Jakarta, 1975

People feel sorry for Widya now, married less than six months and her husband already deployed to the military campaign on East Timor. But she's not sorry. Not at all.

Bayu, standing in the door with his bags. It's a strange sight, the same broad peasant's face on a tall skinny boy, eyes clever and quicksilver black. Not hidden deeply in their sockets like his brother, open and as cheeky as ever. A piece of the village in her doorway. Can almost smell the burning firewood, a spice paste ground in her mother's kitchen. The cattle, warm and earthy, dung and milk, the fresh odor of hay.

"Come in, come in and sit down."

Awkward the two of them, not childhood friends and still the intimacy that their past renders their encounter. Her brother-in-law now, and she is the mistress of the house. They are both unsure, uncomfortable with this new truth, they have nothing to stand on.

"Thank you Sister." A sheepish smile as he puts his luggage down. The maid scuttles by to pick them up.

"In the guestroom Timah," she says. "Let's drink our tea on the terrace."

Bayu's arrival, means she is suddenly not only a married woman, but a married woman with a young student as her charge. Never mind that they are the same age. The ring on her finger automatically makes her the only adult here.


He hangs around her and she doesn't know how to shake him. Follows her around the house like the smell of shrimp paste. Impossible to shake. If she reads in the salon he'll find something to do there. If she's in the garden he'll bring his course material out there on the veranda as if it is a given - that where she goes, he has to follow. She glances over at him there on the daybed, his bare feet up on the linen pillows, his nose in a book. The type of person that can't be alone, isn't comfortable in his own company, she thinks with a certain contempt.

"You missed a spot," he grins, nodding at the flowerbeds that run parallel to the southern wall. "Or are you giving the weeds free leeway now Sister?"

"Obviously," she bites back and gives him a pointed look. Hears how he sniggers at it. She tries to think of him as her brother, because she guesses that's what he is now. But there is a grain of childhood between them, a light teasing tone, a remnant of who they once were. The boy, the cruel child he once was is right there, right beneath the surface. And she's no better, often enough her fists twitch, yearning to hit him.

"You know, you could help out instead of lying there like a useless slug all day."

"I'm busy." How his eyes narrow, mouth a little pursed. The funny upper lip, like a half-moon with a complete absence of a cupid's bow. Strangely plump and she wonders how it would feel to – no. She won't let her mind go there. He's her brother, her husband's brother. "Besides, I like watching you work."

Impossible to miss the sly glance down her ass. Makes her tug at her dress, a modern thing that reaches mid thigh, large yellow flowers on a white base. Her hips, too wide, too hefty for the rest of her. She knows she looks like a disproportionate guitar, but it's not entirely unpleasant, the way his eyes linger on her. Black and intense, cruel like a thoughtless puppy. He'll chew her up, she knows it. Given enough slack of the leech, he'll behave like a spoiled pup, would jump up, put his muddy paws all over her. She knows it.

Still, she can't help smiling back.


She used to hate him. But he's her brother now.

She alternates between repeating one or the other but it doesn't help. How he'll sneak up on her, slide by, much too close, accidentally brushing his fingers by her hand. Always around, always there and she wonders if he ever attends his lectures.

She opens the refrigerator quietly, careful not to make any noise. Needs something to eat, a cake or some cheese or anything. Just needs to still her restless heart and food seems to be the way to go. It's late and the servants are all in their quarters. She can't sleep. There is something here, in the air. It fizzles, sparkles – gives off a current of it's own and she blames him. How his energy fills the house. She can't decide whether to hide and give him a wide berth or if she wants to follow him around too. To think that they are brothers, she still can't make the puzzle fit. Poles apart and she feels herself floating towards him, something new and frightening pulling her in.

And of course he's there, standing in the doorway in a pair of shorts and a t-shirt. Finger across his lips; shush.

"Hungry?" A theatre whisper, trying not to look at him as she takes out a plate of sponge cake, half of it left. Puts it on the kitchen counter and searches the drawers, raffling around for a knife. "You want some?"

"Yeah. Starving." And there he is, right next to her by the counter. Takes the knife out of her hand and slides the plate over to him. His naked arm, brown against her paler skin. Soft tight pores, not a single hair. Nothing like her husband.

