Endang climbed into the passenger seat of the truck. The driver was a slim man in his thirties, he smiled kindly at her and at Guntoro who climbed in after her.
“Guntoro, how did you get lost out here?” He said without turning around.
Guntoro surprised when the man called him by his name, he observed him carefully, “Wahyu?” He spurted, “Long time no see, I heard you enrolled in the navy, I never imagined that you would be stationed here.” Both men shook hands in a warm and friendly way.
“And who is this young lady?” He asked.
“This is my aunt. Bu Lik Endang.”
“Your aunt how could that be?”
“My grandparents took her in and raised her as their own. Bu Lik, this is my friend Wahyu, we went to high school together.” He presented.
“Aren’t you shameless, how could you claim your aunt as your wife in front of my colleagues?” He laughed.
Guntoro laughed out loud, “I didn’t claim anything, it was Pak Made who assumed that she was my wife, I just didn’t deny it because the young guy was already sending out wedding invitations.”
Wahyu continued laughing, “You know how it is to be young, I mean which young man wouldn’t want to get to know a pretty girl like your aunt here.”
“The more reason to make them believe that she’s my wife, a hormonal young man chasing her in a forestall area like this, is something I want to avoid.” He said assertively.
“Fine! Let’s play that game then.” Wahyu replied.
Endang only sat quietly, not knowing what to say.
“I heard you got married and live in Surabaya, are you here on vacation?” Wahyu asked.
“It’s a long story.” Guntoro replied, his face became dark.
“Ah…trouble in paradise huh?” Wahyu nodded understandingly.
They soon arrived at the post, it was actually a little house made to function as a post, it had a small living room with a two-way radio and a CDMA phone in the corner of a working desk. Wahyu showed them around, there was one bedroom made to function as a barrack, and at the back there was a small kitchen and bathroom.
“Yu, can I borrow the phone to call home? I’m sure my parents would be wondering what happened to us.” Guntoro asked.
“Of course! Send them my regards.”
Pak Koes answered the phone, Guntoro explained to him about their situation, and that they are now in a Navy out post. He also explained to his father that he met Wahyu. His best friend from high school, and that he had sent them his regards.
“It’s five o’clock already, if you think, it will take a long time to fix the motorbike, you should ask them if they will let you spend the night, I don’t think it will be a good idea for you to drive back on so late.” Pak Koes said to his son.
“Okay, Pak. Bye…”
Pak Koes hung up the phone, his wife was sitting behind him, observing. “Are they alright?” She asked.
“Yeah, luckily they met Wahyu. Remember him, he used to come here after school with Guntoro, those two once had a crazy idea to make a band together.”
“Ah yes, I remember him, he’s a nice young man.”
“Now he’s a sergeant in the Navy,” Pak Koes said.
“Oh wow, how things changed so much.”
“Hmm….we are getting old….”
“You know when Guntoro and Dini got married two years ago, I thought that by now we would be carrying our grandchildren. Now I’m just glad they don’t have any kids yet.” Bu Yuni exhaled, her husband nodding in agreement.
“You better call Bapak and makeup an excuse why Endang can’t come home tonight. If we tell him what really happened, he’s going to be so angry at you.”
“Yeah…” She got up and dialed a number.
“Thank Yu!” Guntoro said.
“Sergeant.” The young man called out, “The motorbike doesn’t have any real problems. I’ll have to clean the motor and it should work fine, it’ll probably take me an hour or two.”
“Thank you, I’ll help you…” Guntoro said while folding his sleeves
The young man looked at him with a disagreeing look.
“Bambang is jealous of his tools. They’re his babies, his never going to let anyone touch them. “He paused, “mBang, why don’t you fix the bike, I’ll take my friend and hi aun…wife to eat at the shop over there. We’ll bring back something for you as a thank you gift.”
“Works for me!” He said happily, putting on his signature wide smile with his thumbs up.
“Come to think of it he is kind of strange, I wouldn’t want him as an uncle either if I were in your place,” Wahyu whispered when they were on the streets. Guntoro laughed and Endang just blushed in silence.
The shop was a small one, typical of a small village. The old lady who tended it offered them grilled fish, and squid, those were the only two items offered, what’s left of the catch of the day.
“We’ll take that.” Guntoro said, “And can you please wrap some to take back.”
“So how long have you been back here in Jember?” Wahyu asked.
“Almost three months,” Guntoro replied.
“And you haven’t been to Surabaya?”
Guntoro shook his head.
“And your wife?”
“I haven’t spoken to her since.”
