Fiction

The Death of Anwar Sadat in Cempaka Putih

Translated by: 
Pamela Allen

Anwar Sadat died on the very day he arrived in Jakarta from Semarang. He was twenty-eight. Naming his son Anwar, after Egyptian President Muhammad Anwar El Sadat, his father had his reasons for choosing that name and not Gamal Abdul Nasser or Husni Mubarak. A week before the birth of Anwar from Semarang, Sadat the president had been assassinated by one of his own soldiers. According to the news reports, the death could have been avoided if Anwar Sadat had agreed to wear a bulletproof vest, as recommended by his advisors. He refused, saying that bulletproof vests were for pussies. 

 

‘He was a brave man, that’s for sure,’ said Anwar from Semarang’s father admiringly. 

 

And so, when the baby was born, he honoured the Egyptian president by naming his son Anwar Sadat. He decided against the names that he’d been contemplating in the preceding weeks: Franz, Johan, Mario, and Diego Armando. Those names were too posh for a humble villager, anyway. 

 

Despite his father’s hopes, Anwar Sadat from Semarang did not develop into quite the hero that his tragic namesake had been. He was of a delicate disposition, and this incurred the mirth of his friends. He was always on the margins of whatever game they happened to be playing. 

 

When he was ten, his mother and father took Anwar to Surabaya by train. He was as white as a sheet throughout the journey. His parents assumed it was because he had skipped a meal. In fact, it was because every time they crossed a bridge, Anwar felt as if his soul were leaving his body. When it was time to go home Anwar pleaded with them to take the bus. 

 

Anwar suffered from a sort of gephyrophobia – the fear of bridges, based on the belief that they would collapse. Ordinary bridges didn’t bother him, but railway bridges scared the bejeezus out of him. Neither Anwar nor his parents knew that there was a name for this condition; all they knew was that Anwar would get into a state whenever he saw a bridge. His suffering was intensified because he was also plagued by a number of other fears, from the common ones such as fear of blood (haemophobia), fear of doctors (iatrophobia) and fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) to the rarer ones such as fear of raindrops (ombrophobia). At least, although it was a small consolation, Anwar didn’t suffer from optophobia, the fear of opening one’s eyes, a condition that can lead to the sufferer clawing his own eyes out, with his own hands, a nail or a fork. 

 

It was no doubt because of his various phobias that Anwar was happy to ensconce himself at home, and rarely left town. He was perfectly content just looking after his father’s humble grocery shop. 

 

A few weeks before Anwar died, a relative in Jakarta phoned his father to say that he knew of a young woman, aged twenty-four, widowed but childless, who would be a good match for the unattached Anwar Sadat. ‘She’s a good girl, fair-skinned, quiet, thrifty, likes gardening, likes knitting, good cook, knows the Yaasiin chapter of the Koran off by heart,’ reported the relative. 

 

This was a pleasing turn of events for Anwar’s mother and father. They suggested he go to Jakarta. He and the woman could get to know each other first, and if they got on well, perhaps a relationship would follow. If it didn’t, at least they would have established a friendship. 

 

Ever the obedient son, Anwar set off for Jakarta. He was terrified, but he didn’t want them to think he was a coward. And the idea that he might meet his future wife did have its appeal. Overcome by a mixture of anxiety and excitement, he couldn’t sleep the night before he left and, when he boarded the bus very early the next morning, he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. But he was afraid to go to sleep for fear of what might happen during the journey. 

 

Anwar arrived at Pulogadung Terminal at two thirty in the afternoon. As he had been instructed to do, he caught a minibus to Senen. His relative’s house was in Kramat. Once he was in the minibus his tiredness got the better of him. He woke with a start to find someone shaking him by the shoulder, saying ‘Come on mate, time to change buses.’ They were in Cempaka Putih. 

 

Groggily Anwar got off. The shouting of a minibus conductor ten metres away put the wind up him. He’d only gone five metres when his sandal – Lily brand – slipped on some fine sand, and Anwar went flying. If only he’d let gravity do its thing, he would have been OK. But Anwar tried to resist the motion and, as he awkwardly tried to regain his balance, he collided with a woman coming out of the gap between two minibuses. 

