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Local legend has it that the great flood — which submerged half of Java and most of her home city of Sukabumi — happened on the eve of a huge Independence Day celebration. A giant stage, complete with TV crews, marching bands, and a whole dangdut troupe, was swept away by the churning waters, never to be seen again.

Which is probably why Lintang is not surprised when the Capital-built warehouse decides to get swallowed by the ground, right on the day its contents were to be center stage for a ceremony she’s been preparing for weeks now. After all, it’s probably just local tradition. Celebrate anything frivolous enough, and disaster will follow in its wake. 

“I swear, Teh, I only nodded off for a second,” Kang Yayan frantically explains, having run all the way from the now-gone warehouse’s guard post, “and suddenly the building was gone! Just a hole on the ground!”

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Lintang waves her hand in what she hopes is a placating manner, her other hand rubbing sleep off her eyes. Kang Yayan married into the community only recently, uprooting his life all the way from Bandung to settle in Sukabumi. Soil liquefaction is rarer on the highlands, where the ground is still laced with enough water to give it integrity. The whole thing must have felt horrifically surreal to him. 

“It happens around here, Kang, the soil’s brittle in some places. The most important thing is no one got hurt.”

Kang Yayan nods vehemently, clearly still shaken. Lintang brews him an overly-sweetened glass of weak tea, the only thing in her barren cupboards, and sends him off after calling Headman Muhyidin to report the whole thing. She lets out a jaw-cracking yawn, and peers blearily at the old clock on her wall. 

It’s 5 a.m., which means she has exactly ten hours to find a way to feed 300 children in front of a full retinue of stuffy Capital officers. No pressure at all.

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Illustration of banana leaf used to divide story text

The Puskesmas is already bustling with life when she treks up the small hill it stands on, the weathered sign cleaned and the letters repainted in rare, oil-based paint. It’s not the only thing freshened up in their communal health center, as volunteer moms and several harried-looking husbands are busy sweeping and sprucing up the yard with colorful streamers made of dyed palm fronds. Wooden benches are lined up neatly for the incoming people to wait for their children to be examined, and the five main examination tables are set up one after another leading into the building proper. In the nexus of it all stands the diminutive yet formidable figure of her boss. 

Bu Endang could probably be called a local legend unto herself, with her color-coordinated hijabs and a voice that could very well carry to the next settlement over — a staple in the Puskesmas as much as the old computers and the even older mechanical baby scales. Hers were the arms that had cradled Lintang and her friends when they themselves could barely walk, and cradle them still when things get hard and they simply need a warm place to hide.

“Yayan told you already?” Bu Endang calls out the moment she notices her, and doesn’t wait for Lintang to finish nodding before plowing on, “Isn’t it just horrible? I told Sartono so many times already. Gusti, who even builds something that heavy on top of such brittle land, hah?”

“Morning, Bu,” Lintang waves weakly, lacking any constructive input whatsoever to a problem that’s probably kilometers down the belly of the earth by now. She shuffles past her coworkers and volunteers, and makes a beeline toward their tiny pantry, needing to at least feel like a person before she has to tackle everything the day has decided to pile upon her. 

And because the universe is apparently just like that, of course they only have the roasted corn coffee instead of the real coffee they get from the Lembang highlands. Lintang sighs, and dumps two spoonfuls of sugar on top of the sad husks before drowning everything with hot water from their ancient pump thermos. 

“We can contact the Central Health Department to ask for a quick replacement, so the new food supplements could arrive along with the new official,” Kang Fikri suggests from his post lining up health record cards, separating the ones still on paper and the ones already re-digitized with the Capital-sent computer. “So, you know, the guys from Nusantara could still do their whole ceremony of symbolically giving the children their food supplements, and the kids would still get something to eat since we haven’t prepared anything else.”  

The officials sent from the Capital had been an initiative from the Nusantaran bigwigs after they reconsolidated the country, a bid to reach out to the settlements and towns previously left to fend for themselves during the turbulent decades after the flood. 

She still has fond childhood memories of Bu Endang reducing Sukabumi’s first Nusantara official to tears when he tried to coach their farmers on the “right” way to plant rice.

Lintang understands the general sentiment, and appreciates the effort to slowly integrate Nusantara tech to places without the necessary supply lines and spare parts to maintain such a level of technology. She understands the need for officials to be posted in said settlements to supervise and guide the whole process. 

