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Monday, April 25, 2011

Left Behind

Left Behind
The next afternoon, Anna’s mum called her name. Anna expected to have some errand or other to run.

“Could you come with me today, Anna? Your father heard about a family with a number of children who need shoes. We bought them yesterday and I want to deliver them today. I also want to take these little cakes to an old woman. I can’t carry it all.”
This was nicer. Though Anna didn’t always find her mum easy, she loved helping her with these benevolent visits. It made her feel good and June always told her so much about the village and the people as they went.

They walked deeper into the village than she had ever been before. She was used to houses made of weaved bamboo strips, and hard dirt road, pocked with mud puddles. Little boys with runny noses wearing only shirts, and groups of women and children combing each other’s hair in search of lice and nits were normal. But the deeper they went, the paths turned muddy and narrow. Soon filthy, little streams ran from the open sewer into the middle of the path at various places. Anna walked carefully, wondering what was in that thick water. It was shocking to know this existed in her own village.

Two white women walking through this area had created a stir. A group of noisy children and no small number of adults were clustered around them following closely as they walked, moving in occasionally to touch Anna’s white skin and hair.

They dropped shoes off for the large family and moved on. June then stopped a small thatched house and called into the open door. An old woman came to the door of the hut, saw who her visitors were, and shooed away the watching crowd. The old woman was visibly pleased to have such visitors. She smiled, a nearly toothless smile, bowed and disappeared for a moment.

“What’s she doing?”

June put a finger to her lips as woman brought in tea and served it herself. Such was her poverty. June picked up her lukewarm glass and sipped.

“Ibu Marianne, my daughter’s interested in knowing all about you and your family.”
Anna raised her eyebrows at her mother. The old woman nodded happily and turned to Anna, her face animated.

“My father was a Dutch man” she recalled proudly, “tall, straight and handsome. My mother and I were so proud of him. It was a delight to walk beside him, every eye on us. I was the envy of all my friends. He was so strong and powerful. We were rich, Nona, just like you. We lived in a stone house and kept two servant girls. It was very nice.

Then one day my father told us that we should all go to Holland. Things would be better for us there. I’d grow up to be a proper Dutch girl. He went away to get things ready for us and come back in just a few months.”

The old woman was silent for a moment feeling sad for the Dutch girl she once was. She looked up at Anna, her green eyes so wrong in her dark face.
“He never came back and we never heard a word again. My mother said the ship his sunk.” The old woman sighed. Anna felt as if the salty ocean had washed over her. Her back wet with sweat.

“I remember so clearly the day we left our lovely stone house. The villagers were so angry with my mother, throwing things at her. My grandfather came with my uncles, it took all of them to keep us safe. I could barely peep over my uncle’s shoulder, but I watched until our house was out of sight. My mother cried for days and was sick for weeks. I think her heart broke for a second time, we had to leave all our beautiful things behind.”
The old woman looked down at her stained hands.

“What happened to your mother?” Anna whispered.

“She married again, Nona, few years later. An Indonesian man. Just a common village man, but kind. My mother did okay, but I never remember her laughing anymore the way she did with my father.”

Anna’s mother held out a small bag to Ibu Marianne.

“Oh how beautiful. We had these when I was just a little girl.”

Anna looked to see what had brought such delight to the sad, old woman. There was a plate of simple, little tea cakes.

June stood to leave and Anna followed. Anna was silent, busy in her thoughts, trying to avoid stepping in mud holes, and ignoring the chaotic group of children poking at her as she walked along. It was not until they reached a wider road of hard earth that Anna spoke.

“It’s so sad, Mum, that her father died.”

Mrs. Harmon stopped and turned looking fully into Anna’s face.
“That ship didn’t go down, Anna.” Anna tilted her head and frowned questioningly at her mother.

“Anna, use your head. He left them.”

“But why?"

“You know Indonesian history. The Dutch were losing this country, and the Dutch who lived here were losing everything.”

“But why didn’t he take them to Holland with him?”

Mrs. Harmon started walking again. “Maybe he didn’t want them when he got to the Netherlands. Or maybe his family didn’t want his Indonesian wife and daughter. It could be any reason.”

“But to leave his family, Mother.” Anna shouted, angry with the man who must have died so long ago.

“Anna, his business was probably failing, they’d lost control and were despised by the people here. It was dangerous for him here
.”
Her mum stopped and sighed, “If he stayed he would have had to live in poverty with them?”

“But…” Anna started.

Mrs. Harmon turned once more to look her daughter straight in the eye.

