“Yun, didn’t your parents teach you to show respect to an older person?” Ika scolded her.
“I’m sorry. I was just saying what I thought.” Yuni looked around.
“Yun, how could you be so impudent?” Tatiek looked at her with dislike then mocked, “And it’s not Mas Koes who’s skinny, it’s you who’s fat, you’re fat, ugly, childish, and you have a bad personality!”
“That’s enough! That’s not a nice thing to say!” Koewanto admonished her, “Neither of you should be here anyway. You’re disturbing us! All of you should go now!”
The girls complained, but they heeded him anyway. Yuni turned around to Koeswanto before leaving, “Sorry! I wasn’t trying to be mean with what I said about you.” She said, then turned and ran in a different direction from the other girls.
He looked at her as she ran away, taking a deep breath and shaking his head, “Kids these days.” He said to himself.
She arrived at the edge of the field and kicked a stick that was lying on the ground, “So what if I’m ugly?” She said to herself, “At least I don’t go around chasing men like they do.”
“Mbak Yuni, why are you here talking to yourself?” A little boy of about 8 years old popped up from behind a tree.
“Eh, Bambang, how long have you been there?” She asked.
“I was herding my water buffalos and almost fell asleep here when your ruckus woke me up.” He smiled showing off his dimples. “What are you upset about?”
“It’s nothing!” She bowed her head looking at her feet, then suddenly something crossed her mind, “mBang, I saw Pak Dahlan carrying to huge baskets of mangos, I’m planning on going to his house to steal some tomorrow during the Wayang Wong performance, do you want in on it, or not?”
“I don’t know, it’s not often we get to see entertainment, I really want to watch the show.”
“Ah, but this will only take a few minutes, hey we can do it before the show starts, during the speeches, you know, since Pak Dahlan is one of the contributors, I’m sure he’ll go on stage to give a speech.”
“Hmmm….sounds interesting. Okay, you can count on me.”
“Let me accompany you to watch your water buffalo, why don’t you play your flute for me?” She said while walking towards him then sat on the ground.
“Pak, here’s your coffee,” Yuni said walking into the living room with a cup in her hand. She placed it carefully on the small table at the center of the room.
“Sit down, Yun,” Pak Bakrie said while pointing to the chair in front of him.
“Yes, Pak,” She replied.
Pak Bakrie took out the rolling paper from his pocket, filled it with a pinch a tobacco, rolled it between his four fingers and thumb, and then licked the edge to stick it together. He lit the smoke then inhaled it, before saying, “I’m worried about you, nDuk you will turn sixteen in a few months, but you still act like a little child. All you do all day, is play around in the field and hang out with little boys half your age. Not to mention you pay no attention to your physical appearance. Look at all the other girls your age, they already look like fine young ladies. You should have more consideration towards your father and mother if you continue like this, how are we going to find a husband for you?”
Yuni scraped her foot against the dirt floor in silence, she looked up at the flickering kerosene lamp hanging on the wall made of weaved bamboo. “Pak, I don’t want to get married, I don’t want to leave you and Ibu.”
“How can you say that, nDuk? What would the neighbors say? What would our family say? We can’t have a daughter staying at home doing nothing, people will sneer at you.”
“Pak, I’m not pretty like the other girls, if nobody wants to marry me then what can I do?” She said softly while pouting. “And the reason I like to play with Bambang and Bowo, is because they’re kind to me, they never make fun of me, unlike the boys and girls my age who always tease me because I’m fat. The only person who is nice to me and accepts me the way, I am, is Ika.”
Pak Bakrie shook his head, “You should go to your room and rest now. It’s not good for a girl to be up late at night. Tomorrow morning you should come with me to the field to pick the string beans and so your mother can sell them at the market. I’ll give you permission to stay out later than usual tomorrow to watch the Wayang Wong show.”
“Excuse me, Pak.” Yuni stood up and walked to her room.
She shifted the curtain that was used to separate her room instead of a door. She sat on the divan, organizing the pandanus mat on the plywood surface before laying her body down. She was sick and tired that everybody was giving her problems because of her looks, she might be boyish, and childish, but she was still a girl, and wanted to be accepted for who she was.
