The Suhubudi compound was bounded in the north by limestone mountains interspersed with volcanic stone. To the south was the sea Segara Kidul. From the top of the steep stony slope one could
see the sweep downward from Mount Merapi to the ocean below; both sacred. There were secret caves within the nooks and crannies of those limestone hills. Home to thousands of bats, who would leave their colonies at night to spread out among the trees and houses.
A tiny, lone shadow moved along a path. Perhaps a spirit or an imp as the people in the villages around the compound believed. The people of Sewugunung were mostly farmers, sugar palm tappers, and limestone miners. Should one of them become rich, those around them would speculate that they were harboring a tuyul. A tuyul is an imp; small, like a child; but would never grow larger. Imps never matured and they could be easily influenced into stealing money. Those with third eye could see them.
The small shadowy creature slipped through some bushes and onto a path; climbing up toward a house on the top of the hill. This stone house with ceramic floors was also tiled from floor to ceiling; top to bottom. It was the shiniest house in the village; the home of the village chief. The creature veered off to the side of the house and then on toward the back, where he knocked on a door.
The door opened a crack and a man stepped out. Wayang puppet theater lovers would have seen the likeness of the jester Bilung in him. Although short, reaching a height of just one hundred and forty centimeters, his form and stature were normal. He had a potbelly and heavily lidded eyes that shone sharply. His jowls extended beyond his nose, suggesting that he would more likely snap than sniff. Yet, appearances could be deceiving.
“Boss.” The voice was hoarse and small like the body it emerged from. “I’m reporting.”
“Tuyul! What have you got for me this time?”
“The stone has come.”
“Boss, the stone you were looking for has come.”
The Bilung man immediately invited his odd guest in. The irritation in his eyes had transformed to anticipation. He closed the door and the curtains too.
He had been found nameless and ageless. Small and black like a chunk of elephant dung. Now, he stood no taller than eighty centimeters. Even in the darkness, the protrusions
on his forehead were discernible. His eyes spoke of the unfairness of life.
Here he was again at the back door of the village chief where a secret plan had just been hatched. He hopped out and down the hill, slipping back through the bushes where he knew there was a shortcut to the Suhubudi compound. He went in through the back gate, because that was where he lived; at the very back. He shared housing there with the Rama and Sita dance theater troupe: midgets and other freaks.
This was a part of the Suhubudi compound that only very special guests would ever visit. It was far to the rear on the western end, where the sun set. It was set low down in a kind of valley; a healthy habitable place hidden away from view. Here Suhubudi cared for a motley collection of strange people; freaks. They were called the Saduki Clan, whatever meaning that held. This community was filled with people that society eschewed, or at least deigned to exploit as beggars. Yet, none of them resembled the ubiquitous street beggar missing an arm or a leg. They were such frightening figures that not even the most unscrupulous street hustler would be tempted to attempt to exploit them. People were reluctant to give alms to deformed creatures whose hideousness would make them want to turn away or run for fear of contagion. Nobody would want to have a close encounter with a puffy-skinned woman, or a lizard man, or an elephant man, or someone with fingers like mangrove roots; let alone with a small army of midgets or dwarves.
The small figure moved into the reach of the community lights; his eyes glinting in the sudden illumination. The greedy grimace of his face was enough to raise the question of how so much bad could come to rest in one small entity. He went into one of the houses for the smallest of the clan, slamming the door behind him.
The thunderous bang startled the tiny woman with pale skin and distorted features. The rush of air from the slamming of the door had disturbed her thin fine hair. She was the dancer whose depiction of Sita had so moved Yasmin and impressed her with the strange shadow aesthetic through which even this midget woman could expressly convey the deepest of human emotions beautifully.
She had been in the midst of lighting incense in the corner when the man known as Tuyul banged the door shut.
She turned toward him. “Just where did go get off to?”
“Ah! Wouldn’t you like to know! Its no business of no midget,” Tuyul said as if unaware of his resemblance to her.
The pale midget woman fell silent. She turned back to face the burning incense and began meditating. Her eyes, half closed moved as if in concert with the eratic rythm of a dream. She called out the names of Shiva, Wishnu, and Brahma. She ended with Semar. The hallowed name of the revered elder. Semar.
