The Jakarta Post
Love drove us wild. It happened fast from the first day we met. (JP/Budhi Button)
I was born with a kris — a Javanese traditional dagger — inside my body. It was a naked kris with nine curves.
It was my father who saw the dagger for the first time. Three days before I was born, on a dry and silent afternoon in a town hospital, my mother was lying in bed. My father, who didn’t sleep all night long, was sitting by her side, feeling drowsy.
In the beginning, there was smoke. It slowly thickened and made the room look foggy, blurring everyone’s view. My mother thought my father had been smoking his usual kretek cigarettes inside the room; but he hadn’t touched his cigarette. The smoke grew thicker. My mother screamed out in fear and asked my father to close the door. My father rose from his seat and walked toward the door, but then he stopped. His face looked pale.
It was the strangest scene. Inside the small room, covered in smoke, my father saw an old man surrounded by bare-chested men in ancient costumes not unlike the ones worn by soldiers in an ancient Javanese kingdom. One of them brought a tray on which lay a naked kris.
My mother was startled. She screamed when the old man lowered the tray onto the bed, right between her thighs. He was wearing a white turban on his head. The naked kris vanished before my mother had time to stop screaming, it was as if her womb had sucked the dagger into her body. Afterward, the smoke disappeared.
Three days later, I was born.
One rainy evening, as the last adzan — call to prayer — was broadcast from the mosque, I came out of my mother’s womb. The sky was dark and starless. My father recited the adzan in a whisper into my right ear; then he recited the iqamat — prayer command — into my left ear. Both of my parents believe there was a kris inside my body. They also believe it was a sign.
My mother said I did not cry when I was brought into this world. I only screamed once; and then I was silent — my eyes wide open as if hungry for the light. My parents cut my placenta and stored it in a small terracotta jar before burying it in the backyard of our house.
On the seventh day, my father held a traditional naming ceremony for me. My mother said that on that night they gathered and recited a tune in the language of the Holy Book. My father carried me in his arms and showed me to everyone who came to the ceremony. They all stood in a circle. The men were standing in front of the women. My parents then cut my hair and weighed it with gold. As the night wore on, laughter and conversations filled the air — the guests ate lamb satay and hot curry.
Meanwhile, my paternal grandfather, who had white hair and always wore a black turban, touched my face and recited some verses from the Quran. They believed that by reciting the verses, it would help me grow into the sort of man who embodied everything Prophet Yusuf had been during his lifetime. Like him, I would be loved by all human beings — men would want to be my friends, women would adore me as they would their lovers.
My father named me Yusuf Martadilaga. Yusuf is a gift from my father. Martadilaga is our surname, which I had inherited from my great grandfather.
They call me Yusuf, but I am not a prophet. I am just an ordinary man with a kris inside my body.
I was born on a full moon. The sky was clear. Stars twinkled in the dark sky as if to welcome my arrival with laughter. My name is Wulan Ratri. It means “a moon in the night”.
My father is the only child of a noble Javanese family who married a Sundanese woman. He worked as a civil servant and everyone told me I got my looks from him. Over time, my mother grew jealous of me. I have a mole on my forehead, right between my eyes. Growing up, men would fall for me and find my smile seductive.
I married a major’s son in college. My husband is not handsome, but he has a beautiful body. His father is rich and powerful. He doesn’t need beauty, nor brains. Ever since he was born, his family have provided him with everything he could ever want.
I left school to marry my husband. The wedding was quite extravagant. Thousands of guests came from all over the country, bringing fancy gifts. We didn’t care too much for love. Then I was pregnant — and everyone said I looked even more beautiful with a baby inside me.
I gave birth to a little girl. She was spoiled by everyone who came into our lives. My husband was the head of a company that his father had given him; and this meant I was free to live my life as a trophy wife. I didn’t have to work. I only had to surrender my body every night to my husband. Was I happy? I didn’t care much for happiness.
