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Tuesday, April 19, 2011


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.”

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