From the wooden stool in the back yard where he was sitting, Guntoro could see how she was still pouting ever since she left the living room. She squatted near the well to wash the green mangoes that she had to bring to the gathering. After wiping them dry in the kitchen, she put them in a clean plastic bag and exited. When she arrived at the yard, she signaled him to follow her. He stood up, grimacing in pain when his body weight added pressure to the blisters on his feet. The flip flops he was wearing didn’t give him adequate protection against the ground.
Endang quickly rushed towards him, “Sit down, and let me see your feet.” She said.
He didn’t have the energy to argue with anybody, so he quickly obeyed her.
She lifted his feet up without hesitation, and saw that the bandages had become dirty, “Don’t you know that you have to change these after you take a bath?” She asked as if she was talking to a five-year-old. “I’m going to get my medicine box to clean your blisters and change the bandages before we go.”
Guntoro didn’t say anything, he watched her walk away then smiled and shook his head. She’s only half his age, but she treats him like a little boy or maybe it’s her that acts like an old woman.
She was back in no time, and quickly but gently cleaned and treated his feet. Guntoro didn’t understand why his heart stirred at the idea that there was someone who was caring for him with all sincerity, without being asked to do so.
“There, all done.” She said with a smile feeling good about herself. She put the little box in her plastic bag, “Just in case we need it.” She said.
“Let’s go then,” Guntoro answered.
It had been a while since he walked in a rice field, the smell, sight and sensation made him remember his younger days, when life was so carefree yet promising, always wondering what the future would be. Who would have thought that for him it would be this painful? He observed the young girl walking in front of him, in many ways she reminded him of his youth, these rice fields also used to be his playground.
“Look, over there,” She turned around and pointed to a hut, “My friends have already arrived.” She was about to run, but remember that he was walking with difficulty, so she decided to maintain the slow pace.
They were loud and rowdy joking, and laughing and teasing each other. “Hello, hello….” She greeted them as soon as they reached the hut.
“nDang, how come you just arrived?” One of the girls greeted her. When they saw Guntoro walking behind her, they fell quiet, bowing and smiling with respect towards him.
“Good afternoon, Pak Lik .” A boy greeted him politely, knowing that he wasn’t her father, but guessing from his age that he must be her uncle. “Please sit down.” He pointing to a space next to him with his thumb as a sign of respect.
All the other kids laughed and hooted, “Don’t be fooled Pak Lik, his being nice to you because he wants to get your approval to date your niece.” Another boy said out loud followed by loud noises of the others agreeing.
“Hey guys, this Pak Lik is my older sister’s son. So he’s actually my nephew. Dik Gun these are my friends. I’ll let them introduce themselves to you.” Endang said while putting her mangoes down and looking at the other ingredients her friends brought.
Guntoro couldn’t believe what was happening to him, he was actually caught in their merriment and began joking and laughing with the boys, forgetting the emotional weight that had gripped his heart this whole time.
“Tot, Gatot, why don’t you play the guitar.” One of the girls said.
Gatot was the boy who greeted Guntoro first, he was the boy who everyone said had a crush on Endang.
The boy raised his hand and picked up the guitar that was lying around behind him, “I want to play this song to the prettiest girl in school and in this field….” He said shamelessly, followed by the booing of his friends.
Endang’s face turned red and she turned away pretending to be busy peeling the fruits.
When his hand began to strum the guitar strings, Guntoro squinted as goose bumps ran down his skin, hearing how out of tune the instrument was, and the boy’s voice was like a cat meowing for food.
Out of nowhere a rose myrtle hit Gatot on the head, this caused his friends to laugh at him.
“That was worse than nails on a chalkboard,” Endang said to him, she had another rose myrtle in her hand, “If you sing again, I’ll hit you with another one of these.”
“Tot, no wonder people say that your house is haunted.” Another boy said, “Your neighbors probably heard you sing and thought you were a ghost!”
“Or maybe you should work here in the fields to help my father get rid of the rats with your voice,” Endang added.
“Of course I will, as soon as he acknowledges me as his son in law,” Gatot replied with a big smile.
Guntoro couldn’t help but laugh till his stomach hurt watching them interact with each other. “Here give that guitar to me, let me tune it.” He said.