My marriage bored me. The years went on without much to celebrate. I was wealthy, yet lonely. My husband was busy dealing with the company. So, I had to keep myself busy. This was how my husband and I grew apart — creating our own separate lives.
But I did not neglect my duties as the wife and daughter-in-law of well-respected men in their line of business. I had to make sure I appeared radiant and joyful every time I attended a business or family function. It was a steep price to be paid for all the luxury I received in return. Parties. Shopping. International travel. Money was never an issue.
Still, in the end, I was bored.
One day, someone introduced me to a young man. A journalist. He had long hair, but it didn’t feel out of place. He had beautiful eyes. He had a lovely smile. I’ve known a fair share of handsome men in my life, but this one was different. Something about him made me fall for him.
His name was Yusuf Martadilaga, but I call him Yos. He told me he bore a naked kris inside his body. Of course, it was a joke. I laughed at his words. Yet, when I was next to him, my heart fluttered. I was in love.
Love drove us wild. It happened fast from the first day we met. A mutual friend had introduced us; and from then on, we just couldn’t stop seeing each other. It began with a walk around the block; then we went to dinner together; saw a movie; kissed and finally we surrendered our bodies to each other.
I know women. I know how they can easily fall for me. Sometimes I woo them; other times they tempt me. Women have come and gone out of my life; but this time it is different.
I am in love.
Tonight is the 99th evening since our first meeting. Being with him makes me feel as though we are in paradise. Tonight is our third night here. My husband is traveling abroad. I don’t know where he went, and I don’t care. So, I took my lover to a beautiful beach, where we built our own secret paradise.
When we arrived here three days ago, a pair of rainbows appeared. Yos drove my husband’s car slowly. It rained a little when he leaned toward me and kissed me on the lips. It was his way of waking me up.
“Look at those rainbows,” he whispered into my ear.
It had been a long time since I last saw a rainbow — this time I saw two rainbows! It was the most magnificent thing.
“We’ve been greeted by angels,” I said to him.
We enjoyed our secret paradise for three consecutive days. We walked along the shore, rolled with the tide, built sand castles, swam in the sea — and we made love like there was no tomorrow.
Tonight he sleeps next to me. This is our third night. The past three days have been magical. We can’t let go of one another. Love has driven us wild.
Yos taught me new things about my own body that I had never thought about before; and he made me do things that I could never think of doing with my husband in bed. He unlocked many forbidden doors. He told me about Asmaragama — the ancient Javanese book on the art of making love. He made me scream in pleasure. He made me lose control of myself.
I no longer care about my selfish husband who treats me like a fragile object in his silly kingdom, a crystal ornament. And I nearly forgot about my lonely daughter, surrounded by highly paid babysitters and expensive toys. I’m in love.
Is love a sin?
It is our last night at the hotel by the beach. Tomorrow, we will return to our old life. I lie awake past midnight, while she is asleep next to me. In the dimly lit bedroom, I can see her naked body under the thin bedcover. A few strands of hair, still damp from sweat, fall across her forehead. There is a smile on her lips.
I step out of bed and walk toward the balcony. The beach is staring at me in the dark. I can smell the salt in the water. The night envelopes me. In the distance, there is a fisherman’s boat with its twinkling light. Rolling waves come rushing down to the shore, breaking apart.
Sometimes, the sea scares me. It reminds me of death. And death is a terrible thing.
What happens after we die?
Is there a heaven?
What is sin?
Is love a sin?
Is love blind?
Love sees everything. It does not mind.
The wind blows past me, carrying the salt of the ocean. My eyes are fixed onto the light coming from the fisherman’s boat. The beach is lonely and quiet. The night is dark and cold.
But love is here. And I don’t feel the cold.
Anton Kurnia is a writer, translator, editor and traveler. He writes short stories and essays. He is a co-founder of Baca Publishing House in Jakarta. He also works in the National Book Committee.
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