Penjual Bunga di Clemenstorget*

*dimuat di Media Indonesia, 3 Desember 2017

“Hhhh hhhh hhhh,” aku berlari terengah-engah menuju tempat pemberhentian bus. Dan saat itulah lagi-lagi aku melihat dia. Dia yang selalu tersenyum setiap kali mata kami bertemu. Dia yang selalu menyapa “hej hej [1]” setiap pagi saat aku terburu-buru mengejar bus dan melewati kiosnya. Begitu terus setiap hari. Tak peduli aku balas tersenyum atau tidak. Tak peduli aku membalas sapaannya atau tidak. Awalnya aku risih. Aku tak merasa mengenalnya. Tapi lama-lama aku terbiasa. Dan sekarang senyum dan sapaannya sudah menjadi bagian dari keseharianku.

Dialah salah satu dari dua penjual bunga yang ada di Clemenstorget. Kiosnya berada lebih dekat dengan jalan raya. Karena itu jadi lebih sering kulewati daripada kios yang satunya. Aku tak pernah tahu siapa namanya atau kapan dan dari mana dia datang. Setiap kali aku melewati area itu untuk berangkat kerja, dia sudah duduk manis di belakang puluhan ember berisi bunga-bunga segar. Kadang mawar. Kadang lili. Kadang tulip. Tergantung musim. Dia juga masih duduk di situ ketika aku pulang. Kadang bunga yang dijualnya tak banyak bersisa. Kadang ember-ember berisi bunga itu tampak tak mengalami banyak perubahan. Dia tetap berjualan ketika salju atau hujan turun. Juga ketika angin bertiup kencang mengacak-acak tenda kiosnya. Dia tetap duduk di sana. Tersenyum manis dan menyapa “hej hej.

Menurutku dia sudah berjualan di Clemenstorget sejak lama. Minimal dia sudah ada di sini saat aku pindah enam bulan lalu. Kalau dilihat dari perawakan dan penampilannya yang khas (dia selalu mengenakan tutup kepala warna biru), aku menebak dia orang Roma, yang memang cukup banyak jumlahnya di sini. Aku sendiri belum pernah membeli bunga darinya. Aku tak merasa perlu menaruh bunga di apartemenku. Demi apa? Aku toh bukan penggemar bunga juga. Membeli bunga tidak pernah menjadi prioritasku.

Ketidaksukaanku pada bunga barangkali sedikit banyak dipengaruhi oleh karakter dasarku yang tidak hangat. Selama ini aku memang dikenal sebagai “si dingin”. Aku tak mudah bergaul. Cenderung penyendiri. Sinis pada banyak hal. Aku juga tak pandai mengekspresikan perasaan. “Your face needs deliverance,” kata seorang rekan padaku suatu ketika. Aku bukan tipe orang yang murah senyum. Apalagi ramah dan suka menyapa. Sama sekali tidak seperti si penjual bunga itu.

The Old Man*

Have you called your parents today?

*Published in The Jakarta Post, October 9, 2017

I glanced at my phone. Two missed calls. The clock showed it was 2 a.m. Yet, I was barely able to sleep — thanks to the old man who lived in apartment 1401 on the 5th floor. An apartment opposite my building whose windows weren’t curtained and faced right onto my apartment.

Every 2 a.m. until sunrise, that old man would turn on his ridiculously bright lamp. He had been doing that for a week now. I was unable to get to sleep after working at night. Or suddenly it would disturb my sleep.

I tried to put up a curtain, but it didn’t work. The light was too bright. It shone through my apartment window and reached my bed. To make matters worse, every night with his light turned on he would stand near the window. His shadow made it even harder for me to sleep.

One day I took a peek from behind my curtain. I saw him stand near his apartment window with a phone in his hand, as usual. He was wearing a suit. Yes, a suit. It seemed like he couldn’t take his eyes away from his phone. I had no idea what he was doing. Wearing a suit in the middle of the night wasn’t just unusual; it was strange. I thought he might have lost his mind or something. But my friend, Don, who apparently knew him, said there was nothing wrong with him.

Don lived in the apartment unit downstairs. I ran into him in the laundry room some days ago and asked him whether he too was having trouble sleeping. Don said he had no trouble sleeping.

I told Don about the old man across from our apartment building and his annoying habit of turning on the lamp during the night. Don said the light didn’t get through to his apartment unit and therefore it didn’t bother him. He also told me the old man had been living in the apartment building across from us for decades. So far, he said, the old man had never caused anyone any trouble.

“Just wear a sleep mask,” Don advised. “Put up a bulkier curtain, or just move your bed,” he offered some other solutions.

I nodded my head but my mind was full of doubt. Wearing a sleep mask and getting a bulkier curtain would waste my time and money. They wouldn’t work. The lamp was too bright. Moving the bed wasn’t an option either. I didn’t have much space in my small apartment unit. Not to mention my books and my papers that were scattered all over the floor. So I told Don I would give the old man some time. But if nothing changed within a week, I would talk to the old man.

