Asian Culture and Arts - 2005-2006





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 like me.

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 a slum!

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 new toy!

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 myself.

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 to you.

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 serious.

“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 back.

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 as Puspa!

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

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