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from the August 2016 issue

From “Qibla”

(Night. Nadie, an Indonesian domestic worker, lies beneath a mosquito net with Granny, the woman she was employed to look after.)

GRANNY:  Mosquitoes.

NADIE:       I put up the net. There can’t be mosquitoes.

GRANNY:   Mosquitoes!

NADIE:       Argh! You’re doing this on purpose!

GRANNY:   Ha ha! It’s my pak . . . pak . . . (She slaps a mosquito with each “pak.”) “Pak”-kinson’s Disease.

NADIE:       You’re faking. Just so they’ll hire someone to cook and clean for you.

GRANNY:   Yes, faking, faking for more than ten years, faking so well it became real.

NADIE:       Ha ha! Liar . . .

GRANNY:   Why aren’t you asleep?

NADIE:       You aren’t asleep either!

GRANNY:   I’m thinking . . .

NADIE:       What about?

GRANNY:   Trying to think who that girl was, the one my daughter-in-law brought today? Face like a thunderstorm.

NADIE:       That girl was your granddaughter!

GRANNY:   Oh. And what are you thinking about?

NADIE:       Me? I’m wondering when Madam will visit again. We’re almost out of hot sauce, shrimp paste, all that stuff . . . and there aren’t any of our shops around here.

GRANNY:   Almost out!

NADIE:       Because you ate it all!

GRANNY:   Go buy some more. Go on your own. I’ll give you money.

NADIE:       Money’s not the issue. I’ll have to change buses to get there—it’ll take more than two hours. Will you be able to get yourself a drink of water, all on your own? What if you fall?

GRANNY:   Go ask Ah Cai’s wife from next door.

NADIE:       We don’t have any neighbors.

GRANNY:   Oh? Ah . . .

(Granny swats at a mosquito.)

NADIE:       Hey! Stop that.

GRANNY:   Why aren’t you sleeping?

NADIE:       If I was, you’d have woken me up by now. So noisy.

GRANNY:   Are you thinking about that illegal worker?

NADIE:       What’s the point? He’ll be gone tomorrow.

GRANNY:   Why?

NADIE:       They finished harvesting the tomatoes today.

GRANNY:   Already?

NADIE:       What?

GRANNY:   Tomb Sweeping Festival? Already? Wasn’t it just the New Year?

NADIE:       Oh, right. Weren’t you just saying how hot it was the day before?

GRANNY:   Oh, right. And it’s going to turn cold again soon.

NADIE:       What’s the difference? It’s the same everywhere, just like where I come from.

GRANNY:   But you can talk to each other.

NADIE:       What’s the difference? Still practicing Chinese—we’re from different countries.

GRANNY:   Then why go over there every day?

NADIE:       You know what, Granny? He told me they used to work up north, somewhere with a lot of buildings and traffic. Everything you could want, and so convenient. A whole street of shops selling food. Only our people there.

GRANNY:   You can’t trust those illegal workers. Be careful.

NADIE:       It’s fine, Allah will protect me. I’m not scared.

GRANNY:   What if he’s bluffing?

NADIE:       We’re all bluffing. Lie down, you ought to get some sleep. Otherwise you can make all the fuss you want tomorrow, I’m ignoring you.

GRANNY:   I spend all day sitting or lying down. I can’t sleep now.

NADIE:       Look at the mosquito net, all green. What do you think lies beyond it?

GRANNY:   Mosquitoes?

NADIE:       The sea! The blue-green Indian Ocean.

                     Because it’s all sea outside, the ocean kingdom’s sky is blue-green too.

                     Where did I get to yesterday . . . ? Never mind, you’ll have forgotten by tomorrow.

                     They brought her to this place, and told her: You, you’re now called Nyai Loro Kidul, because you’re the queen, and this is the name we give our queen, so she can be majestic.

                     And then they said: In this place, you must treat these people as your family. This is your child, this is your sister, these you must call your parents. And there’s one more person . . .

                     This is your consort. She is sky, you are earth. She is white, you are black. She’s the consort, you’re the queen. The consort is pale and beautiful as snow, although she’s never actually seen snow. Where she comes from, it never snows. She’s only seen shaved ice desserts, and so the consort is as cold and pale as shaved ice.

GRANNY:   I need to pee.

(Nadie helps Granny to use the bedpan, then puts her back to bed, massaging her limbs.)

GRANNY:   Then what happened?

NADIE:       But Nyai Loro Kidul was lonely. She tried to find some friends in the ocean kingdom. These people weren’t from around here, they’d flown in on a giant white seagull, wandering into this place. They were very kind, but the consort didn’t think so. She brought in some other people, some former queens, and said: These are your friends, I’ve selected them for you, to be your friends—you can’t spend time with just anyone you like, because you’re the worshipful queen.

GRANNY:   Wasn’t there a woman who could transform herself?

NADIE:       That’s right. This lady, she could age in a single day from eighteen to eighty-eight. Nyai Loro Kidul kept her company, because only she spoke her language. They only had each other left.

(Relaxed from Nadie’s massage, Granny falls asleep. Nadie quietly stands and brings the bedpan to the bathroom to clean it out, then picks up the phone and dials a number.)

NADIE:       Hello? It’s Nadie . . . It’s me, Nadie . . .  I’ve decided . . .

GRANNY:   Where am I?

NADIE:       Hang on . . .

(She hangs up and pulls the mosquito net aside.)

NADIE:       What is it?

GRANNY:   Where am I?

NADIE:       At home.

GRANNY:   Whose home? Your home?

NADIE:       Your home.

GRANNY:   This isn’t my home. My home doesn’t look like this. This isn’t my bed either.

NADIE:       Granny, I’ll go get your meds, all right?

(Nadie tries to stand, but Granny grabs hold of her, almost falling out of bed.)

GRANNY:   Where are you going?

NADIE:       To get your meds. Let me get them . . .

GRANNY:   Don’t go. Where am I? I don’t want to stay here!

NADIE:       I’ll just be a moment . . .

GRANNY:   No! No!

NADIE:       OK, let’s have a drink of water . . .

GRANNY:   No! No . . .

NADIE:       But you . . .


NADIE:       Granny!

GRANNY:   I don’t want to!

(Nadie shoves Granny away hard. She gets the pills and water.)

NADIE:       Granny, take your meds.

(Granny is sobbing.)

NADIE:       I’m sorry. I’ll change your pants right away . . .

GRANNY:   No . . .

NADIE:       Then what do you want?

GRANNY:   I want to go back.

NADIE:       Go back where?

GRANNY:   Home.

NADIE:       All right. I’ll bring you home.


《吉卜拉》© Shen Wan-ting. By arrangement with the author. Translation © 2016 by Jeremy Tiang. All rights reserved.

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