“The main thing is that he made choices and the result is that poor woman who lives in Indonesian poverty with Western memories.”

Anna who looked away.

“It doesn’t have to be like that.” Anna raised her eyes hard against her mother.

“Anna, how do you live? You live like a rich little Western girl. What does Tukiono do? He’s an office boy. A good job for a boy from a Central Javanese village. Could you live in a little village house? Cook on a wood burner stove? And the future Anna, could you live with your future? Do you think you would live like you do now? No way. You’d have the live the life of a village woman, but you would never really be a village woman!”

Anna couldn’t look any longer. Her face fell. “But what do I do mum, what can I do about it?”

Her mother gripped Anna’s chin and lifted her face.

“Tukiono is an Indonesian boy ready for marriage. You let that young man know in no uncertain terms, Anna Harmon, that you know who you are.”

The rest of the memories were not so nice. Her dream of life with Tukiono was destroyed, now all she could see was herself in a dingy whitewashed shanty, and her as a strange, white-haired old woman among dark people.

Her friend Jo, from school, spent Saturday night with her. After church on Sunday Anna and Jo ran past the lingering Tukiono, giggling together. Out of the corner of her eye Anna saw looks exchanged between he and his friends.

Tukiono felt the public humiliation. He ‘lost face’ in front of his peers. Never again was he even friendly to Anna.

“And now I’ll have to call Sairi, Ibu Tukiono.” Anna thought. Everything was changing. So many of her friends who used to call her Nona Anna, were now married, and most were toting babies on their hips, or had fat bellies. She was just a single girl.

She lay on her bed feeling sad, for a moment. Anna jumped up. “Maybe I’ll see if Jo wants to do anything this weekend.”

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Over-Protected

Over-Protected

Anna bidded her time through the rest of Sari’s visit. It was a relief when the two women stood to leave. She watched silently as Ibu Maya opened her handbag , holding it out to show June she had not stolen anything. Mrs. Harmon nodded her head slightly, waved her hand in acknowledgement, and called Mina to see the visitors out.
Anna went to back to her room and flopped down on her bed. Sari’s last words left Anna feeling crushed.

“Oh Tukiono, oh how could you go and fall for Sari?”

Anna remembered that day about six months previously when Tukiono stopped her outside church. He talked to her for ages, till her parents called to go home. She couldn’t even remember what they talked about, but she did remember how she felt. He made her so happy and they laughed and laughed. It was just such fun.
A few days later when her mother sent her off to the Allen’s to deliver a message. Anna walked down Jalan Kecil and found Tukinono was milling about just a few yards from her house. He walked with her almost to the Allen’s and when she finished her delivery and started home again, he was there, waiting for her.

Suddenly, Tukiono seemed to be anywhere and everywhere, Anna went. She had never been happier.

One Saturday, just minutes after her parents had left for a business trip in the city, Tukinono came to visit.

Mina came tentatively to tell Anna there was a visitor.

“Nona Anna, I told him to come back later, as your mother and father are not here. But he insists that I tell you he has come.”

“Of course you are to let him in, Mina. He’s come to see me.”

Ignoring the shocked look on the servant girl’s face, Anna added, “And bring us tea and some of those little cakes that cook just baked.”

Sitting opposite Tukiono, handsome by any culture’s standards with his wavy dark hair and sharp black eyes, Anna enjoyed playing the hostess. The questioning looks on Mina’s and Sujatmi faces as they served the tea and cakes didn’t detract from her enjoyment, it brought her a delicious sense of pleasure. She loved playing the hostess to such an enviable guest.

She thanked the girls in a dismissive tone and turned to Tukiono with a bright smile.
“Selakan makan. (Please eat.)” she said, shyly.

Tukinono didn’t stay nearly long enough. But his visit lingered with her as she sat in the now lonely living room, as the girls cleared away the dishes. She dreamed of the future, a home with Tukiono, servants attending them, bringing tea while they laughed. Many of her Indonesian friends were married already. She could easily picture herself in society with them, going to church with them, and having them into her lovely little house. She and Tukiono would make the perfect couple.

The second visit began much the same as the first. It ended in disaster.
Tukiono arrived, by chance Anna assumed, while her parents were out together again. Anna thought the scene set once more for another lovely visit. Maybe this time the formalities required might just give way to more. Surely they would exchange more than a mere gentle handshake.

Then Anna’s parents returned early. Their business in the city hadn’t worked out; the people they went to meet were not in. The look on her parents’ face as it dawned on them that Tukiono was Anna’s visitor and that this was not the first visit of it’s kind seemed to be more than just ordinary shock.