However, after almost two weeks, nothing changed. I couldn’t take it anymore. I had to talk to him. I was losing more and more sleep. I couldn’t think clearly in the afternoon. I felt like a zombie every time I went to work. And even coffee didn’t help. I begged Don to give me the entrance code to the old man’s building. I knew he had it because he once had a crush on a girl who used to live in the same building as the old man. Don tried to stop me.

“He’s old, man. He must have a reason,” he argued.

But I didn’t care. I was not going to take it anymore. That night, I visited the old man’s apartment unit. I rang the bell. After a while, he answered the door.

“Yes?” said the old man.

Don was right. He was very old. He was surprised to find me there.

“Hi, sorry to bother you. I live in the apartment unit on level 4, in the opposite building. Every night I can’t sleep because you, Sir, have been turning on a very bright lamp until sunrise,” I said frankly.

He seemed stunned and opened his mouth to say something but I didn’t give him a chance.

“So, could you please stop doing that? I haven’t been able to sleep properly these last two weeks and my career is at stake because of that. I hope you understand,” I added, firmly.

“Oh, okay,” he said.

“Thank you,” I said, then walked away.

For the following two nights, the old man kept his light switch off. I was beginning to catch up on my sleep. And then one night, as I had just finished writing my report, the lamp came on again. The old man stood near the window with a cell phone in his hand. I tried to ignore it. Maybe he forgot he had to turn it off. He was very old. Yet the next night, he forgot again. I couldn’t sit still and do nothing.

I rang his bell again. Several times. Then the door opened:

“Ah, I knew you would come. Come in, there’s something I want to tell you.”

I followed him with hesitation. His apartment was very much like mine: a studio apartment with no bedroom. There was only a bathroom and a kitchen on the left side, and a corridor that led to the main room with windows. This main room was used as a bedroom as well as a reading room with a sofa, table and bookshelf. I could see the culprit of my recent sleeping problem, the bright lamp, was seated on the table. I restrained myself not to take it and throw it away.

He allowed me to sit on the only sofa in that room, while he sat on the edge of his bed. Then he took something from his pocket and handed it to me. It was a picture of a young man with a short lady and a toddler, maybe around two years old. This time, I was the one who was stunned. I didn’t get it. What did this picture have to do with my sleeping problem?

“He’s my son,” he said, pointing at the picture of the young man.

Then the old man told me that his son had been living out of the country for quite some time. It had been almost two months they weren’t in contact. He said that his son once complained about how difficult it was to contact him because the old man couldn’t work out a video call or a web-call. So last month he decided to buy a smartphone. Hoping that it would be easier for him to talk to his son.

“I know he’s busy. And I don’t want to annoy him. I just want to say hello,” he added.

The old man later explained that every child, once they’ve become adults, deserves to lead their own lives. But a father would always be a father. He still wanted to hear from his son. Maybe twice a month, or even once a month is fine. That was why he had gotten up late in the last three weeks. He was trying to reach his son who lived in a different part of the world, the part where days and nights were all reversed. And the old man was trying to work the new phone with the help of the lamp.

“You can see there isn’t much space in my apartment,” he argued.

I didn’t know what to say. I was furious at first. But now I felt sorry for the old man instead.

“What about you? You call your dad often?” asked the old man, out of the blue.

I opened my mouth but nothing came out. I didn’t even know how long I hadn’t been in touch with my father. I missed or even ignored his calls most of the time. Sometimes he texted me, but my replies were curt. I felt like I had no time for chitchat. My time was always occupied with work.

My sister was the one who did me a favour when she visited me. She gave our father some updates, sent him pictures and things like that. But I hardly contacted him by myself. Even on the weekends. I didn’t know what to talk about. I wasn’t good at making conversation while my father was so quiet.

“You know what, sometimes listening to your son’s voice is enough,” said the old man.

I couldn’t find the right words to say. I returned the picture to him and excused myself. “I think I should go,” I said at last. “I’ll get someone to put up the curtain tomorrow,” he added before I left. “Thanks,” I said quietly. I rushed back to my apartment.

***

It was 2 a.m. And just like the nights before, something disturbed my sleep. The light was back on. The old man was pacing around, as usual, near the window. I wasn’t angry, though. Instead, I felt a smile coming onto my face. I looked at my phone screen. There were several missed calls. I redialled the number.

“Hello?”

“Hello. Dad?” I replied.

No answer. I could only hear him breathing a sigh of relief.

Usai Kopi Ketigapuluh*

*dimuat di Majalah Kartini Edisi Maret – April 2017

Apa yang bisa kamu pelajari dari secangkir kopi?

Ursäkta!’’[1]

Sebuah suara terdengar dari balik punggungku. Satu suara yang rasanya kukenal. Tapi siapa? Kamu kah? Aku membalikkan badan penuh harap.

