Lia Tjokro loved writing when she was a little girl, she wrote on an old diary book that her father bought her. She stopped "fun" writing for quite some years when school, university, and postgrad studies kept her busy. She earned her Ph.D in cognitive psychology/cognitive neuroscience, and worked in academics for a while, and more recently, she re-discovers how much writing means to her. She is a wife and a mom of one now, and continues trying to be better in writing.
You can find some of her poems at her twitter: @februalia1, and her short stories & poetry (in English & Indonesian) here:
You have an impressive CV and we believe you have a lot of potentials…
And then, the however…
Followed by a whole paragraph of reasons of why-nots, apologetic but unmoved, with a certain finality to it, and a well-you-are-good-but-not-good-enough tone lurking in between the words.
At least they would end with best wishes for your future endeavours.
That’s it. You are not what we are looking for.
“Best wishes my ass…” hissed Syrinn as her fingers moved to crumple the latest rejection letter that she got that afternoon and swiftly threw it to the trashcan at the corner of the room. That crumpled paper went straight in.
She closed her eyes, massaged her forehead, slowly letting the pressure of her fingers worked its way to the side of her head. She took a deep breath, and let out a loud sigh.
“It would have been a perfect job for you, Syrinn! Dumb, Syrinn! Fourth rejections in two months! Fourth…” she whispered. She glanced at the crumpled paper nestled snugly in the trash can along with some other papers and used tissues. “At least it went straight in this time. Fourth time is the charm…” she chuckled. It didn’t make her feel better.
She took a deep breath again, and that annoying pressure within her chest simply refused to lift up. She wanted to scream, but that was not her way. She was always the quiet one, the thinking one…
“Arrgghhhh!!” she let out a loud scream as she balled her hands and punched the empty air above.
The pressure on her chest lifted up a little, she stood up, grabbed her jacket and got out of her room.
Her father should be done by now.
She ran downstairs, stopped by the kitchen to check on her cooking.
She lifted the cover for the pan, took a peek inside, to the mass of brown oily sauce mixed with some chunks of meat which quietly simmered. The smell of rendang filled the room and she must admit, it was her favorite smell in the whole world. Chunks of tender beef shanks cooked for long time in a heavenly mixture of spices and coconut milk…
“Ouch! Shit!” Syrinn shouted as her left fingers drifted and touched the hot electric stove, and the heat from the cover of the pan emanated from her fingers. Heat and pain mixed and she reflexively let go of the cover and the glass cover fell on the floor, bounced a couple times with loud bang, and shattered. She sucked her thumb and index finger and helplessly watched the whole spectacle.
“Oh dumb girl…What have you done?!” she whispered at herself as she kneeled and tried to pick up the broken glass from the pan cover. She scanned for pieces large enough for her to pick up, picked up a couple, and threw them in the trash can.
“Sorry, Dad…sorry…your favorite pan…” she pursed her lips. She had to go now.
She stood up and grabbed her jacket and rushed to the front door.
She rummaged through a pink plastic bowl where all keys were dropped, trying to find her car key when she heard jingling of keys from outside and the door handle turned.
A man with grey hoodie jacket dan greying head of hair stepped in. Three large reusable grocery bags crammed in his left hand while his right hand still held the house key.
“Dad…” her breath came to a quick stop.
“They had the best carrots today at the market!” announced the man, Felix Elard, as he struggled a bit to unravel the twirled handles of the grocery bags from his fingers.
“Was I late? You said 1pm, outside Simon’s Bakery, correct?” Syrinn had to make sure she hadn’t messed up the timing, not that she had never done that before.
“Look at these! Look!” Her father didn’t seem to hear her concern. He grabbed from one of the bags three bunches of carrots, fresh with the greens on top, and waved them at Syrinn. The carrots looked clean, bright orange, and the greens looked perky with sprinkles of water that splashed Syrinn in the face.
“Dad…was I late?”
“What? No, no, sweetheart, I saw Arnie at the market. He dropped me off home…and look at this, look. I will make lemper ayam. Glutinous rice with coconut milk chicken wrapped in…this!” Felix grabbed two sheets of fresh banana leaves from another bag.
Syrinn took a deep breath. Arnie, their neighbour. Her dad’s chess buddy.
