Dewi Anggraeni was born in Jakarta, Indonesia and now lives in Melbourne, Australia where she is an Adjunct Research Associate at the School of Political and Social Inquiry, Faculty of Arts, at the Monash University in Melbourne.
Apart from being the Australian representative of Tempo News Magazine, she is a regular contributor to The Jakarta Post, Pesona, Femina, and a number of other publications.
A prolific bilingual fiction and non-fiction writer, as well as a recognized social researcher, Anggraeni has been published in Indonesian and English. She has a presence in Australia, Indonesia, Hong Kong, South Korea, United Kingdom, the Netherlands, and United States.
Anggraeni’s latest non-fiction bilingual work appeared under the following titles, MEREKA BILANG AKU CHINA; jalan mendaki menjadi bagian bangsa. – Bentang Pustaka, Indonesia – October 2010 ISBN 978-602-8811-13-2 and BREAKING THE STEREOTYPE; Chinese Indonesian women tell their stories. – Indra Publishing – Australia – November 2010 – ISBN 9781920787196.
Rusdi reluctantly climbed into the back seat of the car before Sadli, his driver, closed the door. He waited while Sadli turned on the ignition and started the engine, then asked, ‘Did you pick up Ibu Sepuh, then?’ referring to his mother-in-law, who had come visiting from Palembang.
‘Yes, Pak. I drove Ibu Sepuh to your home safely.’
Rusdi didn’t enquire further. He was not in the habit of discussing family affairs with his driver, though he swore that Sadli knew every detail anyway. He and the domestic staff would have traded gossip, putting each other in the complete picture. Rusdi and Rifa provided better entertainment to their staff than the nightly soapies on TV.
The peak-hour traffic was heavy as usual, but this time it didn’t bother Rusdi. In fact, he welcomed the slow trip home, delaying his face-to-face confrontation with his mother-in-law.
He knew what to expect. His mother-in-law was dead against his idea of psychiatric treatment for Rifa.
‘I shall never allow it. Never!’ she’d said emphatically over the phone.
‘But mother, the doctor says she is clinically depressed! She’ll never get better unless she gets treatment…’
‘How long has this been going on? Why haven’t you or Rifa told me she wasn’t well?’
Rusdi had cleared his throat. And before he’d had time to think of an answer, his mother-in-law had laid down the law, ‘You are not to do anything to Rifa until I have seen her. And I am getting on the first flight tomorrow. Do arrange for your driver to pick me up!’
Rusdi stepped into the house from the garage through the back door, past the kitchen. Sadli had handed his briefcase to Titi, the maid. Beyond the kitchen the house was quiet. ‘Where are Ibu and and Ibu Sepuh?’ he asked Titi. ‘They went out not long after Ibu Sepuh arrived, Pak,’ replied Titi, her face totally impassive.
Rusdi checked a frown and walked on to his bedroom then closed the door behind him. Alone, he lowered himself on to the bed and dropped his head in his hands.
It seemed to ease his pain so he didn’t move for some time. Suddenly he heard the front door open and his wife’s voice talking to Titi. He hadn’t heard Rifa uttering so many words for weeks. Maybe she did speak when he wasn’t home.
He waited and waited, but Rifa didn’t come in. So he heaved himself up and stepped out of the bedroom.
He found them sitting in the courtyard sipping iced tea. Rifa turned to him and barely smiled. Rusdi rushed to his mother-in-law and kissed her hand. In front of her, Rusdi, a Melbourne University educated executive in a prestigious architecture firm, resumed his traditional self, to a certain degree.
After muttering a greeting to Rifa, he sat down in another chair, vaguely facing his wife and her mother. He felt his neck tense up for the battle to come.
After a brief moment of meaningless small talk, his mother-in-law began the offensive, ‘Rus, I took Rifa to a dukun.’
Rusdi’s eyes nearly popped. ‘You did what? Oh, pardon me. Mother, why on earth did you do that?’
‘Rus, I’m Rifa’s mother. I know my daughter. She’s not the hystrionic type. Not the depressive type. I was sure something had been done to her, and I was right. The dukun said there was guna-guna, a spell…’
‘Oh he would say that, wouldn’t he? What kind of guna-guna, if I may ask?’