Ternyata bukan. Bukan kamu yang berdiri di sana. Justru si pelayan kafe tempat aku baru saja menghabiskan waktu. Tentu saja aku kenal dengan suaranya. Bukankah dia yang selalu melayani pesanan kopiku? Atau kopimu lebih tepatnya. Pelayan itu menggumamkan sesuatu dalam bahasa Swedia. Aku hanya menggeleng-gelengkan kepala tak mengerti.

Jag talar inte Svenska[2],” kataku akhirnya.

You left your phone in the café,” katanya sambil mengulurkan telepon genggamku yang ternyata ketinggalan.

Aku ingat tadi memang meletakkannya di atas meja. Usai memantau akun-akun media sosialmu. Mencari tahu kabarmu seperti apa. Dan masih adakah aku di sana. Mungkin aku terlalu sibuk dengan pikiran tentangmu sehingga tak sadar telepon genggamku tertinggal. Tanganku bergerak mengambil telepon genggam dari tangannya.

Tack[3],” ucapku sopan.

Dia hanya mengangguk.

Are you okay?” ujarnya tiba-tiba, mengagetkanku.

Yeah, I’m.. I’m fine,” jawabku tak yakin.

Pelayan itu hanya tersenyum lalu membalikkan punggung dan bergegas kembali ke kafenya.

Working from Home #inthetimeofcoronavirus

Work from home situation before coronavirus time

There’s nothing new with the idea of working from home (WFH) for me. Especially after I moved to Sweden and doesn’t work full time anymore. My home is my working space. Along with library and cafe sometimes 😊

Even so, there’s something different with the concept of WHF lately. It’s about the reason behind it and the mood that surrounds it. The you know what: Coronavirus COVID-19.

As an attempt to halt its rapid and massive spread, people are now “forced” to work from home and to limit their social exposure. In this case, WFH is no longer an option. It is an obligation. And that’s why it feels different now. At least for me.

I find it’s harder now to work from home, to find a working corner or to multitask things. I haven’t written anything for quite sometimes (except one post for The Newbie Guide to Sweden here). I have many ideas in my mind but most of the times I just stare at my laptop, read news and write nothing. With the course I teach is now pending until mid April, I supposedly have more time to continue my old project or to create a new one. But I only end up with eating, stress-baking, and bing watching. So contra-productive 😀 .

Maybe it’s psychological.

Some researchers believe that when someone’s being confronted with something involuntarily, the natural response is to deny first.

Maybe I’m now reluctant to work from home because it’s not my choice anymore. I have to do it because I can’t go to other places. Besides, even if my routine remains the same, it still feels different because my thought is occupied by something else.

Or maybe I’m just making excuses.

I just hope that it’s not gonna be a new normal. I mean, I want to write again. I want to be able to craft a story no matter where I do it. And writing this post is actually my attempt to begin.

Wish me luck!

Get to Know Swedish Children’s Book Icons*

If you had just moved to Sweden, with small kids, it’s just a matter of time until your kids gushing about the character in Swedish children’s books relentlessly. Like me, three years back, you may never have heard some of them before. So here I compile the list of Swedish children’s books icons you may need to know to keep up with your kids ☺

Pippi Longstocking (Pippi Långstrump)

Created by Astrid Lindgren in 1945, Pippi Longstocking is probably the most famous and the most celebrated fictional character in Sweden. She is a red-haired, freckled, unconventional and superhumanly strong girl who lives in VillaVillekulla, with her monkey whose name is Mr. Nilsson and her horse.

This character draws a long debate among adults due to its strong and unusual personalities, challenging the conventional ideas about how kids should behave. Nevertheless, many people consider Pippi as the symbol of girl power and gender equality.

Chasing Aurora in Abisko (Part 3)

The famous hiking trail

Abisko with kids

Our third day in Abisko was started late because we arrived from the Aurora chasing at around 10 pm the night before and everyone was feeling excited yet cold and tired, especially the youngest one. So we slowed down a bit and didn’t go out until after lunch. That day, it was still sunny and cold like the day before so we’re thinking of doing more indoor activities. We checked the surrounding areas and came up with some ideas that could work for the adults and the kids such as visiting Abisko Naturum and the Sami museum. To be able to do that, we need to go to the STF Abisko Turiststation first, which is located around 2 kms from Abisko Guesthouse. It’s actually walking distance but Klas was really kind he drove us there and even suggested us to go to the canyon (which we didn’t look up before) and this was the highlight of the day.

Chasing Aurora in Abisko (Part 2)

As I said in my previous post, our train from Stockholm arrived in Abisko Östra at around 10 am and we were welcomed by heavy snow showers. But we didn’t mind. Skåne, where we come from, barely has winter this year. The temperature that rarely dropped below zero made the snow didn’t last long in the area. In fact, if we use the definition of winter from SMHI, the period when the daily mean temperature is permanently 0.0 ° C or lower, then basically we just went from wet autumn to wet spring 😀

But enough about the weather, let’s talk about Abisko 🙂

Day 1 in Abisko