It was like an article from the newspapers played out for real, the static images rising from the newsprint and coming to life before Adam's very eyes. The charred timber remains of burned-out buildings, the blood-red paint on walls. The empty streets. Adam knew that there were troubles elsewhere in Indonesia. He had heard there was a revolution of some sortnot like the ones in France or Russia or China, which he had read about, but something fuzzier and more indistinct, where no one was quite sure what needed to be overthrown, or what to be kept. But those were problems that belonged to Java and Sumatraat the other end of this country of islands strung out across the sea like seaweed on the shore. That was what everyone thought. Only Adam knew that they were not safe.
Karl had refused to do anything. He did not once consider leaving.
"But . . ." Adam tried to protest. He read the newspapers and listened to the radio, and he knew that things were happening all across the archipelago.
"Why should we?"
"Because of your . . . because we are, I mean, you are different." Even as he spoke he knew what the response would be.
"I am as Indonesian as anyone else on this island. My passport says so. Skin color has nothing to do with it, I've always told you that. And if the police come for me, I'll tell them the same thing. I have committed no crime; I'm just like everyone else."
And so they had stayed. They had stayed, and the soldiers had come. Adam had been right all along; he knew the soldiers would come for them. He had imagined himself being in jail with Karl in Surabaya or somewhere else on the mainland, maybe even Jakarta, but now he was alone. It was the first time in his life he had been alonethe first time in this life at least.
He waited in the bushes long after the truck had gone. He didn't know what he was waiting for but he waited anyway, squatting with his backside nearly touching the ground, his knees pulled up to his chin. When it was nearly dark and the sea breeze started up again he walked back to the house and sat on the veranda. He sat and he waited until it was properly night, until he could see nothing but the silhouettes of the trees against the deep blankness of the sea beyond, and he felt calmer.
Night falls quickly in these islands, and once it arrives you can see nothing. If you light a lamp it will illuminate a small space around you quite perfectly, but beyond this pool of watery brilliance there is nothing. The hills, the scrubby forests, rocky shoreline, the beaches of black sandthey become indistinguishable, they cease to exist as independent forms. And so, sitting motionless in the dark, only his shallow breaths reveal that Adam is still there, still waiting.
Excerpted from Map of the Invisible World by Tash Aw Copyright © 2010 by Tash Aw. Excerpted by permission of Spiegel & Grau, a division of Random House, Inc. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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No Man's Land
by Simon Tolkien
Inspired by the experiences of his grandfather, J. R. R. Tolkien, during World War I.
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