24 February 2012

Short Story : SILANG SIGEU

By : MAMAT SASMITA                                                                  Sundanese Version 
Translated from Sundanese into English by Josephine Natania.

          Last Sunday, I went to a bookstore along with my daughter. Since few days ago, she kept nagging me to buy her a small pink note. When I asked what that was for, she shortly answered, “Certainly for note.” At the same time I also wanted to look for books, so I just followed her will.
            The girl looked very happy in the bookstore. She moved here and there. It was rather difficult to follow her and open every book she pointed at. Instead of the note, she looked for story books to read though she had not read fluently.
            As quietly taking a look at books, I saw someone standing motionless at the side of the shelf. A middle-age woman. I felt that this woman looked at me all the time, but I was not sure whether she did that on purpose or it was just my feeling.
            A while later, there was a pat on my shoulder.
            I did not say a word for a moment. My eyes stared at the woman who patted my shoulder. I tried to remember the word “Silang”. Unconsciously I gave a reply. “Sigeu?”
            She smiled while giving her hand to greet. I felt a deep longing in my heart. I wanted to hug her, but it would be such impudence considering that she was a woman and this place was busy.
            To be called a middle-age woman was appropriate for her, but her appearance would dumbfounded every woman whose age was as same as hers. Grey hairs were seen here and there on her head, however the hair style was up to date and a kind of hair cover, but not a jilbab[1], was hanging over her shoulder. She wore loose clothes and pantaloons. From the way she dressed, she looked like Indira Gandhi.
            We greeted for a longer time than people usually took. We hold each other’s hands firmly.
            “What are you doing here?” she asked.
            “Looking for books, of course. Not mixed noodle[2], isn’t it?”
            She giggled at hearing my joke. I never forgot her favorite food, mixed noodle.
            “With whom did you go here?” she asked once more.  
“My child.”
            “Your grandchild?”
            I gave no reply, but just asked my daughter to greet her.
            “C’mon. Greet this aunty.”
            “Is this the youngest? How many children do you have? Where’s the mother?”
            “She’s at home. We asked her to come along, but she refused. Many clothes to wash, she said.”
            We chatted pleasantly while still following my daughter to choose books.
            After finishing the payment, the three of us went out of the bookstore. Sigeu directly invited me to go to a restaurant selling mixed noodle.
            “Your likeness doesn’t change, does it?”
            She smiled.
            I noticed her plastic bag to see what she bought back there.
            “What books did you buy?”
            “No. I just bought oil paints.”
            “Wow. So you’re a painter now?”
            She laughed. “No. This is for my grandchild.”
            I always like to see her eating mixed noodle. She ate, she slurped, and she blew with open mouth to feel the noodle’s hot taste.
            “How old was your grandchild?”
            “He’s big, a junior high student, and this child is the youngest?”
            “The oldest and the youngest for now. She’s still the only one.”
            “Being economical?”
            “It’s not like that. Me and my wife planned to have children since the beginning, but this girl was the one we got. Geu, I’d been married for 23 years without a child for 7 years. This girl is 7 years old now.”
            “Yours’ blunt?”
            “Ah, I don’t know. I’ve been so thankful to God for being trusted to have a child.”
            The girl whom we were talking about was still eating her noodle calmly.
            “Geu, how about you? How many children do you have?”
            “I have many, but the true ones are only three. I’ve also had grandchildren from the youngest.”
            “Are there the untrue children?” I was confused.
            “It’s not untrue. What I mean is nursing children. I helped some street children to school.”
            “Wow, that’s so generous of you.”
            We did not speak each other again for quiet a moment. I concentrated to finish my noodle. Once or twice I wiped my daughter’s wet hand with tissues. Sigeu also paid attention to her bowl.
            “Lang, did you dye your hair?” It looks the same as before,” she finally broke the silence.
            Alhamdulilah no. It’s still the true color. I’m not familiar with hair dyeing.”
            “It still looks the same, you know. So does your hair style. That’s what reminded me of you. I don’t forget that since I used to see you from behind.”
            “To be honest, I wouldn’t recognize you, Geu, if you didn’t ask me first. Your body seems larger.”
            She laughed once again.
            “My weight has been decreasing. Four years ago, it was heavier. Well, as we all know, the older the woman is, the richer she will be. Rich in weight.” She grinned.
            Because the girl continually touched me with her index finger to ask to go home, we could not talk for a long time. Actually, I really missed her. We parted after giving each other’s phone numbers and email addresses. Then she went by taxi, while I and my daughter went home by angkot[3]. 

            At night, I checked my email. I preferred checking email at night for the simple two reasons. One, I could use computer without any disturbance from the little one. Two, probably the connection would be much faster since it was night time and less people used it. The emails came in great numbers, mostly from Urangsunda mailing list, and there was one more email from panyeumpxxx@yahoo.com. Who’s this? I thought for a second, I had no friends with an address like that. I decided to open it. Ah, it was Sigeu. I intentionally printed her email so that I could read it comfortably by lying on my back.

