Sun, 22 Oct 2000

Hidden Pain

By Ariani Kartika

It's already fifteen minutes past the appointed time, but Larasati hasn't shown up yet. She asked me for the meeting and I said OK. I let her name a time convenient for her. She said three o'clock in the afternoon and I agreed. How could she break her own word? I am really mad now because I skipped work for her. Who does she think she is? I look at my watch and make up my mind. I'll wait another 10 minutes, if she doesn't show up I'll leave. To hell with her!

Larasati and I went to high school together, but we were never that close. She called me this morning. I don't know how she got my phone number. When I was in high school, I always left blank the space for my telephone number on every form that I filled out, simply because we didn't have a phone.

She told me she needed to discuss something in private; something that she couldn't explain over the phone. I was curious; what kind of a matter would she want to discuss with me? Our last meeting was about ten years ago and we haven't seen each other since. And all of a sudden she wants to see me!

Now I'm busy guessing what she wants from me? I go over the numerous possibilities, but I always come back to the same thing. She will ask me to join the political party where Teddy, her husband, holds a high position. I guess this because, all modesty aside, I am quite well known as a women's rights activist.

I look at my watch; another five minutes. I hate to admit it, but one reason I wanted to meet her was to show her how well I'm doing. It's a stupid reason and honestly I am ashamed that I have such thoughts. But I can't deny that in one small corner of my heart I used to be a little jealous of her. It surprises me that this feeling, after having been forgotten for years, is back again.

When I first saw her, I knew that she was not in any way "ordinary". She was beautiful, the most beautiful girl at school! Soon I found out she belonged to the most affluent family in town, and her family's wealth showed in her appearance. All of the students had something in common -- our white and gray high school uniforms, but her expensive accessories made her stand apart from us. Frankly speaking, she had everything that every girl wants.

After we graduated from high school, we went to the same university. I studied law and she took psychology. In my second year, I heard that Larasati dropped out of school after a "Prince Charming" proposed to her. That was the last I heard of her.

How lucky she was. Born beautiful and rich, then marrying a handsome and even richer man. Who needs a university degree if someone's fate is to be rich? How could I not be jealous?

Compared to her "aristocratic life", I was just a commoner. My face was neither beautiful nor ugly, just plain. I had no reason to be proud of my parents, especially my father. Not because of his meager salary as a civil servant, but because of the way he treated my mother. For years I had been taught to keep it inside. It was a family matter, no one else's business. Years later, I realized that my silence was wrong; completely wrong.

My mind is wandering back to a few years earlier when I smell a woman's fragrance. My eyes catch sight of a slender woman standing in front of me. She is wearing big sunglasses which cover almost half of her small face. For a few seconds we look at each other closely and silently, until finally she asks: "Excuse me, are you Indah?"

"Yes, I am. And you?"

"I am Larasati. I called you this morning."

"Oooo, please take a seat."

She pulls a chair in front of me and sits down. It's an awkward situation. It seems we don't know how to start a conversation after all these years of separation. And worse, her attitude really makes me sick; I feel like a volcano about to erupt!. She makes me wait for almost a half hour, and when she arrives she doesn't apologize or give an explanation as to why she is late. And now she is sitting in front of me, arrogantly, without taking her expensive sunglasses off. I am very irritated! Who does she think she is?

She seems to sense my anger; I think it probably shows very clearly on my face. She then lowers her sunglasses and shows me her bruised left eye. I am shocked, but she doesn't allow me to recover. Silently, she folds up her long sleeves and shows me the bruises on both of her arms; the dark-blue showing distinctly on her light skin.

Seeing this, my anger turns to shame for my earlier judgment of her. I should have had positive thoughts about her, but I let my old jealousy influence me.

"Your husband did this to you, didn't he?" I ask her carefully.

She gives me a nod for an answer. As a lawyer, I have seen many cases of domestic violence, but I couldn't have imagined this would happen to Larasati. I understood that she was no longer a "spoiled beautiful princess".

"Don't be surprised, Indah. My life is not as happy as you thought."

"I am sorry, but what else could I have thought?"

"You were wrong. My marriage was like heaven for the first two years, after that it was like hell."

Her story flows like a stream. It's the same story I have heard many times from many different women. There is no intonation in her voice or change of expression on her face. She buries her sadness and agonies deep in her heart.