Good, now I only have to apologize for the broken pan cover…
Her dad rushed to the kitchen with the one of the bags, the prized bunches of carrots stuck close to his chest.
He stopped suddenly. Syrinn bit her lips.
“I am sorry…” whispered Syrinn as she slowly made her way and stood behind her dad, she couldn’t bring herself to look at the scene in the kitchen. That, and the expression that must have been on her father’s face.
Her dad turned and tilted his head. His breathing became faster and Syrinn could hear the mucus moving up and down in his throat.
“Syrinn, what…” his head shook slowly.
“I was checking on my rendang…the stove was hot. My fingers…”
Her dad waved his hands. A grunt, and he went to place the bag on the kitchen island.
“Clean the mess, then…” an order, a sigh, a quiet forgiveness.
Syrinn nodded, exhaled quietly, and went to get broom and dustpan. She cleaned, and once in a while, stole a glance at her father. He was busy taking out sheets of banana leaves, gently turned it a couple times to check whether they were intact or torn, and carefully put them back in the plastic bag. The afternoon sun fell on the side of his face, and a glint on his eyes as he was checking the banana leaves was obvious. The care he took on the littlest things made Syrinn believe that was what made him a master. A chef at “Cinta Rasa” an Indonesian bistro he founded. A half Indonesian-half Dutch who was born in a town called Palembang in South Sumatra, an island in Indonesia, and then moved with his family to the Netherlands when he was a three-year-old boy.
I love food, Syrinn, always. I am most at home among all the spices, the spices are my language…
The strong garlic… The warm ginger… The rebellious chillies… The bold turmeric…
He passed down what he knew, the family recipes, all, to Syrinn…
Her father let out a loud sigh as he put some apples in the fruit bowl. “Bad news. Two moldy!”
Syrinn bit her lips.
“I have a bad news too…” Syrinn finished her cleaning.
Felix looked up from his apples, tilted his head.
Syrinn squirmed, her father looked pensive, and his gaze fixed on her face.
“Well, I am sorry to hear that, Syrinn. You thought that was a perfect job for you, wasn’t it?”
“Dad, yes. It was perfect, until they decided it wasn’t for me…”
Felix took a long, deep breath. “Well, you tried…you will find a job. A really good one. I am sure!”
Syrinn shook her head. “What is wrong with my application? I have a doctorate, Dad! I did all those research…” her voice shivered and she wasn’t sure what she wanted to say.
Yes, she did all those research. The role of the right cerebral hemisphere in learning new words…
She is a cognitive neuroscientist. A brain scientist with a doctorate degree. A single woman, still living with her dad, almost in her 30s, no boyfriend, and can’t get a proper job…
Syrinn sat at the edge of the dining table.
“Why do you think you get the rejection this time?” Felix asked carefully as he sauntered to the fridge.
“Something to drink?” he asked again with half his head inside the fridge.
Felix took a carton of orange juice, and filled two glasses with the golden liquid.
“Well, most likely I don’t have enough publications in top tier journals. I mean, my results have been a bit…weak. I mean this job is a Research Fellow, Dad. You are supposed to be able to do more research, polish your CV, before you go and take on assistant professorship job. So…yeah…” Syrinn swallowed her words.
Felix nodded and gulped his juice. “Have you, well…thought…about maybe helping me in the bistro?”
Syrinn set her glass on the dining table, clasped her hands and looked up to the ceiling. Cinta Rasa was her dad’s pride. He started it 25 years ago, when Syrinn was just 3 and Mom had just passed away. An homage to his Indonesian roots, the smells, the taste he grew up with before he married Mom and moved from the Netherlands to here, Mom’s hometown Roseville.
She knew that her father had always wanted her to help in the bistro, a part of him that wanted her to remember her roots.
“I’m not sure, Dad. Can’t really cook like you…”
“Well, I didn’t know how to cook until your mom passed away and I had to learn to cook for you! I was an engineer who couldn’t even fry an egg without burning it for God’s sake! Syrinntje, I really don’t think you are a bad cook. You can cook well, you are clumsy, but you can definitely improve. Your rendang has approached my level!”
“I don’t know…” Syrinn chuckled quietly. Syrinntje, a diminutive term, a carry-on from her dad’s Dutch background. A sweet way of calling her, and Syrinn liked it since she was a little girl.
