“Yuni, go inside and change into something decent,” Pak Bakrie said to his daughter.
“Yes, Pak,” She said
“Thank you for helping my daughter and taking her home, young man,” Pak Bakrie said to Koeswanto, “Bu, give him one of my shirts.”
“Bapak, excuse me, what may I call you?” Koeswanto asked after he had put on the shirt that Bu Nining gave him.
“You can call me Pak Bakrie.” The older man replied.
“I realize that maybe your daughter’s reputation has been tarnished because of me. If that happens, as a gentleman, I’m willing to take responsibility, I will ask my mother to come here and ask for your daughter’s hand.” Koeswanto said.
Pak Bakrie smiled, “Nak Koeswanto, how long have you known my daughter?” He asked.
“We’ve had several short encounters these pass three days, and today we had the chance to speak to each other more.”
Pak Bakrie nodded, “So after knowing my daughter for only a few days and just talking to her for a few hours, you are willing to marry her? Nak Koeswanto, I appreciate and I am very thankful to you for your chivalry. My daughter may not be beautiful, she may not be educated, and she may not have the most outstanding and proper manners, but she’s my only daughter. We might be poor, but we are not a charity case.”
“Pak Bakrie, please don’t misunderstand my intentions……”
“Thank you for your offer, Nak Koes.”
“Then, maybe I can offer another solution, my mother is old, and when I travel to perform with the Paguyuban, she is often alone at home. Your daughter can work for me to take care of my mother and clean the house.”
“I don’t think….”
“I want to do that….” Yuni answered appearing from inside the house. “I want to work, Pak.”
“Yuni! That’s impolite to intrude into other people’s conversation.”
“But you’re talking about me, I’m not a cat or dog which you can tie up or give away at your own decision.”
“You insolent child!” Pak Bakrie began to become upset again.
“Pak, be patient!” Bu Nining said to her husband, “Nak Koes, where do you live?”
“I live in Jember, Bu.”
“Pak, Jember is only a few hours away.”
“But we don’t know this person.”
“But Pak Lurah is the brother of the Paguyuban owner, so it’s not like Nak Koes is a complete stranger.”
Pak Bakrie took a deep breath, “Yuni, are you sure you want to work in Nak Koes’s house as his maid.”
“I’m sure, Pak.” Yuni said in high spirit, “I want to work in nDoro[i] Koes’s house.”
“Pak, just let her!” Bu Nining coaxed.
“Fine, I give you permission to work!”
“Thank you, Pak”, Yuni said while kissing her father’s hand.
“Pak, why didn’t you accept Nak Koes’s marriage offer to our daughter?” Bu Nining asked as soon as Koeswanto had left.
“nDoro Koes offered to marry me?” Yuni asked.
“He did.” Pak Bakrie nodded, “But do you think it was a sincere request? He was just doing it because he felt bad for our daughter, if I had accepted, he would probably regret after a few hours. Besides, I would never let my daughter marry a man like that, he looks useless, only selling his looks on stage. He’s probably also lazy and good for nothing, spending his time chasing women and fooling around.”
“Ah, Bapak, you shouldn’t judge people without getting to know them.” Bu Nining scolded
“This is my gut feeling.” He replied.
“Bapak is right, Buk.” Yuni cut in, “I also doubt his offer to marry me was sincere, and I may be ugly, but I do have dignity.”
Pak Bakrie looked at his daughter, “Yuni, we have to talk. Tomorrow you will be leaving to live in Nak Koes’s house. You should always hold high your parents’ name and honor. Don’t do anything that will embarrass us, always be honest, don’t try to take things that do not belong to you. You should comply with all your responsibilities, since you will be taking care of Nak Koes’s mother, you have to be patient, gentle and understanding. Don’t be impudent, rude or stubborn, remember that you’re the servant and they are the masters of the house. It’s your duty to obey them and show loyalty to them and their interests.”
“Yes, Pak.” Yuni replied.
“Looking at Nak Koes, he looks like a good man, I would never take him as a son in law, but as a person and as a human being, he looks decent and well mannered.”
“Yun, remember that you can always come home if you feel that your job becomes too heavy and your patrons unfair. You have Bapak and Ibu here for you.” Bu Nining added.
