Indah Lestari was born in Singapore and lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. She completed her B.A. in English Literature from Padjadjaran University, Indonesia, and an M.A. in English Studies from Jawaharlal Nehru University, India. She translated JM Coetzee’s Disgrace and another novel (in editing process) into Indonesian. Her poems have appeared in Bacopa, Revival, and The White Elephant Quarterly in 2013.
The Wedding House
Gwat Nio and Karna Suling had just finished the song, “The Last Night,” and the dancers emptied the arena. The musicians were putting their instruments back into their cases as Mamat Jago still stood embracing Sarti amid the crowd. He pinched Sarti’s behind and tried to kiss the big-eyed dancer on the mouth.
The odor of cheap Chinese wine stung Sarti’s nose. She turned her head away and tried to shove Mamat Jago with all her might, but he seized her hand and pulled it around his waist. Gyrating his hips, he continued to squeeze Sarti’s buttocks and press his penis, swollen like a snakehead fish, against Sarti’s groin.
The dancer grinned and tried to pull away.
“Please don’t leave me, sweetheart. Don’t let this downspout spill on the ground.”
People started to watch them. Some smiled while others started to worry.
“Hey, Minan, play ‘Ayam Jago (The Cock).’ I want to dance again,” Mamat Jago yelled.
The teh yan player, Minan Balok, looked around him. Balo, the xylophone player, caught his look and shook his head. The other musicians nodded in agreement with him. Playing another song was impossible. It was already two in the morning, and time for the Gambang Kromong Mustika Tanjung Band, led by Tan Eng Djin from Teluk Naga, to stop playing.
The hosts, the Lie Ban Hoa family from Salembaran and Fai Koen Atmadja from Kapuk, Jakarta, had asked them to stop half an hour ago. The permit they had obtained from the local authorities was only valid until one o’clock.
“Hey, are you deaf? I’m still loaded. If needed, I can pay for the lot of you. I want to dance again and tip the dancers big. Come on!” Mamat Jago shouted, signaling the band players who were still unsure of what to do.
Mamat Jago wobbled more and more.
Satri broke loose from him. As a result, a slap landed on her cheek. “You bitch!” he scolded, and tossed a maroon scarf at her face.
She grimaced and touched her cheek, then ran to the other dancers who had been watching worriedly from a distance.
This is too much, Eng Djin thought. One could hug, kiss, or take his dancers anywhere, but hurting them was not allowed. He walked between the gongs to the drunken dancer and pulled him aside. “I’m sorry, we have to stop. Otherwise the police will arrest us.”
“Don’t worry. All of the police officers are my friends. Let’s start again. Let the orchestra play.”
Minan started to play the teh yan, but Eng Djin waved his hand, suggesting that he stop. “You better go home. If we continue, we’ll get in trouble.”
“Damn you!” Mamat Jago tried to punch Eng Djin in his stomach, and the man warded him off. Mamat Jago attacked again by shoving his elbow straight into his opponent. The elbow strike landed Eng Djin on his behind. “Don’t embarrass me. I’m the champion of this village, a fighter champion. I can beat up anyone.”
Eng Djin rose and took a step back. He leaned on a pole and looked at Mamat Jago’s bulky fist. While he had mastered fourteen martial art movements, he knew he would not be able to beat the Bulak Petir village champion. However, he would fight his best if Mamat Jago attacked again. That was how he would save face in front of his men. Swaying like a scarecrow, Mamat Jago only glared at him.
Two men wearing black leather jackets, one with long hair and the other a crew cut, entered the arena.
Whoosh. Mamat Jago turned to the two intruders. Trying to be more alert, he shook his head.
Longhair pulled a revolver from inside his jacket and pointed it up.
The crowd gasped.
Crewcut grabbed and locked Mamat Jago’s arms, and dragged him along like a sack of chicken manure.
Many years had passed since that arrest.
Mamat Jago smiled and mumbled, “That was a long time ago.” In those days he could be jailed as easily as he was released. Arrested at night, he was free in the morning; or admitted in the morning, free in the evening, and so on. His men always bailed him out not long after the police took him in. “The police are my friends,” he repeatedly told his men. As soon as he was free, he would return to the wedding house whenever he liked, to dance and drink and make a scene if necessary.
But that was when he held wealth and respect in both hands, and the real estate business of selling rice field plots in his village was booming. Everyone who came to his house brought and took money. His job as a land broker kept him very busy. Once, one of his men had to carry sacks of money to his house for acquisition of the land where the airport is now. The villagers used to say that he slept on a bed of money instead of kapok.
