A few days later I went to pick up my monthly wages at the battalion’s administration just before noon. I met a few acquaintances in the canteen where I had dropped in to have a beer and stayed on to drink and play cards with them until about four. I bought a pair of little white shoes for Soemiati on the way back so that I only got home when it was close to half past four. I found Soemiati in the little room beside the kitchen; the notebook in which she kept her pantuns and Malay songs lay shut on her lap. I asked her to heat up some food and take it to my room. She kept her head bent while I was speaking and when she promised to be ready quickly she didn’t look at me either. I wondered what was going on now again and felt annoyed. At that moment, as if she had felt my rising anger, she smiled at me from under her eyelashes, without raising her head, but rather shyly than coquettishly. I smiled back.
I have brought something for you
I yet shouted, and walked whistling to my room. It was probably a passing fit of depression again, I thought casually. She had already been uneasy before I departed in the morning. At a certain moment she had grabbed me anxiously and asked,
You will stay here, won’t you? You won’t leave me, won’t you?
I had answered, laughingly:
Oh no, don’t worry so much.
And then she had threatened, suddenly vehemently:
Take care that you don’t break your word!
Without stopping laughing and on an impulse of a malicious desire to tease I had said:
We will see.
When she had put down my plate with her head still bent she sat herself down on the stretcher. I produced the new shoes and put them in her lap. Soemiati found them magnificent. I had thought that she would be enraptured but now she looked rather shy. I looked at her: there were tears glistening in her eyes. I knelt down near her, pulled the flip-flops she was wearing off her feet and put the shoes on them. While I was busy with that she started to stroke my hair; it was the first time that she caressed me without me having started it. She was now staring right in front of her. So when I looked up to her face I saw immediately the gaping wound in her throat.
How did that come about
I stammered –
O, it is nothing, it is nothing
she said warding off the question.
Don’t ask any further. It was a little accident. I have already forgotten it.
The wound was no longer bleeding. Neither did the skin around it show any traces of blood, she had apparently wiped these off already. There was nothing but a vertical slit in the skin, probably drawn with a razor blade. And she had done this herself and intentionally. I knew this without asking her.
Without saying anything more I took her with me to the medic who quickly put on a bandage, grumbling that he would be too late for the cinema.
Once they have got something like that in their nut you can’t stop them anyway. If it doesn’t come off at one time, it will at some other time. It is occurring fairly frequently lately; nothing else but fear
the medic explained.
So, that’s fixed. And no longer any funny business sis
And to me:
it would be a pity though if she kicked the bucket, sergeant. It sure is a fine bit of ass!
I nodded tacitly. I knew that he would find me pathetic if I didn’t retort in the same style but my dejection was too great for that.
Silently we returned. If I had acted again as if nothing had happened, perhaps it would have been left at that. But I had put it in my head that one has to confront a threatening danger instead of fleeing for it, a tactic that perhaps suited me but certainly not Soemiati. I insisted that she would tell me why she had committed that deed of desperation. The only thing she could come up with was the request, repeated again and again, to leave her alone, but I kept urging her mercilessly. Finally I even shut her up with pen and paper; what she couldn’t say she should rather write instead. When I left her in this situation she was sitting with a deeply unhappy face behind the table, like a child that has its first day at school. I felt no less miserable when I was pacing up and down in the backyard. After a quarter of an hour I returned to her. She had only written a few lines. A few confused sentences which didn’t say much more than that she was afraid.
But why then? I will really take care that nothing untoward will happen to you
I shouted impatiently. But perceiving the uselessness of any further talk I walked away fast.
A few hours later she joined me in my room. She looked somewhat excited. Not at all that helpless and miserable, I observed with satisfaction. She even started to laugh loudly when a burning cigarette butt that I had wanted to throw out of the window fell down on my kelambu. I was again reassured already. I asked her to sit with me, but she preferred to keep being busy, folding a shirt here, and smoothing down a sheet there. I started reading a paper myself.
Do I dare?
I heard her ask suddenly, and looking up I saw her standing in front of me aiming precisely at my forehead with my pistol. At first I wanted to say:
Take care, that is dangerous
but the pistol was on the safety catch anyway. Thus I said:
Go ahead babe.
If that was her idea of fun I wanted to join in the game. Only when she had pulled the trigger it came to me that she wouldn’t be able to see whether a pistol was on the safety catch or not – that she had thus tried to murder me just now … I jumped up with a scream striking the weapon from her hand. Roaring with laughter she left the room.
After a sleepless night I stretched out on my bed next day, overcome by heat. I had hardly dozed off when Soemiati hurriedly entered the room. She threw herself half over me so that I was immediately wide-awake. –
What is it?
I asked frightened, looking into her haggard eyes.
Tell me what I should do!
she called out.
You don’t have to do anything
I answered grumpily, and turned to the wall. She left the room groaning. A bit later my uneasiness got the better of me. I got up and walked to the outbuildings. Soemiati was sitting on the floor in her little bedroom, with her head against the wall. She looked at me with glassy eyes, without seeing anything. An aluminum mug was beside her, and across her chin there was a trickle of purplish-brown liquid. I picked up the mug and smelled it: there had been carbolic acid in it. I picked her up and laid her down on the baleh-baleh. I quickly walked to my room to get norit. A colleague of mine had just come home; together we administered her the dissolved norit.. When the evening was approaching, she could move normally again but the far-away look in her eyes only disappeared when she saw me; they then got a look of insane hatred.
