Short Story by Ahmadun Yosi Herfanda
If you ever had time to go down the concrete stairs in on the south side of the Afandi Museum and go into the residence area in Gajahwong River, you would stumble upon a little mosque at the end of the narrow and steep alley. There is nothing special about his mosque, except for the old moss covered roof, and its speaker that was held high with a branch of bamboo. If you knew what actually happened in this old mosque and the people that became its loyal prayers, then you would find a very extraordinary side of their lives.
Everytime the clock indicated that it was time for a prayer, the sound of the adzan was resonated through the loudspeaker by an old, blind muezzin who works as a masseuse for both pedicab and bus drivers. Then, a tramp who usually works in the area at the edge of the Gajahwong bridge, always becomes the first who came and took the ablution water. She always sat at the furthermost shaff, praying intently until the mosque’s priest came.
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The next prayer that came is a pickpocket, then a kingpin in used motorbikes, two pedicab drivers, and a beggar who always comes last. Then the mosque’s priest, a thin aged man who was a retired rail track guardian called Pak Somad came in with his usual outfit, a worn batik, a shirt and an old prayers hat. While carrying a prayer rug, he led the prayers.
Pak Somad truly understood his loyal prayers. The pickpocket and the tramp was treated the best, with hopes that they could leave their current work which is not respected. What really made him go crazy was the weird questions that the prayers threw at him. The tramp called Tugiyem for example, once asked him if god would ever forgive her for selling herself in order to feed her two kids and her paralyzed mother. She also asked why tramps in the side of the roads were caught by the police, while the high class ones that service the hotels are not being caught, instead they were being served to high ranking officials? Even Bruno whose real name is unknown once asked why god created both rich and poor people, which led to homeless people, beggars, tramps and pickpockets? Why didn’t he create everyone as equally rich beings? Isn’t it easier for god? Why did he even create bad people in this world, why not create only good and decent human beings so that it feels like heaven.
Of course these questions were too much for the old imam who only graduated from Public school and could only read the Quran satisfactorily.
“Enough already. Don’t ask questions that do not make sense. I am just a dumb nobody. I only became an imam because this place used to be empty. No one was taking care of it, no one was leading it. I only know that prostitution, stealing, drinking, gambling, corruption, conning, and the other acts like it are bad. Forbidden by religion. I could only hope that all of you could become decent people someday. Tugiyem to stop being a tramp, Bruno to stop stealing, and Barjo to stop being a scavenger. Find a better job. Who knows, while you are looking for things to pick, you are also scavenging other’s clothes.” Said Pak Somad in the mosque’s porch while they were chatting after the Maghrib prayers.
“Don’t be like that Pak Somad, I could swear only life that I only take things that are thrown away!” said Barjo, trying to defend himself from the reprimand of the Imam. All of the sudden, he stood up and whispered to all of them.
“Please don’t report that I’m here!” he said as he ran inside the mosque and hid behind the altar.
They were all shocked, but they were quick to realize. Under the scarcely lit road lights leading to Gajahwong river, two police man were seen walking down the steep steps towards the old mosque. Realizing who was coming, Bruno ran behind the altar as well. Tugiyem was also rushing to hid, but Pak Somad caught her hand.
“Relax, they wouldn’t arrest you here,” plead Pak Somad.
As the two police man approached, they greeted Pak Somad.
“Assalamu alaikum!” said one of the police officers.
“Wa’alaikum salam,” replied both Tugiyem and Pak Somad.
Then the police officers gave extended their arms and they shook hands.
“Excuse me sir, could we please pray here?”
“Oh, help yourselves, we were just done with the Maghrib prayers, here is the wudu place,” said Pak Somad while directing the police officers to a place that they could wash their
The two police officers took of their shoes and did their wudu near the bucket on the left side of the mosque. Then they prayed inside with a loud and distinct voices, with one becoming the congregation while the other acted as the imam.
Tugiyem was chuckling to herself as she thought about the petrified faces of Bruno and Barjo who hid behind the altar. She immediately held back her laughter with both her hands. As soon as the police officers left, then Barjo and Bruno came rushing out.
“Now we could your true colors Jo, You do like to steal other people’s washings huh? You’re no holier than I am, “insulted Bruno as both he and Barjo sat back down in the mosque’s terrace.
“I swear to god, I am a clean scavenger!”
“So why were you scared?” asked Pak Somad skeptically.
“ I am scared I would get caught in the roving patrols and sent back to my village in this poor condition,” said Barjo trying to defend himself.
Since that day, the two police officers have frequented the mosque every day during the Maghrib prayers. They even joined in on prayers led by Pak Somad. Since that day, Pak Somad also lost two of his congregation members, Bruno and Barjo. The night the police officers came, Tugiyem saw them leave with big backpacks towards the east. This left Pak Somad wondering, were they really wanted.
“Why do you like to pray here, in this old worn mosque. Why not in the other fancy mosques?” Asked Pak Somad after he has summoned the courage to ask to the police mans.
“We don’t know, Pak, it just feels like we fit right in here. The vibe is very different, it reminds me of an old mosque back in my hometown where I prayed every night.” Answered the police officer.
“So you are not searching for someone?”
“Who? What’s the matter?”
Pak Somad then gave them a description of both Barjo and Bruno who left the night the police officers came.
“Maybe they are wanted by the Police lately. They are suspects in a murder and robbery case in Semarang. The police didn’t know that they had been laying low here.” Said the police, obviously looking surprised. “Honestly, we are not even on duty, we are just in charge of traffic enforcement” added the police officers.
Pak Somad was surprised beyond belief when he heard that Bruno and Barjo were wanted by the police and that they are the prime suspects in a robbery and murder case. He felt that he has been played by these criminals for a full month.
“We had no idea that they were the ruthless murderers that they are,” said Pak Somad in a sad tone.
“Well, we better convey this information quickly to our head of intelligence,” said the officers whilst rushing away.
Pak Somad leant back against the walls of the mosques, feeling sinful and useless. He spent months being an imam in a mosque while only being able to save two criminals and a tramp, without being able to turn them away from their wicked way of life. Suddenly he reminisced his village in the rural areas of Paliyan, Gunungkidul. He became homesick and longed to get together again with his wife, kids and grand children who stayed back home.
“Yem, I might go back to my home town tomorrow,” said Pak Somad.
“When are you coming back?”
“Maybe never, I would like to spend the rest of my life back home”
The next day Pak Somad really left the mosque. Turgiyem sent him off to the bus station. She felt sad, imagining how empty and quiet the mosque would be. She also thought about how empty her feelings would be, being the only remaining member of her congregation. The two pedicab drivers have left to move somewhere else, so did the motorbike kingpin. Aside from that, the old muezzin has passed away from TBC.
“How could you leave me alone,” said Tugiyem, her eyes watering uncontrollably.
“Yem, there is no other way. I’m old, I’m afraid that when I die, no one would take care of my body, I want to leave surrounded by my grandchildren.”
Pak Somad boarded the bus that took him off to Gunungkidul. Tugiyem was really alone. Every day she prayed in the solace of the mosque, alone spilling her feelings out. She looked back at her loneliness, the hideousness of her careers, and all the pain in her heart whilst her tears flooded the prayer rug and the old mattress. Her cries were carried by the wind into the valleys of Gajahwong River, but no one cared about the painful cries of this Tramp. Until one day, a young man came into the doors of the mosque.
“Your mom passed away, hurry. You have to come home with me now!”