Prayer Beads

Leila S.Chudori

I look for you
Among the c.h.r.y.s.a.n.t.h.e.m.u.m.s

9999--3 Tasbih bapak x

Every time she passed the house, Nadira would concoct a new scenario in her head. Maybe the house belonged to a rich businessman, or to a lawyer who defended the mafia. Or to a corrupt government official. One thing was certain, whoever owned it was not what you would call a humble person, so fond were they of conspicuously displaying their wealth and their power. The house was on a street corner in the Jakarta suburb of Bintaro, and Nadira would make a point of going past it every time she paid a weekend visit to her father, who lived nearby. That usually meant asking the taxi driver to stop for five or ten minutes, sometimes even suggesting he have a cigarette while she gazed at the huge ostentatious house through the open window of the car. It stood out in Bintaro, where the other houses were pretty much built to the same design. On the whole, housing in the Bintaro complex resembled rows of matchboxes devoid of any individuality. By contrast, this house stood haughtily on a huge tract of land, its four stories supported by massive columns. If you were to describe the temperament of the house it would be this: proud, colossal, capable of swallowing a human being. And then there were the cars, fierce-looking machines posing in front of the house, not hidden away in the extensive garage. The thing that intrigued Nadira most was the statue of a man who looked like Napoleon, except that its face was clearly that of the owner of the house: a Javanese man in his fifties sporting a thin moustache.

Flanking the statue of this Javanese Napoleon were two statues of Cupid. In addition—and this was Nadira’s favorite bit—there were seven statues of women, all of them gazing admiringly at Napoleon. Nadira imagined one of them whispering, beseeching Lord Napoleon to grace her with a scrap of affection. Nadira could easily have asked the owner of the cigarette stall on the corner about the owner of the house, but she didn’t; she preferred inventing imaginary scenarios of her own. After this weekly ritual was over, Nadira would return to reality, to the taxi that was waiting for her, and they would plunge back into the chaotic ocean that was Jakarta traffic.


Utara took a deep breath. He kept looking at the space under the desk, which was crammed with books, boxes, and a young woman curled up like a cat—Nadira Suwandi. Utara knew that this spot under the desk was where Nadira hoped to be able to bury all her sadness. She came out only when she was forced to. Forced to work, or forced to face the day. Her eyes were closed, but Utara knew that she wasn’t asleep; her lips were moving as she muttered something incomprehensible. It was 8 a.m. according to the clock on the wall of the Tera office. And Nadira was still wearing the same clothes she had worn yesterday. “Tara,” Satimin whispered, gripping the handle of his mop, “I didn’t have the heart to wake Dira.” Utara nodded and signaled for Satimin to mop somewhere else first. Satimin nodded obediently. Gently, not wanting to startle her, Utara touched Nadira’s shoulder. Slowly she opened her eyes. When she registered whose hand had woken her, she quickly sat up straight and rubbed her eyes. She emerged from her hidey-hole and grabbed a towel from a drawer of the desk. “Morning, Tara. I’m just off to the bathroom…”

“I’ll wait for you in the meeting room on the eighth floor, OK?” “Fine!” Thirty minutes later, refreshed and having changed her clothes, Nadira was in the meeting room. Utara smiled, although he couldn’t disguise his concern. Nadira sat down opposite him and looked around.

“Where are the others?”

“They’re out on assignment, Dir. I wanted to have a chat with you.”

“Oh…” Nadira was silent for a few minutes.“I have a request to make too, Tara.”

“You do?”

“I know we’re not allowed to choose our assignments. But just for this week I’m asking not to be part of the team doing the lead

Normally at this point the Bureau Chief would have delivered a two-hour lecture on the house rules of Tera magazine: particularly the one saying that nobody had the right to decline an assignment. But in the three years since the death of her mother, Utara had never seen Nadira smile or cry (except when they found the chrysanthemums that had accompanied the body to the grave). Utara had quietly observed that Nadira had been stripped of emotion, something that for him meant ‘heart’, although he wasn’t about to get into an argument about whether the heart or the liver was the seat of the emotions. It was as if Nadira’s emotions had evaporated along with the spirit of her mother, and they showed no sign of returning. This meant that for the last three years Nadira had done nothing but work, twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week.

Translated by: Pam Allen

(Continued in the Anthology of Stories The Longest Kiss, Lontar Foundation, 2013)