“I heard she was drop dead gorgeous, don’t you feel sorry for leaving her behind just like that?” Wahyu continued asking.
“Excuse me, I need to go to the toilet.” Endang stood up, the conversation was entering a subject that made her feel uncomfortable.
Guntoro looked at her without saying a word. Wahyu observed him carefully, trying to understand what was going on with his old friend.
“My relationship with Dini is complicated,” Guntoro explained, “She’s the only daughter of a rich and successful business man, I worked in their factory. Maybe that’s why she thinks she owns me.”
“Well, it’s normal for a wife to be possessive of her husband and vice versa.”
“But not her kind of possessiveness. She’s constantly jealous, spying on me, going through my cellphone, checking me up at work, nit-picking everything I say, she even goes so far as to strip me and sniff me, and not in the exciting way, I’m talking about the way that makes you shrink just by thinking about it.”
Wahyu laughed, “That bad?”
“And where does she come in?”
“The one that you can’t take your eyes off, the one you won’t allow to talk to anyone else, the one that you call your aunt.”
Just then Endang came back, Guntoro and Wahyu change their topic to lighter things, mostly about old friends and where they are now. When the food came, Endang showed how appreciative she was, she ate like there was no tomorrow. Seeing how she was eating, Guntoro kept piling her plate with fish and squid.
“I’m so full!” She said as they left the shop.
“You ate like the world was going to end tomorrow.” Guntoro teased.
“The world isn’t going to end tomorrow, but I most likely will never eat something that fresh and good again.” She replied poking her tongue out at him.
He laughed and messed her hair as Wahyu watched in silence. When they arrived back at the post, the sky was dark and Bambang had finished repairing the motorcycle. “When Guntoro handed the food to him, he received it with a big thank you, walking to the kitchen to get plates to share it with Pak Made.
“Let’s go and sit over there.” Wahyu said, “The guys built a divan so the team on duty at this post can use it to sit and night and chat or play cards.”
“How could you afford to not work for three months?” Wahyu asked once they sat down comfortably.
Guntoro explained, “I have a small but sufficient income from my published book.”
“Ah…..” Wahyu nodded, “So your income is small because you’re not working, but my income is small and insufficient even though I work hard. Consider yourself lucky.”
“Having a big income doesn’t mean you’ll automatically be happy,” Guntoro answered profoundly, “There are other, simpler things in life that are worth more than a big house, or a car, For example look at the natural scenery in front of us, having a lot of money can’t buy you this. People with money go on vacations to resorts or expensive hotels, where’s the joy in that?”
“Easy for you to say!” Endang said. “For people like me, who’s never been inside a fancy hotel, we would want to know how it looks and feels to stay in one of those.”
“Oh? And how would your dream vacation be?” Wahyu asked her.
“Let’s see…., maybe something that’s a surprise, an unexpected Saturday to Sunday outing. Hopefully, a plane ride, because it’s fast, and I’ve never been in one. In a five star hotel with all the upscale service they offer, I saw on TV that they have air conditioning, bathtubs in the room’s bathroom and big soft fluffy beds, how nice!”
“And where would you wish this surprise vacation to be in?” Guntoro questioned.
“Ummm….maybe Yogyakarta. Yeah, Yogya, where there’s a lot of cultural heritage to see. Prambanan, Borobudur, The Palace, and even the famous Jalan Malioboro.”She smiled.
Guntoro smiled also, “Thank goodness dreams don’t cost a thing.”
“But it’s never too late to go pursuing it!” Wahyu added.
Guntoro thought about what he said for a while, then nodded, “Agreed!”
As Guntoro and Wahyu catchup with each other’s lives Endang couldn’t help but feel bored. There was not enough beautiful scenery and fresh air in the area to keep her interested to sit still and tune into the boasting of men. She began yawning and her eyes were teary.
“If you’re sleepy, why don’t you go into the barrack and use one of the beds,” Wahyu said.
“Oh, thank you, ” Endang replied, “I think I’ll turn in for the day.”
“Hang on!” Guntoro held her back. “If you want to sleep, you should sleep here. You can use my lap as a pillow. I don’t feel comfortable with the idea of you in there alone in a public bedroom with opened doors while we’re out here talking.”
“It’ll be alright Pak Made and Bambang are good and decent people.” Wahyu assured him.
“I still don’t feel reassured.”
“Okay, I just want to rest, inside, out here, anyplace will do,” Endang said while lying her body down, folding her arms under her head as the two men kept on chatting.
Before long she felt pins and needles in her arm, and tried to relieve it by massaging it with her other hand.
“That’s why I told you to put your head here,” Guntoro said while patting his lap.