Draws her breath in, trying to smell him. Her shoulder against his upper arm, and she ought to move away, step back but she can't. The warmth of him, discernable through clothes, solid and real. Real.

"Can't sleep huh Widya?"

Oh it's 'Widya' now, not 'Sister'. Watches his beautiful piano hands, how they flare above the thumb and continue upwards curving in towards curiously slim wrists. Hands, fast and nimble like the rest of him.

He cuts two large pieces, picks up one and swivels towards her, his chest against her shoulder and she still can't move away. Holds the sponge cake up, a hand cupped underneath to catch wayward crumbs and she knows what he'd doing. Before she has the presence to stop him he's broken off a large piece and put it between her lips. Has no choice but to open up. Too big, it makes her look like a hamster, feels her cheeks bulging. Has to covers her mouth with her hand as she struggles to chew it down.

He laughs at her, not with her. A snorting kind of laughter, as if she's there for his entertainment only. Arrogant ass. Leaves his own cake on the counter and leans, all cocky and overconfident. He studies her. As if he is trying to figure out what type of creature she is. If she's made of steel or cotton candy. His stare wandering from her bare feet, stealing up her legs, her plain cotton night gown, her hips. Stays there longer than what's decent only to continue up, towards her face, flickering between mouth and eyes.

Wonders if he'll try to kiss her. She'll punch him if he tries, kick him in the nuts for sure. She used to be able to take him. In the school yard, those brawls they'd had. She'd drawn blood that one time, had accidentally knocked her forehead against his nose and he'd run squealing to the teacher, earning her a close encounter with Pak Guru's bamboo cane. They are not kids anymore. Still, she feels like daring him. Just try it, she thinks. Come on. And somewhere there, standing like two statues in the empty kitchen a decision is taken. Above her head.

"Come on, I'll tuck you in." Such innocent words and yet, they are not.

Grabs her hand, the sensation of larger fingers lacing in between her own. Cake left on the counter, for the ants. Let them have it. He tugs her towards the bedroom as if he has a train to catch. They stumble along the dark corridor, his foot nudging the door open.

The two of them standing like children in front of that bed, holding hands. The un-traveled ocean of her marital bed.

"No. It's not right." But she wants. Wants. The ghost, rearing his naughty head inside of her. Go ahead, go ahead. Take Him. A mischievous spirit and she doesn't need his encouragement now. Not now when her own heart beats so loud she can hardly hear what he says next. Pressed out quietly between clenched teeth, his grip on her hand hardening too.

"I know. And to hell with him for this. For having all this and not knowing what to do with it. "Her husband. His mark on everything in this room, from the gold-plated mirror to the imported handcrafted Italian bed. And Bayu, her brother in law, her childhood nemesis. Still young and green like an unripe papaya, trust him to see right through them. The lie of their marriage. Their unsoiled bed, their sterile life. No one has ever writhed and grasped at the sheets here. No wet spot has ever been fought over. Nothing ever grew here, no passion, no seed. Like the sulphur quarry on the slopes above their old village, no life will ever sprout here.

He draws his hand away, escapes, out, away. It's better like this, she reminds herself. But her ghost, lustful, hungry and disappointed, floods her with his darkness. Like the ink of an octopus ejected, tainting her. Should have just taken him.


"I hated you when we were small."

"Completely understandable." He smirks at her above the rim of the glass. Nothing special, this barely grown man who hides himself behind feigned confidence. "I was an ass. And I hated you too."


"Because. You were a girl…" He shows his teeth now and the eyes, they sparkle, glimmer like a naughty brat. "And I was an eight year old boy. That's why."

"Hardly seems reason enough."

"I don't hate you now." Eyes glued on hers, taking a big old gulp from the glass and she can't help staring at the way his Adam's apple moves as he swallows. God. She has to shake her head, shake the desire out. How she can long for something she knows nothing about. "And it seems like the sentiment is mutual."

Everything heightened, magnified. His teeth unnaturally white against the bottom lip, biting into it and he doesn't look away. Naked, and raw under his eyes. No use in pretending with him, because he doesn't buy it for one second, the happy young bride. The shoddy image she tries to put forth. Not even for an instant.

