Irang likes the home she lives in. It is made out of bamboo. Every morning the sun would peek behind the half-opened door, leaving a glimpse of golden gleam on the left bamboo wall. The gleam falls exactly on the part where bunch of moss had grown on.
The moss must have grown out of richness. It is rich with water (that part of the wall is always damp) and always gets a generous amount of sunlight. Irang could spend humming a whole round of song watching the moss breathing in and out the early air of the day. Sometimes, she even could stare for two rounds of song-humming even.
Then Umi will call her to bath.
No, Umi never shout from the kitchen while she was cooking. Never did Umi yell from the bedroom. Umi has always got out from the bedroom before the sun wakes up, Irang knows this. She knows it as much as she knows Umi wouldn’t yell calling her to bath. No. It was always sudden, while Irang was staring intently at the moss, she felt perpetual movement of caressing, stroking her hair. Irang would look up. Umi would smile to her.
“Irang, take a bath.”
And Irang would take the towel form her mother’s lap, and march to the bathroom.
Most of the time, Umi helps Irang take a bath. Her mother would firstly scoop water with water-dipper made out of coconut shell, then put her hand on Irang’s shoulder, so that Irang would bow abit, and Umi shall pour the water on her head. Cold, she felt it flowing from the top of her head to the base of her feet. She whimpers, her jaws shake. She wonders if, when she ran out of the door and kissed by the sunlight, moss would also grew on her all-damp skin. She did ask her mother once, whether she could got out in the middle of bathing to stand under the sunlight.
“Why would you?”
So that my skin covered with green, soft moss, she said.
Her mother blinked two times. Then she took up on the soap foam, rubbing it to Irang’s skin a little harder than before. “You’re prettier this way.”
Irang didn’t say a word, and silently nodded. Irang has never seen her own face too clearly. She only sometimes see faint features of her face reflected by the sunlight on the surface of the water filling the black bucket her mother accidentally left outside after watering the paddy. Irang only sometimes see the silhouette of her frizzled hair, on those days she doesn’t bother to comb her hair and her mother’s too occupied with her pan in the kitchen. Irang sometimes tilts her head to the right of her shoulder while she was reflecting on the water surface, and felt abit like her mother.
Her mother is pretty.
But that morning, Irang couldn’t find out why that person whose face looks a lot like her mother didn’t seem very pleasant. Left alone looked pretty.
It was dawn, the sun hasn’t waken up. That person moves oddly. Her left leg looks limp, and she walked rather difficultly. Irang was watching her from behind the hole of the bamboo door. She suddenly realised she hadn’t drawn a breath, and didn’t remember since when. She then tried getting the air in and out of her lungs without having herself hears the breathing.
That person wore clothes similarly to the way her mother had always done. There was great deal of patterned fabric constricted round her legs, that seemed to make her even more difficult in walking with her left leg limb. The hair—it was pitch black and tied up into a big bun hanging from behind of her head. Just like Irang’s mother’s. She was trudging from afar. Closer, and closer to the door of her home.
“Has she came?” A familiar voice. Irang jumped.
Umi had waken up. Standing on the doorway of her bedroom, Umi hadn’t had her waist-length hair tied up. She looked at Irang’s face (Irang unable to open her mouth) and blinked two times. She then took lots of steps, as far as that confining linen allowed her to stretch her steps, rapidly toward the door.
Umi opened the door.
That person already stood right in front of their doorway. Irang couldn’t imagine. How did she do it? Crossing such distance in that very short span of time, with her manner of walking. That person stared back at Umi’s eyes, and sighed.
“Couldn’t even manage to tie your hair first, huh,” said that person. She walked in before it’s allowed. Irang glanced at her mother’s face. Umi didn’t seem disturbed. She silently closed the door.
That person walked into the middle of the room and glanced thoroughfully throughout the room. Irang wished she at least knew her name, so she could call her before that person’s pair of eyes fall on Irang. But her mother didn’t say a word.
