Elisabet Titik Murtisari was born and raised in Salatiga, Central Java — a city she loves because of its multicultural community and Dutch history.
She obtained her Masters in Translation Studies from the Australian National University (ANU) and Ph.D in the same field from Monash University, Australia.
To pursue her passion for teaching and research, she returned to her hometown as a lecturer at Satya Wacana Christian University. Her academic interests include translation — especially literary works — culture, sociolinguistics, and pragmatics.
I am a bastard.
After the Allies dropped atom bombs on Hiroshima and Nagasaki, news of Japan’s defeat spread across the country by radio, newspapers, and announcements posted in the streets. Indonesian revolutionaries took immediate action. They proclaimed the country’s independence, started forming a new government, took control of important institutions, and disarmed the Japanese soldiers. Japanese citizens were required to register and interned at the Kalisosok Prison while waiting to be returned to their country by ship. What would happen next was uncertain because of the change of power.
That morning I was very anxious when I did not find Matsumi at her house. The yard was quiet. I could find no one, not even Karmi, Matsumi’s maid.
I was worried. Matsumi never left the house without me. Although she tried to be Chinese, she felt awkward among the Chinese women who lived in the neighborhood. That’s why she never went to the market. Karmi shopped for her. I always accompanied Matsumi when she went for a walk. Otherwise, she just stayed home, playing with Kaguya, making orisurus near the window, and letting the sunshine stroke her ivory skin. Sometimes I was jealous of the sun that could enjoy her skin all the time.
I met Matsumi as the star of a club in Kembang Jepun. She often bought cloth from the shop owned by Babah Oen, the Chinese merchant I worked for. Babah Oen sent me to the club to deliver the orders. That gave me the chance to see her more often.
“Aiya, it’s good to be a little bit busier. Business is very difficult with the war. The shop is quiet. Even to eat is hard now, let alone buy clothes. Luckily there are geishas who must always wear new dresses,” Babah Oen said, when he sent me on a delivery. The rise and fall of his Chinese pronunciation changed r’s into l’s.
I did not mind making deliveries to Hanada-san’s club. It was a task I looked forward to because it gave me the opportunity to see its most famous, charming woman.
Her name was Tjoa Kim Hwa and she was referred to as Golden Flower. At first, I thought she was Chinese like most of the women in the club. Only a few of them were Javanese. However, later it turned out that she was Japanese — her real name was Matsumi.
Rumors said she was once the most popular geisha in her country. This did not surprise me. Matsumi was a gorgeous woman and very seductive. She made men’s heart race with her smile. Her sideways glances left them breathless as they tried to control their passion. Their desire to make love to her was certain.
Matsumi had a fair and luminous oval face, with eyes not as narrow as those of many Japanese women. Her mouth was small, genuinely small, not shaped with lip rouge to look little. She had small straight teeth. I often peeked into her kimono’s sleeves and saw the ivory skin of her arms when she took the fabric order from me. She walked with fairly quick small steps and sometimes I saw the long deep curve above her heels under her kimono.
The Javanese said that a woman with such a curve gave extraordinary pleasure in bed, and Matsumi had such a heel. Another Javanese belief was that a woman’s skin should not be too fair because it would be dull, or too dark because it would be unattractive. Matsumi’s skin was ivory. Men like women with full lips that close into an attractively shaped mouth. Matsumi’s lips were perfectly shaped, and enticed men.
People call me a bastard, a bastard who likes “beautiful things.” I think that is normal. God gave man eyes to see beauty, and created the senses to enjoy pleasure. It is normal for a man to desire beauty and pleasure, and Matsumi had both.
I can’t deny I fell in love with her. I was in love with how she looked as well as the inner beauty she exuded. It was not an overstatement to say Matsumi was the perfect woman: she had a pretty face, a gracefully shaped body, and a fragrant scent. She was gentle, intelligent, and had a sense of art. She sang like a lark, cleverly arranged words into poetry, played the shamisen with her slim fingers dancing gracefully over the strings, and was skillful at serving people. She was very good at making men happy, spoiling them, and making them feel like a king in her presence.
