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The Red Bekisar (Chapter 4)

Hayat Indriyatno is the managing editor of the Jakarta Globe, an English-language newspaper in Jakarta, having fallen into journalism quite by accident.

An engineer by training, he was born and raised in Tanzania, going to a school near the house where Roald Dahl once lived, and professes a special affection for the works of the world’s greatest children’s author. He went on to earn a degree in mechanical engineering at the University of Natal, Durban, in South Africa.

At age 24 Hayat decided to move to Indonesia, the land of his father’s birth, and was immediately smitten by the novelty of it all. A chance encounter led to a newspaper job, and another presented him with the opportunity to translate into English a book by the award-winning author Okky Madasari. He hasn’t looked back since.

At home, Hayat has a wife and three young children, for whom he has made the wisest investment any parent can make: a box set of Dahl.



Chapter 4

Lasi  sensed him looking her over from head to toe but it only lasted a moment. A second later he smiled like an old teacher praising a clever and pretty student. His smile put Lasi at ease.

“Good afternoon. I’m Pak Han,” Handarbeni’s smile broadened.

“Good afternoon, Pak. Please come in.”

“Thank you, but let me first say, Mrs. Lanting is very fortunate. She told me she adopted a very beautiful young woman. Are you the one?”

Lasi was taken aback by the unexpected question. She blushed and nodded stiffly. She could tell from the way Handarbeni looked at her that he was the man who wanted to see her dressed in a kimono.

As Lasi grew more nervous, Handarbeni became more pleased. He enjoyed the nervousness of the young woman in front of him. “I also know your name. Lasi?”

Lasi fiddled with her fingers and their bright red nails. This gave Handarbeni a greater opportunity to look at the bekisar he was about to purchase.

Handarbeni derived a strange pleasure from feeling like a tomcat staring at a dumb, blind mouse. He relished the sensation because he so often had to deal with experienced mice that wanted to be caught. He had often felt like he was being handed a banana that had already been peeled; not a square inch had been left unexplored, and nothing of that womanly secret was left intact. Overripe bananas were terribly vexing.

“That kimono suits you very well. I heard your father was Japanese.”

Lasi smiled cautiously, which made her dimple more attractive. In Karangsoga, it made her uncomfortable, annoyed even, to be called part Japanese, but Handarbeni made his reference sound refreshing. Mrs. Lanting and Handarbeni used as a compliment what the people of Karangsoga used as an insult.

“Please come in, Pak,” Lasi said to ward off any more questions.

“Okay. Where’s the mistress?”

“She stepped out for a moment, and asked me to stand in for her until she returned.”

Handarbeni smiled and nodded understandingly. That old Mrs. Lanting really was slick, and for once Handarbeni was thankful. His expression grew more cheerful.

“In that case, come sit with me. I’m so used to coming here that I feel like your adopted mother’s brother. Relax, you’re a Jakartan now. You can’t be shy and Jakartan as well. You enjoy living in the city, don’t you?”

Lasi smiled and nodded. She assumed her guest expected that answer. Her thoughts drifted to Kanjat. Where would he be on his way home? 

Handarbeni lit a cigarette. “A lot of people from the country come to the city because life back there is hard. You’re more suited to city life.”

“Do you think so? I’m simple and uneducated.”


“I only completed the village school.”

“Even so, you’re more suited to be a city person. Do you know why?”

Lasi shook her head.

Handarbeni’s laughter eased the tension, and Lasi relaxed.

“It’s because you shouldn’t work in fields under the hot sun, or carry a basket on your back. You’re worthy of being a mistress, living in a nice house, and have a car.”

“That’s right,” Mrs. Lanting cut in. She had stood behind the door for some time. “That’s right, no one can deny that Lasi deserves to be a mistress. Pak Han, do you have a suitor for her?”

“When we look for such a man, we’ll certainly find one. As educated people say, the finest things are always spoken for. Isn’t that right?”

“That’s right, Pak Han. The finest goods always sell quickly.”

Handarbeni and Mrs. Lanting laughed.

