The original storyteller to “Something Blue” was my roommate in Aceh. The story occurred few months before I started working there. I never met “Maya”, and I’m not sure if that’s her real name. I’m pretty sure, though, that this story is true. There were too many people adding testimony to different parts of it. Including the storyteller’s family, and the people they worked with, and that something blue we see everyday around us.
In accordance to blog writing rules, long stories have to be broken down. “Something Blue” will be told in three parts. Each part adds depth to that shade of blue. I need to tell you the whole thing.
If you want to wait, I’ll upload a PDF version of the whole story in the last post. “Something Blue” is available here in PDF. Feel free to share.
Okay? Here we go…
I never knew, that in moments of surrealism, finding an “end call” button could be so hard. I wanted to deny the symptoms that I was trained to recognize at a glimpse. My mother was too healthy, too robust a woman. Yet, at the end of that conversation…
I looked at Maya, who was frowning at her laptop from across the table. Maya’s here, and she’s real. Too real. Her presence relinquished all grounds of denial to the given facts. The slur in my mother’s voice, the incoherent words, the probable diagnosis, the fact that I’m on different islands from my mother, and holding a too little money, sunk heavily.
“Maya, I think…” I gasped, every word was adding weight and speed to that sinking reality. I drowned in my own tears. “Maya, my mother just had a stroke.”
There’s something about money that I don’t understand. Sometimes when I’m too careful, it never seems enough. Other times, when I let go a little and share, there seems more of it to come that we can’t account for. Maya calls it “Berkah” – Blessing بركة.
Maya was almost careless with money. She never had too much of it, but strangely, she always managed to survive with or without it, in one way or another. She never told me how she did it. She only showed it to me.
The night my mother had her stroke, I quickly discovered how living in a remote town in Aceh complicated logistic issues. To add on the panic, there was the thought of how expensive this medical emergency was going to be. More than ever before, the lack of money made me feel most alone and frightened. I bitterly hated the fact that health and life can be purchased at the right cost.
Maya, in the mean time, was sympathetic in her annoyed kind of way. She held me from the moment I started crying. She nearly force fed me my dinner. And when there was nothing else to do but to wait for the next plane to Jakarta, she told me to try to sleep and “Stop crying, because it’s not helping either of us, or mama.”
But how could I have stopped crying when my world, my mother was an island away and terminally sick?
Some point in the middle of the night, Maya walked into my room, dragging her pillow and safety blanket. Her face annoyed and sleepy, and slightly scary. She rolled into my bed, and made ready to sleep in it.
She asked, “Why are you still crying?”
I told her I was too terrified to stop crying. I told her that my mother wasn’t insured. I told her that we didn’t. Have. Enough. Money.
And she pulled out a blue debit card from under the pillow she brought, stuck a post-it note on its back and handed it to me. Still in her annoyed/sleepy voice, she said, “This is all the money I have. The PIN number is on the post-it note. I think it’s halal money. At least, it’s all the money I’ve been making in Aceh and you can ask the accountant about where that came from.”
I shook my head and started to refuse, but she pressed the blue debit card in my hand, and closed our fingers around it. “If only money could really buy your mother another life and make you stop crying TONIGHT. Some things are beyond our control. And those things we must learn to trust, and through them we must bear courage. Otherwise we’ll miss huge chunks of wisdom in them.”
With that, she laid on her stomach in my bed, stuffed her face in a pillow and unnaturally drifted too fast to sleep.
I looked at her snoring back, then at the blue debit card in my hand. Then back at her. “How will you eat?”
She mumbled, “I’ve enough for a week. Per diems, in a week.”
“I don’t know if I can pay you back. I don’t even know when I’m coming back.”
This time she raised her head with a curse, and looked at me with strange lucidity, “Haven’t I made it clear? I’m not going to lose sleep over blue cards.”
I returned to Aceh ten days later. My mother survived. My general cynicism towards kindness and people didn’t.