The Narratives
of Indonesian


Arbi Nuralamsyah / Sukabumi – West Java

“History of Pain”

“History of Pain”

Written by Arbi Nuralamsyah

Translated by Armelia Safira

“His body acts as a medium for various memories of the past and a field where he reaps what he sows.”

Anything that happened in the past will shape the future. What’s God’s scenario for me if all the world is a stage?

My parents named me Arbi Nuralamsyah. Perhaps, it’s beyond their imagination that the name would be part of those who successfully pursue education and a college degree with a title given after it.  

Coming from Jampangkulon of Sukabumi Regency located far from the city in West Java, I spent my childhood in a society where speaking ill of others is normal. Many of them were also experts at gossiping, especially about other people’s lives. In my village, people told me that I am a dark-skin, filthy, chubby and stubborn kid. Almost nobody had ever called me “handsome” or at least “cute” that might be the root of my lack of confidence. 

Arbi The Drag Queen was how my elementary school friends called me because I liked playing paper dolls, kitchen toys, skipping rope, and bekel (knucklebones) with the girls even though I, too, frequently hurt or even broke someone’s leg in a soccer game. But it was nothing compared to how they bullied me which is too bad to remember.

Some classmates once blackmailed me. They threatened to report the teachers and my parents that I have ever taken a little sip of cheap wine. How foolish and coward I was to give out 500 rupiahs of my pocket money to the bullies who did constant threat and frequent extortion towards me whenever they wanted. It did not stop there anyway. As the bullying has got me pressured and run out money, I started to steal money from my mother’s shop or other places.

I don’t exactly remember how the bullying ended or how I stopped stealing. All I remember, when life was turning normal, I was trusted to represent my school in a painting competition. Then, I got training from Jampangkulon’s well-known painter named Dadun. He convinced me that I could win the competition and had to study art one day. 

As a college student, I was known ambitious, competitive, rebellious, hot-headed and sensitive, easily offended when humiliated, and the worst part is that it was difficult for me to make friends with others because I just had no will to do so. I do not blame people for giving that stigma for me. I was happy enough for living solo as I used to keep in my mind that no friends, no enemies. This formula turned out wrong. The truth is that debating, fighting and making scenes were my habits those days. 

Surprisingly I somehow felt no remorse, although some people who truly cared might have tried to warn me, I did not even realize it. On the other hand, I was a curious person and actively involved in organizational activities. It has opened the door for people to see my nature and behaviour more and more.

I was very far from what was defined as being a good person at that time. Many people, especially my juniors, were afraid of me. Maybe it was not only because of my sinister look, but also my gruffness during the student orientation, and not a few avoided me. But I did not feel sad or sorry. I kept moving forward, ignoring the stigma people put on me and God always paves me the way for achievements.

The most memorable moment was when I served as head of a campus organisation. My bad reputation soared and I became a target of all the seniors for being rebellious, stubborn and straight-forward.

Going to college in Bandung for me was only an escape. Born as the second child with two younger little sisters, my life changed after my parents fell for a scam, our warehouse ran out of business and we were deep in debt. My older sibling had to drop out of college although he was accepted in an English major and got the scholarship. The situation was beyond ugly so that my father had to go to Lampung and Malaysia to work, but it changed nothing and things even got worse.

I witnessed that the divorce of my parents was real, it was incredibly painful. To see a man and a woman with their selfishness was confusing. It’s been going around in my head the cry of my sister who was in the fourth grade of Elementary and the innocent face of the youngest one who did not get anything about what actually happened.

It happened when I was in high school. I just got home from a rehearsal for a contest. The car belonging to my dad’s older brother was parked outside my house, my sisters were in their jackets and ready to go, telling me that they were waiting for me so we could go to grandma’s. It was obvious that we had quite a lot of household items to bring, including blankets and clothes. Sitting in the car, I was not brave enough to pose any question, so I stayed silent with my curiosity. My mother’s family, even the ones from Jakarta had  gathered by the time we arrived.

Months after, the unstable younger me had to take care of my super spoiled sister. It was irritating when she refused to go to school, let alone when she didn’t stop crying. I was almost depressed and refused to go to school, I often took my anger out on my sister and tortured her. All I had that time was my late grandma while my parents were no longer the picture of my heart, and I started to hate people, especially kids. Once, I intentionally threw a drink at a child out of my resentment.

Time flew and my mother remarried. So did my father who continued to do so five times.

As I entered the 5th semester of college, God sent me a cure for my disappointed heart. I was in my dorm when I got a call from an unknown number, turned out to be a little girl saying in Sundanese¹A, ieu neng, kuring tos tiasa angge HP aa damang?” (Brother, this is Little Sister. Now I can use a phone. How are you?”). Out of nowhere, it felt like a wake-up call to me as an older brother who should be eager and be responsible to shape the future of our family.

It’s no use crying over spilt milk, stitches marks on the torn fabrics will forever be visible. My reputation might be already broken but I still have a chance to get a new glass of milk and enjoy it. And it’s not easy with these all bad habits and the stigma the people from the past have put on me. 

After becoming an artist of the dance industry, especially in Bandung, I often felt like I am treated the same way I used to be in my childhood. I used to think that a dancer has to maintain the physical quality that is being slim, clean, good-looking and handsome beside having a good dance skill.

I often decided to stay away, even though I really wanted to socialize with others but I rarely made it. I have attempted to transform my appearance through self-care and exercises. I was insecure, even a mirror became my enemy. When in fact, it showed the reflection of myself whose body I perceived less ideal or beautiful, with chubby cheeks, pimpled skin and big bums. 

However, dancing is what makes me confident and happy the most. What a poor body of mine that I always blame for my lack of ability to mingle, that I put as a suspect for any disappointment I have when I am not responded as I expected. The real truth is that I have not entirely moved on from the past. Can you imagine a dancer performing on stage who dislikes his audiences, who sees shouts, cheers and applause as an insult?

It has got to end! I have to be fair, at least to myself. So that I could be happy, not only when I am on stage but also in each part of my everyday life.

¹ The local language of West Java (Sundanese people).

The Narratives
of Indonesian