put away the sticks, then come over to salim, take my hand one by one and press it to their foreheads. Then they run into the pouring rain. Apparently they’ve forgotten that inside their bags are textbooks that can get wet.
Seeing them recede into the distance, I think to myself – the older you get, the easier it is to be scared of things that you don’t actually need to be too scared of. Like me or other adults when we see rain falling. We will choose to shelter rather than to have a ball running in it like these kids.
I think to myself – after they get home, they for sure will boil up some instant noodles with no heed to my story.
Unconsciously, I find myself licking my lips.
© Edotz Herjunot
English translation © Sarah Leys