Of falling from grace.

1998, Jakarta is burning. And there he is, the man she used to love. His mouth made for brushing the curve of an ear, his hands for gliding across naked skin. Not for this. Not for barking out orders, or for handing out Molotov cocktails to a crazed mob.

Disclaimer: Similarities with any living individuals are purely coincidental.


- Jakarta, February 1998 -

Kresna disappears in early spring. A stupid thing to think, because here where the equator cuts a country in two, spring doesn't even exist. And just like that, neither does he.

Wheels turning, kegs clicking into place. Something fermenting, simmering and you can't put your fingers on it. The city's heartbeat accelerating, vibrating with an irrepressible force. Jakarta in spring, or whatever season it is, it's a dark one. A time for cleaning.

And clean they do.

He is one of the first ones to be swept up this time around. Midday, light rain staining the slate-grey cement. Sauntering along the potholed sidewalk of a quiet Menteng street. Two men coming up from behind, bundling him into a dark van parked halfway up on the sidewalk.

That's the way Della imagines it. She wasn't there of course, didn't actually see it happen. Neither did the other people questioned later. Not the old man selling iced coconut drinks across the road, or the newspaper peddlers crossing the street like a swarm of irritated wasps. No one saw a thing. No one.

The only thing certain is that he disappears.

Still, she lies awake at night, every damn night, listening for his footstep on the terrace outside her windows. Her ears attuned to the rustle of his clothes, his heavy breathing as he crosses the floor to her bed in the pitch-black darkness, having sprinted all the way there. She waits for it, to hear his voice again, whispering into her hair.

"Did you miss me?"

And she can lie there at night imagining all she wants. Can dream of him until she makes herself sick. She can spend her days fantasizing too, searching the crowds for his face. He never comes. He's gone. Doesn't exist anymore.


Pak Kusuma in his Sunday finest, his starched safari suit and the shoes polished within an inch of their life. It breaks Della's heart, how he walks straight-backed through the white panelled doors to the legal aid foundation.

"I'd like to file a report." His voice dignified and stable, his hands like the bark of a cinnamon tree, trembling as he pushes the envelop across the desk. How he braves the dark forces closing in on them, knowing it will lead nowhere. "My son is missing."

They walk home through the shaded, green streets of Menteng. He refuses to take a taxi home. Wants to walk the path his son presumably did, the day he disappeared.

"I pushed him into this."

A few steps ahead of her, marching briskly. The tension in his voice, shaking slightly. His hands curled into tight fists by his sides.

"No you didn't. This is what he does, what he believes in."

"No. This is what he thinks I want, what I believe in."

Taken aback by this sudden openness. His father, the epitome of the noble, reserved Javanese gentleman. Difficult to read most of the time, but there is no mystery to his self-procrastination. His fault.


Pak Kusuma makes her coffee in the dark unloved kitchen of his house. No more cakes are being baked here. A wave of affection welling up as she watches him pour two loaded spoons of sugar in her cup, even stirring it for her. His pride, principles he lives for – having taken care of himself and his son since his wife passed away over ten years ago. Vowing never to employ a maid, not to support this old feudal system. An oddity in this country of masters and servants, considered exceptionally foolish.

"Della. I have an empty room here."


"No need for you to spend all of your money on housing."

"But… no. Thank you Pak Kusuma. But I couldn't… wouldn't like to impose."

"Impose? No, child. No, no, no."

He sits down across from her at the table, shaking his head. His white hair, always so impeccably styled. Thick and woolly like spun cotton candy, swept away from his face. It's too long now, giving him an air of a insane brilliance. His brown eyes clear and unexpectedly sharp when he meets her gaze.

"Take the room Della. He would have wanted you to be looked after. Especially now with the…"

He gestures sloppily towards her belly, and takes a gulp from his tea. She blushes, a crimson wave flushing her cheeks. How he knows, she has no idea, she barely just found out herself. She wants to run, hide her shame but it's not a request; it's a quiet order. And just like his son can be commanding and spellbinding in a loud brash way, this gentle old man has a power over her that is inexplicable. She's beginning to understand Kresna's hunger for this. His constant struggle to please his father. The wanting to see the warm light of approval in his eyes.

Because she feels it too.


Anticipation is the worst part. When Kresna realizes what they have in store for him, he can't help feeling a little relieved. The water. It can't be that bad. He can take it. If they don't do anything worse, he can survive this. He's a good swimmer after all. He can hold his breath for long periods of time.

Only this is nothing like swimming. A container of water and the hands, the hands that control everything. Whether he breathes. Or not. Whether he lives. Or not.

The hands, pressing him down beneath the surface. Blindfolded, the chill of the water in rivers down his neck, down his chest as they yank him up by the hair. The smell of cheap cologne on the man's hands. The type you can buy in the open-air market. The water ought to have washed away the scent hours ago. Still it lingers, cloying and musty.

"How many of you are there?"

The blindfold slips, but it doesn't matter. His eyes are squeezed shut. Thinking that if he doesn't see them, maybe they'll let him live. Maybe they'll let him go. They might be Special Forces or Intelligence, he doesn't know and it doesn't matter.

The only thing that matters is air or the lack of it. Hands pushing him down, tearing him up again by the hair. Lungs fighting, flaring, breathing in water.

