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 PhD 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.
Blokeng gave birth to her baby—a girl—and suddenly our kampung, our village, was full of secrets, whispers, and gossip. It was clear something had disturbed the villagers even though they pretended nothing had happened. The hostility showed in taut faces, lack of smiles, and eyes filled with suspicion aimed at any man capable of fathering Blokeng’s child. We no longer considered pregnancy out of wedlock an exception. Many of the girls who work as maids away from home have returned carrying the child of their master or whoever impregnated them.
Once a young girl vanished from the kampung. Rumors said she had moved far away to give birth to an illegitimate baby and hide it from us. There were many other such stories.
But Blokeng’s story is different. She was biologically perfect—as had been proven by the baby’s birth—like the rest of the women in the kampung.
Apart from this, the women would have been insulted if they were compared with her. This was the arrogance of my people. In their arrogance, they proudly manipulated human dignity.
So when Blokeng became pregnant and gave birth, the whole kampung was in uproar. The women said, “Ck, ck, ck,” while rubbing their chests in exasperation and disbelief.
“My lord, what scoundrel attacked Blokeng?” They were all concerned since each had a husband, who, as a man, could not escape the suspicion clouding everyone’s mind. Or because they, too, had experienced the pain of childbirth—which was very painful no matter how much they desired it and conceived from a legal husband. But what about Blokeng, who gave birth to a child from nowhere?
The men in my kampung grimaced. Every one without exception joined the gossip sessions. None of them missed these, since isolating oneself attracted people’s attention and the man would be pitilessly accused of impregnating Blokeng. My kampung was indeed arrogant. Making Blokeng pregnant, apart from its legal and other consequences, was considered the most degrading primitive thing to do. Because no one was like her, any woman found it humiliating to be compared to her.
When people found out Blokeng was four months pregnant, a civil guard asked her whose child she carried.
“Mbuh, I don’t know,” she answered indifferently.
“Just tell us for your own good and for the sake of the baby, who needs a guardian to marry him or her when grown up.”
“Mbuh, mbuh-mbuh-mbuh! I don’t know and I don’t care!”
“Don’t be stubborn. I am a civil guard. You can’t evade my questions. Or should I ask the police to come here?”
Blokeng did not know what the police represented, but she understood they were people in uniform, some of whom had pulled her away from the market’s rubbish pile because the mayor was going to make an inspection. Hearing the word, she became frightened. Cringing, she looked like the monkey that saw a mongoose.
“A snake made you pregnant? All right, but tell me whose snake?”
“A rat snake.”
“I’m not kidding around.”
The guard became annoyed. His uniform was not impressive enough to make Blokeng tell him who had fathered her child. He fetched a rope and pretended he was going to tie her up.
“I can’t tell you nothing. If I open me mouth, he’ll hit me with this,” Blokeng said, while touching the guard’s flashlight with the tip of her index finger.
“Did your baby’s father carry a flashlight? Is he a man who uses a flashlight?”
The next morning the news spread. The father of Blokeng’s baby was a man with a flashlight. This rumor caused the upright villagers to stop using flashlights and those needing a light when they went out at night used a bamboo torch instead. Men who were scheduled for the kampung night patrols as well as civil guards got in trouble when they chose to use matches instead of flashlights. Yet battery-powered lights continued to disappear.
Sometime later another hearsay circulated. Blokeng supposedly had provided additional information about the man who impregnated her. The man who had crawled into her “nest” wore flip-flops. She could not identify him since her muddy dirt-floored hovel never had any lighting. Yes, never, because Blokeng’s world consisted of the market’s rubbish pile and a dank shack void of light.
My arrogant kampung again found a way to avoid being a suspect because of the rumor. Clogs and tire sandals became popular while factory-made flip-flops disappeared.
This continued until Blokeng delivered her child safely, with mosquitos and cockroaches standing by as midwives. The baby was as tough as a buffalo’s calf born in a mud pool. It was nature’s child, although nature in this case consisted of mud packed with soil worms. The birth made people increasingly uneasy.
The lurah, the head of our kampung, recognized the problem from the start. In its development, the crisis had made people restless. Lurah Hadining considered the upheaval a hindrance to the kampung’s development programs. He had to get rid of the unrest at all costs.
Lurah Hadining smiled. After pondering for several days on how to eliminate his people’s unrest, he found the solution. He ordered all the men to assemble. Everyone attended the gathering since being absent would make one a suspect. People thought the lurah was going to conduct a lottery to choose the one responsible for the birth of Blokeng’s baby.
They were wrong. The lurah did not conduct any lottery. Instead, he made a very long speech. He said among other things, “Blokeng isn’t the Virgin Mary, and her baby is not Jesus. Blokeng has not been divinely blessed like Mary and her family. Her life is only the market’s rubbish.”
Then Lurah Hadining asked the villagers to be his witness. He said that for the sake of ending the kampung’s turmoil he was taking responsibility for Blokeng’s baby. He would pay a nursemaid to take care of the baby, and also prepared a small bamboo cot with a mat of pandan leaves so Blokeng and her baby would not have to sleep on the ground. In addition, his wife promised to give Blokeng food until she could walk to the market again to scavenge.
For a moment, everyone was stunned at Lurah Hadining’s speech, but then smiles of relief appeared on the villagers’ faces. How comforting it was that their suspicion of each other was gone. Following their lurah, the villagers flocked to Blokeng’s place bearing gifts. Some carried the cot, others the mat, and some went home to get a lantern with its bowl full of oil. Everyone wanted to show their concern for the least fortunate person of our kampung.
The villagers crowded Blokeng’s hut. One could hear the suction of the soles from rubber sandals as people moved across the wet dirt floor. A child screamed when it slipped and fell in the mud, or was it feces? They placed the cot in the one-room shanty—it filled almost the entire space—and spread the mat. They asked Blokeng to get up from the dirt floor. She numbly obeyed and climbed with her baby on the cot, a blank expression on her face. Blokeng barely communicated with people, not even by facial expressions, let alone words. Once again, Lurah Hadining asked the villagers to witness his declaration as the father of Blokeng’s baby.
“This baby’s father is, without doubt, a man. I am a man and have proven myself to be a normal one. So I can’t be considered to have made things up to claim Blokeng’s baby as mine.”
Once again everyone was visibly relieved. Blokeng, who had quietly listened to the lurah’s speech, now looked at him like a cunning animal. Without saying a word, she left her baby, moved toward Lurah Hadining, and took off the kampung elder’s peci. Though shocked, he allowed her to take off his cap.
“Nope,” Blokeng said, without showing any emotion. “The man who came here that night wasn’t bald. It wasn’t him.”
All the men, including Lurah Hadining, were shocked at what she said. Soon their faces turned murky. They scratched their heads, which, except for the lurah’s, were not bald. Under their thick hair, their brains worked hard to get rid of any suspicion they might have fathered Blokeng’s baby.
The next morning, the men of my kampung had turned bald. Clean-shaven heads were seen everywhere, and restlessness spread through my kampung once again.
Blokeng was the only person who did not seem anxious. Her simple world had no room for sin; she had been set free from the obligation to have a legal husband, the arrogance that produced restlessness, and hypocrisy. But this did not mean she could not act like a normal woman.
One morning, Blokeng took her baby to the front of her hut. “Cowet, me baby,” she crooned, rocking the baby. “Me don’t know your father, but please don’t be sad. Look at all the balloon-like heads. Don’t they look funny?”
The baby, as if having understood what her mother said, roared with laughter, “Ha ha ha. He he he.”