Koeswanto heard the scream and stood up to see what was happening. He saw the girl trying to keep her head above the water level. He doubted for a while before running towards her. He jumped into the river, pulling her out and dragging her to the bank.
“How could anybody drown in a river this shallow?” He asked her.
She didn’t answer him, instead she fixed her sarong while pointing to the river, “My clothes….my clothes….” She yelled.
Koeswanto looked towards the direction she was pointing, but her clothes had drifted far downstream.
“They’re gone!” He said.
She turned around and looked at him carefully now, “Why are you here?” She asked.
“I was here first, but then a crazy girl and her mother came to my hiding spot and she began to take off her clothes.”
“You saw me take off my clothes?” Yuni opened her eyes wide.
“It wasn’t my fault, who told you to be so careless and indiscreet?”
“I’m sorry, I didn’t mean to do something that would make you feel uncomfortable, I didn’t know that there was somebody here in the river.”
Koeswanto looked at her bewildered, “You’re sorry? Most girls would scream, shout, get angry and feel offended, but you’re apologizing to me instead?”
Yuni laughed a little and scratched her head, “I’m not like most girls all the boys would rather die than look at me or be caught around me. I’m sure you’re no exception.”
Koeswanto became intrigued, he squatted beside her, “You stupid girl, just because boys mock you and make fun of you, it doesn’t mean that they won’t try to take advantage of you. You should take better care of yourself. You’re lucky that I’m not that kind of a man, if it was someone else here in the river, you would be in big trouble.”
Yuni looked at him and nodded, “You’re right.” She whispered. “But it’s not like I was standing naked in the open, my mother put the sarong around me while I was taking off my clothes.”
“You idiot! Don’t say that word in front of a man, it would give him inappropriate ideas!” Koeswanto scolded.
“Huh?” Yuni didn’t understand.
“Never mind! You should go home now.” Koeswanto said while shaking his head.
“I will. You can go first! Thank you for helping me. Goodbye!” She smiled.
“Thank you for helping me, be careful not to slip on the rocks when you go.”
Koeswanto looked at her full of doubt, he stood up and turned around walking towards the road. He turned his head again to check on her, she was still sitting in the same place and in the same position, but now she was massaging her legs with both hands.
He continued walking slowly, once he arrived on the dirt road, he turned around again, still no change.
Not able to control his curiosity he walked back to her, “Why are you still sitting there?” He asked harshly.
“I like to it. It’s very comfortable. Relaxing!” She replied with a forced smile.
He looked at her suspiciously, “Is there something wrong with your leg? Is that why you were drowning even though the water was shallow?”
She swallowed her pride and nodded, “I can’t move my legs.” She said.
Koeswanto took a deep breath, “You’re such a handful.” He squatted in front of her, took one feet in his hand and lifted it slightly. He pushed her feet towards her abruptly causing Yuni to shriek. ”This will relieve your cramp.” He said then did the same with her other leg.
“Thank you. That would be enough I think it’s better to have two cramped and hurting legs than none at all.” She said.
“Don’t be silly, this is the best way to loosen your muscles.” He said.
“Can you just help me stand up?”
Koeswanto gazed at her then stood up, “Here, take my hand.” He said.
“Thank you.” She used his hand to pull herself from the ground, seeing him up close she had a realization, “Oh, you’re Arjuna aren’t you? The one who got hit by the bamboo pole and the one who caught me last night when I fell from the tree.” She asked.
“Yes I am. My name is Koeswanto.”
“You’re Koeswanto?” She asked in disbelief.
“The last time I checked, yes.”
“Huh, I heard that the person called Koeswanto was supposed to be handsome.” She said almost to herself.
“What exactly are you trying to say?” His face becoming red.
“What is the name of your friend who was with you the other day at the market?”
“My friend at the market? Are you talking about Budi?” Koeswanto asked in returned.
“Is that his name? Budi?” Endang smiled to herself while blushing.
Koeswanto coughed, “It can’t be. Do you have a crush on my friend?”
Yuni looked at him with surprise, “N…..no…..”
“Hmm….” Koeswanto looked at her unconvinced. “Crazy girl, what’s your name?”
“My name? Candra Wahyuni. Yuni for short.” She said. “Eh, I think I’ll go home now, thank you for pulling me out of the water.”