"Why don't you leave him."

I won't leave him. I love him," she insists.

It doesn't surprise me to hear this answer. This is fact- denial behavior. She is not the first woman I have met who tells me she still loves her husband, although he has abused and beaten her.

"How do you know if he loves you?"

"He always regrets it and cries in front of me. And he promises that he won't ... "

"Do it again, but he does it again and again!" I cut her off because I can't stand to see her blindness about her own marriage.

"You don't understand, Indah, we can't get a divorce."

"Does Teddy threaten you?"

She shakes her head weakly and says, "We have an obligation to honor our family name."

"Listen Larasati, it's not your family name that Teddy wants you to honor, but his name." I try to open her locked mind.

"His name is also my name, isn't it?" She answers smartly and I run out of arguments.

I am staring at Larasati hopelessly. She is not the lucky Larasati I used to be jealous of, and now I understand that Teddy is the lucky one, not Larasati. I can imagine the reaction people would have if they knew that Teddy Halim, a prominent citizen, a successful young entrepreneur who also holds an important position in a large political party, is a wife abuser. He owes a lot to Larasati, who takes his beatings, always forgives and always seals her lips tightly.

I take a name card from my purse and write down my mobile phone number on the back. It's a special number that only my close relatives and friends know. I give it to her and without realizing it I beg her, "Please take this! If you change your mind and you need help, call me anytime. I really want to help you!"

At first, she demurs. I have to force her to take it. I feel relieved when she puts the name card in her purse. I hope she will call me someday; there is nothing I can do to help her if she doesn't help herself.

As our meeting finishes, I don't understand what Larasati wants from me. She doesn't ask for help. She even turns down my offer of help. Maybe she just wants to share her story with me. That is why I am writing this story.


Days, weeks and months have passed. Larasati never calls and I almost forget about her. My life, as usual, keeps rolling along. As I told you, I am an ordinary person. My ordinary cycle is nine to five, Monday to Friday. I get bored sometimes. That's why I love Saturday; the break between the cycles.

Saturday morning, a luxurious moment for me when I able to sit on my back porch and enjoy the morning. I am sipping my coffee when I hear my mobile phone ring. I put my mug down on the table and slowly stand up and pick up the phone.

There is a man's voice on the other end of the line. He introduces himself as a police officer, and tell me Larasati asked him to call me. He tells me that Larasati has committed a murder; she stabbed her husband to death. Then she turned herself in at the police station, still carrying the bloody knife in her hand.

I am shocked. There is a moment when I feel blank. I don't say much. All I remember is saying, "Yes sir, I understand. I'll be there in an hour."

The phone call pumps up my adrenaline to its highest level; changes my relaxed mood to high-speed action. I take a quick shower and get dressed. Without putting on any makeup, I jump into my car and drive as fast as I can. Thank God for the quiet Saturday morning traffic.

Within half an hour I arrive at the police station, where an officer is waiting for me. Seeing me arrive, he takes me directly to the room where Larasati is being held.

I feel sorry when I see her. Never in my life have I seen someone in such bad condition. She is sitting on a wooden chair, with her head hanging down; her hair is a mess, her dress and hands are stained with dry blood, which gives off a putrid odor. She doesn't take notice when I enter the room; just sits still like a statue. When I take a seat in front of her, there is still no reaction from her, as if she is in a world of solitude.

In a slow, low voice I call her name: "Larasati."

She slowly raises her head. I look at her face closely and I see no light in her eyes, just emptiness. I have to wait for a few seconds before she finally open her mouth, and from deep in her throat I hear a weak voice, "Just because a cup of coffee .... "

Then she starts to sob. Between her sobs she continues: "I made him a cup of coffee this morning, but he said it was too sweet, then he became angry and started to beat me. I couldn't stand it anymore. There was a knife, I took it and ... "

Her sobs turns to crying. She weeps uncontrollably, unable her to continue her story. But she doesn't need to. I already know the rest of the story. I hug her to comfort her. It is not difficult for me to empathize. Since I was a child, I witnessed my mother's agonies. As a child, I could only cry desperately, unable to help her. And now I cry again. I cry for my late mother, who passed away before I was able to help her. I cry for Larasati. I cry for all the women who suffer.