Paper boats, p.1
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       Paper Boats, p.1

           Dee Lestari
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Paper Boats


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, organizations, places, events, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

  Text copyright © 2004 Dee Lestari

  Translation copyright © 2017 Tiffany Tsao

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced, or stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without express written permission of the publisher.

  Previously published as Perahu kertas by Bentang Pustaka & Truedee in Indonesia in 2004. Translated from Indonesian by Tiffany Tsao. First published in English by AmazonCrossing in 2017.

  Published by AmazonCrossing, Seattle

  www.apub.com

  Amazon, the Amazon logo, and AmazonCrossing are trademarks of Amazon.com, Inc., or its affiliates.

  ISBN-13: 9781503943582

  ISBN-10: 1503943585

  Cover design by Adil Dara

  CONTENTS

  CHAPTER 1 THE WINDING ROAD

  CHAPTER 2 MOVING TO BANDUNG

  CHAPTER 3 MOTHER ALIEN

  CHAPTER 4 THE SACRED CIRCLE

  CHAPTER 5 A BANANA

  CHAPTER 6 A SWORD OF ICE

  CHAPTER 7 THIS MOON, THIS JOURNEY, AND US

  CHAPTER 8 START SMALL

  CHAPTER 9 THE MATCHMAKING PROJECT

  CHAPTER 10 THE YOUNG CURATOR

  CHAPTER 11 THE SAKOLA ALIT

  CHAPTER 12 GENERAL PILIK AND THE ALIT BRIGADE

  CHAPTER 13 WANDA’S BIG PLAN

  CHAPTER 14 THE BOOK OF HIDDEN TREASURE

  CHAPTER 15 SEARCHING FOR SINCERITY

  CHAPTER 16 FALSE HOPES

  CHAPTER 17 JUST THREE WORDS

  CHAPTER 18 DEPARTURE AND LOSS

  CHAPTER 19 THE DISASTROUS PARTY

  CHAPTER 20 A GIGANTIC LIE

  CHAPTER 21 A PAINFUL EMPTINESS

  CHAPTER 22 COME BACK TO UBUD

  CHAPTER 23 CATCHING STARS

  CHAPTER 24 THE FIRST BUYER

  CHAPTER 25 A GIFT FROM THE HEART

  CHAPTER 26 A NEW LEAF

  CHAPTER 27 A PROMISE IS A PROMISE

  CHAPTER 28 ADVOCADO

  CHAPTER 29 THE WORLD STILL TURNS

  CHAPTER 30 THE NONAQUARIAN AGENT

  CHAPTER 31 THE TOILET SORORITY

  CHAPTER 32 THE NINJA OF LOVE

  CHAPTER 33 THE POWER OF LOVE

  CHAPTER 34 THE LAST NIGHT OF THE YEAR

  CHAPTER 35 A TRUE PRINCE

  CHAPTER 36 A REUNION OF FARMERS

  CHAPTER 37 A BARRIER THAT CAN NEVER BE BROKEN

  CHAPTER 38 A MOST WONDERFUL KIDNAPPING

  CHAPTER 39 WORKING TOGETHER

  CHAPTER 40 AN OASIS

  CHAPTER 41 A BOOK AND EXHIBITION

  CHAPTER 42 THE CASTLE STILL STANDS FIRM

  CHAPTER 43 A RING IN A SILVER BOX

  CHAPTER 44 EVERLASTING LOVE

  CHAPTER 45 THE SHADOW HAS A NAME

  CHAPTER 46 THE HEART DOESN’T NEED TO CHOOSE

  EPILOGUE

  ABOUT THE AUTHOR

  ABOUT THE TRANSLATOR

  CHAPTER 1

  THE WINDING ROAD

  June 1999

  It made no sense to leave Amsterdam in summer. This was the best time of year to cycle around the Leidseplein and Dam Square, to enjoy the sunshine that turned the city into paradise on earth. He wanted to sit on Bloemendaal beach with his canvas and paints, or at a café in De Negen Straatjes with his sketchbook, sipping milky koffie verkeerd from morning to sundown.

  As he cleared the last of the books from the shelf beside his bed, the same thought he’d been having all week repeated itself: I’m only eighteen and I’m already too tired for this.

