Satri knew that walking deep into the mangrove forest by himself was not allowed. Sometimes the noise of his six brothers grew too loud for him to hear his own thoughts. He was careful not to let Raksasa or Manu see him going. The twins were the eldest, and always acted as if they were the bosses of the other 5 brothers. All of them except Manu called the oldest Raksasa behind his back, because he was huge and tall, like a towering giant. He also had the quickest fists, so the brothers were careful to call him Jay to his face.
Satri slid away while Raksasa and Manu were fighting with Ragawan, the second youngest, who had taken out a trumpet and was blowing it as loudly and discordantly as he could. Widagdya and Lintang were beating drums. Wijah was laughing and dancing on his hands, a trick all the boys could do. Wijah, third youngest and three years older than him, was his best friend amongst the brothers, but today he really wanted to be alone.
Deep into the mangroves, Satri wove his way along narrow paths, leaving behind him the din of his older brothers. He stepped carefully over tree roots, skirting pools of water washed up from the Java Sea, never far away on this island. He ducked under low branches, moving softly in hopes of seeing a monitor lizard or a golden ring snake. The sun was shining, the light dappled under the trees, and the sea breeze blowing across the Thousand Islands cooled the air. The birds were silent. He saw nothing. That should have given him pause, warned him of what was to come. However, he was too grateful for the quiet to heed its warning.
Satri climbed a coconut palm, and brought down a few coconuts. His mother’s birthday was tomorrow, and he had nothing for her. He put the coconuts in his pack, thinking about his mother, Bidadari, and all she did for him and his brothers. She had been looking tired and drawn lately. Often she rubbed her joints. Satri wanted to do something special for her fiftieth birthday, but he didn’t know what.
Soon, Satri found a clearing ringed by mushrooms. He put down his pack. The mushrooms became his brothers. He picked up a stick, and defeated his enemies. Raksasa was first to beg for mercy, then all 5 other brothers fell one by one. Being the seventh son made him a clever fighter, he thought to himself with a smile. He added the mushrooms to his pack. Satri drew a spiral dragon in the earth, giving it fire curling from its mouth, sharp teeth, and razor-sharp spines on its back. When he had finished, he celebrated by dancing and twirling about the dragon, dancing in a widening spiral. He danced on his hands, humming a rollicking melody.
“What are you doing in my yard?” bellowed a rough voice behind Satri. He flipped over onto his feet again, and saw a troll, as tall as a coconut palm tree. Long, hairy arms moved toward Satri. Satri darted behind a mangrove, startling a turtle, which dove into a pool of still water. Satri’s heart pounded. He looked at his trembling hands, thinking fast.
“Kakak,” called Satri, using the polite Malay word for older sibling. “Kakak, I just came to leave a picture for you.”
Satri peeked around the mangrove, and saw that his several meter-wide dragon had captured the interest of the huge troll. The troll’s lumpy finger traced the air above the dragon’s spiral. The dragon spiraled out from its spiky tail in the center ending with its fire directed toward the west, where the sun sets.
“Good picture, adik laki-laki,” came the gruff voice of the troll, who used the Malay word for little brother.
Taking a deep breath, Satri stepped from behind the tree. He asked: “What’s your name, Kakak?”
“I am called Mangariwu, but I don’t like it. You can call me Kakak. Will you draw me a picture of a lizard? I had a lizard for a friend long ago, but he went away. My dragon needs a friend.” Satri drew a spiraling monitor lizard for Mangariwu, its mouth pointing east toward the rising sun. As careful as he was to not call his brother Raksasa to his face, Satri was careful to only call the troll Kakak.
Together, Mangariwu and Satri laid stones and sticks along the curves of the pictures, to make them more permanent. Neither the troll nor Satri noticed the snake, hidden in the mangroves, until it fell on Satri, ensnaring him in its thick coils.
“Python!” Satri yelled, rolling away from the dragon’s fire. The troll picked up the snake with one huge hand, removing Satri from its coils as if taking a toy from a small baby.
“Bad python!” Mangariwu said. “You leave my friend, Satri, alone!” He dropped the python, and it nodded its head and slithered away. Mangariwu put Satri down gently. “Satri will have no more trouble with pythons.”
Satri felt like crying, he was so overwhelmed at the sudden attack, but having lived his whole life with six older brothers had made that impossible, so he whooped instead. “How did you do that, Kakak?” He danced on his hands again, happy to be alive.
“Pythons listen to troll or else.” Mangariwu scowled briefly. “Pythons and trolls live in peace as long as pythons listen to trolls. Time for nap, adik laki-laki. Come back and visit.”
Satri headed home with his pack of coconuts and mushrooms. His brothers had settled into making up a song about a monsoon wave. Wijah looked up with a grin when he came back. “Satri, we need help with the lyrics. Jay,” Wijah said, wiggling his eyebrows to let Satri know he really meant Raksasa. “Jay wants to call the monsoon wave Big Water, but we think you could come up with a better name.”
“Where have you been?” Raksasa demanded.
“Call the wave Kakak, and have it save the day!” Satri offered. Ragawan blew on his trumpet, nodding.
“Great idea!” Widagdya and Lintang called out at the same time. The second set of twins were hard to tell apart and often said things at the same time. Widagdya was the more clever of the two, and Lintang was often dreaming.
Satri went inside to find his art supplies, his brother forgetting all about his absence. Spending time with the troll had made him think of an idea for his mother’s birthday. He could hear the cacophony of his brother’s musical endeavors, but he found the sound inspiring. He sketched himself dancing on his hands, swirls of colorful music around himself. He made the picture vague enough that the dancer could be any of his brothers. While he was putting the finishing touches to it, he suddenly realized it had become very quiet. He turned around, and he saw all six faces of his brothers in a line, looking at his picture.
“Wow, adik laki-laki.” said Wijah.
“Is that for mom?” Widagdya asked.
“Mom will be so happy,” Lintang said in his dreamy voice.
“Our song is done.” Raksasa said. “We wrote it for mom. Together with your picture, she will be so happy.” Manu nodded, agreeing as usual with his big brother.
And he was right. Bidadari cried tears of happiness when she saw Satri’s picture. She smiled all the way through the monsoon wave Kakak song, even with Ragawan’s trumpet solo. She cooked a delicious curry with the coconut milk and mushrooms.
Forever after, the picture hung over her bed. Years later, she said that her fiftieth birthday was the best birthday ever.
Copyright 2013 Brenda Davis Harsham
Special Thanks to Alf Sukatmo, whose wonderful artwork inspired this story. With his permission, I have included his picture and coloring page above.
Notes on Indonesian names and words:
Abang is a gender-specific term meaning “older brother;”
Adik laki-laki corresponds to “younger brother;”
Bidadari means heavenly nymph;
Jay comes from Jaya (victory/victorious);
Kakak is a non-gender specific term meaning “older sibling” (pronouced Kai – yah);
Lintang means the stars;
Mangariwu means disturbing or annoying;
Manu comes from manusia (mankind);
Ragawan comes from olahragawan, which equates to “sportsman;”
Raksasa means giant/monster;
Satri is from the word Satria (warrior/brave/soldier);
Thousand Islands are a series of islands in the Java Sea near Jakarta, Indonesia, one of which is named Bidadari;
Widagdya, means very clever; and
Wijah means jubilant, fun and always smiling.