Short Story: As Darkness Falls

Published in the Jakarta Post 16 & 23 January 2005

(keeping with the drug theme – I wrote this story based on actual experience in 2004….)

by Laine Berman

Darkness falls quickly in Indonesia. Crisp cerulean skies turn grey, then green. The green lingers for a bit, turns the color of aged bronze, then the blackness drops in, enveloping everything. The sky was just turning green on Thursday June 10th when the phone rang.  It was Agus.

Laine, Gus here. How are things?

Good, what’s up? Have you delivered the computer to the studio yet?

No. I tried to earlier but something was going on.

Oh yea? what?

I’m not sure. But I have a bad feeling.

What do you mean Gus?

Well, there are lots of people there.

People like who?

Don’t know.

You don’t know them? Are they police?

Don’t know.

Is Anton in trouble?

Don’t know, but I have a bad feeling.

OK, I’ll go right over.

No! Don’t! You’ll get caught up in it,

Agus, tell me what you saw.

I can’t.


When disasters strike in Java, people don’t want to tell you. Over and over I tried calling Anton and Adi on their cell phones but no answer. I imagined the worst and grabbed my scooter keys and ran out the door.

The ride to Anton’s studio was long, dark, and in the best of conditions, scary. I am thoroughly convinced that everyone in this country but me has cat’s eyes and can see clearly in the dark. I can’t see a thing so I take the back streets with less traffic. I race down Jalan Kaliurang and cut left to the road that runs parallel to Ring Road. At Condong Catur terminal I turn right and cross over south to Gejayan. Past what is left of the Mataram Canal, I turn round and then make a left on to the new road where my husband’s studio is located.

My heart hasn’t stopped racing since the phone call. I am panting and sweating as if I just ran 5 miles despite the cool night. The gates in front of the studio were locked but all the lights were on. I ran round the back entrance and into the shop veranda. The door was open. Inside the place was a wreck. Everything open, thrown about, on the floor. All Anton’s tattoo paraphernalia were out as if he were just taking a break from a job not yet finished. His books were all over the floor. I ran upstairs and found the same thing. Everything open, thrown about, no one around. Try calling again, I thought. Hallelujah, it’s ringing. Anton answered.

Where are you?

I’m on my way home with the fuzz.

You don’t have the key. Wait out front. I’m on my way.

The ride out was bad enough. Back was just terrifying. I knew it was a drug charge. That at least was clear. But what, how much, how bad? I never ride fast, especially at night. Yet I must admit, seeing the speedometer reach 80 along the ring road, I felt a thrill that momentarily eclipsed my anxiety. Thoughts swam through my head. Yet again, I am right. I warned him how many times to stop his pathetic drug dealings. But no. He said over and over to me, the police know me. I will never be arrested.

To his friends who would come and leave their putauw and shabu supplies with him to look after, I always responded sinisterly, Oh yea, leave it all with Anton. He is invulnerable to arrest. He’s too big a celebrity to get in trouble.

To Anton, I gave up pleading. Anton, WHY? You make no money out of this. You rarely use the stuff yourself. WHY???? The more I tried to reason with him, the more he would reject me. If I tried to forbid him, he just stayed away from home and spent more and more time in the studio and hanging out in clubs where he would supply his friends. Ok, have it your way. But NEVER bring that stuff home. And take this as a warning. WHEN you are arrested, do not count on me to wait for you. Do NOT count on me to pay your fines. Do NOT count on me to visit you in prison and bring you what you need. I even had a plan. I told him: WHEN you are arrested, I will call your dad to handle it. DON’T count on me. I don’t want to know. Here it all was – unfolding in front of me on the cold ride home. Now what?

I turned the corner into the street and raced over the drunk bumps, flying home. PLEASE don’t let the police knock the door in before I arrive. What would I do if I had to stay in that huge house all alone with no front door??? As I approached the house, I saw a dark van parked in front of the gate and some 10 people milling about. There was Anton. He looked OK. Shaken, a bit of a swollen lip, but intact. No bullet wounds. I stopped in front of the gate and reached into my purse for the keys.

