After That First Night
By Wildan Em Asrori
Night fell. Blue light escaped through the scarf thrown over the small lamp in the corner of the room, giving the space a gloomy look. The moonlight trapped by the grating covering the window gave the night a tinge of dismay, which was also shared by the woman inside.
She rolled over to the left and right, seemingly trying to throw off her burdens. For the umpteenth night she couldn't fall asleep. Her mother's words haunted her. "You'll be married next week." The words startled her. This time the command came like thunder in the dry season, striking the face of the earth. It was not an appeal or an offer. It was a final judgment. Getting married?
The woman took slow, rhythmic breaths, hoping to ease her mind. Her eyes remained wide open, staring at the ceiling of the room. Fragments of her past began playing themselves out. Experiences she thought she had forgotten flashed before her eyes. They looked real, like a movie on the screen.
She shuddered, boiling with indignation. "No ..." she mumbled, shaking her head. She hid her face in a pillow. The murky event from her past that she feared most appeared, mocking her.
She began to sob. She no longer felt capable of playing her role. God treated her unjustly, she believed, wondering why this torture only befell her. She had borne her sorrow alone for years. If this punishment had been imposed for some previous sin, why did she have to suffer all by herself? Wasn't there anyone else sharing the blame for the agonizing sin, and wasn't God able to intervene? These questions flooded into her brain but she could answer none of them. Or were no answers needed? All was left to vanish with the passing of time.
Later that night, members of the neighborhood watch struck a pole to mark the time. The woman in the dim room straightened the blankets. While she wondered if she should confess her fears to her mother, memories of her days as a student suddenly came back to her. She smiled at the memories, revealing wrinkles of sadness at the corners of her thin lips.
As she closed her eyes slowly, she exhaled. In her imagination she relished her memories of Gun, her ex-boyfriend. Like the boats of fishermen drifting on the high waves, her reminiscences bobbed up and down. Was this the kind of life she was meant to lead. Did she have to accept this destiny?
She and Gun had been dating for three years. They spent beautiful days together, sharing joys and sorrows. One day in the middle of that third year together, she lost her virginity to him. They had frequently discussed marriage, and she was sure that one day she would be his wife. In the name of their love and their future together, they slept together in sinful bliss. It did not matter to her when they chose to have sex for the first time, because she was convinced she would become his wife. However, while man proposes, God disposes. At the end of their third year, Gun was killed in an accident. His body could barely be identified.
She lost all interest in school, and she did not dare to approach men. She felt the guilt of being unchaste, indecent and depraved. Grief, regret, despair and a fear of the future were the burdens she had been carrying with her for nearly one and a half years now.
The woman threw off the blanket. She sat at the edge of her bed, facing the window. Her left hand rubbed her tear-filled eyes. She took deep breaths, worrying about her first night with her husband. All because of her first night with Gun. Did she need to tell this to her mother? Impossible. She could not afford to confess, just as she was powerless to defy her mother's order.
Still wearing her bridal gown, she lay on the bed with her face buried beneath a pillow. The woman was weeping, her mind wandering through the world of images. The day had been one long exhausting procession. She kept a smile on her face through it all, but inside her heart was torn apart.
She remained lost in her thoughts until she realized that it was already dark outside. She saw a gentleman, now her husband, sitting in front of the dressing table beside the bed. The man turned his head, smiled and stepped toward her before lying beside her on the bed. The woman bit her lower lip. Her heart began to beat faster. Trembling and frightened, she felt she was going to be humiliated. She thought it was her last opportunity to tell the truth. It would be better for him to hear it from her rather than discovering for himself, she thought. But she simply stood up and walked to the bathroom.
She stood in the bathroom and looked at herself in the mirror. She was determined to tell her husband everything. She prepared herself to be called horrible names and be branded a promiscuous woman. She could not hide from her past folly, but she was convinced that she had not been alone in the act. Gun and God had played a part too, she argued.
The woman sat down on the edge of the bed. She gazed at the man, now sound asleep and savoring his dreams. She wavered in the dark night, which was without the light of the moon or stars. The rustling trees and her husband's gentle breathing further weakened her. She could not wake him and speak the truth.
Then she could stand no more. Her eyes became wet and her lips quivered. Oh Lord, she whispered, it's too hard to bear. The woman was caught between courage and apprehension, which were like branches swaying in the wind. She felt the need to be bold and reveal the truth. But the fight to be honest is a battle in a person's conscience, and that night she lost the battle.
It was the 10th night that the woman and the man had been husband and wife. And every night she was gripped by a great apprehension. There was scarcely a line between courage and fear, almost no distance at all. She lost her personal battle every night, saying nothing. But tonight she was determined, for the longer she delayed the greater her torture. She decided to make tonight a breathtaking and dreadful one, because she was sure life would be peaceful hereafter.
The rain falling on the roof and the trees outside the window filled the night with sound. The woman pulled up the blanket to her chest and rolled over toward her husband. The man was absorbed in his book, undisturbed by the restless woman next to him.
He's strange, she thought. He hasn't even tried to create a romantic mood or caress his wife, let alone make love. Maybe he knew by looking at her that she was no longer a virgin, she speculated. But why didn't he touch her? For nine evenings he just said, "Go to sleep, you must be tired" or "Good night, have a nice dream." Nothing more, not even a kiss on the cheek.
Maybe he did not love her? But why was he so happy at the wedding party? Had he been only pretending? But why? These questions overwhelmed her, putting her at a loss for words. She was greatly discouraged.
The man put down his book and said, "Go to sleep, you must be tired." The woman shook her head and sat up. She met his gaze, but remained speechless. Her throat was dry, and sweat poured off her. The man smiled and said, "It's OK, you don't have to say anything because I know what you're going to tell me." The woman paled, but she listened.
"You must be wondering why I've never touched you." The man inhaled deeply, then recounted how his parents had forced him to marry against his will. "But it's not you," he explained, rising up to face her. There was a moment of silence. In tears, he said, "I've never been able to love a woman."