“Why, Saras! You look gorgeus as always!”
Lis turned to look at the commotion in living room. The folks were crowded around the fair Saras.
She always looked effortlessly pretty and fashionable. She was also polite and approachable. Along with her cousin, Devi, she was the belle of the ball (or in this case the halal-bihalal).
“And how can we forget Devi?” an aunt cooed. “I heard you got accepted into Medical Studies at UI!”
Lis could just imagine the sparkle in Devi’s eyes.
“Exactly, Auntie Selma. It took a lot of effort to get accepted, but alhamdulillah I made it through.” Devi answered calmly (but still loud enough to hear).
An uncle praised her. “Splendid! Just like my son, Dito! He got accepted to law school at Unpad. You’d make a perfect match!”
“Really now, uncle?” Devi replied with good humor.
Lis was also showered with the same attention two years ago, albeit by a smaller crowd. She was met with ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ when they found that she got accepted into Universitas Padjadjaran.
“What faculty did you get into?”
“The Faculty of Arts!”
“What course are you taking?”
“English Studies, auntie.”
“Oh, um, do you want to be a teacher?”
“Actually, I’m aiming to be a writer. I’ve always loved writing in English!”
“Well you’ve always been good in English but−“
“I thought you were applying for International Relations.”
“It’s such a shame. Anybody can write and publish a book!”
Anybody can write.
Forcefully pushing her thoughts aside, she strode past several people and made way towards the back of the house. She was too preoccupied in her escape that she accidentally bumped into a young man.
“I’m very sorry!”
But he merely bore his eyes into hers and walked without a word.
The lad disappeared among the crowd; his strong, broad back being the last thing Lis saw.
"Hoo! It’s so cold in here! Love it!" Lis flopped onto the mattress,
Sitting around were her favorite cousins: Rasti, Sofi, and Wilan. Along with Lis, they were unofficially known as The Ragtag Bunch of Misfit Nieces.
“So, how was it outside?” Rasti asked.
“Cramped! And the aunties always asked me whether I’m still single or not!”
“As if they’d get anything from someone who’s been a jomblo for nearly 20 years.” Wilanti remarked dryly.
“That’s all they ever ask. ‘Have you gotten a boyfriend?’ ‘Where’s your sweetheart?’. Same old, same old!” Rasti cried. “I say that’s because they hardly know anything about us and don’t bother getting to know us! All they know is that we’re grown-up ladies, so that means we must get married quick and have children.”
They all nodded in agreement silently.
The other three girls jumped upon hearing Lis’s scream. Rasti crawled over to her. “Hey! What’s with that?”
“It’s H.M Tommasen!” Lis squealed. “They’re finally releasing his book at Gramedia tomorrow!”
“That guy, again?” Wilan raised her eyebrow. “Dude, forget boys! You’re practically hooked on this old man!”
“He’s not an old man!” Lis shot back. “He’s only twenty-eight! And he’s quarter Indonesian! No, actually, who cares what he looks like when he can write masterpieces?”
“Lis.” Rasti interrupted. “Who is this guy anyway? I know he’s been gaining some fanbase here in Indonesia lately. But, why? I always thought that YA books are mostly crap!”
“I’ve known him long before his smash book Tempest of Susanoo was even published in Indonesia! Heck, I’ve read his first novels!” Lis prattled. “And the action scenes in his book are sooooo good! It’s like you’re right there! His worldbuilding is great and invents rich cultures and civilizations himself! He’s not just a rising star, he’s bound to be a literary legend!”
“Action, huh?” Wilanti tore her eyes from her iPhone screen. “When it comes to action, I always prefer comics. It’s hard to imagine anyone describing action scenes in such vivid detail.”
“Exactly.” Lis beamed. “Only H.M Tomassen can do it. So far.”
Anybody can write.
But nobody can write like Hosea Mikkel Tomassen.
He’d been Lis’s favorite author since her high school years. His first book that she read was Blurry Eyes, a hard-boiled detective novel. From then on, she got hooked on his writing. Even when he shifted genre to fantasy, she didn’t stray away from his later works, even though she wasn’t a big fan of fantasy.
It’s just that… his writing was too captivating to ignore.
H. M. Tomassen aced in narratives: his plots were thought-out, the settings always fit in well with the stories and his characters were always empowering and sympathetic. But above all, he was great in capturing physical motions with words. He described the movements of his characters with such fluidity and emotion that energy seemed to practically seep out of the pages.