“Look at him, he’s actually the only decent person here,” Gatot said to his friends, “Here, Mas. Thank you for being kind to your future uncle.”
The rest of the grouped booed and hooted at him, one guy even whistled out loud.
Guntoro just smiled as he received the guitar, he immersed himself in fine tuning it. Feeling happy that after a long time, he could finally play a guitar again. Dini wasn’t really fond of the idea, and he tended to avoid anything that might upset her.
Guntoro couldn’t remember the last time he laughed this much. They spent the afternoon singing to his guitar playing, many songs were made into parodies by the boys.
“NDang, your nephew is very handsome.” Siti whispered to her.
“Is he?” She said indifferently.
“Of course for Endang the most handsome guy here is Gatot.” Wati teased.
“Stop that!” She blushed, “He just one-sidedly proclaimed himself to be my boyfriend, I never said yes.”
“What are you waiting for? He’s one of the cutest guys in school. The two of you look good together.” Siti said.
“My father would kill me if I dared to get close to boys at this age.” She replied.
“He doesn’t have to know.”
“But still……” She involuntarily glanced at Guntoro. His facial expression had changed, he’s not melancholy anymore. He looked even more handsome now that he was able to laugh from the heart.
She scold herself and looked away. She chided her heart for beating so fast. She turned around again to look at the group of friends that was surrounding Guntoro. She looked at Gatot, he wasn’t that bad, as the girls said he was cute, and tall, with a cheerful disposition. His voice was pitched and sounded funny, unlike Guntoro’s deep soothing tone, and he had straight hair, while Guntoro’s locks were wavy. She wanted to slap herself in the face for suddenly comparing them to each other. She quickly got up, jumped down from the hut and walked a few meters away from the rest of the group.
Gatot perked up when he saw Endang walking alone, he moved to the edge of the hut, he jumped down and walked to where she was now standing and looking away from them.
“nDang, what are you doing here alone?” He asked.
She took a deep breath and forced a smile, “Nothing, I’m just enjoying the view.” She replied.
“nDang, I’ve been wanting to ask you something, I think it’s obvious how I feel about you. I always shout it out for everyone to hear. nDang would you be my girlfriend?”
“Tot, do I have to answer now? I….I need to think about it.” She replied looking firmly at the ground.
“Don’t worry I’ll wait for you.”
Some of the boys were about to tease them, when Siti shushed them. Signing them to look at Gatot’s expression that was not quite a happy one.
“What did the two of you talk about?” Guntoro asked after everybody had left, and only he and Endang remained in the hut. He was still holding the guitar, Gatot was more than happy to lend it to him, to gain extra points with Endang.
“Who?” She asked pretending not to know.
“You and Gatot, you walked away and he followed after you, what did you talk about?” He asked again.
“Nothing much, he asked me if I wanted to officially be his girlfriend.”
“And did you say yes?”
She shook her head, “I told him that I still need time to think about it.”
“He’s a good looking kid. And he has a great personality.” Guntoro said.
“That’s right…” She nodded
“But mind your own business…..” She replied sassily, “Let’s get back, look at that, the sky is red, it’s almost dusk. Bapak would be upset if I get home after dark. What do you think if we go to the river tomorrow?”
“The river? Sure…”
It wasn’t hard for Guntoro to find excuses to delay his return to Surabaya, a volleyball tournament where the boys from the community asked him to participate, a relatives Sunatan ceremony in the adjoining town, even the office of the town chief had asked him to be the master of ceremony in one of their events. Guntoro actually felt reborn. He filled his days helping with the house chores, of course there was a certain somebody there, who was more than happy to take advantage of him and make him do most of the chores, while she hides from her mother under the bed and takes a nap. The girl was even shameless enough to reproach him for not rinsing the rice properly and not putting the right seasoning in the fried bean cake. At night, he was inspired to scribble notes and even draft a new book.
Endang’s holiday had ended, and she was back in school again. He also took it on himself to take her to school every morning and pick her up in the afternoon on the bicycle. And on weekends, they’d go to his parents’ house to spend the night, Endang would always want to snuggle up with his mother, forcing his father to sleep in the guest room.
“Where are you going?” He asked as he saw her carrying a kite in her hands and sneaking out the back door.
