Photo of author swinging across rice paddies in Bali, Indonesia. (Photo courtesy of Castille Lee)

Creative Writing

Short Story: Rice Paddy Hats

A short story inspired by the pursuit of the American dream centered around Indonesian characters.
<a href="" target="_self">Castille Lee</a>

Castille Lee

March 28, 2023
Indonesia in the 1970s in the south region of Ubud, Bali:

Albertius Kristiono gazes upon the thousands of blackened rice patties that formerly soaked up the rays of the beaming sun in the fields of central Indonesia. As he grabs his worn t-shirt to wipe his sticky neck, his hair drenches with the salt of the Indian Ocean and what he reminisces as the flavor of the seas weaving through the sands of his island. Albertius swiftly removes his rice patty hat while shaking his hand over his shaggy and wet obsidian hair. He flings it over the burnt patties to decompose in the fire of rebirth and new beginnings.

Albertius sprints with his muddy green sandals, his eyes darting to look back at the fields as he witnesses his hat shrivel from the devouring flames. A few moments later, he is greeted by his motorcycle which rests on the road that meets the fields. Even the sudden sharp pain of his left foot that reveals blisters swollen enough to make Krakatoa erupt from his strenuous work at the rice patties would not stop him. Suddenly, Albertius’ sweat evaporates as his hair whisks through the breeze from the velocity of the motorcycle. As Albertius dashes through the crooked and rugged roads of the island of Indonesia, he could not help but ponder about abandoning the intensity of working in the rice terraces. He desires something more: wealth and prosperity for his family. Yet, he only has a tattoo of a spiritual cross of Christ to guide him.

His motorcycle glided amongst the twisted roads as Albertius imagined the glorious opportunities he could grasp while being a part of something greater. Imagine starting a new life: more options for my family, no more conflict but rather peace and prosperity, and a job that follows my passions, he thought. His motorcycle glided through the luscious palm trees while dodging the monkeys that darted their way across the road. Finally, he abruptly arrived at his dismantling house across a small river with only love to welcome him home.

“Ah, Dewi, with the chaos arising, the fate of the ethnic conflict in Indonesia will be a mass murder of Christians. The tensions are becoming so bad that they are destroying the rice patties, and soon, we will have nothing to eat!” exclaimed Albertius to his wife.

Dewi’s big brown eyes suddenly are filled with scorn and agony. She had no desire to leave the small island that she grew up on for all her life, but because of her husband’s stubbornness, she knew that he had no hesitation in stopping his ambitious spirit. Her husband, with eyes the color of Java’s smooth, crisp coffee beans sparkles with the burning sensation of ambition and hope.

“So, where should we go? When will we leave? What about the children….” Dewi stammers anxiously.

“This is our chance!” Albertius interrupts. “A chance for liberation, a better life, more opportunities, and so much more. What better place than the West across the Pacific Ocean, where we can start all over again. Dewi, please, I beg of you. We won’t live in a shackling house that is merely falling apart, and our children can get a better education and give them better futures. I can be rich in America. Do you understand?”

But all Dewi responded was a slight nod. She disagrees about leaving Indonesia because she knows how difficult it is to have the right documentation and to seek asylum with the chances of deportation. Her father once worked in the U.S., and he promised his wife that he would return someday. Her father never returned because she concluded he was so immersed by his desire for wealth.

“We cannot afford financially to leave Indonesia but promise me something. Berjanilah padauku you will return when you depart on your adventure to the world abroad. I don’t care how much money you make because Aku sayang kamu.

“I can make money, and I’ll immigrate to the United States no matter the circumstances. As soon as I can support myself, I will bring to America. God is with our family.”

Albertius gently reaches for Dewi’s hand while Dewi glances intently at his tattoo.

“And He is by your side too.”

The Custom of Border Protection at Los Angeles International Airport, 1970s:

Albertius arrives at the Custom of Border Protection in a whole new world. This was beyond comparison to the relaxed lifestyle in Indonesia. The directions of what signs to follow were all written in English, which is a language he barely knew of. A sea of tourists passed Albertius with luggage of all sorts of colors filled the hallway with roaring chatter. Albertius halted as he squinted to interpret the phrase “Border Security” but soon inferred that following the crowd would be beneficial. Arriving at the infinite line of tourists with officers impatiently, their tones inflicted on the tourists with demand to declare their IDs and belongings. Confusion and distraught flowed into Albertius as he scanned his mind for all the questions the officers might ask him. Albertius had no proper documentation but a tourist visa which he plans to extend during his stay in America.

The international officer shouted to Albertius to come forth while Albertius’ hands shook out of fear of rejection. He shot his eyes directly towards the tan marble while pretending his rice patty hat still existed to shield his eyes from the agonizing sun. I’m going to get deported no matter what I do. Oh God, help me start a new life, he prayed silently.

The officer glared at Albertius, as his eyes scanned Albertius’ frail body and tormented clothes for a possibility that he could be hiding suspicious items.

“How long are you planning to stay in America?” he asked irritably.

Albertius glanced up at him, but his eyes quickly darted towards the floor.

“I can’t speak English,” he replied in Indonesian. The international officer frowned as if Albertius’ words were gibberish.

“Are you Hispanic?” the officer questioned impulsively as he lifted his dark bushy eyebrow. He was gazing at Albertius’ tan skin and shaggy black hair.

“I don’t understand what you are talking about,” Albertius responded with confusion.

The officer rolled his eyes and revealed his sacking eyebags as he reached for his walky-talky for a translator.

“I understand him,” a hushed voice whispered from behind Albertius. The girl was waiting in line for her turn with her parents. The officer immediately glanced up and summoned the little girl from behind.

“The man is Indonesian, sir. My family can translate his words if you let us,” she said as she subtly smiled at Albertius.

“The man asked how long you are staying in America,” the little mom told Albertius as she steps forth to the counter with her daughter.

Tirama kasih,” Albertius responded. “Tell him I plan to stay for two weeks, and I have a tourist visa.”

The family repeated his words to the officer, and the officer asked Albertius to show his visa and work permit. With much convincing and persuasion, the international officer allowed Albertius to stay in the U.S. for two weeks under the provision of the government. Albertius thanked the officer and the family several times, as he bowed with his palms touching each other to express his gratitude.

Running towards the light emitting from the glass doors towards freedom with his hands clutching his baggage, the American dream was within reach.