 

Anwar’s hand brushed the woman’s breast. Both of them, equally taken aback, screamed. Still groggy, Anwar’s hand slipped onto the woman’s waist. ‘Pickpocket!’ shrieked the woman. Anwar couldn’t fathom what was happening; he just smiled. ‘You bastard!’ yelled one of the men who were hanging around on the street. 

 

When a group of men approached him, Anwar burst into tears, suddenly overcome with longing for his mother’s chicken soup and beef fritters, for his father’s tall stories, and for the smile of his future wife, whom he had yet to lay eyes on. 

 

Lena Mareta didn’t see the first punch that struck Anwar on the head. She was already in a taxi by that time. Precisely three seconds after Anwar had collided with her, she had spied a taxi and immediately flagged it down. Understandably, she was still extremely annoyed about the uninvited touch of a man’s hand on her body. But there was something else, something even more troubling, that made her want to get out of there fast. 

 

‘Is it OK if I smoke?’ asked Lena. 

 

‘Actually, it’s not,’ said the driver, watching her in the rear vision mirror. 

 

Lena opened the window and lit a cigarette. It would have been a pleasant evening if only that dumb pimply faced kid hadn’t stuffed it up for her! 

 

Lena had been looking forward to this evening. She’d even taken a day’s leave. She’d had a bath when she got up, and another one after lunch. She never wore much make-up, but she did like to keep her nails painted. So, after the second bath, she opened her box of nail polishes. There were four rows, with ten colours in each row. On the first row: pink, and nine shades of red – the red of a freshly slaughtered cow’s heart, the red of an onion, the red of the Harajuku shopping complex in Tokyo, the red of the Mangga Besar mall, the red of cordial syrup, the red of a girl’s first period, maroon red, the red of betel-nut spittle and the red of the Joker’s lipstick. On the second row: salted egg blue, samurai blue, the blue of an early winter sky, the blue of the Chelsea football team, the blue of a bruise on a thief who got nabbed, the blue of sex, greenish blue, the blue of lapis lazuli, the blue of a Pilot classic ballpoint and the blue of Cibaduyut stonewashed jeans. On the third row: sunflower yellow, durian yellow, the yellow of young rice plants, moss green, turmeric orange, citrus orange, coal brown, the brown of strong tea, the white of an egg sunny side up, and ivory white. On the fourth row: nine bottles of black like Joan Jett’s hair and one bottle of clear polish. Lena chose the latter. 

 

The previous evening, Lena’s boyfriend Jamal had returned home from a three-week climbing expedition at Mount Elbrus in Russia. She’d not been able to meet him at the airport and, though she’d been keen to go and see him that morning, she’d held off because Jamal had told her he’d probably still be asleep. 

 

Lena and Jamal had been going out for four months. They had slept together nineteen times. By the second month Lena had become aware that they were incompatible on a number of grounds. It wasn’t because of Jamal’s age – at twenty-one he was six years younger than her – but rather because she found him uninspiring to talk to. Lena was of the view that youth did not give a person licence to prattle on about nothing. But the sex was always good. She wanted that to continue. 

 

Once she was in his room, everything proceeded as Lena had imagined it would. But her happiness was short-lived. As she was about to undo her bra, her hand stopped mid-air when she saw Jamal sitting naked on the bed, waving his hand over his genitals like a conductor in full flourish. 

 

‘Miss Lena, you’ve met these three before, but you’ve never been officially introduced. This is John, these are George and Ringo,’ laughed Jamal, pointing at his penis and both testicles. 

 

‘Where’s Paul?’ asked Lena, grinning. 

 

‘What do you mean?’ 

 

‘How come he’s been left out?’ 

 

‘I’ve only got two balls, Len.’ 

 

‘Why isn’t Paul the pillar?’ 

 

‘Ha, he’s the one that destroyed the band!’ 