“Well, how about…”
“Dad, it’s ok. You don’t have to help me figure out what to do with my life. I will find a job. I should,” Syrinn tried to smile, and her dad took a deep breath.
“Syrinntje, kijk…ik wil gewoon helpen...”
Syrinn bit her lips. Her dad always switched to his native Dutch whenever he wanted to stress a point to her. Syrinn, look…I just want to help…
“I know. Like I said, it’s ok, Dad. Don’t worry. I just have to find more job applications!” she tried to sound cheerful, and a deepening worried crease on her dad’s forehead told her that she failed.
“Ok, Syrinntje. Ok. Just remember, you always have the bistro to return to. Food, Syrinn, food. It connects people, it helps people remember the good days, and when they remember those, they are stronger…”
Syrinn smiled and slowly repeated her father’s mantra in her heart.
“Yes, Dad. I know.”
Felix took a couple deep breaths. “Ok…well…so are you going to Josie today?”
Syrinn nodded, finished her juice, and stood up. “Yes. I am a bit worried about her. She seems to be more and more…disoriented. Like last week, she lost her way to the toilet in her house…”
“She is 88, Syrinn. It amazes me she still lives by herself!”
“Her dementia is getting worse, Dad. She forgets a lot, and she makes up stories too. So last week, I just casually…asked…if she ever thought about living in an assisted home facility. You know….”
“You asked her?” her father didn’t hide his surprise.
“Yeah, I know…maybe it wasn’t my place. But Dad, she is all by herself! She almost peed her pants because she was lost going to her own toilet! I guess…I don’t know…I had to ask…”
Felix nodded slowly. “And? What did she say?”
“She said no. She told me nobody would take care of her son if she’s gone from the house…and her husband would miss her…”
“But she doesn’t have a husband…or a son…”
“Exactly. And she absolutely insisted she had to take care of somebody. Her son, she said. She said she is his sole caretaker. It is her duty, her destiny, she said that. I think we should get her evaluated. Alzheimer, maybe,” Syrinn sighed.
The phone rang, and Felix nodded a few times and went to get it.
Syrinn went to get two plastic boxes from the kitchen cabinet. She filled one with warm rice from the rice cooker, and another with rendang. She knew Josie would love those! She made it a point to cook for her on the days she went to her house for dinner. Today was rendang and rice on the menu, and some salad.
For the past three years, her weekly Saturday dinner at Josie’s had been her moment, of presenting the newest dishes she learned from her dad’s recipe, of showing what she could do to somebody who genuinely appreciated it. Somebody else, other than her dad.
A moment for her to feel useful, to feel like she could do one thing right.
Grad school hadn’t been kind to her at all. Moments of feeling inadequate, failure, and being more stupid than she probably was. Constantly and slowly gnawing at whatever confidence she tried to build.
She failed at publishing her papers.
She failed at getting fellowships.
She failed at learning the newest update to the MATLAB programming to sharpen her competitive edge. Or SAS, or Python…
She failed at securing new funding for her graduate research.
She failed at being good enough…
It was a dark time for her, in many ways…
After six years, her advisor finally decided she could do her dissertation defense. Syrinn truly believed she just wanted to get rid of her. The extra baggage in the precious lab space.
Now after four rejections, she knew for sure she was just one heck of a failure…with a doctorate, no less!
Syrinn put the two boxes in a cloth tote bag, grabbed a small bag of rucola salad from the fridge and dropped it in the bag, and she was ready.
“See ya!” she waved at her dad who was still gesturing and talking on the phone in the living room. Felix gave her a couple quick nods, waved, and was busy again talking…unleashing…his wrath at somebody at the other side of the phone due to a late shipment of freshly roasted peanuts for his gado-gado sauce…
Josie’s house was just two blocks away from hers. A red-bricked house, with large windows and a small yard in the back.
Pots of red roses filled the front porch, and the smell wafted through the air. Syrinn always loved it.
Syrinn took out a housekey from the back pocket of her jeans. Last month, Josie gave her a duplicate key for her to come in and out her house. “It is trust, Syrinn. I trust you. You can come in and out anytime you like…” her wrinkled left hand pushed the key into the clench of Syrinn’s fist. The glimmer in her eyes as she nodded, and whispered, “You are kind, Syrinn. Very kind. You are to be trusted more…”
She turned the key, and went inside.
