Tasting the West to the Fullest


I didn’t know what had happened and blurted out questions to my dad. He didn’t answer. He tried to stand up to look at the nose of our civic. The seatbelt held him.

“Is everybody alright?” he said, almost as soon as the car key clicked. I didn’t know what to say, I didn’t even know what had happened. My mom looked shocked. She turned around and looked at me.

“Are you okay, sayang?” Yes, I was okay, and clueless. It didn’t seem like they were going to tell me what had happened. I looked out the window and found that our car had hit the rear bumper of a big shiny black Dodge Ram. I saw shards of broken glass on the pavement. They had to be from our car, because the other car looked just fine. There wasn’t even any glass part in the collision area. This is bad.

The shards of broken glass sparkled, drenched in rain. They didn’t look like newly broken shards of glass. I could hear San Antonio traffic. I thought for a second, the incident didn’t happen in one of those overpasses or highway ramps.

Just a few minutes before, my mom had been so ready to explore San Antonio a little bit more despite the shower. Now, I thought we had to cancel my mother’s plan to eat the beef curry from College Station by the moss-colored river in the Alamo area.

As soon as my father was sure that my mother and I were fine, he went out of the car. An old couple came out of Room 103 of Days Inn, the room that opened right to the left headlight of the Ram. The owners of this truck. My father looked at the black truck and then turned to our own car.

Masha allah!” I know exactly, when my dad and my mom said masha allah, something unpleasant is in front of their eyes, the opposite of the Arab friends we know from the mosque, who would say masha allah for good things. I jumped out of the back seat, and was shocked to see the smashed right headlight.

“Are you guys okay?” said the old man, only looking at my dad. He looked like a father asking his son about a baseball game he had lost. I felt then that even a question as simple as “okay” can be so irritating when repeated. There was a nice dent on the black truck, on the area around rear bumper.

“I guess yes,” said my dad, who was still inside the car.

Our right headlight was smashed and I could tell we had to change the bulb before we could drive it anywhere. My dad was talking with the old couple about the car for a while.

My dad managed to persuade the receptionist to let us in again because the weather was too cold to let me and my mom outside. By the time the police arrived in a classic-looking police cruiser, we had been back in the Days Inn room we had stayed the night before and had checked out minutes before the accident. My mom and I looked at the well-rehearsed note-taking as it was happening. A man soon after entered the room and emptied the trash can. He looked either Pakistani or Indian.

Around fifteen minutes later the police officer left and my dad went into the hotel room. He told us that the brake failed and our car hit the appropriately installed steel rear bumper of the shiny Ram. The collision turned out to be so bad that the steel bumper thrust into our headlight, smashing the glass and a portion of the inner part of the headlight, including the bulb. I asked my dad about the other car.

“Oh, that’s fine,” my mom answered. “The insurance will take care of it. Besides, that’s more like a tank than a car!”

“I should have changed the brake pad,” my dad said, as if to make us stop talking about the other car.

“I thought you met Abdul Fatah the night before we left.”

“I did. He only added a little brake fluid,” my father said. “Actually he told me to change the brake, but then he said probably we could just add a little brake fluid.”

“Ah! Abdul Fatah is a medical doctor, not a mechanic! Why did you listen to him?”

“Hey, don’t blame him, alright? I called him at night when he was eating his dinner, and he came, and I didn’t really pay him for checking the car. Besides, we wouldn’t have had the time to change the brake pad.”

“When are we gonna go home?” I asked my father.

“I don’t know, sayang,” my father told me.

“But I have to go to Naomi’s birthday tomorrow, Dad.”

“I still remember that, alright, but couldn’t you understand what’s happening here?”

“Can’t we get it fixed today and go back to Fayetteville then?”

“If we have the money!” my dad ended the discussion calmly.

He knew what to say to stop me from whining–although I believed he didn’t really mean to do that. We had always had problems with money since we came to the United States. My dad knew we had little money to do this Texas trip. But he insisted: he wanted me to see the world. He kept reminding me that we were not going to stay in the United States for good. There would be a point when we had to go back home to Indonesia. That point was when my dad finished his school. So, our goal was to see as much of the United States as we could afford to see.

