Kamu mau jadi kekasih aku?

I had about seven hours to fill after purchasing my train ticket to Yogyakarta and before boarding the train to Yogyakarta. I left Gambir station and walked over to Merdeka Square. In between I also ate some ketoprak as I was still very hungry due to the fact that Jakarta’s streets are conspicuously empty on a Sunday morning, and the gado-gado stand I went to a few days before wasn’t where it was a few days before.

I had already spent a lot of time at Merdeka Square, the park with the giant concrete phallus ejaculating fire called Monas, short for Monumen Nasional, during my stay in Jakarta. I’m not sure why I kept going back there. Maybe the familiarity of the place gave me a sense of comfort and safety. And maybe just sitting there or walking around there was interesting in itself. There was always something to look at and falling into a conversation was very easy.

I sat under a tree in the shade, in the southern part of Merdeka Square, with my A4 size exercise that I had been writing in just before two guys came and started talking to me. They were members of an English language learning group in Jakarta and invited me to meet the group where they usually hang out. Unfortunately this wasn’t able to be done in the five and a half hours after meeting these guys and before boarding the train to Yogyakarta which I had bought a ticket for only one and a half hours earlier.

After we said goodbyes and the two guys continued walking around the park, I went back to writing in my exercise book. I wasn’t alone in my exercise book for long before a woman and a young girl walked toward me but stopped less than ten metres away from me. The women looked like she would be in her thirties or forties, was wearing a loose top over tight black leggings and her long hair tied back. Her two top front teeth were either missing, corroded or badly chipped. The girl looked to be in her early teens, and in contrast to the women, was wearing baggy blue denim jeans, a long sleeve white top and a white tudung. They just stood around giggling to each other until the girl came closer.

“Take poto?” she asked.

“Ambik gambar?” I asked back, still not used to adjusting my pronunciation to an accent more Indonesian.

Especially in Indonesia I’m often asked by random people for a photo. I’m not sure if they enjoy collecting white people, or pictures with white people, or its just their way of breaking the ice. Although it feels quite awkward to take a photo with a complete stranger, I usually agree to the photo-taking, treating it as an ice breaker and work at developing a conversation with them. Sometimes it works.

This time it did work. A few photos were taken with mobile phones, which looked like some sort of Blackberry copy, and they invited me to join them in walking around Merdeka Square. Since there was still about five hours after they invited me to walk around with them and before I boarded the train to Yogyakarta and curious as to where this will lead, I decided to follow.

We walked over to the fence that separated Monas from the rest of Merdeka Square, collecting two boys along the way who looked to be between five and eight years old. We stood next to the fence talking and watching small children slide between gaps in the fence and people who were bigger than small children jump over the fence. I figured that all these people were doing so to evade some sort of entrance fee. Though, considering that Monas is so huge, maybe walking along the perimeter of the fence to a more official entrance was just too time consuming and a little bit annoying.

The young girl invited me up to the top of Monas. I wasn’t really in the mood for it so I declined. She asked if I was scared. Not scared, just not really in the mood for it. And not really in the mood to arbitrarily change my brain mode to ‘in the mood to go to the top of Monas’.

She then invited me onto the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square. She said it was free. Which made me a little bit more in the mood for that. Along the way towards the place where people line up to board the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square the girl asked the usual questions – How long have you been in Jakarta? How old are you? Are you married? Do you have a girlfriend?

After replying in the negative to the last two questions I noticed a look, a smile, and a giggle between the girl and the woman. I wondered what that was about. Maybe the woman was trying to hit on me and the young girl was her wingman, or wingperson. If that was the case, I couldn’t find any reason to have a problem with it. There was less than five hours after that moment and before I boarded the train to Gambir, so nothing too awkward should be able to happen.

I still wasn’t quite sure what the relationship was between the woman and the girl. Was the woman the girl’s mother or older sister? Or maybe they were just two people who became friends somehow and hung out at Merdeka Square giggling and smiling at each other.

“Bisakah aku panggil kamu kakak?” the girl asked me but at the time I didn’t know that’s what she asked me. I didn’t realise that’s what she asked me partly because my skills in Bahasa Indonesia aren’t very good so I only heard key words. I think the main reason I didn’t know at the time that’s what she asked me is because I’m used to speaking Bahasa Malaysia and not Bahasa Indonesia and so unless you were unsure about my gender, asking me that question would make no sense at all.

