Sun, 05 Sep 1999

A Woman of All

By Satmoko Budi Santosa

Yen always tells friends and acquaintances that she is not married, a declaration which must leave Gaharu feeling uneasy. If she does not consider him a husband, should he regard her as his wife?

"I have just explained to Budi, one of my admirers, that I am still single," Yen said curtly. Gaharu was silent. He knew that Budi was one of the many people who adored Yen, drawn to her when she sang softly in the cafe where she worked. She always stirred listeners with her rendition of songs like Killing Me Softly. Gaharu knew it full well.

"Yesterday I told Poer while we were having coffee that I was with no one. Gaharu is only my close friend, I said. I never call him Mas or papa. Just his name."

Gaharu felt like he was struck by lightning. He knew that many words would have streamed from Yen's tiny mouth, telling tales about how she was single. Gaharu remembered they were married for only three years, but it could not be the short duration of their relationship which made her rebel.

Perhaps Yen remembered Gaharu's statement when they were dating that marriage was nothing but a need for status. What is important is understanding. Now, of course, Gaharu could not deny that he was down on his luck. He began to feel he really loved Yen when they entered the third year of their marriage. His love grew even though she would return at dawn from the cafe, the smell of alcohol still on her breath.

But Yen never was drunk, a source of relief to Gaharu. This also made Gaharu feel relieved. A journalist, he would find peace after he met his deadline even though he would have to leave Yen, still asleep, at 9 a.m. It was a daily ritual for them alone; they had yet to broach the weighty subject of having children.

Once, after they made love at dawn, Gaharu whispered a question, asking what Yen was thinking about for her life -- the word marriage was avoided. Yen quipped: "Life is complicated enough, let's make it cheerful. Be happy."

He agreed with what Yen said without trying to relate it to his past. But Gaharu worried that by marrying Yen he would have to accept everything about her. In his work, he knew that many celebrities had affairs. Was it such an important barrier? Gaharu understood that the feelings of a singer cannot be separated from the possibility of playing with feelings and love.

It was an awareness planted in Gaharu's mind and he concluded that the value of a singer has much to do with her honesty. Think about it. A singer must always present the best for other people. She must be honest. If she is not, her songs will sound false and her fans will leave her. Gaharu thought of Michelle Pfeiffer's character in The Fabulous Baker Boys and how she can accept the love of brothers who accompany her singing in cafes. Tsk. The thought of it made Gaharu yawn and sign. A deep sigh.

Gaharu passed the days as usual. He felt content with what he shared with Yen. He understood how to enjoy his happiness, and was willing to endure the questions playing on his mind. But his thoughts still flowed and he worked hard. And so did Yen. There were no financial problems or other difficulties because everything was agreed upon with compromise -- they agreed to go along with whatever the other one is doing.

Their lives were not as scandalous as what Gaharu wrote about at work. A celebrity couple recently divorced which, he mused, must have been due to an affair. "Love," Gaharu murmured. "is love. There is no bargaining. That there are a thousand questions behind love, let is be like that. Everything is a mystery. Don't know when it will be solved. Maybe only when we die."

His mother-in-law came to their house one day. With moist eyes (people knew him as a melancholic soul), Gaharu declared what he felt about Yen's attitude and himself. There remained love in their house. Yen's mother, like other people from Yogyakarta who are known for their reserve, was stunned into silence, but it was not a problem for him. Gaharu has caught the virus of rationality, that everything must be mulled, analyzed and understood.

After he saw Yen's mother off at the train station, Gaharu insisted that he would not change his mind. As Yen's mother waved out of the window as the train left for Yogyakarta, Gaharu held Yen softly. He kissed her forehead. Faithfully. And Yen returned his kisses in kind.

It went on for 24 hours. The marriage became monotonous. At 9 a.m. Gaharu leaves for work, returns home at dawn after making his deadline. He waits for Yen, who also returns home after dawn; they make love or chat for a while and then go to bed. The routine goes on. Gaharu knows that the treatment leads Yen to become sweeter. They struggle with their own thoughts, maybe with the rest of their goals in life -- Gaharu has no more ambition, except to live life as best as he can.

"I've just said that I am still a single ..."

Gaharu hears the sentence again, before or after they make love, but he will not turn away. Gaharu holds Yen, who is always close to tears.

Yogyakarta, 1999


Mas: the respected way one calls a man, in this case the way a wife calls her husband (in Javanese, literally means elder brother)

-- Translated by sim