Bunga

By: Natasya Amalina

“What is fiction in particular is truth in general.” 
                                                Eduard Douwes Dekker, Max Havelaar, or the Coffee Auctions of the Dutch Trading Company

A

              diwijaya was the luckiest man in the whole of Kota Jepara.

 

That was what everyone called him when news that he would be married to the teenage daughter of a wealthy land merchant spread rapidly throughout town. From men who chain-smoked gudang garam cigarettes and drank countless decanters of thick, unsweetened coffee in the local coffee shops, to middle-aged ibus tending the convenience store where he got his weekly supply of belinjau crackers and even drunk, pubescent Dutch soldiers who frequently visited his office for a smoke or occasionally, a round of gin and tonic to drown out balmy afternoons.

 

Adiwijaya had not seen his bride, having agreed to only meet her on the day of their wedding. But he could sense that she was more than the typical Javanese lady her age. He was briefly told that she was fluent in Dutch and had even picked up snatches of English through extensive readings of Western novels, particularly Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, by a proud, corpulent aunt whose sole duty during the proposal was to prove her niece’s credentials. She had done an excellent job, for Adiwijaya began to picture an intelligent, graceful woman; she was probably not that attractive for knowledgeable women were often too caught up with books to trouble themselves with cosmetics. She could cook too, the aunt persisted, delectable lamb curries and fried chicken, her hands could concoct the most delicious meals within moments – she had even learnt how to tenderize meats with papaya skins such that they soften and dissolve on the tongue and flatten chillis to a creamy paste with a mortar and pestle to prepare herself for the imminent duties of a good wife.

 

His uncle, Darma, the former Regency Chief, had arranged the marriage as a gift for Adiwijaya’s twenty-ninth birthday – the latter, who had been so caught up with his headmaster duties in the Wijaya English Institution, had deemed companionship to be inconsequential until loneliness forced him into solitary dinners and protracted nights spent fabricating the ideal Javanese wife in his head. He had begged Darma to find him a wife that could put an end to the sporadic dreams he had been having of a woman, stark naked and faceless, lying sensuously on a bed of jasmine buds beside him. She appeared so close yet he never seemed to be able reach out to her, to caress the warm, slightly mottled pouches of flesh hanging on her chest, no matter how much he tried. He would wake up in sudden fit, tiny beads of moisture dotting his underwear.

 

The headmaster only had Darma as family; he had been left orphaned at the age of twenty when both his parents perished on their journey to perform the Haj after their ship capsized in the Indian Ocean. Their tombs were erected but their submerged bodies were never found.

 

Adiwijaya only discovered why indeed he was the luckiest man when he first laid eyes on his young bride. Bunga had only turned seventeen the previous month but acquired the sharp, defined features that were distinctly and perturbingly Western. She did not have the tanned, chocolate-brown complexion synonymous to the Javanese; her pallid whiteness juxtaposed the sea of protruding foreheads and prominent cheekbones that led her down the winding, carpeted stairs of her father’s palace. Her lean, youthful body was clad in a slightly revealing Italian lace kebaya, exposing the taut flesh of her long arms and fragile collarbones. Everything about her body seemed lucid in his eyes as he sat cross-legged on a gold, satin cushion, perspiration bubbling viscously down his back as he awaited the woman who, within moments, he would call his wife. The only nebulous memory Adiwijaya had before the solemnization proceeded was the expression on her face – was it of sheer hostility at discovering that her soon-to-be husband, the man she had been forced to marry and live the rest of her life with was a gangly, pockmarked man, with breath smelling perpetually of cheap Kreteks and suffering from the onset of premature balding concealed by an overused blangkon? Or was it merely empty acceptance of her doomed, inescapable fate?

