Suatu konflik antara mahasiswa-mahasiswa (muda) dan dosen killer, sesuatu yang sebenarnya tak lagi kupermasalahkan, membawaku mengenang suatu nama tokoh di satu novel karya pengarang besar yang salah satu fase dalam hidupnya sering dikaitkan dengan pesona kota ini. Aku datang terlambat, seperti biasa, namun dosen kali ini melarang mahasiswa untuk datang terlambat di kemudian hari, dan tidak perlu masuk kelas. Aku masuk, minta maaf dan duduk manis. Mahasiswa lain yang lebih terlambat, datang satu per satu dan membuat sang dosen tambah panas. Saat dosen itu masih ngomel, alarm berbunyi. Mungkin sekedar peringatan palsu, atau sekadar untuk latihan, yang jelas kami harus keluar gedung membawa semua barang-barang kami. Turunlah kami dari lantai 3, berkumpul dengan semua orang di lapangan di depan gedung. Aku bergabung dengan kerumunan yang kurang setuju dengan cara mengajar dosen itu–para pemberontak. Setelah dikonfirmasi bahwa kami bisa kembali ke kelas, ternyata pintu tertutup. Aku ketuk, tak ada balasan. Kami menunggu sekitar 15 menit. Ada mahasiswa yang turun dan memberi tahu dosen lain. Monsieur Garcon naik, membuka pintu dengan kartu aksesnya, dan.. voila.. dosen itu sedang mengajar walau cuma ada 3 orang di sana. Kami terpana. M Garcon menyarankan kami untuk tidak memulai konflik, dan menyampaikan pesan bahwa kami bisa masuk di sesi kedua jam 11.30.
Kami menunggu sambil mengobrol. Ada yang mencoba menghapal nama-nama kami. Banyak dari mereka yang memanggilku Linda (artinya cantik dalam bahasa Spanyol 🙆🏻). Ada yang menjelaskan arti atau asal usul nama Fatma. Lalu Santiago.
Ya, itu nama tokoh di novel Le Veille Homme 🚤et la Mer, alias The Old Man 🎣and the Sea. Dari novel itu, sudah lama sekali aku baca untuk kelas Prose waktu kuliah, aku belajar satu kata bahasa Prancis: la mer. Kata benda, feminin, artinya laut. 🌊

View on Path


Ah Xiang’s Last Day (Indonesian short story in translation)

by Leopold Adi Surya Indrawan

Translated by Indah Lestari, edited by Marjie Suanda


AFTER LINING UP the eight plates of milk custard pie on a long table in the living room, Ah Xiang returned to his room to take a rest. He actually felt fresh, as he had just taken a bath, the first time in over a year that a drop of water had touched his body. He was sure that his demise would come that day as Li Hwa had told him. Li Hwa is his cousin who has the ability to foresee the time of someone’s death.

He had found out about the day of his death six months ago, and the next day he called his elder brother and eight younger siblings one by one. “On the fourth day of the ninth month, my time shall come,” said Ah Xiang. His ‘announcement’ was meant to be an invitation for his brothers and sisters, to visit him on that very date.

“Rather than talking rubbish, you better take a bath! If you want to draw attention that way, people will avoid you instead,” said Ah Seh, Ah Xiang’s brother.

There were more brothers and sisters who disregarded Ah Xiang’s announcement than those who cared. Ah Xiang truly believed in Li Hwa’s foretelling—that elderly lady had accurately foreseen the death of one of Ah Xiang’s close friends. His brothers and sisters who had heard the story took it as a mere coincidence. It does not take an intelligent person to be able to predict the death of a dying person, so they thought.

Not only did he believe in Li Hwa’s prediction, but Ah Xiang also wanted to die soon. He did not have enough courage to commit suicide, however. He had heard a story that the god of the hereafter, Giam Lo Ong, does not think twice about sending people who commit suicide to hell.

He had been single all his life. The only woman he had ever slept with, Was, did not want to marry him. She was a maid who took care of Ah Xiang’s mother. After the death of his mother twenty years ago, Was went back to her hometown. Was had persuaded Ah Xiang to take her as a wife, but his parents could not consent to a domestic helper as a daughter-in-law. And later, Was realized her life would not be prosperous enough just living off of Ah Xiang’s inheritance from his family. Moreover, Ah Xiang remained unemployed. He lived on money sent to him by his brother, Ah Li, who had lived with him for years and then moved to Singapore to work, thus leaving him alone. Ah Li still sent him money, which he sometimes used for betting in chess matches against the handymen working next door.