Now everything was different. His wealth and respect had dried up like a coconut tree struck by lightning. The hectares of land he use to own had shrunk like scorched banana leaves to the size of a lawn. Mamat Jago’s house was once the most luxurious and expensive house in the village. Today it was empty, dingy, and silent, and home to moths, beetles, and spiders. Who knows who owned his cars or bikes. There was no trace of his water buffaloes. Only a herd of goats and a coop of chickens were left. His men, there had been about ten or twenty, had left him, looking for new employers after he went bankrupt.
Masroh, his wife whom he did not touch after she contracted tuberculosis, had died two years ago. Their respective husbands moved his three daughters out of town. One of his sons worked as a motorcycle transport driver to support his wife and four children. Only his youngest son and he lived in the house.
“Oh, this deprivation is agonizing.” Mamat Jago coughed a bit. “Is there a cure for this?” he mumbled.
He no longer worked as a land broker. No one wanted to sell his plantation or paddy field. The locals had sold all of their inherited land until only the land their houses stood on was left. They could not sell unless they wanted to be homeless in their own village. The use of the land that provided their livelihoods had changed. Hundreds of hectares were leveled, the dikes were gone, and a two-meter high iron bar fence enclosed everything. Two concrete platforms stretching from west to east lay through the middle of the area.
The locals, including Mamat Jago, just watched the airplanes landing and taking off. Only those on a pilgrimage could afford to board them. At night the planes changed into giant fireflies, blinking as they flew to the farthest horizon.
There were also factories operating day and night. It was impossible for the village’s richest people to build and own a factory. They were only sharecroppers and petty traders, and could not run a business or master the sophisticated technology used in the factories. Yet, their children, boys and girls, even the youngest child, always flocked to and from the factories in uniform. They became involuntary underpaid factory workers, employed by Korean, Japanese, and Taiwanese tycoons.
Luxurious houses were built and occupied by people they did not know. The locals could not afford the houses and had to work as motorcycle taxi drivers in the neighborhood. The bikes were bought with the money from the sale of their inherited land. They still could enjoy the straight and zigzag asphalt road, the clear creek with a concrete sidewalk, and beautiful parks, while looking at the arched doors and windows of the mansions. They used to see them on the open-air movie screens, for which there was no longer space. To complete the scene there were also barking dogs, of course.
Mamat Jago inhaled deeply as if pulling the memories buried deep in the dark hole of his past. “I need my medication,” he mumbled and swallowed.
The smell of wet soil brought by the southern wind crossed the meadow with hip-high pampas grass. It would rain soon. The monsoon had come and the rainfall would be heavier approaching the Chinese New Year. Then the wedding season began. Wedding houses in Kampung Melayu, Kosambi, Salembaran, and Sewan in Jakarta would be crowded again. He missed all of that.
That afternoon during his siesta, Mamat Jago dreamed he visited the White Lotus Wedding House.
People gave way as soon as he entered through the main door. He walked with the confidence of a village champion. Only here can I enjoy the pleasure and honor again, he thought, smiling.
It had been two years since he experienced any of it. Yes, here people praised his dancing and fighting skills, his ability to drink bottles of beer and Chinese wine, and his generous tipping.
Mamat Jago imagined the dancers’ sexy and arousing bodies, their lustful movement, and writhing. Oh, what man was able to hold up to such temptation?
Nyai Sirah, the hostess, welcomed Mamat Jago, carrying a maroon shawl like she used to. The woman with breasts as small as quail’s eggs wrapped the shawl around his neck, an invitation to enter the arena and choose a partner.
Mamat Jago only looked at Sarti, sitting in the corner next to Minan Balok. She wore a yellow green T-shirt with a picture of a pink dragon going up, and cream capri pants. Dressed in that outfit, she looked younger than she was. Being a bit plump, her curves were visible under the tight clothes.
Mamat Jago’s blood flowed like a torrent. He pulled his favorite dancer’s hand.
Sarti smiled and followed him with small, skipping steps. The other dancers emptied the arena, honoring the return of the dancing king from Bulak Petir.
His chin tilted, Mamat Jago glanced across the room. He raised his two fists, honoring the hosts and orchestra director, and Tan Eng Djin.
Minan Balok responded by raking his teh yan.
“Come on Minan, play ‘Ayam Jago.’ I want to dance again.”
The xylophone, percussion, gong, and flute followed one after another. The tones mingled. Gwat Nio’s soprano began,
“Don’t spur a cock to fight, because the cock’s comb will turn red
Don’t spur a cock to fight, because the cock’s comb will turn red
Don’t tease the woman in green, or else her boyfriend will get mad
Don’t tease the woman in green, or else her boyfriend will get mad.”
Sarti did not budge. Her hands hung loose by her side.
Mamat Jago took her hands, placed them around his waist, and tightened his embrace. She felt cold, like the dadap leaves used to bring down a child’s fever. Her lips were sealed, her eyes shut. “Come on, Sarti, don’t tease me like you used to during those nights long ago.” Mamat Jago shook Sarti. He tapped her cheeks, but there was not the slightest reaction. He looked at the musicians. Everyone had stopped playing. No one moved. Everything seemed as cold and blue as Chinese porcelain.