 

The wedding was set to take place a month after the proposal. Pangeran Adi, who had been widowed for more than seven years after his wife had succumbed to a particular diagnosis of hereditary jaundice, had arranged for the best cooks in Jepara to prepare for his beloved daughter’s wedding. There were copious platters of stewed, falling-off-the-bone meats and tamarind-marinated tempehs, sweating jugs of iced strawberry tea and an impressive display of varicoloured, boiled sweets on the glazed mahogany dining table that seemed to stretch on endlessly in the commodious living room. Garlands of sweet jasmine (Bunga’s favourite flower) were strewn over the burnished, wooden banisters and confetti of tulip petals were poured over the bride and groom from the second and third levels of the colossal house the moment they were pronounced husband and wife by the qadi. Cheered on by the rambunctious crowd, Adiwijaya stooped and lifted the translucent veil over Bunga’s face after the solemnization was over, exposing a mask of indifference and almost perfection. He pressed his lips onto her porcelain-smooth forehead, shuddering quietly at its stone-cold surface.

 

She did not flinch.

 

Bunga was extracting the pins that had prodded her scalp the entire day when he entered their bedroom for the first time, her slender fingers weaving through the locks of vanilla-scented hair in sinuous movements. She was humming an unfamiliar tune as she slowly arranged the accessories on the cluttered dressing table amongst half-empty tubs of maroon lipsticks, cut-outs of showy woman in polka-dotted bikinis from an outdated Dutch teenage magazine and a pile of battered paperbacks that did not belong there. Adiwijiya slipped out of his starched, batik-printed jacket, all the while watching as his bride languidly brushed the loose tresses that had been in a tight chignon perched over her small head throughout the two-hour reception. There was something sensual in the way she moved the brush in and out of her hair, authoritative even. Bunga did not seem at all fettered by her husband’s unrelenting gaze from the reflection on the ornamental mirror before her.

 

“Come here, my wife. Let me have a closer look at your face,” Adiwijaya ordered softly, patting the empty space beside him on the poster bed that had only recently replaced Bunga’s single one.

 

Bunga placed the brush on the table, raspberry lips pressed into a hard, thin line. Her unblemished forehead corrugated, as though Adiwijaya’s simple and harmless request had extremely disconcerted her. She spun around on the iron-wrought stool, tendrils of hair framing her expressionless face. The young woman began studying the man before her whose stalwart limbs sprawled over the mattress. Adiwijaya fought her challenging stare but he only seemed to be drowning further into her eyes. Those translucent almonds floating in a pool of sweet milk.

 

“Have you heard of Multatuli?” she asked suddenly, folding her arms over her ample breasts as though protecting them from Adiwijaya’s gaze.

 

For a moment, Adiwijaya was baffled by this unexpected burst of enquiry. She was already testing his intelligence on what he presumed to be merely a night of consummating their marriage, to break the reclusive wall that Bunga had built around her so that they could transition into a singular entity. He did not intend to engage in a conversation with a woman he barely knew; he felt introductions could be reserved for a later day when everything else had been settled and their roles as husband and wife were properly established. His fingers were already itching to undo the floral, metal brooches that clasped her kebaya firmly together over her abundant chest. Stark naked.

 

So near yet unattainable.

 

“Yes, I have. He is a Dutch writer, isn’t he?” Adiwijaya responded confidently, brandishing a lit Kretek in his left hand as he blew out asymmetrical smoke rings through thick, chapped lips. She nodded lightly. “That’s his penname. He was born Eduard Douwes Dekker. Multatuli is Latin for ‘I have suffered much’. Have you read any of his books?” she probed, crossing her cadaverous thighs, lifting her sarong up her ankles as though to purposely aggravate Adiwijaya’s thirst. He shook his head and remained mute, leaning against the vinyl headboard as he ran his free hand through his shorn, jet-black hair.

 

“I thought so. The people of Dutch East Indies should give him more credit. There is so much to be learnt from a book that it will shock you how much you lack in knowledge, how much of an imbecile you really are to the condition of our own people,” she spoke fluidly, turning her back on him once again and grabbing a bunch of cotton swabs to remove the layers of compact powder that had caked her face.