Since Was left, Ah Xiang turned gloomy. And what was worse, after Ah Li left, Ah Xiang practically did not have anyone left. Yet, his sorrow could still be soothed at least once a year. Chinese New Year—the principal holiday for the Chinese—was still celebrated at his residence, as was sangjit, an offering rite, whenever one of Ah Xiang’s nieces was about to marry. These two celebrations took place at Ah Xiang’s house, in Jakarta, because the house was the family’s main house. So Ah Xiang always awaited at least these two annual events. He would be busy making his best custard tarts to enliven the mood. To him, custard tart is obligatory for every family celebration. Custard tart is an ancestral heritage. Its sweetness brings joy. And joy brings good fortune.

“The filling of the custard tart should be soft, so soft that it melts when you put it in your mouth,” said Ah Xiang’s mother when she was teaching him how to make custard tart for the first time. “And you must remember to always use the eggs from hens that are on pasture, as the yolk is darker yellow, the taste is milder and the smell less foul.”

Sometimes he imagined climbing his family tree back to the times of his ancestors in east Kengtang, China. He would meet his great-great-great grandmother, the person who made the first custard tart, after the kitchen master god Chàu-Kun sent the recipe to her in a dream.  Ah Xiang could not accept it if anyone would say that our custard tart was only the people of Hong Kong’s adaptation of a Portuguese custard pie. He would not take the side of an historical possibility that threatened the purity of this recipe. And why would anyone want to question his belief anyways?

“No white men can make good cakes!” said Ah Xiang. This was despite the fact that he had never tried any European cake.

Some years after Ah Li had left him, the custard tarts were missing from the family parties. Ah Xiang did not feel like making them anymore. The Chinese New Year and sangjit celebrations were no longer held at his house, but rather at Ah Seh’s in the Kebon Jeruk area, where the living room and parking space are wider. The title of “principal house”, which signifies the house of the first generation, was ignored. At first Ah Xiang still regularly attended the events at her sister’s house, picked up by his niece with a car. But year after year he felt increasingly like an outsider amid the hilarity of his own extended family. Finally, he decided not to join the family gatherings anymore. He preferred being alone all year long at his house. Nobody visited him. He only went out to pay the water, electricity and telephone bills; and bought meals at the local food stalls. Most of the time he just sat on a chair on the terrace, watching the orange trees.

Why hasn’t anyone showed up? Ah Xiang thought.

Ah Xiang also decided not to take a bath or clean the house anymore. He thought, why should I take care of things that everyone ignores? His bad odor grew stronger and stronger. Nobody could stand being anywhere near him. His brothers and sisters were caught between pitying him and being disgusted by him, but the latter sentiment seemed to be stronger. They saw Ah Xiang’s behavior as his way of seeking attention. As a result, they cared less.

Whenever Ah Xiang heard the sound of a car approaching his house, he often thought it was one of his siblings coming to pay him a visit. But most of the time he was wrong. Then he would heave a deep sigh, watching the car pass by in front of his house.

One evening, after he had not bathed for months, Ah Xiang’s heart was filled with hope as he heard Li Hwa calling him from the fence of the house.

Li Hwa did not share a person’s expiration time easily, instead, she would keep it to herself. One would have to coax her for hours so that she would tell.

“Telling you about something like this is inappropriate,” said Li Hwa.

“If you have been given the gift to reveal the secret of the sky, that means you do have the right,” said Ah Xiang.

Although her ability sounded very powerful, Li Hwa told one’s time of death in an unceremonial way. She would simply need to close her eyes for some time. That way, she explained, she could let her consciousness wander in the sky, enter Giam Lo Ong’s palace over the cluster of clouds, pass through a long hallway with stacks of parchment scrolls on racks lining both sides, then stop in a small wooden-floored room: where a painting of a dragon and a phoenix hung on the wall and a gold-covered book sat on a table. She could look in that book for the name of a person whose time of death she wanted to know. The pages would turn by themselves as she wanted.

How he would die, Ah Xiang did not need to question. He thought he would perish due to his deteriorating health. He often vomited for no clear reason, then he would gasp and grow completely weak after eating. Yet, he had never consulted a doctor even once.