Her father recovered his manner, greeted Tukiono and came and sat with them. Her mother took longer to join them, holding her in mouth that pinched expression Anna knew too well. June called for cold drinks for herself and Anna’s dad before sitting in chair opposite the visitor.

‘Why had they come back so early? They were spoiling everything.’

Anna narrowed her eyes, and tried to keep talking to Tukinon, but her friend now turned his attention to her father. Anna wished they had never come, the looks her mother was throwing towards both she and Tukiono! It was no wonder he left so quickly.

“You two were very unfriendly!"

Her father looked sad and opened his mouth as if to speak. But her mum stood up and said, “You don’t understand anything, Anna.”

Anna ran to her room and slammed the door.

‘Always so over-protective,’ she thought as she pulled a brush harshly through her hair. She would never be able to have a life.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Two Girls

Two Girls

Anna heard the servant girl, Mina, usher someone into the house, knock the office door, and call out, “Nonya Harmon, Ibu Maya de sini dengan Sari.” Anna jumped from her bed.
Sari and her mother were here. Anna ran to the door and rushed out. Sari had been her closest friend in the village since they were toddlers. Anna slowed down and walked into the living room. She first greeted Sari’s mother, Maya, with a handshake and a welcome.
“Selmat Datang, Ibu Maya.”
Then, even when greeting her good friend, she gently shook hands, as culture demanded.
“You may go Mina,” Anna said, as she led the guesst over to the sofa where they all sat down until June came into the room a minute later. All three, once again, stood up and went through all the proper greeting formalities.
Once they were sitting again, Anna could finally chat to her friend as the two mothers talked about various happenings around the village.
Anna smiled and said “Sari, have you been to marketplace recently. I saw some wonderful bags there. They were brown leather with small bits of coloured glass and little round mirrors. I think they are from India.”
Sari only smiled and said “No, Nona Anna I haven’t had time to go to the marketplace recently. I’ve been very busy.”
Anna felt the cool edge in Sari’s voice that had been bothering her lately. Till now, Anna thought it was only her imagination. She’d been spending a good bit of time with an American friend who went to the same International school as she.
High school was so busy for both her and Sari, they seemed to be forever with people from their own schools. Anna had been feeling guilty. For years she had two birthday parties, one with balloons and silly games, with her school friends, and a more formal occasion for her village friends. But this year, when she turned sixteen, she’d forgotten to have the second party. Sari was probably feeling slighted.
It made Anna sad, for so many years they had been such good friends. This, in spite of the fact, that by village standards, they were in totally different social classes. Villagers always considered Westerners wealthy and socially superior. Anna knew it was a fact, in contrast with those around her in the village, she was rich.
The villagers were not the only ones with standards, however. In comparison with the kids from school, she fell far below average. Those kids, whose fathers worked for oil companies or other big multinational corporations, had it all. Working for a charitable organisation like Care For Third World Nations, as Anna’s father, did placed her in a totally different sphere.
Executives from major corporations were bribed by their companies into coming to places like Indonesia with offers of luxuries that even their high paying jobs could never afford if they stayed in their own countries. Large areas of villages were mowed down to create suburbs of mansion-style houses to please the wives and families of these corporate bosses. Once these executive families were settled into luxury houses, fitted out with all the modern conveniences of home, plus the additions of Indonesian perks such as servants, gardeners and drivers, the company was secure in its work force.
Anna always sensed that her village friends, including Sari, were sure that her family could live just like other westerners if they wanted to. Anna tried very hard once, to convince a village boy that every house where she came from wasn’t like Suharto’s presidential palace. She never could convince him and she never even tried to convince Sari and her other friends about how wrong they were. She couldn’t help but enjoy the mystique it created between them.
Sari always treated Anna with respect, calling her Nona Anna (Miss Anna). It had always been a warm friendship, despite the formalities required. It was played out in Anna’s living room, sipping tea brought by a servant girl, or in the small front room of Sari’s house with tea served by Ibu Maya or some relative. But recently the warmth had gone and this cold Sari, who no longer seemed to be even friendly, had taken over.
Anna was still mulling Sari’s attitude in her head when June interrupted her thoughts, saying, “Well, well Anna and what do you think of this news?”
Sari quickly spoke up, “I was just about to tell you Nona Anna. Tukiono and I are to be married next month.”
Anna was sure shock showed in her face.
Sari, smiled, but her eyes narrowed. “Soon, Nona Anna, you will have to call me Ibu Tukiono.”