 

Adiwijaya shuffled uncomfortably in the bed, tossing the unfinished cigarette out the sash windows and fishing a rusty tin out from the pocket of his sarong for another. He could not fathom the ambiguity in her tone – was she indirectly accusing him of blatant ignorance having not read the type of literature she preferred? Or was she attempting to stir envy in him by involving a man she had never met into the picture? Adiwijaya chased the stale, old tobacco with a lump of saliva – the difference between him and Multatuli was not as disparate as he thought it was: both of them were strangers to this oddity that was Bunga Pangeran Adi. He chuckled to himself at the absurdity of his own thoughts. She was his now. There was nothing to fear, nothing to be anxious about.

 

Warm, mottled flesh.

 

“You go ahead and sleep. I’m not tired yet. And don’t wait up for me. I’ll be in the drawing room, reading,” she said after removing her kebaya, revealing a cotton beige blouse that hung loosely just above her midriff.

 

Adiwijaya remained motionless, eyes fixed on the kebaya that lay crumpled at the edge of the bed where she had thrown it. The heliotrope silk was creased and slightly moist, a mixture of soap and sweat clinging to the fabric. She was bending down to pull out the soft, cashmere socks from her feet when Adiwijaya brushed his fingers gently against her bare shoulders. The act seemed natural, soothing even for the man who had never touched a woman that way before. His hands grew bolder, snaking their way down the gap between her breasts and lingered there for a moment, the tips of his fingers curving around the metal, floral-engraved brassiere. His eyes swiveled to her legs, imagining the beauty of her limbs curtained by the closely fitted sarong.

“Mas Wijaya…” Her voice trailed, a hand clasped over his arm as though warning him from going any closer.

Adiwijaya looked up at her, grinning as he pecked the flat belly of his prized possession. “Yes, my darling?”

Her eyes, which had appeared distant and hard throughout the reception, weakened palpably. The muscles on her face slackened, her hands trembling as she tugged a few strands of hair behind her ear.

“My father took me out of school after elementary level. He told me that no matter how well read I was, no matter how much I studied, my place will always be by my husband’s side,” she said.

 

There was something about her tone that made Adiwijaya slowly put his hands away from her waist as though maneuvered by the invisible force of her words. He began to feel disgusted by his intrusive actions – what was he, a man twelve years her senior, doing trying to seduce a child merely to relinquish his repressed desires? He was selfish to think that the only substantial role his wife could play was to tame the savage phallus that lurked in between his thighs. A shade of vermillion seeped into his cheeks.

“I’ll be in the drawing room. Goodnight, mas.”

 

So close. Yet.

 

Three days after the wedding, the couple moved to Adiwijaya’s mansion. Bunga brought with her only three sets of kebayas, some books and a small pouch of toiletries to her husband’s abode as though she was only leaving for a short domestic trip. Adiwijaya did not question her meagre packing. He had planned to bring her out to the stretch of boutiques in Rembang that were known for their beautiful, handmade kebayas fashioned out of the most exquisite silks and chiffons imported from China to fill the massive wardrobe in their bedroom. And then maybe, they could have a nice dinner in a Western restaurant that sold overpriced battered fish pieces and raw-looking cuts of meat. He rather ate a plate of hot, fluffy rice with fried tofu cakes and sambal but Bunga seemed to fancy anything that had to do with the Caucasians. He would do anything to make her happy.He had also resumed his duties in the institution, overseeing lessons on a daily basis and doing his rounds around the red-bricked building that was over fifty years old. The students, mostly adolescent boys except for a scatter of girls who had managed to stray into the classes just to steal textbooks to be sold for a day’s meal, would rise from their seats upon his arrival and bow their heads as a form of respect to their headmaster. Adiwijaya would spend a few hours listening in to what was being taught by the teachers, at times barely paying attention to the basic arithmetic being taught to fourteen-year-olds who rather play takraw in the makeshift court outside the school.

