Nurjanah, a primadonna of dangdut (Short Story)

cerpen nurBy Jujur Prananto

IT seems like everybody had lost control. Long whistles shrieked endlessly. The spotlight had changed to red. The sound of the drum beating was thunderous. As soon as the sound of the flute became audible, dozens of spectators screamed ferociously.

With a light stamping, Nurjanah jumped onto the stage. Once her feet landed on the stage, her body, clad in a tight sparkling red dress, span once and then stopped, facing the audience in a deep bow. A long, roaring applause filled the field. Nurjanah
pulled the microphone out of its stand and shouted loudly.
“Shall we dance till dawn?”
“Till dawn…!!!”
“Swaying till dawn?”
“Till dawn…!!!”

Soon afterwards the spectators, as if following a signal, swayed their bodies. One swing. One beat. One rustle. One breath. The moment one of Nurjanah’s feet went up high, when she swung her thigh eight times to the right and eight times to the left, everybody went hot. Hysterical. Lustful.
“Look at the moon, beaming white. Let’s forget a month-long misery tonight. We dance-dance-dance…don’t stop! We sway-sway- sway till dawn!”

The smell of the dancers’ perspiration spread potently, mingling with the smell of wet, perfumed tissues and various cheap perfumes. On the fringes of the field, many people sat around the stalls, gulping glasses of beer, drinking cheap liquor and black rice wine, while their eyes never stopped stripping Nurjanah’s body, imagining what it was like wrestling on a bed with such a pleasant woman. Everybody was dazed. Stunned. Drunk.

But it didn’t last till dawn, because after the third song Nurjanah called an end to the performance by saying, “I’ve got a headache.”

It was just 15 minutes to 12. Back stage, Nurjanah immediately took off her costume and shoes. She stripped off the only red stockings she owned carefully, but still a long ladder appeared on the left thigh.

The leader of the dangdut orchestra was furious that the performance had been stopped. He ordered his men to continue playing music while he hurried to see Nurjanah and confronted her with, “You said you would sing eight songs”.
“I’ve really got a headache. Why doesn’t Mas Udin take over?”
“I sing half a song and all the spectators would disappear.”
“What about Mbak Zahro?”
“Her voice is hoarse.”
“Mus has just sung two songs.”
“She is nervous. Someone asked for Putus Tali Asmara, but she does not remember the lyrics.”
“Come on, there’s no need to sing a whole song. The important thing is the swaying.” Nurjanah immediately gathered her clothes and shoes.
“May I go home?”
“Going home or having a date with Pak Camat …?”
“Bullshit! Come on, give me my money. Just Rp 20,000 for the car rent.”
“Where are you going?”
“Dongkal!”
“This late at night? Aren’t you scared of being raped?”
“Who cares! Too old to worry.”

***

Nurjanah felt something suddenly creeping stealthily into her senses. A hint that she needed to be on guard. It was almost akin to something she had felt when she was on stage in front of the Padaruksa market half a year ago. Suddenly, the thunderous sound of the music became faint in her ears. A high pitched ringing sound flooded her ears. She felt queasy. Her body was hot but there was no perspiration.

At the time she could sense the one who was sending the hostile signal. The person’s face was clearly visible in her mind. Her name was Leha, the prima donna of the Kemilau Mutiara dangdut orchestra. She was taken in by rumors that she would be replaced by Nurjanah who was sexier and — rumors had it — “was ready to do anything for the sake of popularity.” Leha was very disturbed because Kemilau Mutiara had signed a three-year contract with a cigarette factory, Teh Poci, meaning that if she left the orchestra she would lose her financial security and popularity for the coming three years.

“The important thing is I sing as a hobby, so there’s no need for you to be jealous,” Nurjanah then had told Leha in a private conversation. “Nobody will stop you from becoming a famous singer, but don’t use tricks to destroy me on the stage. I’m not boasting, but almost all the shamans in Banten are my teachers, so don’t try to use black magic on me.”

And when the village head across the river hired her for the celebration of his son’s circumcision, Nurjanah had only sung two songs when she felt “disturbed”. It was easy for her to guess who caused it. It was the village head’s wife herself, whose heart went cold and then hot and then cold again knowing that her husband had fallen head over heels for Nurjanah.

***

But now? Nurjanah felt the similar symptoms, but she could not picture any face in her mind, not even a flash. Could it be Bu Marsan? It seemed impossible. She was a very kind wife. From her face it was hard to imagine she could be suspicious of her husband, let alone engage in black magic. She was very religious. Nurjanah knew her well because she was often invited to her house for any event, including religious lectures. It was Pak Marsan himself who introduced her to Bu Marsan after she sang for the Independence Day celebration in the district.

Bu Marsan’s kindness was torture to Nurjanah’s conscience. Sometime ago when Pak Marsan took her along to Semarang, she asked him while they were in the hotel room,

“Does Bu Marsan really not know I often accompany you?”
“Why do you ask a question like that?” he responded.
“I feel really uneasy if I am with ibu. It’s like I’m facing an angel. Her face is so innocent that in front of her I feel like I’m being tried.”