To Lis, being an avid follower of Tomassen wasn’t enough. She aspired to follow in his footsteps. She kept sharpening her writing skills with hopes that she would one day be a bonafide action writer like him.
Which is why she had been repeating a modern dance video over and over again.
All night, she had been struggling to capture the movements of the Matriarchat dance. However, she never quite succeeded. She reasoned that if she couldn’t describe a dance using words, she won’t be able to illustrate fight scenes either.
After wasting her umpteenth sheet of paper, she planted her face onto the table.
She groaned. Oh, how she wished to see a live dancer so she can capture their emotions better.
And then it hit her.
“By the way, I bumped into a guy I’ve never seen before on my way here. He’s pretty tall and well-toned. You guys know him?”
“That’s Leon. His fam’s just moved back from Australia.”
“How old is he?”
“He’s just graduated from college. And oh….”
“They say he’s gay.”
“But he’s so good-looking!”
“That’s what they say. Did he talk to anybody?”
“Dunno. But he seemed rather gruff.”
“Oh yeah, you didn’t come to the outbound five months ago. He was pretty popular at first, but then he said that he majored in dance. They immediately sneered and told everyone to steer clear of him. He was kinda looked down upon after that.”
“Well, they’re always like that. By the way, they say he’s come to Indonesia for dance projects in Bandung. You might meet him again. Who knows?”
That’s it. This Leon might be the answer to her problems.
Time to contact Sofi and employ her mad stalking skills.
Leon eyed the suspicious girl at the tribunal.
The bespectacled girl had been watching his rehearsal intently. Each time he looked at her, she was scribbling furiously on her notepad. Her eyes practically popped out whenever he did a high jump or a summersault. Even when he wasn’t doing anything particularly extreme, her eyes were still glued on him like she was watching the most exciting show on earth (which, if it were true, would make him somewhat proud).
But then he remembered those girls from art school. They said they were sketching him for an assignment, but they turned out to be doing nothing but ogle his muscles.
He decided to confront this new onlooker. With a look that said look-kid-I-know-you’ve-been-gawking-at-me-and-you-need-to-stop, he approached the girl.
The girl shot him a goofy grin.
“Your cousin, I think.”
His face immediately went dark. “Lemme guess. You’re spying on me to report more of my sissiness to the entire clan aren’t you?”
“No, that’s not true!” She hastily replied. “I thought your moves are very manly. You make a good model for writing practice.”
“Well, art is just art however you see it. I happen to like masculine dance moves, ‘tis all.” His expression softened (but not by much). “Did you say writing?”
“Uh-huh. I want to be able to recreate movements like H.M Tomassen!”
He sat beside her. The girl had the most radiant expression he had ever seen on anybody her age.
“Hosea Mikkel Tomassen! He’s an Indonesian-born novelist who’s very good at writing action scenes! The movement of his characters are written in full detail. It’s like you’re seeing the whole thing! And he’s also great at writing about dancers. So graceful and so…. real!” Lis waved her arms excitedly. “It’s like I’m reading my big bro’s Samurai X comics, but much better cause it’s written!”
Leon chuckled. “You’re a book nerd, huh?”
“Yup!” Lis nodded. “I’m Alicia Finna Herawati. Lis for short!”
“And you must know who I am.” Leon got up from the bench. “Whelp, time to get back to business.”
As he walked back onto the floor, his mouth curved into a smile. Practice’s gonna get more interesting from now on.
Although the theater was bustling, Lis wouldn’t say it was going to be a full house tonight.
I wish more people would come. Leon would appreciate that.
Speaking of which, Leon was still hanging around just outside the backstage. Preparations were underway, but he seemed to take his time talking to a slender woman in a pink suit. The woman turned away to the audience seat while Leo disappeared into the curtains.
To Lis’s surprise, the woman was heading her way. With a bright smile on her face, she then took the seat next to Lis.
“Have we met before?”
The women flashed another smile before offering her hand. “Aulia, but you can call me Holly. I am Leon’s sister. You must be Alicia.”
“Yes, I am.” Lis said, accepting her hand. “Did Leon tell you about me?”
“Yes, he did.”
