Ain’t No Night Fair #5

Ain’t No Night Fair

By Pramoedya Ananta Toer

Chapter 2 (continued)

… Suddenly those thoughts died as my eyes fell on one small hamlet in the middle of rice fields surrounded by bamboo thickets and trees. I knew the conditions in this hamlet all too well. At that time, the hamlet had been under the control of a gang of outlaws. Once with my platoon I had been on patrol there and made a detailed report. The report would now be lying buried in some cupboard. I had become acquainted with one very attractive woman in particular. As the hamlet was owned by a large landowner, the thought occurred to me that the woman would have to have been mixed race. But that didn’t matter and her father had made me an offer, “If you marry my daughter, I will no longer need to work. There’s a sizeable amount of land here and you can take half of my fields.” I was completely intoxicated by the offer as I listened. At the time, poverty always circled in the sky ready to swoop down on your head. Yes, the thought of the offer made me smile at the time. But the patrol was to last no more than a day and a night and before long our platoon made its return to base.

I did return to the place later though, but the beautiful woman had been kidnapped by the gang of bandits. I would return home again filled with regret, but happy also that I had not sold myself out. Nevertheless, the beauty of the woman and her fate would continue to haunt my thoughts.

Then in my heart I told myself a story which went like this.

“The woman was now living contentedly with the bandits who had kidnapped her. She would by now have given birth to two young children and her body was adorned with silk and gold and diamond-studded jewelry.”

The train thundered on at high speed. The hamlet too vanished, from my view, and from my memory.

I coughed.

“You are too close to the window,” said my wife.

We changed places. I drew the collar of my coat up tightly around my neck then I leaned back against the seat and closed my eyes. I dropped off to sleep, but my sleep was not to be secure as the train was beginning to fill with new passengers. Then I drifted back to sleep once more. Arriving in the district that had only recently been cleared of the threat and terror presented by the Darul Islam movement, we could see damaged telegraph wires, tangled and twisted around their poles which were lying bent, strewn on the ground.

“Well, not a chance the telegram has arrived there,” I said.

“No, the telegram couldn’t possibly have arrived,” my wife echoed. The train roared on, and on. And on, all the way to Semarang.

We slept the night at a hotel and although the hotel was grubby, we were nevertheless able to sleep soundly.

Dutch patrol at Semarang, Java, 23 July 1947

Dutch patrol at Semarang, Java, 23 July 1947 (Source: http://www.gahetna.nl)

 


Source: Ain’t No Night Fair (Bukan Pasarmalam) by Pramoedya Ananta Toer, Dinas Penerbitan Balai Pustaka, Jakarta, 1959.

National Archive Photo Collection

Mata Najwa Globe Asia Cover Photo Credit

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