Tari Karonsih depicting the love story of Panji Asmara Bangun and Candra Kirana
She stood on the tip of the toes on the short stool to put the big pot on top of the cupboard. The neighbor had just returned it after borrowing for several month. She jumped and pushed the pot, but something was blocking its way. The pot began slipping from her hand, she quickly extended her other hand which was holding the cupboard to help her balance, but the weight of the pot overcame her and was heading straight for her head, she moved her body back to deflect it, losing her balance. She closed her eyes knowing that it was inevitable, she was going to fall to the floor.
Something was supporting her, preventing her from falling, she opened her eyes, Koeswanto’s cheek was just a few centimeters away from her face. She was leaning against his chest and his hands were holding her upper arms. She could feel his warm breath on her face, causing her to be awestricken. She hurriedly pushed herself forward taking hold of the corner of the closet to support her weight.
“Be careful!” He uttered putting his hand gently on her back.
Yuni’s heart began palpating, she had never experienced this sensation before. Even before back in her village, when he saved her a few times, and they were in close proximity with each other, she didn’t have these burst of emotions.
“Yes, nDoro.” Her voice shaken.
“Why don’t you come down from that stool? I’ll help you put that pot up there.” His voice was smooth and deep as always.
Not knowing what else to do, she quickly got off, moving towards the side of the cupboard, not daring to look up, afraid that he might see her reddened face.
“There’s something here.” He said. He put the pot down on the floor and reached for whatever was on top of the cupboard. He grabbed hold of the plastic and pulled it down. “It’s just a bunch of plastic, I don’t know who would put it here, it’s better if you throw it away.”
“Yes, nDoro.” She replied not finding anything else to say.
Koeswanto smiled, “Why are you blushing?” He asked while moving a strand of her hair from her forehead with his index finger.
She took a step back, “Excuse me.” She whispered before running out of the dining room.
“Yuni, nDuk, I’ll be in Semarang for one or two months. I want take you with me, but Koes said that he doesn’t have enough money to pay for three train tickets, so only Nuri and me will go.”
“nDoro Putri, it’s such a pity, I would love to travel, I’ve never been anywhere out of the Regency.” Yuni pouted, “nDoro, do you think nDoro Koes would give me an advance on my salary so I can pay for my ticket?”
“I’ve already brought that up to him, but he didn’t agree.”
“If it’s travelling out of the regency you want, I might have something interesting for you.” Koeswanto said while sitting on one of the chairs.
“nDoro?” Yuni turned to look at him.
“The pagguyuban has been contracted to perform in Kediri for a factory celebration, we will be playing Smaradahana[i]. Pak Atmojo said that we will be needing some people to be the ushers and usherettes for the guests. I volunteered you as an usherette, so you can travel with me……I mean us, the group.” Koeswanto explained.
“Yuni, you should thank Koes for this great opportunity.” Bu Karto said.
“nDoro Koes, thank you very much.” Yuni smiled.
“I prefer to take you to Kediri with me rather than have you go to Semarang or leave you here with Saleh.” He mumbled.
“nDoro?” Yuni couldn’t hear him.
“I said, make sure that you give clear instructions on how to take care of the field to Pak Amin and Saleh.” He articulated.
“I will, nDoro.”
The sweet smell of sugar filled the air around the sugar factory. Yuni was amazed to see the trollies carrying sugar cane from one end of the huge complex to another. Since Koeswanto had to help with building the stage and changing rooms in the football field of the factory, he had insisted that she tagged along with him, since she had never travel before he was reluctant to let her come on her own.
“Pass me that piece of bamboo that’s near your feet.” He said seeing her squatting a few meters away pouting. “Why are you wearing that face?”
She picked it up and handed it to him, “I’m bored. Why can’t I help cut the bamboo poles over there?”
“Why? Don’t you like to be near me?” He glanced at her through the corner of his eye.
“But nDoro, how can I sit here doing nothing while you have to work so hard?” She argued.
“Because this is my job, this is what they pay me for.”
“But you pay me every month to work for you, and I’m not doing anything right now.”