 

They argued. Lena was angry. For her, there would have been no Beatles without Paul McCartney, no matter how brilliant John was. It was because of Paul that Lena had fallen in love with the Beatles. Her father had died when she was quite young, and the slow Beatles songs – the ones that Paul had composed – were of great comfort to her. It wasn’t that she didn’t like John; in fact, she had a great deal of respect for him. It was just that Paul was her first love, and she wouldn’t countenance any criticism of Paul from Jamal. When Jamal realised that this was one argument he wasn’t going to win, and tried to make amends by demonstrating how ready his own John was for a wrestle of a different kind, it was too late. Lena stormed out of the room in a big sulk. 

 

It wasn’t until after the second cigarette that Lena allowed herself a smile. Why should I get so mad about this? Wouldn’t it actually be an insult if that young punk were to name his thing after Paul? She wanted to go back to him, but her pride got in the way. 

 

‘To Ragunan, to the zoo,’ she said finally. At first, she’d just said, ‘Drive,’ to the driver. 

 

‘It’s late Miss.’ 

 

Lena didn’t reply and the driver wasn’t game to say any more. 

 

Apart from Paul’s songs, the other thing that had always comforted Lena was watching the animals at the zoo. Her favourite used to be the tapir because it was such a difficult creature to classify. Her mother couldn’t tell her what species of animal it was, and none of her family was any help either. Another thing that intrigued Lena about the tapir was its torpor. Once she’d grown up it was easy enough for her to find out about the tapir for herself, and it ceased to be of interest to her. These days it was the giraffe that captivated her, for one reason alone: the giraffe had no vocal cords. A neck that long, and condemned to silence! 

 

The driver had not been mistaken in reminding Lena that it was late; the ticket seller at Ragunan told her the same thing. It was only forty minutes until closing time. That didn’t bother Lena; she just wanted to look at the giraffe, and its enclosure wasn’t far from the entrance. 

 

Because of low cloud it was darker than usual. After ten minutes, Lena had had enough. As she was about to move away, a woman – who Lena estimated to be in her seventies – caught her attention. The woman was repeatedly looking up at the sky and then looking at the shrubbery in front of her. 

 

What Lena didn’t know was that the woman was testing herself on meteorological botanomancy, which is the science of predicting weather conditions based on the movement of plants. It’s a difficult science, even for a woman who is practised in fructomancy (divining by the shape, movement and response of fruit), dendromancy (interpreting trees), phyllomancy (interpreting leaves) and xylomancy (interpreting the trunks and branches of trees). 

 

Lena kept staring at the woman, trying to recall who she reminded her of, until finally she felt confident enough to approach her. 

 

‘Are you Ibu Reni?’ 

 

The old woman smiled. ‘No, I’m Esti. Reni is my twin.’ 

 

Lena approached the woman and kissed her hand. This was totally unexpected: meeting the twin of the woman who had been so important to her family. Twenty years ago, after Lena’s mother had suffered a serious stroke, it was Ibu Reni who had cured her, using herbal medicine and massage. 

 

‘There are so many coincidences in your stories, Teach!’ 

 

The man they were addressing laughed. I was sitting beside him; I laughed too. There were five or six of his students in front of us. I say ‘five or six’ because the teacher had told me that, of the six students who were learning creative writing from him, one had officially enrolled but only turned up to one of the twelve sessions. Another was not enrolled and came along because her friend had brought her; from the second week of classes she’d then taken advantage of the teacher’s good nature to get herself free tuition. 

 

‘Didn’t I hear you say that coincidences really do happen in real life?’ said the teacher, as the laughter died down. 

 

During the journey to get here, the six of them had been talking at length – or gossiping, to be more precise – about a young guy, a singer in a punk band, with whom one of them had once been in a relationship. Their talk ranged from the songs he’d liked and played to the colour of his skin – clear and pale when he was in a relationship and dark when he was not. They couldn’t remember how they had got on to this topic of conversation. But what happened next came as a complete surprise to them. When they were stopped at the traffic lights, a motorbike pulled up alongside them. One of them casually glanced out the window and yelled out in surprise because the motorcyclist was none other than the guy they’d just been talking about. 

