It wasn’t until last week that I really thought about what my country means to me. I have always taken its white, sandy beaches, imposing volcanoes and palm trees as the background to my life. The postcard-perfect bays in Bali and Belitung made the tourists go “Wow!”, but for me, it has always just been home. I had never really thought about nationalism, or patriotism, beyond what we learned in classes about Pancasila. I never really thought about what it means to be Indonesian, to salute the Merah Putih, until I got to my office and opened the email from Eka that would change my life.
My brows furrowed. Sheer confusion stirred inside my stomach like a tidal wave. All throughout my mundane life, I never knew someone called Eka. I wasn’t blessed with flourishing communication skills to earn a satisfactory social life, so I couldn’t complain.
Dubious yet intrigued, I clicked the message and skimmed through it petulantly. Probably, I would drag it to the trash before I finished reading.
Then something flickered from the corners of my eyes. The more those words swam into my brain, the brighter my eyes glowed.
The email boasted in bold letters:
Dear Luckiest Person on Earth,
If you are reading this e-mail, congratulations because you are the ‘Chosen One’! To fulfill your calling, you gotta’ do the following. Oh my god, they rhyme!
People said you guys got some fancy beaches! Send me the photos and prove it to me.
I want you to visit two museums and write a five-hundred-word essay about what you learn! Don’t forget to submit it to turn-it-in for originality! That website existed from where you come from, right?
Wow! You read it this far before deleting this! It’s not that you will get a random e-mail from a stranger every day. So that means you will do it right?
Hugs and kisses, Eka
With a loud screech, my chair instinctively slid backward. I felt my coworkers’ disconcerted eyes firing at me. Without my realization, I was already on my feet. I flinched inwardly. This was embarrassing.
What just happened? A witty stranger out of nowhere sent me an e-mail and pleaded me to follow her fishy instructions! My brain alerted my hand muscles to drag the email with my mouse to the trash file, but a small and tiny voice whispered inside my heart to give it a chance.
Why would I get myself involved with a stranger? What if this was a scam? I could always make a new e-mail address if the worse happened…
“Check this out, guys! Ancol announced a crazy discount for boat rental!” an excited voice piped up behind me.
“Oh my god! I always wanted to visit Pulau Tidung.” Another voice chimed in with the same enthusiastic tone. “Who is coming with me?”
Suddenly, a mess of noise coalesced into delighted glees. Stories about holidays passed from one to another like herpes. In the middle of the rhapsodic atmosphere, there was one anomaly – me. Unlike the others, I spent my weekend browsing video on youtube and surfing my Spotify. I never go out with my friends or explore exotic places in my home country.
It was lonely. Maybe that’s why I never had any friends or found my homeland endearing at all.
My eyes darted back and forth from the mystic message to my colleagues’ exuberant expressions. Maybe, just maybe, I could change. I didn’t want to miss this opportunity.
“Can I come with you guys?” I heard my own voice booming in resolute clarity.
On the following Saturday, we sailed to Pulau Tidung.
Unfortunately, the journey was far from uneventful. My motion sickness welled up inside me and I vomited on the ship. Not the best way to start a hang out with your colleagues, wasn’t it?
Thankfully, one of my colleague Rohmad aided my sickly needs. Once we reached Pulau Tidung, the locals offered us to rent a bicycle or cycle rickshaw to get to Jembatan Cinta. Walking on foot wasn’t recommended unless you want to waste your energy by walking on a 20km road before starting anything.
Since cycling was one of my proudest hobbies, I ended up having a friendly race with my colleagues. As I pedaled my bicycle, the wind blew against my hair and made my skin glowed with sweat. I saw many children beamed at us as we go, and I waved back at them. Despite the cold, fresh gust of wind filtering into my nostrils, my chest was engulfed with a familiar warmth. A smile slipped to my lips. I didn’t hate this feeling at all.
As I enjoyed my cool warm ride to Jembatan Cinta, suddenly my eyes flew wide at the sight of a visible coastline from afar. The soft ripples of crashing waves tickled my ears. Was this really part of Indonesia?
As we traveled further, the sound of the sea grew louder. My colleagues started cheering, and we quickly stationed our bikes before jogging towards the coastline. Shuffling my feet out of my shoes, I rolled my pants reaching my thighs and waded through the shallow seawater. I shifted my eyes upwards and the clear, azure skies stared back at me. This place…was this really part of my homeland?
“Hey Mike, want to ride the banana boat together?” one of my red-haired female coworkers tugged my hand.
