Room 421: A Memoir

Ecky Nurfitriyani


Since 1998, never in the history of my little family did we get hospitalized. Under my mother’s supervision, my father, my mother herself, and I managed to stay out of hospital for two decades. In 2018, though, the record was broken. I was eating lunch with my friends in the middle of what just happened to be a very hot and bright day when suddenly my mom called to tell me that my dad’s been hospitalized. After hearing the news, I rushed to the hospital immediately, the food I had eaten was barely digested.

I did not realize that my dad had been sick, apparently for almost two months as my mom told me, so it was really shocking for me hearing that news. I did notice that sometimes he looked a little faint and could fell asleep literally the minute he sat down on a chair or a couch, but I thought he was just tired, considering his work place was really far from home and he had to go to work since the sun rose until it was getting dark, six days a week. But as it turned out, it was a symptom of a serious health problem.

When I got to the hospital, he was still in the emergency room before he was finally put into an inpatient ward hours later. He was put into a room number 421, just three rooms away from the ward receptionist. I could feel my arm hair raised the moment I walked into the room. One minute in there I had already shivered.

After dealing with the administration, my mom had to leave to work so I had to keep my dad company in the hospital. So there I was, left alone with my dad, in a cold, dimly lit hospital room. I helped him settle in the room, tidied up his clothes and other belongings. When I was done, I sat on a chair next to his bed.

As I accompanied my dad, I didn’t realize that my eyes were tearing up and I felt heavy on my chest, like I was holding back a sob. Somehow sitting there, watching him lying weak in there made me emotional. And the deafening silence in the room didn’t help either because I couldn’t focus on anything else but my dad. I literally met him every single day, I lived under the same roof as him and how did I not realized that he had a serious health condition. Suddenly reality hit me really hard; I hadn’t been alone with my dad in a closed space in a really long time.

For the last two years, my relationship with my dad had been strained. I couldn’t possibly remember the exact reason why but I did remember there was a fight over something that I would say was stupid and unnecessary. There were screaming battles in my house for at least a week. It was an exhausting week to say the least. I was tired from being angry, I was too busy avoiding my dad whenever he had a chance to insult me, scream at me, or get angry at me. We’ve been distanced ever since and my mom didn’t even know about it up to this day. Sure, we still talked to each other, but we barely exchanged more than five sentences to each other in one day and more often than not those conversations just felt awkward, like it was just formality.

Wow, I didn’t know that bringing myself to remember what happened, even in a blur, was a bad decision. I couldn’t hold it any longer as my chest felt heavier and my eyes were blurred, so I left the room immediately to get some fresh air.

I was watching him all by myself until around seven in the evening my mom went back to the hospital after work to check on him. From her disheveled look and the amount of paperwork that she brought, I could tell that she barely got her work done. She must have been worrying about my dad all day.

We gathered around in the small space, my mom sitting on the chair while I sat on the floor next to her. I watched as my mom taking care of my dad, sometimes she caressed his hand and asking how he felt, did he feel dizzy, or did he want anything. It was kind of a strange scene for me to see because even at home I barely saw this kind of interaction between them anymore. And that was when I realized that maybe not only my dad and I’s relationship that’s strained, but my parents’ also. I knew that they fight sometimes, I mean almost every couple do, but I didn’t know that it had an effect to their relationship until that moment.

I felt myself smiling as my parents joking around and laughing over each other’s jokes. The previously cold room had become warmer and so did my heart. It was a rare moment for the three of us to just sit there, talking and laughing, even though there were only the three of us at home. We barely met each other on weekdays, only in the evening to morning. For a long time, even on the weekends, we would just mind our own business in our own private space. I would be busy with college assignments, my mom would be busy doing her work, and my dad would just read the newspaper or fall asleep on the couch while watching the TV. Therefore we barely had family time together anymore. Sadly, we got our family time was only because my dad was hospitalized.

I could feel the tension in the room rose as my mom told my dad to take care of himself more from now on if he truly loved my mom and me, a serious tone could be sensed from her words. I could feel my heart clenched upon hearing those words. She reminded him that he should get better if he wanted to watch me become the person he aspired me to be. I swear to God I was about to lose it. I couldn’t even talk because my voice would just crack. I could’ve just cried right there on the cold floor of the room but I remained still.

That moment, I reflected on everything that had happened between me and my dad. I’m sure that family fight all the time. But it shouldn’t be a reason for them, for us, to fall apart. Maybe my dad being sick was a wake up call for all of us. It was a reminder for me to put whatever it was that happened between us behind and start to make amends with my dad. Perhaps it was also a reminder for my mom. And it was most certainly a reminder for my dad to take care of himself better, because he still has my mom and me.

My dad being hospitalized gave me some perspectives. There is always a possibility of everyone leaving me out of nowhere, even in the middle of a sunny day when I’m just enjoying myself. That possibility should be put in my mind so I would always do things right with the people I love, because I’m afraid it would be too late if I wouldn’t. So in that hospital room, I started to try to reconcile with my dad, and so did my mom. We’ve been rebuilding our little family ever since.

Illustration credit to Deniz Korkmaz (

Alley of Memory: A Memoir

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When I think of a place I miss the most, Yogyakarta comes up into my mind. That place fills a special place in my heart. Yogyakarta brought back every memories of me with a lot of people. Yogya has its own quality that made me want to live there. If I have to describe Yogyakarta, I’d say it’s sacred yet beautiful. I like the fact that it still heavily under influence of traditional belief.

