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Words Without Borders is one of the inaugural Whiting Literary Magazine Prize winners!
from the August 2015 issue



I am Gendhis, the hooker who spat in Pak Lurah’s face last night. Who says I’m afraid of Pak Lurah? I was never afraid of him, not before he went on the haj pilgrimage and not after he came back. I’m not afraid of position or rank because I don’t see any of that. I also don’t see Pak Lurah’s face.

Two months ago, Pak Lurah, the village head, said that after he came back from the haj pilgrimage he wouldn’t touch me again. Upon returning from the Holy Land, he in fact became a wolf hiding beneath his turban. Those hungry eyes of his would leer at me when he stopped in at Bu Minah’s food stall.

By exposing the pitiful situation of my family, which includes a younger brother who is paralyzed, another who is completely off the rails, and a mother who is a penniless widow, Pak Lurah gnawed away at the remainder of my self-respect by raping and robbing me, his face in a grimace that looked exactly like the WCW wrestlers when they knock out their opponents.

I am Gendhis. Who says that my body is as thin as a mlinjo cracker? Even this skinny body is worth a lot because I know that I have the power to make a captain moan like a baby when I refuse his proposal to become his mistress. I have bargaining power. I am Gendhis, a hooker who didn’t even graduate junior high school. But bald men who say they are professors or doctors pay homage at my thighs muttering a million prayers like pathetic drunks.

I am Gendhis. I spat in the face of Pak Lurah, who insulted me, calling me a whore. He said that my profession is disgraceful, but it was he who cast me to the bottom of this disgusting river. It was he who sold my virginity for one hundred thousand rupiah to Mama Viola, who has a face like a cactus and a smile like the evil kuntilanak spirit.

When my income increased because I had more admirers and my treats were the current trend, Pak Lurah stole my money, arguing that it was reimbursement for his service. Service? Reimbursement? Puh! I spat in his junkie crocodile face. It made me want to throw up, and I spat at him again, spat at the face that was starting to show some signs of fear, because I threatened him with a penknife that I’d been carrying around with me the last two days.

I am Gendhis. A helicopter landed in the soccer field right in front of my house. Of course it was for me. A pilot who had moaned and groaned in a discotheque two days earlier used an airforce academy helicopter for unofficial purposes to pick me up.

It had been two days since I came home to the village to cleanse my face in the freshness of the village breeze. I wanted to rid myself of the nauseating filth of the city. The stench of the city makes me nauseous, makes me constantly want to throw up. Then this little flying machine disturbed the busy routines of my mother and the other villagers. That’s why Pak Lurah got involved.

After that day, I became famous in my village—not for being an artist or anything else, but for being a hooker. A hooker who an airforce captain lusted after and who was picked up by helicopter. The villagers had thought that I made a successful living as an employee in a beauty salon in Surabaya, but now their eyes popped out of their head when they heard what Pak Lurah had to say.

Pak Lurah told everyone—all of the villagers—not to follow my path. He told them to avoid my profession, a cursed profession that only cursed women like me engaged in.

Nauzubillah! We seek refuge in Allah!” shouted Pak Lurah.

Nauzubillah!” shouted the villagers in unison, spitting in my face, spitting at my fate.

My mother shrunk even smaller and wanted to die of shame. Night after night, I was tormented by an endless chain of bad dreams, while our days were filled with strings of insults, abuses and curses. Just to shop at Bu Minah’s food stall required energy and fortitude I no longer had.

Our world shriveled up. There was no solitude that allowed us to reflect and think even a little bit. Clamorous voices rained down on the roof of our house, upsetting our stomachs and parching our throats. I was drenched in a sea of sweat, fear, confusion and desperation.

My heart nearly stopped beating when, one terrifying night, there came a knock on the door. My mother couldn’t stand up as her clothes were drenched—perhaps with pee, perhaps with fear-induced sweat. I was the only one who could answer the the door: Who’s there?

“Pak Modin!”