  The door behind him creaked open.

  “Nee, Keenan,” his oma said. “Don’t weigh down your suitcase with books. When you get to Jakarta, I’ll send it to you.”

  Keenan gave his grandmother a tight smile. So much for packing, he thought, his heart sinking. What Oma had said made it seem as if he were never coming back.

  Keenan always knew this dreaded day would come. Only a miracle would prevent him from having to return home to Indonesia now. For years, Keenan had hoped and prayed for such a miracle, but it never came—just phone calls from his mother praising the sketches he had sent, without any mention of him being able to stay in Amsterdam. He should stay. Oma was too old to be living by herself, and she refused to move into a nursing home. Here, he would sit on a bench in Vondelpark and paint. Here, he would grow up to join the city’s multitude of artists, whom he so admired.

  Living here was a miracle in itself for Keenan, but it had reached its expiration date. Six years, no more. His parents had argued for an entire week before finally agreeing to let him, their oldest child, live in a foreign country. Keenan didn’t feel like a foreigner, though. Sure, his father was Indonesian and his name was Gaelic—a gift from his mother’s late father, in tribute to a distant Irish ancestor—but his mother’s family had lived in Holland for generations. This was the city where his mother was born, and where she had become a painter—until she had moved to Indonesia to study art, met his father, and given up painting entirely. Keenan didn’t know what had happened exactly, but he still wondered how his own mother—the source of the artist’s blood flowing through his veins—could now want to suppress the very talent he had inherited from her. Or rather, he wondered why she hadn’t stood up more to his father, who had worried that Amsterdam would awaken the artist inside his son.

  “What are you scared of?” Keenan had asked him.

  “You’re too smart,” his father had answered. “You shouldn’t waste it by becoming an artist.”

  Keenan had even contemplated getting lower grades at school to change his father’s mind. But luckily, his parents had come to an agreement. His father would let him attend school in Amsterdam for six years, and six years only.

  Now, over two thousand days had passed, and Keenan felt the six years had gone by in the blink of an eye.

  “Maybe you should bring these ones with you, child,” said Oma, handing him two books. Preparing for the Indonesian National University Entrance Exams: 2500 Exercises, volumes one and two. “So you can study on the plane.”

  “Ja, Oma,” said Keenan. He took the heavy books from her, planning to hide them under the bed once she left the room.

  “I’ll be waiting for you at the dining table.” The old woman stood, smoothed the wrinkles from her paisley-print blouse, and refastened the clips in her hair, which was white but still abundant. Then she smiled. Her wrinkles did not lessen the beauty of her features. Oma looked a lot like his mom. Suddenly, Keenan felt a pang of longing. Maybe going back to Jakarta wouldn’t be so bad after all.

  “What did you make for dinner, Oma?”

  “Bruinebonensoep and kaasbroodje. That’s what you wanted, wasn’t it? Oma vergeet dat niet, child—your oma doesn’t forget. I always keep my promises.”

  One night during Keenan’s first winter with his grandmother, the heater had broken. Oma had wrapped him in a thick blanket and held him, and they had stayed huddled together like that on the sofa until morning. It was the first time they had felt so close, like two friends looking after each other. That night, Oma had promised not to cry when the time came for Keenan to return to Indonesia. And Keenan had made a promise not to cry as well, though he hadn’t known how hard it would be to keep.

  Keenan watched his grandmother through the crack in the door as she headed toward the dining table. The corners of Oma’s mouth were always turned upward, giving her face a perpetual expression of warmth. And her steps were still strong and sure, t
hough slower than they had been a year ago. Keenan watched Oma smooth out the tablecloth, which didn’t really need smoothing out, and sit in front of the tureen of brown-bean soup, its steam wafting into her face. And without her knowing, he saw her old eyes glisten before she swiped at them.

  Keenan closed the door. Soon, the whole room became blurry. No matter how many times he blinked, his own tears wouldn’t stop flowing.

  July 1999

  The petite young woman was a flurry of movement—skipping and sometimes leaping or kicking. In preparation for her big move from Jakarta, she was packing books into a box—that was all. But she had decided to throw in some dance moves as well.

