Mrs Geni in December
By Arswendo Atmowiloto
For Mrs Geni every month is December. Last month, this month, or next month, they all mean December. So if you have to deal with Mrs Geni, it’s better not to rely on dates, but rather on the day. If you want to book her you have to say, “Two Fridays from this Friday.” If you say the seventeenth you could be in trouble because the seventeenth won’t necessarily be a Friday. If you book her for the seventeenth she just mightn’t show up on the day.
The problem is a great many people deal with Mrs Geni. For anyone wanting to arrange the wedding of a child there is only one choice. Mrs Geni. Bridal makeup artist. There are many other bridal makeup artists, but none that can match Mrs Geni. Even after considering the many other beauty salons, people stay with the choice of Mrs Geni.
According to past clients Mrs Geni is no ordinary makeup artist. She can transform a would-be bride and make her so beautiful she is truly stunning. Unrecognizable. One of her specialities is infusing cigarette smoke onto the face of the would-be bride. According to tradition, she explains, this is bronzing. The application of a bronze, not gold, hue to the skin. Almost every bridal makeup artist uses the technique, but none can match her skill. At one wedding the host fainted because she thought the daughter she was marrying off had disappeared. The mother of the bride-to-be fainted, the father was embarrassed, and all the relatives started to search for the bride at friends’ houses. Even after she was found, the mother of the bride-to-be could not accept it. “That is not my child. That is not my child,” she exclaimed.
“Well, if it is not your child, that makes her my child. Let’s go home.”
Only later the mother of the bride-to-be realized and said, “How is it possible my child could be as beautiful as this?”
Despite this, Mrs Geni does not always please everyone. Her voice is loud and the people who have to listen to her do become annoyed. “This child is already pregnant. Why are you hiding it? Why are you embarrassed? To have children, to be able to become pregnant, is a gift. This is not something to be covered up, to be squeezed down with clothes. It’s your own child after all.”
If I am not mistaken the incident happened at the district head’s house. As a result the news spread and continued to reverberate long after the incident was over. Another wedding ceremony was almost cancelled simply because Mrs Geni could see a sad face on the bride-to-be. Usually two or three days before a ceremony, Mrs Geni needs to meet the bride-to-be in person. Why not with the bridegroom-to-be? “Well, his fate rests right here doesn’t it.”
When she met the soon-to-be bride who she felt was wearing a sad face, Mrs Geni said, “Can’t be like this. You have to start off happy.” No matter that the invitations had already been sent out, the reception hall paid for in advance, and, more importantly, the food prepared. The story would not have been unusual if it had ended in cancellation. What was unusual was that two days later a bus crashed over a cliff into a gorge. It turned out that if the wedding had actually gone ahead and not been cancelled there was a big chance the bridegroom-to-be would have gone into the gorge because he had in fact planned to travel on that very bus at that very time. Mrs Geni’s story continues next with the time she was asked to prepare the makeup of the daughter of a government minister – possibly a senior coordinating minister – but she replied, “Just tell the daughter to come to my house. A lot of people here are going to be put out if I leave them.”
Last seventeenth of August, the residents of her neighborhood waited to see whether Mrs Geni would put up the national red and white flag at her house because according to Mrs Geni that was identical with the seventeenth of August. It turned out that Mrs Geni did have a flag put up. “What’s wrong with flying the flag on the seventeenth of December?” she asked.
The officials in the village were happy too because if Mrs Geni hadn’t put out the flag on the anniversary of independence there could have been a problem. On the following thirty-first of December Mrs Geni did not object to having a party at her house. But to her, the following day was not New Year’s Day, but rather the first of December again.
Many people say that Mrs Geni’s magic is to always look young. And Mrs Geni does indeed seem to have always looked the same, whether it was doing the makeup for a neighbor or doing it for her own child. Her face and presentation have been the same. Photos taken at that time are able to prove this, along with the photos taken over the succeeding twenty years. And maybe the twenty years before that.
