Tag Archives: Jawa Pos

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/

 

Short Story: Respected Ulema

Respected Ulema

By Seno Gumira Ajidarma

Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune-teller and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was simply a theater actor. To be precise, a former theater actor, one who had transferred his acting skills from the stage to everyday life.

From the way he behaved, the way he arranged his facial expressions and from his body language, he managed to convey the impression that he was a truly wise person. This was clear from the large number of people who believed in him without realizing that what they were believing in was a character being played.

That’s how it was, day in and day out. And after many years, Respected Ulema had finally managed to trick even himself. That he actually was really wise, clever, intelligent and knowledgeable. He really did think that with just the powers he wielded, he really was able to show the way to the truth that every person was searching for. What’s more, the responses of all the people around him confirmed this completely.

The only thing was Respected Ulema had started to become sick and forgetful. But not even one person believed it. Respected Ulema himself had never been to the doctor about his illness. Because he thought that if he went to the doctor and had a blood test from a medical laboratory, people wouldn’t trust him anymore.

“How can a person with special power go to the doctor?” That was the response he wanted to avoid.

That was how it was. There were just more and more people who arrived to ask for guidance. So many that it wasn’t possible any longer to serve all of them one by one. The crowd at his house was so large that if it was made to line up, it would be too long. It wouldn’t have gone down even in 24 hours because the people just kept on arriving.

So Respected Ulema made a decision. The solutions for problems wouldn’t be handled for each person one by one, but rather in bulk. There would be one piece of guidance for all the people, and each would have their own interpretation of it.

***

That day, Respected Ulema sat cross-legged in his usual place, a rectangular box which in the theater world was called a “level”. It was enough to have a level that was covered with a cheap woven pandanus mat. That way he would be raised up higher than the people who were gathered in the room. The higher position for him was necessary because it would give the impression he was higher than everything, everything both inside the room, and in the world outside.

In the world of the theater, the stage is the center of the world, and that room was his stage. The theater group he had founded had long since dispersed and the people had now forgotten him. The public now knew him as a person with special powers who was able to answer questions about anything appropriately and correctly, precisely and accurately, so long as he or she was capable of interpreting his guidance.

Everything that came to pass demonstrated the powers of Respected Ulema. Everything that did not eventuate indicated the ignorance of the interpreter. That was the law that applied in the world of Respected Ulema.

From his past life, there remained only that level. He only needed the one. It was more than enough to make him higher than anyone who entered his house, his stage in the real world — and that day there he was, cross-legged, eyes closed, with his head bowed, and his body hunched over. It was not too clear whether he was meditating or dozing.

He himself did not understand why it was that the older he became and the greyer his beard grew that it became easier and easier to doze off. But it was more important for him that the older he became, the more respected he became, even though it wasn’t too clear to him whether he was respected because he was considered wise, or just because he was old.

The morning breeze blew in through one window, and out again through another, making the air cooler, even though the wooden walls were beginning to radiate the golden rays of the sun. They had been waiting since early morning, since before Respected Ulema had woken. After taking a shower, and having breakfast, Respected Ulema appeared, stretched out his hand to place it on the foreheads of the guests, then sat cross-legged on the pandanus mat.

People waited for a very long time. Outside, more and more people were arriving. They couldn’t get in before people inside came out. Word went round that Respected Ulema had not said a word for a long time.

“Ulema doesn’t always say something,” said someone.

“Maybe Ulema won’t say anything,” said another.

“Of course Ulema doesn’t need to say anything,” said someone else.

“Ulema will provide signs.”

As if receiving a way out, everyone waited. If he did not make an utterance, Respected Ulema should provide a sign, as had been interpreted up till now by the seekers of guidance. Whereas if he spoke, Respected Ulema’s words would not provide guidance directly, becoming signs in themselves.

As a result, in addition to referring to Respected Ulema, those seeking guidance had to take advantage of the services of the sign readers around him. It was not at all clear how they could spring up and become part of the phenomena of Respected Ulema, who clearly sometimes the cost of remuneration for these sign readers was far greater than the voluntary remuneration for Respected Ulema. How much? While Respected Ulema had never said a word about remuneration, the sign readers always said, “The amount is up to you.”