It was Pak Modin, the muezzin who made the call to prayers from the mosque. I realized that this late-night visit had to be a serious one.

“What is it?”

“Here’s the thing, Gendhis. I’ve had orders from Pak Lurah that you should leave town as soon as possible! Tonight, if you can. For your own safety.”

“What? Why?”

I looked steadily at him, but Pak Modin looked nervously down at the earthen floor, as if an answer was stored away in the holes in it. He shifted his gaze this way and that, examining his sandals, first the left one, then the right. I don’t know what he saw there, but when he raised his face again it was as if an answer had come to him.

“Er … um… Pak Lurah said that …”

“That what?” I snarled angrily.

“Er … um. That you … um … this is what Pak Lurah said…”

“Yes, what did Pak Lurah say?”

Pak Modin seemed even more confused. If I was a photographer, I would want to take a photo of this, the most exquisite human expression. Pak Modin, skinny and weathered, had survived the tuberculosis that had gnawed at his body for a year, leaving him looking like a beetle in pain. People called him Skinny Modin, the appropriateness of which was evident that night.

The fear that had haunted me suddenly evaporated, dissolved by amusement mixed with pride at the discomfort I was causing this village elder. I reveled in the minor victory of overcoming the fear that had enveloped me for the past several days. This was a moment to sing with joy.

“Are you afraid to say it, Pak Modin?”

“Ah! How should I say it?”

“Hmm, if you’re afraid to say anything, then it’s better to say nothing and just go home. It would be even better if tomorrow morning you were to resign from your job as muezzin.”

“No one has the right to dismiss him! I am the only person who has the right to tell him what to do. I also hold your fate in my hands, the fates of all of you!” shouted a voice in the darkness. The voice was commanding, assured. It came from a place of oppression, full of anger and passion. I knew that voice like I knew the graves of men in the cemetery; it was the voice of a rotting consciousness.

Behind him were Pak Carik, the head of the village security unit, and several guards. A fez slanted to one side and a pair of crafty eyes flashed as they approached. It was Pak Lurah, Dolimin bin Kaslan, Doctorandus. Some people said that Pak Lurah had received his degree from the Open University; I never understood what it was about the university that was “open.” Which was understandable since I’d only finished second year of junior high school. I was proud that all the village officials were willing to come to our house, our ugly little hut. But why? As if reading my thoughts, Pak Lurah began to speak.

“Do not be proud that we have come here. We’re here because we watch out for every villager and their safety. This evening, fifteen people registered complaints at the village administration office. They say that your presence here disrupts the tranquility of their households. That is why I advise you to return to Surabaya. Is it not better for you to live there, where you have more freedom in your work?”

“I don’t know what you mean, Pak Lurah. I was born and raised here, this is where my family lives. This is where I first took my first step, where my house . . .”

“Enough! You don’t need to go on and on. This is for your own safety. Everyone in the village knows that you are a prostitute. Your line of work is the cause of great distress for many families here. It’s better that you leave the village and go back to the city. Your place is there. Do not pollute this village with your behavior.”

“My behavior?”

“Enough, I said!”

“You say ‘enough.’ I say ‘no.’”

“What? You whore! You dare to defy me?”

I suddenly felt emboldened, courage and a strange sort of pride filled my chest. I don’t know where they came from.

“What do you mean ‘dare to defy’?” I asked mocking him. “I’m simply correcting your statement, Pak Lurah.”

“Impudence! Blasted whore!”

“True. I am a whore. What of it?”

“It’s disgusting! You’re a cursed woman! A woman who knows no shame.”

“Disgusting? Cursed? Can that be true? Did you all hear that? I’m disgusting and cursed. Is that really true?”

All the men standing behind Pak Lurah were shocked, rendered speechless. The silence of the night was like a crouching ghost stalking its prey. Ten deep breaths later . . .

“You’re playing with us, bitch!” shouted Pak Lurah, pushed beyond his limits.