  New wave music blasted through her earbuds, courtesy of her older brother’s music collection. It had been a month since Kugy had graduated from high school, but her taste in music was that of a high school student from fifteen years ago. Everyone liked to say that Kugy wasn’t just not up-to-date—she was completely out of date. She always responded to this observation with a disregard that bordered on pride. Kugy remained adamant that the music of the ’80s, the fashion sense of the decade notwithstanding, was pure genius—the epitome of cool.

  As Kugy sang and danced to Culture Club’s “Karma Chameleon,” she fanned herself with a book and tried her best not to look directly in the mirror. The blur of motion that was her reflection already made her want to burst out laughing. Simply awful, she thought, shaking her head in dismay.

  Her younger sister, Keshia, was knocking on the door. She waited a minute, and when there was no response, she began banging.

  “Kugy! Koo-gee! Hey, Koogster! Someone’s on the phone for you!”

  “Koogster?” said their mother. She looked up from her book, eyebrow raised. “Also, it should be Kak Kugy.” Their mother never tired of reminding Keshia that she should use the proper term of respect for an older sister: kak, short for kakak. The problem was, her older sister’s behavior wasn’t exactly befitting of a kakak.

  Suddenly, the door, which was plastered over entirely with stickers, opened, and out poked Kugy’s head, an earbud dangling from one ear. She wasn’t in any hurry to answer the phone, and looking at her mother, asked, “Mom, what if I change my name to Karma? Your kids’ names would all still begin with k, so it wouldn’t change anything.”

  Keshia looked at her mother in exasperation. “See what I mean, Mom? She’s such a weirdo.”

  Kugy continued. “It’s not like Kugy is a normal name, anyway. What were you and Dad thinking? If you ask me, Karma sounds way better.”

  Their mother shrugged and resumed reading. “I already have trouble keeping the names of my five children straight and I’m not even senile yet. Go ahead. It won’t make a difference—Karma, Karno, whatever you like.”

  Keshia was speechless. She was beginning to understand where Kugy got her weirdness from.

  Affecting a heavy British accent, Kugy went to the phone and answered, “Karma Chameleon speaking. Who is this?”

  A few seconds passed before the voice on the other end spoke. “It’s Noni. Who did you think it was? The queen of England?”

  Kugy’s eyes brightened at the sound of Noni’s voice. She and Noni had been friends since they were little, and Noni couldn’t wait for Kugy to finish packing so she could join her in Bandung, a few hours southeast of Jakarta. Noni also couldn’t resist busying herself in preparation for Kugy’s arrival, which she looked forward to with the same excitement a small village might exhibit in anticipation of a visiting dignitary. It was Noni who had found Kugy a room in the same student boarding house where she was staying. It was Noni who had arranged to pick her up from the station. And it was Noni who had put together an itinerary for Kugy’s first week in Bandung. In short, Noni had designated herself as Kugy’s personal assistant.

  “So, you are coming, right? If not, I’ll let someone else take your room!” Noni’s voice sounded shrill, especially in contrast to the smoothness of Boy George’s voice in Kugy’s other ear.

  “My dear Madam Noni, try to relax. I haven’t even sent the official copy of my high school transcript—”

  “Seriously? Everyone else sent theirs in centuries ago!”

  “‘Centuries ago’? Someone needs a history lesson.”

  “But when will you be done packing? And don’t bring your gajillion books with you. They won’t fit in Eko’s trunk. Just bring your clothes, okay?”

  “Has anyone ever told you that you’re fussier than three of my mothers rolled into one? Seriously.”

  “I don’t care. Be in Bandung by next week. I’ve already told Eko to take Fuad for a tune-up so he doesn’t break down when we pick you up at the station.”

  Fuad was the name of Eko’s Fiat, which had seen better days. Eko’s friends had dubbed it Fuad because of the sound people made when laughing at it: “Fua-ha-ha-ha.”

  Noni continued, “From the station, we’ll go buy everything you need to settle in. I’ve been cleaning your room since yesterday so it’ll be all ready for you.”

  “Has anyone ever told you that you’re more industrious than three maids rolled into one?”

  “You’re crazy.”

  “And rude, too,” Kugy added.

  “You’re right! You are rude!”

  “What are you going to do with me? I’m such a pain!”

  Noni burst out laughing. “See? Even you get angry at you.”