This Texas trip was kind of impossible to begin with. My father was too busy with his school and a translation job he was doing for a company in Singapore. We almost couldn’t leave at all. We didn’t go to the Indonesian-Malaysian Muslim Conference in Dallas because my father was too busy with the job. We eventually went. We went not to the Conference in Dallas, but to the major cities in Texas on our old Civic. All because he wanted me to see more of the United States. On our way from College Station to San Antonio two days earlier, he had told me briefly about the raid of the Alamo fort, about the deaths, about how those deaths inspired power among the Texans who later fought back. When we were at the Alamo fort the day before the accident, I checked what he had told me with the posters around the gate.

Now, with that black Civic damaged on its right headlight, my dad’s referring to the fact that we didn’t have the money, I was quite sure I would miss the party at Naomi’s house. My mom and dad discussed possibilities while we were in the hotel room. My mom loosened up her hijab. My dad had taken off his sweater. At the end, they eventually decided to return to Oom Farid’s house.

Oom Farid came in a minivan to take us to his house. We loaded our baggage from in front of the hotel room to the car. Our car has been towed to a nearby repair shop. “This will cost one hundred fifty dollars alone,” my father said. My father was quite restless to see how it turned out. In less than a half hour, we arrived at Oom Farid’s gated apartment complex.

*          *          *

Before landing at Days Inn, Oom Farid had offered to host us in his house for the night. He had a bigger apartment than Oom Masri in College Station, where we had stayed for two nights between the day we spent roaming around Houston. Staying overnight in Oom Masri’s apartment was fine because he and my dad had been good friends for a couple of years. But last night, my father said no to Oom Farid’s offer, mostly because we had just met Oom Farid for the first time yesterday. The only reason we stopped by his house was because Oom Masri had told my parents that he had just made a very good friend with a family from Eastern Indonesia during the Indonesia-Malaysia Muslim Conference. I didn’t see why he had to take the offer. Besides, Oom Farid had a son named Hasan, a few years older than me.

Oom Farid lived in a gated apartment complex only five minutes walk from a mosque, so Hasan could live the way teenagers in his village back in Eastern Indonesia lived: going to the mosque two or three times a day, for sunset prayers, evening prayers and sometimes the morning prayer before sunrise.

When Oom Farid wanted us to stay overnight, my father said he had booked a hotel for the three of us. Oom Farid had even prepared Mas Hasan’s room for us. I found out later that my father had never booked a hotel. Later, after we left Oom Farid’s house, we stopped at the parking lot of the mosque near Oom Farid’s apartment. There he booked the hotel online from his smart phone. In fifteen minutes, we got to Days Inn, in a small room with two double beds. My mom fell in love with that room.

There, my dad cooked rice in our rice cooker—which had been bouncing in our trunk all the way from Fayetteville. My mom microwaved the Kentucky Fried Chicken drumsticks–”halal” ones–we bought in Houston the day before. We also still had some goat curry from Aunt Ira, Oom Masri’s wife. My mother gleamed with happiness while opening the scarf that she had been wearing loose during the trip. All in all, we had a good night in the hotel. We got to eat a lot and enjoyed a good sleep after a whole day trip from College Station and a short trip around San Antonio for some time. That was when I didn’t know that I wouldn’t make it to Naomi’s birthday party.

*          *          *

In Oom Farid’s apartment–in Hasan’s room that had been emptied for my family–my dad and mom discussed the possibilities. I heard that my dad had to pay a few hundred dollars for the headlight, the tow truck and balancing the tire. I didn’t know that a millisecond collision would cost us that much. My dad thought that he probably could get quick cash by working somewhere in San Antonio. He believed a city as big as San Antonio could offer him more opportunities. Oom Farid said that San Antonio had recently expanded at a speed faster than the expansion of Dallas. My dad knew though that getting a job is never that simple.