“Then let’s consider that I’m paying you to stay close to me, and pass me the tools and materials I need. Besides, we’re almost finished here, you can come with me to look around and find something to eat. Would you like that?”
She lit up, “Of course I would.”
He touched her nose, “Then stop pouting and smile, that way I’ll feel as if you’re cheering on me.”
Yuni was surprise at his action, without realizing it her heart began to flurry.
“By the way, they designated two halls for the sleeping area, one for the men and one for the women, but none of the female members of the pagguyuban are here yet. They would be arriving tomorrow morning, I spoke to the Administrator’s wife, and she said that she has a spare room that you can us.”
“I don’t want to be a bother. I can stay in the corner of the hall used by the men, I don’t have any problem with that.” She replied.
“But I do.” He replied solemnly.
“I’ll stay there, if it makes you feel at ease.”
“The usherettes go to the women’s hall.” Pak Atmojo called out, “You have to change into the kebaya that’s provided and Linda and the girls will put on your makeup.”
Yuni followed the group as directed, there were five girl in total. In her opinion all the other girls were very pretty, she was the odd one out. She walked behind them timidly.
Linda turned out differently than she expected. Linda was a stage name, his real name was Tanto. “You! Put on this red kebaya[ii]!” He ordered seeing her hesitation he asked, “You do know how to put on a kebaya, do you?”
Yuni shook her head. Linda took a deep breath, “Take off your clothes over there, and put the jarit[iii]around your waist, like this then use this small ribbon to secure the jarit by tying it around your waist. Once you’ve finished, come back here, so I can help you tie the long belt.”
Yuni nodded and obeyed him. Linda secured the long belt around her waist tightly, she felt as if she was going to suffocate to death, but she smiled anyway.
“Emm…look at you, it turns out that you have a nice body. Your butt is round and you have good size breasts,” Linda said, he pouted while turning sideways looking at himself in the mirror, “Linda wishes she could have a body like that.”
Yuni smiled nervously not knowing how to respond.
“Sit over there, let’s fix your hair and paint your face.” He pushed her to a chair. He continued to style her hair, ending it with the clip on bun. He then shifted his attention to her face. “My goodness, your skin is tough and thick like leather. Don’t you ever take care of yourself?”
She shook her head, “It’s not like I’ll become beautiful by doing that.”
“Why do think that way? Listen, there are three types of women. First, women who were born beautiful; second, women who weren’t born beautiful but work hard to be beautiful; and third, women like you who are the basket case.”
He lathered her face with cream and began to rub it in circles harshly with his knuckles. “Huh, luckily Linda has magic fingers, Linda is even able to make your stiff skin feel soft.”
He applied the make up on her face, smiling as he finished his work, “Linda is a genius.” He praised himself. “Follow the other girls outside, Pak Atmojo will give you a briefing.”
Again Yuni didn’t say anything and just did what she was told to do, she took little steps because her long skirt was limiting her movements.
Pak Atmojo looked at them in satisfaction, “Very good, all of you are very beautiful.” He pointed at two girls, “You blue kebaya and green kebaya, the two of you can go to the entrance to receive all the guests. Yellow and beige will receive the VIPs at the front row. And red, you will be the one to escort the mayor, and all the other officials who will be giving speeches to the stage and back to their chairs.”
“Whose relative is she?” Budi asked while peeking at the stage as the mayor stepped down after giving his speech, he was followed by the usherrete, a cute buxom woman in a red kebaya. “Who can introduce her to me?” He asked while looking at his friends.
“I don’t remember seeing her around here earlier.” Joko said while looking over his friend’s shoulder.
Koeswanto frowned in annoyance, according to him, these men have a chronic womanizing problem. They can’t ever see an attractive woman without getting all worked out. He sneered. He looked to the far end of the field to the entrance gate, but he couldn’t catch a glimpse of Yuni. She wasn’t at the VIP seats either. “She’s probably trying to hide herself.” He thought, criticizing her lack of self-confidence.
He accidently looked at the stage, accidently dropping the bow in his hand as his sight became transfixed on her. “Yuni…” He whispered.
“Look, even Koes, can’t take his eyes of her.” Budi mocked.