I often watched her accompany guests at the club. I also saw her treat a guest to the bathing ritual in the ofuro at the back of the club, until they went to one of the rooms and disappeared behind its sliding door. I heard them talk for a while until their voices softened to whispers that turned into grunts, sighs, and finally an uncontrollable long whine.
The more I saw Matsumi the more I wanted to be with her. When I tried to look at her secretly, she caught me immediately and her melancholic eyes met with mine, arousing me.
Once I accidentally saw her soaking in the ofuro. I had to drop off her fabric order. That afternoon the club was still quiet; no one was at the front and I went straight to the back to make the delivery.
There I saw a naked body in the ofuro. She had a smooth ivory neck, shoulders, and back, so smooth a mosquito might slip when it landed. I held my breath and enjoyed the beautiful sight before me. She stood and left the tub, while I enjoyed another view of her heavenly perfect body: full, round, young breasts with a pink small nipple, small waist, flat stomach, curvy hips, and long legs. I did not allow my eyes to blink. I tried hard to control myself so I would not grab her naked body and pull her into one of the rooms.
Matsumi noticed me and was shocked. She stared at me, then scrambled for her kimono, threw it around her body, and ran soaking wet to her room.
Since then I was determined to sleep with her, like her other rich guests. I asked how much it cost to purchase her service. It turned out to be very expensive; I would have to fast for two years to save up enough. Also, she did not entertain just any guest, only high-ranking military officers and wealthy men.
In my desperation, one day, I stole money from Babah Oen’s shop. They found out and I was fired, but I did not care. I could get a job as a coolie anywhere.
Matsumi was surprised. She did not expect I was the guest waiting in her room, and turned awkward. I knew she was not used to serving a poor man like me. She did not know how to carry herself. She knew what to do with Shosho Kobayashi and other wealthy guests, how to make them happy and lead them to perfect satisfaction. She served those guests with the attributes that came with being the most desired geisha, but now she stood rigid and looked confused. With my desire raging, I took her into my arms. I held her tight before undressing her. After exploring her entire body with all my senses and savoring every inch, I finally went inside her.
At first her smooth, cool body tensed, but she soon started to warm. Her sweet breath blew on my ear, and soft sighs and whimpers passed her lips while her wriggling body eagerly met my movements. Watching her sigh with her eyes closed peaked my desire. Our bodies tensed for a moment before we turned limp in each other’s arms. I ended our game of passion with a long deep kiss.
I was completely satisfied.
My desire to have Matsumi entirely mine made me lose sight of everything else. I wanted to make her pregnant. I wanted to have a daughter as lovely as her, a child from her womb. I repeatedly told Matsumi my dream until she finally wanted the same thing. A woman’s destiny is to get pregnant and give birth. I talked her into changing her mind from never wanting a child to desiring one.
I wanted more than a child from Matsumi. I wanted her and her child. By having a child, she would be absolutely mine. Giving birth would change her beautiful body so she would no longer be able to work as a geisha. She would sleep and wake up beside me. How wonderful the days would be if my beloved Matsumi was the first thing I saw when I opened my eyes.
I may have been married and already had a child, but I did not care. My feelings toward Matsumi were incomparable to those I had toward my wife, Sulis.
Finally Matsumi became pregnant.
How happy I was when she told me that she was heavy with child. I kissed every part of her face until she gasped and her cheeks turned red. I was over the moon. Matsumi was mine alone.
Imagine my pride: I, Sujono, only a coolie, was the husband of Matsumi, the most desired woman in Kembang Jepun. Out of the many rich men who were crazy about her, she had chosen me.
I felt very different from the time Sulis told me about her pregnancy. Then I did not feel proud, glad, or happy. Instead, I was angry because she had used me, forcing me to marry her because she claimed to be having my child.
Sulis and I met shortly before we were married. She was a jamu peddler; many coolies along Gula Street often bought her potions.
Sulis was not pretty. Her skin was dark, her eyes big and defiant, and her lips thick. She also had big breasts and coarse black hair. But she was a flirt. She pouted when someone teased her and also liked to giggle. Maybe she did that to attract many customers.