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Dog

Dress, Dog and Servant-Girls

Anna walked down her street, Jalan Kecil (Little Road). This part of the village where she lived was a nice. The streets were tidy and no shabby hawkers' stalls littered the view. The road was lined with palm trees, the thick leaves swooping out and creating some shade from the heat. Banana trees. their purple stems sensually laden with yellow bananas, and little trees filled with green and yellow star fruits completing the picture.
On the left side of the road was a white-washed brick wall. The wall was broken by paths only wide enough to accommodate walkers or bikes. On the right side of the road were the nicest houses in the village, built of rich stone and red-tile roofs. One of these stone houses stood slightly apart from the others. A high cast iron fence enclosed the house cutting it off from the rest of the village road.
As Anna neared this fence she saw a small boy lobbing a stone at the shaggy brown dog inside. Anna yelled and the boy ran quickly down one of the small paths. The dog was in an absolute uproar. Anna opened the gate and bent to catch the small fluffy creature before he escaped. “Stop it Muffy.. You only make them dislike you more when you run the village so wildly.” Then mockingly she changed to her best nasal accent and added, ”I don’t know why we have a dog in this Muslim country just to accommodate a spoiled girl.”
Giving the dog one last pat, Anna slipped off her sandals and walked into the house. “Anna, are you finally back. What’s wrong with that animal now? He’s so much trouble and so noisy, we really shouldn’t keep him, you know? He always upsets the neighbours. Did you get my message to the Allen’s? Did Reverend Allen send me anything?”
Anna held out the note. Her mother snatched it as if it contained life-sustaining food. And maybe for her it did.
Anna walked past as her mother devoured the note. Anna almost made it past safely but then her mother spoke.
“Oh Anna, there’s mud all over you. Why didn’t you wash up before you came into the house dear? Really, if you’d ever stop dreaming and keep your mind on what you’re doing you could avoid so many problems. I just don’t know how you will ever get on.”
Anna turned, a response lingering on her lips, but the note already consuming her mum again. She walked past Anna without even seeing her daughter’s angry look.
As June Harmon closed her office door, Anna didn’t need to be able to see through the door to know her mum was huddled over her desk greedily including the information from the note into some article she was writing. Anna had no doubt that in a few months she would hear that her mother’s article had once again been placed in a scholarly journal and possibly, probably, being acclaimed.
Anna went out the back door of the house and into her bathroom. It was one of three small rooms outside the house. The other two were the servant’s living quarters. The room she entered was a modified version of an Indonesian bathroom. There was a small sink with an overhead mirror, a toilet with flushing equipment and a traditional Indonesian mandi or bath. The bath was a square tile box filled with water. A red plastic dipper sat on the side waiting for someone to bathe himself or herself with the cold water. This part of the bathroom was modified as well. Unlike the servant’s next door, Anna’s bath had a hot water tap added so she could make her nightly bath a warm one. Anna stepped into the grey tiled room and dipped the plastic bucket into the cold water. She poured it over her legs and watched as the muddy water flowed down onto the floor, away to the drain and disappeared. Slowly she dipped again and thoroughly washed the mud from her legs. She then slipped her soft mud-splattered batik dress over her head. Only then did she remember that she hadn’t brought another to change into. Anna opened the door and call to a servant.
A slight girl with long black hair stepped out of the door next to Anna’s. “Ja, Nona Anna.” In rapid Indonesian, Anna asked the girl to get a dress for her. “Oh, Mina, get the red one.” She added as the girl walked away.
Anna stood in the bathroom waiting and thinking, “Maybe Mum’s right, maybe I don’t keep my mind on what I’m doing.”
But Anna also knew she couldn’t please her mother no matter what she did. If Anna had taken the time to wash her legs before giving her mother the papers she would have heard, “Anna, where have you been? Didn’t I ask you to hurry? Don’t you know how important my work is? Why do you have to dawdle and dream.” “Nona” said Mina has she knocked on the door. Anna took the dress from Mina and handed her the muddied one.
Anna slipped the cool dress over her head. Her thoughts disturbing. Anna tried several experiments, sometime hurrying, other times taking her time to do things for her mother. She’d now given up.
Anna went in the house and walked across the cool tile floor between a bookshelf laden with a miscellaneous collection of theological, classical and modern books and a beautiful teak dinner table. She went into her bedroom. The room was small in the normal middle-class Indonesian way, but full with a large queen-sized American bed and chest of drawers.
Anna sat down on her bed. Muffy jumped up to curl in a heap beside her. Anna brushed her long blonde hair and divided it into two strands. She reached above the bed and selected a red scarf from the assortment that hung on a hook. She carefully braided her hair using the scarf as the third segment in the braid then tied the end with a rubber band Anna’s mind was on school. The sound of the afternoon prayers filled the air, echoing through her room. She barely noticed. She was thinking again.
In just over a week school started up again. She would be in the eleventh grade at Jakarta International School. Anna faced school with mixed feelings. She flopped back on her bed. Oh, she dreaded that horrid hour-long bus trip through the crowded streets. But no more message running through the village for her mother. Even better no monotony of always being home.”