Pwuh! Pak Lurah gasped. He didn’t have a chance to dodge the spit of hatred I aimed at his face, spraying his bulging eyes, his crocodile mouth, and the proud turban that hid his filth and his hypocrisy. Pak Lurah, doctorandus and haji, blinked wildly; he was a picutre of absurd stupidity. I howled with laughter.

Even the night joined in, laughing along with the crickets as they chuckled in their holes. 


“Gendhis” first published in Geni Jora (Bandung: Qanita, 2003). © Abidah El Khalieqy. Translation © 2015 by Joan Suyenaga. Forthcoming in Genijora & Mataraisa: Excerpts from Two Novels (Jakarta: The Lontar Foundation, October 2015). All rights reserved.    


Akulah gendhis, pelacur yang tadi malam meludahi wajah pak Lurah. Siapa bilang aku takut pak Lurah? Sebelum naik haji atau sesudahnya, aku tak takut padanya. Aku tak takut pada pangkat atau jabatan, karena semua itu tak tampak di mataku, juga tak membayang di wajah pak Lurah.

Dua bulan lalu pak Lurah mengatakan, sesudah naik haji takkan menyentuhku lagi. Sepulang dari tanah suci, temyata ia bahkan menjadi srigala yang bersembunyi di balik surbannya. Matanya geram melirikku saat berbelanja di kedai bu Minah.

Dengan membeberkan kondisi keluargaku yang katanya menyedihkan, karena adikku lumpuh dan satunya supernakal, sementara ibuku hanyalah seorang janda tanpa penghasilan', pak Lurah merongrong seluruh harga diriku, memperkosa dan merompaknya dengan mulut menyeringai, persis pegulat WCW saat melihat lawannya KO.

Akulah  Gendhis. Siapa  bilang tubuhku kerempeng seperti emping mlinjo? Kerempeng  pun harganya mahal karena aku tahu bahwa tubuhku punya kekuatan yang membuat seorang Kapten meraung-raung seperti bayi, ketika kutolak lamarannya untuk menjadikanku istri simpanan Bahwa aku memiliki bargaining position, akulah Gendhis, pelacur yang tak tamat SMP, tapi laki-laki botak yang katanya profesor atau doktor menyembah nyembah di betisku, dengan sejuta doa orang mabuk yang menyedihkan.

Akulah Gendhis. Kuludahi wajah pak Lurah yang menghinaku sebagai pelacur. Katanya profesiku menjijikkan. Padahal dialah yang menenggelamkanku ke dasar sungai menjijikkan ini. Dialah yang menjual kegadisanku seratus ribu pada Mama Viola yang wajahnya seperti kaktus dan senyumnya mengembang bagai kuntilanak kesiangan.

Ketika penghasilanku terus meninggi karena peminatku lebih banyak dan apa yang kumiliki adalah selera masa kini. Pak Lurah pula yang merampok uangku dengan dalih balas budi atas jasanya. Jasa? Balas budi? Puih! Kuludahi wajah buaya yang senantiasa ketagihan itu. Aku mau muntah dan sekali lagi kuludahi wajahnya yang mulai ketakutan karena kuancam dengan sebilah pisau lipat yang selalu kugenggam dua hari belakangan.

Akulah Gendhis. Sebuah helikopter turun di lapangan sepak bola, tepat.di depan rumahku. Tentu akulah tujuannya. Seorang Kapten yang meraung-raung di sebuah diskotek dua hari lalu, menjemputku dengan pesawat latih milik sebuah akademi yang disalahgunakan.

Sudah dua hari aku pulang kampung, mencuci wajah dengan kesegaran angin desa, Aku ingin membuang kemesuman kota yang katanya memabukkan. Perutku mual dan selalu ingin muntah mencium bau kota. Pesawat latih yang kecil itu telah mengusik kesibukan emakku dan orang-orang sekampung. Maka pak Lurah pun turun tangan.

