SHORT STORY: BACK FROM THE DEAD
Rangkasbitung, Banten. Sometimes in the end of 1970, a small village named Cikeusal became stormy. Not due to some incidents nor disturbances, it was because a man, long thought to be dead, suddenly appeared at his house's doorstep.
Many villagers descended to his house to find out. This man, named Ahmad (I didn't remember his name actually) was a slim, cheerful man who appeared shocked of his ordeal. Many wondered where he went or what he had done after all this time.
Ahmad was even more confused; he almost lost his way home, the faces of those he ever knew had changed into older visages. Some of them, like his dad and mom, were not there anymore.
It turned out he had died some thirty years before.
This curious news even landed on the ears of the autocrat ruler at that time. They sent officers to his house, trying to discover this mysterious affairs.
Except that they didn't manage to solve it.
In the end of forties, Banten was in the middle of revolution. Fighting happened everywhere, from the urban center to the nook and cranny of distant countryside. Ahmad, 31 at that time, was part of a local militia at Republican side. One day after a heavy fighting, Ahmad fell ill. Rosyid, a fellow compatriot, diagnosed him with malaria.
Rosyid still lived in the nearby village and fell into disbelief of what he set his eyes upon.
Ahmad, still as strong and handsome as he had been before, in front of him, a frail and thin old man.
"Ahmad...? Is that really... You?" Rosyid quipped.
Ahmad, similarly shocked, could not say anything and only weakly nodded.
In the Banten jungle, after only one day of illness, Ahmad died. Lack of medical care and understanding then was to blame for Ahmad's quick passing.
Except if malaria gotten to him first before some unbelievably sounding events that unfold.
Ahmad remembered that after blowing his final breath, he felt that he went into deep sleep and flying, flying... As if he was floating among the clouds. Although, his surroundings were pitch black. Then he lost consciousness.
Next time he knew, he found himself before a pearly gate, like those in ancient Javanese or Sundanese kingdoms. Bright horse-powered royal carriage approached him. A breathtaking lady went about, greeting Ahmad softly,
"So, you are here, Ahmad. Come with me, I will show you around."
Ahmad really confused of what to do. Last thing he remembered was that as near-death as he would be, lying on a rattan chair somewhere deep in the jungle.
Hesitantly, he tended to the lady's invitation and went into the carriage.
The city that he was shown around was not familiar at all? It was spherical and cylindrical, I mean the building, unlike some boring landscape of urban Rangkasbitung. The people living in the city, although as handsome and beautiful as they could be, seemed all wearing similar kind of clothing: long flowing white robe so that their feet were invisible.
It was really incomparable with the places he knew. Where am I, he wondered. Only, he dared not to ask his hostess as he sensed something fishy.
The carriage stopped before a huge palace made from white marble.
He was escorted into the palace. A burly and big man, seemed to be the King, sat on the throne.
"You're the one named Ahmad?"
"Yes, sir, I am actually."
"My daughter saw you and thought that you must be worthy of living here. I see you have a pure heart and strong conviction. Would you like to work for me?"
Ahmad, remembering that he was actually fighting the NICA and the British, quickly answered, "But, sir, I do not understand what happened. It was nothing like I ever saw, the palace and all, am I abroad?"
"Well... You can say so. I will give you all you want if you agreed to work for one year here, after which you could go home."
Seeing that working in some foreign palace was actually nicer than getting bitten by mosquitos and shot to death in the fighting, he immediately agreed to the offer.
He was given a white uniform and clothing, same as others were wearing.
Not so long after he found himself working at the palace's kitchen. The vegetables were like what he was used to see in his village, but only the size was much, much bigger; he had to cut up a carrot his size. Potato, cabbage, and all. They were unreasonably gigantic.
Foreign vegetables must larger, he thought.
However, he only lasted a week. Ahmad suddenly felt homesick and wanted to go home, especially as he was already away from home during the fighting. It was maybe three months since he left, due to fears of Dutch troops retaliated to his village.
He braved himself to see the King, who sharply cut his request.
"You didn't really like to be here, actually?"
"It's not like that... Sir... But only I haven't seen my family for about three months by now, I would like to know if they were alright."
"Well, well. You can't really return here if you choose to go back to Cikeusal."
"Only a moment, sir, then I would come back."
"Unfortunately it won't do. You stay here or you go back."
The King's ultimatum only emboldened him to return to his village.
"If that's what you really want, okay. Because I am a just king, I will grant your request. It's the last time we met."
Blood raced to Ahmad's head. Does this really mean that he would be offed?
Benevolent and merciful was the King actually. He ordered his servants to give back Ahmad's previous clothing and marched him to some place outside the marble town. On one exceptionally large tree, there was a door. A servant opened it and all Ahmad could see was a long, dark tunnel.
"You enter, and don't look back; if you do, you'll never be able to return home."
Ahmad followed, and he went into the tunnel.
He walked and walked, it was so far... Maybe an hour had passed? Two hours? He can't be so sure. As he had promised, he didn't look back to see how far he had gone.
After some time there was light at the end of tunnel. At last, Ahmad thought.
It was actually there. The end of the tunnel lead to banana plains somewhere. He walked again until he found the nearest village.
Still, he didn't dare to look back, as the servants said before. He introduced himself and told the people of that village. It turned out that he was only about ten kilos from Cikeusal. They thought he was a disoriented person, since he looked like not contemporaries.
Ahmad was thrilled when he saw cars and people passing him. This road was not here before, and he only saw cars on some pictures. Cars were not common in Cikeusal or even Rangkasbitung until the early 60s.
It was at Cikeusal that the village erupted. Ahmad really came home!
As it was told in the beginning, his contemporaries were not really around, since they died in the war and some moments afterwards due to illness and other causes. Only Rosyid, who treated him at his last moment, and several others were still around. It was thank to Rosyid who identified him as long-died Ahmad, otherwise he would be deemed as some unknown vagabond.
His children was several years older than Ahmad now. His wife died in late sixties. Still, they could not be sure if the young man before them was really their father. So, the village chief ordered Rosyid to show where he buried Ahmad and dig the grave.
Rosyid still remembered where he buried Ahmad for the last time, which was beside some bamboo trees on the bank of a large river.
The villagers, accompanied by the authorities, really dig the grave. What really shocked them and verify Ahmad's story was that Ahmad's body in the white cloth replaced by a large banana trunk! It was true, after all, that Ahmad was 'kidnapped' by people from the Otherworld, the invisible world that we cannot see nor hear but is actually there.
This kind of story is also known in other parts of the Indonesian archipelago, like the legend of Orang Bunian in Sumatera or the Pasar Setan on the slopes of Merapi. They said of you were taken to their world, you will lose connection with the human world; you are destined to live forever there. Only on some rare occasion that innocent passers like Ahmad could go back. People usually meet them when they are lost in the mountain; disoriented and fatigued, they would find some villages or markets from time to time, which is not actually there when they visit the place again.
Ahmad live happily (and awkwardly I presume) among his fellow villagers; one week in the Otherworld is equal to thirty years in human world; Wonder if he really stayed for a year like the King wanted? The similar story is exist in Japan (Urashimataro), when a young man helping a turtle stranded at the beach ended up being invited to the undersea kingdom. After he went back to land, four hundred years had passed.
Om Nurdin told me that Aki Ahmad, as he actually was to Om Nurdin, lived not long with his family. Some years later, when Om Nurdin went back to his village from Jakarta, he heard the news that Ali Ahmad had died.
Serpong, 13 February 2020