Endang doubted, she looked at Wahyu, who pretended to be busy observing the sky. She finally placed her head down and curled sideways with her face looking away from Guntoro. Before long her breathing became calm, and she was fast asleep.
“You know, a girl her age wouldn’t know the difference between love and admiration. It would be easy for them to confuse the two feelings.” Wahyu said in a philosophical tone.
“What are you getting at?” Guntoro understanding what he was trying to say, but tried to debate anyway.
“You know what I mean, for a young girl like her, she could easily feel admiration for men our age, with our experience and the things we know. After all she hasn’t been through much of life.”
“You’re right,” Guntoro replied, looking at her and his hand clearing the hair away from Endang’s face.
“And besides, right now, you’re confused and hurt. You just had a big fight with your wife and you’re still angry at her, but you’re still married to her which means you still haven’t let go of her. You’re smitten with this young girl who’s with you day in and day out, who you have innocent fun with, who takes your mind off your problems, but it doesn’t mean that you love her. How could you be so sure that you don’t feel the way you do because she’s at an arm’s length away from you?” Wahyu looked at him sharply, “You should put your feet on the ground and take action, instead of running away and hiding here, you should go and confront your problems. If things don’t work out between you and your wife, then end it, don’t let it drag along. And this is also a chance to define what you feel about Endang. If you still feel the same way as you do now, being far away from her, then maybe it’s love. But if it all turns into a sweet memory that you could put behind you, then do just that. Put it behind you, don’t drag her in to your confusion.”
“And what if it turns out that I do love her?” Guntoro thought out loud.
“Then wait, wait for her to at least become an adult, you should let her enjoy her youth, her friends, have fun, like we did when we were her age. And if turns out that in the future she doesn’t love you in return, then I’m sure a handsome and smart man like yourself could win her over, and make her fall in love with you, but for real this time.”
“Thanks! Thanks for being the voice of reason, my friend.” Guntoro nodded.
The next morning they said their thank you and goodbyes and headed back for Jember. On the drive back, he deliberately went slower, as if he was trying to prevent the drive from ending. He took his left hand off the handlebar and caressed her hand that was holding him around the waist, without saying a word. For some reason a mix of happiness and pain filled his heart as she responded by tightening her embrace and leaning her head against his back. He was afraid, afraid to assert his feelings for her, afraid to ask her how she felt about him. Did she see him as a man? Or were her feelings for him purely admiration. He thought about Wahyu’s words, and also thought about his current situation. Wahyu was right. At this moment he was in an emotional limbo, if he continued like this, it was her who’ll end up getting hurt the most.
Endang didn’t know why her tears started rolling down her face. She held him tighter as his hand caressed hers gently, she leaned her head on his back. Lately, the soft smell of his sweat had become familiar to her. She didn’t want to see him leave, but she knew that it was unavoidable. Was it because she grew up alone, that his presence filled the void of not having a sibling she could spend time with? Or was it more than that? She didn’t dare to even consider the latter. He was after all the son of her older sister. Besides he had someone waiting for him in Surabaya. Sure they have their problems, though she didn’t know what they were, but what man wouldn’t go back to his angel like wife with her high-class lifestyle. She couldn’t comprehend why the idea of him going back to his wife hurt her so much.
They were too lost in their respective thoughts to realize a car slowly following close behind them. Dini looked at them with rage from the back passenger seat. She felt her heart burning seeing her husband acting so lovingly with another woman, a younger one too. She couldn’t quite see who it was, but she didn’t care. Whoever wanted to mess with her man is her enemy, and she never forgives her enemy.
“Follow them, but put a little bit of distance so they won’t suspect us!” She ordered the driver, “I want to see where they go.”
Guntoro turned to the street of his parents’ house. He stopped the motorcycle in front of the gate, Endang climbed down to open the gate, she turned around to hand the helmet to him, which he accepted. He casually hung it on the handlebar, seeing that her eyes were red and her face wet with tears, he held her hand and pulled her closer. “What’s wrong?” He asked while wiping her cheeks lovingly.
“I…” Endang was about to speak, when suddenly a car stopped behind them and Dini climbed out.
“Mas Gun!” She screamed, “Is this why you didn’t come home all this time? You’re having a disgusting relationship with this little girl?”
They both turned around, “Dini!” Guntoro gasped, “Why are you here?”
“You cheap little harlot, how dare you mess with my husband!” Dini launched forward to slap Endang.
Guntoro quickly jumped off the motorcycle and pulled Endang behind him, a loud slapping sound echoed on the street as Dini’s hand landed hard on his face.