“In a month’s time, I will die!” said Ah Xiang when he was on the phone with Ah Li, reminding him about Li Hwa’s prophecy.

Koh, you better not believe Li Hwa, she only talks bullshit. If she is indeed a clairvoyant, why is her life so difficult now?” asked Ah Li.

“What does ‘bullshit’ mean?”


AFTER HE FOUND out about his time of death, Ah Xiang started thinking of making a simple celebration. Chinese New Year comes every year, while death is a one-off happening (at least in one lifetime). Death is more worth celebrating, Ah Xiang thought. Thus, some days before the D-day, he started preparing custard tart batter. During one day he prepared eight tarts. Eight, he thought, is a lucky number. After baking the tarts, he waited until they cooled down and set, then stored them in the fridge. On the D-day, he would simply bring the tarts to the living room.

“Ah Li and Ah San must be the ones who miss my custard tart the most,” said Ah Xiang, cutting each tart into eight slices. He was tracing every member of the extended family, guessing who would come to his funeral. He wished that everybody would. But then he wondered if they would cry and pray for him? Or maybe they would come only out of courtesy? Isn’t it a stock reason for people to attend many kinds of events in this world?

Will they come today?

As time went by, Ah Xiang grew worried. He could no longer stand lying on his bed, watching the dull yellow walls of his bedroom and the 1995 calender with the photo of a white girl in a bikini that he had left hanging there since that year. He started wondering, it’s already late afternoon, but why haven’t his siblings come to see him off? Not even news from Li Hwa.

Ah Xiang got off his bed, walked and reached the telephone to check whether the cable was cut or gnawed by rats. He wanted to dial, but had doubts. How awkward would it be to ask his siblings: why don’t you come on the day of my death? He looked at the rows of custard tart on a long table in the living room. He stood pondering when a car honked outside. Surprised and hopeful, he ran out to the front yard.

“Good afternoon, is this the Pasaribus’ house?”

“Wr… wrong house.” Ah Xiang shook his head.

He walked feebly back to his bedroom and laid down for two hours. He was imagining his extended family coming and filling the house, having a great time in the simple celebration he held just before his funeral.


IT IS NOW 4pm, Ah Xiang goes out of his room. No sign whatsoever that anybody is coming. He walks to the living room and grabs a slice of custard tart. He eats it while sitting on a garden chair, watching the juicy oranges and the sky that turns a dark yellow. The sunlight bathes his face.

Deep in his mind he hears voices, “Ah Xiang, Ah Xiang, you are the first child that follows Mom.”

Not long after eating the piece of custard tart, Ah Xiang feels sleepy. But instead of going to his room, he remains seated and lets himself fall asleep. It is not windy, but feels airy and fresh. As he wakes up, his body feels so light, as if some burden has been lifted from his chest. He chuckles so long that tears seep out of his eyes. He does not really know why he is laughing.

He does not wish for anything, nor expect anybody to come.

As night almost falls, Ah Xiang leaves the terrace. He turns back and watches himself sitting motionlessly, his eyes shut as if he is sleeping soundly. Ah Xiang wipes the face and leaves his body.

He still has no idea of where to go.

Original title: « Hari Terakhir Ah Xiang ».

Translation is first published on Intersastra.


ruang yang saban dihuni, hampa kini

aku mengumpulkan dirimu dari benda-benda, satu-satu
musim gigil yang mempertemukan daun pada tanah dan menelanjangi dahan-dahan, mengintip di antara sempitnya hari, betapa sendirii
betapa pojok

ruang yang tak berjejak, tak melesak
aku mengukurmu dari kota-kota yang kau lewati
kereta yang maha tepercaya yang mempersembahkan tujuan di ujung jalannya,
menerobos igau, mengulir senyuman

dan kau kembali
dan aku tak lagi bertanya

Cologne, Januari 2015

Amsterdam: city of plethora

I fled from the bed. Not many things I grabbed after I instantly decided I had to go out of the flat as soon as possible. I put on my cardigan, jeans and black thick jacket/suit, then my socks and boots. I took out my wallet from my bag, it would be a simple and short journey. Then I left. It was around 1pm. I forgot to wear a bra.

Walking outside and breathing some fresh air, I was quite content to know that I also forgot my cellphone. I would be unreachable for some time, which is good when you don’t feel like talking to anyone. But I kind of regretted it because the cellphone would obviously be useful for internet, getting info about whatever faraway, strange place I would end up being in. Anywhere my feet (and my wallet) would take me to. I am free like a kite to the wind.