His mother-in-law slowly got up, went to the kitchen, and came back with a knife. Rusdi involuntarily brought his legs together and placed his hands in the middle of his lap. His eyes didn’t leave his mother-in-law’s hand for a second.
‘Follow me, both of you,’ she said calmly.
Rusdi watched on, incredulous, when Rifa turned and followed her mother, to their bedroom. Bursting with curiosity, and assured now that the knife was not meant for any part of him, he rose and followed too. But for the fact that one of the soapies had started, he would have been sure that the maid and the cook would have been peering from behind the kitchen door.
Rusdi stood hesitantly near the door and watched, as his mother-in-law stepped towards the bed then turned to him and asked, ‘Which side do you sleep on?’
‘That side,’ replied Rusdi, feeling inexplicably yet definitely trapped.
‘So you sleep on this side, Rif?’ she now asked her daughter. Rifa nodded.
‘Rus, there is guna-guna planted in this mattress under Rifa’s pillow.’
Rusdi was speechless, momentarily paralysed by a combination of anger and powerlessness. His wife had been diagnosed as clinically depressed. What was this nonsense about guna-guna? Couldn’t her mother accept the fact that her daughter needed psychiatric treatment? Did she have to shift the shame to an ephemeral source?
‘Is that what the dukun told you?’ he asked, smirking.
Instead of answering, his mother-in-law handed him the knife. ‘If you don’t believe it, why don’t you open it up and find out for yourself?’
Rusdi could no longer restrain himself. ‘What? I am not going to destroy a perfectly good mattress just because a mad troglodyte or a clever con man who calls himself a dukun told you there was guna-guna in it! For God’s sake, mother, this is the twenty-first century!’
His mother-in-law didn’t flinch. ‘Calm down Rus, I went to school also, remember? But I’ve never forgotten my roots! Now stop arguing and open the mattress! This side.’
He took the knife, and before he moved in the direction of his mother-in-law’s throat, Rusdi dashed towards the bed, pulled the sheet back and slashed the mattress at the nominated spot. Then, still following her instructions, he pushed his hand into the hole he’d made, probing.
Suddenly, the ‘I hope no-one ever finds out about this’ expression disappeared from his face. Rusdi pulled his hand out, and in it, was a small bag made of white cloth. As soon as he was able to, he dropped it on the floor. His face was colourless. He stood motionless for some thirty seconds, then began to examine the mattress. There was no way the bag had been manually put in, unless it had been there when they’d bought the mattress.
When he bent down to pick up the bag, his mother-in-law spoke, ‘Don’t!’
She then took a bottle from her handbag, presumably from the dukun, opened it and poured the liquid contents onto the bag, which for a moment seemed to come alive and began hissing. It then fell open by itself. A handful of nails and pieces of broken glass, and other spiky items scattered on the floor.
They would have stood there for a few more minutes, stunned, if Rifa hadn’t passed out.
The following day in the office, Rusdi couldn’t see Korina, the new interior decorator they’d recruited three months ago. Alone in his glassed office, he rang her home. Her maid answered the phone and said that her mistress was sick and unable to come to the phone.
That afternoon he casually asked Ita, one of his senior architects, about Korina’s whereabouts. Ita looked at him, meaningfully it seemed, and smiled ever so slightly. ‘Korina? I hear she’s gone to her dukun for some urgent matters,’ Ita said.
Rusdi was dumbfounded. ‘Korina went to a dukun? God! How little we know those whom we think are our…’, he mused. Then it occurred to him, did everyone in the office know about him and Korina?
‘What have people been saying about me and Korina?’ he finally found his voice.
Ita now looked at him with a combination of pity and incredulity. ‘Rusdi, you are not invisible,’ she said
Rusdi was alarmed. ‘Do you think, er, my wife knows?’
Ita’s smile disappeared. ‘Rusdi, everyone knows. Why d’you think she‘s been depressed?’
Back at home, Rifa was sitting up in bed recovering, fortified by a thick broth, from a chicken prepared by the dukun, her mother sitting on the edge of the bed. ‘Everything will be okay now, Rif,’ said her mother.