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.”
“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.”