The house smelled like a mixture of lavender and old papers. Musty. The same smell for the past three years. Getting in that house always reminded Syrinn of a museum. The velvet sofa with cubed look and rattan base, definitely straight from the 1970s, old, out-of-order grandfather clock next to it, a glass cabinet with various silver cutleries, ceramic Delft-blue style teapots and cups…
“You are here!” Josie came out from her bedroom. The clacking of her walking stick echoed gently and Syrinn turned and smiled.
A petite woman with large hips and curls of white hair that fell on her round face, a pale blue cardigan covered a pink floral shirt, and her black knee-length cotton skirt looked ruffled. Thin lips, pink lipstick that had been accidentally drawn a bit too far, to the crease of her lips, and eyeliner, black, that framed the grey-blue almond eyes.
“It’s rendang day!” Syrinn put the plastic container with the rendang in it on the dining table.
Josie slowly approached and nodded her head. “I can smell how delicious it is!”
Josie stood in front of her, her eyes widened as her wrinkles creased deeper. “Thank you, Syrinn. You are a good person…” Josie stammered as she fixed her gaze at Syrinn. Her lips quivered gently with each word, and Syrinn patted the old lady’s shoulder.
“Josie, I have fun cooking and having dinner with you. No problem…really…”
“You saved my life! Then you become my friend! That is nice…you know…really nice…”
“You fell down on the sidewalk three years ago. I happened to see it, and I…couldn’t just ignore you…I was thankful…to be able…to be able to help you…” Syrinn choked as more words were ready to spill out, and she shook her head slowly. Enough said. That day...that fateful day…
“You saved me that day, called the ambulance, visited me in the hospital as I recovered from a broken leg!”
Syrinn let out a loud exhale, smiled wryly, and caressed Josie’s cheek gently,“Yes, Josie. I remember those days. I remember…”
“Listen…listen, Syrinn. Then you come every Saturday, to have dinner with this old lady. I really appreciate it, Syrinn. I always, always look forward to the meal with you. Somebody to talk with, you know. Walls can’t talk back to me, the cashiers at the grocery wouldn’t entertain chats about my latest bowel movements. I mean, really…” Josie’s voice faltered as it trailed off. Bubbles of tears started to appear at the corner of her eyes…
“Oh, Josie. It’s alright. I have a good time!” a hug from Syrinn was met with an even tighter embrace by the now sobbing Josie.
“And…and my son…never talks to me. He is so quiet…” Josie sobbed.
Syrinn took a deep breath and shook Josie’s shoulder gently, “But Josie…you…don’t have a son. Do you? You have never, ever told me before about a son…”
Josie looked up from her sobbing, and fixed her gaze straight at Syrinn.
“I have a son, Syrinn. I have…”
“Where is he then?”
“Upstairs. He is upstairs…”
Syrinn ran a couple hospitals in her mind that ran neurological tests on emergency basis. CT scan, MRI, neurological tests…
Or could she actually have a son, upstairs? Syrinn slowly let that notion seep into her mind. She had never heard anything from upstairs, Josie had never talked about having a son, ever. Although indeed she had never visited the second floor of Josie’s home…
Josie walked to a cabinet and pulled a drawer.
She rummaged in the drawer for a bit, and pulled something out.
“This…” she whispered as she walked back to Syrinn.
A yellowish, old photo card with zigzagged edges.
Syrinn took it slowly, and her eyes carefully canvassed the figures on the photo.
A man, a woman, and three children. Two young girls about 5-6 years old, and one boy. The man stood regally, chest puffed up, chin up, the woman, tired-looking, smooth black hair combed back in a braided bun almost at the top of her head, and she sat on an ornamented armchair with the girls kneeled on the floor in front of her. And the boy, about 12-13 years old, looked distant, stood stiffly next to the father. They dressed like they lived in the…
“Josie, this photo…is from…1880. See here? The little prints on the corner here? 24 March, 1880. Let me see what else is here…Smith & Corwell….maybe they took this photo. Josie, sweetheart, this photo is more than 130 years old. This photo couldn’t be of you and your son. A beautiful photo, though. Your great-grandparents, maybe?”