“Hey, your sarong is covered in mud, also your back and your hair. You should clean it off in the water.” Koeswanto told her.
Yuni doubted for a while, “But what happens if my legs get cramped again, I might drown for real this time.”
“I suppose you’re right! If you drown to death you might turn into a crazy ghost and haunt me.” Koeswanto thought for a while, “Go ahead and clean yourself, I’ll sit here to make sure that you get out of the water alive. Hurry up, go!” He waved his hand to the river.
Yuni looked at him for a minute, then walked to the water slowly, still feeling the pain from the striking and the cramp.
“Why are you walking like that? Does your leg still hurt?” He asked from the rock he was sitting on slightly above her.
“Yes it does, but not only from the cramp, but from the beating my father gave me.” She replied.
“For getting caught stealing mangoes from Pak Dahlan.” She replied.
Koeswanto laughed. “You deserved it!”
Yuni pouted, “Why did you get kick on the back last night?”
Koeswanto looked at her, “None of your business. Hurry up and clean yourself.” He observed her from his sitting place, looking at her figure sculptured by the wet sarong that was clinging to her body, “She’s not really fat as her friends say.” He thought, “She just looks that way because of the size of her breast and her round hips.”
“You told me before that you were hiding here, who are you hiding from?” She asked turning around facing him.
Koeswanto’s heart thumped seeing the sight in front of him, he coughed, “From a commitment I’m not ready to make.” He answered vaguely.
“Ah, a woman….” Yuni smiled cunningly. “Does Mas Budi have a girlfriend?” She asked again.
Koeswanto looked at her sharply, “He has a wife and five children.” He lied between his teeth.
“Ah……is that so? But he looks too young to have five children.” Yuni lamented. “Listen, I don’t want to take you away from anything, if you need to go, then go ahead, my mother should be here soon.”
“I’m in no hurry to be anywhere, I think I’ll sit here and enjoy the view a little bit more.” He answered.
“How long have you been dancing?” She asked.
“Started to learn since I was seven, but I began performing since I was fifteen.”
“Ah…” She nodded, “It must be great to be able to travel from village to village to perform. I’ve never been out of Desa Sumber Rejo. When my parents need to visit our family they hardly take me along. They always leave me to take care of the house.”
“How old are you?” He asked.
“I will turn sixteen next month.” She replied.
“Are you studying?”
Yuni shook her head, then replied in a sad tone, “The closest high school is in Jember. My father doesn’t have enough money to pay for me to go to school there. I only studied till junior high school.”
“So your father plans to marry you off soon?”
Yuni laughed ironically, “He can plan to marry me off, but it doesn’t mean his going to succeed.”
“Ah, that’s what he keeps nagging me about, he says that my behavior will prevent men to be interested in me.” She paused, “But even if I behaved like a priyayi[i] , but because I’m ugly I doubt I will find a husband sometime soon.”
“Why do you think you are ugly?” Koeswanto was curios.
“Everybody tells me that I am.”
“And you’re okay with that?”
“Why not? It’s the truth.”
“And what do you think makes them say that you’re ugly?”
“Um, I don’t know, maybe it’s because I’m fat, my skin is dark, and my nose is very small.” She replied cheerfully. “But I don’t care what they say about me. I’ve been speaking with my friend Ika, she said that her aunt also had difficulties to find a husband, so she went to the city to work in a house. Maybe I can do the same thing.”
“Hmm, work in a house huh? As a maid.”
“Eh-he.” She replied. “I wonder where my mother is, why hasn’t she come back yet? If I stay here any longer, I’ll grow moss.”
“Then get out of there, do you need help?”
“I think I can manage, I can use these rocks to support mer.” She replied. “I think I should just go home, it’s getting late and she hasn’t come for me.”
“Are you seriously going to walk home like that?” Koeswanto asked.
“How else? My clothes drifted away.” She replied.
Koeswanto jumped down from the rock, He took off his shirt then handed it to her, “Use my shirt to cover yourself.”
Yuni looked at him, “Is it alright, what about you?”
“I’m a man, it is okay for me to walk around just in my singlet.” He replied.
“Thank you.” She received the shirt from him and put it on.
“Will you be able to walk home?”