 

The incident had actually been a bit more convoluted than that, but they wanted to use the key points in the stories they were writing. The teacher had smiled and told them that he would make up a story with the odd coincidence here and there, and get them to judge how effective it was. He asked the students to give him a couple of hours. They were happy to comply and went off to watch Inception. I went with them. While we were away, he composed the story about Anwar Sadat and Lena Mareta. 

 

They listened as he related the story and then one asked, ‘So what happened next, Teach?’ 

 

‘Well I was actually hoping that you would each have a go at telling the rest of the story.’ 

 

All six of them grumbled but did as they were told. Three of them were working on laptops; the others were scribbling on paper napkins that were almost as thick as writing paper. After twenty minutes, one of them handed his napkin over to the teacher. I read over his shoulder. 

 

Here’s how his story went. 

 

‘Anwar, come on, get ready!’ 

 

Anwar Sadat was trembling. This ditch on the side of the highway was the last place he wanted to be. But his friends were pressuring him. One of them held out a slingshot to him; another was busy making bullets from clay. The village kids loved being part of this new game – firing clay bullets at passing cars from their slingshots. The kids got such a kick out of seeing the startled looks on the faces of the drivers or passengers. And it was even better if the driver actually got out of the car and chased them. 

 

Anwar had joined in because Tamsi, the boy who had suggested he come and hide in the ditch, had promised he would protect Anwar at school. In grades one and two, Anwar had been bullied constantly on account of his obesity, and the promise of the tall slender Tamsi was enough to persuade him to grab the slingshot. 

 

In less than three minutes they were all ready and armed. When an Impala sedan approached from the north, Tamsi tapped Anwar on the shoulder – code for ‘your turn’. 

 

Anwar shut his eyes and fired. The clay bullet struck the right wing of the driver’s glasses. It didn’t injure him, but he got the shock of his life. Two passengers, a woman and a girl, screamed when the driver suddenly swerved and slammed into a tree. They could hear a loud noise, but it wasn’t coming from inside the car. After being rooted to the spot for about ten seconds, the other kids fled. Anwar remained transfixed; Tamsi grabbed his hand. 

 

The driver was covered in blood; his head was smashed in. The woman passed out; the girl looked around and began to cry. Her name was Lena Mareta. 

‘He was a brave man, that’s for sure,’ said Anwar from Semarang’s father admiringly. 

 

And so, when the baby was born, he honoured the Egyptian president by naming his son Anwar Sadat. He decided against the names that he’d been contemplating in the preceding weeks: Franz, Johan, Mario, and Diego Armando. Those names were too posh for a humble villager, anyway. 

 

Despite his father’s hopes, Anwar Sadat from Semarang did not develop into quite the hero that his tragic namesake had been. He was of a delicate disposition, and this incurred the mirth of his friends. He was always on the margins of whatever game they happened to be playing. 

 

When he was ten, his mother and father took Anwar to Surabaya by train. He was as white as a sheet throughout the journey. His parents assumed it was because he had skipped a meal. In fact, it was because every time they crossed a bridge, Anwar felt as if his soul were leaving his body. When it was time to go home Anwar pleaded with them to take the bus. 

 

Anwar suffered from a sort of gephyrophobia – the fear of bridges, based on the belief that they would collapse. Ordinary bridges didn’t bother him, but railway bridges scared the bejeezus out of him. Neither Anwar nor his parents knew that there was a name for this condition; all they knew was that Anwar would get into a state whenever he saw a bridge. His suffering was intensified because he was also plagued by a number of other fears, from the common ones such as fear of blood (haemophobia), fear of doctors (iatrophobia) and fear of confined spaces (claustrophobia) to the rarer ones such as fear of raindrops (ombrophobia). At least, although it was a small consolation, Anwar didn’t suffer from optophobia, the fear of opening one’s eyes, a condition that can lead to the sufferer clawing his own eyes out, with his own hands, a nail or a fork. 

