By FAIZA MUHAMAD
Lilu is not any girl. She is very quirky and pleasantly peculiar, and she’s always been like that. She’s sweet yet misunderstood, smart and talented yet often misread. Little Lilu grew up in a village in Madiun, East Java, where her family still lives until today. I could only guess that as a kid she didn’t fit in much either. She confirmed that it was indeed the case. She was the village weirdo, but one who was proven to be clever, creative as well as talented, and therefore rather threatening as people are often scared of what they can’t understand.
After she finished high school, Lilu went to live in Jakarta with her sister and not long after she moved to Yogyakarta where she decided to continue her education. Several years later, Lilu moved to Bali where she fell in love with dogs, colors, street art, painting and that particular sparkle of magic that only a creative process would bring one to feel. For the past three years, Lilu has devoted her heart and a big part of her days to her life as a street artist, better known as Fee Des Chiens, the dog fairy.
Last Eid holiday season, Lilu went to her hometown to celebrate the holiday with her family. One afternoon as she was strolling around, she passed the kindergarten she used to go to. The place looked sad and grey, and it was not because it looked deserted since it was closed for the holidays. The walls were dirty, the wall paintings were faded, the colors were nowhere even near to the supposed cheerful sense of a kindergarten. It certainly was all bright and shiny at some point, probably a long time ago.
As Lilu told me the story, I quickly guessed that she went to see the school principal or let’s say anyone, who she could talk to in order to put a spell of her childlike animal images on those dying walls. I should have known better by now; that’s not exactly her kind of thinking.
Instead of finding someone in charge to talk to, Lilu went to see her high school friend, Eni, a housewife living in Jakarta but was back in the village to take care of her sick father. Lilu invited (or to use the exact word; forced) Eni to help her in carrying out her mission. As infectious as Lilu’s excitement might have been, Eni was wise enough to stay quite reluctant to be part of Lilu’s shenanigans. However, she didn’t succeed to save herself from Lilu’s determination, hence there she was as Lilu’s faithful assistant for the day.
Lilu didn’t want to waste any time, so she went to the nearest hardware store and bought buckets of paint, brushes, and everything else she needed for her spontaneous “ Back to School: Project TK” (TK stands for Taman Kanak-Kanak which is Indonesian for kindergarten). In the meantime, Eni was sure that she’d get in trouble simply for knowing what Lilu was up to! Poor Eni. Like taking care of a sick father was not enough to fill up her plate, she officially got involved in Lilu’s questionably illegal project too.
After a long day working on those walls, Lilu went home to her parents’ and excitedly told them what a great day she had doing some street art in her own village, on the walls of her childhood kindergarten even! Both of her parents were as surprised (and if they didn’t remember their daughter’s quirks well enough they might have been shocked) that she’d just taken matters in her own hands without for a moment considering that she might needed to speak with someone who had a say in this, like the school principal or anyone else for that matter.
Lilu’s mom didn’t really try to hide how she felt about the situation and told her husband that depending on how things would progress, their daughter who rarely spends time with them might have just embarrassed them, big time! And in the small village, this story about this dog fairy’s doing was definitely going to make the headlines of this years’ holiday stories that gets viral through the good old-fashioned word of mouth, the neighbor tells neighbor kind of thing. To make herself even clearer, Lilu’s mother concluded that the village lunatic might have just found himself a perfect friend; Lilu.
Still a little confused of what the fuss is all about, Lilu and Eni who was kind of trapped in the state of affairs (including getting scolded by Lilu’s parents for letting Lilu ‘vandalize’ the walls) were both somewhat forced to visit the kindergarten principal at her home to ask for quite pointless permission to continue working on the walls.
As instructed by her parents, Lilu also apologized for overstepping and the fact that she made all the decisions for the wall’s life on her own. Of course, Lilu was not the one to speak. Eni had to do all the talking, because just like her Indonesian and English, Lilu’s Javanese is not exactly designed in a way that the average person would get what she means without raising their eyebrows a few times per minute. Communication is a not her strong suit, and based on her experience, she is pretty well aware about it (crazy and hilarious stories in that area too).
The principal said that she walked by the school that afternoon and that she actually saw Lilu painting the walls. She was all kinds of confused and had no idea why someone was volunteering for the work. She also thought that the walls looked amazing, so concluded that the walls were in good hands. She told Lilu and Eni that she was completely aware that the walls were sad and depressing by now. She shared that she has been waiting for a ridiculously long time to finally get the budget to redo the paint on those walls.
The school could simply not afford it without the help from the local board or government or something like that. So, when she saw Lilu, she decided not to spook the mystery woman with her buckets of paint and brushes. She chose to keep on walking, not to ask a single question, and simply be grateful for the fact that someone was doing the job without handing her a bunch of forms and paperwork.
The job was done wonderfully. Lilu gave them a piece of her heart too. Those walls witnessed two years of her days as a little kid running around in the playground, and obviously she had some kind of connection with this place. She just wanted to do what felt natural, and what felt right to her, and she did. Afterwards, she rewarded herself with some play time on the rather rusty playground equipment, and let her inner kid savor the nostalgic moment at that kindergarten by the train tracks in that quiet village somewhere in Madiun.
In the end everyone was happy, no one got embarrassed, and the kids would return to school to a nice surprise. As for Eni, she thought it might be best not to give Lilu her phone number after the holiday was over. Maybe she thought it was enough of an adventure and shenanigans for a year, until they meet again in next year’s family visit. And for the village crazy guy whom Lilu’s mother mentioned, Lilu thought she’d check out what kind of crazy person this guy actually was. Maybe he was just too crazy for the village’s taste after all. Lilu is still curious to find out about that slight chance that the village lunatic could be some awesome weirdo who is simply misunderstood by the people in the village. Well, if that’s the case, maybe they can even become friends! She is not sure about it, but she’d definitely try to find out for herself one day. Lilu’s mom would not be pleased about that idea either. But that’s something she can be worried about next time!