Whenever my mother had a nightmare, I would come to her bedroom and kiss her on her forehead. She would scream and try to get up; I would hold her down and kiss her repeatedly. I would sing into her ear. I would sing until she calms down, let go of her body, so that she fell back into her slumber. In those hours, I would sit by the chair beside her bed. I would be tired.

She forgot things. She sometimes did not remember me. Surprised by my presence, she would take her blanket and covered herself with it. She was like small children hiding inside the blanket to find another world. But little children did that not to escape the world. They want to explore it. The admiration for the unknown made them the humblest inhabitant of the universe. Adults think they already know too much.

Sometimes I would find mother talking with the wind. She also spoke with the birds and the clouds. When she talked to the sky, she would extend her arms as wide as possible. When she did this, she would close her eyes. She did this in the field behind our house almost every morning. I would wait for some time until she felt tired and went back into the house. By the time she finished, I would be ready with lunch. I fed her lunch, and she would take a nap afterward. While she was napping, I cleaned the house and washed her clothes.

I liked to caress her hair. She used to have long hair, and it was voluminous. But in those days her hair had fallen. The volume of her hair was no more. She was almost bald on the top of her head. However, she was beautiful, just like how I always remembered her. When I caressed her hair, she would get sleepy. Often mother would put her head on my lap, and she would sleep. I would sing into her ear. I thought that the song would give her peace. What the language could not penetrate, the melodies could.
One day she cried because she wet her bed. I took her to the bathtub, and I started washing her body. I put some soaps and rubbed some oil. She could not stop crying. I told her it would be fine. Afterward, I changed her sheets and put the mattress under the sun. In the meantime, she slept on my bed. People found me putting the mattress under the sun entertaining. I exchanged greetings with them, and they asked about my mother. I told them she was healthy. She was safe.

I would look at our family photos when I clean my father’s working desk. He kept a lot of things on it, but our family photos were the dominant feature of the desk. Brother left a couple of years before because of his study. I told him to travel far and to do whatever he would like to do. “You have no place in the past,” I told him.
From time to time, he would come home for some days and help me take care of our mother. During those times, I knew he needed money. I took some, put it in an envelope, and hid it in one of his books. He knew I would always do this. We never talked about it, but he always thanked me. “Thank you,” he would say on an unexpected occasion without any reference to what he thanked me for. It did not matter.

Nowadays, I miss her. Her bedroom has been empty ever since she entered the mirror in her bedroom. One night I heard her singing. The light of her bedroom was on, and she sang beautifully that night. As I entered the room, she wore her white dress, and she looked like one of her photographs on my father’s desk.
“Are you awake, mother?” She nodded and approached me. I hugged her and put my head below her cheek. I smelled jasmine flower; this was her smell. I started to cry but tried my best not to bother her with that. She caressed my hair, and she continued to sing. The song was her favorite, one song in her native tongue. I did not understand the language, but it was the language of the people from the river. After the song ended, she kissed me on my forehead. Looking at me one last time, she approached the big mirror, which was attached to one of her wardrobes. She slowly entered the mirror: first her right leg, her right side of the body, and then the left side of the body followed, and finally her left leg.

When she finally vanished, I only saw a reflection of myself in the mirror. I could see that my eyes were red. After getting myself back, I started to change her bed sheet and cleaned the bedroom. Not long afterward, the sun began to rise. I opened the window and let the wind of a new day enter her room. The curtain was moving because of the wind. I hoped I would find my mother hiding behind it.

​About the True Name

A spirit of the forest whispered to me about the original songs. The first generations, it said, could listen to the voice of the forest. To each creation, a true name was given. Those who knew the true name of a creation ruled over said creation. Therefore a true name could only be known by those who are worthy because a ruler should prove their wisdom and justice.

The original songs contained riddles. The answer to each riddle was a clue to the true name of beings. Therefore the original songs were passed down from one generation to the next so the next generations would remember the true names. The selected among them would answer the riddle. To these chosen few, the people should listen. Those who understood the true name would also develop the ability to listen to the voice of the forest. People like these would be able to navigate the forest with closed eyes. The forest would take their hand and give guidance. Trees and plants would give way and move from where they are grounded. The flowers spread their fragrance, so their smells would provide an invisible thread that one can follow. The fruits would fall on one’s foot to provide for the day. Such was the fortune of one that could listen to the voice of the forest.

Those who could hear then created a second name for the creations. The tongue of humans, the spirit said, were limited and full of faults. Relying only on the tongue, the human would not be able to chant the true name. For this reason, the first generations had created a second name for the creations. A name that was easier to chant. With the second name and the original songs, they had lived for thousands of years, in peace and without scarcity. Nature had provided for them in abundance. Those who fulfilled the duty of the universe would  not be starved. So the people learnt  the original songs and learnt about the second name. They listened to those who can hear the voices of the forest and know the true names of creation.

I asked the spirit, why did we not know the original songs anymore other than fragments? Why did we seldom hear the voice of the forest? Why couldn’t we understand the second name and chant it properly? Why did we lose the ability to sing?
The spirit answered that we simply had forgotten. Some time ago, there had been  kings and queens with their soldiers and magnificent war elephants from the north. They had come to the south and conquered everything along the way. With them, they had brought their songs, their language, and their names for all creations. We had fought the war and lost. Ever since, the kings and queens from the north have ruled over our land with their soldiers and magnificent war elephants. As if that is not enough, they continued even further until they had settled on the farthest south they could have reached. The southern land became the land of the kings where their descendants reside until today.

They had been kings, queens, and soldiers from a land where most of the people have forgotten about the voices of the universe. Because they have forgotten, they relied solely on their tongue to chant the names. They have mastered the second name in their language and were well-practiced in this art. However, no matter how advanced they had been, their knowledge was incomplete. They never knew the nature of the true names.

Am I the descendant of those kings, queens, and soldiers of the northland? The spirit affirmed. Then what about the knowledge of the true names and the original songs? Are they forever closed to me? No, said the spirit. This is because you are a half-blood. The other half can still listen to the voice of the forest. You learned fragments of the original songs. With that said, the spirit of the forest disappeared.

I put my hands on a large trunk of a tree and put my ear to its skin. I heard nothing. Neither the tree, the forest, nor the spirit of the forest said anything. It was a mere walk inside a glasshouse.

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Bilawa Respati

Bilawa Ade Respati is a member of the Gamelan ensemble Arum Sih (Bremen) and Lindhu Raras (Berlin); performing both the classical Javanese music, as well as modern work composed for the gamelan. He focuses on the Gender instrument, and the reciting the classic Javanese song-poem (Tembang). Some past projects are the shadow puppet performance “Kidung Panji Biyung Bibi” with the group Seni Wayang Jantur and Lindhu Raras (2018), and a program of modern music for Javanese Gamelan “Main Bersama-sama” with the ensemble Arum Sih as part of the International Gamelan Festival München (2018). Since 2018 he started collaborating with a long-time friend Ariel William Orah in an electronic-acoustic duo, presenting their work "Lingkar: SumarahXSenggama" in Berlin. His current conceptual interests are the philosophy of suffering and the revaluation of traditional rites and myths in contemporary everyday life.