Short Story by Budi Afandi (The Jakarta Post, April 02, 2018)
Ridwan left his house with the air gun perched on his shoulder, striding sturdily like a soldier convinced of victory on the battlefield. He cracked the silence of the morning and awakened the air of curiosities. Along the way, his stone-like face remained unchanged even though he kept nodding to the people he met occasionally.
“Training,” said Ridwan briefly to the peasants who asked him where he was going, but no one could ask further; he did not allow people to think of another question as he left them quickly.
Ridwan ignored everyone and left them with their frowns, odd smiles or confused faces. They did not understand Ridwan’s unusual behavior.
Probably he was quarreling with his mother, or maybe he was angry with someone; that was what crossed people’s minds.
After a few minutes of walking, Ridwan approached the mango groves that belonged to his mother carefully. He opened the gate, entered the groves and looked around.
Before him, the mangoes were lain on the ground. Some of them were no longer intact because they had been eaten by bats.
“Scoundrel,” he uttered, grumbling as he approached a bench. “Thief.” He sat down, placed the air gun on his lap and took out a small bottle of pellets.
Over the following three weeks, Ridwan visited the mango groves routinely. He always left early in the morning, carrying the air gun and acting like a soldier who was heading for the battlefield.
In the beginning, people were perplexed, wondering what had happened to him. Then everything became clear, like a blue sky on a sunny day. No more frowns or odd smiles.
“He will be a tough protector for his mother,” people whispered every time they saw Ridwan carrying the air gun.
The mango groves had turned into a place for shooting practice, where Ridwan learned to use his late father’s air gun; where he learned to sharpen his eyes, calm his muscles; where he tried to make his ears and body more sensitive to every movement and sound. Before his eyes, ripened mangos, or almost ripened, were turned into shooting targets.
He practiced from early morning until noon, taking a break only when his mother came to bring food and pick up the mangoes. His mother would leave directly after and then take all the mangoes with her and sell them to a merchant. Meanwhile, Ridwan would continue his training until late in the evening, patiently, as if he was an obedient disciple in front of an invisible teacher.
At the first few tries, Ridwan’s aim missed the targets. It was only on the fifth day that he managed to shoot a mango off the tree branch. The minute the fruit hit the ground, Ridwan gave out a victorious shout, alarming passersby who were walking along the footpath near the groves.
“Got it,” said Ridwan proudly, while showing the mango he managed to shoot to a peasant who was passing by.
“Just a coincidence,” the man replied calmly and unenthusiastically. “Shoot down three more and I will believe you.”
Ridwan walked over to the bench hurriedly, filled his air gun, pumped it, stepped into the middle of the groves and began to shoot. One mango immediately fell from its stalk.
He then shouted excitedly, took the mango and rushed to the wooden fence.
“One,” the man said, still unenthusiastically.
“Two,” Ridwan replied.
“I won’t count the first one,” the man disagreed. “I did not see it fall off the tree with my own eyes.”
Ridwan then walked to the bench again, set up his air gun and shot. A mango fell, but he did not pick it up, nor show it to the man standing near the wooden fence. He set up his air gun and took another shot, but none of the mangoes fell; only a giggle was heard from the man near the wooden fence. Ridwan refilled his air gun and shot immediately, but again none of the mangoes fell. Instead, the giggle turned into a loud laugh.
As Ridwan prepared the air gun once again, the man at the wooden fence began to leave but then turned around as he heard the sound of the gunshot. For a moment, he stared at Ridwan and then laughed even louder.
That day, the third mango fell just as the sun began to set. “Luckily, he is gone. Otherwise, I would throw these mangoes at his face,” Ridwan said to himself.
Afterward, Ridwan became more adept. He would score one of every five shots he fired. A few days later, he would shoot down one mango out of every four shots he fired; and on his third week of practicing, each shot would hit the target flawlessly.
Among the peasants in his village and even other villages, it became well known that Ridwan was growing more and more adept at shooting. Finally, people were getting interested in watching his training. They were in awe of him, clapping their hands whenever a single mango came apart from the stalk and fell, including the man who asked Ridwan to shoot three mangos and then laughed when he failed.
The problem came afterward. Because not all of the mangos were ripe, or almost ripe, not all of them could be shot. However, Ridwan seemed not to care about it at all. He shot all the mangoes he saw, thereby upsetting his mother; until finally, Ridwan was prohibited from practicing inside the mango groves. His mother bought a padlock for the gate and kept the key in a place that only she and her God knew.
Ridwan was irritated, but he was careful not to let her know how he felt. “Mother asked me to start learning how to shoot, and Mother is also the one who asked me to stop,” Ridwan said to himself.
He realized that he was guilty of shooting the unripe mangoes. Still, he had the feeling that he needed to keep practicing just to maintain his skills. On the other hand, he had no more targets. The ripe mangoes were exhausted and there were no other mango groves nearby. Since he had to wait for new, ripe mangoes, he spent his days without training.
“No more training,” said his mother roughly.
“Everyone knows about what you are capable of now, so if anyone comes to steal our chickens, it means that they have just come to hand over their eyeballs.”
Ridwan lay down by the window, just like the night before he started to train. He has been stroking, for hours, the air gun that lay beside him. He imagines that the thief who took his chickens would come back and how he, Ridwan, would shoot his eyes out. His imagination makes him smile, but it also prevents him from sleeping.
Ridwan keeps waiting, but the only thing that comes to him is the light of the daybreak. He does not get anything else but the excitement over his imagination.
When the roosters start to crow, Ridwan gets up and walks slowly towards the cages. He checks his hens and roosters before going back inside the house. He goes to the kitchen to get his breakfast, then sleeps until noon and wakes up with the plan to help his mother either in the farm field or the mango groves.
However, Ridwan no longer feels the excitement of shooting the mangoes. The only excitement he has now is imagining himself shooting the thief who dared steal four of his chickens. Therefore, Ridwan becomes sluggish, having neither the passion, nor the spirit, of a soldier who wants to fight.
Just like this afternoon after he prepares himself to help his mother, Ridwan gazes up at the sky, imagining the chicken thief. He thinks of the thief’s return, and how he would hide by the window while preparing the air gun to shoot at the thief.
“If only that scoundrel knew that I have never practiced in the dark,” Ridwan thinks to himself while he starts to walk to the mango groves. ***
Budi Afandi is an Indonesian writer born in Bilatepung, West Lombok. His stories and poems have been published in Koran Tempo, Bali Post, Banjarmasin Post and other publications.
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