Lasi felt uncomfortable being praised so excessively as if she were an item for sale. “I’m sorry, Bu, I haven’t prepared any drinks. Pak Han kept me here in the living room.”

“Any man would want to spend time alone with you. Go on, then, fetch the drinks.”

It was quiet for a moment. Handarbeni took a drag of his cigarette and blew out the smoke. He leaned back in his seat, completely at ease. “I like your bekisar. She almost looks Japanese, except she’s taller. I’m convinced that when it comes to acquiring rare goods, you really are very good.”

“When you’re pleased, the compliments fly out of your mouth like moths in the rainy season.”

“That’s right. Thumbs up to you. How did you ever find such a fine bekisar?”

“There’s no need to mention the obvious. I’m not sure it’s a one hundred percent success. Your bekisar, Pak Han, walks like a country girl, all hurried and stiff. She’s very far from elegant. That’s something I’m working on.”

“Yes, I noticed, but you must understand I don’t want her to turn entirely into a city girl. I’d like her to retain a bit of country color.”

“You’re bored of the artificial look so many women in the city have. You want to indulge in her innocence.”

Handarbeni smiled. He stretched his legs and leaned his head back against the seat cushion.

“If only I could bring my bekisar home with me right now.” He laughed without changing his position.

“Don’t be like a little child with a new toy. We have a long way to go, Pak Han. I know Lasi very much wants to separate from her husband, but she isn’t divorced. That’s one problem. Second, we have to convince her to be your bekisar. That’s the most difficult part.”

“I’m aware of that. I’m also aware the human heart can be unpredictable. Clearly the whole business could get messy if the bekisar doesn’t want to go into the cage I’ve prepared in Slipi.”

“That’s why you need to be patient and wise. Patience is the key. I’ll also ask you to…”

Lasi returned with drinks and snacks, and her presence immediately ended the conversation. From the look on her face, Lasi was unaware that she was the subject.

“I ask for you not to be too pushy,” Mrs. Lanting resumed once Lasi had left the room again.

“I’m over sixty.”

“I know you have a lot of experience. What I mean is you should act passive but sweet. I’ll do the rest and herd the bekisar into your cage, and make sure she goes in willingly. To ensure a satisfactory outcome, Pak Han, you have to wait for two or three months. I have my doubts you’ll be able to comply with my request.”

Handarbeni chuckled and smiled.

“Don’t smile just yet. I have something else. From now on I expect you to take care of all the expenses of caring for the bekisar.”

“There’s no need to mention this because she’s already mine. Even before you asked, I was prepared to bear those costs. All that matters is a guarantee that you’ll succeed.”

“You trust me, don’t you?”

“You’ve proven yourself trustworthy so far.”

“Thank you. Just so you know, I already have the bekisar accustomed to everything from brushing her teeth to repairing her broken fingernails. She knows the names of her makeup items, and food and dishes. But I haven’t succeeded in convincing her that she’s no longer a country girl married to a tapper. She has low self-confidence and doesn’t quite believe in the advantages of her looks. Fortunately, the bekisar is smart. She catches on quickly to what I teach her.”

“Very well, Mrs. Lanting. I’ll leave her with you because I trust you. Call her so I can see her once more before I leave.”

“You’re leaving now?”

“I have business with a friend later this afternoon.”

Lasi entered the room in her red kimono. She blushed as Handarbeni flashed her a compliment in the form of a thumbs up and held out his hand.

“I’m glad you’re content living with Mrs. Lanting. What have you seen since you’ve been in Jakarta?”

Lasi bowed her head and twiddled her fingers.

“We haven’t seen all that much,” Mrs. Lanting said.

“Next time we’ll go out together. Would you like to see Ancol Beach or watch a movie at Hotel Indonesia?”

Lasi blushed.

“Pak Han, why don’t you invite us to your house for a visit?” Mrs. Lanting said.

“Oh, you’re right. I’d like it very much. Pick a time when I can expect you.”

“Certainly, we’ll let you know. Which house should we visit? I’m sure you want us to visit you at the new one you’ve just built in Slipi.”

Handarbeni laughed in agreement. His eyes twinkled as he nodded and smiled at Lasi.


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