Tag Archives: Fashion

Short Story: Mrs Geni in December

Mrs. Geni in December

By Arswendo Atmowiloto

“For Mrs. Geni, every month is December. Last month, the present month, or next month, they all mean December. So, if you have to deal with Mrs. Geni, it is 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 might just not 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 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 to infuse cigarette smoke onto the face of the would-be bride. According to tradition, she explains, this is bronzing, applying a bronze, not gold, hue to the skin. Almost every bridal makeup artist uses this technique, but none can match her skill. One time at a 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 became 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 that 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 fall pregnant, this is a gift. This is not something to cover up, to be squeeze down inside clothes. It is your own child, right.”

If I’m not wrong, 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 saw 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, right?”

When she met the soon-to-be-bride who she felt had the sad face, Mrs. Geni said, “Can’t be like this. You have to be happy first.” No matter that the invitations had already been sent out, the reception hall been paid for in advance, and, more importantly, the food been prepared. The story wouldn’t have been unusual if it had ended in cancellation. What was unusual was that two days later, a bus crashed off a cliff into a gorge. As it turned out, 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 do 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 neighbors in her area waited to see whether Mrs. Geni would put up the national red and white flag at her house, because in Mrs. Geni’s estimation that was the same as 17 August. As it turned out, 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 1 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’s doing the makeup for a neighbor, or doing it for her own child. Her face and appearance are the same. The photos taken at the time can prove this, along with the photos taken over the following 20 years. Or maybe also the 20 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 a wedding, the people who delivery 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 do not 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 had not married Mr. Geni. Then he would not have been my soul mate.”

Why marry Mr. Geni at the time?

“Yes, because it was time to get married, like everyone 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 before or not.”

The question arises because there is word that Mr. Geni is to marry again. “Yeah, don’t worry about it. 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 feel joy once in their lives.” For Mrs. Geni, marriage is joy, happiness. “If someone does not even feel happy when they get married, 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, and for those who have not. The latter are done by Mrs. Geni as bodies when women pass away having never married. Before burial, Mrs. Geni makes them up fully. Many disapprove, for many it is regrettable, still others fear being made up. “Frightened it will come true in the marriage. Frightened of being too happy, too free, too enjoyable, so that’s 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 are afraid of our own happiness, and restrict it through the existence of God’s power.”

Even though she says that humanity’s most restricting and frightening discovery is marriage, Mrs. Geni continues to do peoples’ makeup, still uses the infusion of cigarette smoke. For someone 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 bride’s crown, 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 published in the national daily newspaper Kompas on 20 May 2012. Retrieved from https://cerpenkompas.wordpress.com/2012/05/20/bu-geni-di-bulan-desember/

Featured image credit: “Tribute to Arswendo Atmowiloto” by Karikatoer (Khoirul Anwar), https://www.instagram.com/karikatoer/

 

Life Is Not For Corruption

Image credit https://merchandise.sahabaticw.org/merchandise

DGTMB | Daging Tumbuh

https://dgtmbproject.com/

Short Story: Bitter Beans

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

A discrete young couple is engrossed in an animated argument about bitter beans. In fact, they have just finished a dinner that consisted largely, among other things, of bitter beans.

“Just imagine if there were no bitter beans in the world,” muses the young man.

“Well, what about it?”

“If there were no bitter beans in the world, the poor wouldn’t have anything to make them happy. Imagine! Wouldn’t it be dreadful if the only thing that made the poor happy was owning a Mercedes Benz and working in an office? We’re lucky to have bitter beans! Every individual bitter bean makes a huge contribution to the total sum of human happiness. It’s about time we realized that the bitter bean is one of Indonesia’s most important national resources.”

“But the image of the bitter bean doesn’t fit the image of the newly rich city-living office worker, the collar-and-tie look. It’s obvious that the bitter bean just isn’t, or at least isn’t very, well, cool. You can hardly be proud of the smell! After all, these days people are only happy if they have something to be proud of.”

“To be proud of, or, to be arrogant about? Look at us. We’re happy eating bitter beans. Try smelling my breath.” The young man exhales, “Phew!”

The young woman waves a hand in front of her nose. “Yuck! What a revolting smell!”