 

Adiwijaya felt it was best to use the time he had in school to mull over his relationship with Bunga. He would squat near the plots of flourishing agapanthuses in the garden and smoke a dozen cigarettes, watching the curls of smoke that resembled distorted and overstretched Ss escape his lips. It had been months after the wedding but their marriage was nowhere near the intimacy he prayed would develop naturally as soon as they were ensconced in their own home. It did not come as a surprise when Bunga had requested for a separate bedroom where she could do her readings of Multatuli and Nietzsche uninterrupted by his sexual advances that were both distracting and exhausting to repeatedly avert. She allowed him to enter on occasions when her mood was good because she had managed to complete her translations of Kawi poetry to be sent to her Dutch pen pals. Adiwijaya had embraced the room like it embodied the whole of Bunga, fingering the framed portraits of Raden Adjeng Kartini that hung over the whitewashed walls and passionately breathing in the scent of fresh jasmine that pervaded the minuscule space.

 

What he sought the most out of the nights they spent together were the conversations they had. In the beginning, the idea of talking with his wife did not appeal much to him – none of his colleagues and friends ever talked about having heated discussions of the burgeoning world of Westernization with their wives. It would seem like the complete antithesis of it; not talking to their ‘women’ was the most favourable option amongst the company of men he knew. The wives cooked and tended to their husband’s needs such as doing the laundry and making sure their baths were warm when they reached home, while the husbands earned a living and ordered their wives to discipline their children so they would not end up like the vexatious brats in Adiwijaya’s school. Things were much simpler when words were not involved. It was different for Adiwijaya. The conversations they had were probably the closest thing to being intimate with his wife without laying a finger on her delicate skin.

 

Sometimes he felt Bunga was starting to grow affectionate towards him though he could never be too confident about it. He could sense it from the dishes she prepared single-handedly without any of the servant’s help. When the papayas in the backyard were not sufficiently ripe, she would replace them with sweetened grape juice that made the meat even more succulent. In the evenings, she would fry sliced bananas in a wok of hot oil for tea to be accompanied by a pot of Darjeeling. She would narrate the whole of Max Haveelar to him as they sat on the porch overlooking the setting sun. Adiwijaya spoke very little when he was with her. He rather listened to what she had to say, at times stealing glances at the broad expanse of her heaving chest. Pouches.

 

During one of these self-reflection moments, the shuffling of hurried footsteps crackling against gravel intercepted Adiwijaya’s thoughts. He had figured that it was just a group of UI students again marching down the streets to voice out their relentless protests in crisp, self-assuring voices against the latest Dutch conquest of Banda Aceh that had altogether dethroned the sultanate. The riots had been ongoing for weeks after The Jepara Times printed a front-page report detailing the island as the next target to be listed under Dutch territorial state. A growing number of pirates had been looting the Sumatran land since the Suez Canal opened, creating a shortcut passage through the Straits of Malacca. The Dutch had justified their actions as merely protecting the indigenous people from being continuously attacked by this barbarity. The voice of the people did not matter as long as they were safe from this threat.

 

Adiwijaya was never bothered by the state of politics in his country. He followed the rules, stayed out of trouble that might cause any complications with the management of his school and ensured that the monies kept flowing in. That was how he had managed to retain a comfortable means of living unlike fellow comrades who had decided to involve themselves with anti-colonial parties and ended up falling flat on their faces. Their political workings were closely inspected by the Dutch army and stripped bare when they were caught plotting an ambush on the military armed with parangs and rusty guns. Nothing good ever emerged from a mutiny. Some of his friends had landed themselves in jail for over ten years, only to be freed with no enterprise and some shillings in their pockets that were not even sufficient for a plate of kerak telur. Adiwijaya had offered teaching jobs to them as a form of assistance but they had rejected, unwilling to work under a younger, wealthier man.

 

“Headmaster! Pak Wijaya, are you there?” shouted Joyo from a distance.

Adiwijaya stubbed out the cigarette with the heel of his sheepskin chapal and stepped out of his hiding spot. A bespectacled, stout man with a long wooden pipe hanging precariously in between his lips galumphed towards the headmaster. He panted noiselessly, his blankgon almost slipping off his greasy shoulder-length hair.

“Pak Joyo, are the UI gangsters pulling out our students again to support their pointless rally? We have to do something about this before our school becomes a breeding house for federation liberalists,” Adiwijaya said worriedly.