Lis didn’t know what else she should say. She wasn’t good at meeting new people (despite social skills being essential when you want to write a good book). Nervously, she took out her notepad without opening it.
“You must have been writing about Leon a whole lot.”
“ ‘s just practice. W-would you like to read it?” Lis anxiously handed Holly her pad.
“I’d be honored.”
After nearly half an hour (which felt like ages to Lis), the lights finally dimmed. Holly carefully handed back her notepad.
“I was surprised when Leon said someone’s been coming to see him dance. I wasn’t expecting it’d be someone from our family.” Holly whispered.
The stage was now almost pitch black. Lis detected some movement, but it was almost impossible to make out anything clearly.
“Aside from the usual circle of artists and modern dance enthusiasts, male dancers don’t attract many spectators. There’s still the stigma surrounding them.”
“Well, I gotta admit I wasn’t a big fan of dance myself. I was only in it for practice.”
The audience’s voices were starting to quiet down.
“But watching him dance changed my mind.”
Blue rays of light illuminated the stage. In the middle of the stage was a man sitting down with his knees to his face. It was Leon.
Taking advantage of the time before the music starts, Lis whispered again. “‘Art is art’, he told me. No matter the form.”
A woman appeared and approached Leon. It seemed like she was trying to get him up, but to no avail.
“Sometimes, it can’t always stir the heart of people.”
A boy’s angelic voice took away the silence.
Time seemed to have stopped then, save for the man who slowly rose from his stupor.
“But you don’t have to stop doing it.”
Finally standing tall, Leon took step after graceful step searching for the voice. He didn’t acknowledge the woman nearby.
“If you truly love it, you must spread it far and wide.”
Leon continued traversing the stage, accompanied by the chorus of more children.
“Until it finds its place in the hearts of those who appreciate it.”
The moment was suddenly shattered by the sound of drums and percussions. The orchestra sounded more and more intense.
Leon finally noticed the woman, but he kept recoiling from her touches.
It’s okay, we are free here, the woman seemed to say. Yet the man refused to welcome the woman’s gestures of love.
The chorus died down as a boy went into solo.
Leon stood still, turning his face above.
Lis completely transfixed her gaze on him. This must be euphoria he’s feeling.
Leon continued to close his eyes, basking in the light. When suddenly….
A woman’s wail broke through the silence, waking Leon from his trance.
He finally turned to face his partner. The love in his heart had beaten again.
As the chorus and percussion accompanied the singer, Leon took his partner into his arms and danced all over the stage as one.
With such harmony and vigor, Lis wandered if they’d finally reach divinity..
Towards the end, Lis found it getting more and more difficult to breathe. Even with the other lady present, he became the only presence in Lis’s entire universe.
But the moment didn’t last forever. It was finally over as Leon unhanded his partner.
“Are you falling for him?”
“Not really.” Lis smiled, her gaze almost unblinking. “I’m in love with something else entirely.”
Right there under the lights, Leon’s whole body turned ethereal.
Melbourne, five years later.
Leon stood in front of the bookstore, clutching a book to his chest. This was the very moment he had been waiting for. He finally got his hands on his cousin’s labor of love.
It’s been five months since Alicia Finna made her debut in the world of literature. The responses were overwhelmingly positive. She was hailed by critics as Tomassen’s successor. However, observers of both works would disagree. Tomassen was a master of fantasy, while Alicia found her place in urban fiction. Her novel chronicles the life of an aspiring Indonesian modern dancer who also happened to be a hijabi.
Leon strode towards his favorite café and took his seat. There, he spotted a group of girls talking excitedly over a book on the table. It was the same book that Leo was holding.
“Oh my Gosh, I can’t believe I’m falling for Asten. He’s soooo gorgeous. Every time his dance scene shows up, it feels like I’m just inches away from touching him! I can’t get enough of this book!” one of them squealed.
Leon sat at a distance from the merry bunch. Carefully, he removed the plastic wrapping of the book before fondly running his fingers over the embossed title: Euphoria.
When leafing through the first pages of the book, his eyes grew upon reading the dedication, which said:
For Leon, whose spirit moved my heart.
Leon let out an amused laugh. Even after leaving her for America two years after that fateful performance at Dago Tea House, she still remembered him. His visage was immortalized in this very first publicized work of hers.
An everlasting piece of art, indeed.
Word count: 2464
References: “Euphoria” by Loreen