Sejak peristiwa itu aku jadi terkenal di desa, bukan sebagai artis atau yang lain, tapi sebagai pelacur. Pelacur yang digandrungi seorang Kapten dan dijemput dengan pesawat terbang. Orang kampung yang tadinya menganggapku sebagai pekerja sukses pada sebuah salon di Surabaya, kini mata mereka terbelalak mendengar uraian pak Lurah.

Bahkan pak Lurah berpesan pada semua rakyatnya, warga desa kami, untuk tidak meniruku, meniru profesi yang kusandang, sebuah profesi terkutuk yang hanya dilakukan oleh perempuan terkutuk sepertiku.

"Nauzubillah!" seru pak Lurah.

Nauzubillah! seru orang kampung dengan serempak sambil meludahi wajahku, meludahi nasibku.

Emakku menjadi kurus dan sekarat dicambuk rasa malu. Dan malam malam kami menjadi mimpi buruk tak berkesudahan. Sementara siang kami adalah deretan penghinaan, makian dan sumpah serapah. Bahkan untuk sekedar berbelanja di kedai bu Minah, aku tak kuasa.

Dunia jadi menyempit. Tak ada kesunyian untuk kami gunakan sedikit merenung dan berpikir. Suara-suara itu teramat gaduh dan merontokkan atap rumah kami, membuat perut kami mulas dan tenggorokan kering. Aku bersimbah dalam lautan peluh ketakutan bimbang dan putus asa.

Serasa alunan jantungku mendadak tumbang ketika suara ibu mengetuk pintu di tengah malam yang mengerikan. Emakku tak kuasa untuk bangun dan berdiri. Ada sesuatu yang membanjiri pakaiannya. Mungkin air kencing. Mungkin juga peluh ketakutan yang menyirami seluruh nasibnya. Maka akulah satu-satunya yang beranjak menjawab tanya, siapa kau di sana?

"Pak Modin!"

Gelisahku naik menguasai keadaan.

"Ada apa?"

"Begini, Nak Gendhis. Saya mendapat perintah dari Pak Lurah, sebaiknya Nak Gendhis meninggalkan desa ini, secepatnya! Kalau bisa malam ini juga. Ini demi keamanan Nak Gendhis sendiri".

"Lho, alasannya?"

Kutatap tegas matanya. Pak Modin gelisah mencari-cari pada lantai tanah yang dipijaknya, seakan sebuah jawaban tersimpan dalam lubang-lubang lantai rumah kami. la menengok kian kemari, mengamati sandalnya, yang kiri, yang kanan. Entah matanya menangkap apa, ketika ia kembali mengangkat wajahnya, seakan sebuah jawaban telah mengilhaminya.

"E....anu. Pak lurah mengatakan bahwa.."

"Bahwa apa?" sergahku dikecamuk marah.

"E.... anu. Bahwa nak Gendhis., kata pak Lurah lho." 

"lya,  Apa kata pak Lurah"

Pak Modin semakin kacau wajahnya. Kalau aku seorang photografer, maka inilah obyek paling artistik dari ekspresi terdalam manusia. Pak Modin yang kurus kerontang, sepanjang tahun digerogoti TBC hingga tubuhnya melenceng persis kumbang sakit perut dan ketika orang memanggilnya "modin manyang", terbuktiJah julukan itu, malarn ini.

Rasa takut yang menghantuiku tiba-tiba lenyap disedot perasaan geli campur bangga bahwa di depanku, seorang aparat desa terbata bata ditentang mataku. Aku senang dan menikmati pemandangan ini, sebuah panorama dari fragmen kemenangan.   Sekian  hari   aku   dirundung ketakutan,    maka    inilah    saatnya    untuk mendendangkan kegembiraan.

"Sampeyan takut mengatakannya, pak Modin?"

"Ah! bagaimana ya?"

"Yah, kalau takut, lebih baik diam dan segera pulang. Lebih baik lagi kalau besok pagi mengundurkan diri dari jabatan modin."