Mamat Jago carried Sarti out of the room. The spectators who had packed the arena and the wedding house lawn earlier were gone. Worried, he walked through the garden where the evening rain came down like layers of mosquito netting. Along the street the trees swayed drunkenly and the houses seemed struck dumb. The electric and kerosin lamplights had dimmed. He walked along the asphalt road, crossed the river parting the tall grasses in the fields.
“You can’t die, dear. Live with me. In my house you will be warm.” He kissed Sarti’s lips. His saliva, mixed with the rainwater, entered Sarti’s mouth. The owl-eyed girl choked. She wriggled and put her arms around Mamat Jago’s neck. He smiled and walked faster.
The night and the first rain of the season enveloped the Bulak Petir village. From a distance, Mamat Jago’s house on the edge of a fallow rice field by the road looked like a faded painting.
A few lights were on. Ah, good boy, Mamat Jago thought. His youngest son must have switched on the lights before going to work on the factory night shift. The light from the lamps always brought memories of the bright days of his youth.
During their courting days and even after they were married, before the children were born and filled the house, Masroh and he would run across the dikes of the rice fields as soon as the first rain fell. Soaking wet, they showered at the well where the water always seemed warmer than the rainwater. This was how they celebrated the arrival of the monsoon.
The front door was unlocked.
“How careless!” Mamat Jago cursed under his breath. He was certain his youngest son had forgotten to turn the lock.
He pushed the door open with his back and went straight to the bedroom. He lay Sarti on the bed. It was the same spot where Masroh exhaled her last breath. Emaciated, her breasts were like rotten oranges. Mamat Jago took off Satri’s wet clothes and blanketed her with the batik cloth used to cover his late wife’s remains. He looked at Sarti, who appeared to be sound asleep.
“My lover, my wife.” Mamat Jago kissed Sarti’s lips. He felt her lips moving, kissing him back. Her hands gently pulled him against her. She started breathing slowly, then heavily, warm, hot, and boisterous. He hugged her tighter. Heat crept through their bodies. Sarti moaned, scratching Mamat Jago’s back. In no time they were wrestling on the worn-out mattress. On fire, they kissed, nipped, and writhed while clinging to each other.
Suddenly, bam! Startled, Mamat Jago released his embrace.
Eng Djin, Longhair, and Crewcut stood by the door.
Mamat Jago grabbed his underwear and put it on.
“Come to your senses, Sarti is dead,” Eng Djin said.
Mamat Jago turned his head. Sarti lay naked and stiff, driblets of sweat between her breasts. Not believing what they said, he tapped on Sarti’s cheek repeatedly. “Come on, sweetie, wake up. Koh Eng Djin and my friends are here,” he whispered into her ear.
“Let her go.”
Mamat Jago shook Sarti’s bluish body in disbelief. She was cold and stiff. He released a bitter cry. It had been a very long time since he cried. Even when Masroh passed away he had not felt the urge to cry.
Watching, Eng Djin sighed. Longhair and Crewcut locked Mamat Jago’s arms and walked him to a jeep.
On the way, the two policemen whom Mamat Jago claimed to be his friends did not bother talking to him. Crewcut drove and Longhair smoked.
Mamat Jago looked at the handcuffs around his wrists that glistened in the sunlight falling through the car windows. The stainless steel device immobilized him completely. The car bounced across the potholes in the road and he was flung against the door. When he cried out, Longhair only turned his head with his cigarette between his lips.
Mamat Jago laid back and looked through the rear door’s window. He watched the house lights dissolve into long wavy lines. He also saw Sarti’s naked, perspiring body following the car that was driving him to only God knew where. Had Sarti truly died? Was it possible he had sex with a dead body? Mamat Jago wondered. Didn’t Sarti kiss and hug him back when they were having heavy sex like in the old days?
The car stopped and the rear door opened. “Get out!” Longhair yelled.
Mamat Jago’s jaw dropped. He was unable to resist. When he jumped out, his feet sunk into the sand.
Longhair and Crewcut herded him into a dark place. He heard the roaring waves and rustling leaves. Salt dust stuck to his lips.
He tried guessing which beach. Maybe Tanjung Kait, Rawa Saban, Kamal, or one he never visited before. A strong push made him stumble on a coral and fall. His mouth filled with salty sand.
“We’re not really your friends. We made friends only to be able to catch bad guys like you. Tonight you’re finished.” Crewcut’s voice was louder than the waves.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Blood oozed from the holes in his temples and forehead. The sand absorbed it, and the waves wiped it and made it disappear in the water.
