She’s crouched behind the main building, a dozen stray cats orbiting her world. It hasn’t been five minutes since the bell rang. Yun can splinter such a beautiful sight, or she can do the usual, pathetic thing and watch from a distance.
I'm done being pathetic.
Yun leans against the wall and prays that her token nonchalance doesn’t intimidate. “What sort of satay is that?”
The cats scatter when Mirah stands, fingers wrapped around a skewer of grilled meat. Her glasses catch the beads of a gently-melting sky, but surprise manages to shine through.
Surprise and… fear.
“It’s… it’s chicken.” The words are raindrops, cascading from Mirah’s lips to shatter on the pavement with the rest. “Chicken satay is their favorite. See how fast they eat?”
There’s something magical about this girl, Yun decides for the millionth time in the past six years. Here she is, summoning cats like something out of a fairytale, despite the rocks that leave brazen hands day in and day out. Yun is sure she’ll melt if Mirah’s smile continues to adorn her face. A smile that cowers behind stony lips in class, only to emerge here, in solitude.
“There’s none left, you silly animals,” giggles Mirah, the cats clustering at her heels despite her chucking the skewer away.
For a few fragile heartbeats it’s just the two of them framed by a gentle drizzle that decorates their hair with pearls. Yun is the girl who isn’t afraid to hit bullies back, who lets her scooter roar at every red light, who deters as many boys as she ensnares. And yet here she is, fumbling for a foothold with the girl who once burst into tears at a scraped knee.
It’s almost comical. Almost.
“You could’ve eaten that,” Yun points out.
The clouds darken with Mirah’s face. “They deserve it more than I do. Poor things.”
Yun suppresses a wince. It hasn’t stopped raining for a week, and the last thing she wants to do is worsen it. “Everyone deserves a good chicken satay. Even Mirah Lestari.”
Yun hopes to banish the grey clouds as they speed off to her favorite place, tentative hands wrapped around her waist. Mirah is silent except for the thunder twitching in anxiety overhead. Yun figures it’s nothing a full belly won’t fix as she parks her scooter with the others by the street-side vendor.
They watch headlamps pour through a sullen grey haze, Yun trying to pierce the silence that is Mirah across the bench. They’re alone besides the vendor painting the air with the flavor of charring meat and the pitter-patter of raindrops dancing overhead. When the skewers arrive Mirah nibbles on hers like it might hurt to enjoy it. She doesn’t even dip it in peanut sauce.
Para para para, murmurs the rain.
A bundle of mangled fur sings hunger at their feet; Mirah moves to offer a morsel, but Yun wants to be a part of her world, so she beats her to it.
She can feel Mirah’s wide-eyed stare as she empties the rest of her plate onto the ground. Maybe the best message right now is a wordless one.
“Yuyun,” murmurs Mirah. It’s not just an acknowledgment of what Yun has done, but of… Yun.
“Mirah, you’re allowed to call me ‘Yun’ like everyone else, you know.” A gasp flees Yun’s lips when she strokes the wrong spot and barely dodges a claw swipe.
The weeping sky hesitates, as if recalling a reason to be happy. A golden shard escapes the grey to touch them, though only for a heartbeat; it’s long enough for Yun to catch a smile radiate from across the bench. A smile just as true as the little-known fact that Mirah Lestari holds the weather in the tender palm of her hand.
“Why are you doing this?” she asks, and her voice is glass, ready to shatter. Because who else has offered the quiet outlier a ride, let alone treated her to lunch? Who else has actually given a damn?
“Because I want the sun to shine over Jakarta again,” answers Yun, and her voice is also glass.
Mirah takes a solemn bite of satay. “Me too.”
Para para para, chants the rain.
How many years has it been since Mirah didn’t have to wear down the already-worn soles of her shoes on the trudge back home? Too many, just like the number of breaths Yun has to take after meek hands unwrap themselves from her waist.
“Thanks, Yuyun,” Mirah whispers as she clambers off the seat and smoothes out her skirt. “I mean, Yun.”
“You’re welcome, Mirah.”
They exchange a smile, Yun’s sharp and Mirah’s feather-like. Mirah takes her time on the way to a small, rickety building that reeks of melancholy. Yun doesn’t have to watch the sky darken, which does so at around the same time each day, to know that Mirah isn’t keen to leave the rain. Nor does she have to listen in the driveway for a few minutes after the door creaks shut to hear the shouting that greets Mirah’s return home.
And she doesn’t have to peek under Mirah’s always-long sleeves to see the burns, the same ones that have been a crimson-eyed target for rumors and unspeakable slander for years and years and years.
A white flash blazes overhead, followed by a thunderclap that almost knocks Yun off her scooter. She speeds home, heart beating out a tune of worry, and she doesn’t arrive before her clothes are drenched in Mirah’s sadness.
“What’s that you got there, Motherless Mirah?”
It’s six years ago and they’re both a growth spurt shy of knowing what puppy love tastes like. Yun always did place Mirah as a bit of a sissy for carrying around a stuffed cat, but she’d never rip it out of those frail hands and chuck it into the mud.