“Well, of course it smells! But the embarrassing smell of bitter beans is only an image problem. Something has to be done to change its image. You can’t deny it. It does bring joy to millions of people, people who can only afford to find happiness in eating bitter beans. That’s the first thing. And another thing, aren’t they also good for you? According to a friend of mine, they’re good for your kidneys. They help you piss. And the problem of the smell? Ah! The smell can even be turned into… a unique national symbol! I might even write a letter to the newspaper suggesting, yes, that the Director General of Tourism start an advertising campaign promoting the smell of bitter beans as… `The Smell of Indonesia’. What do you think? Do you like that?”

The attractive young girlfriend is silent, blinks and listens to her excited boyfriend’s ideas. Out of affection she usually tries to agree, even though she does think this suggestion sounds a little odd. There is no way in the world the bitter bean is ever going to amount to anything of world importance. Not like crude oil, or nuclear energy. It’s just a fact that bitter beans will probably only ever be important for the little person, to the ordinary man and woman in the street.

“I don’t think you’re actually wrong,” she says, “but do you really think many people will be able to get what you mean?”

“Well, of course. What’s so hard about it? It isn’t complicated. It’s getting harder and harder to make a living. The measure of success is becoming more and more difficult to achieve. And that means too many people will feel like they’ve failed in life, that their lives are worthless if they can’t live up to this measure of success. These are the defeated people, the unfortunate, those who despite having worked and worked are never going to strike it big. These people have to be entertained…”

“And how is that going to happen?”

“Oh! I can’t believe you haven’t got it yet!”

“You mean they have to be made to realize that happiness can be achieved, not by having a white-collar job, but by.. eating bitter beans?”

“Exactly!”

“You mean grilled bitter beans, don’t you?”

“They could also be fried.”

“What about raw bitter beans?”

“Not interesting enough.”

“Steamed then?”

“Now, that’s a little better. But what would be exciting is beans mixed with milk.”

“You mean…?”

Udang Sambal Petai

“A bitter bean nog! Not milk, egg, honey and ginger, but milk, egg, honey and bitter beans! Ha ha ha!!” they laughed together.

“Then, you could also have bitter bean juice.”

“Wow! That’s a great idea!”

“Now you’re getting silly!”

“Why?”

“If the meaning of life can only be found in eating bitter beans, what would be the point of going to school and getting a good education? Surely the achievements of human civilization can’t be measured by the happiness that someone finds by eating bitter beans. It wouldn’t be right for bitter beans to be so important that nothing else made people happy.”

“Hang on! Do you actually believe that? Look, the central business district of Jakarta, Jakarta’s ‘Golden Triangle’, is just the tip of an enormous pyramid and just a mere handful of people ever get to enjoy the bright lights. If everybody tried to climb to the top of the pyramid, it would be a disaster! Most people are going to roll back down again, or fall off, or get pushed off and become poor again and then they are going to end up believing that there isn’t any point to life.”

“You’re so cynical.”

“What do you mean cynical? I have great hope.”

“You mean hope in bitter beans, that the only thing that will make Indonesians happy is eating bitter beans?”

“You can make an Indonesian happy with a tie, and you can get millions of ties from Sogo department store.”

The pair chatter on excitedly, as the distinctive aroma of bitter beans sprays from their mouths with every enthusiastic breath.

Having explored every aspect of the bitter bean for more than an hour, they finally realize that they are very tired.

Eventually, all that is left is for them to kiss passionately.

“You reek of bitter beans,” says the young man.

“You smell of bitter beans yourself,” replies the woman, as they each depart for their homes.

Arriving at his home, the young man kisses his wife.

“You smell of bitter beans,” she greets him.

“Yes, I did have some at a food stall.”

“You’re always eating those things!”

“No, I’m not. Only now and again.”

“I’m amazed. I’ve told you before, but you just don’t learn, do you?” says the man’s wife. “If you eat bitter beans, everyone in the house has to put up with it. You know no one else in the house likes them besides you. I don’t like them and neither do the children. Whenever you eat bitter beans, the smell goes everywhere, from the toilet out back to the gutter in front of the house. The smell gets into everything. It’s embarrassing! The neighbors will say, “Err. The people next door are eating bitter beans again!” Try to cut down a little, will you? Try to show a little consideration for someone other than yourself, all right! So you honestly enjoy them, but you have to realize, only poor people eat bitter beans, darling.”