 

Joyo shook his head, catching his breath arduously. “No, no Pak Wijaya. It’s not that. There has been an emergency. We just received news that your mansion has caught fire. We don’t know what caused it but...,”

 

Adiwijaya had sped off even before the Javanese teacher could finish his sentence. He ran past empty corridors and down the steps of the foyer where his Ford gleamed in the parking lot. His fingers fumbled for the keys in the pockets of his starched trousers, slippery with perspiration. There was a rattle in his chest as he ignited the engine, the image of Bunga trapped in the burning house imprinted in his retinas. He could not bear the thought of losing his wife, the woman he had grown to adore within the past three months. His hands trembled on the wheel as he drove past overhanging trees and bustling streets filled with women carrying their infant children on their backs as they sold fruits and cakes splayed on straw mats. He almost hit a boy crooning out gamelan ballads as he held out an overturned cap for donations to feed his family of six. If he had not done a last-minute swerve to the right lane, the wheels of Adiwijaya’s car could have cut the boy into shreds.

 

There was nothing else to be salvaged. The colonial mansion of two storeys, with its blue terracotta roofs and engraved cornices, resembled a war ruin. The walls were coated in thick, black soot. The flames had licked the plaster clean, exposing the wooden beams that still stood firm on the square ground. Splinters of pulverized glass lay on the mosaic tiles of the garage. Bunga must have smashed the French windows in her bedroom as an escape route when she realized that the fire had raged to the second level. Adiwijaya could not picture her clambering out in her tight kebaya, the sheer possibility of her tumbling down the verandah and breaking her delicate bones as a result of the daredevil move. He parked the car haphazardly at the side of the street and shot out within seconds. He needed to confirm his doubts that Bunga was alive and well, her skin unmarred by the blaze.

“Bunga, are you well? Were you hurt by the fire, my dear?” he gushed upon finding her seated in the porch with the servants who looked immediately relieved at his presence.

 

Bunga was beautiful as ever, her face glowing with pearly whiteness. There was greyish marks smeared over her cheeks and fingers, the hem of her sarong slightly torn. Her long chocolate-brown hair, which would have normally been tied up in a bun, hung loose over her nape in messy strands. His wife’s eyes were empty – as though all her insides had been stripped away, leaving a hollow skeleton behind. Adiwijaya grabbed her curled-up fists, rubbing disproportionate circles around her back soothingly. His mind betrayed him of the right things to say to a silently grieving woman.

 

One of the senior servants, Sarkonah, told him that the fire had came out of a sudden from the drawing room around noon while she was in the kitchen unpacking the day’s groceries. Before she could even lead Bunga out of the house, the fire had raged up the stairwell and blocked the only way up to the bedrooms. Tears began welling up in the corners of Sarkonah’s eyes as she relayed the happenings, apologizing profusely for not being able to react quickly enough such that the master’s wife would not have to crawl out on her own.

 

“It’s alright, ibu Sarkonah. At least you are all safe now. Were you able to save anything from the house?” he asked.

“We only managed to get some crockery and the painting that is so dear to you out of the house. Everything else has unfortunately perished, pak,” she said, bowing her head down in disappointment.

 

Adiwijaya had not realized that Bunga’s head had reclined on his shoulder throughout his conversation with Sarkonah, her hands lying weakly on his lap. Her right arm was wrapped with a torn strip of sarong till the crease of her elbow, blood slowly oozing through the thin fabric. She did look emaciated, the skin of her face stretching so tightly over the bones as though it could split. He gripped her fingers in response, heart beating in his throat as he held her.

“Everything is gone. All my books. My writings. My portraits of ibu Kartini, may God bless her soul. I am left with nothing, mas. My possessions have all turned into a mountain of pointless ash,” she lamented, her words laced with a deep sadness that Adiwijaya could never penetrate.

