What kind of bird sings on a quiet night like this? A night bird for sure. A bird with eyes that can penetrate the darkness. A bird that can spy; a bird that can zero in on its prey. A bird that attacks other creatures after waiting for them to grow tired. Creatures that are lost in sleep, naïve and unsuspecting and having no fear that behind the cover of darkness, a pair of eyes, belonging to a bird that is thirsty for blood, is about to make it its prey.
By this time, my husband, Munir, would usually be home. If our children were still awake he would arrive at the door and announce, ‘I’m home!’ and they would run to greet him saying, ‘Dad’s home! Dad’s home!’ If they were already in bed, he would say, ‘Assalamuaikum, how was your day, my love…?’
Hmmm…At that time, our children wouldn’t have known who their father was. They wouldn’t have had any idea why someone would have wanted to hunt him down and kill him.
Munir…you would normally be home by this time. And, even if you were tired, your spirit would never be diminished. And it was that spirit of yours that made so many people nervous. It would not be because they ever felt guilty. After all these are people who always feel that they are right. In the name of protecting their sense of truth, they had to wipe you out.
Had you ever thought such a thing could happen, Munir? Did you ever imagine it happening? Did you ever wonder what some people thought of your work? Whatever they considered, their conclusion was always the same: you had to be killed. Had you ever thought of that? That there were people who wanted you dead? Did that ever cross your mind? Oh Munir…you were always thinking of others and never of yourself.
This day, eleven years ago, I heard the voice of a friend,
‘have you heard that Munir is dead?’
I was stunned.
It was as if I was up in the clouds and was then thrown back to earth with a thud.
It was as if life had ended.
The person who had become my soul, my spirit was no longer.
The darkness choked and wounded me.
I couldn’t express the pain I felt.
Was this for real?
And then: a flood of tears. I collapsed.
Oh God, what had happened to him?
A week after Munir was buried, I received a package in the mail. It was an attempt to terrorise me: a chicken head, some chicken legs and chicken shit. What would Munir have said if he saw this? He would say, typical of his character, ‘don’t be afraid.’ Hmmm. Some unknown coward had cut up two chickens: one sent to my home and one to Munir’s office, complete with a note stating, ‘don’t mess with the TNI, or you will meet the same fate.’ Both packages were addressed to me. Was it their intention to scare me?
Of course, one doesn’t need to be scared just because of such a threat. Being afraid or not is no longer a problem for me. Did the sender of the chicken head and feet expect us to become afraid, to bow and to crouch in a dark corner, with our bodies shaking and eyes closed? Was that it? What were they thinking by killing Munir? Did they think that Munir’s family would be so scared they would piss themselves? Did they think that a package containing a cut up chicken would make Munir’s friends to run away, shitting themselves?
A head, feet, and shit; yup, chicken shit…This was the reflection of Munir’s assassin. A primitive mind. Someone with no alternative other than to kill…
Eleven years have passed since Munir’s departure. The earth still turns. Alif and Diva, our children, continue to grow and to enter their own worlds. I remember Alif, when reading the words written in flowers sent by well-wishers, stating their empathy. He asked, ‘why are people mourning his death? Hasn’t he gone to study? Won’t we see him again in December?’
…Students these days, always want to go overseas to better their education…
I tried to instil in my children the idea that the past is a foundation for a better life.
But what about that gang of killers? Can the murder be just forgotten, while they go on sneering? What sort of country is this? A haven for killers?
Maybe those murderers are still watching us; maybe not. But, whatever, we won’t stop. Every day we do what we can to uncover the details of the plot to kill Munir. We have to uncover who was behind it. I don’t care about how many more years we have to work. Around me, I see no one who is willing to give up on this search for justice. The murderers can keep waiting to see how their names and faces will be recorded in history as a gang of murderers. They will have no opportunity to become heroes. Argh, those killers. What do they think of themselves?
Yes, they can keep waiting. I will keep on pursuing this case until I die.