Bang! Bang! Bang!
Mamat Jago awakened. Feeling someone wiping his face, he rose. “Sarti!” he called.
No one answered.
He wiped his forehead and temples. No blood, only rainwater from the leaking roof. “What kind of a dream was that?” he asked, confused. He sat on the edge of the bed. He listened carefully, the incessant shooting was still audible. “Oh my,” he smiled, it was only firecrackers from the wedding house.
He walked to the window and opened it. The rain had stopped, but the lawn was muddied. So was his memory of Eng Djin, Longhair, and Crewcut. And Sarti. “Why did something so strange happen to you in my dream?” he wondered.
Without wasting time, he opened the closet and took out his best clothes: a safari shirt and khaki trousers, dark brown felt hat, black leather sandals, and a wooden cane with a dragon head-shaped handle, all of it making him feel debonair again. But the murky mirror in front of him could not hide the wrinkles on his cheeks and the dark swelling under his eyes. He stared at his reflection until he coughed. His body jerked and he chuckled, “Damn wife!”
Mamat Jago tapped the terrazzo floor with his cane, three times. “I have to go back to the wedding house.” He had made up his mind.
The White Lotus Wedding House had remained like it used to be. People gave way as Mamat Jago entered the arena. As always, he bowed before the hosts, the bride and the groom, Tan Eng Djin, the musicians and the dancers as a sign of respect. They returned his greeting, except for Sarti, who only pursed her lips and blew cigarette smoke at Mamat Jago. The old man smiled and did the same to her.
Sarti crushed the cigarette butt with her beautiful wooden clog. “You haven’t come here for so long. I missed you.” Sarti draped a maroon shawl around his neck.
“I had to take care of a lot of business, toots.” Mamat Jago put his arm around Sarti’s waist.
Without any prompting, Minan Balok played his teh yan. The soft melody made Mamat Jago pull Sarti in a tighter embrace. He felt as if there was a black hole in his chest that could only be filled by hugging his favorite dancer.
The first stanza of “Stambul Siliwangi” flowed from Gwat Nio’s lips.
“So this is the way it is, Karna, the dragon is the dragon.
Oh, the wooden paddle, the wooden paddle would be burnt away by fire.
So if this is the way it is, darling, what do I feel?
Oh, the body is alive, but I feel dead.”
Karna joined her with an undulating voice. Once in a while Mamat Jago sang along,
“My rose, sweetheart, my rose, Sweet Soul from Heaven.
Oh the mothers, oh the kaffir lime,
Oh the kaffir lime, sweetheart, has a nice fragrance.
Oh let’s get acquainted, Nio, let’s get acquainted, sweetheart, there are no hindrances
Ahh, the mothers are only clouds.
The mothers are only clouds, but my sweetheart belongs to someone else.”
The dancers and their partners encircled Mamat Jago and Sarti. But no one was able to dance. Everyone linked arms.
Suddenly, Mamat Jago coughed. His voice broke, his breath labored.
Sarti stroked his back. “You are ill.”
“I’m love sick.”
“Please see the doctor.”
“Oh no. I just want to go to the wedding house. To see doctor Sarti.”
“Ah, Sarti has lots of patients.”
“Please, treat me, doctor. Make me your only patient.”
“I dreamed of Sarti and everyone in this wedding house.”
“Oh really? How did the story go?”
“Ah, I’m embarrassed to tell.”
“How was it?” Sarti pinched Mamat Jago’s thigh.
“We were playing doctor and patient.”
“Ugh, that’s dirty.” Sarti squeezed his groin.
He moaned and pinched her buttocks. This time she let him do it. A fire sparked in what once was a black hole. His body temperature slowly increased and the heat crept to Sarti’s body.
The spectators became anxious. A boy fondled himself while squatting.
“Come home with me.”
“Where is home?”
A coughing spell overtook Mamat Jago. It was as if the coughs were competing against the xylophone. His breathing sounded like a broken boat engine. At one in the morning, when the gong struck as a closing sign, his breathing dwindled.
People turned their heads.
Mamat Jago leaned heavily on Sarti. “Keep playing. I’ll die if the band stops,” he gasped during the next two pauses.
The musicians remained still.
Mamat Jago slumped to the floor.
Sarti put his head on her lap. She only smiled and stroked Mamat Jago’s face.
Within seconds, Mamat Jago saw Sarti’s face change into that of a young woman who had once taken him for an outing to a small island near the northern coast. He had just finished reciting the Koran, and the excursion had been his reward.
Just the two of them visited the island that was full of kelingkit trees, eagles, seagulls, and blue crabs. That most wonderful excursion might have only lasted for a few minutes, perhaps a couple of hours, the whole day, or several months. Mamat Jago no longer remembered. But he knew the woman’s smile very well. And he was happy.