When I Visit Aki: A Memoir

Nurul Hanun Asyifa

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My father never really told me that his parents had separated since he was little. I remember how confused I was when he announced that we were going to Banjar to visit my grandfather. I certainly thought that it was rather odd to visit my grandparents in two different cities. But my father did not say anything, not even when I asked him if he had two homes. He just smiled and answered, “Aki will be very glad to meet his beautiful and handsome grandkids.”

I was around six years old when I visited Aki in Banjar for the first time. When I think about Aki, I think about his small house with two coconut trees in front of the front porch. There were always ducks or chickens running around the front yard. The old and odd smell of the house, and the smell of tobacco which lingered in the air. As long as I could remember, Aki was always old. He would be sitting in the front porch wearing sarung and smoking tobacco. When he noticed us walking toward his house, he would stand up and smile—waving his hand and throw away the cigarette. The first time I saw Aki, I was hiding behind my father’s back. Before I turned six, I had never really visited him, so I could not remember how he looked like. Aki often forgot about things, but he never forgot about me and all the crazy and imaginative things that I had told him. My mother said that it was because of my curly hair and the fact that I was the naughtiest grandchild.

There was no television or any kind of electronic entertainment in the house. As a six-year-old kid, it was impossible to have fun there. When my father was talking to Aki, I grabbed his arm and asked him that I wanted to go home. Aki did not say anything, he just laughed and shook his head. My father said that there were many interesting things to see around the house, for Aki’s rice field was not so far from the house. My dad never scolded me, but I knew that he indirectly said no to me. So, I decided to wander and look for fun things around Aki’s house. My best-friend-cousin, Rifqah, came along. My father was right, there were indeed many interesting, and yet, scary things to see around Aki’s house. Rifqah and I found an old well near the coconut trees. We were very curious and we decided to see the well. Suddenly, there was a little boy shouting from distant. We were very surprised to see him, he then yelled at us in Sundanese, we could not comprehend all the words that he uttered. Turned out, he was Aki’s neighbor, and he knew the history of the old well. I still cannot remember that little boy’s name, but I can remember the look on his face when he told us the horror story of the well. The old well was Aki’s, and a long time ago, somebody had committed suicide and died inside the well. The spirit of that person was still haunting the well. My cousin and I were so frightened that we instantly decided to leave that old well for good.

We then continued our adventure, we wandered around the bushes to look for interesting things. My cousin yelled from distant, she said that she had found something very interesting. Indeed, it really was. There was a railway behind Aki’s house. I was so excited because I thought I was going to see some trains crossing the railway behind Aki’s house. But no trains ever crossed that railway, and I did not know why—not until in the evening. Aki was smoking in front of the porch, watching his chickens and ducks from where he sat. My cousin and I approached him, and we sat beside him. Aki immediately threw away his cigarette, and he smiled. Aki always looked so happy every time I asked him random and rather uncommon questions. So we asked him about the railway behind his house, said that we had been waiting all day to see a train crossing that railway.

“The railway is no longer used.” said Aki, opening his story. Then he told us about the railway, which was actually built a long time ago, “When?” I asked, “A long time ago.” answered Aki, “But when?” asked Rifqah. Aki let out a small laugh as he said, “A long time ago.”. And indeed, it was a long time ago, before my father was born, and even before Aki was born. The railway was built in the nineteenth-century, when the Dutch still colonized us. Aki’s house was actually a garden full of vegetables, and there was a rubber plantation. The railway was very helpful to send vegetables and rubbers to the city. Then he told us about how the house was when my father was still a kid.

“There used to be a mango tree right there—near the duck house. Your father used to climb it, especially in mango season. But your father was too skinny when he was a kid, and he fell off the tree once. I think his arms were not strong enough to hold his own weight. Then your father moved to Kuningan with grandma.” told Aki. I was just nodding my head, trying to imagine how the place looked like years ago as Aki asked, “This house is very small and old, there is no bathroom inside the house, but are you happy here?”

I could not say yes, because I did not think I was very happy about visiting Aki’s house. There was no entertainment, no television, and there were too many ducks in front of the house. I was not able to understand how happy Aki was when his grandchildren finally visited him. Of course, we could not visit Aki every year. It took me years to finally realize that Aki was actually lonely. Aki always tried to make his grandchildren comfortable, so they would stay a little longer. But the ducks were still running around the house, the old well was still scary, the house still smelled like tobacco, and the railway was still not in function. It was very hard for me to stay in the house even just for a few days, especially when I was younger. However, as I grew up, I no longer see Aki’s house as just a small, old house which smells like tobacco. The last time I visited Aki’s house was around two years ago. When we were walking toward the house, Aki was sitting in the front porch, wearing sarung and smoking tobacco—he always did that, and he always will do. When it was time for me to go back home, I felt a sad feeling suddenly came and surrounded my heart. I got out of Aki’s house and looked at all those ducks and chickens looking for food on the ground. Then I walked past the coconut trees and all the bushes near them, thinking about how old those trees must be. I glanced at the old railway behind Aki’s house, still hoping that a train might cross that railway someday. I was still feeling nervous when I walked past the old well, asking myself if there was really a ghost living inside that well. And finally, as I reached the end of the footpath, I looked back at Aki’s house. Aki was standing there in front of his house. His hands were folded behind his back. I waved my hand at him, could not wait to visit him again and see him smile.

Photo credit: https://www.twenty20.com/photos/56634285

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