Josie grabbed the photo from her hands, raised her chin, then nodded a couple times. “This boy here, is upstairs. My son! This couple in this photo, John and Emma Marchandt are, indeed, my maternal great-grandparents. The girls…Josephine and Sarah…Sarah is my grandmother, the youngest girl here…”
Her head started to hurt. Syrinn took a deep breath. “But, Josie…”
“Let me tell you, Syrinn. Let me tell you all. I have kept this from you all these times but now, now I will tell you because you are a very, very kind person. I can trust you…”
Josie sat herself down on the couch, looked straight at Syrinn and patted at the empty space next to her. “Sit down, Syrinn. Please sit. Here. I will tell you all. I can’t hold on to this anymore…”
I have to convince her to see a neurologist after this…she needs it! Definitely… Syrinn thought to herself as she slowly plopped herself down on the couch next to Josie.
“I am tired, Syrinn. I am alone, I don’t think my time in this world will be that long anymore. I have been keeping this secret for too long…” Josie closed her eyes.
“Josie…” Josie raised her palm and Syrinn decided to be quiet.
“That boy in the photo. His name is Varharan. He was born…a curse to my family…”
“Josie, a child…how could he be a curse?”
“Something that should never have happened. A grave mistake…a mortal sin…”
Josie took a deep breath, closed her eyes so tight that the grooves of her wrinkles seemed to grow much deeper, and she opened her eyes again. She winked back a couple tears.
“Two hundred years ago, my great-great grandparents were just…simple…normal…potato farmers…”
Syrinn nodded gently, even though she absolutely had no idea where Josie would go with a story that began two hundred years ago.
Josie paused, wiped her tears and continued,”Until one day, a young woman, came knocking at their door. Someone they helped quite a few times before. An orphan whom they treated like their own daughter. They hadn’t seen her in months and months. She came that day, carrying a newborn baby, bundled. She told my great- great grandparents…”
Tears rolled down Josie’s cheeks and this time she didn’t try to wipe it.
Syrinn patted her hands, handed her tissue, and Josie nodded her head as she wiped her tears with the tissue. Her back hunched even more now and she continued…
“That young woman, Isabel, had started an affair…with a…being…a creature…”
“Creature?” Syrinn wasn’t sure she heard correctly.
Josie took a long, deep, breath, straightened her back, and gazed straight at Syrinn now.
“An angel, Syrinn…an angel who fell in love, an angel who failed…”
Syrinn felt her head hurt badly now, while Josie seemed much more determined. She raised up her chin, and continued,”Their forbidden union…produced…an offspring. A baby. Half angel, half human. Varharan…”
Almost automatically, Syrinn shook her head, and muttered gently,”Josie, we need to get you evaluated. Sweetheart, I mean…how can it be? An angel, a human…two hundred years!”
“Syrinn! I am not crazy! That baby, half angel, took a long time to grow, to develop. He was barely a teenager in that photo, but that was 70 years after he was born! He has been in my family for generations, and my family passed him down from one generation to the next. Coming up with stories to explain who he was, moving away when neighbours started to get suspicious…we have done it because my great-great grandparents promised Isabel we would look after Varharan! Before Isabel burst into flames in front of their eyes!”
“Josie…that story…is…so hard to believe. I am sorry…it just sounds…”
“Crazy, yes. It is!” snapped Josie.”Varharan is like a curse to my family, Syrinn. All our lives are spent protecting him, raising him! I decide early on, I will not have a husband, I will not have my own child. I will not have their lives ruined too…” Josie quivered.
Syrinn grabbed Josie and hugged her. She could hear the heaving from the old woman’s breath as she cried.
“But Varharan is my only family now, Syrinn. No matter how I hate his presence in my family tree, I am responsible for him, like my parents, grandparents, great- grandparents had done before me. I can’t let them down.”
“Listen…listen, Josie, sweetheart…let’s just have our dinner now. And we can talk again after, sounds good?” Syrinn gently rubbed the frail, hunched back that still heaving up and down from the sobbing.
Josie shook her head. She looked thoughtful for a moment, her wrinkles grew intense, she kept looking at the floor while muttering something for herself.
Suddenly, she looked up again, and her eyes shone with determination.“I want you to meet him. He is an adult now, after two hundred years, he is finally an adult. I want you to meet him. You are a friend. A good, good, friend. You are kind. You can be trusted…I will ask him if he is willing to meet you. I think so…I really, really think so…” whispered Josie as her quivering hands cupped Syrinn’s cheeks.