In order not to make a mistake, the people who needed the guidance of Respected Ulema would give a payment larger than appropriate, which was on occasion accepted with a grumble.

“You all said you needed help, and Respected Ulema’s guidance will solve your problems, why are you so tardy about providing a payment. Don’t expect everything to be all your way now…”

***

Respected Ulema suddenly started to cough. Some thought he was ill, but the readers of signs begged to differ.

“Get ready! Get ready!”

“Record it! Record it!”

Hundreds of people took out their cellphones. And Respected Ulema’s coughing was recorded while no one assisted him. Only when Respected Ulema himself was forced to mime a person drinking, did someone fetch him some mineral water.

After having a drink, Respected Ulema looked calmer, although his chest was still heaving up and down. Nevertheless, people had begun approaching the sign readers who immediately started to discuss this sign which took the form of coughing.

“Please, how many times did Respected Ulema cough?” asked one sign interpreter.

A recording was played so the coughs could be counted.

“Forty times.”

“Thirty-nine.”

“I count forty-one?”

“Hey! Why are there different numbers? It has to be correct. Different numbers will have different meanings!” commanded an interpreter of signs.

To achieve the same number among hundreds of people was obviously not going to be easy. It took a long time to reach agreement. Respected Ulema had coughed 45 times.

“Wow, such a big difference. If you had tried to interpret the meaning before, it would have been wrong, hey?”

So, what does Respected Ulema’s 45 coughs mean?

One of the interpreters of signs said, “Because the meaning is for every person, and because each problem is different, every person is to receive a whispered interpretation which must be kept secret. Do not ever reveal this secret, because it’s good luck will immediately disappear.”

Each interpreter conveyed more or less the same thing to the people surrounding him. But as it happened Respected Ulema started coughing again, and despite the fact that his coughing was very severe, so severe that Ulema collapsed onto his stomach suffocating, people were more inclined to respond to it as if it were merely a series of signs.

“Record it! Record it! Record it!”

“Don’t miss even one movement!”

It is true that someone did hand him a bottle of mineral water as they massaged his back, but his coughing did not stop this time until Ulema’s eyes began to bulge and his tongue hung out when his coughs merged together without any more pauses and transformed into one extended suffocation.

A strange noise emanated from his throat, like a loud exhaling, to a casual onlooker it was like the snoring of someone asleep.

Then Respected Ulema did not move anymore.

“Did you get it all?” asked one of the interpreters of signs.

“Praise be to God… Got it!”

***

Years later, people would continue to visit the tomb of Respected Ulema seeking guidance and searching for signs. Every sign originating in the events of his death was said to have the power to overcome most problems, if not every problem, thanks to the successful interpretations of the sign interpreters. Life and death – was there a meaning of greater significance than that?

Until today, people still visit to climb the hill, heading for the tomb of Respected Ulema which is located under a tree and deliberately isolated from the other graves. People spend the night in the area, light frankincense or incense, then surrender themselves to nature.

According to the people who believe themselves the recipients of guidance, they have received the signs from Respected Ulema from the stars in the sky, the rustling of the wind or the falling of the leaves carried on the wind. Can there be anything richer in the universe as a source of interpretation of all meaning?

A caretaker is now present at the tomb. He can help resolve the meaning of any sign, and really has earned a great amount of money.

There are also those who have told of Respected Ulema appearing in their dreams and how he has become overjoyed.

Even though it was mentioned earlier, Respected Ulema was not a shaman, not a fortune teller, and neither was he a magician. Respected Ulema was merely a humble theater actor – something not many people know about. (*)

(Villa Cendana, Kampung Utan, Saturday, 15 December 2018, 5.00 p.m.)

 


Respected Ulema (Kiyai Sepuh) was published in Jawa Pos on 6 January 2019. Seno Gumira Ajidarma is an Indonesian writer, novelist, and film critic. Retrieved from LakonHidup.com

Featured image credit: Ludruk Karya Budaya, Mojokerto, by Ulet Ifansasti https://www.instagram.com/p/BtLgEDTBlux/  and  https://www.uletifansasti.com/transgendersoperaludruk