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Mud

Java, 1976
Mud on Your Sandals
Anna walked along the hard dirt road. Her sandals kept flipping little clots of mud up the back of her legs and dress. Anna stopped and wiped her legs with her hand, then dusted off her dress smearing the mud on her dress doing so.
“Gah, one wrong step and I’m a mess.”
She looked down the road. It was impossible to tell that it rained only a couple of hours ago. The road was virtually dry, almost dusty. But there were small patches, where the road dipped, the mud remained for hours or days, till the next monsoon hit. It was into one of these patches that Anna stepped a few minutes ago.
She looked up and saw the small dark man staring at her snickering. The baskets of fruit he was selling hung from his strong shoulders.
“Hati-hati, Noni Subur.”
She held back her desire to yell at him. But she played with the words she’d like to use in her head. “I’m plenty careful enough, you lout! And I’m certainly not a little rich miss.” Instead she tossed back her blonde hair and walked on though he would never know she understood his language.
Anna stopped and looked back at the man. He walked down the path, his wares flung over the back of his neck, the contents of two baskets bending the rod upon which they were hung; bending the man himself.
She sighed. “He’s punished enough” she thought, then turned and soon forgot the incident and the little man.
The fruit hawker dropped his basket of wares back onto the hard dirt path and stooped down on his hunches. He pulled out his clutch of coins. Oh how he wanted to buy a good spicy dish full of meat. He snarled at the thought of his wife’s look if he went home and hadn’t made enough money to buy a cut of meat from the market. She liked her meat too, and it had been a long while since they were able to buy any. Sometimes he felt she liked his humiliation when he came home without, almost as much as she liked getting the meat.
He looked up and saw a woman motioning to him from a stone house. He looked around and saw he was the only hawker nearby. He’d wandered down this road full of wealthier village houses. Shouldering his load, he scurried over to the lady, grateful for one last buy of the day. He knew that women would soon be starting dinner preparations and have no time for hawkers or their wares for the rest of the evening. This was one final chance of a sell. Just one last possibility to get enough coins to buy meat for his family this evening. He could almost taste it, fried just right with spices and hot peppers. How prosperous he would feel. How pleased his children would be. Tonight he would be the master of his home.
The lady picked up the old papaya and handled it. The tell-tale signs of ageing where clear. She put it back and started to turn away. The hawker quickly dug under the pile of fruit and showed her a perfect little one. She took it; he hesitated, assessing her. She wanted that piece of fruit. He bowed low and asked a high price. Then he watched her eyes. He held his breath. Her face changed.
“Ah, go on with you.” She said sourly.
He hated her. He hated her worse than he did that little white girl. Here was a woman, a dark skinned woman just like him, but rich enough to look down on him. He wanted to spit.
Instead he whined, “Oh Nona (Mrs.), It’s the end of the day. Maybe I can make you a deal on this. Too good a deal, it will hurt me. But you’re so good. You have a family to feed tonight, true?” He then quoted a reasonable price for the fruit. The woman looked at him, hard, and offered him only half the amount.
“Dutch dog”, the hawker thought, bowing and smiling at the woman, he handed her the papaya and took her coins.
The hawker walked on from the house. He hated the rich. He wished he were rich, and then he would show them. He wanted his meat. He hated his wife, hated the look he would see on her face when he went home. The coins bumped against his leg. There was just enough for a small purchase of meat. It would not go far, each person in his family would have just a little, with spicy coconut gravy and rice.
He stopped again and put down his heavy load. He stooped and looked at his coins. His nose hurt him. He cleared it with his long finger then wiped the finger in the grass beside him.
The food hawkers were beginning to set up stalls on the street. Tantalising smells. He walked over to a stall and made his order. When the food seller placed a bowl before him, he dropped a few of his coins into the palm held out to him. He might face her disgusted expression when he went home, but it was much easier to do so with the warm glow of spicy meat in his belly.