A DIFFERENT MISTAKE
One morning my husband would wake up to find me gone, along with my wings. Already I could hear him calling my name, the empty bedroom swallowing his voice. Then, galvanized, he would fling the wardrobe doors open. His hand reached for the caramel-colored gift box behind his socks, where he'd kept the iridescent shawl.
Have you known all along it is there, Wulan? Dropping the box to the floor, he straightened up. His gaze strayed to the bedhead, as if he expected to see the shawl draped over it. Why do you have to leave? Have I been unkind to you?
And yet it had never been about him. It was all about soaring to the sky, the shawl a gossamer weight across my shoulders. The air was murkier now than it was a hundred years ago, but I would always take joy in flight. My sisters and I loved nothing more than the wind in our hair, the kiss of water on our warm skin.
Once, a human stole my shawl, forcing me to stay on earth with him. During those years, I dreamed of treetops, of flying in the midst of sunshowers. As soon as I discovered where he hid my shawl, I flew back to my sisters. Since then, centuries had passed, tinged with our memories of clear lakes, the soft, bobbing shapes of sampans at twilight.
Recently, out of curiosity, I searched for the shawl thief's descendants. One of them worked at the Jakarta Stock Exchange. Like his ancestor, he was persuasive, a smooth talker. And, unlike him, startlingly handsome—never believe fairy tales when they tell you all the characters are good-looking.
The first time I walked into the man's life, I was a neighbor in his apartment building. We chatted, went to cafes together, and gradually met more often. His eyes disappeared into lines when he laughed, which I found most charming. My head fitted snugly into his shoulder, and he never dismissed my shopping trips as girly or money-draining. Five months after we met, he proposed to me.
Only one of my sisters came to the wedding reception, claiming to be my sole living relative. My other sisters refused to—their exact words—play along with my antics. They believed I was about to hurt an innocent person.
Are you familiar with the names Jaka Tarub and Nawangwulan? I asked the man a day later.
He shrugged. Outside, it was another humid Jakarta night, with the promise of rain hovering behind dark clouds. Soon enough the humidity would give way to thunderstorms and seasonal floods.
They're people from a legend, he said.
Well, I said, congratulations, you've just married a legend.
My shawl wrapped around my arms, I smiled at him and floated above the floor. His face went ashy, and for a moment I thought he would bolt. As I explained, his color improved, but not by much.
It took him three full days to recover. On the first day he skipped work, pleading high fever. I sat next to him as we watched TV, until he no longer stiffened when I leaned against him. Neither of us ever mentioned who I was again.
A month into our marriage, my shawl went missing. I wasn't too bothered; it had a scent I could easily track down. What did concern me was the fact that my husband felt any need to hide it.
Of course he does, huffed Nawangsari, my sister who came to the wedding. You can literally fly away from him! Any human would be worried!
Contrary to what you girls think, I replied, I'm not toying with his feelings. I'm giving him a new perspective. The relationships he'll have after I'm gone will be much more meaningful, because he'd work hard to make them last. And he'd make sure the other person is not another immortal.
Nawangsari rapped her knuckles against her forehead. Wulan, you are unbelievably dense! He's more likely to become sad and blame himself. Even if he wouldn't, you've no right to do this. What's the reason, anyway? Revenge?
Later, sipping chilled tea from the fridge, I mulled over the word. The shawl thief had lived so long ago that, in my mind, his face had thawed into a haze. His thievery no longer irritated me; I had no intention to hurt anyone he was related to. But perhaps my sisters were right, and I was doing exactly that.
I agreed to marry my husband because he was wonderful company. I enjoyed having him to share meals and sing at the karaoke with. Still, even if he were no longer here, I'd be able to go on. But what if it was me who went away? Would he be devastated—or enraged and take refuge in his rage, call me names and forget the good times we had?
Both possibilities were unsavory, so I left before his feelings could take root. Or, Nawangsari said, before he decides you're dangerous. Then he may do something foolish, like tell someone else or call an exorcist. We don't want that, Wulan. Let humans think that women like us are extinct.
It was all right; he would do just fine. He was too strong to get crushed by my departure. And he shouldn't suffer for long from my attraction to him—which wouldn't have existed had it not been for his ancestor. But, just to be on the safe side, some nights I'd hover outside his window; if only to check that he was content, safe, and hopefully had found a new love.
Eve Shi is an Indonesian fangirl and writer. Her Indonesian YA novels are Aku Tahu Kamu Hantu (I know you're a ghost), Lost, Unforgiven, and Sparkle. Her short stories in English are published in Insignia: Southeast Asian Fantasy and Flesh: A Southeast Asian Urban Anthology. Find her on Twitter at @Eve_Shi.