Suddenly Vina placed her comic book down. “Oh right, Mom. Do you know that the owner of the house next door has been caught by the police?”

Rini placed her newspaper down. “Oh, that businessman who is an ex-official? Dimas Gunawan?”


“Where did you hear this from?”

“From Maya. She heard from the newspaper boy. Right, May?” Vina asked.

Maya replied, “Yes. The news came out yesterday evening, and his status is a suspect. It’s a corruption case, just waiting for the court.”

Indeed, the house next door belonged to Dimas Gunawan. The gate of the house was so tall and the owner never socialized with the local residents. Dimas Gunawan was a tycoon with many businesses. It was said that the large capital that he had was a result of corruption from when he was the head of the Bureau of Logistics a few years prior.

“Serves him right! Eating the citizens’ money!” Rini curtly said. “Oh right, May. Are you done packing the peanuts?”

Maya nodded. “It’s done, Mom. Should I bring it to the front?”

“Yes. Just place it near the sofa. I will bring it later to the distributor when I leave for my gathering.”

After Setiawan was fired, the family lost their money source. To continue living, they depend on rental money, the money that Rini got from selling clothes in her social gathering, and also selling snacks that were packaged simply and processed by Maya. This was why Maya was indeed busy.

The packaging was simple, only using plastic with sealed ends by using fire from a candle. But the process was very time-consuming. Maybe this was why Rini told Maya to stop going to school this year–it has been three months since then. Maya should have been in the second grade of high school, just like Vina.

Maya understood, she knew her situation well. She was just an adopted daughter in this family. When she was five years old, she lost her house in the Sukabumi area due to a landslide. Her parents and her younger sibling died. At that time, Setiawan, who was operating the heavy duty machine excavating the landslide, was looking for the victims. He saw the young Maya that just returned from school accompanied by her neighbor; she was crying seeing her house buried by the landslide. Setiawan felt moved and brought Maya home. Because there were no relatives nor other party that wanted the child, Maya was then adopted by Setiawan’s family.

It turned out Setiawan didn’t talk about this matter with his wife before. Rini didn’t agree and was furious.

“Didn’t you say you want another child?” Setiawan asked. “Moreover, Vina could have a friend…”

“Yes, but not other people’s child! I want my own child, my own flesh and blood.”

“Come on, Ma. Isn’t it all the same? A child is God’s gift. If you are not getting pregnant, who knows it is our destiny that we only have one child? With Maya, we now have two kids, right?”

“Where did you put your brain, Pa? Two kids means more expense!”

“Come on, I believe she is bringing her own luck. You don’t need to think about the expense. As long as I am working, I will work hard to provide for our family.”

“Huft, I am now suspicious that the kid is your illegitimate child with another woman, Pa.”

“Oh my goodness, Mama! Just check it on your own. She had her own parents. How could she be Papa’s illegitimate child?”

At that time maybe they forgot that the young Maya and young Vina were still in the same room as them. The young kids were listening to the two adults’ argument in front of them intently. Since then, if Vina got annoyed, she always called Maya “illegitimate child,” just like how Rini did. 

Actually, Maya’s life in the house was quite good. Until she was seventeen years old, all her needs were met. About her dropping out of school, she had already accepted it with sincerity. She realized that the family was having financial difficulty since Setiawan’s workplace went bankrupt. 

Even though Rini often got mad and told her to work all the time, Rini never hit her. Not like the stepmother from TV dramas.

Rini was wise enough and gradually realized that she needed Maya’s help. And for Maya, Rini’s scoldings and rebukes were already a daily thing for her.

However, there was one thing that made Maya sad–Rini clearly doesn’t cherish her. Rini only gave the best for Vina, her biological child. She didn’t think of Maya as her own child, or even admit Maya’s existence. She only talked to Maya as needed, and Maya didn’t dare to speak to Rini if there was no need for it.

Different from Rini, Setiawan was very kind for a stepfather. He treated Maya well, as if Maya was his own biological child. Even when he reprimanded Vina, he would make Maya feel flattered by praising the girl. Unfortunately, Setiawan was rarely at home. Previously he was busy with work and only came home during dinner time. Now after he no longer works, Setiawan still left the home as if he was still working. He said that he was looking for a job, but just as Rini said earlier, Setiawan no longer brings money home.