However, it’s also mostly a disaster, if Lintang is to be honest. If only because the envoys are so clearly, painfully Nusantaran-educated and don’t have the first clue about local conditions, customs, or needs. She still has fond childhood memories of Bu Endang reducing Sukabumi’s first Nusantara official to tears when he tried to coach their farmers on the “right” way to plant rice. 

Pak Sartono had been the last, and probably best of the Capital officials posted in their settlement. He’d just said his goodbyes last week to retire into one of Nusantara’s posh residence towers. He had not been a fantastically capable administrator or anything, mind you. But at least he was willing to listen, and let Sukabumi do whatever they wanted as he diligently wrote vague monthly reports back to the Capital. 

By the end of his eight-year post, the man had taken to fishing with the local uncles and opening up his sizable porch for monthly rujak parties with the aunties. Bu Endang would sooner die than admit it, but Lintang thinks she misses him already. 

“Aduh Kang, can you imagine all the accountability reports we’ll have to submit if we ask for replacements?” Lintang groans, scouring the pantry for leftover snacks. “It’s bad enough that they’ll probably send a team to build another warehouse here. What if they send a full audit committee or something equally horrible?”

Kang Fikri flinches visibly at the notion, and gives a wry shrug before getting back to his filing. Lintang sighs, swirling the corn coffee around her mouth after one gulp. Does burnt corn even have caffeine? Does it even do anything at all aside from being weirdly gritty? She’ll probably never know. 

She downs her cup anyway, and sets her mouth into a grim line as she surveys the available people around her. Dr. Ahmed and Midwife Rizky are out of the question, and the volunteer moms would be essential to the whole thing, as they already have assigned posts and scripts they would follow when examining the incoming mothers. That leaves her two coworkers, if Kang Yayan recovers enough from the shock of having a whole building disappear in front of his eyes. 

“Can you spare either Kang Yayan or Kang Fikri to help me out, Bu?” She turns to her boss, “I still have to scrounge up something to distribute to the coming mothers, after all.”

“Oh, don’t worry about that, dear,” Bu Endang grins. “I called in reinforcements hours ago.”

Illustration of banana leaf used to divide story text

Reinforcement, as it is, comes in the form of the Puskesmas crew from Karanghawu, an hour’s drive away from Sukabumi. The Puskesmas in Sukabumi had been essential as the rallying point of the community, but it wasn’t the only Puskesmas that had saved the lives of people when the effects of the great flood really hit. She supposes she has the authoritarian regime of the late 1900s to thank, for many of the Puskesmas buildings were built on higher ground, sturdy enough to last centuries. 

When the waters receded, the Puskesmas had become one of the still-functioning government buildings, their workers in close contact with their counterparts in other cities through old radios. And so when the people start seeking shelter beneath their roofs and on their yards, the midwives and volunteers in each of these cities coordinated amongst themselves — first, exchanging essentials like medicine and baby formula, and then slowly, as it became clear that help from the central government was never going to come, things like building knowledge and raw materials. Bu Endang always tells anyone who will listen that the banana field behind the Puskesmas, the one neighbors are always free to avail themselves of, was planted due to the suggestion of the Karanghawu Puskesmas. That it had saved the lives of the Sukabumi settlement during a season of bad drought before they switched their rice for millet, as their former crops were becoming more and more unsuited to the changing weather. 

Reinforcement, however, also proves to be a dud. A dud headed by the familiar sight of a grinning Alvin, several young Puskesmas volunteers ooh-ing and ahh-ing behind him at the sight of the former warehouse. 

“I’m sorry, Lin,” her friend pleads, rather unconvincingly. “I told Bu Endang already that the Capital food supplements sent to us came badly packaged and many are expired. But she told me to come anyway, in case you need the help.”

It’s probably no great sacrifice on his part. Puskesmas teams are constantly in demand in any nearby settlements, she knows, and a day trip like this is practically a vacation. 

 “You guys probably just want to gawk at the officials and get free food,” Lintang snorts and jostles her friend, the gesture familiar and comforting amidst a morning too rife with unexpected things so far. 

They had grown up together — her and Alvin and Nisa — inseparable as anything, running up and down the shore and hanging out in the banana fields after school, promising to be together forever while they made life better on the coast. Until, of course, adulthood had married off Alvin to Karanghawu and whisked Nisa away to a promising future in Nusantara’s best university.

Alvin keeps in touch almost religiously, sending messages like clockwork along with packages of his wife’s unfairly delicious banana chips. Nisa, on the other hand …  

“You heard from Nisa lately?” 