“To the field, the wind is strong and steady, it’s perfect to fly a kite.” She replied. “But don’t make too much noise. Bapak hates it when I fly a kite, he said that it is a game for boys.”
“I’m coming with you.” He got up, put his flip flops on and ran after her.
“Okay, then you can carry this.” She handed the kite to him, “Let’s go!”
They rushed out to the field, running back and forwards trying to get the kite up in the air. Once it was airborne Endang insisted on holding the string, but apparently she wasn’t too good at it as the kite twisted and lost altitude.
“Here let me teach you how to do it.” He said standing behind her and putting his arm around her, holding her hands that was holding the string. He tugged the kite down then released the string again, pulling and releasing in turns to make it fly higher. She was happy and excited as the diamond shaped paper soared in the sky.
For some strange reason, her hair that was blown by the wind made his heart skip a beat as it gently landed on his face. The soft smell of her shampoo caused his face to turn hot. He nervously let go of her, and because she was leaning against him, she fell backward on the ground. Making the kite brake and fly away.
“Why are you so mean?” She complained picking herself up.
He extended his hand to help her, laughing fretfully, “I’m sorry, there was a sudden itch on my back, so I let go of you to scratch it.” He replied.
“Now my kite is gone.” She lamented.
“I’m sorry, I’m sorry….” He said while putting his hand on her head and messing her hair around.
“I need to sit down for a while.” She said while walking towards the open hut.
He followed behind her, they sat side by side in the open hut. Guntoro looked towards the horizon, the trees rustle as their leaves were teased by the strong afternoon breeze, he could hear in the distance a farmer shooing away the birds that fly low above the tall rice plants. It was almost harvest season, a time when farmers must tend carefully to the field, safeguarding it against armies of little birds who are ready to attack for a bounty of rice seeds. In the distance, he could hear a clanging of several bells, followed by the sound of little wings fluttering in panic. He took a deep breath, it would be good if time could stop at this very moment, he felt that he had everything he needed, the beautiful view, fresh crisp air, his parents and grandparents who love him and the girl he loved by his side.
Guntoro froze as he realized his thoughts. The girl he loved? By his side? How could he suddenly think that way? He glanced at Endang who was nodding sleepily, the cool breeze brushing against her face had made her drowsy. As she fell asleep she fell sideward landing on his shoulder. Guntoro felt flustered and anxious at the same time. Since when did he see her more than just family? Since when did this girl invade his heart and his mind?
He moved his shoulder taking her head in his hand and laying it on his lap very gently. He wanted to see her better. He lightly stroke her cheek, seeing her sleeping like this, she didn’t look like the bossy girl who was always on his back about the house chores.
He couldn’t help but feel ashamed of himself. How could he a married man, have feelings for this girl who was half his age, a girl who hasn’t even reached adulthood yet.
His brain began a debate with his heart. Sure she was only fifteen and not a legal adult, but if he had to compare her with his wife, she was much more emotionally mature. This girl was able to understand him and sympathize with him, something that Dini even after an extended dating period and two years of marriage failed to do.
And Dini, suddenly it seemed that with every passing day, she began to be a burden on his life instead of a partner to bear the heavy load as promised on their wedding day. How strange that after a few months away from his beautiful wife, he hasn’t even missed her a single bit. In fact, he feels relieved and free from the ball and chain that had been weighing his soul down.
Guntoro caressed her nose softly with his finger, if only she were older, or he was younger and single, he wouldn’t hesitate one minute to confess to her. But the other problem was their family ties. Although they are not closely blood related, but she was still a child raised by his grandparents, he doubts that they will look fondly at his feelings for her. Especially considering his current condition.
Guntoro didn’t want to take his eyes off her, he knew that he has to go back to reality soon, to his life in Surabaya, and maybe even to Dini. So if this was a dream, he wanted to savor it as much as he can before he finally wakes up. Being by her side, talking to her and spending time with her was all that he wanted, all that he needed, nothing more. Surely if it’s only this much, it would be alright.
In the distance, Pak Bakrie was in his field, cleaning the invading weeds from his precious rice plants. His eyes beamed with concern as he caught sight of his grandson and adopted daughter. This can’t be, I can’t let this go on, he whispered to himself.
 Pak Lik is uncle