 

It was no doubt because of his various phobias that Anwar was happy to ensconce himself at home, and rarely left town. He was perfectly content just looking after his father’s humble grocery shop. 

 

A few weeks before Anwar died, a relative in Jakarta phoned his father to say that he knew of a young woman, aged twenty-four, widowed but childless, who would be a good match for the unattached Anwar Sadat. ‘She’s a good girl, fair-skinned, quiet, thrifty, likes gardening, likes knitting, good cook, knows the Yaasiinchapter of the Koran off by heart,’ reported the relative. 

 

This was a pleasing turn of events for Anwar’s mother and father. They suggested he go to Jakarta. He and the woman could get to know each other first, and if they got on well, perhaps a relationship would follow. If it didn’t, at least they would have established a friendship. 

 

Ever the obedient son, Anwar set off for Jakarta. He was terrified, but he didn’t want them to think he was a coward. And the idea that he might meet his future wife did have its appeal. Overcome by a mixture of anxiety and excitement, he couldn’t sleep the night before he left and, when he boarded the bus very early the next morning, he was so tired he could barely keep his eyes open. But he was afraid to go to sleep for fear of what might happen during the journey. 

 

Anwar arrived at Pulogadung Terminal at two thirty in the afternoon. As he had been instructed to do, he caught a minibus to Senen. His relative’s house was in Kramat. Once he was in the minibus his tiredness got the better of him. He woke with a start to find someone shaking him by the shoulder, saying ‘Come on mate, time to change buses.’ They were in Cempaka Putih. 

 

Groggily Anwar got off. The shouting of a minibus conductor ten metres away put the wind up him. He’d only gone five metres when his sandal – Lily brand – slipped on some fine sand, and Anwar went flying. If only he’d let gravity do its thing, he would have been OK. But Anwar tried to resist the motion and, as he awkwardly tried to regain his balance, he collided with a woman coming out of the gap between two minibuses. 

 

Anwar’s hand brushed the woman’s breast. Both of them, equally taken aback, screamed. Still groggy, Anwar’s hand slipped onto the woman’s waist. ‘Pickpocket!’ shrieked the woman. Anwar couldn’t fathom what was happening; he just smiled. ‘You bastard!’ yelled one of the men who were hanging around on the street. 

 

When a group of men approached him, Anwar burst into tears, suddenly overcome with longing for his mother’s chicken soup and beef fritters, for his father’s tall stories, and for the smile of his future wife, whom he had yet to lay eyes on. 

 

Lena Mareta didn’t see the first punch that struck Anwar on the head. She was already in a taxi by that time. Precisely three seconds after Anwar had collided with her, she had spied a taxi and immediately flagged it down. Understandably, she was still extremely annoyed about the uninvited touch of a man’s hand on her body. But there was something else, something even more troubling, that made her want to get out of there fast. 

 

‘Is it OKif I smoke?’ asked Lena. 

 

‘Actually, it’s not,’ said the driver, watching her in the rear vision mirror. 

 

Lena opened the window and lit a cigarette. It would have been a pleasant evening if only that dumb pimply faced kid hadn’t stuffed it up for her! 

 

Lena had been looking forward to this evening. She’d even taken a day’s leave. She’d had a bath when she got up, and another one after lunch. She never wore much make-up, but she did like to keep her nails painted. So, after the second bath, she opened her box of nail polishes. There were four rows, with ten colours in each row. On the first row: pink, and nine shades of red – the red of a freshly slaughtered cow’s heart, the red of an onion, the red of the Harajuku shopping complex in Tokyo, the red of the Mangga Besar mall, the red of cordial syrup, the red of a girl’s first period, maroon red, the red of betel-nut spittle and the red of the Joker’s lipstick. On the second row: salted egg blue, samurai blue, the blue of an early winter sky, the blue of the Chelsea football team, the blue of a bruise on a thief who got nabbed, the blue of sex, greenish blue, the blue of lapis lazuli, the blue of a Pilot classic ballpoint and the blue of Cibaduyut stonewashed jeans. On the third row: sunflower yellow, durian yellow, the yellow of young rice plants, moss green, turmeric orange, citrus orange, coal brown, the brown of strong tea, the white of an egg sunny side up, and ivory white. On the fourth row: nine bottles of black like Joan Jett’s hair and one bottle of clear polish. Lena chose the latter. 

