To Catch an Intruder

by Mashdar Zaenal
Published at The Jakarta Post, 15 October2016

untitledAs Ratmi opened a window in her bedroom, the smell of urine quickly wafted into the room and up her nose. It made her nauseous. Darn it, those hoodlums must have urinated there again, she muttered to herself.

Ever since the market opened for business three months ago, some people had been taking over the nearby security substation and thought it would be a good place to bum around. Unfortunately, the substation was only a few meters away from Ratmi’s house. These hoodlums, as Ratmi came to call them, would spend time there as if they had nothing better to do — strum their guitars, play cards or talk away the night over things which she was absolutely certain had no significance. Worse yet, they didn’t seem to care about their surroundings. Sometimes they’d laugh so hard it reverberated across the neighborhood. And there were times when the noise they made would startle Ratmi’s infant daughter in her sleep.

Still, no one had the guts to walk up to them and tell them to keep quiet.

Now Ratmi decided she’d had enough. She’d reached the limit where patience was no longer a virtue she was able to uphold. Not to them, anyway. One morning, she found out they had urinated on the sapodilla tree standing in the garden next to her house. The tree was the only thing separating her house from the market’s parking area. Thanks to those hoodlums, now her bedroom reeked of urine.

Sure, to be fair, Ratmi had never caught them in the act. But who else could have done it? Stray dogs? If anyone was behaving like a pack of stray dogs, it would be those reprehensible people. And even more disturbing was the distinct smell of the urine itself. Ratmi didn’t recognize it as something that might have come out of the human body. It was rotten. Too much alcohol consumption was probably the reason. Ammonia! That was it. The smell was enough to poison a living creature.

“These people have got no brains: how could they urinate in someone else’s garden?” she cursed. “And the people who manage the market are also brainless. How could they keep the public toilet locked? Now everyone’s garden has been turned into public urinating spots. Idiots!” She was angry, but all she could do was curse them from a distance.

“We should report it to the neighborhood chief,” said one neighbor. It was a good idea, but ultimately useless. Ratmi had reported the incidents to the neighborhood chief twice in the last three months. However, the chief said nothing was to be done. The hoodlums wouldn’t listen to anyone. They simply nodded their heads and promised to be on their best behavior. Later, when the chief reprimanded them not to urinate in people’s gardens, they were quick to claim their innocence. They swore they hadn’t done it. And they would never urinate on a tree, any tree.

Liars, Ratmi thought. She knew exactly what she had smelled; and she would bet anything those hoodlums were responsible for the stench that wafted inside her bedroom each night. So she drafted a plan: she would catch them red-handed.

How dare they turn the sapodilla tree into their private bathroom?

To do accomplish this, Ratmi asked her husband to stand guard each night and pay close attention to whoever might be urinating on the tree. But after some nights went by, both she and her husband came up empty handed. They just didn’t have what it takes. Sleep got the better of them. Then Ratmi thought of setting up mouse traps, placing them all around the base of the sapodilla tree. She wouldn’t even need bait, because she wasn’t actually trying to catch a mouse. She merely wanted these traps to clamp down on those hoodlums’ feet as they relieved their bladders in the garden. Still, she never went out and got those traps. Instead, she thought of a different idea.

“They pick that spot because it’s dark,” said Ratmi to her husband. “Let’s bring some light out there. We’ll hang a lamp on one of the tree branches. Don’t forget, we’ll also put up a sign that says, ‘Only dogs may urinate here.’ Write the message in large capital letters so they can read them clearly.”

Ratmi’s husband went to work right away. Once he had hung the lamp and put up the sign, Ratmi sighed with relief: finally, her home would be free of that horrible stench!

She was wrong.

The next day, and the day after that, the smell continued to hang in the air around her house. In fact, the smell was even worse now. It seemed to her the smell had permeated the walls of her house, as though it was trying to tell her it wasn’t going anywhere. Each morning, Ratmi would water the base of the sapodilla tree with dirty water from the dishwasher, or soapy water she had used to bathe her daughter — to be rid of the unpleasant smell.