In their discussion a name came up, a man called Joko Santoso in Ohio. He was my dad’s friend in college. He had come to the United States for a summer job in Alaska. When we got to the United States, this Joko Santoso called my father and told us that he was planning to open a Sushi restaurant. My father didn’t want our friends in Fayetteville to know about what happened to us and about our difficult situation. So Joko Santoso in Ohio was the perfect savior.

“Mom, can I go out with Mas Hasan?” I asked my mother. I knew problems like ours could not be solved only with one phone call. So I thought I could go to the mosque, maybe I could talk to some guys over there.

“Okay, only with Mas Hasan, alright?”

When I went back home several hours later, my father was talking to Oom Farid in the living room and my mom was talking with Tante Lidya, Oom Farid’s wife, in the dining table. My father had found a solution of some sort. He was going to work in a restaurant tomorrow. This Joko from Ohio apparently had a friend in San Antonio would could use my father’s labor in his place. My father planned to work in that Thai restaurant for a couple of hours during the day and my mother would be working there at night. That made us stay in San Antonio for three more days. I thought I had known all along that I wouldn’t make it to Naomi’s birthday.

This Thai restaurant where my father was going to work was owned by a man related to the business partner of Joko Santoso from Ohio. My mom and dad planned to get at least four hundred dollars from working here in Texas, just enough to get our car fixed. He took that opportunity thinking that they couldn’t possibly work  to get this extra cash in Fayetteville. Fayetteville was too small a place to get quick money easily. I had really wanted jobs like they do on TV, like delivering newspaper in the morning while riding my bike.  Fayetteville didn’t have that kind of job..

“Can I bike around this area tomorrow, Mom?”

“But Mas Hasan only has one bike.”

“I met these Pakistani kids at the mosque. They all go to the mosque on their bikes. I think…”

*          *          *

We had to stay in San Antonio for four more days after the accident. My dad was worn out after the second day of working night shift at the Thai restaurant. He was in no condition to drive 10 hours to Fayetteville. My mom was not so bad. She only worked around five hours each day. Oom Farid insisted that we stayed two more days at least. During those four days, I enjoyed cycling around the area of San Antonio during the day and playing tag at the mosque with Mas Hasan and the Pakistani kids in the evening, after the evening prayers. We got our car back on the third day. We got a new right headlight and a new tire. We still had the dent, which my dad wanted to keep.

“I’ll keep this memorable dent,” he said, smiling. I don’t think anybody recognized the reference. I knew for sure my dad meant to say that to me, a big fan of Cars.

We traveled back to Fayetteville. I missed Naomi’s birthday by three days and I asked my mom to apologize to Naomi’s mom for not coming. She only told Naomi’s mom that we were stuck in San Antonio, clearly avoiding to tell them that she had to work here in San Antonio. I didn’t learn as much as my father wanted. I think my father learned more than I did.

On our way home, we didn’t stop much. We left San Antonio very early in the morning. We stopped to take pictures at the Capitol Building of Austin. We stopped to pray the noon and afternoon prayers (combined) in our car in front of a gas station where later my father made a discovery of taco and queso sauce that we enjoyed until we got to Dallas. We hadn’t planned to stop at Dallas’s Six Flags, which I had wanted so bad. My father said that was quite impossible with our current financial situation. He promised me though that he would take me to a Six Flag in another state, probably Illinois. We didn’t even stop overnight in Dallas. When it was my mom’s turn to drive, my father used the back seat for sleeping.

For my learning, I think I should be happy with the bike trip around San Antonio–in the area, as I learned later, called the hospital area–with Pakistani kids. We also stopped by a frontier village in denison. That village might have been the village that those cow herders passed through on their way driving cattle to Wyoming. When we stopped at a town called Kiowa, my father the country music fan told me that a super famous country singer came from that town. My father also told me about something about the Hispanic people in San Antonio. For them, they didn’t cross the border but the border jumped over them. He told me that 60 percents of the population in San…

But I missed Naomi’s birthday party.

(Wawan Yulianto, April 2013)

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