It was the month of May of 2017 when I went to Yogyakarta with my family—Mom, Dad, my sister Icha. I’ve already visited Yogya 3 times so far. The first one was with my relatives—I can’t recall what year it was, this—the one with my family, was the second one, and the third time was the most recent one in 2018 with my close friends. However, the second visit made me fall in love with the city and also realized that I have so many things to be thankful for. Especially that night… in Malioboro.

We originally planned to visit a lot of Yogyakarta’s famous tourist spot, but we only managed to visit some, because little did we know, Dad wasn’t in a good shape at that time, considering he had already stopped the chemotherapy. Yes, Dad had lymphatic cancer, but instead of continuing the chemotherapy, he stopped doing it because he really wasn’t fond of the chemical reaction. “I’d rather live with my cancer eating me out slowly. It’s not the cancer that’s killing me, it’s the chemo”. So on the last night in Yogyakarta, we decided to stroll around Malioboro because we couldn’t risk dad’s health.

We walked out of the hotel we were staying in on one of Malioboro’s alleys after Maghrib to look for dinner. Dad said it was culinary time. As we walked out, there were people who offered becak and delman ride to the main street. I was sure becak and delman were the main transportations in Malioboro street, because of the heavy traffic caused by too many cars and motorcycles. However, we decided to walk. The alley was full of kinds of hostelry—hotel, motel, cabin, you name it. There were also café, bars full of foreigners, and also people selling all kinds of food. Ranging from wedang jahe, rabbit satay, up to angkringan—a push cart that sells traditional food, small portion of rice and mostly chicken offal where people eat while sitting down on the ground, over a mat, of course. The alley felt rather quiet and calm compared to the main street.

It felt like the main street never sleeps. Even the street vendor—the ones that sell clothes, souvenirs were closed while the ones that sell food were still open until dawn. Most of the cars and motorcycles were parked on the side of the road, making it more narrow than it already was. We walked along the side road while still looking for food to eat when mom stopped watching street band that played best karaoke hits. The band consisted of five personnel. Two of them were the vocals, a man and a woman. They were the more high budget street artist because they used big sound systems, compared to the other street artist that only used guitar and portable drums. My mom and Icha seemed interested, while dad and I weren’t, so we sat on one of the bench when he abruptly tapped on my shoulder and said that I have the same kind of shoulder as he does. “It’s broad” he said. I nodded without saying anything while looking at the woman who was grilling satay which I believe was rabbit meat, near the giant road side plant vase. It was something my dad always told me over and over again up to the point that I’ve memorized every word of the sentence.

We then decided to eat gudeg, a mandatory dish if you visit Yogyakarta, when we already tried the Yu Djum one. This vendor was selling more variations of gudegthan Yu Djum, and they display the food out on basins for people to choose without having to look at the menu. We only ordered a portion with a little bit of everything, because again, it was culinary. Frankly, we all agreed that Yu Djum tasted better than this one, and so we went on searching for other food vendor that was more appetizing than the previous one.

We came across a seafood vendor which was packed with people. For tourists like us, we looked for vendors that are crowded, hoping that we went to the good one. When we were waiting for our food, a street artists with guitar and cello started to sing their anthem near our table. For the record, dad liked singing, so he asked them to sing more of his own song request. He stood up and sat on the bench in front of our table, crossed his legs up and started to sing lively. Then they sang the song.. the song that reminded me of this place and this particular moment. “Yogyakarta” by Kla Project. This is hard to imagine, but when this song came up, everybody were singing, even when they were in the middle of chewing their food. Malioboro was always loud, but, in my head, this moment was louder.

While we were eating, a young lady carrying a milking baby on her chest approached us to offer some tissues she were selling. Rather than saying no, dad asked her the baby’s age, and from that, she told us everything about how she was a single parent whose husband left her without notice, making her had to work while taking care of the baby alone. We ended up buying her food from the vendor we were at, as well as bought her tissues. Then she bid her goodbye. Little did we know, her ‘friends’ approached us with the same set. They sold tissues while carrying babies. We guessed that they were in the same kind of business where they accommodated single mothers who had to make living for her and her baby by selling tissues.

It was getting late, but we decided to take a delmanride around Malioboro with the intention of buying souvenirs on the other side of Malioboro street the coachman told us. So then we ride along Malioboro street and took turn around the end of the street that led to the surprisingly very quiet side of Malioboro street compared to the main street that was generally boisterous. The coachman told us stories about Malioboro along the ride.

On the way back to our hotel, me and dad were walking side by side while Icha and mom were in the same position in front of us. We were discussing about healthy food. Although it’s late, the street were still crowded and loud, and we had our own ‘bubble’ of health topics. I was telling him what supplements I took and what I eat every day to keep my skin and body healthy in the middle of the shouting of souvenir sellers. Dad insisted an alternative and simple way to keep my skin healthy by drinking supplement shake made out of all kinds of beneficial greens that smells like a person’s puke, when mom and Icha randomly entered one of the batik store. Instead of joining the two, we waited outside, talking, still around the health topic and mom would call us two at times, asking us to choose batik for ourselves.

I realized that I have so much in common with my dad and I learned things that couldn’t be taught at school. That night taught me that happiness can be found everywhere, and how to be grateful for what we already have. Things that shape us as a person.

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