“Who?” Sitawati became interested hearing his name mentioned.
“Never mind, let’s concentrate or we might forget our dialogues.” Koeswanto said, while throwing another glance at the stage.
The benefit of her duty was that she got to sit at the front seat row, even though it’s just at the very end. “It’s better than sitting on a tree.” She thought.
“Mbak, the mayor would like to know if you are busy after the event, he would like to invite you to a meal.” A young man walked up to her and said softly near her ear.
Yuni was naïve, but she wasn’t too naïve to realize that when an older man with a high position like the mayor invites a young woman for a meal, there is something behind that invitation. She put on a sweet smile, and in her most amicable voice she bluffed, “My husband is dancing on the stage, we have to go home after the show to take care of our baby.”
“I understand.” The young man replied, going back to his seat behind the mayor. Yuni could see from the corner of her eye, the young man whispering something to the mayor’s ear. The mayor nodded without taking his eyes off the stage.
From the stage, Koeswanto quietly observed what was going on. When he came up with the thought of bringing her to work here, he never dreamed that this would happen. Women who are in their line of work, would often get indecent proposals from patrons, he just never thought that someone would do that to her, much less the mayor of the city. It was as if he had shot an arrow through his own foot.
Yuni watched the performance gleefully. He was undoubtedly a good dancer, funny how she never realized how handsome he was. An uncomfortable feeling of dislike began to fill her mind as she saw him perform the Karonsih[iv] dance with Sitawati. “They look good together.” She thought sadly.
“Were you able to sleep well last night?” He asked while sitting beside her as she started eating her plantain leaf wrapped breakfast while sitting on the stairs in front of the hall.
She nodded, not wanting to answer with a full mouth.
“Let’s go to town, Budi agreed to do my share of the manual labor, so I’m free today.”
She looked up at him, her eyes shined brightly as she was chewing the rice.
Koeswanto looked at her and smiled, he extended his hand wiping the corner of her lips that had sauce on it with his thumb, before bringing it to his mouth sucking the sauce off.
She turned her head away in embarrassment, he supported his head with his fist, resting his elbow on his knee, looking straight at her. “Don’t forget to pack all your things, we’re not coming back here.”
She swallowed her food, “Are we going straight home afterwards?” She asked.
“We’ll see.” He said. “I’ll come back for you later.”
“Let’s go home together.” Sitawati said while approaching Koeswanto.
“I can’t.” He replied. “I promised my mother that I would take Yuni to her parents’ house while she is in Semarang.”
“Then I’ll go with you.” She smiled.
“Sita, I don’t think that would be appropriate.” He replied. “You should go home with the rest of the group.” He put the sling of his bag over his shoulder and walked out.
Yuni was already waiting for him when he arrived in front of the hall. They walked together out of the factory, heading towards the main road. They waited for a few minutes until a bus in route to town appeared, waving to stop it. He waited for her to climb on the bus, supporting her back to make sure she doesn’t fall off.
“It only takes a few minutes to reach the town.” He said after paying the fee and sitting next to her.
“Don’t call me that!” He said.
“What should I call you?”
“Mas Koes, of course.” He uttered, taking her hand into his and clasping it with affection.
[i] Smaradahana (Burning Love) is an old Javanese poem written by Mpu Dharmaja as a eulogy for King Kameswara of Kediri in early 12th century East Java. The story tells about the disappearance of Kamajaya (god of love) and Kamaratih (goddess of love) from heaven after being burnt by the fire that burst out of Siwa’s third eye. They fell to earth and incarnated into Panji Asmara Bangun and Candra Kirana.
[ii] Kebaya is a traditional blouse-dress combination that originates from Indonesia and is worn by women in Indonesia, Malaysia, Brunei, Burma, Singapore, southern Thailand, Cambodia and the southern part of the Philippines
[iii] Jarit Javanese long batik sarong used as skirt with kebaya
[iv] Beksan Karonsih is a dance depicting the courting of Panji Asmara Bangun and Candra Kirana, it’s supposed to be “romantic” that it’s usually performed during wedding receptions.