Yet, the next morning: the smell returned in full force.

“I can’t tolerate this any longer,” said Ratmi with bated breath, trying not to breathe in the stale air around her. “When I have my proof, I’ll drag them to the police station. We will sue them.”

“The police aren’t going to send people to jail for urinating in other people’s gardens,” said her husband.

“But they are causing me great distress,” said Ratmi. “That is a crime. If the police won’t deal with them, I hope God will castrate them. That will surely teach them a lesson.”

Ratmi’s husband giggled at this.

“Why don’t you go see them tonight,” said Ratmi, half pleading. “Talk to them.”

“The chief did that already,” said her husband.

“It’s not the same,” she insisted. “We can’t count on the neighborhood chief, anymore. I want to know what they’re going to say to you. Because they’re violating the boundaries of our house, not the neighborhood chief’s house.”

“I don’t know,” said Ratmi’s husband. “I don’t feel like dealing with those hoodlums.”

“Lazy or afraid?” she prodded him on. “Think of your baby daughter. Every day she has to smell this vile stench.”

“We can close the window.”

“We need ventilation in this room.”

“So you want everything to go your way?”

“Just talk to them,” she said. “Please, you’re the man of the house.”

That evening, Ratmi’s husband hesitantly walked up to the security substation and met with the hoodlums. His wife was watching him from behind the window. She saw him talk to those people. She couldn’t help smiling in victory as her husband proceeded to tell them off — or, at least, it looked to her as if he was telling them off. Her husband nodded his head several times, then went quiet. He opened his mouth again, nodded one more time and left.

“They said no one has ever relieved themselves on the tree,” said Ratmi’s husband.

“Liars! It has to be them!”

Ratmi’s husband shook his head. He wasn’t sure of anything anymore.

“They stay up all night and make noise,” said Ratmi. “No one else in the neighborhood is up and about at such ungodly hours, but them.”

“They seem decent, though,” said Ratmi’s husband. “They stay up all night and play cards — but nothing more.”

“They urinate in someone else’s garden,” said Ratmi, impatient now.

“They said they didn’t do it,” her husband said, beginning to raise his voice.

“Then who did it?!”

Both Ratmi and her husband eventually devised another strategy. They decided not to sleep that night. They were going to stay awake until the sun came up. Or, at least, until they figured out the truth about the sort of creature that had been urinating on their sapodilla tree. Ratmi placed two chairs behind the bedroom window. The chairs faced each other. She would sit there with her husband. After the baby went to sleep, Ratmi brewed two cups of black coffee to keep them both awake. When nighttime finally arrived and blanketed the neighborhood, Ratmi heard the sounds of footsteps and light banter coming from the substation nearby.

“Look at them,” Ratmi whispered to her husband, as she stood at the window. “One of them will urinate on our tree sometime tonight.”

As the hours went by, the noise coming from the substation grew louder. It was 30 minutes to midnight. No one had walked by the garden.

“What if they were telling the truth?” asked her husband.

“We’ll see,” said Ratmi.

They kept their promise to each other. Despite the cold evening breeze and the now empty coffee cups, they continued to watch their sapodilla tree for signs of an intruder. They whispered to each other every few minutes. The hands of the clock moved southward. Soon, it was almost 3 in the morning. Ratmi and her husband were doing their best to stay alert. They didn’t have much energy left in them; but suddenly Ratmi saw something scurry past the sapodilla tree.

“Look, there!” Ratmi moved her face closer to the open window. Her husband tried to follow the direction of her gaze.

Under the tree, a stray dog was trotting back and forth, before finally lifting its leg in the air and spraying urine at the base of their lovely sapodilla tree. Ratmi’s eyes grew wider. Speechless. After all, she had warned only dogs were allowed to urinate there.

Mashdar Zainal

Mashdar Zainal, lahir di Madiun 5 juni 1984, suka membaca dan menulis puisi serta prosa, kini bermukim di Malang. Tahun 2011, cerpennya pernah masuk dalam Cerpen Pilihan Kompas.

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