By now Syrinn decided that the only way to get to dinner was to entertain Josie a bit. She nodded and smiled,”Let’s go then. Let’s meet Varharan!”
Josie almost jumped up, and grabbed Syrinn’s hands and took her upstairs.
Syrinn could not even guess who she would encounter, but she decided to come along.
The second floor of Josie’s house was dusty. Boxes of old magazines and newspapers stacked up against brownish water-stained wall. The smell of mold was thick.
There were three doors.
All were closed.
Two doors were painted grey like the other doors downstairs.
One door was painted crimson red, the one Josie pointed at now.
“That door, Syrinn. Varharan lives in that room. He never talks, never wants anything. He doesn’t eat much either…he is actually very, very easy…”
Syrinn wanted to shake her head again, but she decided to just nod. She wasn’t sure what she was nodding to though.
Josie froze right in front of the red door. She mumbled to herself.
“You know what, Syrinn. I don’t know…I don’t know. I have to ask him first if he wants to meet you. This may be too sudden for him. He never really goes outside this room, and he doesn’t know you. I will tell him you are kind, you can be trusted, and I like you a lot. Maybe…maybe…” Josie mumbled out her train of thought as she tapped her walking cane on the floor a few times.
“It’s alright, sweetheart. You can let me know if he wants to talk with me. Now, maybe we should have our dinner?”
Josie thought and mumbled again just under her breath.
”Yes, Syrinn. Let’s have dinner.”
The next morning, Syrinn busied herself calling for a couple agencies that helped the elderly navigate their way in arrangement for assisted home living. She took notes, compared them, and wondered what Josie would think. She also planned to present her plan for her to have a check up at the hospital at dinner next week.
I will go with you, just a few simple tests, and the doctor will examine you. No, no, you are not sick, but good to check…you have been forgetting a lot these days…remember last week with the toilet incident? Don’t worry, sweetheart…I will be there with you…
She took a deep breath, chewed the tip of her pen, and a knock at her bedroom door.
“Oh hey Dad…” she sighed and smiled at Felix who came in and looked a bit perplexed.
“Well, well…Syrinntje…you never told me…”
“Never told you…what?”
“Come on now. What a nice guy you have met! He is downstairs. He is looking for you. Varharan…” her father winked.
Syrinn almost fell from her chair.
“Dad, you can’t be serious.”
“I am serious. You’ve got to tell me all about him, Syrinn! He is so polite, and he is quite handsome too!” Felix chuckled with playful glint in his eyes. “Now, go, he is waiting. I am going to do some laundry upstairs…” with that, Felix left.
Syrinn could feel her hands grow cold. Varharan is here. She didn’t tell her dad about Varharan and Josie’s story. There was no way her dad would know unless...
She jumped out of her chair and went downstairs. She paused at the foot of the stairs, took a deep breath, and she could still, after that, hear her heartbeat roaring inside her chest.
Her mouth was dry.
She saw him, standing by the side of the front door.
Tall, muscular-built, dark wavy shoulder-length hair and light blue eyes. Jeans, rolled-up sleeves, black shirt…
“Who are you?” stammered Syrinn.
He squirmed, looked to the floor, looked up to Syrinn again, and his mouth moved without any sound...
“I can’t hear you…”
“I am…Varharan. Josie asked if…if I wanted to meet you. Yes…I…want…”
Varharan looked uncomfortable now. Those light blue eyes pierced Syrinn, sheepishly trying to establish eye contact before they darted back to the floor.
“I hope you don’t…mind…” he almost whispered.
Syrinn could feel her muscles relax a bit more, she softened her glance,”It’s alright. You just have to tell me who you really are. Josie told me you are a half-angel…being…I mean I know, Josie may have muddled the facts…a bit…I mean…”
“She is correct. I am...exactly...like what she described…”
Syrinn tensed up again.
“Syrinn! I have made some wajik…ask Varharan if he wants to try some!” her father shouted from upstairs.
Syrinn sighed, went to the kitchen, grabbed one bite-sized square piece of wajik, an Indonesian-style glutinous rice steamed in palm sugar and coconut milk snack.
“Here, really good. Try it. Let’s go…” she extended the wajik to Varharan who looked perplexed, but decided to accept it anyway.