‘Mum, why did they kill Dad?’
The voice from that small mouth pierced me deep in my heart.
My two year old daughter, Diva Suukyi, was staring at me full of hope.
Demanding an explanation.
How can the murder of Munir, her father, be explained?
My voice disappeared. I started to cry.
If I could choose, I would go far away.
I wasn’t capable of looking at her innocent eyes as she demanded an answer.
As if she knew I couldn’t speak, Diva hugged me.
She put her small arms around me.
‘Don’t cry mum. Don’t be sad.’
Those words continue to ring in my ears.
Every year, on the same day I reflect on my late husband. What was it exactly that made them want to kill him? Several months after his death, Diva would continue to ask, ‘Mum, why was Dad killed?’ Her question was like a knife being plunged into my heart. Whatever the case, wasn’t that also my question? The problem was, what was it exactly, precisely that made them kill him? Two years after his death, I made the decision to move house so that I didn’t see his shadow everywhere. I still had to take responsibility for my children and I had to nullify the sordid plans of his murderer.
I lost ten kilograms. I ate like a robot. I ate whatever I had, without caring for its taste. My realisation and conviction that I had to go on living, regardless, helped me maintain my rhythm of eating and sleeping. I chose, simply, to remember the good times with Munir. All of this made me love him so much. I never wanted to forget him. I gave myself time and space to cry and to be angry for what had befallen him. I didn’t do it too often, but I did.
On that day, 11 years ago, what did the murderers do after they heard that Munir had died?
They had surely already calculated how long it would take for the poison to work on his body. They had even tested it out on cats! They must have been dying to hear the news. How quickly would it take for the news to break? They would have had the television on, watching the morning news, and after receiving the much anticipated news, would have shouted all together, ‘We’ve done it!’ Of course, I’m only imagining how they reacted. But, it must be rather predictable how they would have reacted to their secret plan reaching its goal. And their goal was the death of my husband, the father of my children.
What cannot be imagined is what the murderers are doing today, 11 years after the fact?
Do they remember today as the day they killed Munir? Or, have they forgotten because they are so busy with other planned killings? Or, are they happy having successfully disguised themselves as good people?
Hmmm. Are they so proud of killing my husband?
I will never be able to believe that killing Munir could be justified. But Munir is not the only victim of this way of thinking. There are already far too many victims of the belief that violence can be justified.
Yes, now I’m better able to believe in the struggle that Munir took on. Who he defended and for what purpose.
And after 11 years, I know, Munir did not fight alone.
I’m beside you, Munir, with you and your friends who are part of the same struggle.
A monologue for the 11th anniversary of Munir’s death
Galeri Cemara, 7th September, 2015.
Jakarta, 30th August, 2015, 17:40.
Translated by Andy Fuller, September, 2015, Leiden
Munir Said Thalib (d.2004) was a human rights activist and founder of Kontras – Committee for Disappeared People and Victims of Violence. He was murdered on a Garuda flight between Singapore and Amsterdam. Although Pollycarpus Priyanto, a former pilot of Garuda, has been imprisoned for the murder, two senior officials of the State Intelligence Agency (BIN) – Muchdi and Hendropriyono are considered to be behind the plot.
Seno Gumira Ajidarma (author) is one of Indonesia’s most prominent and respected authors, having published dozens of books over the past 30 years. His most famous books include Saksi Mata, Jazz, Parfum dan Insiden and Penembak Misterius. He has received numerous prestigious literary awards such as the SEA Write Award (1997) and the Khatulistiwa Award in 2004 and 2005.
Andy Fuller (translator) studied the works of Seno Gumira Ajidarma for his PhD (2010, University of Tasmania). He has translated the poems of Afrizal Malna (Anxiety Myths, Lontar, 2013) and the short stories of Budi Darma (The Conversation, Lontar, forthcoming). He writes on sports culture here: readingsideways.net
*First published on Inside Indonesia