By Laora Arkeman
The bus is overcrowded. The scorching sun makes the sour smell of passengers' perspiration more repulsive. From under one's arm one can see another dour face. Their faces appear to reflect suppressed anger, for whatever reason.
I am sandwiched between a man's armpit which smells foul and a fat man whose clothes are soaked through with sweat. I feel as if I am going to throw up, wondering if either of them has ever taken a bath or whether they realize they have such bad body odor. When the fat man's arm brushes against my soft skin, I again feel like vomiting, wondering how this fat man had managed to get into the overcrowded bus.
It is not the first time I have cursed myself for being poor!
Imagining myself being sandwiched between people on the bus already made me feel ill, but actually being sandwiched is really disgusting. I thought to myself I'd rather sleep with a thousand men instead of experiencing this. But what can I do? My income has drastically decreased. I used to have three or four clients a night, but now I'm lucky enough to have even one man a night. I don't know why I am losing clients, perhaps because there are too many sex workers like me hanging around or because those men are getting stingier with their money or they have opted to get married to live economically, thus pushing me into poverty. I can hardly afford to pay the bus fares to travel around to get clients, much less travel by taxi.
What really made me angry was Oom Setyo's comment last night. He said he had to save more money as he spent more on gasoline! Damn! Did he think that my services gave less satisfaction than the gas for his old sedan? Damn old sugar daddy! How dare he compare me to gasoline!
I curse silently and frantically try to gasp for fresh air.
It's 3 p.m. I glance at the wrist-watch of the foul-smelling man beside me. I am planning to visit a relative in Depok before nightfall and return to work. He's the only relative I have in Jakarta -- a city that has enabled me to feed my family in a village bordering Central and West Java. But the sweltering hot weather made the trip between Bekasi and Kampung Rambutan more uncomfortable.
Thinking of all the bad things in my life makes me feel miserable. I force my way through the crowd standing in the narrow aisle between the seats to get away from the terrible smell.
I am lucky. An old man sitting gently stroking his swollen leg looks up at me. "Please sit down here, Dik," he says, rising from his seat.
"Is that OK, Bapak?"
The man with the dark skin and yellowish hair nods and offers a weird smile, saying "It's OK."
I sit down, feeling relieved, murmuring "Ah, finally.."
Accompanied by Toto, my teenage brother, I head for Pasar Rebo hospital to see my husband. It is a really hot Sunday but my love for my husband who has given me three beautiful children encourages me to endure the trip in this overcrowded bus. Luckily I got on the bus at Bekasi bus terminal and got a seat by the window. Otherwise the mangoes I had picked from the back yard would certainly burden me during the trip. Toto is standing in the aisle to let an old crippled man sit down.
My husband has almost recovered and will come home within two to three days. My three children really miss their father. I only took them once to visit him during his week-long stay at the hospital.
I let the wind blow strongly through the window rather than be tortured by the scorching sun. Just three more days and everything will return to normal. My husband will soon manage our fabric shop and my kids won't have to stay with their grandma anymore.
"Are you alone, Dik?" asked the old man sitting next to me.
"No, I'm with my little brother," I said smiling.
"Which one?" His yellow-colored teeth make me sick.
"The one standing there," I answer, pointing to Toto. I turn my face away to the window.
A weird man. When was the last time he brushed his teeth? I think to myself.
"Where are you going Dik?"
Feeling repulsed, I answer without looking at him, "to see my husband."
"O, you're married?" He grinned, then chuckled. "I've got a wife too, she's very pretty." He took a picture from his pocket and showed me. "Look! Isn't she lovely?"
I keep quiet lost in my own thoughts. The old, dirty man gets up from his seat, saying, "come, please sit here, Dik!"
I glance at his legs as he limps away. His leg is badly swollen like an elephant's and full of scabs. It makes me feel really queasy.
I open the window wider to enable fresh air to get in. I am relieved because the disgusting sight is no longer there.
The woman who was sitting beside the old man shifted toward me, giving room for a good-looking scantily dressed young woman.
Today I am working the second shift. Hopefully I won't be late as it is already 3:30 p.m. My fake Swiss watch keeps me worried. Being late would mean less transport allowance.
I have worked as a salesgirl at a cosmetics counter in a plaza in Cijantung for the last three years. I don't have a lot of money but it's enough to survive.
As a widow with two small children and only a high school diploma, I don't have many options. I had never worked before my divorce therefore I had no other choice but to look for a job and try my best to raise my kids.
However, I must thank God for all this. I wouldn't of got the job without the help of Pak Bambang, my former husband's uncle who happened to be the manager.
I glanced at my watch again. Oh! Why the hell did Kania, my darling daughter, make so much fuss before I left home. She has had fever for two days so I had to take her to my elder sister who lived nearby. My kids spent most of their days at their aunt's house.
My agitation made the trip seem so slow. Worse still I have to change buses again. Uh!
I heard a rather heavy voice at my side. I turned around. An old man with dark, grimy skin and yellowish hair and a swollen leg tried to make a conversation with a woman sitting by the window.
"No, with my little sister." I heard the woman answer.
Kania. She's only four and Edwin is only five. They both understand that I'm a single parent. They have barely asked about their father.
"I've got a wife too, very pretty."
My daydream was suddenly interrupted. The old man took out a photograph. "Look, isn't she beautiful?"
I glanced at the picture. The old man's wife was indeed pretty, if that really was his wife. A woman with shoulder length curly dark hair in a pink dress. Grinning and revealing his dirty teeth, he stroked the picture of the woman.
Disgusted, I turn my face away from him. To refresh my mind, I try to imagine how cute Kania was. When people say her face looks like mine I am filled with pride.
"Please sit here, Dik!"
What an annoying old man! Again he had disturbed my daydreaming. He rose to offer his seat to a young lady in a tight red dress.
Deep in my heart I feel happy as the talkative old man is no longer there. I shift to make room for the lady and at the same time to stay away from the man. Now I can think about my cute kids but ... Oh! I'm late!
The trip is really enjoyable, perhaps because I have not been on a bus for quite some time. It is hot but it's better than rainy weather. The bright day makes me more energetic. I am unable to hide my joy.
Next to me, by the window sits a sad-looking woman who seems to be enjoying the breeze. She is traveling with her brother. On her lap is some fruit which she probably intends to give someone special, perhaps her husband.
She seemed scared to see me smiling. Perhaps I look frightening, but she would be happy if she saw my wife. My beautiful wife!
To all passengers of this bus, to all the world, look, it's my beautiful wife. She died years ago. She never saw my smile. My miserable wife.
I stroked the picture of my wife, then I stroked my swollen legs with which I often used to kick my beautiful wife. I did it again and again until she died and I felt satisfied.
Years of imprisonment made me suffer but at the same time gave me happiness because my wife had already gone. Now she is free just like me. Free and happy.
At times I feel remorse, and every time I feel sorry I feel like crying. I remember my beautiful wife, the one who never enjoyed happiness from me.
That's why I gave my seat to the young, fair skinned woman and the sullen-looking woman standing in the aisle. I no longer want to see any sad women. Not just the one trying to console herself with her face toward the breeze nor the one who keeps looking at her watch frequently or even the one grumbling because she can't get a seat in the bus.
I am now happy. I was set released from jail three days ago. My wife, now I'm free! And from now on I'll tell everyone I meet that you are very beautiful.
You are indeed very beautiful!
Translated by Faldy Rasyidie
Oom : uncle Dik : younger sister/brother Bapak : father/Mr.