            From: panyeumpxxx@yahoo.com
            To: heuxxx@hotmail.com
            Sent: 13 Oct 2003 22.43
            Subject: Remember the old times
Lang, do you know? I wrote this email completely naked. About 8 o’clock I stood naked in front of a mirror. Hair untrimmed, plain face. That’s the real image of me. I gazed at my own body.
As I looked at it, I felt as if I had read about honesty. Every line had its own story from the past. From the hair above until the nails below. I could see my behaviors clearly since being a child till becoming an adult right now. It’s like watching movie scenes with the fast rewind or slow rewind. It’s all clearly shown from the smallest little part until the biggest ones. Sometimes I laughed at my own behaviors.
My stomach seemed lumpy, but not muscles. The smooth thighs disappeared, replaced by fat. Sigh. Why did I feel embarrassed to have a body like this … or why did I dislike my body because it was rumpled? What kind of identity do I have?
Many voices that I heard said that I was skinny or I was fat. Why was I only seen because of what I looked like? Why are we surrounded by perfect figures on TV, in the newspaper, magazine, on bag and wallet? Why does appearance become the most important thing for a person? And why were there people who wanted to get close to me just because I’m a woman, an object?
When I was still young (not that I want to be young forever), there were many men who tried to get my attention. Either singles or widows, even there’s one who was a general. I was free to choose. A karate expert with an athletic slender body, a short man with two cars, young men who just graduated from college, a hotel owner, or a villa owner in Puncak.  
I neither knew why they chased me nor asked them. All I saw was they seemed very happy when they went out with me. Maybe it’s like walking with an angel. Who didn’t know this missy in this town? A beautiful young lady who had a Mercy and was successful in her business?
A sudden idea then crossed my mind as I looked at my shadow in the mirror. How about taking a nude picture of me? It could be useful to compare my body in the past and present. I regretted that I didn’t have any nude photographs when I was a little. There’s only one picture when I was 3 years old without wearing any clothes on.  If I’m not mistaken, it’s taken by my deceased dad after I took a bath. I was insisted by my mom to take a bath and my dad made a joke of it instead. I had no memory of that moment so my mom told it. Well, I think that picture seemed having no difference with the other childhood pictures.
Men used to stare my smooth stomach skin when I swam at the hotel pool 30 years ago. The same stomach ever protruded because of pregnancy. The same skin ever felt the pleasure of … adultery.
Lang, do you remember when I called for you to come to the hotel before we separated? Do you know why I asked you to meet me in the room 26? I searched a room with the number of 26 on purpose since my age was 26 at that time. What I meant was 2nd floor, 6th room.
You knocked the door and greeted, “Assalamualaikum.” I was quite surprised to hear your voice. My mind went blank and I had no idea whether to reply your greeting or just open the door. I knew that a greeting must’ve been replied, yet it’d been a long time since the last time I said that kind of greeting. Therefore I just opened the door.
You looked around the room, searching for a chair to sit. I sat on the bed. The room was small. There’s a chair actually but my bag and some books of Chinese kungfu stories had a seat on it.
I was firmly holding a book with the title “Telaga Darah”. You grinned and said, “Watch out. That’s a porn book.”
I replied nothing. Yes, I knew that’s a porn book and to be honest, I was reading the most intimate part. I was ashamed to hear your remark, so I thrown the book away. The next thing I did was pouring out drinking water to a glass and giving it to you.
We had a conversation until the clock struck midnight. Then you asked to leave. You know, I wanted you to stay over. I wanted to sleep with you.
I didn’t know, I didn’t understand why I did have that kind of thought and intention. Probably it’s because I’d been a widower for too long. From the heart, I wanted to give you a sweet memory before we parted. But, ah just forget it.
However I couldn’t tell you about my desire as you kept talking about poetry and short stories that I read on my radio show. I felt unwillingness to do an aggressive way first, even my heart told me that you’re a man without understanding of woman.    
After you left, I just sat by myself. My desire to continue the reading was all gone. I cried. Crying for something I didn’t understand. All I knew was my heart was so painful.

Sigeu’s email was long. From the beginning till the end, it told her life stories. In the last part, she wrote this.
I had many grandchildren now. There’s a new baby girl from my youngest child who just born last week. She’s so cute and pretty. Her skin was still reddish. I must have been reddish too when I was a newborn baby.
Lang, the truth was, all of them was my stepchildren and step grandchildren. I never had a child. They’re all the general’s children. I took care of them when their mother passed away after giving birth to the youngest.
Well, that’s all from me now. I’m sleepy. Miss our chatting moments like before.

As the dawn almost came, I wrote a reply.

