No one in my life affects me so much than my childhood best friend. Her name is Saudah, she has a waist-long hair and a crippled left leg due to polio. However the flaw did not kill her joys, and could not hinder her happiness. It was the old customary ethnic that imprison her life later.

I remember the first time I entered elementary school; I was a very shy little girl. My school was among the best in my town.  I didn’t have many friends and it was difficult for me to befriend others. It was Saudah who first greeted me that day.

“What is your name?” asked the little girl bravely. Her eyes lit up sharply. “I’m Saudah”, stretching her hand to shake mine while saying that. Since then Saudah became my first best friends.

Saudah was the center of my life then, because she always knew my feelings and what I had been going through. My parents were not very poor, but they were so gruff. My mother rarely gave me money to buy snacks at school, and neither had she given me breakfast. No food at all. It made me crazily hungry.

i can fly away, but sudah is still in her cage

 In 3rd class, I had to walk everyday to the school. My house was three kilometers from my school. I had to go to school at 5 am every day. Without breakfast nor money to buy snacks, I grew thin and weak.

Lucky me to have a friend like Saudah. My first destination before school was her house, which was located very close to the school, just about 10 meters from the school gates. It overlooked the main road, at the end of the street, separated by an alley with my school building.

Saudah’s parents sold charcoals. Her house always seemed dark, blocked by the charcoal store from the street. Usually I went straight through the side door of the store, walked in a narrow, dark and dirty alley, then sat in the living room that was not less dirty and dark than the alley. Saudah’s room was upstairs, limited by wooden boards from below. I would wait for a few minutes as she showered then we went upstairs to her room.

In her room, there were only two bare mattresses without sheets and some pillows. I would wait for her to dress, brush her hair and powder her cheeks, and then we went down by the narrow stairs. Downstairs, her mother would already served two glasses of hot tea and sometimes a snack, either fried banana or traditional cakes.

Although her parents sold charcoal, Saudah lived prosperously, much better than I did. She always had the best and new books, new school bags for each new school year. She had some good school uniforms and fashionable shoes as well. She had a big amount of pocket money, much more than my other friends’.

It was so different from me. I bought used study books from the second-hand bookstore. My mother would not buy me a new uniform until the neck line of my blouse was torn. She always bought my school shoes one or two sizes larger so I did not have to change my shoes quickly.

All the ill fortunes did not make me dispirited or jealous of Saudah’s luck. She was a very good and loyal friend. In school breaks, she always bought me a glass of ice syrup and a small plate of fried rice noodles. When the school was over, again she treated me a bowl of meatballs. She did that almost every day, when she knew I did not have any money.

Saudah never asked for any reward for her kindness to me. And I would never let anyone insulted her because of her disability. We were quite a pair, like a pot and a lid, could not ever be separated at any time and any place in school.

I always got the top grade in my school, but I was not so sure about my dream until one day Saudah flaunt her new bag.

“It is a gift from Bobo magazine. They have published my writing,” she said proudly.

Her new bag made me jealous as hell. Since then I tried to write and compose diligently to be like Saudah. At first, I only wrote short poems as an expression of my heart and feeling. Then I wrote children’s stories and short articles. Who could have known that I had become a real writer today?

I remember the last moment of our school days. Again I had top grades in my class. It was a guaranty for entry at the best high school in my town. While I was filled with joy, Saudah looked wistful and sad at our farewell party.

“I cannot continue my study, Ri. My mom has fixed me up with a man, “she whispered, nearly in tears.

Saudah was barely 13 years old, just a little girl. But the tradition in her tribe, Madura, required girls who had menstruated to soon marry. If met with rejection, their parents would feel ashamed. It was like a disgrace. It was difficult for Saudah to fight against this centuries-old tradition. Moreover, her parents were   intellectually poor. They themselves got married at such young ages.

Two years later I ran to Saudah in front of her house. She was carrying a baby, a year old child. “This is my baby,” she said both in a proud and melancholy tone. “I’m proud to see you, Ri. Very proud. You’re a high school student now. I hope my baby will be like you one day. Her eyes sparked as she spoke her wish with the same sparks I first saw as she introduced herself, at the first day of our elementary school.

*many thanks to imagina who help me edit my bad translation

*this article (in bahasa) has been published in baltyra too