The Transaction, by Umar Nur Zain
I'm sitting here in a luxurious room, all air-conditioned and handsomely
decorated in traditional motifs. This room isn't terribly crowded. It isn't
even thick with smoke like the small nightclubs that proliferate around
Jakarta. In fact, the only ones sitting at the fancy tables are foreigners
and the very wealthy, like myself.
Beautiful women are in attendance in this room, all of them wearing batik
in deep red tones. Actually, they already know me because I frequently come
here for dinner, abandoning any sense of boredom that I might get from the
rather ho-hum cooking at home. Here, by only paying 7,500 rupiah for food,
adding drinks and cigarettes it only costs about 10,000 rupiah total, a
paltry sum for getting out of the house.
This club, which belongs in the upper echelons of the capital's luxurious
hotels, is indeed enjoyable. There aren't any annoying, ogling teenagers,
who would normally be disturbing me with their jealous glares at the gentry
I suck deeply through a plastic straw on a drink called an “Irian
Mocca.” Meanwhile the beautiful women who service the guests here
are busy wandering past, dropping in on the various tables with their hospitality.
When they walk, they really make my heart pound. With that tight cloth you
can see their backsides smoothly shifting from side to side as if they were
following a drum rhythm.
I inhale on my bamboo pipe. I'm thinking, life in Indonesia is really something
great these days. Because of progress, we can really enjoy the high life.
How else could we sit here with such clean, nice clothes, enjoying ourselves
like this, without progress?
My life these days is different compared to that of my parents who are still
alive; their lives have been so full of suffering and war. It's a good thing
my career has been assisted with the grace of God, to become an official
in a key position. Money has flowed into my pockets just like water. And
not as a result of corruption. That money came by itself -- I only helped
a few friends and relatives, that's all. Then they expressed their gratitude
through money. That's the modern life these days.
Now if you look at relationships with the native Indonesians, well, they're
incredibly stupid. They don't take into account small matters like this
in their business dealings, so I can only take a deep breath and sigh when
I help them, because all they ever say is "thank you." Of course
it's the opposite with the Chinese, they really know what's going on. Without
even a hint from me, they show up at my house, offering things I need, or
money in a big envelope.
Incredibly stupid, as well, are the efforts of those people who want to
be teachers or civil servants -- they don't take advantage of opportunities.
They set aside little bits of savings in their little bank booklets, afraid
of seeing the era of progress as a tremendous opportunity. If they don't
take risks, they deserve to be poor their whole lives. Living in a hut or
Ah, the floorshow has begun. Tonight imported girls from France will be
entertaining us in a show titled “Evening in Paris.” A young
man in characteristically French clothes performs in a specially-erected
gazebo at the center of the stage. There's a street lamp, just like in Paris.
And that Frenchman is playing his accordion, singing a rendition of “I
Love Paris in the Springtime.”
Several sexy young French girls appear onstage, dancing cheerfully and occasionally
letting out lusty hisses. Their smooth white thighs appear from their short
skirts split from the waist down. Still unsatisfied, they open their skirts
completely until a still richer view appears.
This isn't like one of those cheap clubs, this dance might be sexy but it
isn't crass like you'd see in the slums. It's true, they indeed wear narrow
underpants, so much so that if they kick their legs up high in that French
style while screaming like hysterical French women, you'd really see something
erotic. Also, this young person's dance that illustrates a romantic and
erotic atmosphere -- even to the point of “bed scenes” -- it
isn't exactly over-the-top.
I'm actually awaiting the arrival of a woman named Puspa. I don't know her
all that well, but she promised that she'd meet me here tonight. I've been
studying all the women who've shown up at the club so far, but the woman
I've been waiting for hasn't yet shown up. I've already repeatedly refused
the offers of dinner from the various hostesses at this club.
This meeting with Puspa is really an erotic “assignment” with
the appearance of a business deal. It's a unique transaction, actually.
I inhale on my bamboo pipe, the flame of which has nearly gone out. A man
as old as I am, 50 years, apparently is always troubled by physical temptation.
A kind of strange stirring happens within me, so that I am completely unable
to stay away from sex. I'm always interested in women!
With my money, which keeps growing and growing, I'm always looking for opportunities
to get together with beautiful women. But I'm not like my friends, the other
officials, who keep a woman or various women secreted away as their wives.
I far prefer to look for regular women whom I can take to a hotel and then
abandon without ever creating a full-blown affair.
I've got a lot of business relations, especially Chinese businessmen, who
know my preferences; they're always sending this or that gorgeous woman
to the office. Each one is prepaid by my business relations. But after awhile
I get bored with that kind of mating scene. Now I'm on the lookout for a
At my office, there are a group of underlings who are gathered together
in a staff task force. Actually I know they're just a bunch of flatterers.