She’s not her current tormentor, after all, whose laughter launches blood-red daggers across the playground. It’s been raining all morning, so of course everything is slick and brown, but Yun doesn’t yet know that it’s because a peer has been having a rockier-than-usual existence as of late. She has an inkling, but it’s not until the heavens burst like a water balloon to the rhythm of Mirah’s wailing that years of quiet speculation finally come full circle.
Thunderclaps chase the children indoors, all except Yun, who sees no reason to be afraid of a girl her age, and Mirah, who is used to being left behind.
“It’s just a stupid doll,” reassures Yun as she shakes the grime off and presents it to its owner. “Nothing to cry about.”
(Yun will later realize it’s a parting gift from a long-gone mother, and she will shed tears in the privacy of her bedroom.)
Mirah holds it close, mud and tears and wet fur, and although she never says thank you, the sun reaches through the rain with an amber finger to touch a soft spot behind Yun’s walls.
Somehow, it’s enough.
This is the day that Yun decides Mirah is special, like an iridescent seashell that quietly washes up on a dawnlit beach, or a proud little flower that sprouts from a crack in the pavement. This is the day that leaves a kiss stain on Yun’s heart and makes it flutter like moth wings whenever their eyes meet from then on.
It will be six years and an eternity before the tears rain down like fists and one of them has to hold up the other lest they both drown.
They’re both sixteen now and spend every recess filling each other’s voids, though Mirah’s seems to be infinitely bigger and colder. Yun sets aside half her packed lunch for the strays; it’s really for Mirah, because that’s how Yun gets to see her eyes come alive. She’ll do anything to be a part of this girl’s world that is as precious as the sunbeams that don’t always come. They do when Yun and Mirah study in the shade of a lychee tree, or when they straighten each other’s ties before class, or when Yun chases away former friends that snap at their heels like feral dogs. The rain never leaves, but now it’s only a distant whisper.
Yun’s world also bends like wet clay now that Mirah occupies a butterfly-shaped imprint inside it. The clerk at the motorcycle shop raises an eyebrow as he hands her a pink helmet with cat ears.
“It’s for a friend.”
Yun is a white-hot rock careening through the sky, letting wild hair stream behind her as she drives Mirah home; to hell with the smog and exhaust fumes that leave their mark. She’s made of different stuff than Mirah, who releases a quiet yelp every time they hit a speedbump like an asteroid, so now she has to take her time in clogged, pothole-ridden streets.
Now she has to care. And she’s fine with that.
But Mirah always holds on as if she might float away any second like a plastic bag in the breeze. It’s Yun’s favorite time of day, when it’s just her and Mirah’s new helmet kissing her shoulder blade and the hum of her scooter framing it all. Together they are two shells of a clam, nourishing the pearl in between.
“Are you… crying?”
“Me? No, it’s just… dust in my eye. That’s what happens when you ride without a helmet.”
“Oh. Want to borrow mine?”
“No, keep it, silly. It’s yours.”
Yun glances at the sun, and then at Mirah’s face; she can’t decide which one glows brighter. It’s Saturday morning and the city yawns. They’re leaning against her scooter parked outside an Indomaret, and it’s warm enough that their popsicles race to meet the pavement.
“Aren’t you scared of me?” asks Mirah between licks, and the casual nature of this question takes Yun aback.
“Of course not. Why would I be?”
“I’m… not normal.”
“Normal is boring.”
“But I can change the—”
“I know, and it’s amazing.”
Yun wants to freeze the world as it is, clap it between the safety of her palms so she can sneak a peak at her leisure.
Then Mirah says, “It started when Mama left. Papa couldn’t get mad at her, but I was still here, so he… he…”
“Mirah, you don’t have to—”
“At first it was cigarettes; Djarum, his favorite brand. They hurt, but the marks were small, easy to hide. He got angrier every year; next it was his lighter, and nowadays it’s the kitchen stove.”
Every word is a downpour and Yun will drown if Mirah doesn’t stop.
“See this? He makes me lie to the teachers, to parents, to the class. Everyone thinks it’s a birthmark, or a hickey.”
“I don’t. Mirah, you know I don’t.”
All Yun wants is to gift Mirah a life away from the fire. But the clouds are rolling in like truck tires and they bring with them a billion droplets of anguish, and it’s then that Yun realizes it’s not enough.
She’s not enough.
It catches on quickly, too quickly, that those two girls always glowing in each other’s company might be more than just friends. Yun isn’t even sure if Mirah has similar tastes, but that doesn’t stop the barbs from flying: the jeers, the looks of contempt, the colorful synonyms for “homosexual” that smash through her walls no matter how many times she rebuilds them.
Yun can take it; she'll get back up, wipe the blood off her chin. But not Mirah. Mirah crumples like a sheet of paper in between calloused fingers, melts like the stormclouds that bear witness overhead.
Especially when she unzips her school bag one morning to find a dead cat. Yun holds Mirah’s hair back until she finishes retching. Later that day, Yun is sent home for breaking someone’s nose in three places.