“Marriage is the most illogical of ceremonies. It causes a lot of trouble. You all stress about working out an auspicious date, what sort of matching clothes to have, and it all has no connection with the marriage itself. Just look at the people who make the speeches at weddings, the people delivering advice to the newlyweds. That is the most boring part, the part that is listened to the least. But it is always included. That’s weddings for you.” It is somewhat odd for these words to come from Mrs Geni because she in fact makes her living from weddings. “Yes, it is strange. Isn’t marriage a strange thing. Because something strange is thought of as normal, the people who do not marry, who are widows or widowers, are even thought of as strange.”
On a different occasion Mrs Geni said, “The strange expression ‘soul mate’ hides the fear or questions that we don’t have the courage to answer. ‘Oh, such and such is my soul mate.’ We commonly speak like that. Or if it fails, ‘Oh, such and such was not my soul mate.’” Mrs Geni then laughs at length. “So, is my soul mate actually Mr Geni? Because I married Mr Geni he becomes my soul mate. Not, because Mr Geni was my soul mate therefore I married him. It would have been different if before that I hadn’t married Mr Geni. Then he wouldn’t have been my soul mate.”
Why marry Mr Geni at the time?
“Well, because it was time to get married, like everybody else.”
Does that then mean it wasn’t out of love that I married Mr Geni?
“As with soul mates, as soon as you marry, well, that has to be accepted as love. That is more important. Because if you rely on love beforehand, it might not last. What you have, that is what you love whether there is love there before or not.”
The question arises because there is word that Mr Geni is to marry again. “Yeah, don’t worry about that. And I will do the makeup for the bride,” she says easily, in a flat almost emotionless tone. “To try to forbid it would be hard and it would be useless anyway. Just let him do it.”
Maybe that is the reason Mrs Geni is still happy to do the makeup for the soon-to-be brides who are to become second or third wives. “Let people experience joy once in their lives.” For Mrs Geni marriage is joy, happiness. “If someone does not even experience joy when they marry they aren’t going to find any other joy.”
According to Mrs Geni no marriage really fails because marriage itself is not a success. “All you need is a little courage and a lot of foolishness. That is what is needed for a marriage. In order to divorce on the other hand, you need to have a lot of courage and a small amount of foolishness.”
Has Mrs Geni ever thought about divorcing Mr Geni?
“I’ve never thought about getting divorced. Have I thought about killing him? Often.”
And so, Mrs Geni, bridal makeup artist, has done the makeup for all the women in her village. You could say for everyone who has been married, as well as for those who have not. The latter Mrs Geni makes up as bodies when women pass away having never married. Before burial, Mrs Geni makes them up completely. Many people do not approve. For many people it is regrettable. Still others fear being made up. “Frightened it will come to pass during the marriage. Frightened of being too happy, too free, too enjoyable, so that is why we commit ourselves to a marriage that regulates responsibilities so much, regulates obligations, including the provision of a living and the raising of children. Only it’s strange, but basically we’re afraid of our own happiness and restrict that through the existence of the power of God.”
Even though she says that humanity’s most restricting and frightening discovery is marriage, Mrs Geni continues to prepare people’s makeup, still uses the infusing of cigarette smoke. For someone who’s able to make time for herself – even though it is still tied to December – Mrs Geni is able to do the makeup for people, bodies, bridal statues and trees, as well as buffaloes. Mrs Geni also chants the bridal mantra, breathes the three breaths onto the crown of the bride’s head, with the same seriousness she uses to fast before making someone up. “Let the buffaloes experience happiness, just as we have believed all this time that marriage is happiness.”
Fortunately all of this only happens in December.
Mrs Geni in December (Bu Geni di Bulan Desember) by Arswendo Atmowiloto was first published in the national daily newspaper Harian Kompas on 20 May 2012. Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/bu-geni-di-bulan-desember/
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This late 18th-century Javanese manuscript of Serat Damar Wulan depicts Prince Damar Wulan being prepared for his wedding day. #ManuscriptMonday
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