Shortly after that she tried again to take her life, this time by jumping into the deep well behind our house. It took a while before a lamp was found but when it shone into the well it turned out that she was holding on to the supply pipe of the water pump. A ladder was fetched and one of the bystanders lowered himself into the well with a long rope that was fastened under her arms. She did not resist but she didn’t cooperate either. When she had reached the parapet of the well I took her over. After the desperation of the first few moments I had felt a great rage rising within me. My only and unreasonable thought was that she had no right to treat me in this fashion. But I could of course not punish her in the presence of five or six men who had saved her with so much effort, almost with tenderness. I could however not refrain from pulling her against me with such violence that I hurt myself. Soemiati remained silent however: she only slowly turned her face to me. Her gaze was calm and clear. She didn’t have the dreamy appearance that somebody who has almost drowned sometimes has. There was also no longer any hatred in her eyes, not even reproach. She only looked; she did not judge but saw everything. Though her look had destroyed me in one blow, I continued to carry her inside without the slightest hesitation. Her arms and legs were dangling will-lessly from my arms that I kept straight as a die. Nobody could see that this almost lifeless body had vanquished me.
But now I wanted to orient myself further entirely to the wishes of Soemiati it appeared that I could no longer reach her altogether. With the protestant distrust of myself that I originally acquired in my youth, I told myself that perhaps I was only prepared to surrender because that surrender could be accepted no longer. I tried to satisfy my need for penance with this kind of self-torture. I also drank more than usual because in my intoxication I could sometimes imagine not to be too far removed from her insanity.
Sometimes I could hear her softly complaining in her forlornness, but there was nobody who could help her any more. Though she no longer tried to take her own life she now repeatedly left the house and went on the road, not knowing herself where to go because she was again and again found in a different spot. When one asked her then where she wanted to go, she generally didn’t answer. Sometimes, however, she endlessly repeated the words
I want to go home
words that were pronounced without any intonation at first but that gradually were absorbed into an uninterrupted humming. She seemed then so much a perfectly contented child, absorbed in itself, that I could feel a pity for her that almost cured me of my despair. But this never lasted long. Her insanity showed other horrible sides that drove me back to my old train of thought. Every night the guard woke me up a few times to report that Soemiati had come out of her room again and wanted to go into the street. Feebly protesting she was then taken inside again, where I stayed with her until she slept. One time I found her at the end of the gallery, staring motionless into the dark garden. I put myself beside her and softly called her name. When she didn’t react I put my head near to hers and called her name again. Suddenly, deliberately and with a lightning speed that came the more unexpected because of the motionless attitude that had preceded it, she pushed her head with malicious force into my face. Trembling with fright, pain and a hatred that surpassed all other feelings within a second, I grabbed Soemiati. I pushed her in the direction of her room and with one shove I threw her from the door opening onto her bed. She got up right away to get through the door but I pushed her back with more force than before. Neither of us uttered a word or cry during this struggle, also when she got up for the second time and I gave her a smack in the face that made her tumble backwards. Before she could get up again I jumped on her and pushed her down violently on the baleh-baleh. At that moment, while I had to restrain with my whole body the woman who resisted furiously, I came to my senses. With a muffled voice, but without losing my grip of her narrow wrists, I asked her forgiveness. But this too no longer penetrated to her. Her apathy returned as suddenly as her frenzy had been aroused. She slept within a few minutes.
Through Indonesian friends I managed to get Soemiati admitted to an asylum in the mountains near Malang. The last time I visited her there, before my departure for Holland, is still clearly in my mind; for a long time it was a reality that has been continuously repeating itself, before it could become a memory, like it is now. I walked through a garden full of varicoloured flowers to the pavilion in which Soemiati had been put up. I encountered a few nurses; one of them had on her apron a sort of badge with the picture of the president of the republic. They pretended not to see me but when they had passed I could hear from the rhythm of their footsteps that they both looked around at me. I hadn’t been wise to show myself there but once there I wanted to complete my visit. Soemiati was sitting on the doorstep of the pavilion. She kept her head bent deeply so that the two plaits in which her hair had been fashioned fell on both sides along her neck; I felt it as a loss that others too could now see her slender neck. She sat there softly humming, rocking her upper body to and fro. I lifted her head with my fingers against her temples. She immediately covered her eyes with both hands. I could, however, now hear the words that she repeated in uninterrupted humming:
Saya minta dibunuh. I ask to be killed
Her mouth had a childish expression of satisfaction with this. When I asked whether she wanted to go inside with me she remained sitting as if she had heard nothing. When I tried, however, to raise her up she got up meekly, but without taking her hands away from her eyes. I tried to get her to talk but she didn’t react to any of my words or gestures. Finally I got the idea to offer her a cigarette. I felt almost happy when she accepted. She inhaled deeply a few times but without any pleasure. After she had had three or four whiffs I took the cigarette off her again, out of fear that she would burn her fingers and lips.
At that moment the matron entered, a Dutch woman of around forty years old. She greeted me with a disapproving nod. –
A sad case
she observed, looking at the other woman with a gaze that had to express pity, a pity that had to legitimate her silent reproach earlier.
And still so young
she sighed after this.
How old is she, seventeen?
I answered curtly. I had almost added
three years older than me
but I checked myself in time.
You can stay here for another quarter of an hour
the nurse concluded our conversation. She apparently found my answer too ridiculous to enter into. It did strike me now that Soemiati looked indeed younger than I had ever known her. In the room where I had brought her she had seated herself on the tiled floor. Yet the manner in which she wound and rewound her plaits around her fingers looked too mechanical to resemble the playing of a child. Shortly after I took my leave from her because she had started humming again and I feared that she would repeat her earlier words. I greeted her and disappeared hurriedly, without looking back.