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?
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.”
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.”
“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.