I liked teasing her. I took advantage of her and owed her for jamu—a debt I never paid. I also liked touching her because she gave me the opportunity. She wore a low-cut kebaya, sometimes leaving one button undone so men could see her black bra. She also wore her kain high as if she wanted to show off her legs as she walked. She sat without keeping her knees together and tended to draw her legs apart. Her body language was vulgar and her eyes invited men to tease, touch, kiss, and sleep with her.
I was forced to marry her because she was pregnant.
The child in Matsumi’s womb was mine. I was an experienced man who could tell the difference between soulful lovemaking and the mere union between two sexual organs.
I asked Matsumi to leave Hanada-san’s club because I did not want to share her with other men. She obeyed me and left the club on Kembang Jepun, and gave birth to Kaguya for me.
She bought a house near Kapasan Street, owned by a Chinese and very large compared to my tiny room. It was even too big for Matsumi, Kaguya, and the maid. The windows and doors were always wide open. Sunlight entered the house freely and the air blew in and out through the shutters. The ceilings were high so the inside was cool. The yard was spacious, too.
“I used most of my savings to buy this house. We’ll have many children so we need one that is big enough,” she said.
Matsumi knew how difficult it was to live in a war-torn country. She knew I was poor, and many times unable to buy rice. So she bought things for Sulis, not only rice, but also eggs, vegetables, and fish. She knew I did not have a good education so I could not work in an office. She knew I was not an office worker, only a laborer doing rough work.
She understood I wanted to join the resistance movement. I often imagined myself in a military uniform carrying a rifle over my shoulder. I would stand boldly in a line with other soldiers, defending my motherland and claiming independence. That was what many of us dreamed of right then. With independence, we would be a dignified nation, not an oppressed people who worked as forced laborers under the Dutch and Japanese. We would have the right over our own country.
Slowly, military rank and medals would line up on my shoulders and arms. I would be like Sudirman. Wouldn’t that be something to be proud of rather than thickening my shoulders and arms from carrying Babah Oen’s textile rolls? With the line of medals I would have dignity, not only be a coolie who made Chinese people richer by working for them cheaply. Later, I would tell my children and grandchildren I was one of those who helped found this country.
The mood of Surabaya was uneasy.
The Japanese defeat had crippled the city. No one would go out on the street unless they were forced. Only soldiers walked the streets, Allies and Indonesians, and Japanese soldiers who had been arrested or surrendered. The marching steps of the soldiers made the streets dusty. People were afraid of getting searched while others chose to follow the news from the radio.
I did neither.
I spent days walking along the streets of Kembang Jepun, looking for Matsumi and Kaguya. I did not really know where I should go to find them. First, I went to Hanada-san’s club, but it was already closed and sealed. They had taken the owner to jail.
Without fear, I walked back and forth in front of the former Japanese military headquarters. I tried to peek inside, thinking Matsumi might have gone there. I did not see a glimpse of her. The building was cold, dark, gloomy, and seemed haunted. Too many people had died there, and turned into ghosts that roamed the building. People still heard screams and cries coming from inside, and shadows of headless bodies were seen moving back and forth in the dark. It was an evil building.
Matsumi could not have taken Kaguya there. I also asked her neighbors where they might have gone, but all I got were headshakes and doors shut in my face. Karmi, her maid, had gone God knows where. I felt as if I was searching for a needle in a haystack.
Everyone waited for the new government’s next step. What would Soekarno and Hatta do for the new republic? Meanwhile, what would I do with my life?
I was really desperate. I locked Matsumi’s house.
When despair and yearning tortured me, I would go to the house and sit inside. Nothing had changed. Through the large open windows the sun light still came in to warm the rooms. There were paper cranes piled on a table, the pretty little cups Matsumi used for the tea ceremony, a futon on the tatami, and several nicely folded kimonos. The fragrance of her powder had not left the house, although the dust piled up and spiders built their webs. The breeze coming into the house felt humid because the house was empty.