The first place that crossed my chaotic mind was the park. There is a lake, there are swans, less people, green field of grass stretching in your horizon—this tranquility would be able to calm me down. I reached the park within around 20 minutes. I took a stroll and then sat on one of the benches before I decided something that is, I still think it is, brilliant. I would take the train and go out of Germany! I would enjoy some city, exhaust myself, discard my night sleep and instead sleep on the train on the way back tomorrow.

But as I was strolling, I realized that another thing I also forgot is my passport, my only valid identity in this part of the world, but I didn’t give it much thought. I would make my way. I could survive this. I had survived many far worse conditions than this. Everything would be okay, I told myself.

I took the tram and then the subway to Köln Hbf, the railway station. I reached at about 4pm. It was as hectic as you can expect a railway station can be on Saturdays. I withdrew some money from Geldautomat, or the cash dispenser. I went to the information desk and asked the lady how to go to… say, Amsterdam or Paris. She asked, which one exactly, Amsterdam OR Paris? Arbitrarily I uttered, Amsterdam. The lady gave me a printout of the train schedule, the Intercity Express, or ICE train would depart at 5.45pm. I had never taken the train in Europe before, I didn’t know how to choose the train. I pressed 6pm for the departure schedule on the ticket machine, opted for return ticket for departure from Amsterdam Centraal for 11am (that should be enough of time). But I actually got the wrong train, the timetable printout says I had four trains to take, instead of the direct one. But of course I didn’t mind. In the station I bought a red shawl for a shield of my neck, only 5 euros.

The local train was quite full but I had a seat. At the stop in Eindhoven I bought myself a croissant. I was not really hungry but I realized I had not eaten anything since morning, so even the cold croissant was super tasty. The intercity train, but not the express one, was almost empty. It was like one of the trains I saw in the movies. I sat on the upper level. It’s dark outside, and I was a bit worried when I saw some drops of the drizzle falling on the window. It would be colder. It turned out to be true. It was not because the rain, but rather the wind. The wind blew from every direction and I was already shivering. Maybe I was walking in the park for too long, I felt my body had been storing the coldness I had been exposed to.

Amsterdam Centraal. It was around 11pm. A gush of wind almost swept me. I crossed lines of railways and the street, joining the crowd. A city like this should be gay, stay lively throughout the night, no? I had neither my Lonely Planet – Europe on a Shoestring edition, nor any idea of the must-see place. Like a firefly, I was drawn to the spot that bore the most lights, the Christmas market. I walked along the street, the snacks and other food on my left. Seemed like people from all over the world were as many as the local-looking.

I kept my orientation as I didn’t have my GPS-equipped device. But it was difficult as the area is not zoned in square blocks. A road became an alley became smaller alleys, and the canals were no longer pinned down in the map in my head. I let all of them blur my way. The were bookstores, sex shops, and restaurants. Unfortunately the sex shops were already closed. There were quire numerous Chinese restaurants, a Thai restaurant and certainly, an Indonesian restaurant. Two seemingly-American girls asked me to take a picture of them. I gayly did so.

A lot of bars indicated by Heineken. I randomly entered one of them as I could no longer stand the chill of the air. I sat on the bar, ordered a Cointreau and coke on the rocks. The barterder who served me looked very young, maybe aged around 15. The drink cost 7 euros. I didn’t know where to rest my gaze on. The TV emitting a billiard match, how interesting. Three men on my right were talking and laughing, loud. Then I saw myself on the mirror right in front of me, behind the bottles. My lips did not show either a smile or a pout. It must be strange for people to see me, a stranger, an Asian-looking woman sitting alone in a bar in Amsterdam, looking restless? The man on my left introduced himself, un Marocain, I practiced my French until I found him boring, like men in general. I left.

In the small alleys, some windows showcased cheerful young girls, showered in red-and-blue lights, in white underwear. Girls of various races. Smiling to everybody on the street. So this is what they say about the funky girls of Amsterdam. I returned their smile.

Another bar, another Cointreau and coke on the rocks. It was cheaper, 6.3 euros. The music played was not actually my kind of music, it was countrish or blues. But the Led Zepelin’s Stairway to Heaven and the succeeding Metallica’s Nothing Else Matters kept me awake.