Behind her, Tuyul slammed another door as he exited into an adjacent room. A few minutes later he returned, slamming the door again. The noise echoed the intent of a hurtful onslaught, targeted primarliy at the person praying. The albino woman finished her prayer and turned toward him.
“You don’t need to be slamming doors…”
“I am Gatoloco! Stop squawking at me, Hen! You should be used to it by now. The doors won’t shut if you don’t slam them.”
“Don’t call me that. It is not my name. Guru Suhubudi named me Maya.”
Tuyul cackled, his voice dry and squeaky. “Yeah, that’s because MAYA spelled backwards is AYAM, and that means chicken, Hen!” He laughed harder, as if discovering his own genius. “You are nothing but a chicken. And a bakwards one at that. You certainly look like one. Exactly like a plucked hen,” the midget ended with another cackle.
The woman, Maya, swallowed. Suhubudi never ate meat, but the clan was allowed to, and in that far end of the compound, they sometimes slaughtered chickens. The woman knew how to do that. She would then scald the carcass with boiling water before plucking the feathers, leaving the carcass pale and ravaged. Tuyul liked to say that her skin looked like that of a dead chicken, all goosebumpy and pale. She did not like when he said that, but deep down inside she believed that he liked her pale pinkish skin. What with his own skin being so dark. She knew there was lust behind Tuyul’s aggressiveness. She was a woman. Somehow she had come to understand that men express their desire roughly. Lust of any sort was crude. And hadn’t she seen Tuyul indulge in the bloodlust of devouring a raw chicken during performances by the Saduki Clan Circus presented outside of the compound?
“Hey, Ayam,” Tuyul said boatsfully. “Won’t be long now, you won’t be seeing me around here any more.”
Maya shrugged. She was used to this midget man’s bragging.
“Not long now, I am going to have a lot of money. I want to get out of here and be my own boss. But, now and then I could come back and play Rama for you,” he pinched the woman’s cheek seductively. “Hey! I might even get a piece of a real woman...”
“Just what do you mean by ‘a real woman’?”
Tuyul laughed. “Yeah, a real woman with long legs, not some midget chick like you.”
Oddly enough, the woman did not lash back. Not even to remind him that he was a tiny black man; a midget like all other midgets. But she had not been brought up that way. She had been taught that it was a woman’s way to take criticism but to never criticize...
Why was it that she could portray Sita so beautifully? Everyone who saw her perform said
she overcame the limitations of her body. Her spirit shown perfectly through, so that the audience no longer saw short legs and crooked arms. She would leave behind the woman in her mirror with the animal body, pale pinkish skin and thin scraggly hair. She
would become light; the audience seeing only the shadow cast. During the night performances of Ramayana.
She could do this because life had taught her acceptance. She no longer demanded to know why she had been born pale and round, like a cave creature. On top of that, she was female. Women were objects; they had to accept what was offered, to accept the seed planted in them. They were soil to be ploughed. Acceptance assured some semblance of acknowledgement. She followed the etiquette of femininity she had gleaned from the ballads and Javanese verse she learned from gamelan orchestra singers and musicians. Women existed to serve, not to be served.
Maya had never left the compound since she had been brought there one day. She accepted that. She was content. In the morning, she cleaned the house. Then she went to the ricefields to do the work of women there: planting, weeding, reaping and hulling. She prepared dinner, including slaughtering the occassional chicken. She waited with baited breath for the night, like a youth longing for solitude in which to masturbate.
When dusk came, she would change form. Sita would emerge, cleansed and transformed; her noble purity would shine through. A puppet master once said that the story of Rama was taken from Javanese literature; so, as a Javanese, she proudly performed this esteemed epic. A tale of a wise king whose palace was in Ngayodhya (Nga-yodhya-karta). His wife was chaste and faithful: Sita. Maya. Maya. Sita.
Maya’s heart would race as she left behind her deformed and ugly body and became the leading lady. Inklings of gratitude would course gently through her as she performed the motions of greeting, because this meant that she was surrendering herself to Sri Rama, her husband. She surrender began at her fingertips and ran up along her arms to the tips of her breasts. She wished to prostrate herself as a carpet for his days, as a bed for his nights ― as conveyed through the lyrics sung to the accompaniment of the gamelan.