“I think I can, I’m strong.” She said.
“Let’s go then.”
“Are you leaving too?” She asked.
“Of course, it’s getting late, do you think I want to stay here and chat with the Gendruwo[ii] that lives in the bamboo forest?”
“Okay, go ahead then. I have to walk slowly, although my cramps have gone, but my thigh and buttock are still hurting.”
Koewanto looked at the body part she just mentioned, “Tsk, you should really watch your tongue!” He said. “I’ll help you. Hold on to my shoulder.”
“Thank you, this is the third time you helped me.” Yuni smiled.
“That’s because I’m a very good person, I don’t hold a grudge against you even though you hit my head with a bamboo pole and called me skinny and weak.”
Yuni laughed, “I’ve already apologized.”
“You have.” He smiled.
They walked together passing the rice field, “That part of the river is actually on my father’s land.” She said. That’s where he gets the water to irrigate our rice field.”
“My late father left behind a large patch of land, but I’ve never had the chance to dedicate myself to it.” He said.
“But that’s understandable, since you work as a dancer.”
“Look, over there! There’s my house.” She pointed to the distance.
Koeswanto looked at the bamboo house with a metal roof. She comes from a very humble family. He thought.
They walked to the door of the house. There was the sound of people talking coming from the inside. Koeswanto helped Yuni to the door, “I think it would be more appropriate for me to talk to your mother and father instead of just leaving you here.” He said. “I don’t want any misunderstandings to happen.”
“Why would there be a misunderstanding?” She asked. “But if you want to talk to my parents, then go ahead.”
“Pak, Buk….” She called out.
“Ah, here she is.” She heard her father say from inside the house. “Yun, come in, there is some good news for you.”
Yuni looked at Koeswanto, he nodded. They entered the house together. In the living room was his father, his mother and Pak Dahlan. Pak Dahlan suddenly became upset looking at her and Koeswanto together. “Pak Bakrie, I always knew that your daughter was mischievous and boyish. But I never imagine that you would allow your daughter to be the kind of loose and shameless young woman who would commit an indecent act with a man.” He said. He picked up the box on the coffee table, “I cancel my request to marry her. I don’t accept leftovers.” He walked out the door.
Pak Bakrie sat in his chair spellbound, he came back to his senses and ran after Pak Dahlan, “Pak Dahlan, please don’t jump to conclusions, let’s talk about this.” He said.
Pak Dahlan walked away and didn’t look back.
“What is going on?” He yelled at his daughter after Pak Dahlan had left while reaching for the broom, “Why are you half naked walking with this person?”
“Pak, calm down, don’t be upset until you listen to what our daughter has to say.” Bu Nining said holding her husband’s arm.
“This girl is going to cause my death one day.” He yelled while lifting the broom to hit her.
“Pak…..” Yuni screamed, dropping herself to the floor covering her head.
Koeswanto moved forward in front of Yuni, “Pease, wait, it’s not what you think.” He said.
“Who are you?” Pak Bakrie yelled at him.
“My name is Koeswanto, I’m a dancer with the Paguyuban, I accidently stumbled on your daughter at the river. She was drowning so I helped her out of the water.”
“Why was she at the river?” Pak Bakrie was still upset.
“Pak, it was me, I told her to go there. I took her there myself.” His wife said, to soak herself to help cure the wounds on her legs.
Pak Bakrie threw the broom on the floor and sat on his chair. His face was pale. “Why are you so unlucky, Yun?” He asked with emotional pain, “Right at the moment when we were receiving a marriage offer from Pak Dahlan, the richest man in the village, you have to come in the house, soaking wet with a man who isn’t even clothed properly.”
“Pak!” Yuni shouted, “I can’t believe that you even considered accepting his offer. Pak Dahlan is only a few years younger than you!”
“If nobody wanted to marry you before, much less now, I’m sure Pak Dahlan will be more than happy to tell everybody about your behavior.” He said sadly.
“Pak, I didn’t do anything wrong.” Yuni wept.
“What does it matter now?” Pak Bakrie whispered softly
[i] Priyayi was the Dutch era class of the nobles of the Robe, as opposed to royal nobility.
[ii] Gendruwo is an evil spirit in Javanese lore that looks like a hairy ape, akin to Bigfoot.