 

The previous evening, Lena’s boyfriend Jamal had returned home from a three-week climbing expedition at Mount Elbrus in Russia. She’d not been able to meet him at the airport and, though she’d been keen to go and see him that morning, she’d held off because Jamal had told her he’d probably still be asleep. 

 

Lena and Jamal had been going out for four months. They had slept together nineteen times. By the second month Lena had become aware that they were incompatible on a number of grounds. It wasn’t because of Jamal’s age – at twenty-one he was six years younger than her – but rather because she found him uninspiring to talk to. Lena was of the view that youth did not give a person licence to prattle on about nothing. But the sex was always good. She wanted that to continue. 

 

Once she was in his room, everything proceeded as Lena had imagined it would. But her happiness was short-lived. As she was about to undo her bra, her hand stopped mid-air when she saw Jamal sitting naked on the bed, waving his hand over his genitals like a conductor in full flourish. 

 

‘Miss Lena, you’ve met these three before, but you’ve never been officially introduced. This is John, these are George and Ringo,’ laughed Jamal, pointing at his penis and both testicles. 

 

‘Where’s Paul?’ asked Lena, grinning. 

 

‘What do you mean?’ 

 

‘How come he’s been left out?’ 

 

‘I’ve only got two balls, Len.’ 

 

‘Why isn’t Paul the pillar?’ 

 

‘Ha, he’s the one that destroyed the band!’ 

 

They argued. Lena was angry. For her, there would have been no Beatles without Paul McCartney, no matter how brilliant John was. It was because of Paul that Lena had fallen in love with the Beatles. Her father had died when she was quite young, and the slow Beatles songs – the ones that Paul had composed – were of great comfort to her. It wasn’t that she didn’t like John; in fact, she had a great deal of respect for him. It was just that Paul was her first love, and she wouldn’t countenance any criticism of Paul from Jamal. When Jamal realised that this was one argument he wasn’t going to win, and tried to make amends by demonstrating how ready his own John was for a wrestle of a different kind, it was too late. Lena stormed out of the room in a big sulk. 

 

It wasn’t until after the second cigarette that Lena allowed herself a smile. Why should I get so mad about this? Wouldn’t it actually be an insult if that young punk were to name his thing after Paul? She wanted to go back to him, but her pride got in the way. 

 

‘To Ragunan, to the zoo,’ she said finally. At first, she’d just said, ‘Drive,’ to the driver. 

 

‘It’s late Miss.’ 

 

Lena didn’t reply and the driver wasn’t game to say any more. 

 

Apart from Paul’s songs, the other thing that had always comforted Lena was watching the animals at the zoo. Her favourite used to be the tapir because it was such a difficult creature to classify. Her mother couldn’t tell her what species of animal it was, and none of her family was any help either. Another thing that intrigued Lena about the tapir was its torpor. Once she’d grown up it was easy enough for her to find out about the tapir for herself, and it ceased to be of interest to her. These days it was the giraffe that captivated her, for one reason alone: the giraffe had no vocal cords. A neck that long, and condemned to silence! 

 

The driver had not been mistaken in reminding Lena that it was late; the ticket seller at Ragunan told her the same thing. It was only forty minutes until closing time. That didn’t bother Lena; she just wanted to look at the giraffe, and its enclosure wasn’t far from the entrance. 

 

Because of low cloud it was darker than usual. After ten minutes, Lena had had enough. As she was about to move away, a woman – who Lena estimated to be in her seventies – caught her attention. The woman was repeatedly looking up at the sky and then looking at the shrubbery in front of her. 

 

What Lena didn’t know was that the woman was testing herself on meteorological botanomancy, which is the science of predicting weather conditions based on the movement of plants. It’s a difficult science, even for a woman who is practised in fructomancy (divining by the shape, movement and response of fruit), dendromancy (interpreting trees), phyllomancy (interpreting leaves) and xylomancy (interpreting the trunks and branches of trees). 