  Kugy began laughing, too. “I’m getting angry at me to help you save your energy. You’ll wear yourself out taking care of me, Eko, and that broken-down yellow Fiat of his.”

  “Tell me about it. Sometimes when we go out, we use a motor scooter instead of Fuad. I don’t know which happens more often: Fuad breaking down or Kombi getting busy.”

  Kugy couldn’t stop laughing. Noni and her boyfriend, Eko, had a pair of hamsters named Komba and Kombi. Together, Komba and Kombi had produced so many litters that Noni and Eko had started a hamster-selling business on the side.

  “That bad, huh? If only Fuad could reproduce. Then at least you’d be able to breed Fiats.”

  “So I’ll be expecting you next week, okay?” Noni continued. “And don’t forget: get the official copy of your transcript, pack, send your books, and bring that travel umbrella I lent you a while back—and my denim jacket. You still have them, right? What else . . .”

  Kugy held the receiver away from her ear as she turned on the TV and flipped through the channels, waiting for Noni to finish talking.

  “Kugy? Are you writing this down?”

  “Yes!” Kugy answered hurriedly. “See you next week, okay?”

  She chuckled as she put down the phone. Noni was really something else. In terms of getting her ready to go to college in Bandung, there was practically nothing left for her own family to see to. Noni had willingly and thoroughly taken care of almost everything. Such had been their relationship, ever since they were little. Although they were the same age, Noni had always taken care of her as a big sister would.

  Noni, an only child, and Kugy, one of several siblings, had been inseparable since kindergarten. Both their fathers had started out working for the same company, and the relationship between the two families had been tight-knit since the day they met. Their fathers were even often assigned to work together on the same projects. It was as if it had all been planned.

  So Noni and Kugy had grown up together, living in the same housing developments and moving from city to city: Ujungpandang, Balikpapan, Bontang, and finally Jakarta, where they finished elementary school together and where, for the first time in their lives, they’d had to part ways. Noni’s dad was the first to retire, and he decided to live out the rest of his days with his wife in Subang while Noni went to boarding school nearby in Bandung. Kugy’s father, on the other hand, decided that their family would remain in Jakarta.

  Although Noni appeared to be the more mature and organized of the two, Kugy’s seemingly chaotic disposition belied a determination that Noni lacked. Kugy always knew exactly what she
wanted, ever since she was a child. And when something really mattered to her, she transformed into a completely different person.

  Her decision to major in literature stemmed from her ambition to become a fairy tale writer, and she was attending university in another city because she dreamed of being financially independent and living on her own. For all her spontaneity, Kugy had charted her life’s course with great thoroughness. Every step had a good reason behind it, and when it came to seeing her dreams through, Kugy was all business.

  Kugy had been diligent about saving money since elementary school, and she invested all her savings in children’s books, starting with cheap picture books and graduating to expensive volumes of fairy tale classics. She used these books to start a library, complete with membership and lending fees, and turned a profit, ensuring her books would continue to increase in number. So it was that Kugy became the youngest library owner in the housing development, not to mention the fiercest. Like a predator in a jungle, she hunted down delinquent library patrons on her little bicycle until she had cornered them, leaving them no choice but to return their books in order to stop her from chasing them down again in the future.

  Anything and everything Kugy believed would help her achieve her dreams, she carried out with zeal. In middle and high school, she was editor in chief of the school newspaper. She earned a reputation as a pioneer, always coming up with fresh story ideas, and she worked hard to set up interviews with well-known public figures that she conducted with a meticulousness worthy of any professional before turning them into hard-hitting articles.

  She entered every writing contest she came across in magazines and worked as hard as possible to win them. It got to the point where Kugy knew who would most likely be on the selection committees and what their reading tastes were.

  Not everyone thought becoming a fairy tale writer was a worthwhile pursuit. Kugy knew this. As she got older, she became increasingly aware that the kind of career that people did deem “worthwhile” was one that earned a lot of money. Being a storywriter wasn’t one of them. So to prove them wrong, Kugy had tried her whole life to show she could in fact earn a living from her writing.

  Holed up in her room, which led to the lending library in the attic, Kugy constructed her lifelong dream, block by block. She knew where she was headed—even if the road she would have to take was a winding one.

 

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