Short Story: The Bailiff

short story by Caroline Wong | translation by Dalih Sembiring | original Indonesian “Juru Sita Cinta” can be read here

The rumbles! From holding it all back. From shutting up all these feelings, successfully!

Fiddling with the twenty-three karat gold chain looped around my right wrist, I reacknowledge the teardrop-shaped pendant attached to it.

I am that teardrop, long forged on burning coals until it solidified, never to drop nor flow.

On my lap are two bundles of house certificates, along with folders of grant deeds and letters of attorney. Next to my left thigh, I have put down a small bag on the wooden chair. There’s money from the sale of one of the houses inside. Its value can be either small or enormous, depending on whose hands it will end up.

The swanky man, as usual, is wearing a luxurious, long-sleeved, navy-blue shirt. His smooth hair is of sandy brown color. I can’t see into his eyes. The same way he won’t be able to look into mine.

“I haven’t changed the keys into the house. You can come pick up your stuff,” the man offers a small favor. “But no more than Thursday. I will have changed the keys by Friday.”

I hold in a chuckle. Why no more than Thursday? Well, because naturally weekend comes after that. Those delightful nights of cold beer, cigarettes, coffee, peanuts, more alcohol, and some beautiful women. What do they call them? Karaoke guides? My foot! They’re but true prostitutes!

“Don’t take what isn’t yours. And don’t bring anyone else inside,” he continues, cold and stern.

I will say nothing to that. I will simply toughen my heart and flatter myself: I’m worth it. I am…

“So all parties have agreed to call it a win-win, correct?” That voice drifts in the thick air. Infused perfectly with nicotine, mixed with the aroma of bitter coffee combined with sweet, condensed milk.

I lift my head, leaving a dark trace in his eyeballs. “Yes, I’m here to hand over these two house certificates as a grant to the children, along with a grant deed that’s been signed at a notary for another house which is where the plaintiff is currently living.”

I left out the name intentionally. His is a name that has been annihilated — dead. Even though I can still hear his heart beating, as he and I are seated half a meter away from each other. I can also smell his Davidoff’s blue ocean whiff. A perfume he always relies on. The smell that first captivated me, nine years ago.

“Very well. In exchange we’ll revoke the case file.” Whether that voice sounded reluctant or relieved, I wasn’t exactly in an observant state to tell the difference. Am I too tired or too hurt? Or am I in fact not prepared? But who would be?

The four bundles of files on my lap are changing hands as I push them toward the investigator. I refuse to give them directly to the plaintiff. The investigator nods in contentment.

Finally, I reluctantly offer the black plastic bag containing fifty million rupiahs’ worth of money. “Please have a look,” I briefly say.

The investigator hands over the money to the plaintiff. He welcomes it. He begins counting earnestly. The notes aren’t neatly sorted. Bound with rubber bands, mixed up are the one-hundred-thousand-rupiah notes and the fifty-thousand ones. I didn’t have time to organize them. This morning I was busy sorting out my own feelings, trying my best to remove all the pains from the glint of my eyes and replace them with a strength that he has never seen before.

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I throw a glance out the window, wishing I had wings to flap and fly out past one of those openings between the jalousie window’s panes. Yes, perhaps the wings of a beautiful butterfly from a rocky cave in Ramang-Ramang.

“It’s all here,” the plaintiff says with satisfaction. I shall not describe the look on that face to you. I am keeping it to myself. Just pray that the pains I have experienced since far before this day will never befall you, o women…

Truly I can no longer hate and I have forgotten what it is like to hold grudges. Because after going through all of those harrowing nights without the embrace of my children — four hundred and eighty three days up until this moment — I have become oblivious. I have forgotten almost everything. All I can remember is how I curled up in my sleep every night with my hands folded around my womb.

But I will let you in on the story as generously as I can. So let me dig into my memory, to locate the source of this sorrow.

I fell in love with another man. A man who enchanted me with a smile that could only be interpreted as a temptation. I fell in love, with all of my heart. I fell, for I had lost all hope.

For my husband was roaming around places, and was enamored from all directions. Each of those women also fell for his good looks and wealth. They imagined that they could live happily simply from becoming his mistresses; that they wouldn’t need to work.

And so we fell in love, each to a different person, or persons. But I forgot that men are allowed to fall in love a thousand times and can be loved a million more, genuine or not. But not for women. We are prohibited from being honest. Women are born to act differently from men. Except those who are from a distinct line of work: sale of bodily warmth.

I wasn’t supposed to take in another love — no matter how sincere I was. Caught red-handed, I was punished. I was separated from my children. I was removed. The day I had walked into the life of my husband’s family, all I had was myself. You can say all I had was what I had to wear as well as the love and care that I had spread wide over my head. A sky that quickly turned red.

We started a business with a capital given by his parents. But I did all the work, since he was too busy with his friends, his other love lives, his unquenched thirst for women, his thirst for alcohol, and his penchant for flashy nightlife. And that left me with my own tears to swallow.

Four hundred and eighty three days after he found out, and after going through a convoluted divorce process, I really hope that this is the end of all of our wealth-related conflicts. Here I am, incarcerating all my feelings, and letting go of sincerity as it slips out of my own hands.

I have agreed to give up all that I had left. For the children. That would be the basis. Because I am flawed before the law and before the human eyes. Because I was caught and proven guilty. I did have proofs which I could have used to fight back, but the proofs that I had wouldn’t change anything. I didn’t intend to use them anyway. I didn’t want it to continue. All I wanted was to disappear.

It’s over. No handshake to signal peace. It was more like an exchange of war prisoners. I’ve handed all those important papers, as well as his share of the money from the sale of the house, and the plaintiff withdrew the case file regarding how I embezzled our money.

Stepping out, the humid air stifles. The tears remain where they should be: held back to collide with one another, never to flow. No crumbs remain between us. The crows that carried a message of hate has pecked them all up.

Last month, I married the man that had become my lover. I am going to give birth to another child, whose cries will fill up nights of dread. I must make it work this time, even though a doubt of a different form had sneaked in.

In the beginning, I chose to be tempted by a different kind of love, as a revenge toward my husband. But this other love, so tender yet somehow unreliable, had nothing to count on but love itself. Countless are the things that I have given him, and now they are all gone. And we still have a long way to go.

I doubt that I’ll be able to hold out once my new husband realizes that today I have become a woman who has nothing to offer.

The bailiff, on behalf of love, has won everything.

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