A lady from Colombia came to the cigarette machine and bought a package behind me. Not too tall, not too short. Black wavy hair, lipsticked lips– maybe red. Tight top, mini skirt. Then she approached me and asked if I had a lighter. I handed it to her and she said she would return it later. I was so lonely that I thought that maybe we could be good friends. She went out and met her friends, then knocked on the glass in front of me, gave me the lighter back. So honest of her.

Sitting and watching the beer glass pads on the table, I was distracted with the scene outside. People passed, walking slowly, turning their head to the glass window next to my bar, sometimes stopped for a while, then laughed. I wondered what was going on besides the plain girls dancing and smiling. Three-four men were standing and leaning on the wall, they were straightforwardly watching the supposedly quirky scene, shamelessly. I shamelessly watched them, looked straight into their eyes. It was fun, too, to see their nervousness.

I quit the bar and went strolling to the other side of the railway station. A short building of a cafe. It says Cafe Batavia 1920. The other Cafe Batavia besides the one in my city. This part was less flashy. As I trotted on the paving blocks of the street, I saw an amusing animal, a cat! It was black with grey stripes, very fluffy due to the winter, about to eat some dried cat food put just by the door. I came near him and tried to touch him but he reluctantly accepted my intention. I meowed several times, maybe speaking the ‘same language’ can break the ice. I came closer, bowing down, squatting and stretching my hand trying to touch him, or let him kiss my finger with his nose. But he ran away, sacrificing the blessing of easy-ready food.

I didn’t realize that my cat pursuing attracted the guests sitting in the bar. Sitting on the floor, with pillows in dark colors. One of them waved at me and yelled Come on. I was brought into a shisha bar. I didn’t join the group at the front, and rather went to the bar. There were four female bartenders and the girl who greeted me spoke good English. Cointreau and coke. Eight euro something went into a wooden box that says Boîte de gâteau. The cash box. My mistake, I didn’t ask what time the bar would close. One bartender politely refused to give more drink to an obviously drunk customer. I smoked. I thought of letting him know where I was, where I had been. The English speaking girl lent me her phone and I sent a message via Facebook chat. I had to deal with the autocorrect that always suggest words with so many accented letters, which later on she told me that was Latvian. He had been worried, had not slept. It was 4 in the morning.

I had to go back, these feelings were uncontainable, still incurable. I can save the canal tour or the Van Gogh museum for next time. It was drizzling. I pulled myself together. I supposed I was done with the nuptial sightseeing. The kite was free, blown by the wind, but it is attached to a string. I went back to the station but it is only open at 6. So I took a bus to Utrecht to catch the next train. Still dark outside, and strangely silent.

heineken pad

Perempuan Kembang Jepun by Lan Fang (A section of the novel I translated into English)



Mas Sujono always thought that I dominated him. Once in a while he said I was asking too much from him, demanding more than what he could give. But was I wrong to ask him for some money to feed our child?

Our child…?

Or mine…?

Mas Sujono always said Joko was not his biological son. He repeatedly taunted me because I was in early stage of pregnancy when he married me. He did not believe that the child I was carrying was his. He said Joko was Mas Wandi’s child.

I knew Mas Wandi before I met Mas Sujono. Mas Wandi is a pedicab driver whose base was  Tanjung Perak port. He’s 42. Although he was nearly as old as my father, he still looked sturdy. He was muscular on the chest, back and arms. The muscles lustered as the sunshine fell on his sweaty skin. The smell of his sweat was mixed with that of the sunburned skin and the self-rolled clove cigarette. I like to secretly smell his odor whenever he sat next to me.

Only a few pedicabs waited for customers at Tanjung Perak port. Apart from trams and bicycles, pedicabs were the widely used means of transportation. People would flock to get a pedicab whenever a ship weighs anchor on the pier. Pedicab passengers are mostly the Chinese who come to Surabaya for the first time. I didn’t know for sure why there had been a flow of slanted-eyed and yellow-skinned people coming to the city these days. Some said that these people were the Chinese who left their homeland, which was devastated by the Japanese and the communist ruling system.

I had no idea about it.

But from my observation, tiredness hung over the faces of the Chinese who arrived in Surabaya. They might have been exhausted being in the ship for months. Or perplexed as their country was being torn apart by the war.

The same case with Indonesia. Everywhere I turn to, all I see was mourning faces.