Her sitting there, knees squeezed together. Both hands white knuckled around the drink. You'd think the alcohol might loosen up some nerves. Sitting here, getting drunk, flirting with her husband's brother. A husband who is away fighting for the Republic. A husband who doesn't want to touch her.

Realizes to her shame that she does not miss him. Not even a little.

Bayu stands up, comes around and takes a seat right in front of her, his ass on the table. Knees on each side of her own, thighs wide apart in a way that seems almost vulgar. Makes her want to touch him and she can feel herself blushing. Just like that.

Averts her eyes from him but looking down means looking at his crotch and it helps none. Just makes him smile wider, little wrinkles at the corners of his eyes that one day will be permanent but that now smoothens out as soon as he lets his face fall serious again. Sitting there, listening to the rusty sound of an old radio from somewhere nearby. Insects rustling in the garden. The two of them where not long ago, she'd sat with her husband.

And how different it can be. A man who makes her blush, makes her want to be brazen. Shove the t-shirt up, stick her nose in underneath his jaw. Breathe him in.

Doesn't expect his fingers on her face. Strangely soft, pushing back her hair, tucking it in behind her ear, gliding down to her chin. And it's make or break. How she can see what will happen before it does, she blames it on her ghost. But this, the taste of Vodka and yearning on his lips, she hadn't seen it coming. Expects him to be rough, take liberties, be forceful. Becomes undone by the way he presses a kiss at the corner of her mouth, softly, softly like you'd kiss the vulnerable head of a newborn child.

She knows she ought to say no. It's an easy enough word, but she's forgotten how to shape it with her tongue. She moves just enough to catch the hot puff of air on her upper lip from him breathing out through his nose. As if to fortify himself for an onslaught. And she tries to be dignified, tries to be as soft as him, only it's impossible.

Her lips, sliding apart, making space for him. Wants to taste him, greedy and hungry and she has never been kissed like this before.

"Hey…" he mumbles against her lips, grip on her chin tightening. "This is way better than that cowlick you gave me back in first grade."

How does he do that? Make it seem as if this is not a disaster, as if everything will be alright. That lightness of being, the one that he masters and she can't even get close. His thighs closing in on her, pressing against her, coarse denim against bare skin. Just instincts, she knows nothing about this. But it's late, she has drunk too much and he's here. He is here. His mouth evading her ever so little, just gliding across her cheek and it makes her pull her shoulders up.

"Maybe we should just sleep," he says, winded against her ear. "I have classes tomorrow morning."

"Yeah… yeah we should," she says but his skin the color of strong coffee with milk.

It's impossible not to touch him. His neck, his arms, the beautiful hands, long fingers with rounded nails. He seems to hold his breath. Leans back, slides his hands up on her upper arms. Reminds her of Mama the way he holds hard, and it ought to make her sober up but it doesn't.

"We should move…" he kisses her, just small wet kisses starting from her temple, all the way down to her mouth again. "The servants."

My husband, she wants to say, but he's not here. He never does this. His kisses, chaste and dry lipped. He never breathes like a freight train around her. Doesn't slide hot hands up and down her arms or look at her buttocks as if he'd like take a bite out of them. And he's not here. Can almost imagine that he has never set foot in this house.

A house that trembles with anticipation.

Doesn't know how they do it, only that it's mostly his doing. How he bundles her ahead of him, across the garden towards his little pavilion. It's in complete darkness and he doesn't even let go of her while pulling the curtains close across the large floor to ceiling windows. Switches the light on by the bed. A yellowish glow from beneath a small faded lamp shade. Sits down, her turn to stand between his legs.

"Oh hell, Widya… I… " He struggles with her blouse. Can't seem to remember how to unbutton it and she's surprised to see his hands shaking. Young and eager. And this is not her, this, she'll blame it on the ghost, on his incessant whispers; 'leave him, leave him'. This is the next best thing. Betray him instead – with his brother.

A desire that builds, red and compact at the center of her belly, rolls outwards like a giant wave, surging, enveloping. Everything. Senses attuned, only for him.

