View from the Tower (a short story)

Erik Marty van Mechelen
14 min readSep 29, 2017

Attending three high schools in three different countries (Indonesia, China, and the United States) exposed me to rare and vibrant cultural diversity in a formative period of my intellectual, social, and emotional development. Based in Jakarta, Indonesia, this story imagines a subtle cross-cultural relationship that I suppose my peers experienced, too, but that I also suspect is less known to most readers by virtue of the limited pool of children worldwide that were raised in such an environment.

Thank you.
Erik van Mechelen

This story was a finalist in the Nick Adams ACM Short Story Contest in 2009

View from the Tower

Armand didn’t know how many soccer balls he’d nicked from the fields at the foreign school, that fortress of a school. Jakarta International School, or, as he knew it, Bule Sekolah Selatan Raya. After school, Armand would catch the local bus and meet the others near the school’s fence, watching the little bules kick the round treasures around their green carpet of

a field. Then, at the opportune moment, they would scamper out onto the pitch from their hiding place in the bushes like silent lizards closing fast on unsuspecting flies. His friend Galuh had cut a hole in the fence so it was easy to get through. Once in a while, the school’s guards would locate a hole and have it sealed up, but mostly they were sympathetic to Armand and his friends’ plight, so normally they only found the holes when a foreigner noticed one and complained. The biggest catch was seven balls. Seven white and black soccer balls, praise Allah. And good ones too — they still had the paint on them (they get worn down so quickly on the locals’ dust field, the one that was set up after the landlady refused to resell it to the foreign school).

Some of the older kids said that the foreigners were just plain stupid and spoiled to leave their soccer balls unwatched. It was gila, crazy. Armand recalled, too, that on the other side of the office park of a school, that the Gunawan children often stole backpacks that the kids left outside their classrooms during recess. Maybe the foreigners were a bit shortsighted. He’d overheard the grandparents say once that fences weren’t much more than a symbolic barrier anyway. Chain…