Burned Memories: A Memoir

Kenny Andriana Widiansyah


The cinema inside the mall building, Kings, at Kepatihan Street felt like it has always been there since I could remember. Its name was Galaxy, a perfect name for a place that showed me something larger than life itself; film. I vaguely remembered what the first film I watched there was. There were some fractions of memories in here and there, like the scary moment when Lupin turned into a werewolf in Prisoners of Azkaban and the cool moment when Mr. Incredible and his family saved the whole city from a giant bath bomb-shaped robot in The Incredibles, but there was no clear image about what the movie was.

If somebody asked me about the earliest memory I had in mind about that place, it would probably the darkness. The moment you entered the 4th floor of the building, where the cinema was, there was this area with film posters displayed on its wall that would welcome us. The only prominent source of light in that area was the lamps around the posters and the extra dim light lamps above our head. The darkness, however, was not a horrifying and consuming one that made us feel disoriented with the loss of our sight. It was a gentle and calming darkness, the type that would exist right before it showed us something grand and beautiful. Just like the moment when the screen would go dark right before the title and the opening scene appeared before our eyes.

There was another thing I associate darkness and the cinema with. It was night time. I remembered for most of the time I went there, it was always at night. Back then, I thought it was simply because my parent was working until late at night and that Galaxy was the closest cinema from our house. It was not until I was old enough to have had a bad day that I realized: maybe there was another reason behind it. It was meant to be an escape. The moment the screen light up with all that images was also the moment we transported out of the world we live in. I did not feel like I need some sort of escape back then. I thought we all come to the cinema because we love life so much that we want to see it in another form. Maybe when our bad day was caused by little things like a broken toy or a disturbed nap, we would not need any of that. However, a short moment of escape became some kind of remedy for a long and tiring day. Something that we simply need—my parent need. That is why the best and proper time for a cinema outing is at night, right after we finished our work and right before we called it a day. Those words became something that I still believe up until now.

Over the years, Galaxy became one of the places that could bring me real joy and excitement. My family and I could be considered as loyal customers there. We had gone there since the ticket price was only Rp.5.000. It was cheap, but back then it was a normal price. Imagine what we could get now with such amount of money, probably a glass of iced tea or a pack of crackers. The cinema itself was quite different from what we had now. I remembered how the staff would shout the title of the film and its studio’s number, for film that was about to start. The ticket lady would stand on the top of the stairs that lead to the studio hall while they were announcing it. There was no announcement with that woman’s deep voice which we were familiar with, through the speakers. The studios were not as big as it is now. I remembered how the seats sometimes creaked when we sat on it and some of it even had its part missing or broken.

Its bad condition became part of my family’s inside jokes. We would talk about how bad the smell in the studio was, like a damp cloth my mother used in the kitchen. We joked about how we could hear the pouring rain outside from the studio. Then my sister would mention about the time where there was a cockroach creeping up her leg while she was watching a film. The last one really took its toll on me and my father. I really thought that my hatred over cockroach is an inherited nature from him. We both hate cockroach. No, hate is an understatement. Even the slightest thoughts about it could send a ticklish feeling all over my body. So my sister’s story about that terrible experience with cockroach successfully made my father and I became a bit anxious every time we went to Galaxy. We were fine with the smell, with the sound of the pouring rain, and even the broken seats but the moment a cockroach crept up my legs, it would be the deal breaker. It was a silent agreement between my father and me. However, despite all of those bad experiences, we still went there again and again. It was as if we were sacrificing our comfort for the sake of our history which embedded to that place.

Changes came when I was in Junior High School. It was the time when modern and more advanced cinema began to appear everywhere. All cinemas were built inside a much more modern and prestigious mall. All with good air conditioning system, a thick concrete roof, and I believed no cockroaches around your legs. As any pubescence kid, all the cool and trendy stuff became the only thing that mattered. Hanging out with your parent was not considered cool, as I could remember. Our cinema outing became less and less frequent, thus my visit to Galaxy. There was a period when I did not pay my visit for months and the next thing I knew a quite major renovation had been done. The area with the gentle and calming darkness was replaced with a sea of much warmer lights which complemented the new walls of film posters. There was no sign of the ticket lady and the staff, who announced the next film they were going to play, on top of the stairs until I realized that a couple of new speakers were installed all around the room. It was a big change, a nice one. It happened around the time when the last Harry Potter film came out. At that time, all cinema and all shows were almost fully booked so it was an act of pure logical thought to watch it at Galaxy. That was the last movie I watched there.

It was on Sunday, around late June 2014, when I heard the news. My family and I had just moved to a whole new neighborhood, but we still sometimes went to the places we used to go to before we moved out. On that day, we decided to go to our favorite lontong kari stall near our old neighborhood and beloved cinema, for a breakfast. We noticed that the street was quite jammed that morning and as we got closer to the stall, we could see that there was a big gray cloud on the sky. There was a fire, we thought. The moment we arrived we asked right away about the fire. “It is Kings, the whole building is on fire”, the merchant said. There was only a soft murmur between us, maybe a little “oh” and “hm”, but we all kept acting like there was nothing disastrous happening near us. We watched the news, we read the newspaper, and we moved along. I was not sure whether our silence was caused by the fading memories of that place or because the reappearance of its memories. We decided to treat it like any other incident, by simply not talking about it and let it pass.

It was funny if I think about it now, how my first and last memory about Galaxy revolved around Harry Potter films. It was almost like a coincidence that Galaxy was also the place where all the magic started for me. Still, it was inevitable that as I grew older, my memories of that place became more and more vague. The smoke began to enter that specific chamber where those memories were stored. That was why sometimes I felt a slight happiness rose inside me when those tiny pieces of memory came into my mind. The darkness, the seats, even the cockroach story. It made me happy because it seemed like the fire hasn’t reached that chamber yet and turned everything into a pile of burned memories.

Photo by: Toby Melville/Reuters

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