is one of my favorite words in Javanese. It’s read shoo-wong, and it means “empty”, but in some cases, “empty, but not really empty”.

Sometimes, my parents had to make an urgent visit to my maternal grandma and they would leave me and my older sister at my aunt’s. Our neighbors liked to warn us about our house being suwung: that it was “not good” to leave the house suwung for more than a few hours and no, it had nothing to do with burglary or any potential crimes. It was something else. They said my parents should have asked someone to stay in our house instead of leaving it empty.

I asked my father what they  meant. The village we lived in was his birthplace, so I thought he knew more about it than any of us. He told me not to listen to them since it meant none. But I had already listened to them so it was a late warning. I became suspicious and scared. I dreaded being alone at our house.

Growing up, I learned that I needed a lot of alone time to “recharge”. Our living room was pretty much suwung during the day, particularly when my mother went out and my older sister hadn’t yet come back from school, and I loved to use it for this purpose.

Sitting on a long chair, I tried to absorb the silence, the emptiness, of the room. It felt creepy at first since I had been conditioned to believe that this solitary silence was “not good”. But then serenity prevailed, and there was perhaps something else in the emptiness. And it was surely not that something people thought about.

I soon became addicted to this silence. I tried to find time to be with it more often. I often refused to join my family going out on the weekend so I could taste this aloneness one more time. I could not tell them about the clean and crisp air in the room when nobody spoke a word. And how I loved this suwungness everyone hated.

Perhaps emptiness is a canvas and our own silence is the stroke of paint.

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