But in fact I need staff like that, because they do whatever my heart desires
without even thinking twice. Sometimes when, for example, my wife needs
air conditioning in her new car, which by the way was a gift from someone
who wanted to impress me, the staff task force springs into action instantly.
Who knows from where, all of a sudden the next day my wife's car has air
conditioning. They're also the ones in charge of organizing women for pay
and welcoming all my various guests from the provinces or wherever. The
members of the task force are even the ones who introduced me to Puspa,
for whom, all this time, I've been waiting.
The woman I've been waiting and waiting for finally appears at the front
room, escorted by a young host who approaches my table. She's a gorgeous
woman with hair carefully arranged in back. Tonight she's wearing a black
evening gown that contrasts sharply with the pale beauty of her smooth skin.
“Have you been waiting long, Mr. Surya Kencana?” she asks softly.
Her voice is refined and melodious.
I stand and invite her to take a seat. “No problem, as long as I'm
waiting for you,” I answer.
The waiter draws up a chair and invites her to sit. Then he opens up a napkin
with a flourish and lays it across Puspa's thighs. “Are Sir and Madam
going to dine now?” he asks. I order two oxtail soups, French-style.
While tasting the soup my thoughts are flying. Strange enough, I think to
One day a member of my task force had approached me at the office and offered
me a new plaything. A beautiful woman needs money, he said, only about 500,000
rupiah. He said that that money would pay for the doctoring of the woman's
daughter whose eyes need help and who will be operated on in Manila. Because
of a lack of resources, the woman's daughter is already approaching the
crisis point, so much so that the woman's only choice is to offer herself
I was thinking, what's the fault in doing this?? I could have a new toy
to buy with all this money I've got. But I don't want to just give in to
the bright ideas of my task force, because there are plenty of high-class
prostitutes who resort to this sort of tactic. For that, they often use
their very own children.
“This one's for real, Sir,” protested my underling, who I actually
believe in and whose rank I had recently raised. “She's quite young,
and married too young. She's still got a husband and she's never prostituted
herself or had affairs like the others.”
Because this could be a new toy for me, I would have to see for myself if
what my underling had said was actually true. Anyone could be taken in by
a trick, throwing away a ton of money just for some regular high-class prostitute.
For a well-known high-class call girl, the normal price wouldn't actually
be more than about 300,000 rupiah.
When I met her a few days later at the office, I was really taken with Puspa.
She was beautiful. Really beautiful. Her face gave the appearance of being
that of a modern girl, someone who had been raised well, all made up, decorated
in the modern way. Yet there was also the impression that she'd worked hard
to become a good housewife, but had failed because of having had to face
an incredible challenge that had cut her deeply. Those people for whom life
is easy -- with all the modern and materialistic developments -- still sometimes
have to surrender their honor. Nonetheless, my lust inspired me to inspect
her in detail, whether the whole story was true or not.
Full of shy embarrassment yet determinedly, Puspa invited me to her house
so that I could see the facts for myself. “But you have to appear
like an elderly gentleman who is without sinful intent,” she mentioned.
“Because I have told my husband that I'm going to borrow the money
from the office by way of formal procedure.”
Late that afternoon we went to Puspa's home. I ordered the car to be parked
carefully and we entered a small alley. Several meters further we arrived
at a simple home. Not as simple as the ones nearby, but not at all luxurious
like the big structures stretched along the sides of the major roads.
It turns out that the husband and child were at home. As an official I certainly
have already been well-trained in how to play a role. When I'm angry, I
can be refined and polite, meek and submissive to someone of higher rank,
and I can act the role of the responsible, beneficent personage without
sin, the very model of an important official. I can be whatever I want,
according to the needs of the moment.
Puspa's husband, it turns out, is a member of a band that isn't very well-known.
Because of the nature of his contract at a small night-club, his wages weren't
much to speak of. Looking at the family portrait of the three of them, husband,
wife and daughter, which was propped up on the table, the appearance was
certainly that of a good family. A generation facing a bright future. But
why fate had suddenly forced Puspa into this decision was difficult to discern.
Perhaps the deep love she held for her child had caused her to carry out
this relatively easy work. Just imagine, how in the world could one drum
up 500,000 rupiah in such a short period of time without engaging in some
kind of nefarious activity?
I looked at her daughter, sitting on the chair with her thick glasses. That
child was very weak, slender, and indeed desperately in need of help. Just
like a doctor, I approached the child -- who perhaps thought I was indeed
a doctor. I ordered her to take off her glasses, and I touched her eyelids.