So, putting together the words in my head, overlooking the real meaning of the words because my brain believed that meaning makes no sense at all, I agreed anyway, though not sure exactly what I was agreeing to. Maybe she was playing match maker between me and her older sister. Maybe the woman was her older sister. Or maybe she wanted to call her older sister and tell her about me and introduce us. Maybe call her older sister to say, “Hey I have another picture with a white person to add to our collection.”

After replying to her question with yes, she started to occasionally address me as kakak. Which meant that whenever she addressed me as kakak I thought she was talking about her older sister who may or may not have been the woman with us.

We saw that the line to be able to board the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square was long and decided against joining the group of people waiting to get on the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square that may or may not be free.

Apart from this being a time when many people line up to board the car-train thing that drives around Merdeka Square, this was also the time that the water sprinklers on the lawns at Merdeka Square are activated. Kids were running through the sprinklers, sitting on them or guiding the streams of water in the direction of parents, aunties, uncles, older brothers, older sisters and other people who weren’t playing with the sprinklers and showed little desire to get wet. Among the children playing with the sprinklers were the two boys that had been following us and one of them had guided a stream of water in the direction of the woman. We all giggled and laughed.

We walked back in the direction of the tree where we first met but instead of walking to that tree we walked to a man that was sitting next to a few bags of chips and other types of keropok and maruku. The woman and the girl sat down and talked with the man and I was invited by the girl to sit down too and she offered me some of the chips.

We sat and ate and I began to work out the relationship between the people around me. I figured that the man was the woman’s husband, and the woman was the girl’s mother. So the woman wasn’t trying to hit on me and she wasn’t the girl’s older sister. But where was this older sister that was always mentioned, or I thought was always being mentioned although the kakak occasionally referred to wasn’t an older sister but maybe was in fact me.

Though, maybe the kakak wasn’t me after all because while we were sitting down, the girl had taken out her phone and called someone. She called her older sister and tried to get me to talk to her.

“Tak mau. Malu! Malu!” I said, declining the offer numerous times. I felt awkward talking to someone on the phone who I’d never met before and wasn’t a call centre worker. I felt awkward by the prospect of some kind of matchmaking attempts. The girl kept on insisting I talk to her older sister.

Eventually I gave in and took the phone. We talked a bit, though communicating wasn’t so simple. Listening through a phone line to a voice without accompanying facial expressions and body language makes my ability to understand Indonesian even worse than it is. We struggled through saying hello, asking each other’s names, various other pieces of small talk and ended with her asking, “Can I add you on Facebook?”

After hanging up the girl asked if she could ask me something and I said that, yes, she could ask me something.

“Kamu mau jadi kekasih aku?”

“Apa?!” I exclaimed. I didn’t respond this way because I didn’t understand the meaning of the words she had just said. I responded this way because my brain didn’t know how else to respond to a fourteen year-old Indonesian girl wearing tudung asking if I would like to be her lover.

She seemed to think that I didn’t understand her words. So after what looked like the figurative act of ‘gathering courage’ manifested in the physical form of a facial expression, that made me feel kind of bad because in response to her courage in asking me that question all I could say in response was “What?!”, she asked me again.

“Kamu mau jadi kekasih aku?”

“Errr… Tak mau.”

“Jelasin kenapa nggak mau?”

“Apa?”

This time I said this because I didn’t quite understand the words. I forgot that in colloquial Indonesian, the -kan suffix is replaced with an -in suffix. And, she repeated her question (if what she said is actually considered a question).

“Jelasin kenapa nggak mau?”

“Err… Sebab saya tinggal di Malaysia. Saya tak tinggal di Jakarta dan saya akan pergi ke Jogja malam ini.”

“Is it because you don’t like girls who wear tudung?”

I felt my insides burst into laughter. If only she knew. If only she knew about how much of a Yuna fanboy I am. If only she knew I had such a huge crush on a girl who wears tudung. If only she knew about the constant jokes made by friends and myself to the effect of me having an obsessive attraction to girls who wear tudung.

“I like girls who wear tudung. Some of my best friends in Australia and Malaysia wear tudung,” I try to reassure her that its not because I don’t like girls who wear tudung.

We sit for a few minutes longer and then her mother and father want to leave. We stand up, say goodbye and walk off in our own separate directions.

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