Maya guessed that her stepfather was running away from home during the day because he didn’t feel appreciated by his wife and daughter. She felt bad about it, but she could not help. There was nothing else she could do except work even harder, so Rini wouldn’t get angry if they ran out of money.

“Does that mean the house is now empty?” Rini asked, bringing Maya back from her thoughts.

Vina answered, “Yes. They said they are going to sell it. All the maids have been fired by the wife.”

“Ex-wife,” Maya corrected.

“Yes, his ex-wife,” Vina repeated. She had known that the house next door had only been occupied by Dimas Gunawan because his children now lived with his wife in Jakarta, after they divorced. “Eh, Mom, does that mean that house will be seized by the government?”

“It depends. If he is smart enough, the house title would be under his wife or one of his family members. That means the house cannot be seized.”

“Wah, that means it’s better if we do corruption then. After we get the money, we can put it under someone else’s name. And if we get caught, the money would still be safe.”

“Don’t even think about it, Vina! Just study properly!” Rini scolded. Vina laughed.

Maya stood up and took her plate and Setiawan’s plate from earlier. But Rini called her.

“Where are you going, May?”

“Kitchen, Mom. I will be washing the dishes from cooking earlier.”

“Yesterday’s pile of clothes, did you finish ironing it?”

“Not yet. Yesterday I drained the water tub and cleaned the stoves, so I couldn’t do it.”

“What is wrong with you?!” Rini scolded. “I was going to wear that black clothes! Working all day in a daze! No wonder it takes so long!”

Vina couldn’t hold her smile seeing Maya getting scolded.

“Then… then I will iron it now, Ma.”

“Just iron my black shirt first, then wash the dishes. Put the clothes in my room, okay?”

Maya quickly went to the kitchen. She could still hear Vina’s words.

“She’s getting more stupid day by day. Right, Mom?”

“Not stupid, but lazy!”

Maya’s heart hurt. She was not being lazy. But there were plenty of chores that she needed to do. It felt just two hands were not enough to take care of this big house. She had to cook, do the laundry, sweep, mop, iron the clothes, clean the bathroom, take care of the garden, wipe the items around the house and the windows, cook drinking water and pour it into bottles, not to mention other tasks that seemed to be never ending. It wouldn’t be so bad if her stepmother didn’t ask too much and was always grumbling. It seemed that Rini was never satisfied with Maya’s work. No matter what she did, there was always something wrong with it.

Maya quickly ironed Rini’s black shirt. Because she was in a hurry, her hand accidentally touched the bottom part of the iron and she grunted in pain. After being done with ironing, she quickly washed the dishes in the kitchen because Rini disliked seeing many dirty dishes piling up in the sink.

Crash–!! The glass plate that she was holding fell to the floor due to the slippery dish soap. A sound of footsteps entered the kitchen.

“Oh my goodness! Another one? You are too much, Maya. That plate is a legacy from Vina’s grandmother, you know!” Rini picked up the plate pieces with a red face. “Where else can we find a plate like this nowadays?”

Vina entered. “What’s wrong, Mom? Another broken plate?”

“Look, another Grandma’s plate is now broken. If things keep going on like this, we will have no more plates.”

“She is ungrateful. Just because Dad always sides with her, she feels full of herself. Just kick her out, Mom!”

“Huft, if it’s not for your father, I would have kicked her out long ago.”

Maya couldn’t hold it anymore. She ran outside.

“Maya! Maya! Where are you running off to?”

Maya went out of the house. She stared at the road in front of the house absentmindedly. She didn’t have the courage to leave this house. She actually just wanted to avoid Rini and Vina. She didn’t want to face them right now, when her heart was currently fragile. But there was no other place for her to go to. The storage in this house was also full, so she couldn’t hide there. She also didn’t have her own room anymore. 

Maya looked to the side. She saw a tall jackfruit tree looming over. She climbed it once before and from the top of it, she could see the house next door.

She didn’t know what was in her mind at that time. Her feet had started climbing the tree.