"Tak ada yang berhak memberhentikannya! Akulah satu satunya orang yang berhak atasnya, juga atas nasibmu, nasib kalian!" seru sebuah suara dari arah jalan gelap. Suara itu seakan meluncur tanpa komando, tanpa tarikan nafas. Suara itu turun dari sebuah tempat yang pengap, dipenuhi udara amarah dan nafsu. Aku mengenal suara itu seperti aku mengenali kuburan para lelaki di antara deretan nisan yang lain, suara dari nurani yang membangkai.

Di belakangnya, pak Carik, kepala keamanan dan sebaris hansip bersiaga. Di depan sekali, di balik peci miringnya, sepasang mata culas berkilat

kilat sedang berjalan. Itulah dia pak Lurah kami,  Dolimin bin Kaslan, doktorandus. Ada yang bilang, pak Lurah mendapat gelar dari Universitas

Terbuka yang tak pernah kupahami, entah yang terbuka atau yang terlutup. Maklumlah sekolahku hanya sampai kelas II SMP. Aku hanya merasa bangga bahwa segenap aparat desa berkenan ke rumah kami, gubug kami yang jelek ini. Ada apa? Seakan pak Lurah tahu apa yang terpikir dalam benakku.

"Jangan merasa bangga bahwa kami semua datang ke sini. Ini semua semata mata karena kami memperhatikan setiap warga desa dan keamanannya. Tadi sore, limabelas orang mengadu ke kantor balai desa bahwa kehadiranmu mengganggu ketenteraman rumah tangga mereka. Sebab itu aku sarankan agar kau kermbali saja ke Surabaya. Bukankah di sana kau lebih bebas dengan pekerjaanmu."

"Saya tidak mengerti apa maksud pak Lurah. Di sini saya lahir dan dibesarkan, di sini pula kelua.rga kami bertempat tinggal. Tanah yang saya

pijak dan rumah ..."

"Cukup! Tak perlu keterangan bertele tele. Ini demi keamananmu. Seluruh warga desa ini sudah tahu bahwa kau hanya seorang pelacur. Pekerjaanmu membuat puluhan keluarga tak tentram. Sebaiknya kau tinggalkan desa ini dan kembali ke kota. Di sanalah tempat. Jangan kau kotori desa ini dengan ulahmu."

"Ulah saya?"

"Cukup kataku!"

"Kata pak Lurah cukup, kata saya - tidak".

"Apa? Kau pelacur! Berani membantah apa  kataku?"

Keberanian tiba-tiba meluncur ke satu titik, menyesaki dadaku dengan rasa bangga yang aneh dan tak dapat kumengerti dari mana datangnya.

"Apa itu berani membantah?" tanyaku melecehkan, "saya hanya meluruskan omongan pak Lurah".

"Lancang! Dasar pelacur!" "Benar. Saya memang pelacur. Kenapa?" "Menjijikkan! Kau perempuan terkutuk! tak tahu malu".

. "Menjijikkan? terkutuk? benarkah? Kalian dengar semua? Saya menjijikkan dan terkutuk. Benarkah begitu ?

Semua lelaki yang berdiri di belakang pak lurah diam terpana.  Kesenyapan malam ini bagai suara hantu yang mengendap rnenginta'i mangsa. Sepuluh tarikan nafas kemudian..,..

"Kau mempermainkan kami, anak haram!" bentak pak lurah, jauh di luar perhitungan.

Puih! Cuh! pak Lurah gelagapan dan tak sempat menghindar ketika air kebencian dari mulutku meluncur ke wajahnya. Berkali kali membasahi mata liarnya, mulut buaya dan surban kebanggaan, di mana segala kotoran dan kemunafikan bersembunyi di baliknya. Pak Lurah kami yang doktorandus dan haji; berkejap liar dalam kebodohan yang menggelikan. Aku tergelak-gelak dalam pengertian yang sederhana.

Malam pun tertawa, bersama jangkrik jangkrik yang kegelian di lobangnya.[]

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