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The Mistress and the Lady

Stefanny Irawan is a published short story writer and freelance editor and translator. Her first short story collection, Tidak Ada Kelinci di Bulan! (No Bunny on the Moon!), was published in 2006. She is passionate about theatre and got her Master’s degree in Arts Management at State University of New York (SUNY) at Buffalo under the Fulbright scholarship. She is currently an adjunct lecturer at Petra Christian University, Surabaya, Indonesia.

She can be reached at


The Mistress and the Lady
Anindita Siswanto Thayf

(Nyai / Mistress)

Darkness fell on the tenth night. You sighed. Your feet moved to your usual place: the deepest corner, the warmest hidden nook where you faithfully wait for the break of dawn. As you sat with closed eyes and expectant ears, the sound of nighttime animals made you feel as if you were at a wayang show instead of this creepy place. You recognized the dalang’s distinctive voice, the enchanting singing of the sinden, and the familiar gending music. Every now and then, you even heard the cheering audience clap their hands. All of that amazed you. It took you to another place, until suddenly a ticklish tingle on your foot snapped you back to reality. A cockroach! Shocked, you jerked away immediately. That was it. You didn’t scream in panic. That was so not you.

Yes, you’re a woman, but you’re not like she who arrived four days ago. The spoiled, crybaby woman, emotional and over-sensitive. You hated her for making you share this tiny place. More than that, you hated everything about her, the blonde hair that reminded you of your past golden era, the arrogant look in a pair of round, blue eyes, her wheat-colored skin, and her voice that sounded like the false purr of a cat.

You especially hated hypocrisy; what a deceitful race she belonged to! She often filled you with the urge to strangle her, to bury your nails deep into her pale, long neck. You were sure you could kill her in an instant by snapping her neck. Your hands were strong from pulling weeds and wringing out the laundry. Her body looked like a dry banana stump—big yet fragile.

Your lips folded into a victorious grin. You expected a little fun from this killing act. Your hand suddenly moved fast, right on the target.

Whack! Splat!

The aura of death filled the room instantly. The cockroach had died an inevitable death. You smiled, happy to have released some of your hatred.


(Noni / The Lady)

You actually loved nighttime. You found its dusk romantic. Its coolness guided you to the smoldering furnace of love. You liked it best when the full moon illuminated your body and blonde hair and your most wonderful dream came true.

But now, it was the complete opposite. You hated everything about the night. Nighttime had turned into the most terrifying monster in your nightmare. The one that summoned cold and inflamed the bones. The one that lured a number of disgusting little creatures out of their nests. The most frightening thing, though, was the terror that kept you constantly on your toes every time the sun escaped the afternoon sky.

You knew by now that the humid wind would come from the west. That’s why you chose to sit at the farthest left corner of this room, leaning your body closely against the wall to pick up what was left of the warmth. But your attempts were to no avail. The other woman occupied the warmest spot in this room. That rude, uncivilized woman; the grumpy and stubborn one. You hated her for making you feel threatened all the time. You hated everything about her. The dark, wavy hair, the piercing, coal-black eyes, her loud, bark-like voice and brown skin, were like the other indigenous people of this land, and reminded you of your past.

You truly hated the people of this country. They were a cowering nation. You suddenly wanted to bite her neck, bury your white teeth deep into the vein. You were confident you could kill her, make her blood flow all over. Your father, a doctor, had taught you about the vulnerable areas of the human body. Attacking her would be easy. She was in the habit of sitting with her eyes closed.

The corners of your lips curled. You hoped to get some peace by killing her and started to formulate a plan.

Whack! Splat!

The noise came from the corner where that woman reigned. The silence-shattering noise made you turn toward her. Through the darkness you witnessed a bloodcurdling scene. A cockroach lay dead on the floor, its entrails smeared on the woman’s palm.

Unable to hold it any longer, you vomited.


“That’s it! You drive me to the limit of my patience. Damn you, woman! Damn!” the black-haired woman shouted before she charged at the blonde like a vengeful dog.

“Wait a second! Wait! What’s wrong with you? Are you trying to kill me? You’re crazy,” the blonde woman screamed, frantically. She had not seen the attack coming and was unable to stop it. As a daughter of a respected family, she had never been involved in a fight, and this situation was completely new to her. Then, her bodyguards were always around. But now, these Japanese prison walls surrounded her. She was no longer an honorable noni, a young lady. Exiled here, she felt worthless.

“You insulted me, bitch! You puked in front of me. It wasn’t an accident, was it?” the black-haired woman yelled at the top of her lungs. She had had enough. Her emotions soared, and she wanted to rage on. Her graceful mannerisms, which had won the heart of a meneer, a Dutch gentleman who had made her his mistress, had dissolved within the walls of this cruel Japanese prison. She was no longer the nyai, the mistress, of her beloved meneer administrateur. She was shackled here, meaningless.

“No! You misunderstood. You’re wrong!” The blonde still tried to stop the attack, but the black-haired woman went berserk.