“Bapak, Ibu, I’m leaving first.” Yuni said while kissing her parents’ hands.
“Be careful, remember everything we told you last night.” Pak Bakrie said.
“Nak Koes, I’m trusting my daughter to you.”
“Yes, Pak Bakrie. Let’s go, we might miss the train.” Koeswanto said to Yuni.
She nodded without saying anything, just following behind him.
Yuni never rode a train in her life. In fact, she had never left her village before. She was enthusiastic and happy at this new adventure. Koeswanto deliberately chose to stay behind to not travel with the people in the Paguyuban. He didn’t want to have to answer questions about why he’s bringing on of the girls to the village with him. He didn’t want to them to start questioning his earnings to be able to afford a maid in his house.
“nDoro Koes, thank you for the opportunity you gave me to work as your servant.” Yuni said while bowing to him holding her bag to her chest to Koeswanto who was sitting across her.
“Stop calling me nDoro!” Koeswanto said, “It’s embarrassing.”
“Bu nDoro, what should I call you then?” She asked.
“You can call me anything, just not that.” He replied.
“No, my parents told me that I have to behave properly and show my obedience and loyalty to my patrons.”
Koeswanto sighed, “Have it your way.” He said.
“Eh nDoro, I want to thank you for telling my father that you were willing to marry me, yesterday. I’m happy because I know that my patron is a very good man and a real gentleman who is willing to sacrifice himself for others. nDoro, you’re my hero. He…he…he.” She laughed.
“Crazy girl!” Koeswanto said.
“nDoro, here, let me carry your bag for you.” She said while putting her hand on his bag.
“What would people think if they saw you carrying all the bags while I walk with my hands beside my body?” He said pulling his bag away.
“But why are you worried, you’re my patron, carrying your bag is my duty.”
“Just concentrate on your own things. If you’re careless, you might leave your bag behind or somebody might steal it.”
“Yes, nDoro.” She replied obediently.
“I never asked for a servant, I can take care of myself!” Bu Karto said while looking down at Yuni who was sitting on the floor in front of her, her head was bowed down looking at the floor. “Koes, why do you make decisions without my consent?”
“Bu, please don’t be angry, I brought Yuni here so you can rest and not have to be so busy with the house choirs.”
“If you want me to rest, all you need to do is marry Sita. Not bring this thing here!” She said condescendingly.
“Bu, Yuni is not a thing. She is a person like you and me.”
“Listen Koes. If you insist in keeping her here, that’s fine with me, but I don’t want to have anything to do with her. If you want to have a servant at home, that’s fine, but first marry Sita, and pay a servant to serve her. But don’t use it as an excuse to delay your relationship with her.” Bu Karto stood up and walked to her room.
“I’m sorry on behalf of my mother, please don’t be offended at what she said, she has nothing against you. It’s me who she’s angry at.” Koeswanto said.
“nDoro, life is never easy. I don’t mind about what she said. People have said worst things to me.” She paused, “nDoro, what should I do now?”
“Stay here for one minute, I’m going to speak to my mother.” He said standing from his chair and walking to his mother’s room.
“Ibu, I’m going to give her the spare room.” Koeswanto said.
“Didn’t I tell you that I don’t want her here? I won’t let her use the room! I need it for when my relatives come to visit me.” Bu Karto answered.
“Fine! Then I’m going to tell her to sleep with me in my room.” Koeswanto said while pretending to walk out.
“Are you crazy?” Bu Koeswanto screamed. “Fine! Tell her to use the spare room. This is my bad luck to have a son who doesn’t care about his mother.”
“Bu, if I didn’t care about you, I wouldn’t bring her here in the first place?”
“Wah, is this what a mattress feels like?” Yuni said to herself while sitting on the bed, “It’s so soft. So different from the wooden divan that she used to sleep in.”
She stood up from the bed and walked to the door, she knocked it gently observing it. She walked to the wall and began to push it. It was firm and solid not like the bamboo wall in her house. The floor even had tiles on it, it wasn’t made from compact dirt.
There was a knock at the door, she opened it, and Koeswanto came in. “Here, this is a bed sheet for your mattress, and you can use this spare pillow.” He said.