Before she realized it, tears rolled down her cheeks, they all think that’s she’s tough and cheerful, but nobody ever knew how lonely she was deep inside only being able to see all the pretty girls gather without inviting her, because the see her as an outcast. Or all the boys who mock her and make fun of her, using her as an object of insult if they want to tease their friend. They never knew how much it hurts her when they say she’s the girlfriend of A or B only to make them feel ashamed in front of all their friends.
Ever since she was small, she had developed a defense mechanism against their mean behavior towards her. If a boy would mock her, she wouldn’t hesitate to go up to him and slap him or hit him. If it was a girl, then she would make sure she never came anywhere near them, and avoid talking to them.
She sat up to blow the lamp on the table beside her divan, then closed her eyes. Being in her room in the darkness of the night was something she loved, in here she can pretend to be somebody else, a pugilistic fighter from the ancient times, or a heroine in the independence war. These were her happy thoughts.
Yuni walked behind her father with a basket tucked under her left arm, her skirt blown by the light breeze, and her wooden sandals clacking against the ground.
Her father continued walking towards the rice field as she turned to the small patch of land where the string beans grow. She chose the legumes that were just right, not too young, but also not too old. As soon as her basket was full, she carried it home.
“Ibu, here are the string beans,” She said, “Do you want me to accompany you to the market?”
“Oh? That’s unusual. Usually, you hate it when I ask you to go with me to the market.” Bu Nining looked at her daughter.
“Ah, Ibu. I just want to help my beloved mother, what’s wrong with that?”
“Hmmm…., I’m not convinced, but, that’s okay, Come one, let’s go,” Bu Nining smiled.
They walked side by side to the market. It was a half an hour walk away from their house.
“Good morning….” Bu Nining said with a friendly tone, greeting the other ladies who were already there with their vegetables to sell.
“Good morning…” The smiled to her.
Yuni spread the mat on the ground and organized the string beans on it. After she had finished, she sat on the far end of the mat beside her mother.
“Who are those young people?” Bu Nining asked the lady who was selling chili peppers and was sitting near them,
“Oh, those four are the dancers from the Pagguyuban, a small group came earlier to build the stage, they are staying at Pak Lurah’s house,” She explained.
“Ah….” Bu Nining nodded.
“Look at that young man walking in the middle, the one with the blue shirt. He’s Koeswanto the star of the group. He’s handsome isn’t he? If only I were twenty years younger, I would fall in love with him.” She laughed.
Yuni looked at the direction the woman was gesturing. There were two men with blue shirts, one she recognized as the man who she caused to get hit by the bamboo pole yesterday, and the other one must be the star of the group who the lady was talking about. Yuni observed him carefully. He was indeed handsome. He had a darker complexion than the other, his hair reached his neck, he had a square jaw, and even though he had an overbite, it was beautifully concealed by the thin moustache above his lips. Yuni smiled to herself and nodded, the old lady had really good taste, she thought.
Yuni shook her head in embarrassment, how would an attractive man like him ever be interested in someone like her? She had to know her place.
Koeswanto walked beside Budi who for some strange reason wore a similar shirt as his. Although they were staying at Pak Lurah’s house, they didn’t want to abuse his generosity and prepared their own food.
“What should we cook?” He asked.
“Let’s just make some stir-fried vegetables with dried anchovies. Look, over there string beans.” Budi signaled.
They walked towards the mat that had a pile of beans on it. Budi and Koeswanto squatted in front of the mat while their friends went to buy some chilies and other condiments.
Koeswanto caught sight of the two people who were selling the beans. “The girl from yesterday,” He thought. He glanced at her through the corner of his eyes. “Not bad, she has a healthy body and her face is natural with no powder or makeup masking her face, like most of the girls who gather around me.”
“These beans a fresh,” Bu Nining said, “My daughter picked them herself this morning.”
“Then they must be very delicious,” Budi said coquettishly.
Yuni blushed and nervously looked to the ground to avoid looking at him in the face.
“Stop fooling around!” Koeswanto said disliking his friend’s behavior, Budi would always try to hit on girls wherever they go to perform. “Bu, sell me some of these beans.” He said while giving Bu Nining a coin then dragged Budi away.