“You ruined this place with the foul stench of your vomit, juffrouw, miss! I’m going to kill you. I’ll kill you!” The black-haired woman planted herself on the blonde’s stomach. She used her two strong legs to squeeze the still-struggling woman so hard it made the blonde scream hysterically.

Godverdomme, damn! My stomach! My stomach!”

The Dutch swearword set off the black-haired woman even more. “You think I don’t know what you said, huh! You ungrateful foreigner! Colonialist bastard! Infidel!”

“You ungrateful servant nation. Stupid, foul-mouthed woman! You’re the infidel!”

The tiny cell transformed into a fighting arena. The two women wrestled furiously and tried to destroy each other with their teeth and nails. They tore each other’s flesh and pulled locks of hair. Blood splattered everywhere.

Three wardens with turmeric skin and watermelon-seed eyes rushed into the middle of the arena. They tried to separate the two uncontrollable women with force using their rifle butts and boots, slaps and curses. Groan after groan answered them. Painful screams. Mercy-pleading whimpers interrupted them.

“Shut up, whores. This is what you get for causing chaos here. Crazy bitches!”

The night was silent once again after the stomping boots moved away from the cell where two figures were left writhing in pain and blood.


(Nyai / Mistress)

You forced your swollen eyes open. It was difficult and painful. You wanted to see more, even though all you saw at first was only red. Blood. Holding back your pain, you tried to move. You couldn’t. Then you tried to turn your head. You succeeded in turning a little to your right and saw her, the blonde.

You wondered what brought a pretty blonde girl like her to this hell on earth. You tried to guess, Was she not quick enough to escape with her family when the Japanese attacked? Or did they kidnap her from her home?

“Ah, family. Home,” you whispered sadly and thought about the story of your life.

If only the Dutch had not lost the war and Japan had never come to this country, you figured your life would have always been happy. Your blond keeper would have spoiled you, your maids would have served you, and your parents would have been proud of you. What a wonderful life you once had, even though you were just a nyai, the mistress of a Dutch man.

Life is indeed full of surprises. When the Japanese came, your keeper left. He went back to his country without bringing you along. He said there wouldn’t be a place for you there. Ah, how that man betrayed your loyalty, leaving you among the war spoils for the Japanese.

“Infidel,” you cursed him. From then on, you hated every pale-skinned person with all your heart, including the blonde woman. Her situation is not much different from yours now. Should you still hate her?


(Noni / The Lady)

You couldn’t move or feel a thing. You wondered if you were paralyzed or had died. The warmth and pain surging from between your legs a moment later made you realize you were still alive.

“My stomach,” you whispered faintly as your worry escalated. The fetus of your two-month-old pregnancy had been sleeping soundly inside your belly. You wondered how he was doing, if he had survived. The pain that spread underneath the skin of your stomach provided the answer.

“Gone. He’s gone!” You let out a hushed cry. The growing stream of tears forced you to open your eyes. That was when you saw her. The black-haired lady.

She lay on her back looking at you. Her face was swollen, blotched with dried blood, her lips split. Her half-open eyes seemed empty. Was she dead? Unexpectedly, you felt pity for her. You didn’t know what made an indigenous woman a Japanese prisoner. You tried to guess. Was she a spy and had someone turned her in? Had she made a mistake?

“Ah, betrayal. Mistake,” you murmured as you recalled your own story.

If only you had listened to your parents and hadn’t followed the foolish passion of young love, you surely would have been on the ship with them and, by now, heading to the Land of Windmills. But love cast its spell on you.

The masculinity of an indigenous young man had captured your heart. He was your father’s loyal guard and charmed you with his good manners. You steeled yourself to break the boundaries and engaged in a forbidden relationship. You succumbed to sin until you became pregnant. Everything then was forced to be the way you wanted it. You were to be married in a week. How wonderful would that be, you thought, even though you had to sacrifice those you loved, your family.

Life always has a secret plan. The victory of the yellow-skinned people. The defeat of the whites. All members of your family quickly moved away, except you who preferred to be with the indigenous man, the father of your child, your true love. In return he shamelessly served the yellow-skinned Older Brother he just met and handed you to them as proof of his loyalty.

“Indigenous scumbag!” That was how you cursed him. Since then, every inch of you hated every indigenous person, including the black-haired woman who now shares your predicament. Should you still hate her?


The two women were still occupied by their wounds and their thoughts when the stomping of boots came closer. The jail keepers opened the cell door. They approached the two weak women on the prison floor and forcefully groped their bodies.

“Water. Water,” the black-haired one groaned.

“Doctor. I need a doctor,” the blonde pleaded.

History had proven that life never treated women fairly. Little did either woman know of the terror about to happen. When yellow hands ripped their clothes, and the men with red, alcohol-induced, passion-ridden slanted eyes, proceeded to rape them, it was too late for the nyai and noni to realize they shouldn’t hate each other. They shared a common enemy: men.

(Merapi slope, 2014)


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