            Sent: 13 Oct 2003 22.43
            Subject: Re: Remember the old times

            Geu … had the door been locked? It’s better to lock the door before being naked lest a male cat got in. It could be fatal. A male cat can be wild sometimes. Hmmm or is it a hen that becomes wild when it lays eggs? A male cat can throw himself upon his prey and scratch with his sharp claws. Never have mercy upon rats. (Kidding =b)
            If I’m not mistaken, there’s a saying of “your body is your jail.” Had no idea what kind of jail that is. Another said that your body is the machine of lust, the other said that your body …. ah whatever. I wasn’t interested in this discussion about our body. I didn’t care my body is good-shaped or bad-shaped as long as it is healthy. As another saying goes, “your body is your soul”, I preferred that than the first one.  
            Geu, do you know? (as you said). Before replying your email, I browsed the internet, searching for a picture of 56-year-old woman who was … naked! Whoa, there were sooo  many, even there’s one who was a woman of 80! Good heavens! I couldn’t stand grey hairs on the armpits =(
            It’s unexpectedly beyond my imagination that there were old people who were willing to show off their nudity to be seen by hundreds of eyes. So, it’s true then, the internet really provides everything we wanted to know. That’s how it’s called virtual world, world of freedom. Either the good, the better, the best or the worse, the worst, and the worst were all there.   
            (I’m sorry, Geu … for shaping the image of you in my mind through this old model. Probably you’re not very different from her hehehe … with grey hairs.) 
            The day before yesterday, sometimes I remembered the times passed by. My memory of you never changed. You’re still a woman of youth, beauty, cheerfulness, and smartness. When we met again yesterday and I saw you, that’s when I realized that you’d changed. I’d changed too.
            We didn’t meet for almost 30 years. It’s not a short period of time, was it? I became an old man, you became an old woman. (Geu, how did your grandchildren call you?Nini[4], Ené[5], Eyang[6], or Oma? Mmmm Oma is impossible. That word came from Dutch language, right ?)
            I only naked by the time I took a bath. I also never did an observation on my body. Just took a bath and finished, that’s all. I’m afraid that if I did a close observation, my hair would’ve stood on end (but I wouldn’t tell what made my hair like that lest it called monkey’s tail).
            That’s all for now, Geu. Unless I stop talking now, I guessed I could talk obscenely. Miss those moments too.

Si Belang

            She did not reply my email.

          Every Saturday night, I would like to listen to the radio while lying in my back to have some rest in my boarding room. I searched for a female announcer … and that was what I got. In a radio station, there was a female announcer who was reading a poem. After that, she fluently narrated the content of the poem. The poems reading on that show were mostly teenage poem with love as the main topic.
            I faithfully listened to the show every week and one time I encouraged myself to call that female announcer when she was in the state of off air. I opened our conversation with telling her a poem she ever read and the next thing I did was introducing myself. I said that I wanted to meet and know her.
            By the time we finally met, I asked her name, yet she didn’t give her real name. Therefore I also did the same. At that time, I wore a stripped T-shirt, so she called me Si Belang[7] or Silang. I called her Si Geulis or Sigeu.
            She is beautiful, that is true. That was why I called her Si Geulis[8]. She is tall, 3cm taller than me. Her body is plump and her face almost looked like a movie star whom I forgot the name was. One thing for sure, her face is a beautiful Sundanese face.
            If there is who called me Silang, it has to be her and so does on the other hand.
            How we address ourselves is really various. It can be kuring-uing[9], di dinya-ilaing[10], even sometimes ana-énté[11]. Although she is older than me, she did not consider that I had to respect her. She was 26 while I was 23 at the first time we met.
            We kept meeting each other for more than a year and then we separated because I had to work out of Java Island. That evening, I met her in the room 26 in a hotel. She gave me a special pen for a memento.  “If you wrote a letter to me, you had to use this pen. This pen had a certain mark which only I who knew that. It’s different with any other pens. Unless you wrote with this, I wouldn’t reply your letter.”
            Nevertheless, the pen was lost in just a few days. As a result I used another pen, an ordinary one. No more letters came since then only proved that her threat was not just a joke.
            I received an email from her again. It was just a short message.
“Lang, I’m going to make a pilgrimage to Mecca. Pray for me, ok? Please forgive me for all mistakes I’d made, either you felt it or not. Had you become a hajj? If not, better do some savings from now. Ah, but it’s also my oldest stepson who afford me to go there.”

I read her email several times with a thankful heart. “May she be safe. May God accept her devotion and she become a  hajjah[12],” I prayed sincerely.
When she came back later from Mecca, maybe she would still wear a hair cover as usual or changed it into wearing jilbab or maybe her grey hairs would be replaced by the color of hair dye.    
I gave no reply this time. I intended to come and meet her personally later on after she came back from her pilgrimage. I also wanted to question her about one thing. In her first email, she mentioned that she was ever pregnant, but still in the same email she said that she had no children of her own.  

[1] A hair cover used by Moslem women to cover their hair.
[2] Noodle served with cow leg’s stock, sprout, and chips. It is a kind of Indonesian food.
[3] A kind of public transportation in which the passengers sit oppositely in the left side and right side. The car can load 12 passengers. 
[4] Grandmother in Sundanese language
[5] Grandmother in Indonesian language. It comes from the word ‘Nenek’ which is an Indonesian word.
[6] Grandmother in Javanese language
[7] Stripped
[8] ‘Geulis’ is a Sundanese word for ‘beautiful’.
[9] A pair of term to address someone in Sundanese language. The meaning is ‘you and I’.
[10] A pair of term to address someone in Sundanese language. The meaning is ‘you and I’.
[11] A pair of term to address someone. These words taken from Arabic language. The meaning is ‘you and I’.
[12] A female hajj