(It’s not fair.)
And just like that, Mirah drifts away on torn wings, powerless to fly against the gale. Of course it’s only a matter of time before the rumors trickle down to Mirah’s father. And of course Yun would die before she does anything to jeopardize her. Which is why from this day on the back of Yun’s scooter is as cold and empty as the husk she has become.
(None of it’s fair.)
That night, Yun sobs into her pillow. She doesn’t stop until her throat is raw and her lungs are dry.
(It’s not fair it’s not fair IT’S NOT FUCKING FAIR.)
After she’s cried herself to sleep, she dreams of a bleak sky weeping over a bleaker city, filling it with more water than all the oceans combined. It doesn’t stop the girl standing at the center of it all from bursting into flames.
Para para para, murmurs the rain against glass. A week has passed without hearing a giggle out of Mirah and the only thing Yun can listen to is the call of the storm outside; the teacher’s words pass through like apparitions.
She's not even sure if Mirah is at school. Usually there is a furtive glance in the hallway, or a gentle gasp as textbooks hit the floor, but today there is a void.
“Yuyun Wijaya, is there something outside more interesting than my lesson?”
Yun ignores her. Floods are nothing new in Jakarta, but this… this is different. She’s still mesmerized by the grey cape outside when a crack of thunder shakes her to her core.
And then the sky weeps like never before.
Yun takes off, deaf to everything that isn't the song from above. Her heart is a wardrum as she drags her scooter onto the road and makes it roar through falling tears.
One name and two syllables replay in her head as she dodges every headlight imaginable.
One name and two syllables close around her heart as she plunges through the water swallowing everything.
One name and two syllables is what she hangs onto as an invisible pothole flings her scooter into oblivion. She considers lying there, half-drowning in liquid sadness and letting it consume her too.
Mirah Mirah Mirah, reminds the rain.
Yun hauls her aching soul back to resoluteness. Flesh humming with scrapes and bruises, she limps over and pulls her scooter upright, only to find it silent.
Mirah Mirah Mirah.
She braves the flood one leap of faith at a time.
Almost there. Almost there. Almost there.
She dives into the murk, reeled in by thoughts of butterflies and moonlit feathers, only pausing to snatch a mewling bundle of fur. Coughing, she hauls herself into the shallows and pushes the soggy kitten onto a high branch. It’s what Mirah would’ve wanted.
Mirah, who is the core of a screaming tempest, the sky overhead ripped open by fingers dipped in a lifetime of sorrow and rage. It rips Yun open as well to see her this way.
Behind Mirah is a house that reeks of melancholy, half-devoured by her flood. Of course she finally splintered into a million shards, and then aimed those shards at her father. Of course she found the strength to fight back after Yun exploded into her life and gave her a reason to. And of course she saved herself from the fire when Yun couldn’t.
Yun, who won’t make that same mistake.
Yun, who bellows one name and two syllables and hopes with every drop of her lifeblood that they meet their mark.
(Burning. Mirah is still burning.)
The gale tries to fling her out of Mirah’s world, so she throws her own against it. Who else would know that at the center of this brokenness is a girl even more broken? Who else would give a damn?
(There is a fire inside her that even the rain can’t put out.)
Yun throws herself into Mirah. They lie in each other's arms, teary eyes locked together.
The storm hesitates.
(Only one thing can save her from the aftermath.)
Three words and eight letters leave Yun’s lips, the same ones she should’ve uttered an eternity ago, the same ones Mirah hasn’t tasted since her mother left, the same ones Mirah deserves to hear every single day but doesn’t.
Everything stops; a million shimmering raindrops frozen in midair, suspended around Yun and Mirah for ten majestic heartbeats like something out of a glass museum—
—before being sucked upwards, bringing a rush of floodwater with them as they return to the sky.
The sky that bursts into color like never before; a regal blue that banishes the storm clouds and a liquid gold that paints the city with a beauty that has been missing for too long.
The world is filled with Yun and Mirah and the sunbeams that don’t always come, but now do.
“You came back.”
Yun emits sunbeams of her own. “I never left, silly.”
They’re both seventeen years old when they bask in each other’s presence at the back porch of Mirah’s new home. The hammock is only big enough for one, but that doesn’t stop either of them.
Some days Yun catches Mirah hunched over under the weight of the world; nobody could ever be quite the same after what she’s been though, but at least she has Yun, who is there to reassure her that her father got what he deserved, to pay her a visit when life with a new guardian becomes stale, to remind her that being homeschooled isn’t that bad.
“Look on the bright side,” says Yun. “No one will get in between us now.”
“Yeah, us. You know, as in… oh, forget it, I’ll tell you some other—”
Before Yun can turn into an even bigger idiot than she already is, Mirah silences her with a kiss that can be seen all the way from the sun. Maybe the best message right now is a wordless one.
Yun can’t decide which is more beautiful: the pristine sky, or Mirah’s smile. Maybe the ginger kitten nestled in between them.
It hasn’t rained in ages, and neither of them complain.