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21 February, 2012

A house for Sumi


 By Deka Amalia  
Features


 Dewi K.
Trembling, 18-year-old Sumi carried her baby, less than a year old, her eyes fixed on the group of uniformed men carrying clubs.
She could not understand why these people had ruthlessly destroyed her house and anything inside it. Her neighbors said they were the local administration officers in charge of maintaining order.
Sumi sat in silence, sadness stabbing deep into her heart. Her husband, Yoyok, and all their neighbors were angrily trying to prevent the men from destroying the whole neighborhood. Vehement shouts and hysterical cries echoed that fateful afternoon in the hullabaloo of the house demolition.
Sumi could only tightly hug her baby and quiveringly pray to God for help in this ordeal.
Sumi and Yoyok had had to work hard day and night before they could get the house. Yoyok was a construction worker while Sumi roamed half the city as a scavenger. After several years of toil, they could finally buy a small house in an area formerly intended for a factory compound. The neighborhood was made up of people like him: construction workers, street vendors, scavengers, beggars and the like.
Like their neighbors, Sumi and Yoyok worked even harder after buying the small house. Sumi wanted to collect more money so that she could return to her village and break the happy news to her family. She walked farther and farther every day as a scavenger, sifting through garbage to find what she needed.
When night came, she often reminisced about her life in the village. She and her five siblings crowded into a small house with their parents, who worked as farm hands. Sumi and her siblings had barely any elementary school education, for Sumi left when she was in the second grade.
Her parents were only too happy to accept the marriage proposal from Yoyok although Sumi was only 16, especially because Yoyok had got a job in Jakarta.
"You will have a nice house in Jakarta, Sumi, like what we usually see on the television at the village head's office," said her mother.
"You will stay in a house with concrete walls and tiles on the roof," added her father.
When she first came to the capital, Sumi was amazed at everything around her. Wide streets, bright lights, skyscrapers; it seemed to her that the city was bright round the clock. But her dream of living in a decent house vanished when Yoyok took her to a shack behind a shopping compound somewhere in West Jakarta.
"Don't worry, Sumi. We'll work hard and save money for a small house. Jakarta gives you everything if only you want to work hard."
Sumi believed her husband's words. He toiled on a construction site, often until late into the night. Sumi learned from the people in her new "neighborhood" that there was a suitable job for her, as many of them were scavengers and were able to earn enough to buy their own television sets.
Days went by and Sumi, with great perseverance, roamed the city collecting whatever might prove valuable from the city's garbage. She could not bring herself to beg at street corners or at traffic lights for she could not stand people staring at her in contempt or out of pity.
Then one day Yoyok told him that there was a small house for sale nearby. It was on a plot of land formerly designated for a factory site. It had been neglected since the economic crisis hit the country several years earlier. Many semipermanent houses had sprung up there.
The house they decided to buy was small -- three meters by 4 meters -- and looked more like a bedroom in a decent house. For them, it was much better than their makeshift house behind the shopping compound.
The walls were made of wooden boards. The floor was cemented and, more importantly, like what her father used to tell her back in the village, the house had brown roof tiles.
"I will raise you here," she told herself proudly time and again, stroking her swollen belly.
But that day all her dreams about the future crashed into pieces as the men in the uniforms brought down her house. They said the house was illegally built on state-owned land. They told her a thousand legal reasons that she could little comprehend. What she knew was that they had to work hard day and night to buy this small house.
She was afraid because the uniformed people told her, her husband and their neighbors that they would be arrested if they continued to put up resistance and put in prison.
Sumi was afraid because she did not think she had quarreled with anybody. She was afraid because did not think she had done anything wrong. She and her husband toiled to collect money and they had bought the house out of their own savings.
Her body shivering in fear, Sumi watched how the uniformed people flattened the houses to the ground. She watched some of her neighbors beaten up because they resisted. She watched her husband shouting himself hoarse at the uniformed people.
Sumi hugged her baby even closer. "I don't know where we should stay tonight, child. I don't know where to raise you."
She heard the uniformed people shouting to them that they had to vacate the place that very day or face arrest.
Night descended. Sumi, her baby and her husband were still roaming the city, looking for a spot where they could put up a makeshift hut. She was carrying her baby while Yoyok hauled two bundles of their belongings. Cars sped past, their bright lights dazzling her eyes. Sumi stared emptily at the brightly illuminated mansions they passed along the way.
Her small, crowded house in the village suddenly emerged before her eyes. It was there that her child should be raised. Stars were twinkling in the sky, far, far away.

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