Yuni looked at Koeswanto with contempt, “He’s just like all those boys who always mock me because of my looks.” She thought.
“Why did you drag me away?” Budi asked, “I was trying to get to know that girl. You shouldn’t be so inconsiderate towards me.”
“Leave her alone!” Koeswanto said, “She doesn’t seem like the girls you like to be around. She’s innocent and pure-hearted.”
“And you know this because….?”
“Just look at her, she wears no powder or lipstick, her hair is tied in a simple bun, and at her side, is a wooden sandal.”
“I didn’t know you can actually observe a girl. Usually, you don’t even care even though they flock around you.”
“That’s because…that’s because she’s like a little kid, I mean the way she acts and the way she speaks. I don’t consider her as a girl.” Koeswanto said to conserve his dignity.
“And you could tell that just by looking at her sitting on a pandanus mat, selling string beans?”
“No, I know all that after being hit by a bamboo pole on the head.”
“Oh…..so that was the girl from yesterday.”
“Bambang…..mBang…” Yuni shouted in the field. She knew her little friend was around here somewhere. He would always herd his buffaloes around this area at this time of day.
“I’m up here!” The little boy replied for on top of the tree.
“Oh, why are you up there? Wait for me, I’m climbing up!” She said.
“No don’t. I’m going down, there is a lot of red fire ants here, and they’ve been biting my hands.”
“Okay, hurry up. We have to plan for tonight.”
Bambang climbed down the jumped off when he was just a meter away from the ground, “What do we need to plan for, let’s just attack when Pak Dahlan is in the middle of his speech.”
“Ah…Bambang, you’re not as dumb as you look.”
“Who do you think I am? I’m Bambang Prihatono, the number one student in my class.”
“Don’t get cocky!” She knocked his head with her knuckle
Yuni never saw so many people gather in the field before, everybody in the village young, old, man women, and children, left their houses at sunset with their mats under their arms and gathered at the field. This was a good opportunity for the people of the village to socialize with each other. To her surprise, her parents dressed in their best clothes and left the house early.
Yuni chose something dark so she could easily conceal herself when they enter Pak Dahlan’s yard. She had promised Bambang to meet him at the place where the field meets the dirt road, so it would be easier for them to sneak in.
She couldn’t help but be bewildered at the sight of the mass sitting and chatting. The whole area was lit up brightly with torches. The gamelan players were testing their instrument amidst the chattering of the viewers.
First Pak Lurah went up on the stage, he was giving his speech, Yuni thought that probably only the people sitting at the front row could hear him. When Pak Dahlan went on the stage, Yuni and Bambang looked at each other, this was their queue. They walked along the outer side away from the torches. They reached Pak Dahlan’s yard and entered carefully. Yuni pointed to the baskets was in front of the porch. They tiptoed towards it just in case.
Yuni lifted the sack that covered the basket, they reached in and took two mangos each, giggling to themselves.
“What are the two of you doing?” A voice surprised them.
They turned around, it was Tarjo, Pak Dahlan’s worker. Yuni quickly bit one of the mangoes leaving her hand free to reach in a take another one from the basket. She threw the fruits as Tarjo as fast and as many as she can.
“Don’t do that!” He said nervously, “Pak Dahlan would be angry.”
“mBang, let’s run,” Yuni shouted when she saw Tarjo was busy picking up the mango from the ground.
The two of them sprinted out the yard, laughing and shouting in victory they ran back to the field where the performance took place. Since the area was full of people, they couldn’t find a nice spot to sit.
“Mbak Yun, let’s go over there at the side of the stage,” Bambang said.
“But they wouldn’t let us stay there, that’s reserved for the village officials and their family,” Yuni said.
“Not if they don’t see us.” Bambang pointed to the line of trees.
“Let’s go! This is perfect. Great snacks and a front row seat. We ae very important people.”
“Yes we are!’ Bambang laughed.
They ran towards the dark side of the tree and climbed it. “Wah, look at that…” Yuni exclaimed she could see the entire stage from her position, she made herself comfortable just as the dancers began to appear on stage. Yuni smiled, “What a great day,” She said to herself.
 nDuk diminutive of Genduk which translates to lass.
 Javanese traditional acoustical instruments.