Yuni took the rectangular material in puzzlement, “What is this for?” She asked.
Koeswanto smiled, “Let me show you.” He said. He walked to the bed and began putting the sheet on the mattress, “See how I tidy it up? You would have to do this in all the rooms. Make sure that the sheets are perfectly tucked in and look smooth on the surface of the mattress.”
Koeswanto pulled the sheet off the mattress and handed to her, “you try it.” He said.
Yuni took the material and did exactly as how he showed her. Koeswanto nodded, “She’s a fast learner.” He thought.
“Come and follow me to the kitchen.” He told her.
She followed behind him, “I’m sure you know how to use this stove.” He said.
She nodded, “This is like the one we have at home.”
“Good! These are the pans over here, the plates, glasses and cups, go inside this cupboard. The well is over there, that’s where you have to wash the clothes and the plates. You have to fill the water in the water container in the bathroom every morning and afternoon so it would be easier for my mother to wash up. In the morning she likes to drink her coffee in the living room, and also in the afternoon. She likes to drink her coffee as kopi tubruk[ii]. My mother likes to cook so you only need to help her with the preparation and with washing the dishes. The field over there belongs to us, you can find plantain leaves and a few vegetables growing there.”
“Yes nDoro.” She said.
“Yuni, you have to be very patient and very dedicate to win my mother over.”
“I understand nDoro.” She nodded.
“Why don’t you prepare some rice? And then you can cook the meal for dinner. I think my stubborn mother won’t come out of her room tonight.”
Yuni nodded, Koeswanto showed her where to find the rice. She looked back at him with queries in her eyes.
“What is it now?” He asked
“This is real rice, I don’t know how to cook this. At home we only eat gaplek[iii] and sell all our harvest to Pak Dahlan.”
Koeswanto patiently explained to her how to wash it and cook the rice. Yuni nodded capturing the information. She did exactly as he told her. She observed the kitchen looking for other things to prepare. Koeswanto remained in the kitchen observing her work and showing her where to find the things she needed.
“In a couple of days after they pay my fee for the performance in your village, I’m thinking of buying a kerosene stove. That would make it faster for you to cook.”
“Wah, I didn’t think there was other types of stoves.” Yuni replied. “nDoro, would you like to drink tea or coffee?”
“Coffee.” He replied.
“nDoro, do you think it’s okay if I bring a plate of food for nDoro Putri[iv]?” She asked while giving him the cup of coffee.
“You can try.” He replied shortly.
Yuni put the plate filled with rice, vegetables and fried bean curd on a tray that she found in the kitchen then brought it to Bu Karto’s room. She held the tray in one arm while knocking the door, but no body answered, “nDoro Putri, I brought you your meal.” She said out loud.
“Go away, I’m not hungry!” The elder shouted from inside her room.
“nDoro Putri, if you don’t eat, you might get sick.” She said again.
“Give me the tray!” Koeswanto said while suddenly appearing behind her.
She handed him the tray and he entered his mother’s room without knocking on the door. “Bu, here’s your meal.” He said.
His mother turned around, her eyes were wet with tears, “Koes, why don’t you have any considerations for me?”
“Bu, if you eat all your food, I promise tomorrow I’ll bring Sita here to visit you, what do you say?” He persuaded her.
“Really?” she asked.
“Then pass me the plate, let’s see how this girl cooks, what’s her name again?”
“Yuni.” She said while bringing the spoon to her mouth, “Hm…delicious, Yuni is a good cook.”
Koeswanto smiled. “I’m glad you like her cooking.”
“I’m sure Sita is going to like her cooking too.” She smiled.
[i] nDoro short for Bendoro is honorifics equivalent to “Master” a household worker will refer to their employer in this style. It’s something that is not used anymore because is considered feudal.
[ii] Kopi Tubruk is an Indonesian-style coffee where coarse coffee grounds are boiled along with solid sugar, resulting in a thick drink similar to Turkish coffee.
[iii] Gaplek is the Javanese and Indonesian word for the sliced dried root of yucca to replace consumption of rice. Now Indonesia can provide most of the national demand for rice as the staple food, but several years ago this was not the case, other sources of carbohydrate was consumed.
[iv] nDoro Putri, female version of nDoro.