 

The ability to speak coherently seemed lost to Adiwijaya. Was he going to lose her further into the recesses of depression and trauma? He could not cope with the idea, did not even want to think it possible. After so much progress made in their relationship, he thought he had seen a glimmer of hope that her feelings towards him were transitioning from a merely platonic one to a progression of romance. Adiiwjaya gazed at her, stroking her smooth hair as she sobbed with a noiseless calm that unfazed him. He would do anything in his will to keep her intact, just so her mind would not stray away from the unspoken bridge they were building to each other’s hearts. And so he decided that he would do whatever it took just so she could regain whatever she had lost in the fire, oh the damn fire.

 

“I’ll do anything you say, my dear. Anything. Just tell me, and I’ll fulfill your wish, my beautiful wife.”

 

The whole town was still uncovering the most salacious details of the sudden fire that had burnt Pak Adiwijaya’s house into almost nothingness three weeks after the tragedy. Some had guessed that it had been the scheme of a man who had been envious of Bunga’s unequivocal acceptance to Adiwijaya’s proposal and hence resorted to arson to distort the most beautiful woman in Jepara perpetually. Others pointed fingers at the apparent carelessness of the servants whose reaction to the fire had been leisurely such that their mistress’s safe had been at stake. An official report had been lodged in the Jepara Police Station but the officers’ treatment of the case had been deliberately nonchalant – the headmaster had five properties under his name, possibly more even. Losing one was not a dire issue.

 

The couple would be leaving for Belgium in a day. They had temporarily sought lodging in one of Adiwijaya’s villas not far from where his mansion had been. The villa, a gift from Adiwijaya’s mother for his twenty-seventh, overlooked a vast lake that nobody ever visited. They had been busying themselves the past month shopping for necessities such as corduroy jackets and knitted gloves to warm themselves in the inevitably wintry days as well as brand-new portmanteaus to pack their belongings in. Adiwijaya had never seen Bunga as ecstatic as this. It was like the fire had never happened, the memory of it wholly eradicated by the intoxicating prospect of finally realizing her dream of leaving the Dutch East Indies. He allowed himself to smile whenever Bunga enthused over fantastical descriptions of Western Europe. If it meant that Adiwijaya had to travel half the world just to make Bunga happy, he was adamant to fulfill it.

 

Adiwijaya had put his trust on Joyo to supervise matters of the school during his leave. He was not certain of the duration of their stay, probably until Bunga had recovered completely from the incident although it seemed like she already had even before the trip. The Aceh riots had worsened over the months, disrupting lessons on a daily basis as students were forcibly dragged out to participate in the demonstrations that were held in the middle of traffic. According to The Jepara Times, the Dutch had resorted to brutality as form of subjugating the natives, using violence as a means of stamping out resistance. Adiwijaya relayed this worrying news to Bunga on their last night in Jepara, monotonously narrating extracts from the newspaper in his hands.

 

“I don’t see anything wrong with what the Dutch are doing. It’s all a matter of choice really. And from what I gather, the natives chose to condition themselves that way,” Bunga said.

She had been spending the evening admiring the dresses she had collected from the widowed seamstress who lived in the hut beside them. The dresses were made out of an array of check board and floral fabrics, styled with boxy sleeves and low-rise collars unlike the traditional kebaya. Adiwijaya studied her from behind, her response doing sprints around his mind.

“What do you mean it was their choice? They didn’t have any. The Dutch snatched their land and wealth away from them. They’re left with nothing, not even their dignity to speak of,” he retorted.

“They should have seen this coming, mas. The Dutch have conquered Batavia, Jepara and even Rembang. It’s only about time that the Sumatrans learn to accept change in their lives. They would have been stuck in their narrow, ancient mindsets if not for the Dutch,” she argued.

 

There was a gist of truth in her words, Adiwijaya pondered.The Dutch were obliged to educate and civilize the colonized people of East Indies as part of an ethical policy, creating a significant shift in their colonial rule. A majority of Jepara’s popularity thrived in their businesses and avenues for knowledge were no longer sparse with the increasing number of schools founded by the Dutch. But what about those of the lower class? The women and children who scurried along pavements begging for food, the men who toiled in the paddy fields with their bare backs charred by the merciless sun? Adiwijaya had never thought about these people, felt like they had brought onto themselves the life of poverty. He had seen instances when they were randomly stabbed with the pointy heels of the soldiers’ boots and beaten into a bloody pulp. The beatings were often done against a backdrop of the Dutch soldiers’ uproarious laughter.

