Central Java, 1966. - Widya, a school girl stumbles upon the mutilated bodies of seven slain communists. One of the men remains with her, refusing to leave. A benevolent phantom, an imaginary friend or a ghost, Widya doesn't know. But his fickle spirit remains with her throughout the years, influencing every decision made, every action taken from there on.



Seven. Seven bodies strewn like garbage across the steep slant leading down to the river.

That's when Widya realizes she can count. Seven of them, tossed out like discarded rag-dolls, crushed. Red amongst the garish viper green of banana trees and the dense undergrowth. She could have as easily passed right by, would have never known that she can count.

She'd been in a hurry for school and she would have rushed right by, a few paces up on the muddy dirt road. Would have, if only it weren't for that red spot in all the green, catching her eyes like an exotic flower. Come, come, come. Luring her in, beckoning for her to take one more step, and then another, yet another.

Thinking that if she were to bring the flower along, Pak Guru might be pleased. How his old toad-like face may even crinkle up in a smile. He might show the red flower to the class, place a dry large hand on her head and maybe ask all of the children to draw it.

So she eels her way through the brush, vines clawing at her hair. Takes careful little steps down the sharp slope, digging her heels in. The red shouting for her, calling for her from between foliage and trees. The bamboo growth, tough and tricky to move through, but she is small and has the balance of one of those mules, the ones that bring down sulphur from the volcano. She slips and slides a stretch on her buttocks. Worries about the spots, Java's red soil on her uniform. Mama won't like it.

And there they are. Seven.

Like someone's rejected toys. As if somebody has played rough, scattered them out, stomped on them, broken them. The red she'd spotted from the road, it's a shirt. A few flecks of white still visible, but the rest, soaked a deep rich red, a neck bent at a strange angle like the end of an umbrella. One arm stretched out from the torso, it's all red, all a vibrant crimson. Fingers that seem to reach for her, curled at the end. His eyes are open, blank and blind– staring straight at her. A voice through the rustle of leafs and branches above her: 'Help me. Help me.'

She runs. Runs. Mama, Mama.

Trips and falls, grazing her knees on the rocky slope. And it hurts, it hurts but nothing hurts more than his eyes. 'Help me.' Her own mouth wide open because she wants to cry, scream: 'help me, help me'. But her voice has been stolen, erased by a pair of eyes, milky across the brown irises.


Her schoolbag bouncing against her leg, barely aware of having it still. Kicking up dust as she runs stumbling across the courtyard. She drops the bag and buries her face in Mama's blouse, fingers digging into her sarong, drawing in the familiar smell of camphor and turmeric. Clinging onto her - like a baby. Mama doesn't like it, her sinewy hands bending Widya's fingers away, gripping her shoulders, shaking her.

Mama's calm face, like one of those statues at the Prambanan, the temple she'd visited with Uncle Tresno. Her liquid cow eyes, black and hard now, like the volcano rocks you can find around the village.

Angry that Widya is here, not on her way to school. Pak Guru will be angry too, she'll have to wear the pointed hat, stand in the corner. Maybe he'll use his bamboo stick on her hands and he won't smile. There will be no flower to draw. But Widya is more afraid of the eyes. Something sticky, something demanding. 'Help me, help me'. He was dead, she knows that. She isn't a baby. Mama is brusque, thrusts her school bag in her arms again. She doesn't want to hear about the seven bodies Widya could count.

"Communists," she wheezes as if she's speaking of demons. " Nothing to do with us. Walk to school now. Don't stop anywhere and don't look down the river bank. It's nothing."

"But who are they Mama?" Communist. She secretly savours the word. The taste, mysterious and illicit.

"Nobody. You didn't see anyone 'Nak." Mama's plump lips in a thin line, her eyebrows like two fat caterpillars meeting in the middle.

"Seven. I could count to seven Mama." Still wants to brag, wants to cajole a smile from Mama. But she receives nothing but a shove in the back.

"No. You saw no one, you hear me?"

This is the day she stops trusting Mama.

As she sprints down the village road, skipping puddles and potholes, she feels his presence. 'I'm here now.' A whisper in her head, like the wind in the canopies, 'shush, don't tell anyone'. A djin, a ghost or a friend, murmuring, hissing, confusing her. The broken toy man, limbs all wrong, white shirt tinted red, an unwelcome tenant refusing to move.

He is always with her now. Always.