Goodbye, Mr. Tic-Toc!

My dearest love, I wonder how things are with you. It has been years since the first time we met. Do you remember when my father brought me to you?

He said to me, “Don’t worry, sweetheart! He’s old but nice. Love him and he’ll love you back.”

My heart was filled with doubt. But when I laid my eyes on you and touched you with my fingers, I knew he was right.

We would spend every weekend together. I would tell you how my week had been, if my parents praised or scolded me for what I did, or if my friends made me laugh or cry. You would sit and listen. Sometimes when it was a tough day, you looked right through me and let me cry in front of you, let everything out. In the end, you always brightened my day.

Six years have passed since I met you back then. I had new friends and a boyfriend. They demanded more from me. I partied a lot and for a while I forgot about you. I’m sorry!

The wake-up call came when my boyfriend dumped me for someone else. Broken-hearted, devastated, I was looking for a friend. And there you were sitting patiently, waiting for me to come back to you and spend time together again. I could see how hard you were trying to get my attention which I failed to give. You looked so old, weary and lonely. In that moment, I realized how much we meant to each other. I told you about my broken heart and I found the solace I was looking. Your soothing voice consoled me, “It is all right. It’s just part of life. You’ll be fine.”

And do you remember the horrendous day when fate began to separate us? After finishing a final exam, my friends and I were instructed to stay inside the school and prevented from going home. There was a long queue for the school’s phone booth as students tried to call home. I heard loud and angry voices outside and smelled the smoke. I was scared to think of what was happening out there and wondered whether my family was safe.

It was late afternoon when the school gate was finally opened and we were allowed to go home. Some of the school guards walked those students whose houses were nearby. I was one of them.

The streets were quiet and there was no sign of activity. No people, no vehicles, nothing. It was a ghost town. As I walked the streets, I realized what had happened there; a riot. Only the evidence was left. Houses and stores were vandalized. Cars were burnt. The smoke I smelled from school was coming from the burnt cars. Everywhere I went I had to be careful not to step on broken glass spread over the streets. I was horrified. I longed to make it home without encountering any dead bodies.

I was so relieved, my love, when I arrived home at last – and my family was safe. Did I tell you my father witnessed the riot when it was happening? He was riding his motorbike. When he was about to turn into the big street from my alley, he saw thousands of people on the streets; some of them were throwing stones to break houses and stores’ windows, some went to loot things, some were stopping and burning cars. He was shocked, went pale and turned his motorbike back home. My mother was panicking, trying to reach our relatives to make sure they were alright.

I watched the TV news about the riot and was shocked to learn it was spurred by racial hatred. The target was the ethnic Chinese minority group. The main intention was not to burn cars or vandalize properties but to kill as many people within the minority group as possible. I still remember the date clearly from the calendar in my classroom:

Jakarta, May 13th 1998.

How could men become so monstrous, my love? How could they decide who of us would live and who would die? We are all humans, born to do noble things. You were the only one who understood me and shared my pain.

Your soothing voice not only calmed me down but also triggered something in me. “The world is a cruel place sometimes, people can turn to demons and humanity is shaken. But if you still believe there is goodness in them, there is hope; you have the power to change it, to inspire others and make the world a better place.”

Your words changed me. Despite all of the rage and devastation, I had a faith in what I loved to do and from that moment, I knew what I dreamt to be. I would be a fighter – not with weapons – but with pens and words!

A month later my father offered to send me overseas to continue my education. They were scared and worried that the rioting would happen again. They wanted me to be safe. It was hard for me to say goodbye to you so I refused.

Nevertheless since then every time we spent time together, you kept telling me the same thing:

“I’m old. You’re young and have a long way to go. You have a chance, take it! Especially if it is for your own good! No matter what happens, we’ll always be together.”

I heard you and I thought about it for a year, my love, before I finally told my father I wanted to go.

The day came when we had to say goodbye. I asked my father if I could take you with me. But he said you were too old and that he’d take care of you.

Consoling me he added, “You’ll get a new Mr. Tic-Toc over there, a modern typing machine, a computer.”

I smiled at him. “No, Daddy. There is and will always be one Mr. Tic-Toc, my Mr. Tic-Toc.”

You must remember how we looked at each other for the last time before I fastened your wooden box lid and bid farewell.

Goodbye, Mr. Tic-Toc!

I will never forget you, my love, and all the times we spent together. And when it is time for me to come home, I know you’ll be waiting there for me.