I pulled them upwards and saw that, indeed, the condition of her eyes was
“It's true. Your daughter needs help immediately,” I said while
handing back those thick eyeglasses to Puspa's daughter. I stroked her long
hair. For a half-hour I had been acting out my part in that home, without
Puspa's husband having the slightest awareness of what I would be getting
in exchange for the money... thus my thoughts flew excitedly.
Meanwhile the performance of the French dancers is heating up. I'm watching
the way in which one of women is dancing so erotically under the streetlights
of Paris; she stretches lustfully just like a cat. My hand gropes toward
Puspa's hand, and when I reach her delicate fingers I squeeze them. Perhaps
only now for the first time is she doing something like this with a man
who isn't her husband, but what do I care?
We have dinner in a relaxed way, finishing two portions of steak and after
that enjoying strong, sweet wine. At this point, my head starts to pound
and a warm feeling rushes through my whole body.
After this I invite Puspa to leave this club with me. Puspa stands up, putting
her bag in order and finally budges after I've signed for the dinner bill
and left a tip for the waiter.
Perhaps people feel resentful, observing me at this age, holding the hand
of Puspa, a woman in her twenties, following the corridor, walking to the
lift and disappearing onto the sixth floor of the hotel.
I open the door to the room and invite Puspa, whose languid body enters.
“This is ours?” she whispers, looking around the room. Her voice
almost can't be heard. She hesitantly enters the room further. I whistle
while I open my clothing and go through my bag to change into a bathrobe.
I catch sight of my face in front of the mirror, white haired, skin already
revealing a few wrinkles. But my eyes still radiate. I don't feel anywhere
near my age!
I notice Puspa sitting at the edge of the bed in her black evening gown.
She appears to me as a goddess; the elegance and delicacy of her body is
truly stunning. I kiss her face and comb through her hair. Then I approach
Puspa and sit by her side. I touch her shoulders and lightly kiss her temples.
I can hear my own impassioned breathing.
“What must I do?” asks Puspa. I see her throat tightening to
hold back her voice.
“Open your clothing,” I whisper.
Puspa slowly opens her zipper in the back. A small pile of black evening
gown heaps up on the floor.
I notice the television in the hotel room is broadcasting the singer Henny
Purwonegoro in a variety show called “Nation's Broadcast.” Henny
is a graceful singer, wearing tight slacks with a stretchy t-shirt. She's
really pretty with that oval face of hers.
“What else must I do?” asks Puspa, a little more delicately,
almost without any pressure in her voice at all.
“Everything,” I say. Puspa moves both of her hands behind her
At this point I can hear the voice of Kris Biantoro interviewing various
women who are thrilled with the soap they use.
“What else?” her voice is almost in tears. I don't answer.
The hotel bedspread is really beautiful, colored red and folded together
with a fine white sheet. Very clever, those hotel people, in creating a
romantic atmosphere like this one.
I approach Puspa who is all curled up. Her hair is all strewn about while
her melancholy eyes watch me closely. Her tearful eyes reflect like mirrors.
Her lips are slightly chapped.
Presently I can hear a singer on the television performing a bright and
lively song. It must be the voice of Ervina who is singing -- she likes
to wear those brown pants that sway so provocatively while singing Indonesian
pop songs that have been translated into Javanese.
The next morning I awaken from my sleep. I whistle and enter the bathroom.
Bathing under the strong, hot water of a shower is incredibly refreshing.
I feel like a kid again. I cut off the shower and rub my body all over with
a towel. Trying on my bathrobe I go over to the sixth floor hotel window.
I open up that window. The air is bright and fresh. Already the fancy automobiles
are twisting and turning along the slippery asphalt pavement of the city
of Jakarta. I savor the modern atmosphere of the city of Jakarta that stretches
broadly out below me.
I can see, way out there, at the edge of a filthy black stream, a group
of little huts looking just like snail shells. From far away it looks like
the inhabitants are starting to emerge, with their clothing all disheveled.
I really don't know what should be done about those poor people. Let them
just work themselves to the bone, day and night, setting aside a bit of
money for eating. They really don't yet have the right to enjoy the luxurious
hotel life like I do. What's more, to make love to a woman as enchanting
I draw a long deep breath while stepping over to the mirror. I closely observe
my own wrinkled face and gray hair that has nearly taken over the rest of
my hair. I draw another happy, triumphant breath. I am proud of myself,
a real philanthropist official.
Today I have helped save a child who is almost blind.
24 September 1978, Sinar Harapan Minggu (Sunday “Rays of Hope” magazine)
Translated by Sean Williams