“Yeah, some time ago,” Lintang shrugs, “Now that she’s done with her master’s she’s probably super busy, right?” 

It might be the aftershock of a whole building getting swallowed by the ground, or perhaps she’s just tired and touchy, but the reminder smarts — bubbling up to the surface of Lintang’s mind from where it’s been on a low simmer for months, years now. 

And it’s silly, really. Nisa is under no obligation to keep in touch, and it’s not like Lintang doesn’t know where and how to reach her. So many people are lost to the tides or the uncertain grounds every day. She should probably be thankful that she has the security of knowing that Nisa is safe in Nusantara, sitting in some posh skyscraper with a series of holo-screens on the tip of her long, dainty fingers. 

She tries to keep her expression nonchalant, but she thinks Alvin sees through her anyway, and she’s thankful when her friend gestures at the former warehouse instead, clearly steering the conversation away from absent childhood friends and feelings.

“Bu Putri and her boys could rig you up a proper warehouse if you want, maybe higher up so the soil’s less brittle?” 

“Yeah, well, that really depends on whether the Capital would insist on building us a new one or not,” Lintang sighs, before she pulls Alvin down on a one-armed hug. “But now, you’re coming with me to cook some stuff, since you dared to come empty-handed!”

Illustration of banana leaf used to divide story text

The food supplements from the Capital aren’t horrible. Not exactly. They’re just oftentimes badly packaged, bland, and wholly unsuited to the wildly varied needs of the country’s scattered population. Their resident doctor had taken one look at the ingredients and scoffed that, of course the nutrients are tailored to the people in the big cities — sequestered away as they are in their climate-controlled towers.

“As if we’re lacking in vitamin D and swimming in proteins over here,” the young doctor had rolled his eyes before chucking the packaged biscuit back in its box.

And that’s sort of the problem with anything that has to do with Nusantara, isn’t it? That they have to follow the same mold, that everyone gets this one panacea solution despite the clear differences everyone has. That it’s allegedly fair and equal, and whatever jargon the officials wave around in their sleek pamphlets and holo-screens. 

She wonders if that’s just the way you treat others, once you live long enough amidst the shiny, curated landscape of Nusantara. Wonders if the next time she sees Nisa again, if her friend’s smile will still crinkle at the edges and light up her usually calm eyes. 

Lintang shakes her head, and squashes the frivolous thought to redirect her focus to Kang Fikri, who somehow already has a machete in his hand and is gesturing at the banana field behind the Puskesmas. 

“So yeah, as I said, since this is all we have on short notice, maybe just the kolak pisang that Bu Irawan made a few months back? I’ve sent one of the volunteers to get some coconuts for the milk, and I think we have enough sugar?”

“There’s the problem of the supplements the mothers get to take home, though,” Lintang bites her lips, “The biscuits were sad, but at least they’re perfect to take home. We can hardly send everyone off with bowls of kolak.”

“Something dry, then?” Alvin pipes up beside her, brows drawn, “I can get one of my boys to double back to Karanghawu and get some of Irene’s chips—”

“Alvin,” Kang Fikri cuts him off, “We can’t possibly ask that of you or Ci Irene! Look, I’ll ask Bu Endang, maybe if we can buy—”

“Nonsense! Last time we were in a pinch, Sukabumi sent all those bags of millet for free! What’s a few bags of chips between neighbors, huh?”

“No,” Lintang interjects, “No chips. We just need the semi-dried bananas you have — that would be less costly on your business, right? It’s better to give the mothers banana flour instead, so they could mix it up in whatever way is convenient to them.”

“Deal,” Alvin flashes her a grin, and winks at Kang Fikri. “I’ll send out one of the boys.”

She sets up an extra tent, a little away from the expected bustle of the incoming mothers, and quickly recruits the Karanghawu guys into banana-mashing and coconut milk-squeezing duty. Somewhere behind her, one of the volunteer moms is regaling them with a story of the Kuntilanak living in the field, and how legend has it that you’re supposed to ask permission to her before taking even a single banana. 

“I hope whoever Nusantara sends won’t be such a hard-ass,” Kang Fikri sighs, “Otherwise they probably won’t be too happy with all this …” he gestures randomly at the production around them, “… spontaneity.” 

However much Sukabumi mellowed out Pak Sartono by the end, he was still plenty strict when he first came. If the new official really turns out to be a stickler for the rules and the Capital’s absolute power, then they definitely would have to answer to some people eventually for the lack of protocol. 