After that, she doesn’t say anything else. But before going to bed, she suddenly remembers that her bitter bean-munching husband in fact gave them up before they were married fifteen years ago. But lately, over the last few months, she’s noticed that he’s started eating them again. She can’t understand why.

“Maybe he needs a little variation,” she thinks.

(Jakarta, October 1990.)


Bitter Beans (Petai) was published in Kompas Daily in December 1990.

Box of Petai

Short Story: The Slave of Love

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Only her eyes are visible. What can you see from a pair of eyes that radiate the enchantment of the world with every blink?

That is how enchantment radiates from the eyes being watched to swallow the eyes watching, which are instantly dazzled and instantly stunned, as if struck by a blaze of heavenly light that completely obliterates the self and every desire, leaving the body devoid of all thought, except that of surrender and willingness in the yearning to be enslaved in the sacrifice of the soul.

“That’s enough! Stop standing there like that,” says his wife. “Let’s go home.”

But he no longer knows the words go home. Gone is home, gone is wife, gone is family. Vanished is all the cheerful chatter of children filling his life like the crashing of surf filling the silence of the universe.

He leaves his shocked wife who grabs his arm only to have him jerk it away, who can only watch the man who is her husband, the father of her children, vanish into the crowd and disappear…

Who would ever have thought that happiness was so fragile, the miracle of love so transitory?

***

From a distance, he continues to follow her. She steps without ever looking behind again, even though in all the reflections of all the glass at the intersection, in the shop windows, and in the side mirrors of motorbike taxi drivers waiting for passengers, she can see how he has been following her since the market.

She realizes he has been walking along the sidewalk continuously following her at a distance. If she turns into a lane, he follows her into the lane. If she climbs onto a bus, he follows in a minibus traveling the same route. If she gets into a taxi, he follows her on a motorbike taxi or in another taxi. If she catches a train, she knows too how he is in the same carriage, and immediately follows her when she gets off at whatever station she’s going to.

Later, when she arrives at her house, she kisses her husband’s hand, takes the little one back from the hands of the babysitter. Then from behind the window with the curtains that are always drawn, she needs to peek through and she can see the outline of her stalker darting into the small cafe at the end of the street. She is certain that from inside the cafe he’s constantly staring, waiting, hoping. Dreaming.

She and her husband look at each other. The little one is asleep. The babysitter has left.

From the small café closing up a pair of eyes stare out at her dark house and sips coffee.

***

From day to day he moves around the daily life of the woman whose eyes alone are visible. It is not enough to follow from behind, sometimes he pretends to pass her by accident.

It’s when they pass that he stares at her eyes, and at whatever else other than her eyes he can see. And it’s when they pass each other that his chest heaves, his heart comes alive and something else pounds more quickly than usual.

What can be expressed by a pair of eyes whose brightness excites, with a gaze that pierces and grips, that conquers? What can a pair of eyes express? It seems so much, but how can you be sure?

He hopes those eyes will recognize him, and if they recognize him, then pay him a small amount of attention, and if possible, not only pay a little attention, but still more also desire something in return from him. But not just desire something in return, also crave for something in return.

Is it possible that what he has hoped for, that what has never existed in the relationship between them, can happen? But those eyes seem to be saying everything! They seem to be paying attention, appear to be hoping for something. They seem even to crave for him…

Over the days, his guess seems to be becoming a reality.

***

One day when he follows her, she turns around and looks straight at his eyes.

He thinks, she’s looking for me! She wants to know if I’m following her today! She wants me to follow where she’s going!

He quickens his pace, draws nearer. But she doesn’t turn around again. After a while just walking behind her he ventures to speed up and draws alongside her.

They walk together, against the current of the surge of urban humanity swirling along the streets. Who among so many people in this world would think that something so important has happened between the two of them?

With all these feelings flowering in his heart, he still can not be sure of anything.

How can he be sure of anything just from the look of somebody’s eyes, even though it has certainly been proved that the blaze of a radiant pair of eyes has captured and uprooted him from his old, comfortable, serene, problem-free life to enter a world that, despite its uncertainty, still promises the happiness of a heaven like the one created by the glow of her eyes?