“You should warn me if you come home with so many friends. Who’s in charge here?”

I casually tossed Anton the keys thinking twice about my pistol key-ring. Nah they won’t think it’s a real gun. Anton caught the keys and unlocked the gates. Please come in I said in formal Javanese. We reached the front door and the questioning began – I wanted to know what the charges were, they wanted to know what I knew. I figured all is best if I keep calm and make things friendly. That’s easy. People here never met a foreigner before who speaks Javanese so it is always easy to leave a very positive impression.

As they came into the light of the house, I examined their faces. Nothing familiar. They didn’t really look like cops. They looked like normal people with a slightly rough edge to them. Yea, they’d easily pass for normal people in a sting. Clever. We stood in the living room and I asked what happened. The leader, Joko explained Anton was nicked on a drug possession charge.

Possessing exactly what?

Ganja, putauw and shabu-shabu.

You’re joking.

No. We caught him in a sting selling it to one of my men.

Excuse me. You haven’t beaten him enough. May I take over and smash him?

Nooooooo. That isn’t necessary.

Excuse me. Yes it is. They came closer to me as if to protect Anton, in case I was to make good on my words. My arms were far too weak to lift.

I felt the tears well up in my eyes and wondered for a second if crying would help or hinder. Either way, nothing came out. The pressure alone ached, but no release. Now what?

The police asked my permission to search the house. Monggo, I said in polite Javanese. But I had to observe them to assure nothing went missing. I gave them a tour of the house and pointed out everything that was Anton’s. We all gathered in the back room to sit and chat like old friends. Did anyone want some tea? No, that wasn’t necessary. They asked me over and over what I knew. I told them the truth. Sure I knew he had ganja. How many times had I asked him to rethink his activities. No, I had no idea he had now because just last week I begged him to rethink yet again why he was so fixed on dealing ganja. I knew he made no money. So what, yet again, I asked, was the point? I also knew he and his friends gathered at the studio and smoked very openly on the front veranda as if no law in the land could touch them. That was precisely why I never came to the studio any more. I couldn’t stomach watching my own sweet husband destroy his life, his brilliant mind, his talents, his reputation, his business, his marriage. I just didn’t want to know any more. I felt sick, as if all my insides were turning to lead. My legs now felt as empty as my arms had earlier and I sat down next to Anton, held his hand in mine, but couldn’t look him in the eyes. I begged the police not to torture him – but to scare the crap out of him was fine by me. Now what?

They found ganja seeds and a bong. Oh shit. Now they’ll think I’m also involved and that I knew all about this. I had told them that he never smoked in the house, and now this was proven false. Sure he did. Each night he’d come home late with friends after I’d gone to bed and smoke in the back yard. Each morning after he’d wake up, he’d bathe, fill his bong and smoke in the back – before ever coming to see me in my office.  It disgusted me. He stank from the stuff and I’d always tell him with revulsion how disgusting the smell was. Brush your teeth, get rid of that stench before you leave. He never did.

Because of his stupid ganja, I spent almost no time with him. He preferred the company of drugs to me. He preferred the company of drug dealers and users to his old friends. OK. His choice. I stayed busy with my own life, my own work. He had no interest in my life and my concerns and I no longer had any interest in his. What kind of life is this I kept asking myself? It was all so embarrassing. Where was the great guy I fell in love with, married, shared my life with, dragged overseas, sacrificed so much for? This guy surely was not my sweet Anton. He was just some stupid, mindless, druggie who never paid attention to me, who never did anymore art work, who rejected every suggestion I ever gave him, who never helped me with anything, who wouldn’t even change a light bulb when I asked him to. This man living with me (when he deigned to come home) was just some drug-smelly jerk I hated. What did I have to do to get my Anton back?

