Despite his technical background, Oni Suryaman is driven by literature. In his spare time, he writes essays, book reviews, and fiction. He also worked as a part-time translator for Indonesian publisher Kepustakaan Populer Gramedia and Kanisius Publishing House. He has recently published a picture book titled I Belog, a retelling of a famous Balinese folklore, an adaptation of which was performed at the Asian Festival of Children’s Content (AFCC) Singapore 2017.
He can be reached at email@example.com.
The Lovesick Lady
In Pati, a small town on the northern coast of Java, lived a beautiful, rich, young lady.
She was often the talk of the neighborhood in people’s homes, when women gathered for an arisan — a gossipy social gathering that included a money game –, wedding, or just small talk, such as the lice in Yu Giman’s hair. She was also the talk on the street, when the unemployed men gathered at night, cursing their fate while enjoying a bottle of diluted alcohol. Kiai Kambali, a powerful and kindhearted holy man was the cause of it all. The story goes like this.
Kiai Kambali, who also lived in the northern part of Java, was the master of masters in the realm of jinn and human beings. When he walked on the road or across the rice field to the main building of his vast estate, he was always accompanied by a thousand jinns ready to serve him as their revered master. These jinns were visible to all beings in the world — except humans.
Although he was still relatively young, around the age of forty, Kiai Kambali had succeeded in obtaining a fragment from one of the thousands of pages of The Book of Ratamalsya, which belonged to the Prophet Sulaiman (Peace be upon Him). Kiai Kambali’s achievement received high acclaim, because holy men from around the world had failed in their search to find this book.
Kambali received his divinity in a deadly duel, after he defeated the jinn that lived in a cave by the Silugonggo River. Their battle was witnessed by all the jinns and spirits of the masters. After his victory, Kambali was ordained by a master who had been ordained by another master from Kalimantan, who had learned from his masters, who, in succession, led all the way back to Sheikh Hussein ibn Hussein from Iran, who had received instructions directly from the slave of Prophet Sulaiman (Peace be upon Him), a jinn. Blessed by a supernatural power and the possession of a torn page from The Book, Kiai Kambali helped many people.
When a beautiful young lady came to him and asked for guidance on how to change her destitute life into one of wealth, the merciful Kiai Kambali asked his disciple Jafar, a jinn, to look for ways to change the lady’s fate.
Jafar departed immediately and quickly returned with the answer.
Kiai Kambali then ordered the beautiful young lady to return home and grow decorative plants and flowers. But there were rules she had to obey.
“You must prepare a special room, which should then be locked and not opened again,” said Kiai Kambali firmly.
“What for, Kiai?” the young lady asked, innocently.
“Not questioning the rules is part of the rules,” Kiai Kambali said with a smile.
The lady nodded. She obediently carried out the instructions with a pounding heart.
Several months later, the beautiful young lady came again to Kiai Kambali with great news. She had sold all of her plants for a high price — even higher than some of the paintings at the marketplace. Her life had changed dramatically. She now could afford to buy a large piece of land, a beautiful house, and a nice car. She also could expand her business. But, she said, her current problem was that she didn’t have a husband.
After listening, Kiai Kambali, who was filled with love for the beautiful lady, smiled. He asked her to wait. This time, he ordered Bendro, another of his jinn disciples, to help.
Bendro departed immediately and returned in a flash. He spoke to Kiai Kambali in a way that every being in the world could comprehend — every being except humans.
After Bendro finished, Kiai Kambali asked the beautiful young lady to come closer. “All has been destined by God Almighty. Only God the Merciful can grant you a husband,” Kiai Kambali said knowingly. “Are you ready to receive a husband from God Himself?”
The beautiful young lady, with total acceptance, said she would be happy to receive a husband who was chosen by the All-Wise God.
After hearing the lady’s response, Kiai Kambali smiled again. He told her to go home and observe a mutih fast, a ritual that meant she could not eat anything but white rice and water for seven days and seven nights, in front of the special room she had locked and not opened again.
The morning after the ritual was finished, the beautiful young lady found a young man sitting cross-legged on the porch of her house. He was unwashed and reeked like a pile of rotted garbage. Thinking he was a beggar, the lady immediately ordered her servant to give the man one thousand rupiahs.
But the man would not accept the money. He said he only wished to work as a house servant for the beautiful young lady.
The servant delivered the man’s message to the lady.
The beautiful young lady, who was enjoying breaking her fast with a meal, did not pay any attention and said to tell the man that he could return another time. “We do not need any help right now,” she said tersely.
The servant went back to the man. After he delivered the lady’s message, the servant asked the man to leave. “Come back some other time,” he said. “Who knows, you might have better luck.”
A week later, the man came again and said that he was looking for a job.
This time, the young lady met him herself. Disgusted by his appearance, she politely refused him.
“I could help you take care of the plants,” the young man said, trying to convince her.
But once again, the beautiful young lady denied him.
The man left, but for several weeks, he kept coming back, again and again. His last visit happened to coincide with the same day that the lady’s gardener quit.