“Well, what’s the alternative?” Lintang shrugs. “Say we do away with the Nusantara ceremonial crap, we still can’t have all these moms trekking all the way here just to send them back without their supplements.”

If Nusantara has a problem with the way they run things, then they’ll have to pry this bowl of banana kolak from her cold, dead hands.

The once-a-month examination day in the Puskesmas has been a tradition for nearly three centuries by now. The mothers of the surrounding area come along to get their children examined, and everyone gets out with a sense that their children are okay and there’s something they can always rely on, whatever happens.

And of course, the food supplements help a lot. Despite their best efforts, she wouldn’t lie and say that every child that comes through their door is healthy, and they save and scrimp and plant to be able to give just the tiniest bit more to complement the supplements already given to them. Little by little, until she sees every kid slowly grow full-cheeked and bright-eyed under her eyes. 

If Nusantara has a problem with the way they run things, then they’ll have to pry this bowl of banana kolak from her cold, dead hands. 

“Still sucks that we have to explain the whole thing at all,” Kang Fikri snorts. 

“Yeah well, maybe one day if they stop sending people from Nusantara and get people from the settlements to take care of ourselves instead.” The discourse is old and worn between the people in the Puskesmas, revisited this way and that ever since they were just youths helping out Bu Endang. Much less so the longer they work there, but still familiar ground nevertheless.

After all, people from the settlements go to Nusantara to escape life in the outer reaches, trading lives of hardship for comfy, climate-conditioned landscapes. Lintang gets it, really. She’s not even a fan of air conditioning, but she gets it. She really does. 

Lintang doesn’t even realize she’s sighing until Kang Fikri carefully pats her on the shoulder.

“I think it’s gonna be fine, Teh. We’re trying our best, after all.” 

Kang Fikri’s eyes are wide and too earnest, and Lintang is helpless but to smile back and agree. 

Illustration of banana leaf used to divide story text

The monthly Puskesmas evaluation has mothers take their children through five examination tables — weighing, measuring, a simple spirometer and radiation test, and then some private counseling. By the time most of the mothers have passed their second table, the banana kolak is steaming and ready, the dried bananas milled with the help of the Puskesmas’ water buffalo, Sapi’i, and packaged by Bu Dedeh’s deft hands. Which makes it about the right time for the Nusantara contingent to arrive, heralded by the thunderous rotor sounds of a transporter, casting a shadow over the Puskesmas yard. 

There’s the usual ruckus as the transporter lands — older kids running to gawk and cheer at the rare sight while Kang Yayan runs frantically ahead of them to stop them from getting too close. 

With something like detached hysteria, Lintang slowly realizes that the transporter’s just this side of slightly too large, too shiny for the mere purpose of carrying some second-echelon officials into their small settlement. The feeling only escalates when the bay doors open to admit a group of officials, and then another, each more well-dressed than the last.

Waduh,” Kang Fikri whispers as they line up behind Bu Endang, all traces of his former positivity gone as the procession goes on. Men and women in sharp suits, holo-phones swinging this way and that as they look around with interest. “Isn’t this … a lot of important people, Teh?”

It figures that the day they go wildly off-protocol would be the day someone is going to do an unexpected, large-scale inspection on their settlement. 

She’s so muddled up in her mild hysteria that she doesn’t realize that the contingent has lined up in front of them. And then her gaze falls to the head of the group, and her heart stops.

The first thing Lintang thinks of, uselessly, is how good Nisa looks in her Nusantara getup. Sleek lines of linen and subtly-patterned batik, her long hair twisted in an elegant bun atop her head. 

The second thing she thinks is, What the hell?

Bu Endang steps up and greets the head of the contingent, a stern, elegant lady in all white, her boss seemingly unaffected by the sight of Nisa standing right there amongst all the Nusantara bigwigs. There’s all the ceremonial pomp and speeches, a pretty bow made out of banana leaves Teh Mega constructed being cut to signal the opening. Lintang feels like she’s holding her breath all throughout the droning ceremony, up until the banana kolaks are served to the clamoring children. 

“Ah,” the lady — who could probably go toe-to-toe with Bu Endang in a contest of most meaning put into one single syllable — notes, “This is not the standard-issue food supplement?”

There it is. Lintang draws a deep breath and steels herself, only for Nisa, of all people, to cut her off.

“This is one of the examples of self-sufficient, tailored supplements that we talked about, Bu. As we could see, Sukabumi gets plenty of sunlight but the continuing decline in rice nutrients and arable land to plant them results in alarming rates of iron and zinc deficiencies.”