Her gaze fell on Irang’s. Irang held a tip of her mother’s sarong in reflect, but stared back. In a moment that felt like countless rounds of song-humming, that woman’s forehead eventually crippled. Her eyebrows went low and contorted as if the woman insists that the brows should met. In her eyes Irang saw a gleam of emotion Irang never saw in her mother’s eyes. At that moment Irang knew it is that gleam that made her looks felt unpleasant, despite having features so much in resemblance with her mother’s. Staring at Irang, the gleam in the woman’s eyes emboldened even more so. It was disgust.
“What child!” She shrieked. She closed her lips so very tightly a moment after. As if she couldn’t help those words from falling out from her mouth.
Umi closed Irang’s sight with her hand. “How dare you, womyn. The first time you step in here and you greet my child with a tone and a face contorted so!”
Irang didn’t hear that woman’s response, but Irang could hear the woman moving around and about. There are sounds of nails scratching on hard surface. Umi still put her hand on Irang’s eyes.
“Here! And here too! You have always been like that, cannot even bring yourself to take care things properly!”
“This is my house,” Irang heard Umi uttering those words in lowly voice. “My house, my home. And you don’t order things or tell how things should be, in here. You don’t.”
“O now you dare, sister!” That woman emphasised the last word with sinister tone. “If you dare enough, why don’t you let the child see herself in the mirror!’
“What’s a mirror, Umi?” Irang asked, still with the sight obscured by Umi’s hand.
Irang heard a long, high-pitched laughter filled the early air of the day. Irang was sure it is still the early times of the day.
“She grows up without knowing what a mirror is! A girl couldn’t possibly turn into a woman without knowing what a mirror is! Who’s in fear now, Sister? Are you afraid she will feel terrible with her own face? Isn’t it you who afraid of having a child whose face so horribly different than yours?”
“Get. Out,” said Umi. Irang didn’t remember Umi have ever said anything that sharply, that dryly. “You. Get out of my house. Get out of here, now.”
“So be it! I can’t stand being in a place so damp and horribly sighted either!”
Several sounds of a person moving around, several sounds of footstep, door opening hastily and, finally, closing bangingly. Irang felt the familiar hand making the familiar stroke on her hair. The other pair of the hands excused itself from Irang’s eyes. Irang looked up and saw Umi’s face becoming wet from tears. Irang held Umi’s hand. Umi couldn’t hold her smile back. May I know why, Umi, said Irang.
“What is it you want to know?”
Why don’t you ever let me see a mirror, said Irang.
For a moment, Umi gazed emptily toward the direction she’s staring. After awhile, Irang abit not sure that Umi actually heard her question. When she’s about to repeat her question, Umi opened her mouth.
“I don’t want,” Umi said, with utmost care towards every word she’s saying, ”I don’t want you to grow up with the idea that looking into the mirror is the only thing that matters. Because it is not.”
People who have mirrors think that way, Umi?
“We, women, tend to think so,” Umi said gravely
Then I don’t want to be a woman.
“What is it then, you would become of?”
A lady! A princess! (Umi laughed) A dancer! Or a girl. I can be just a girl. I don’t know, Umi, but being a woman sounds too plain for me.
“You could be just anything you want,” Umi took my head into her bosom. “I’m glad you do know that.”
But how do I look, Umi?
Umi blinked. “You look just fine.”
I want to know what kind of princess I would be. I want to look into the mirror. You have a mirror, Umi?
“I kept one tightly in my drawer. For that time when the moment finally arrives.” Umi stood up and walked into her room. Not a round of song-humming Irang could finish, Umi got out already. Clenched in her hand was a holding-mirror with complicated-looking motives. Umi handed it to Irang. Irang took it, ready to flip it to the reflective side, but Umi held her hand.
“Please do keep in mind,” said Umi, looking Irang directly into the eyes. “There is nothing in this world put out of place. Everything is in its right place.”
Irang nodded. Like the moss that grew in our home out of richness of water and sunlight! I have never wished to get rid of them, Umi. They’re so pretty.
“Indeed,” Umi smiled.
And yet, neither of them did see. Not even from their corner of their eye. That the moss is no longer there, no longer free.
* * *
September 30th, 2014
rushing to meet the deadline of EyeLevel Literature Award
whilst doubting it to be a children story