Today Comma Press publishes the latest instalment in our Reading the City series, The Book of Jakarta. Edited by Maesy Ang and Teddy W. Kusuma – the founders of POST, an independent bookshop in Jakarta – this anthology showcases ten of Indonesia’s capital city’s most prominent literary voices, with ten stories about Jakarta published in English for the first time.
Made up of over 17,000 islands, Indonesia is the fourth most populous country on the planet. It is home to hundreds of different ethnicities and languages, and a cultural identity that is therefore constantly in flux. Like the country as a whole, the capital Jakarta is a multiplicity of irreducible, unpredictable and contradictory perspectives. From down-and-out philosophers to roadside entertainers, the characters in these stories see Jakarta from all angles. Traversing different neighbourhoods and social strata, their stories capture the energy, aspirations, and ever-changing landscape of what is also the world’s fastest-sinking city.
We want to offer a taste of the collection with a free extract from one of the stories. The following excerpt is taken from ‘Grown-Up Kids’ by Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie, translated by Annie Tucker, and follows a group of senior citizens who return to a well-loved amusement park on the outskirts of the city for one last ride…
“Ten minutes later, they got off the bus. Mrs P lined them up in front of the gate to Hysteria. The four of them stood hunched in a sea of young kids. Mrs N was clinging on to Mrs O, Mrs M was clinging on to the memory of her husband, Mrs O was clutching her chest, her heart racing. They were all so anxious, on the verge of collapse.
But not Mrs P. Mrs P was humming, smiling to herself, thinking about the past and the non-existent future. The last time she had come here, dozens of years ago, she had been with her ex-husband and her ex-children. Some of the rides hadn’t even been built yet. She liked Hysteria. She had forbidden her children to ride with her – she would go by herself, and her husband would mind the children down below – but they insisted. Her second child vomited halfway through. Those waiting in line were showered with barf, and those on the ride were smacked with chunks of sick while hurtling through the air. Mrs P had never laughed harder. When she was crafting her final prank, she knew the hilarious ‘Vomit Comet’ had to be the place.
They were stopped by an attendant who asked, ‘Are you sure?’ Mrs M snorted in amusement. She had certainly thought it over hard enough. Mrs P quickly pointed out that the rules of the ride only said ‘minimum height 120cm’; there was no upper age limit. The man looked worried but, unable to muster a counterargument, he stepped aside and opened the gate. Mrs P grinned and yanked Mrs N through as fast as she could before the attendant could notice the panicked look on her face.
‘Mrs P!’ called Mrs O, who was already shaking. They had taken their seats and were waiting for the other riders to get strapped in. ‘What if you fail?’ She looked at Mrs P, who glared back. ‘You’re not as sick as all that.’
‘I will not fail,’ Mrs P spluttered. Her eyes bulged wider. ‘I am that sick. I had to stay in the hospital, don’t you know! I spent all my money on treatment! Why don’t you shut up, just because you’re also sick doesn’t mean you’re a doctor!’
Mrs O did not reply. The queue gate was closed; the last riders were already seated and the ride was about to start.
Mrs M looked at the safety harness, which had not changed at all over the years. She knew it very well. She smiled and stroked the nuts and bolts with a familiarity that made her quietly weep. From her skirt pocket, she took out a screwdriver. Mrs N peeked over from the seat beside her but was too terrified to speak – oh there were so many people around. Next to her, Mrs O was weak, pale, still, and silent. On the end, Mrs P stamped her feet and fidgeted like an excited little kid.
The attendant gave the signal indicating the ride was about to begin. Mrs M closed her eyes, drew a breath. Mrs N squeezed her harness so tightly her fingernails turned white. Mrs O blinked. Mrs P began to sing ‘I am a rock I am an i-i-i-i-island’. Mr M, on the fifteenth floor of the National Library, opened a large window in the archives and looked down, remembering the street he had trodden with his friends in his youth, the spot where they had blocked traffic, angry about proposed laws, about people, about human rights violations, about sausages (and whether there was pork in them) – the spot where he had first met his wife wearing a red jacket and carrying a knapsack that, he knew, held three packages of buns. He had taken that road to his first job. His wife had often picked him up on that street to drive him home. Mr M closed his eyes, drew a breath.
The ride began its ascent. Mrs M let out a shrill laugh. Then the oversized toy shot towards the sky at a speed of 100 km/hour. In the first second, Mrs M’s behind was lifted from her seat and went flying, like eggs and flour being tossed at a birthday party. In the second second, still laughing, she let go of her screwdriver, dropped her cell phone. At the National Library, Mr M jumped. In the third second, the ride began to descend too. Mrs O made no sound.
Mrs N screamed. Her screams were never-ending, louder than any sound that had ever been; as if the park visitors and employees had all crammed into her mouth and then screamed out their prayers through a loudspeaker, like the adzan who gave everyone a headache, but no one could complain about for fear of going to jail – ah, yes, when she was young, Mrs N had signed a petition about this case; what had ever happened with that? In that same third second, Mrs N couldn’t think. The old woman beside her – red cardigan, light brown skirt, grey hair – suddenly disappeared like skewers of satay when the day’s fasting ended. And below – below – there were more people than before. Mrs N was going to die. Die on the ride or die because there were just so many people, she didn’t know which, but she had the feeling she was going to die. Yes Lord, she was going to die… She had in fact come here to die, hadn’t she?
Then, something happened to Mrs N. Something in her brain was awakened by the scream, and seemed to join in as her body, too, accelerated – Mrs N felt like a leopard! Strong as a bull! So fired up! So hot! – and then suddenly stopped.
Just like that. Mrs N had screamed herself to death.
The ride reached its full height again on the sixth second. Mrs P looked over to her left. Two had died in their seats, one had died – somewhere, but with her skull crushed and her body strewn about in pieces, that foolish Mrs M. Down below, the attendants turned pale and blamed each other. Who had forgotten to fasten the old lady’s safety harness? Why hadn’t someone pushed the emergency button? How fast could the ride be stopped? We’re all screwed. Mrs P looked straight ahead and smiled wide. She was the last. Her turn was next. The ride’s camera took a picture of her smiling. She looked quite beautiful next to the corpses of her two friends. Let’s die.“
Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie is an Indonesian fiction writer who won the Jakarta Arts Council Novel Writing Competition for Di Tanah Lada (In Pepper Land, 2015), which was later longlisted for Khatulistiwa Literary Award. She won the same competition in 2016 with Semua Ikan di Langit (All the Fish in the Sky, 2017), for which she was also awarded the Badan Bahasa Literary Award by Indonesian Ministry of Education and Culture. Ziggy mainly writes about children and social criticism, both in forms of literary and popular fiction. Her Young Adult novel Jakarta Sebelum Pagi (Jakarta Dawning, 2016), was the Editor’s Choice Award in Rolling Stone Indonesia.
Annie Tucker is an LA-based writer and translator. Her translation of Eka Kurniawan’s Beauty is a Wound was one of New York Times’ notable books of the year and won the 2016 World Reader’s Award.
The Book of Jakarta is out now in paperback and available from all good retailers. Order your copy direct from www.commapress.co.uk/books/the-book-of-jakarta