From New York to Legian

Leila S.Chudori


Legian, October 16, 2002

Bali was a place of silence, a place of despair. The sea was still; the waves had ceased rolling. The sky was black; the sand was mute. The moon was hiding its sullen face. A cluster of stars, hitherto loyal in their brightening up of the night sky, now took it upon themselves to visit the wounded. All the energy on the island was focused on the candles that had been lit by grieving hearts. Utara Bayu tried to talk to them all: the sea, the waves, the sand, the moon, the stars, and the sky. But he felt that the sand he was walking on was coarse and unwelcoming, so different from its normal friendly, accepting nature. The universe had come to a standstill and it was as if all the clocks on Bali had stopped ticking. This was Day Four after the bombs had exploded in the middle of the night. Utara knew that those bombs had, in an instant, stopped the clocks.

After walking for an hour, Utara stood at the water’s edge waiting for his colleagues to return to the hotel. They had all worked non-stop for the last three days, reporting from the Legian area and from Sanglah hospital, interviewing dozens of victims and police, and helping the teams of volunteers who were patiently and painstakingly looking for the human remains that were still strewn around the Sari Club and Paddy’s Bar. At one point they heard screams when somebody found a body part dangling from a tree branch; someone else discovered a corpse, relatively intact but burnt beyond recognition. For three days and three nights Utara heard nothing but a Bob Marley song “Three Little Birds,” sung by a group of volunteers working near the police cordon. Over and over they sang it, as if they were trying to convince themselves that those two deadly bombs would not make them surrender to evil. Utara’s stomach was churning, reminding him that he, along with his colleagues, had not eaten for some time, because they had had to focus on sending their reports back to their magazine Tera in Jakarta. A few minutes later he heard the roar of the three rented motorbikes carrying Andara, Monty, Yosrizal, Andini, Rianti, and the photographer Randi.

Utara listened to a summary of their reports. Reports of families looking for the remains of their children, reports of the arrival of people from Jakarta—artists or politicians, who knew?—who held an impromptu prayer session in the street (Utara couldn’t help wondering what Nadira would have made of that if she were here), reports of the various theories about who was behind the bombings.“Don’t start speculating,” said Utara, stubbing out his cigarette. “I just want reportage and interviews. No theories about who the perpetrators were,” he said firmly.

He instructed his crew to go back to the hotel and finish off their reports, then file them to Jakarta.

“How will you get back to the hotel, Tara?”

“It’s not a problem, go on ahead of me.”

Utara walked slowly. There was not a breath of wind on Kuta Beach. The sky was black, concealing every star. Utara could not tell whether he was in Bali or in a vast house of mourning, dark and black. Again he asked the unyielding sand: what would Nadira say if she were here? The sand, the sky, and the sea remained mute. Utara could still smell the chemicals. Even after four days, that fireworks-like smell lingered; the incense could not mask it.


Greenwich Village, New York, October 2, 2002

It was the second time Nadira had felt the sensation of someone observing her from behind. But whenever she turned around she saw the same thing: the sorrowful faces of those who had been left behind by a family member who had committed suicide. Nadira and twenty other members of the support group were listening to Naomi Reed tell how she had found her husband after he had hung himself in the bathroom. The room was in floods of tears; the man next to Nadira was sobbing uncontrollably. Nadira was the only one pretending to listen; her thoughts were actually elsewhere. She swore silently as she feigned interest in what Naomi was saying. It was Nina who had persuaded her to join the support group. Nina said that the group had been really helpful to her when she had first arrived in New York.

Trans by : Pam Allen

(Continued in anthology of stories The Longest Kiss, Lontar Foundation, 2013, ed. By Pam Allen)