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Faith was a Girl Who ...

It was whilst driving around Semarang when my Indonesian istri or wifelette as my friend Ned would say, popped the question. I should explain that Ned, in the middle of a painful divorce in England, could not quite come to terms with polygamy and at well over six feet tall considered most things in Indonesia as diminutive. The question came as glimmer of hope that could extricate me from a bewildering and unreal situation.

For some weeks I had been getting verbally abused, sometimes in Javanese and sometimes Indonesian, for being the lowest and most disgraceful philanderer the world had yet seen. Apparently I had made love to her best friend, a pale, sickly looking girl, and a real professional who perhaps should have retired some time ago. Nothing I could say or do could prove a negative and I was really beginning to suffer. However many Sumpah demi Tuhan came from me, she wanted to believe the worst. I think her friend was rather enjoying it all.

Would I drink holy water at one of the local klenteng or Chinese temple? The consequences if I should be lying were grave. My stomach would swell up and in a few weeks I would pulang ke rumah Bapak or go straight to hell. What was there to worry about? I knew plenty of expats whose stomachs were swelling and I didn't mind going to visit my father. Also the rich tapestry of my life was becoming threadbare and this was an experience I had as yet never met with. A rich cocktail of sexual jealousy, superstition and ancient culture.

And so we arrived at the Klenteng on the border of Kampung Cina, arousing the curiosity of the parking attendant and various stall keepers. I did my best to go along with a bluff and unconcerned air. There was a small suspicion that perhaps depending on the impression gained by the priest, a virulent strain of cholera bacteria was or was not introduced into the air suci. It was a hot and dusty afternoon during the dry season better suited to a siesta, but my senses were wide-awake. This could after all be the beginning of the end.

There was much talk amongst the officials at the temple and I waited and waited but nothing seemed to be happening. Surely there was an inner sanctum where mantras would be spoken and the scent of joss sticks hung in the air. After awhile a bespectacled young man looking like a hand phone salesman, went over to a warung and brought back a small container of Aqua. It was hot and I was pleased that he had the kindness to consider my increasing thirst. The talking went on and on and I was becoming irritable. When would the ceremony take place?

Well, it already had. The Aqua was the air suci. Whether it had been decanted with the appropriate incantations beforehand or not, I never knew. The following weeks brought no illness, and when weeks had turned into months, istri saya lost all faith in holy water. It was only superstition and too desa for words. After risking my good name, to say nothing of my life! Do you ever have the feeling that you just can't win?

© Adrian Parke