Tanjung Perak port was where I often roamed to sell jamu, herbal drinks. I had a lot of customers there, one of whom was Mas Wandi, my most generous customer. I pointed this out because he always paid more for one botok (coconut shell) of the jamu he ordered. He never asked for the change. He even often embedded some money quietly into my brassiere, and then squeezed my breast.

Of course I was stunned. First, because of the money he put. Second, he squeezed my breast. And third, I realized that his squeezing made me shiver. He was the first man who touches me. I was frozen, not knowing what to do. I became nervous, but the strange sensation spread on. I just let it be as I enjoyed it.

These kinds of things are common among the jamu gendong (carryback) sellers like me. You can even just take a woman or two to a rented chamber in the brothel. Brothels were mushrooming along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets since Tanjung Perak grew into a trade port.

I started by merely offering jamu gendong—where the bottles, small glasses and everything else put in a basket that I carry on my back with a cloth sling—to the women sitting in the dim-lighted chambers. The women who roar at night and sleep in the day. The jamu drinks I carried in the basket were those made of lempuyangan chilies, rice and galingale, betel leaves, and galian singset and sinom mixtures. All were jamu variants for women.

Gradually my customers were not only those women, but also the men who stopped over their chambers. These men were mostly kerani (port coolies) who usually sat around in the stalls along Kalimas Barat and Kalimas Timur streets, as they rested from work. They drank legen (unfermented toddy) and smoked rolled klobor cigarettes (clove cigarette rolled in corn leaf) that emitted strong clove smell. Their shoulders and backs were powdered with dusts of jute sacks they carried.

As the dusk falls and darkness seeped in, the women stood in front of their chambers, exposing their protruding bosom. They recited pantun, or rhymed poem, in tempting tone.

“Tanjung Perak, Mas… kapale kosong…

Monggo pinarak, Mas… kamare kosong…”

(Tanjung Perak, Mas, the ship is empty…

Come drop in, Mas, the room is empty…)

One poem was replied by another, in giggles. Then palm wine was spoiled all over. The night heated up. The protruding bosoms rubbed against the solid backs that sweated from heavy duty. The bosoms that lured money to be slipped in the brasserie, and men to enter the chamber. The reflections from the dim lights danced as the wind blew.

Moaning, bellowing, wet, sweat.

I met Mas Wandi in one of those stalls. Being a virgin who had never been touched by a man, I was shy, nervous and awkward in the beginning. The skin of his hand felt hot as it touched the skin of my breast. Some sensation crept in me and made me shiver. Gradually I longed for his squeeze. I no longer bashfully sat still and waited. I was bold enough to fixed myself close to him when I yearned for his squeezes.

And Mas Wandi always got my signals.

“You’re so desirous that I want to pinch you, Nduk (small girl)…” he used to say while squeezing my breast secretly.

As time passed, his brief pinch and squeeze every now and then were not sufficient for me. I was a virgin budding into a grown woman. I felt torrential passion inside my body, wanting more… and more… and more, something like what those men and women did in the chambers. I wanted his hands to explore my entire bosom longer. So then I had the courage to hold his hand rested there.

“Really, Nduk. You make me excited. Especially these…” he said staring at me while still squeezing my breasts.

Passion possessed me when I sensed his breath on my ear and nape.

“You’re serious? Yu (elder sister) Ning is prettier. Yu Sih even more,” I replied intuitively, flirting.

“But they’re not as desirous as you,” he whispered to my earlobe, full of passion.

Was I flirting, tempting, seducing, or luring him?

I don’t know.

But I liked to be so.

Besides that Mas Wandi often gave me tips so that I was able to buy face powder and lipsticks, I also liked his squeezes. I heard from Yu Ning and Yu Sih—fellow jamu gendong sellers—that men’s accompaniment make you quiver.

Yu Ning and Yu Sih were three or four years older than me. Yu Ning has a pair of dreary melancholic eyes. I heard men talked about her, that in spite of her dreary melancholic eyes, she was hot in bed… on the mat, in this case. Meanwhile, Yu Sih has a beautiful face that is very njawani (Javanese characteristics), and fair skin. Men desired to see the smoothness of her body.

I myself am not too pretty. I am fully aware of this. My skin is sunburnt sawo matang (literally ripe sapodilla) like typical Indonesians, or dark brown. My hands are hefty and my palms rough. My heels crack. My face is not egg-round or njawani like Yu Sih, but squarish with sharp jaws. My eyes are not dreary or melancholic like Yu Ning, but big and glaring. I sometimes cursed my ugly face, that I was not able to gain a lot of customers like Yu Ning and Yu Sih.