Let the bastards dunk him down one more time. And it's easy to be cavalier about it in between. When he can breathe. It's easy to be cocky before you find yourself down there again. Submerged, flaying, thrashing about futilely.

"Who else is with you?" The voice of his captor, clipped, but calm and controlled. Just doing his job. Just following orders. As if he wants his prisoner to know that he takes no pleasure in inflicting pain. Just a job.

Down. Die a little. Cough and throw up again. Down. Die. Live. There is a certain rhythm to this. The pendulum between hope and death. And he has time to think, how he'll use this. He'll be a martyr if he dies, and if he lives, he'll storm the world with his story. Will tell it to everyone in earshot, hell, to anyone who'll listen. It won't be in vain; it will further their cause. Has a sense of euphoria, perhaps caused by the lack of oxygen to his brain.

"Who provides the funding?"

Drowning. Dying. Up again. Spluttering, shivering, lungs all but exploding in his chest. There are no answers to these questions. They are small fry; they have no backing, no funds. They are nothing. Just a bunch of loud, naïve students, thinking they can change the world. But he's silent now. The hands stealing his voice, stealing him. He's nobody. Just a pair of lungs he's not allowed any control over. The humiliation. Being held by the skin of his neck, drowned like a squeaking kitten.

Wets himself. And it ought not to matter, because nothing matters here. But he's grateful to be soaked already.


"Which group is behind you? What are your links to PRD?"

The second day of interrogations. Water becomes electricity. And he - becomes nothing. Nothing. A human being no more. A piece of meat that has no value, no pride, no voice. The pain threshold is reached with an embarrassing ease. His tormentors click their tongues, sighing as if he has disappointed them.

"Kresna, Kresna, Kresna" the younger one says, as if speaking to a naughty little boy. "This is the lowest setting."

"It doesn't have to be like this." The other interrogator. The one who often stands there silent. So quiet, Kresna never knows if he's left the room or not. Knows they're playing good cop, bad cop.

Naked and doused with water for efficiency's sake, reducing the electrical resistance. The current conquering him, taking him over. The uncontrollable spasms, twitching on the floor. His skin burning up against the cool cement.

He will say anything after the first convulsions have subsided. After he has recovered enough to unclench his teeth. And he does. Anything. Everything. Doesn't matter anymore, what's real. Not in a place where a man's job is to fry another human being.

The pain is concrete. Muscles jerking, shivering, trembling like a piece of jelly, chipping for air. A voice that hardly seems human but somehow belongs to him. But the shame. Worse than anything. It inundates him, floods him completely, flushes out everything of essence. The man he thought he was. Before this moment.

Back in his cell. The guard who brings him his food, lends him a prayer rug too and some clean clothes.

"Eat son. Eat, pray and rest. It's over for you," he says and the kindness of his voice is a humiliation in itself.

Can hardly bear the weight of textile against the skin, but he needs to hide, stow away the evidence. Ugly black burns bearing witness to the journey of a copper prod over his chest, his nipples, his testicles. The good activist. Just like that. He's erased. Becomes null and void.


There will be no interviews with the international press. There will be no testifying, no speaking out at human rights forums. There will be no hero's welcome for him. He is as good as dead. His own weakness stains him to the bone, a permanent tattoo of shame. The betrayal eradicating, stamping out his past, his future - everything about him.


The third day they leave him alone with his indignity and his wounds.

And it's worse, much worse, lying there on his cot, waiting for their steps in the corridor. Listening to the anonymous screams, muffled by the layers of cement, by the doors and iron keeping him here.

After that, all days are the same, he doesn't know anymore, loses count. One day bleeds into the next, impossible to tell with the lack of daylight. The only constant; the sharp neon light, never switched off. The thuds of heavy boots, the whispering, the mumbling from the corridor and at times; someone's anguished cries. He'd like to think that he'd been more dignified, that he hadn't wept like a child. The memories quickly revised, edited in his mind to make them more bearable.

They force him to sign some statement. He doesn't care what it says, just signs. Nothing matters anymore. Nothing will ever matter to him again.

And then the farewell.

Strangely more terrifying, more overwhelming than the abduction itself. Dropped off, death threats instead of a parting kiss. He squats on the ground, his back to his abductors, their heavy shoes crunching against the gravel. One of the men stops, his voice almost friendly.

"You know kid, we may have different methods but we're all on the same side." An apology perhaps. His captor's appeal not to be lumped together with the dictatorship he obviously works for. Everybody wants to be the good guys now. Except Kresna. He no longer cares. It's too late for him; he'll never be able to look his father in the eyes again.

He remains crouched down, keeping his back towards the road while they drive away, per instruction. No desire to look anyway. Keeps the blindfold on until he's sure they are out of sight. Doesn't matter anymore anyway. He knows them by name, knows who has indigestion, who has a daughter giving her father a headache, who has just got married and who is a homesick Ambonese. But none of that matters. He's no threat to any of them.

Has a telephone number imprinted in his memory.

They made him repeat it over and over again and much as he'd like to forget. He can't. Considers fleeing for a short foolish moment. But as he sees the headlights of a truck approaching all thoughts of escape are banished. There is nowhere to go. He'll do as instructed. He's someone who no longer matters. He is no hero, not a brave man. Not the man he wanted to be.

For his father. For her. Della.