She grabbed her jacket and opened the door. The last thing she wanted was her dad conducting some family friendly interview to Varharan, whom she still wasn’t sure who he was exactly…
They got out, walked a bit to a park nearby, and sat on a park bench facing a group of children playing on the seesaw and slides.
Varharan finished his wajik, nodded his head in approval.
“Who are you…seriously…?” Syrinn asked as she scanned the face in front of her. Striking light blue eyes that perfectly contrasted the darkness of his hair, and tattoos. Three black characters tattooed on the right side of his neck that went vertical from just below his earlobe down to his shoulder blade. Characters she couldn’t even begin to guess what they were and what they meant. Stubbed beard and moustache.
“You don’t believe Josie when she told you who I was, do you?”
“No. I mean, come on…half angel?”
“But I am, Syrinn. I am…”
“Prove it, then…do something…say something…fly!”
Varharan gazed at her and his gaze darted back to the concrete pavement. “I know what happened to this area, the history, because I have lived around here for a couple hundred years…”
“You could easily check it online.”
“I…try to be a human, Syrinn. I am an adult now. I have struggled for years to make my choice. I could choose to join the rank of battle angels, just like my father before he was destroyed for his sin with my mother. Or I could choose to be human…like my mother…like the Marchandt family…like you…”
“Varharan. Listen, I need something to prove that you are…indeed…a half-angel…whatever that is.”
Varharan took a deep breath and nodded. “I know…things…secrets…” he muttered.
Varharan stared at her with the kind of focus that made Syrinn uneasy. He moved his mouth to speak,”Three years ago…just before you came to Josie’s rescue. You sat here. On this bench….”
Syrinn felt lightheaded.
“The crushing defeat you felt when one more of your articles got rejected for publication, your father who believed you were destined for great things. The emptiness you felt when you realized, you were a failure.”
Syrinn looked at Varharan and her jaws dropped.
“You sat here. A lot of pills in your purse. A moment you took to decide if you want to end it all that day.”
Tears streamed down Syrinn’s face. Her biggest, darkest, secret.
“Then…then, you heard Josie screaming for help after she fell down.”
“Stop, Varharan. Please.”
“And you found a bit of meaning that day. You threw the pills away.”
She tried but failed to contain a massive groan, and her tears tumbled down her cheeks.
Varharan looked uneasy now, but he continued, “Shhh…Syrinn. Please don’t cry. I have smelled the food you made all these three years, heard your conversations with Josie, saw how happy that make Josie. I can feel the love you put in the food, Syrinn. You cook to feel important…to save your life…”
Syrinn nodded hard as tears continued streaming down her cheeks. Varharan looked straight at a point on the pavement, his voice stammered. “I wait by the window for you those days when you come. I see when you come, and when you leave. I am happy to see you. I have never felt that way for hundreds years.”
They were quiet for a long time. The children went home. Birds continued chirping in the little forest nearby.
The sun was covered by thick, grey clouds now.
Wind blew gently.
“I need a reason, Syrinn…”
“Reason for what?”
“To be a human. To convince myself, that it is worth it…to choose to be a human…”
“Ah…and me, a failure, is a reason for you?”
“You have had failure, yes. But you fight hard to live again. Your cooking, your visit to Josie…you try to make your life meaningful. That is…beautiful…” Varharan chuckled, “And your cooking, they smell so warm, so good. I have never smelled food like that before!”
“They are Indonesian food. Wait till you eat them if now you already like how they smell! No, no…Wait till you eat them when my father cooks them! You will not need to be in heaven anymore!” Syrinn couldn’t help but chuckling too.
Varharan smiled now. A good-looking, warm, smile.
“I would love too, Syrinn.”
Varharan stood up and nodded at Syrinn, “This may be the last time I can do this now that I am going to be…human. But here is your final proof. I hope this will be enough for you…to trust me….”
Syrinn pursed her lips, wasn’t sure what he meant.
“I would…love…to get to know you better. Your failure, your success. A story of a human’s life. Is that alright?” he asked, and Syrinn blanked for a moment, and mindlessly nodded.
Varharan’s eyes shone with satisfaction. The half-angel jumped, extended his arms, and Syrinn almost fainted when she saw them.
A pair of black wings.
A whooshing sound.
And the wings took Varharan high up, and disappeared among the clouds…