“Ning and Sih are nothing compared to you, Nduk. Just take a look at your body. Whoever is not passionate seeing it, is surely not a man,” said Mas Wandi.

Although I was barely sixteen, I was stout, with full, rounded, sizeable breasts, hip and buttocks. If I touched my breasts, the nipples were swollen, firm and lifted.

I came to know that when I wore kebaya (traditional Javanese clothing for female), the bosom part was tight and my breasts were protruding. And the curves of my hip would be apparent underneath the cloth wrapped around me to the calves. When I walked, the bulging top part of my bosom and the sway of my buttocks would seem very tempting.

That was why two women’s pretty face is not a rival for me, since more and more people became my jamu customers. I was no longer bothered with my not-so-attractive face and dull skin whenever men whistled naughtily as I walked before them. I confidently threw a smile at them and offered my jamu.

Then those men turned like bees buzzing the flower. They strived to sit next to or in front of me. As close as they could. Sipping the jamu, they tried to touch my arm, peep into my cleavage, and pat my thigh. Slowly I understood that those were signs that they desired me.

Yu Ning and Yu Sih often told, giggling, about the customers that often caressed them. I heard that the two even exchanged knowledge of how to balance the men’s maneuver. They also exchanged the jamu recipes for men’s stamina. According to them, the recipes were bonus for their customers so that they were able to earn extra money from selling jamu.

But, to me, Mas Wandi was an ordinary customer. He was different. I was not sure, whether it’s because he was the first man that touched me–stroked and squeezed my breast, or I was in fact attracted to him. His every touch streamed to the marrow. Even every night I slept recklessly if I imagined his solid muscles and smelling his odor again.


“What’s in me that you desire, Mas?” I asked curiously, giving all of myself to him.

Kabeh (everything), Nduk…”

“Really?” I seduced him more.

“I’ll take you home later, okay?” it was obvious that he desired me.

Mas Wandi gave me a ride home by his pedicab. The man paddled the pedicab and we passed Jalan Kembang Jepun. It was getting dark and less bustling. We rode on passing grand houses owned by rich Chinese people on Jalan Kapasan. Near the railway on Jalan Kendjeran, we stopped. It was dark and quiet. The place was full of trees and bushes. There was not lighting at all.

Mas Wandi parked his pedicab by the roadside. Then he sat in the passenger seat, next to me. His body was so close to mine. I felt his shoulders rubbed against mine, he threw his arm around my shoulder. I sat still, yielding to whatever pleasure that I was about to experience.

Darkness blanketed us, his breath crept on my nape and ear. Then his hand slipped underneath my kebaya. The touch was not light as usual, but




Page 131

People knew me as Tjoa Kim Hwa, the Golden Flower.

I was a prima donna there, so my rate was high. I was very picky about the guest to host. For ordinary guests, I only accompanied them drinking sake, singing and by playing shamisen. But for the important ones, especially those Shosho Kobayashi ushered, I had to provide extra service. Surely I pocketed extra fees, too!

You have to entertain men, give them the perfect pleasure and satisfaction, that was Yuriko’s order that had been fixated in my mind.

As long as I had been a geisha, I have practiced all the lessons and instructions Gion and Yuriko gave me on entertaining men. As such, my savings were piling. But there was one thing I had never done, lip kissing!

Yuriko told me once, “The task of a geisha is only to entertain. Giving men pleasure in perfection. Don’t involve your emotion. Only kiss the lips of someone you love, because it involves you emotionally.”

After accompanying the guests drinking sake, chatting or singing, I usually offered them taking a bath in ofuro. My guest would be in the bathtub that was filled with hot water, then I would scrub his back and chest with wet napkin, or, to be precise, scrubbing-cum-patting. After that, I put a fresh kimono on him and followed him to the chamber. Once we’re inside, I took off his kimono as well as mine, piece by piece as gracefully as a dancer. Then I started massaging him gently. Or, to be precise, massaging-cum-stroking.

I started massaging from the back, to the neck, chest, through the entire body to the feet. While massaging and stroking, set my bare naked body against his. Slowly but sure, his skin would be warm, his breath heavy like the train’s locomotive, and I would remain controlling the game until he reaches the full satisfaction!

