For many years, I just passed through on the night train. She sat there peacefully, somewhere between my birthplace to the east and the city in the west where I studied geology. When the train stopped for a moment at the station in the middle of the night, she seemed to stir, as though preparing herself for my arrival at some point in the future. She remained hidden, because she seemed to have more history than any other city in the world. And I let myself look out at her precisely so that I could forget her; or maybe, so that I could take her shadow away in my suitcase.
I took the suitcase with me as I traveled around the world: I believed that it contained my hometown. But every time I opened it in a white or colored city abroad, what fluttered out were the shadows of the iron pillars and the giant clock at the train station; of the faded white walls of the fortress that believe themselves to be youthful forever; of the pool with its ornate Portuguese gate where the sultans played with their consorts; of the silver rainbow that shone shortly before the Ninth Sultan passed away; of the nine graceful dancers dressed in dark brown moving slowly like the South Sea; of the pair of grand old banyan trees in the square that we passed through without our knowing whether they were asleep or awake; of the pedicab drivers who stop sweating as they pass the bird market; of the guards in their striped costumes who have never set eyes on an enemy....
Now, she is a map as vast as my own palm: I never just passed through her, because in fact my train only followed the trail of my sweat and blood. Look, look at the cities along our island in the night, like fireflies drawing closer to her, because she appears as a heart flowing with dazzling dark blood. Now, I live in another city which, they say, is the mother of all the cities of my country, a city that threatens to stretch across the entire planet, a city filled with too many faces in the harsh light of the afternoon, each of which is about to reach out and grab me, as though I were a marble Brancusi egg. But on the map saturated with these fireflies, no one can tell which is the egg and which is the heart. Believe me, I make her heart throb and she disperses me, so that you might imagine we’re twins:
She is a grand andesite statue from the time of Revolution; I wait patiently to clean the dust and moss from her face. She is like Semar and his sons, goading the pale-faced nobles at court; I am the painter who inscribes the scene onto a glass panel using the bright, vulgar colors of Flying Horse brand paint. She is the gong which sounds shyly in the Grand Mosque; I am the poet who tries to capture that echoes in my clumsy quatrain. I am the marble Brancusi egg that she sculpted into a newborn baby in light, hard wood. I am the whip that is tired of beating the horse; she raises me up and morphs me into a fan that cools the face of a sculptor. I am the mountain of rice and fruit that is taken out to the square on the Prophet’s birthday; leading the procession, she understands the elusive embrace of Mount Merapi. I am the ballad of the Andalusian Gypsy people; she is the children’s songs which robs me of my rhyme and rhythm.
Sometimes we are foes because she tames my friends too calmly. Like me, they have left their home towns behind. Unlike me, they think they own her and her history. When they steal my train, I know that the station, whose name is Tugu, continues to follow me. When they cover my map with their new homes and studios, I know that I still have the trail of my blood on the planted fence, the bicycle handlebar, or the plain cloth at Langenastran. Sometimes I wear their shoes and clothes so that she recognizes me no longer. At the flea market, or in front of the Central Post Office, or in the edge of the Sitihinggil hall, over and over again I say goodbye to my friends, those who are wearing my face, but, alas, they shout out to me, welcome, welcome, o, ye, our mother’s tongue, the tongue wounded by names....
For years and years, I learned how to say her name so that I would no longer have to praise her. She doesn’t like to compare herself with any other city on earth. From the station, I began to know how to forget my own face. I inscribed a map in my own palm where I plotted her many faces and told tales I will never completely comprehend. Then she let my friends, and probably my enemies as well, possess her so that I would not be bound to her. One morning, when one of her limbs was torn apart by a quake, I returned to my study of geology to persuade myself that her future was more apparent than her past. And she described the line of killers that floated gently over Merapi’s slopes as dirty, raucous sheep, so I will always be suspicious of all faces and all names.
(Translation by the author and Irfan Kortschak)