At the time, Pak Marsan fell silent for a long time. His hands, which normally never stopped touching Nurjanah, remained motionless like those of a statue. Nurjanah herself did not dare move until the calls for the dawn prayers were heard again and again.

Since that night Pak Marsan never asked her to go with him. The latest rumors had it that he would resign as district head because he reportedly had to account for the failure of five rural cooperatives in his area. It meant that his misfortune had nothing to do with the public discovery of his love affair with Nurjanah. In other words, Bu Marsan was not — or had not had — any reason to resent her.
“Have a cigarette. When you’ve finished, put on your costume,” the leader of the dangdut orchestra persisted.
“No, Mas, I really have a headache.”

After the music, Zahroh was forced to go on stage with her hoarse voice. One by one the spectators left.

Nurjanah then took a pedicab to her boarding house. The streets were deserted. A man with a crewcut riding a motorbike caught up with her and rode alongside her pedicab.

“There is a message from bapak, you are expected at the swike stall at three tomorrow.”
“Tell him I have my period.”

***
Nurjanah lay awake until four in the morning. She couldn’t sleep. Her mind was still full of questions. It was not until she heard the cock crow that she realized the cause of her restlessness. She immediately washed her face and packed several items of clothing into her bag. If a while ago she had said she wanted to go to her village without really meaning it, this time she was convinced she was being guided to go there.

She took the Rp 20,000 from the orchestra leader out of her pants pocket. She took three more Rp 10,000 notes from under a pile of clothes in the vinyl makeshift cupboard. She put it all in her wallet which already contained three Rp 1,000 notes and some coins. For a moment she looked at the pile of dirty clothes in a corner of the room which had been there for three days. Initially she had intended to wash it today, but her intention was overruled by an impulse to leave the house immediately.

The sun had not yet risen when she arrived at the bus terminal. A scalper with tattoos all over his body half shouted at her, “Janah! Ping was looking for you last night. He wanted to ask you for a drink.”
“I do not need a drink. I need money,” she replied.

The scalper laughed endlessly, then, pulling Nurjanah’s hand, went over to a driver of a bus to Purwokerto. “Take care of my girlfriend. She is going to Dongkal,” he told him.

At the Randudongkal market she bought a pygmy rooster, choosing the most handsome one, and bought a lot of fresh traditional cakes. From the market she walked several dozen meters and rode an ojek to the west for about an hour.

***

It was unusual for the front door of her home to be left open. A motorcycle was parked in the yard and her father was sitting, holding a long wooden stick, on a bamboo platform beside the door. Nurjanah reached for her father’s hand and kissed it.

“Dad…”
“Who is it?” he asked.
“It’s me, Nurjanah, Dad.”
“Nur…who?”
“Janah, your daughter.”
“Ooo…where is your brother Warso?”
“I don’t know, Dad. I have just arrived.”
“Darto?”
“I haven’t met him.”
“Jumiran?”
“I’ll find her, Dad. What would you like her to do?”
“Has she paid her school fee?”
“I’ve sent the money, Dad. I’ll ask if she has paid the school fee.”
“Where’s my tobacco, Pah?”
“I’m not Ipah, Dad. I’m Nurjanah, Ipah’s older sister.”
“Nur…who?”

Nurjanah left her father and hurried inside, just as her mother was coming out to welcome her.
“Ipin…” she said slowly.

Nurjanah was quick to detect the bad omen. She immediately headed for her son’s room. Her four younger sisters were sitting on the bedside, accompanying a mantri (medical aide) who was examining Ipin. The eyes of the five-year-old boy were half closed, his lips were moving, uttering unclear words. Nurjanah picked up her son and kissed and embraced him tightly. His body was very hot. In the meantime the mantri packed his equipment. “Keep the wet cloth on his head,” he said slowly before taking his leave.

Less than half hour in Nurjanah’s embrace, Ipin’s temperature lowered. His murmurs became clear.
“Pygmy chicken, Mom…”
“Yes, I bought it. I never forget what Ipin asks for.”
“Is it gorgeous, Mom?”
“Yes, like Ipin.”
“Ipin is sick, not gorgeous.”
“When you recover, you will be gorgeous.”
“Then Mom will go again?”
“If I don’t go, who will find the money to buy the pygmy chicken?”
“You haven’t found father, Mom, have you?”
Nurjanah fell silent. She could only answer with a restrained sob.

Translated by Darul Aqsha

Jujur Prananto

Jujur Prananto

Born on June 30, 1960 in Salatiga, Central Java, Jujur Prananto is a graduate of the Jakarta Arts Institute. From 1985 to 1990 he was involved in the production of over ten films, including Opera Jakarta, Tjoet Nya’ Dhien and Saur Sepuh. In between films, he wrote short stories which were published in various Indonesian publications. In 1990 he decided to quit the film world and concentrate on writing. His short story Nurjanah appears in Kado Istimewa: Cerpen Pilihan Kompas 1992, and is printed here by courtesy of Kompas daily.

The Jakarta Post
Sun, Oct 01, 1995

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