The Minangkabau by Pavle Radonic

Era soft “e” as for “elegant.” A Minangkabau like her mother from the central Sumatran region of Padang, Indonesia, immediately adjacent Singapore.

         Two years ago in the middle of Ramadan Zainuddin had procured a wheelchair here for the old Minangkabau following her stroke. It had helped a good deal even on the rough pavements and roadways of Batam, where the mother had been forced to join her younger daughter.

         The old woman reluctantly remained in the flat Era had bought on Batam, when she really wanted to return to the place of her birth. (Indonesian Batam Island is East of Singapore; Sumatra West.)

         As usual the television was on above the bed the pair shared with the well-named young granddaughter Angely, top of her class at school and second at the afternoon Madrasa.

         Quiet, uncomplaining, responsible, thoughtful; Angely was a child from an earlier era which was still the contemporary in many corners of the Straits region.

         Angely shared food with Grandma. The child would have had no hesitation accepting food from Grandma’s mouth. The pair looked after each other when Era was over in Singapore working.

         Since the problems at Immigration the family needed to be careful with expenses, food included. Working without a permit was disallowed in Singapore. Authorities knew it went on, the traffic between the two islands—Batam and Singapore—was substantial on the fifty minute ferries. Last year Era had been refused entry for no better than unfounded suspicions arising from the frequency of travel and limited funds displayed at the desk. (Era had been warned about messages from clients and bosses on her phone. A two month prohibition.)

         The television was a distraction more than anything. None of them paid much attention, the old Minangkabau least of all.

         Men and women of the Minangkabau’s kind had never been properly captured by television of course; through their example sometimes they could save the younger generation.

         That night the old mother started up again and more persistently on her theme of a return to Sumatra. The old woman that night pressed in a peculiar fashion that was different and difficult to counter.

         The old Minangkabau’s son and his family were settled in Jakarta; older daughter likewise in the capital. Now Era had bought the flat on credit in Batam; and there was Angely’s schooling. Nothing remained for them in Sumatra.

         Nevertheless, the old woman kept on with renewed insistence that night; arguments that were all insufficient and had long been.

         Harping on a return to Sumatra. Return, the old Minangkabau would return.

         Era was a little puzzled by her mother and wearied a little by her insistence.

         In the morning the mother had taken rice and biscuit. Lunch a good portion again and also supper after maghrib.

         The household of three had prayed quietly and briefly on the bed before the burbling television. After a pause the old Minangkabau started in again with the same thing.

         — Mother, we cannot, her daughter replied with the same arguments as before.     

         Again another round of the same.

         And the old Minangkabau had the last word before she lay down her head in her daughter’s lap.

         Angely read one of her school-books more than looked at the television.

         The TV patter continued as the old woman rested and Sumatra receded once more. It was not noticed precisely when the old Minangkabau passed over.

         — Ibu. Ibu.

         Angely did not turn or lower her book at the first attempted rousing. Seven years old, a firm and lasting impression of her Grandma for a bright, alert young girl.

         The Minangkabau are known for their matriarchal society; the women resourceful, renowned traders.

         Seven hundred Singapore dollars, six and one half million Indonesian Rupiah Era had saved from her work across the water and from her sikit, sikit, little, little biznis. Funeral and wake—two hundred people through the room in the forty-eight hours—emptied the account.

         Angely has met the challenge of a half serve of chicken rice in the morning and the remainder for lunch, while her mother Era makes do with cheaper mee.

 


Australian by birth of Montenegrin origin, Pavle Radonic’s six years living and writing in S-E Asia has provided unexpected stimulus – provocation and delight in more or less equal part. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary journals and magazines, most recently Entropy, Map Literary, Ambit, Antigonish & Citron Reviews.