I was in junior high school. I remember that. I still wore my uniform from the day before, a white blouse and blue skirt with a knee-length socks. It was a habit my mother disliked so much. She said it showed my laziness.
I was in the kitchen, sitting on an old wooden chair where nails stuck out on each corner, halfway through sucking a flavorful spongy chicken brain from its skull and licking the bits and pieces off my fingers.
The usual dry rice, salted fish and sautéed green papaya was not served that day. It must have been a special day, I thought. The extremely long hot season that year destroyed our rice field, and no rice paddy to harvest meant going on a period of days skipping meals or fasting. So the only occasions where we could eat something like that was either when there was a death or birth somewhere in the village, or if my mother had once again “accidently” caught another “lost” chicken in our garden.
It was then that I heard some voices and soft sobbing coming from the living room. I recognized my mother’s but not the rest.
At first I thought it was the loan shark from the next village. I noticed the red motorbike parked in front of the house. He would come over once a month to collect his debt. I loathed that man and to this day I still do. I hated him because the loan placed an unbreakable chain on my mother’s ankle for years, and because in a weird, twisted way, he was the only one who often rescued our family.
I was wrong. It was my eldest brother whom I rarely saw. Our relationship consisted nothing more than an obligatory polite small talk every now and then. I heard footsteps approaching and felt two taps on my right shoulder. I looked up and my brother leaned towards my ear and whispered, “I am sorry.”
I looked at him and wondered what he meant by it. When he walked back to the living room, I peeked through the curtain and saw a woman and a little girl. That woman was not my sister in law. She had a lot of acne scars on her face and was drenched in sweat. Her face was caked up and her bright red lips did not go well with her oily skin. She was also in tears. The little girl was about three years old. She sat quietly in the woman’s lap.
After they left, my mother sat me down. Her eyes were teary and she looked wounded. Trembling, she said, “One day, you need to change your story.”
Then she left. I could not connect the dots and we never spoke about that occasion ever again.
Years later I discovered that my brother had fathered that little girl. As a matter of fact, his infidelity did not stop there. There were a few other women as well throughout the years.
Words failed to describe how furious, disappointed, hurt and frustrated I was. I took a stand and chose to stop all communication with him. I didn’t want to have anything to do with him. I did everything I could to avoid being in the same room with him. I cut him out of my life.
I spent my youth struggling to find the answer to why what he did hurt me personally, and came to the conclusion that it hurt me because he failed me. He stained my blank page that I could not erase. That page was supposed to be filled with rainbows and sunshine. What he did forever changed how I saw relationship, marriage and men.
Time flew and a decade later there we were, sitting next to each other in front of our mother’s grave. He leaned against my shoulder and said; “I am sorry”. My face burned hearing those words again. It was not the same sorry like that one afternoon years ago. It felt different this time.
I looked at my brother. His youth has disappeared, his eyes were tired, his front teeth were missing, and he became this vulnerable aging person. I pitied him.
The raging feeling that I carried inside for years suddenly disappeared. I felt remorseful. I decided I didn’t want to live carrying this unforgiving feeling anymore. It is not fair holding on to that fear and passing it on to my son. It will not only be unfair to him but it will also put a stain on his blank page. So I need to forgive my brother. I have to. It is not because I condone what he did, but I have to forgive him for me.
I am now given the opportunity to be a part of my son’s story. To raise him with hopes not fear. Hope that he will be a brave, honorable man, and that he is given the strength to face the fear and to know when to walk away.
I begin to understand what my mother meant when she said I should change my story. History does not need to repeat itself. The cycle can be ended. Infidelity stops right here, right now.
And as for my brother, he needs to find away to forgive himself.
About Riyani Indriyati
Riyani founded and directs Dahuni Foundation, a scholarship foundation providing financial support to underprivileged students in Southeast Asia. She provides consultancy services on education sector and youth issues. She lives in London but she was born in Boyolali, Central Java. To contact her please email [email protected].