Yes, I pleased men…

I give full satisfaction!

I always followed Yuriko’s advice.

Followed? I cried silently. My hand which were writing so many words that took so many pages then stopped as the heavy guilt hung over me.

Did I really follow Yuriko’s advice? My eyes were burning and my heart aching.

No! Ever since I knew Sujono, I had never done what Yuriko told me. Sujono had made a lot of changes to my life, the bitter and the sweet ones. The man had turned my wheel of life 180 degrees, now that I was at the peak of my career and became the most popular geisha ever.

I did not know how it started, how I liked to have a conversation with him. Maybe it’s because I didn’t have any friend to talk to in Hanada-san’s nightclub. All the male guests came for my service. They did not need to have a chat with me. Meanwhile, all the girls here were only concerned with rivalry and jealousy toward each other. Especially as they knew Shosho Kobayashi and Hanada-san treated me differently. The girls suspected I was a Japanese, but they couldn’t prove it. In the club we were all required to speak Japanese and wear kimonos.

“I am actually Japanese. My real name is Matsumi. Tjoa Kim Hwa is only a fake name I used when I was smuggled here. A Japanese girl becoming a hostess in another country is considered shameful. The Japanese would not degrade their own women in other countries…”

It just happened… I started to trust Sujono. I also learned Indonesian language from him. I revealed to everybody the identity that I had kept secret.

I needed someone who I could have a chat with without any prejudice and fear. I had wanted this long but I kept it to myself. It’s true that as long as Shosho Kobayashi was there, everything was easy and safe for me. But some restlessness still lingered, captivating me.

Restless by myself. Being afraid by myself. Who could bear that?

“Do you like this job?” Sujono asked me once in an afternoon when he was delivering fabrics, but Hanada-san was out.

“I have been a geisha since I was fourteen.”

“That’s not what I asked!” he shouted. “Do you like this job?” he repeated.

“Why?” I asked him back. “Is it wrong to be a geisha?”

“Do you have an idea of what you do now?”

“I’m an artistan.”

He burst into laugh.

“In Japan it’s not easy to become a geisha. We are trained in schools. We have to be able to sing, dance, play the shamisen, make poems and accompany the guest during the tea ceremony,” I said, trying to explain, as his laugh sounded belittling to my ears.

“Also accompanying them in bed,” he went on.

I furrowed my brows, displeased with his tone.

“Here, that kind of job is the most disgraceful!” he said blatantly.

“Why so?” I could not accept it. I worked hard for years become a geisha. And now, as easy as that, this profession was considered so low in Indonesia.

“Do you know of the women in kurubu?” he asked again.

I nodded.

“Have you heard the stories of what happened to them?”

Again I nodded.

“So what’s the difference between you and them?”

This time I did not nod, but I could not dispute it either.

“The difference is they are used as sex slaves for the Japanese soldiers, while you, high-ranked officials. And one more, they are not paid, while you are highly paid!” he concluded, answering his own question.

How dare he talked that way to me, without a single bit of courtesy. Am I so low from the perspective of a grudge? I felt insulted.

“The difference is the Japanese restrain themselves from degrading their women so much that even you were told to disguise yourself as a Chinese. But do they care about the other nation’s women’s honor? About the Chinese and Korean women who were brought by force to Japan, to Indonesia, to any country where the Japanese soldiers are as sex slaves. Now Indonesian women are enslaved, too. Don’t you know that the Japanese are very cruel?” his bitter tone persisted.

I felt like raging. But how could I? My conscience was restless and I was reluctant to disagree with him. My feminine heart cried whenever I heard a story of the jugun ianfus at kurabu. Regardless that they were Javanese, Chinese and Korean, they were also women. Like me. Plus they carried out the duty because they had no choice, they were threatened. Being proud to be a prima donna at the most exclusive nightclub on Jalan Kembang Jepun was actually shameful and improper.

“How much I have to pay to get such service that you give to your guests?” he asked.

I was stunned. Speechless. How could I possibly say that with his pay as a coolie he won’t be able to afford even the cheapest service of the Hanada-san’s club girls. Let alone my service…

But since then he had been bothering me. From his glances to his odor mixed with clove cigarette smell, everything about him kept popping in my head. One day Hanada-san said an ‘unusual’ guest asked me to entertain him. And that person is… Sujono!