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Manoa 12.1 (2000) 214-223

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Leftover Soul

Putu Oka Sukanta


It is desolate outside the cell, and it is just as bleak in my heart. Why is my life this way? Is this a karmic sentence that I must serve? If so, where did it come from and who is responsible? My ancestors had no power. They were neither royal administrators nor colonial servants; even after national independence, my ancestors were not among the people who came to power. The kind of karma I have is for people whose ancestors' hands were covered in blood or, at the very least, were tools of those powerful who tormented other people. My ancestors were farmers who harrowed fields and worked in the rice terraces. My forefathers' lives were built on the sweat from their own bodies.

I lie stretched out on my back in a cell for the sick. I hear nothing--least of all a human voice.

My bed is an old, legless bench that saves me from having to roll out my mat on the cold cement floor. Since being brought here, I have spoken mostly to myself. Conversations, even with other longtime prisoners, are cursory. I have lost the will to talk. My breaths are short and labored, though I cough less frequently now.

I remember my first night here: I spent it lying on my back, waiting for sleep that never came. The silence in my cell reminded me of the graveyard near the village where I was born. Whenever I passed by that place, I felt as though a mysterious force were pulling at my heart and quickening its rhythm. At the cemetery's edge was a sour-fruit tree. When a person died, the mourners gathered beneath that old tree to remember him. But when I passed that way on my bicycle, I always pedalled very fast, and even faster if it was night. As I got older, I tried to train my mind to control my fear. How could there be spirits wandering about? I asked myself. A graveyard is a place for the burial of flesh and bones, which will decay and become food for worms. Why be afraid of the souls of people you have never even known?

Eventually I was able to stand beside the graveyard without running away. But how my ears pricked up if the leaves rustled in the wind. And [End Page 214] such a feeling of solitude took hold of me, making the hairs on my neck stand up.

Bamboo, tamarinds, and a randu tree formed a sort of wall around the graveyard. I recall thinking how poorly maintained the graveyard was and that it wouldn't have been such an eerie place if it had been well lit.

Suddenly I jump up, as if waking myself from the past. I stand in front of the door to my cell and grip the bars tightly, as if a powerful force were coursing through my veins. As my hands tighten, my fear increases.

"Hey, you!" I suddenly yell. "Yes, you! Whoever inhabits this cell, I want you to leave me alone. We share the same fate, you and I. So whoever you are, I want to be your friend. I won't bother you, so please don't bother me. And forgive me if I didn't first ask your permission to occupy your home."

I lean against the door, one hand reaching for a plastic bag that hangs across the door. With my other hand I loosen the bow of my string belt and allow the fluid of my tension to spurt forth. Not all that much comes out, but the odor of urine fills the air. Slowly I raise the bag and with a quick motion spill its contents outside the bars, where it splashes into the gutter running alongside the cellblock's walkway.

I feel better now. I pull the drawstring on the plastic bag so that it swings softly against the cell door and lie back down. I hear sounds of splashing water as other prisoners spill their...


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pp. 214-223
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