“Let’s buy something for your parents,” He said when they were in front of a shop selling yellow tofu.
“My parents?” She looked at him inquisitively.
“Eh-he, don’t you want to visit them?”
“Of course I do, I haven’t seen them in so long. I miss them very much,” She confessed.
“Tomorrow, we’ll go to Desa Sumber Rejo.” He affirmed. “Let’s buy some typical food for them, then we can go and check out the city before going back to Jember.”
“Thank you, nDoro.” She cheered.
“nDoro?” His eyebrows arched.
“Mas Koes.” She could barely whisper without blushing.
“Let’s go inside. I have to make a good impression on your father, so we should be very generous. I don’t want him to think that I’m cheap and stingy. I want him to know that I’m putting in all my effort for him to accept me, I even cut my hair.” Koeswanto explained.
“What does cutting your hair have anything to do with getting my father’s approval? Where did you get that idea?” She looked at him, her brows knitted together.
“I…..you….”He took a deep breath and shook his head in exasperation.
“Why did you buy so much?” She protested as they walked out the shop, “Are we going to carry this all around town?”
“I’m not planning to carry it around town.” He replied while walking to the side of the road flagging down a cycle rickshaw. “How much to take us around the city?” He asked.
The Rickshaw driver gave him a price, which Koeswanto haggled to less than half. The driver finally accepted. Koeswanto turned to her and nodded, “Let’s go,” He said.
They cruised around the city enjoying the sights and sounds of people they pass by who are living their daily lives.
“I wonder how it feels to ride a motorcycle.” Yuni muttered. “In my village the only person who had one was Pak Dahlan.”
Koeswanto looked at her, “Are you regretting that you didn’t end up marrying him?”
“What are you talking about?” She replied, “If I was to regret not marrying him, it would be because of the mangoes I won’t be eating, and not for the motorcycle.” She put on a mischievous smile.
“When we get back to Jember I’m going to tell Pak Amin to fill the field with mango trees and nothing else.”[i] He scoffed.
She laughed, “You’re strange.” She commented.
“I have to take measures to prevent you from picking other people’s mangoes. You’re only allowed to pick my mangoes.”
She looked away hiding her smile.
The rickshaw driver took them to the bus terminal, Koeswanto gave him some extra pay for his service. During their ride, the rickshaw driver gave them a guided tour, explaining the trades, the history of the buildings they saw, and also the history of the city. Koeswanto saw him as a very knowledgeable man. Something that Koeswanto appreciated very much. For him it’s very important that people have a deep interest for a subject, just like Yuni’s interest for cultivation.
He bought two tickets for the both of them, urging her to go to the restroom before they leave on the long bus ride. He let her have the window seat so she could look at the view while they drive by.
“Why are you so pale?” He asked.
“My head is spinning and my stomach feels like it’s been turned upside down.” She complained.
“Motion sickness.” He said, handing her a plastic bag, “If you feel like you need to vomit, do it in here.”
She nodded leaning her head against the window.
“Come here, lay your head on my lap, I’ll massage your head.” He pulled her by the shoulder placing it her head on his lap. He reached into his bag taking out a small bottle of menthol, “Sniff this, it would help you get rid of the nausea.”
“I hate this.” She whined, “It’s so stuffy and smells like smoke.
“Close your eyes and try to sleep.” He coaxed. “Does your stomach still hurt?”
She nodded weakly.
He put his hand on her stomach rubbing it gently. “Close your eyes.”
He couldn’t help but quiver inside, produced by the sensation deriving from his hand. He sighed, looked at his watch, then outside the window to confirm where they were. He looked down at the girl on his lap. Her eyes were closed, but he knew for sure that she wasn’t sleeping, he was relieved that she was able to control herself and not throw up the content of the stomach. The bus turned into a road side restaurant, the driver shouted to the passengers that it was time to take a short break.
“We should go down so you can breathe some fresh air and splash some water on your face.” He said. “I think they sell motion sickness medicine at the restaurant.”
She nodded, slowly getting up with his help. They walked of the bus together, he waited in front of the door as she went to the rest room. He heard the door opening and she stepped out.
“Do you feel better?” He asked.
She nodded, “I do.”