The skin at the back of his neck tastes of salt and sun. How he peels everything off, inhibitions and cautiousness together with clothes. Until she wears absolutely nothing and she's not scared. Not frightened. Just needs the most amount of his skin against her. A mathematical problem, not a moral one. Come, come. Creatures of comfort, he's the same. Nose rubbing against her, mouth trawling across her skin. Exploration for limits. This isn't done, this isn't the sort of woman she is.

Surprised to find - this is exactly the type of woman she is.

"We should…"


Token words that mean nothing, there is no reason here, no sensible voice saying stop. It scooted off the moment they stepped inside his room. How he pulls her down, rolls her over, spreading her out, like you might unfurl a hand in sleep. Softly unfolding her, and he's not so arrogant now. Lips apart, his breathing ragged and uneven as if he's been running up a few flights of stairs. She delights in his skin, how it's smooth and warm, melting against her like butter.

The way he kisses, as if he can't decide. Hot and hard, tender and raw. The way they fit together until he tries to enter her and she yelps out, bucks, tries to move. The pain, swift and sharp and he pulls away.

"Sorry…" he says. Lips pressed awkwardly against her cheekbone, just beneath her left eye before he rolls off her.

"It's okay..." She misses him already. Misses the weight of him, the smell of him. But the sudden breeze of cool air against her naked stomach sobers her up instantly. She sits up rigidly in the bed. He reaches for her, a large dumb hand caressing her back as if she's a little girl who needs comfort. Not a young wife who just lost her virginity. To the wrong man.

Not so wrong after all. Just right.

She might be a dirty, awful woman, but she's isn't sorry. Relieved to have been let in on the big secret. Already looks forward to the dull throbbing pain her friends complained about from their wedding nights. Welcomes it.

He lies there, doesn't cover up, glances briefly at the spot left after her. But not a word, not a raised eyebrow about the blood on the sheets when she stands up to gather up her clothes. Maybe he doesn't realize. Can he be that inexperienced? It just doesn't jive with the air of confidence he gives off, but then again, he seems to be good at faking it. He watches as she dresses, stepping gingerly into her underwear. He might think she has her monthly trouble, and she'd rather he believed that. It's humiliating to never have been desired by her husband, or by any other man for that sake.

His groan from the bed when she turns to thread her arms through the shoulder straps of her bra. She freezes, awaits a lewd joke, something at her expense.

"Come back Widya… sleep here tonight." She turns her head and he looks so earnest she wants to laugh. "Please…"

"What about the servants… They'll know."

"They don't care." He says and they both know he's lying. The sort of thing they live for, her bored little housemaids. But him there on the bed, the outrageousness of it. A man who obviously wants her, it's too much to resist.

They sleep, her back slick against his chest. The sensation of his heartbeat against her, slow and calm now, drifting off to sleep like that. She can't remember when she last felt right. Felt at peace. And the nightmares stay away all night. There are no red faceless monsters, there are no corpses with their eyes poked out, no Communist ghosts calling for her to help them. Nothing. Just dark, warm obscurity embracing her, taking her away.

She wakes from his finger trailing the shape of her ear, following ridges and miniature valleys, pinching the lobe. Making her swat at him as if he's an annoying insect. He puts his hand flat on her stomach. Pressing her to him.

"I used to hate you when we were children," he whispers, a whiff of regret against her ear.

"You don't hate me now," she says into his arm. But it's only a fantasy. Like the dreams she'd try to hang onto when she was little. When Mama' would scold her for waking up too late to do her chores.

And soon they will rise, will pull clothes on and peek around the door. They'll try to steal a clear passage, sneak by the servants. Different type of chores now. Will spend the day pretending they are what they ought to be.

Knows already how it will be. How they will pass through doorways, too close, slide fingers too near skin. Eyes will burn through the rooms, smiles will be dutifully swallowed.

And the house her husband bought will try to close in on them. Walls will lean over, ceilings will descend, will try to press all air out, put them back in their places. She's a young wife and he is her charge. They will behave as they've been brought up to. They will conform, fit in, squeeze back into their molds.

But she will remember this. His warmth bracing her spine, how the two of them fit together like a lotus seed in its pod. As if nature created them, just like this.

She'll remember the deafening pulse of being alive.