Nisa gestures toward the kolak bowls. “Bananas are excellent sources of iron, zinc, and vitamins, ones also found in green vegetables rare in coastal areas, and the coconut milk provides additional fat.”

“They are also processed into a form that can easily be taken home,” Lintang interjects, brandishing the freshly-packaged banana flours almost manically. “Mothers are free to mix them into congees with water or easily-obtainable coconut milk, since the coastal area is rife with coconut palms that bear fruit all year round.”

“Just so,” Nisa concludes smoothly for her. “Isn’t it a delightful coincidence that we get to see these self-sufficient supplements in practice, Bu?” 

“Well, the warehouse containing the standard supplements sort of got swallowed by the earth this morning,” Lintang informs them, mouth practically independent from her brain at this point. “Soil liquefaction happens a lot in these parts. That’s why all the houses are on stilts, Bu.”

Nisa shoots what seems to be a meaningful glance at the older lady, who gives a little thoughtful frown.

“This might be a good place to test out the customized warehouse prototypes then,” she muses, to which Nisa agrees with an almost smug nod while Lintang nods along like a shoddily constructed scarecrow. 

“We thank Sukabumi for their generosity, in agreeing to be the prototype region for our terrain-tailored program.”

The rest of the ceremony passes by in a blur, and before she knows it they’re in front of the transporter once more, Bu Endang shaking hands with the Nusantara lady. 

“We shall be in contact through Nisa here,” the gray-haired lady says, an almost-smile on her thin lips. “We thank Sukabumi for their generosity, in agreeing to be the prototype region for our terrain-tailored program.”

The moment the transporter whizzes away, a bevy of people descends upon Nisa — Alvin enveloping her in a bear hug even as the older aunties pinch her cheeks and coo at her while the uncles reminisce sagely about her childhood. It goes on for a while as they clean up, through Alvin hugging her goodbye and giving her a meaningful glance, until it’s just the two of them on the back of the Puskesmas, only the silence of the banana fields as company. 

For a moment, Lintang wishes for Alvin to be there, almost wishes for the banana field’s resident Kuntilanak to make an appearance, just to break them from the awkward, unfamiliar silence that has fallen between them. She draws a deep breath, then another. She’s survived soil liquefactions and cooking kolak for three hundred people today. She can do this. 

“I thought you’d never come back,” she finally says, the same moment Nisa says, “I’m sorry.”

They look at each other for a long time, before Nisa’s eye twitches and they burst out laughing together. 

“I’m sorry,” Nisa says again when their laughter subsides, head bowed down to rest on her shoulder. “There was too much to do, and not enough certainty. I didn’t want to promise anyone anything that might not be true.”

“You could have written,” Lintang scoffs, no heat in her voice for Nisa, who’s so smart, so bright, yet so easily overwhelmed. She wonders if Nisa has been lonely as well, amidst the pretty landscape of Nusantara. “I thought you’d forgotten about me.”

“I’m here now,” Nisa says, almost petulantly. “I promised you, didn’t I? So I’m here, and we’re going to make life on the coast better.”

Lintang wants to laugh, wants to cry, wants to hug Nisa forever — and ends up doing all of them until they’re another giggling pile on the edges of the banana field.

“Come on,” Nisa pulls her up, hand warm and familiar, so familiar on her arm. It’s like coming home, even if they are already home. “Let’s lock up. Bu Endang will want us bright and early tomorrow.”

“So the work begins!”

Local legend has it that the great flood that submerged half of Sukabumi had devastated its people. But as the story went, when the water receded, the people who survived came back, sheltered by the sturdy walls of Sukabumi’s Puskesmas, and built the land anew. 

Holding hands with Nisa, who had been swept by a faraway land yet had come back, Lintang thinks that perhaps it’s just local tradition after all. 

Read more from the 2022 Imagine 2200 contest:

Azisa Noor (she/her) is an art director, a comic artist, and an illustrator based in Bandung, Indonesia. She mainly works in children’s literature and on projects for public health and welfare across Indonesia.

Grace J. Kim (she/her) is a Korean-Canadian illustrator based in the New York City area. Her drawings depict characters in everyday moments and are related to current events, and always add a serene and utopian touch in the hope that she can share moments of peacefulness with viewers. She has collaborated with clients including Apple, The New Yorker, The New York Times, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NBC, Buzzfeed News, and more.