 

Lena kept staring at the woman, trying to recall who she reminded her of, until finally she felt confident enough to approach her. 

 

‘Are you Ibu Reni?’ 

 

The old woman smiled. ‘No, I’m Esti. Reni is my twin.’ 

 

Lena approached the woman and kissed her hand. This was totally unexpected: meeting the twin of the woman who had been so important to her family. Twenty years ago, after Lena’s mother had suffered a serious stroke, it was Ibu Reni who had cured her, using herbal medicine and massage. 

 

‘There are so many coincidences in your stories, Teach!’ 

 

The man they were addressing laughed. I was sitting beside him; I laughed too. There were five or six of his students in front of us. I say ‘five or six’ because the teacher had told me that, of the six students who were learning creative writing from him, one had officially enrolled but only turned up to one of the twelve sessions. Another was not enrolled and came along because her friend had brought her; from the second week of classes she’d then taken advantage of the teacher’s good nature to get herself free tuition. 

 

‘Didn’t I hear you say that coincidences really do happen in real life?’ said the teacher, as the laughter died down. 

 

During the journey to get here, the six of them had been talking at length – or gossiping, to be more precise – about a young guy, a singer in a punk band, with whom one of them had once been in a relationship. Their talk ranged from the songs he’d liked and played to the colour of his skin – clear and pale when he was in a relationship and dark when he was not. They couldn’t remember how they had got on to this topic of conversation. But what happened next came as a complete surprise to them. When they were stopped at the traffic lights, a motorbike pulled up alongside them. One of them casually glanced out the window and yelled out in surprise because the motorcyclist was none other than the guy they’d just been talking about. 

 

The incident had actually been a bit more convoluted than that, but they wanted to use the key points in the stories they were writing. The teacher had smiled and told them that he would make up a story with the odd coincidence here and there, and get them to judge how effective it was. He asked the students to give him a couple of hours. They were happy to comply and went off to watch Inception. I went with them. While we were away, he composed the story about Anwar Sadat and Lena Mareta. 

 

They listened as he related the story and then one asked, ‘So what happened next, Teach?’ 

 

‘Well I was actually hoping that you would each have a go at telling the rest of the story.’ 

 

All six of them grumbled but did as they were told. Three of them were working on laptops; the others were scribbling on paper napkins that were almost as thick as writing paper. After twenty minutes, one of them handed his napkin over to the teacher. I read over his shoulder. 

 

Here’s how his story went. 

 

‘Anwar, come on, get ready!’ 

 

Anwar Sadat was trembling. This ditch on the side of the highway was the last place he wanted to be. But his friends were pressuring him. One of them held out a slingshot to him; another was busy making bullets from clay. The village kids loved being part of this new game – firing clay bullets at passing cars from their slingshots. The kids got such a kick out of seeing the startled looks on the faces of the drivers or passengers. And it was even better if the driver actually got out of the car and chased them. 

 

Anwar had joined in because Tamsi, the boy who had suggested he come and hide in the ditch, had promised he would protect Anwar at school. In grades one and two, Anwar had been bullied constantly on account of his obesity, and the promise of the tall slender Tamsi was enough to persuade him to grab the slingshot. 

 

In less than three minutes they were all ready and armed. When an Impala sedan approached from the north, Tamsi tapped Anwar on the shoulder – code for ‘your turn’. 

 

Anwar shut his eyes and fired. The clay bullet struck the right wing of the driver’s glasses. It didn’t injure him, but he got the shock of his life. Two passengers, a woman and a girl, screamed when the driver suddenly swerved and slammed into a tree. They could hear a loud noise, but it wasn’t coming from inside the car. After being rooted to the spot for about ten seconds, the other kids fled. Anwar remained transfixed; Tamsi grabbed his hand. 

 

The driver was covered in blood; his head was smashed in. The woman passed out; the girl looked around and began to cry. Her name was Lena Mareta. 

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