She found pleasure in this surrender. This sacrifice of her body to the majesty of art. This feeling would escalate toward the climax of the dance: the immolation of Sita. The ultimate test of a woman’s chastity; her purity. So arousing, so heart-pounding. Look; the fire is rising into flames. Sita ascends onto the pyre. She must move elegantly, the seeds of beauty building pressure at her very center. Dew forming in her secret place. Each pore swelling along with her nipples as she nears the leap into the tongues of death. The pressure within her explodes within the fire into an ectasy of convulsive dance. She is consumed, exhausted; then she rises triumphant from the fire. The peak of her emotion shining from her face. The ectasy of a pure woman. A woman who has surrendered.
Suddenly Tuyul slapped her on her rearend. Then, before Maya could even absorb the shock of that, he said: “How about I take you to bed first, Yam?”
Maya’s cheeks reddened. The slap on her backside had embarassed her; she was simultaneosuly disgusted, flattered and―although reluctant to admit it―pleased. A woman’s first impulse―or perhaps instinct―is to rebuff. Something had taught her that a woman should reject the first advance. “You are a fool, man!” Maya said as she pushed his hand away.
Tuyul embraced her from behind. “Ah! You are Sita, right? You are my wife. I am Rama.”
“Let me go!”
“You are special. Like a plump white calf from the palace stables.” Tuyul strengthened his grip, pressing in around her; against her belly, her groin, her spine.
The woman struggled as if wishing to escape; but not really. “I thought you said you wanted a real woman!”
“I will get to them when I am out there! But, here you are my consort. Besides, Sita is no golddigger. Sita has a heart of gold. No need for money...” Tuyul said as he felt her up.
Maya became Sita. Sita was for Rama. She was there to serve this man. She knew she should be thankful that he would desire to be with her. So, when Rama, who habitually immersed in meditation and worship to distance himself from bodily pleasures, sought her company, it was only appropriate for Sita to welcome that attention happily and gratefully.
They moved to the bedroom; the tiny room in a small hut in the middle of Dandaka forest, where they had been forced to take shelter in exile. Rama had been driven from the palace after one of his father’s three wives had demanded that he be deposed as prince. Initially, Rama intended to go into exile alone. However, Sita, his loving and faithful wife, accompanied him. They finally found refuge in this small hut owned by an ascetic. Guru Suhubudi. That night, amid the serenity of nature, Sita allowed Rama to enter her. The scent of magnolias filled her soul as the sound of crickets muffled their moans. From outside, in the material world, this would seem little more that the nefarious copulating of freaks.
Maya imagined herself to be a consort, whose man had other women, long-legged whores from another world out there; women for whom he paid. Let him do what he would with those immoral women. She would remain chaste. Just the thought of her noble sacrifice sent waves of lustful arousal coursing through her.
Tuyul’s eyes were spinning in his head. Between thrusts, his mind occupied itself with fantasies of an immense amount of cash; a trunk full of blue bills with the president’s face on them. Earlier, Pontiman Sutalip―the village chief with the face of Bilung―had promised him what seemed to be a fortune. He would get twenty-five million rupiah if he could get the yellow agate for him. If Pontiman Sutalip had to find someone else to “procure” that magic stone, Tuyul would only get a ten million rupiah information fee. Tomorrow or the next day, he would be a rich man. Now he was drooling onto the neck of the woman beneath him.
Maya was imaging Rama. But, surely Rama would not drool like a dog while making love? It was a bit disgusting. For a second or two she had trouble convincing herself that she was serving Rama. She had to believe that. She had to endure the spit dripping onto her body; the fluid of her husband, her master. Ah, if Rama was like this in bed, what would he brother be like? Rama had a faithful little brother, Laksmana, who had come with them, and now was standing guard somewhere nearby; outside this hut in Dandaka forest. Obedient, dedicated Laksmana. Would Laksmana drool like his brother? No, not likely. Of course not. Laksmana was not like a dog … Now, for some reason the image of handsome Parang Jati came into her head…
Translated by Margaret Augusta