Sun, 13 Aug 2000

In Front of a Mirror

By Martin Aleida

I think, as a woman, I'm attractive and radiant. I also have a good job and salary, which is enough to feed an entire family during the economic crisis. My appearance? I don't have to say more than I'm a 1.70-meter-tall flight attendant. I'll leave the rest up to your imagination.

But when I'm alone standing in front of a mirror, I always ask myself why most men are reluctant to approach me. My fate seems to have betrayed me and this makes me cry when I see my own image. I also feel sad that at the age of 40 years, I'm still a virgin.

In the United States, women like me have their pride. They become the members of a club called the Growing Singles. According to statistics, only one out of every 15 women in Washington gets married. However, in my country the situation is different. A woman over 30 years of age and still unmarried is treated as a worthless creature.

As for myself, this problem might have been caused by my inclination to be too choosy. Maybe. Once I had a very attractive boyfriend who had a good character and was full of understanding of women. But the relationship did not last long because I hated his obsessive love for the color green. Another time a tycoon tried to win my hand in marriage. But he was very arrogant. He thought he could buy me like a doll. So I said goodbye.

Suwarsih Natanegara, a colleague of mine, has been luckier than me. One day when our plane just left Bombay for Amsterdam a young Caucasian man approached us. We were having a rest after serving a meal. The man looked clumsy. His beard looked like a honeycomb and he gave an overall impression that he had not yet learned to dress properly.

"Bonjour," he said, to which I reluctantly replied "bonjour". His arrival also made me reluctant to start a conversation. What kind of man was this, I asked myself. It seemed like he also needed a lecture on how to brush his teeth.

But Suwarsih did not seem to mind chatting with him. And they had a long conversation. They talked zestfully and this made me uncomfortable. To me, Suwarsih was wasting her time. If she wanted to practice her French she could do it with the Swiss woman who was sitting next to us. When we landed in Amsterdam the young man gave us his business card. Suwarsih accepted it with a smile, but I was reluctant.

About the differences between us, nobody knows how anyone's fortune will turn out, but I must say Suwarsih is blessed with good luck. Recently, she was on a two-week vacation touring some European countries to which she had never visited. In Paris, she went to meet the French bearded man. Guided by his business card Suwarsih took a taxi that stopped right in front of a house in a residential area outside the city.

Suwarsih was verifiably shocked to find that it was not an ordinary house but a luxurious palace -- a complete surprise judging from the man's sloppy appearance. She suspected she was a victim of a practical joke. She did not know what to do. If she knocked on the door she would certainly disturb the palace's owner who must be very rich.

But she decided to try anyway. Suwarsih knocked three times, but there was no response. After the third knock a charming and tidy gentleman appeared at the front door. His cheeks looked rosy after a fresh shave. Since she had never seen him before Suwarsih immediately apologized for her intrusion.

"I am terribly sorry for disturbing you. Someone has given me a wrong address," she said politely. She showed him the business card and begged the gentleman to do her a favor and help end the confusion.

"I am Jean Noel, Suwarsih. I did not believe you would come. How are you?" said Jean opening the door. He hugged her and led her inside.

Suwarsih did not tell me her next experience inside the palace, but if you have had a love story you could easily guess what took place inside. I felt rather jealous.

A year later, the French prince chartered a special flight to Jakarta to wed Suwarsih. His parents accompanied him on the journey. After the wedding, Jean took his Indonesian wife to France where they have lived happily until today. I sincerely wish them lasting marital bliss.

On the other hand, I'm still alone. Standing in front of the mirror, I cry at my lonely fate. What is wrong with me? Why am I not Suwarsih Natanegara, the woman who is amiable to everybody? Because she is not choosy? Luck came to her so easily.

One day while I was not working but taking a flight from Sydney to Denpassar, a western passenger approached me. He introduced himself as Nick Nicholson, an American. Unlike Suwarsih's French prince, Nick was not that smart. His beard was not that bushy either.

But Nick spoke softly. His thin lips did not stop moving as if he was chewing something. I liked his style. Anyway, I felt like I would soon be getting what Suwarsih had. I vowed to myself that I would grab this golden opportunity tactfully. I imagined that the day would come when people would no longer brand me as an old spinster.

Months later I flew to the United States to spend a month-long vacation. I went directly to Alexandria, Washington D.C., to meet Nick. In the taxi, I thought how fortunate Suwarsih was when she found her lover's home outside Paris. I imagined that I would knock on the door of a similar big house in a luxurious residential area. And the difference between the two journeys was that I was in the United States of America, the world's most dreamed-about destination.

However, I was completely disillusioned when the taxi stopped in front of an ordinary four-story apartment building. I saw black children playing basketball in front of a garage. But I rationalized this, saying I should not mind living in this kind of place. Although this is America not everything is affluent or upscale. But it is an honest and decent life.

Nick lead a single life and occupied a room on the ground floor. No sooner did I walk through the door when Nick bombarded me with a warm kiss on the lips. The meeting was accompanied by a woman's voice screaming to her children. I also heard the noisy music of Michael Jackson playing somewhere. I think the music was coming from the second or third floor. I didn't care. I had no ambition of asking for a luxurious house by a placid lake from my husband because I was used to hearing airplanes every day.

A week later Nick took me to 15th Street, which is not far from the White House. In one of the letters he sent me, Nick said that the street was the busiest place in Washington. "Times Square in New York is almost dead because of the high rate of crime, while 15th Street is becoming the busiest place in the world," he said.

Nick said he was running a very lucrative and hopeful business. He said after our marriage I would not need to work any more because his income would be enough to support a family.

When we were going out another day, Nick stopped his car in front of a shop, which looked more like a disco. Is this his lucrative business, I asked myself.

"OK, let's go. If you want to assist me, this business will proceed faster," he said holding my hand. But after looking at the surroundings I did not feel comfortable. I suspected something fishy. I believed he could sense my instinct when he took my cold hand.

Entering the office, I saw a man with hungry eyes looking straight at my buttocks. Nicholson talked to another man, who looked like an assistant, while I looked into the dark corridor. It was lined with small dark rooms. From inside I heard the sounds of projectors at work. I also heard the clicking sounds of coins falling into a metal box.

Suddenly, a young man came in and asked Nick if he had some change for bus fare. He said he had just arrived from New York by Greyhound.

"No," Nick said briefly, "the coins are only for those who want to watch films." I suspected Nick was running a hardcore porn theater.

After the young man left Nick whispered to me, "Mia, I hope you feel at home here." This is too much, I told myself. I begged him to take me back to the apartment and he did.

The next day I hurriedly left for Indonesia. "What is going to happen to me," I said in my heart.

Now standing back before the mirror I could really see the emptiness all around.

Translated by TIS