Song for a Good-Hearted Woman Before Her Fiftieth Birthday

Toeti Heraty


A motel in Kampung Bali
a little upmarket, the sign says “Wisma”
a woman nearly fifty, waiting for his lover
inside a room, three-thousand rupiah a night. Stuffy.
The ceiling fan’s broken again
grey mold inside the bathtub, but the water is clean.
Yellow plastic ladle, blue bedsheet,
grimes on the wall next to the lamp switch, dust everywhere,
under it in permanent marker, “Romeo and Julia”
under that, “Cicih and Iman”, the picture of a heart
and two arrows striking through.

She doesn’t mind waiting, but is a little bothered
insulted perhaps
by the motel owner who let her
run upstairs with a big question mark on his face:
“This rich woman, she must be waiting for his man again,
why is she always hurrying?”
From outside, the sounds of the street,
bajaj, baso, the welding man,
rise and fall and creep in. She listens
to a grandmother swearing at grandchildren
throwing dirt on her laundry.

She doesn’t mind waiting, though he’s late again
what is it this time?
She sits down, throws herself into bed, grabs a pillow,
bites it. In her mind everything she doesn’t need:
“My love, I miss you, I need you,
don’t betray me this time
I know you’ve grown used to
betraying your wife—
this is not just an affair, we’ve been doing this
far too long—this is the only thing
that makes me happy, ah,
this is as good as it gets!
But what if he’s woken up to his senses
and gone back to his wife, he’s still got things
to sort out there too:
“I’ve been faithful, I’ve been good,
raise the kids, a pay rise every semester
pay back the mortgage earlier,
I get on well with my in-laws—though not the cousin in-laws
they’ve forced me to take in!
Sundays, Lebarans, Thanksgivings, Tupperware dinners,
once in a while a movie for two, exchanging gossips
about the neighbours, listening between the lines,
that means something too…”

“Why am I still here?
—why am I being so pathetic?—he must’ve gone back to his wife!
What am I doing? I shouldn’t be waiting
for someone else’s husband—”

She gets up, ah, no, the bed has swallowed her
as the door creaks and he comes in
puts down his Echolac and: no more waiting,
no more thinking of unnecessary things, no greetings,
hugs, kisses. Stop wasting time, these two are already
past the prime of their lives, and they still have to go the length between
the north and south poles to meet
in this bed, amongst the sleaze of dust, these silent witnesses,
to taste the honey of life.
No longer young, they wear scars like proud epaulettes,
they caress, kiss each other, where thorns, a blade or two,
whatever life has thrown at them, have drawn blood,
and in an hour or two, they will be gone again
as if by magic—
it’s true,
never for very long.
Then someone knocks on the door:
“The room is paid for, here’s your change,
and your towels,
you want to order any drinks?”

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