The waves of humanity continue to swirl around them. He observes their eyes and it seems that not one of them passes with the glow of the eyes of the woman beside him. How is it possible?

How is it possible that all these people flowing past from the front can miss so blithely the shining radiance of the most beautiful eyes? Are the eyes of city people any blinder than when they are looking for something false which has in fact never existed? But they are there in front of him!

Walking alongside her, he cannot see anything, until it’s dark and the woman is gone. He searches everywhere, and doesn’t find her…

***

The house lights have to be switched off before she squints through the curtains and sees that he’s in the small café, his glare penetrating the night directly in her direction. She closes the curtains quickly as if that stare were a whirling arrow able to pierce the glass of the window, able to penetrate the window and pierce her heart. But then she parts the curtains again. He won’t be able to see her. She can see him. There’s a large crowd in the cafe, but his back is turned to them and he stares in her direction. A slight sense of sadness passes over her, but only for a moment. She’s used to disregarding her own feelings, for the sake of the larger interest she believes in.

She turns in the direction of her husband who’s reading verses from the holy book to their son before he goes to bed.

Her husband raises his head, looks at her, and nods.

***

The dark cloudy sky surges as he follows her from a distance for the umpteenth time in as many months. She glances back just before disappearing into a lane. With a gaze that shines brightly, fleetingly, but which takes complete possession of the soul which has cried and worshiped for so long craving a response. He feels how his feet are so light, as he weaves between the thousands of people in the street to follow her. He wants to never lose her again, even though he can always go back to the cafe in front of her house.

Rain thunders down the moment she reaches the back of the lane. She is waiting there, leaning against a wall, soaked to the bone, staring straight into his eyes. He’s frozen. What he has become accustomed to experiencing as a hope, a yearning makes him giddy as it transforms into a reality.

Not only stare, she takes his hands, draws them in the torrential rain that makes every other human disappear from the streets, vanish from the lane, and leaves only the two of them breaking through the rain hand in hand. Although the rain is so heavy and the torrent from the sky feels like the rubber bullets that hit him randomly as he watched the demonstration, he is not conscious of them.

***

A door opens. they enter a darkened room and inhales the odor of old metal. But what is he going to worry about when in the darkness his wet clothes no longer cover his body, when hands as soft as cotton draw his hands to the other unclothed body?

In the darkness and the thundering rain, he cannot hear the sounds and sighs but is able to feel everything.

***

He carries a backpack on his back. As ultimate service what is there that he would not do? He does not even feel the need to ask what is in the pack. He does not want to worry about that out of fear of losing the one who has mastered him.

Those are still his feelings as the world disappears suddenly from his consciousness as the explosive in his backpack goes off destroying everything, everything. Buildings, ants, and humanity…


The Slave of Love (Budak Cinta) was published in Kompas Daily, 20 January 2019. (Retrieved from lakonhidup.wordpress.com)

Seno Gumira Ajidarma, born in Boston, United States, June 19, 1958. Now serves as Chancellor of the Jakarta Institute of the Arts (IKJ). Seno became better known after writing his trilogy of works on East Timor, namely Saksi Mata (collection of short stories), Jazz, Purfum, dan Insiden? (novel), and Ketika Jurnalisme Dibungkam, Sastra Harus Bicara (collection of essays). In 2014, he launched a blog called Pana-Journal (www.panajournal.com) about human interest stories with a number of journalists and professionals in the field of communication.

Oetje Lamno, born in Yogyakarta on May 31, 1978, completed his art education at the Indonesian Art Institute (ISI) Yogyakarta. He has participated in various art exhibitions in several places, including overseas. In 2010, he attended Beijing Biennale # 4 at the National Art Museum of China. In 2017, he returned to exhibit in China on “Silk Road, International Festival Art, Xi-an”. Oetje was a finalist of the 2015 Indonesia Art Award art competition, whose works are on display at the National Gallery of Indonesia, Jakarta.

The Slave of Love Budak Cinta ilustrasi Oetje Lamno/Kompas

The Slave of Love (Budak Cinta) illustration by Oetje Lamno/Kompas Daily