Blood started crawling to my cheeks and I almost stuttered. I am not really the type to talk to girls. “Uh…I’m afraid I’m gonna’ throw up on the way. I don’t want you to see it.”
However, she didn’t seem to listen to me but kept yanking my hand.
After a few weeks of being in a new social circle, I mustered my courage to ask my friends to visit some museums in Jakarta. Since I happened to get lost in the middle of happy-go-lucky people, my friends easily agreed on going. Well, the only reason I wanted to visit a museum was to checklist my stupid quest from some random e-mail. I didn’t even know why I was doing this, but the trip to the beach somehow made me appreciate my homeland a bit.
Rohmad exuberantly told us to visit Museum Lubang Buaya. Hearing the name sent cold chills through my spine. Back in elementary school field trip, I saw nothing but wax statues with deformed faces and pots filled with red paint which indicated blood from the well that imprisoned the victims of Indonesian generals. Nonetheless, I agreed with it.
Once we reached Lubang Buaya, we were greeted with unsurprisingly dim atmosphere although we visited during the day. We arrived in a group of five people.
Rohmad weaved through the wax statues jubilantly. He started fawning on these ugly statues and began ranting about the sacrifices of the Indonesian generals during Gerakan 30 September*.
Since I was learning on how to continue the conversations, I listened to his stories intently and offered him questions to keep our discussion going. Surprisingly, I learned more Indonesian history from him than in the Pancasila Class.
I stared at the bloody wells and dioramas retelling the tragic death of the seven heroes that protected Indonesia from communism ideals. How could someone go so far spilling their own blood to protect this country full of corruption and traffic? Suddenly, I felt a sharp ache twisting in my heart at the thought. I lived for twenty-two years, but I haven’t done any single thing that could change the world…
Why am I thinking about that now…?
Well anyways, I gathered enough data to write my five-hundred-word essays. I couldn’t help but smile at the new feeling swelling inside me.
Then, I felt sharp pairs of eyes firing at my shoulder. I turned back.
The statue of one of the seven heroes stared back at me. Crap, I better get out of here.
I didn’t realize that those eyes belonged to one of my colleagues with shockingly bright red-hair.
The past few weeks seemed like something that happened in cliché movies – after a chain of events, I was no longer indifferent towards Indonesia now. Currently, I am trying to find a cheap travel agent to visit Borobodur next with my friends.
While I’m at it, my fingers were running across the keyboard replying Eka, the mysterious stranger that compelled me to put myself into a series of events.
As my fingers jotted the black square keys on my laptop, my smile was unaltered as I poured my experience into words from the past few weeks.
After I typed the last full stop to my draft, I stared at the blinking line beside it as if it was implicitly teasing me that my draft wasn’t enough.
So, in the end, I typed:
Speaking of which Eka, where do you come from?
I clicked ‘Send’ and watch the loading message flashed across the screen before huffing a sigh. Before I regained my composure, I got an instant reply.
Dear Lucky Star,
What if I told you that…Did I come from a world where Indonesia never existed?
Let’s say that Indonesia got wiped out by Japan back then and since then, the Dutch and Japanese took over the land.
I know that this is crazy, but please believe me. Thank you for telling me what Indonesia looks like. It sounds like a fun place ^^
Believe it or not, I can see you from where you are right now. Love,
Like back then, my chair instinctively reeled backward. Pairs of eyes were turned at me again but this time, Rohmad’s voice was the first one to chime in.
“Mike, what’s wrong bruh?” “N-Nothing bro, I’I-m fine.”
I was at loss for words. I felt like an animated spirit just left my soul. My insides were churning. Another world? This couldn’t be happening! As I traced my shaking fingers along my blanched face, my friend Vera approached me. As she darted towards my direction, her crimson hair fell over her shoulders messily.
“Mike are you okay? Do you need water?”
“Maybe.” My voice was croaking.
“Let me help you, okay?” Vera said kindly and we both walked towards the hallway to the dispenser.
My mind dug for theories how a message from another world could end up in my e-mail. Everything around me felt like a fantasy lately – my sudden affection towards my country and the fact that I received a message from Eka, someone from the other world.
Well, at least there was something to spice up my mundane life now.
As I inwardly sung my improving fate, I heard a faint giggle behind me. It was Vera, whose face hidden behind her hands.
“I know he was a gullible person, but I never knew he was this stupid!” I stared at her.
She stared back at me.
Silence blanketed between us before our faces exploded in myriad shades of red.
Now, I was really convinced that my life was something out of a cliché romance novel instead of fantasy.