Because she now needed help, she had no choice but to hire the man. She tasked him with taking care of all of her decorative plants.
After her decision to hire him, the beautiful young lady started to worry that this dirty man might be the husband who God the Merciful had chosen for her. She sighed. “Oh, God, what sin have I committed?” Deep in her heart, she was angry and vehemently rejected the notion that this dirty man was her match. To avoid any contact with him, she kept a distance.
One night, her unbearable restlessness and repulsion of the dirty man drove her to visit Kiai Kambali again for advice. But as she crossed the rice field, before reaching Kiai Kambali’s courtyard, she suddenly saw the dirty man with a woman in a shanty that stood in the middle of the rice field. She became even more surprised when she noticed that the woman looked exactly like her. The dirty man and the woman in the shanty were engaged in a seemingly intimate conversation and looked just like lovers.
Her heart racing, overcome by fear, and driven by curiosity, the beautiful young lady forced herself to take a closer look. But before she could take another step, they vanished.
Growing more fearful, the beautiful young woman decided to go home.
Her mind was in turmoil. She was confused by what she had seen. Why were the dirty man and a woman who looked exactly like her, in a shanty in Kiai Kambali’s rice field? Was she hallucinating?
The longer she thought about it, the more worried she became. If the dirty man had indeed been sent by Kiai Kambali, she should receive him. Failing to do so would be disastrous.
Troubled by her thoughts, the beautiful young lady came to the conclusion that Kiai Kambali had possibly sent the dirty man to her. Therefore, she should receive him and treat him well.
The following day, she went to talk to the dirty man to ascertain the possibility. But before she had a chance to meet him, there was a knock on the door. She opened the door with mixed feelings and was dumbfounded. This time, her guest was a clean and handsome man, who looked like Kiai Kambali.
“Jafar, my lady … My name is Jafar.” After the young man introduced himself, he said he wanted to buy some flowers for a wedding ceremony.
Without asking who was getting married, the lady called for the dirty man to take care of Jafar’s request.
Several days later, Jafar came again for the same purpose.
One night, Jafar came for the third time. He and the beautiful young lady became closer, and she suddenly felt attracted to him.
The beautiful young lady started to think that Jafar might be her match, not the dirty man who worked for her. During the following days, she was preoccupied with thoughts of love. She even decided to marry Jafar. She wanted to tell Kiai Kambali about her decision and, at the same time, ask for a love spell to smooth her way.
Before visiting Kiai Kambali again, the beautiful young lady went to see her helper, the dirty man.
But this time when she spoke to the dirty man, something strange happened. She noticed that she had the same feelings toward the man as she had for Jafar. She also noticed that the man not only looked like Jafar, but also like Kiai Kambali. Overcome by this strange feeling, she rushed to Kiai Kambali’s house.
When she saw Kiai Kambali, he looked at her tenderly.
His gentle gaze made the young lady feel as if she were being held in a loving, peaceful embrace during the flowering season. It made her forget why she came. Feeling lost in a seemingly never-ending spiral, the beautiful young woman finally said that she was ready to marry.
Kiai Kambali smiled meaningfully. “That is wonderful,” he said gently, then added, “Now you can enter the locked room.”
As she said goodbye, she remembered her reason for coming, but her heart had suddenly filled with a desire for Kiai Kambali — the same desire she felt for Jafar and the dirty man. All the way home, her heart was in turmoil and her thoughts were scattered. Still, she tried to make a decision.
When night came, the young lady remembered that Kiai Kambali had said she could now open the locked room. Driven by a great curiosity, she unlocked the room.
Once inside the room, her mind filled with the happiness of a woman dreaming of her marriage. She saw herself sitting with Jafar, the dirty man, and Kiai Kambali. On the beautiful bridal platform, she saw all the flowers from her own garden. Many handmaids also stood around the platform. Confused and unable to comprehend what was happening, she shuddered. How could she have married all three men at the same time? But when her desire, joy, and happiness, reached an undeniable intensity, all of her questions vanished. For her, the three men were the same as one.
There are no stories about the young beautiful lady sharing her marital bed. The story only tells us that she lived happily, in great wealth, with three husbands who were never seen by her neighbors.
Thus, the townspeople of Pati told the story of the beautiful young lady again and again.
Sometimes, women who were impressed by but jealous of this lucky young lady told the story and spiced it up with details that changed some of the tale.
Sometimes, idle young men who were poverty-ridden and miserable because of unrequited love told this story, whenever they could.
Some, who were brave enough, went looking for the truth in the flower garden that was tended by a dirty young man who looked like Kiai Kambali. The man sometimes said his name was Bendro, and at other times claimed to be Jafar.
Others flocked to Kiai Kambali’s estate to ask for spells so they could have the same luck as the beautiful young lady. Some even dared to visit the cave by the Silugonggo River to meditate. They hoped to gain supernatural powers to overcome the hardship of their world.
All of this happened because of a love story about a lady blessed by Kiai Kambali, who always walked in the company of a thousand jinns — which are visible to all creatures in the world except humans.