Bitter-Sweet Harvest Extracts

An Mei in crisis

Once back in the house, An Mei ran up the stairs and into her bedroom. She bolted her door. Abandoning all attempts to hold on to her dress, she let go of the strap. The shift fell immediately to her ankles and she stepped out of it. Pulling the bedclothes off her bed, she draped them around her and went out onto the balcony. The night air was warm, but she shivered as it came into contact with her bare skin. She sank down on the floor, the tiles cold against her buttocks. Cross-legged, she sat covered by the clothes she had gathered around her and inhaled deeply on the night air. A rich, almost over-powering perfume of Jasmine filled her lungs.

She sat there for a long time, upright, her face turned upward to the night sky, eyes closed, oblivious to the pounding on the door and Nelly’s anguished voice asking her to come out and talk with her. The pounding ceased. There was a scuttle of footsteps as she went away. Then, she returned and she spoke again, but much softer this time, “I am sorry. I spoke too harshly. I’ve left a glass of water for you outside the door. I will be in my bedroom, when you are ready to talk. Yeong-yeong to yow tuk seong leong. All things can be discussed and solved.” An Mei heard her footsteps receding, and then all was quiet except for the sounds of the night. The humming of insects filled her ears, interspersed by the chik-chak calls of the geckoes. She dropped her head to the palm of her hand and wept, the hot tears seared through her skin.

“God, please help me. What shall I do?”

She sat still, her face wet with tears that just would not stop flowing. The darkness grew, lights faded as households went to sleep. Still she sat there. Hours passed. Dawn broke. The first glimmer of sunlight peeped through the strata of clouds on the horizon, breaking into thin wavelengths of colour: orange, mahogany red against a background of clear bright blue. In the distance, a cock crowed, dogs barked. Then imperceptibly, almost without notice, the cool dampness of the night air gave way to the growing heat of the sun. An Mei got up. Her legs could hardly bear her weight after the long hours of being twisted in a wedge under her body. She made her way to her bed, crawled into it and fell asleep.

The wedding

Hussein sat next to her, resplendent in a silk top, a beautifully woven sarong tied over silk pants, a songket headgear and the traditional silver dagger, the keris, at his waist. “It will be soon over. I’ll make it up to you,” he whispered, sensing her sadness. His voice was drowned by the start of loud recitations of the Koran and blessings. An Mei almost jumped at the loud intrusion. She closed her eyes tighter, reminded of the Khatam Al-Koran that had been conducted in the mosque the previous day. Surrounded by women folks, she had recited the last few pages and verses of the Koran. It signified that she had completed reading the Holy Book and that she, An Mei, renamed Noraidin, was transformed into an adult responsible for bringing up her own children and family in the Islamic way. She trembled in memory of the Imam’s interrogation. She had lied about her circumcision. With the support and agreement of Hussein, she had betrayed the faith even as she had professed to grasp it. Hussein reached over and held her hand. Gritting her teeth, she steadied herself, taking deep slow breaths.