He led her to a table, walking to the counter to buy a glass of tea and medicine. “Drink this, it will help calm your motion sickness.”
“Thank you. This is embarrassing, I ended up being a disturbance for you.”
“No you’re not. Come on, we should get back to the bus, before the driver leaves without us.” He said while helping her up.
The next phase of the ride was surprisingly easier for Yuni, the medicine actually did help her, although it made her a little drowsy. She helped herself to lean against his shoulder, dozing off.
Koeswanto looked out the window, they already reached Probolinggo, soon they will enter Lumajang and in no time, they’ll finally arrive at Jember.
She stirred, opening her eyes and sitting up straight, “Where are we?” She asked.
“Probolinggo. We’ll probably arrive in two hours,” He replied, “Are you feeling better now?”
“Eh-He, thank you for taking care of me.” She lifted both arm in the air stretching herself.
“Yuni, you should avoid doing things like that in public.” He looked at her.
“Why not?” She asked lightly.
“Just don’t do that.”
“Hey, this is Leces,” She said turning away from the window, “Isn’t this where the paper factory is?”
“Eh-he, the Leces Paper factory is the second oldest paper factor in our country, it was built during the Dutch occupation. The paper derives from rice straw.”
“Yes, I heard my father that Pak Lurah was advising the farmers to sell the rice plants byproducts to the factory, through the collectors. It doesn’t sell for much, but it’s definitely a better business than burning them just like that.”
“You’re right, besides, the smoke from the burning straw is unpleasant to the nose.”
“We’re finally here….” Yuni cheered as soon as they got off the bus at the terminal. The sky was already dark.
“Come on, let’s find a rickshaw to take us home. I don’t want to carry this plastic bag all the way to the house.”
“See, I told you that you bought too much.” She sighed. “I don’t think my parents can eat all of that, unless you plan to give it to somebody else.”
“Like who?” He slanted.
She shrugged, “Neighbors, friends, or family. Who knows?”
“Let’s go, I’m tired.”
They rode the rickshaw to the house, he paid the fare as she entered the bags to the front of the door. Koeswanto walked pass the yard reaching into his pocket, taking out the key. He opened the door, letting her in first.
“I want to wash up, then I’ll prepare something for you to eat.” She said.
“Don’t bother, I’m going to send Saleh to buy some sate at the end of the road for our dinner.” He replied.
“Ah, okay, I’ll go to his house and tell him that you’re looking for him.”
“No! You go and wash up, I’ll be back in a few minutes.” He said, walking out the door.
One of the things Yuni liked about living in this house compared to her parents’ house was the electricity, all she need to do was flip a switch and there was light. She opened her closet to take out her clothes, bringing it to the bathroom.
The water brought a fresh touch as it flowed against her hair and skin. She didn’t want to ho the bathroom for too long, after cleaning the soap from her body, she dried herself, put on her clothes and exited. To her surprise, Koeswanto was sitting near the bathroom smoking a cigarette.
“I’ll fill the water for you.” She said, heading to the well and taking out a bucket of water from her hand.
He stood up, “I’ll do it. If you want to do something for me, you could make me some coffee.”
“Sure…” She replied, handing him the bucket then heading to the kitchen. She was grateful that he complied with his promise to buy the kerosene stove, making it easier for her to cook. She took the stick she uses as an extension to light the wick.
She put the coffee on the dining table, after checking that he was in the bathroom. She went to her room to comb her hair, she observed her face in the mirror, remembering Linda’s word to her in Kediri. She touched her skin, it was rough and dry. She remembered the day Suitawati visited, she had a chance to observe how smooth her facial skin was and how it glowed in the sunlight. How could she ever dream to compete with Sitawati? She sat on her bed with dejection.
From the outside there was a knock on the door and the sound of someone calling, she took a deep breath and walked out of her room, heading to the living room.
“I’m coming.” She shouted.
It was Saleh with a small plastic bag, there was several bamboo stick coming out of it. “nDoro Koes asked me to buy these, sate[ii] and lontong[iii].” He said giving it to her. “This is the change.”
“How was the trip?” He asked while leaning on the door.
“It was interesting, I got to dress up in a kebaya, meet new people, see a new city, and….”Koeswanto flashed across her mind, making her flush red. “I had a good time.”