Part of me, I must admit, was relieved that he was finally arrested. I knew it was coming. That was inevitable. His cockiness was just so overwhelming that there was no way he’d get away with this for long. Now what? Do I hold good on my threats?

“Anton, remember I warned you not to count on me for anything”, I said still avoiding his gaze. “I’ll call your father and ask him to take care of this.”

He squeezed my hand and whispered, “I’m so sorry. I wish I’d listened to you.”

I looked up into that familiar, sweet face and saw the fear in his eyes. Oh god. I can’t do this Anton, I thought to myself.

“Call papa, and call Gus.”

“Of course I will.” You make this huge mess, and I’ll obediently clean it all up for you.

“Remember when we first contracted this house and I said, what on earth will I do in such a huge place all alone when you get arrested, and you responded, don’t talk like that? I’m pretty clever eh? You should know better than to ignore my words by now.”

“You’re right Len. I am really sorry.”

“Sorry because you got caught or sorry because you have destroyed your life and mine?” He gazed at me in silence.

The police finally took him away at about 9 pm. I was all alone. Now what? Do I hold to my promise to let him rot, or do I move? Move. Or at least start. First I called papa. “Pa, I have some bad news.”

Papa is no dope. He has also warned Anton. But what made things worse was the sound of this calm elderly man wheezing and gasping for each asthmatic breath. “Laine, I can’t help you. My asthma. I can’t do anything now but struggle for breath. I’m sorry. You’ll have to do what you can. Please don’t let my child rot in prison. Do whatever you can to get him out of this.”

“Sure papa. I’ll do what I can.” I started to cry. There went my first option – leave it to papa like I’d threatened for ages. Papa tried to calm me.

“We’ll send mama tomorrow morning.”

“Thanks pa.”

OK, next. Text Gus. Gus, Anton was just arrested. Can you help? SEND. Gus telephoned right away. “Tell me what happened.” I told him. Thank god Anton has powerful friends. “OK, leave it to me. I’ll find out who is connected to the arresting division.” Thank you Gus! Now what? My cell phone was buzzing with calls and SMS’s all night from Gus’ connections. Things were definitely rolling. Only I had no idea or hand in the plans.

For the next five days I spent every moment I could with Anton, visiting him in prison, being friendly with the police so they wouldn’t beat him, and cleaning up the mess he left behind. I negotiated with the village head, neighbors, and owners for the shop to reopen for business, and called a meeting of all Yogya tattooists to discuss the issues and be sure that the rest did not catch flak for my husband’s stupidity. We made a plan, but if anything has been done about it, I certainly do not know. For these five days, I never ate one bite of food and had absolutely no sleep. No time, no need, no desire.

Efficiently and systematically I took care of everyone’s needs but my own. Everyone called to ask about Anton, but no one asked about me. No one seemed to care that I helped the other people arrested with my husband, supplying them with toothbrushes, paste, soap, clothes when their own families did not. No one thanked me for calling their parents to inform them where their sons where when none of their friends had the courage to do so. Anton and all his friends were fine because I took care of everything. No one asked about the police calling me constantly to pay for this and that or my husband would be beaten. No one seemed to think it was rude to ask me to pay their son’s fines so they can come home when my own husband could not. No one cared about the strange men riding slowly past my house at all times, watching. No one took seriously my worries about being a foreign woman, all alone now. None of Anton’s friends stopped by to just be here with me. The Javanese are afraid of ‘setress’, others would explain in their defense. Of course I was setress. Isn’t that why they should come?

After 12 years living in Java, the gulf between them and me has expanded. My eyes have been opened so far and so wide that the strain seems permanent. Yet I already know that when this is all over, I will have no choice but to take my husband back and forgive all his friends who abandoned me, to receive them in my home again, face them all as if they never hurt me, and laugh about this right along with them.

Yogyakarta, June 14 2004

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