 

“But what about the poor? They are not given the education they were promised. They are beaten half to death when they have done nothing at all to harm the Dutch. And they justify it as a way civilizing these savages. But aren’t they aware of the barbarity of their own acts? I don’t see how they have a choice in this. It has all been set for them. They have no say at all,” he said, flicking ash into an emptied mug.

 

Bunga spun around, flipping her luxurious hair as she moved in measured steps towards her husband. She stood behind Adiwijaya, who was seated on an aged rocking chair, her hands gliding across his chest. Bunga’s moist lips brushed softly against his lobe. Adiwijaya hardened in his seat, heart beating in his throat as he tentatively swiveled his eyes to meet her gaze. They had never been this close, Bunga never this intimate with him. A shiver spread through his body, chilling the blood vessels flowing through his veins to a temporal halt.

 

“Whatever it is, we’re going to be away from that mess by tomorrow, mas. To a land unbounded by mindless traditions and uncouth perverts who beat their wives.

different from those men, mas Wijaya,” she muttered in his ear.

Bunga smacked her lips together, beckoning to the bathroom. “I’ll go get change. Wait for me.”

 

Adiwijaya wiped the beads of sweat that had collected on his brow as he undid his belt and hurriedly removed the blangkon on his head. He paced within the confined perimeter of the bedroom, praying to the one and only god he was taught to worship for this unexpected blessing. He began checking the items in his luggage for his hands were itching to hold something. Every piece of clothing was folded and stacked in order of colour by his wife, an unopened bottle of shaving cream and a clean toothbrush sealed in an airtight bag wedged in a corner. Adiwijaya moved to see the contents of Bunga’s bag that remained a complete mystery to him. She only sorted her things when he was out or asleep. Several kebayas and sarongs greeted him upon unlatching the lock; a couple of brassieres lay on top. He picked up the expensive hand-made sarongs and put them against his nostrils, siphoning the scent of Bunga that lingered on every thread. It was like a breath of fresh air, an element required for his living.But what was contained underneath her clothes made Adiwijaya gradually come to his senses. Portraits of Lady Kartini, just like the very ones that hung on the wall of Bunga’s bedroom in the ruined mansion peeked through the gaps in between the dresses. The battered paperbacks of Multatuli and Nietszche made their appearance once again just beside the frames, untouched by flames. Adiwijaya opened a small box set below the books and found yellowed parchments of written letters in Bunga’s slopping penmanship, correspondences to the Dutch pen pals she would finally be able to meet the next day.

 

And then it all dawned on him in one excruciating moment of his life. How she had purposely set his house on fire just so it would seemed that she had lost everything, that it had embedded such unspeakable trauma. How she had remained aloof with him throughout the marriage, prohibiting him from touching her like how men do with their wives. How she had managed to convince him to move his whole life to a place he had never been to, so far away from home. It was all a scheme. The whole marriage had been a scheme for her to escape Jepara. And he had fallen prey to it.

 

But everyone has a choice. You had a choice.

 

“Mas, what are you doing there?”

His eyes met the reverie of her body, as she stood straight with her thighs together. He had thought that her face was the most defining feature but it was the line between her neck and shoulders that had him rooted to the carpet. She had amazingly broad shoulders and a thin neck, a perfectly built bridge between the two.

 

 It did not matter anymore. He was hers now. The warm, mottled pouches of flesh.BW

 

 

Introduction: Never great at writing commentaries about myself but if there is one thing about me, it would be that I am on a mission. A persistent, long-running mission to expose the beauty in writing; emotionally cathartic and physically arousing at once. I believe that writers extract a part of their lives in the stories they weave - only real-life experiences make the best stories. 

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