“Was mBak Sitawati there?” He asked hopefully.
Yuni nodded, “She was playing the role of Candra Kirana.”
“Was she beautiful as always?” He asked again.
“What do you think?” Yuni replied cryptically.
“I wish I could have been there, I would do anything to see her dressed in her dance costume. She is my angel from heaven, something out of my reach, but very much desired.” He frowned. “Probably the only time that I will ever get to see her in traditional make up is on her wedding day with nDoro Koes.”
“Are they planning to get married?” Yuni’s was taken aback.
“That’s what nDoro Putri Karto always says.”
“Hmmm…” She reflected on his words.
“What are the two of you talking about?” Koeswanto showed up from inside the house, only wrapped in a sarung around his waist, his hair still wet, with a towel around his neck.
Yuni hurriedly put on a cheerful face, “About Saleh’s yearnings.” She smiled.
Saleh looked at her menacingly.
Koeswanto frowned standing beside her, putting his arm around her lower back, “Stop thinking about stupid things, as men we should have a code of honor and not desire other people’s woman.”
“Yes, nDoro.” Saleh’s expression sunk, how could he ever compete with his patron over the beautiful Sitawati? He thought.
“Speaking about work, I want to talk to your father tomorrow about the field. I want to plant mangoes there.” He said.
“Are you still not over that subject?” Yuni teased handing the change to him.
“Never!” Koeswanto responded stretching his hand and putting a bill in Saleh’s hand. “Take this money, maybe you can use it to buy something nice for a girl.”
Saleh received the money, “Thank you nDoro.” He looked at Yuni, “I’ll see you tomorrow. You need to tell me everything about Kediri. I’ll pick some mangoes from my yard.”
“Keep your mangoes to yourself. Besides, she can’t meet with you tomorrow, we’re going to Desa Sumber Rejo. That’s why make sure that your father finds me early in the morning.”
“I will nDoro, excuse me.” He bowed then walked away.
“I’ll set the table.” She said while smiling. “Thank you for the generous dinner.”
“I’m full.” She grumbled.
“Of course. You ate like there was no tomorrow.” He tormented, he gestured to the space beside him, “Sit here.”
She complied sitting by his side. Letting him put his arm around her shoulder and pull her closer to him. “I hope you’re not sorry you didn’t get to go to Semarang.” He whispered.
“No, I’m not. I had fun.”
“Thank you for giving me the opportunity to travel and get to know another city.”
“I saw the mayor send his attendant to tell you something. What did he want?”
Yuni shrugged, “He wanted to invite me to a meal, of course I rejected. I told him that my husband was dancing on stage, and we have a baby at home.” She explained with a triumphant smile.
“I’m glad you had the sense to reject. And Saleh? Why was he acting so strange when I walked in on the two of you talking?”
Yuni laughed, imagining Saleh and Sitawati, “I think he’s afraid that you would find out that he had a crush on a certain someone close to you.”
“I’m not going to allow him to try to approach you.” He glared.
“Huh?” Yuni looked at him perplexed.
“We should go to sleep now, tomorrow we have to wake up early to go to your parents’ house.” He said while standing up he gave her his hand to help her get up from the chair.
“Good night.” She muttered softly.
“Good night.” He countered.
They walked to their respective rooms. Yuni closed the door behind her back. Smiling to herself. She walked to her bed, sitting on the side covering her face with both hands, it was all like a dream, thinking that it might all evaporate into thin air made her depressed.
There was a soft knock at her door. She stood up to open it, Koeswanto stood there, his eyed looking straight into hers. He pushed the door and stepped inside, pulling her into his arms, he moved his head closer, pressing his lips against hers.
Yuni was shocked, but her body didn’t want to reject him, she allowed his tongue to explore her mouth, meeting it with hers.
Koeswanto groaned, as he squeezed her against his chest. Kicking the door closed behind him, he slowly lead her to the bed.
[i] And that’s how they ended up owning a mango plantation in December Sunshine.
[ii] Sate or satay, mat on skewers
[iii] Lontong is Indonesia rice cake, rice boiled in plantain leaf, until it forms a soft mass.