Short Story by Rh. Widada
What is a love like that melts a night into a glass of coffee and transforms the soul of an old man into a restless wisp of cigarette smoke? If you want to know the answer, ask Elis!
"Norman, please, don't forget this blanket if you're gonna sit on the veranda. The draft, particularly at night, is no good for your rheumatism. Then, quit smoking or cut it down, please, honey?.”
Old Norman clammed up, taking a deep puff from his cigarette. He straightened out his legs, resting them on the table.
“Norman, do I have to keep on reminding you: Never ever put your legs on the table, please?”
Norman said nothing.
Hurriedly, Norman pulled his legs down to the floor.
“Norman, here's your coffee.”
Norman, Norman, Norman. Only God knows how many thousand or million times Elis has called his name since they met in senior high school. And the word “honey” was only added to it in the third love letter after Elis was sure that Norman was really happy with it. This night, however, Norman felt that something ephemeral had stealthily sneaked into the endearing call.
The telephone rang. Elis rushed in.
“Hello, good evening, could I talk to Mr. Norman, please?” said a voice at the other end of the line.
“Good evening! A moment please.” Elis hurried to the veranda
“Norman, honey, for you.”
Lazily, Norman walked in to answer the phone.
“Good evening, Mr. Norman.”
Norman did not say a word, his thoughts were still wandering about the veranda.
“Hello, am I talking to Mr. Norman?”
“Oh, sorry. Oh, I don't know.”
“Ah, you must be kidding, Mr. Norman”
“I'm serious. Sorry, well..., it's very difficult to explain.”
“It's easy, isn't it? What you have to do is just say yes, right or not.”
“It isn't. I'm finding it difficult.”
“Are you still teaching world literature?” the caller said, clearing his throat.
“Then, you must be Mr. Norman.”
“That's usual!” Does it mean that every one teaching world literature must be Mr. Norman?”
“OK, OK. Are you Elis' husband?”
“It's obvious then. You must be Mr. Norman. It's easy, isn't it?”
“You always take things easily!”
“Mr. Norman, life would be more complicated if we didn't. Are you sure that you are the real son of your parents. I'm afraid you are an adopted son.”
Norman kept silent, letting the man blabber.
“Are you pretty sure that the Mrs. Elis who has been living together with you for quite sometime really loves you?.”
“She is happy.”
“Better put it this way -- she looks happy.”
“We have kids.”
“That's natural, sir.”
“I don't give a damn!”
“Ah, precisely, sir. I-don't-give a-damn. That's one of the requirements to get happiness.”
“Go to hell!”
“Much more, aren't you aware that...”
Norman slammed down the receiver. But the voice from the end of the line penetrated his mind, echoing in his ear:
“Now, you've slammed the receiver, refusing to compromise. Against dialogs. That's the only precondition to get real happiness.”
“What's up, Norman, dear?”
“What is love? Do you believe in love?”
“Norman, you're tired. Get some rest.”
“Please don't play tricks on me Elis.”
Elis gazed at Norman's eyes, piercing his thick glasses.
“Ah, my poor Norman. Honey, perhaps you should forget about reading for a couple of days. We feel tormented if we read too much”
“Dear Elis, please answer my question!”
“Norman, how should I answer your question. Listen Norman, it is not the right time for a quarrel.”
“Elis ...” Norman was tongue-tied. He held Elis in his arms.
“Forget it, don't get carried away easily!”
“The world without feelings is just like hell.”
“OK, dear. Let's get some rest.”
“Elis, what is love like?”
The telephone rang.
“Norman, the same caller. He said that tomorrow you will have to speak for the second session, after the noon prayer, at one o'clock.”
“Tell him to pick me up at the campus.”
“Silence filled the living room.”
Elis gazed at Norman. Everything is under control, isn't it? And you don't have to worry about the question.
But Norman was still worried. The question kept haunting him until he felt asleep. Only God knows whether he was still perturbed by the question until the following morning, when Elis kissed his forehead and found his body cold and stiff.
What is love like? Ask Elis!
The Jakarta Post, Jakarta | Sun, 10/14/2001
-- Translated by Faldy Rasyidie