Chapter 33: Not a Virgin
Making it to the semi-finals meant that Yusuf would have to prepare to lip-synch a song the following week. Contestants were allowed to demonstrate other talents—magic tricks, snake dancing, and so on—but most of them chose to lip-synch because that was a mandatory skill for first prize candidates.
Following the close of the bar, the four of us went to a 24-7 McDonalds for breakfast. After ordering, Oskar and I immediately began to stuff our faces.
“With most of the contestants lip-synching Western songs, maybe you should do an Indonesian pop song,” Paris was saying to Yusuf. “Something in Indonesian might make you stand out.” He then removed a small plastic bottle from his Etienne-Aigner bag and, after opening the bottle, he poured a few tablets into his hand and tossed them in his mouth.
Yusuf looked at him curiously. “What are those? Are you sick or something?”
“They’re my hormone tablets,” Paris said while putting the plastic bottle back into his bag.
Yusuf continued to look at Paris, as if not understanding.
Paris ignored Yusuf’s look of incomprehension. “So what kind of song do you want to perform? I can help you with the moves,” he said.
I should mention that during this same time period, Paris began to delve more seriously into the subject of gender change, poring through articles he found on the internet about the subject. On occasion, he’d bring me up to date on his findings regarding plastic surgery, genitalia transformation, scraping of the Adam’s apple and so on. He discussed hair styles: length, cut and style. He plucked his eyebrows and dieted to lose weight and look slimmer. He tried different kinds of falsies for a more natural look. He purchased numerous women’s clothing magazines, which he gave to Yusuf to store in our cell.
“I’m going to start getting hormone shots so I can stop taking these awful birth control pills,” he said. Oh, and that’s right, he always forced me to take him to the drugstore to buy those dammed pills.
One evening, when Yusuf and I were in our cell munching on snacks we’d picked up at Indomaret, I began to think of Paris and the seriousness with which he was exploring the possibility of sex change. I looked at Yusuf and asked him, “Do you want to be a banci?”
Yusuf looked up from the magazine he was reading. Following my lead, he was not bothering to study for his final exams. Not because he was lazy, but because he was smart. He would ace his exams with little study; far more important for him at the time were his preparations for the Miss Drag contest.
“Hey, keep your voice down when you say things like that,” Yusuf said, his eyes on the passing figures in the void outside the open door of our cell. “I don’t want to be a banci,” he whispered hurriedly.
He seemed to notice that I wasn’t satisfied with his answer. “I just want to win something!” he added. “I’ve never won anything in my life. So I’m doing this not because I want to…. No, that’s not right; I want to do it, but….” He took a breath. “…but I don’t want to be this way forever. So don’t worry. I don’t want to be a banci. I like being a guy better. At first, you know, I was only doing it to make Paris happy.”
Hmmm, back to Paris.
Yusuf’s explanation served to ease my mind somewhat. I had begun to feel guilty about Yusuf’s change. Ali was still keeping an eye on me and though he rarely said much, I found the way he looked at me discomfiting. He was curious about me or about us, rather: what we were doing to be-come the moneyed and social creatures we now were. Yusuf’s answer was a relief for me. Ali didn’t have to worry that he was going to lose his brother. Only Oskar.
When the night of the semi-finals finally arrived, we were back stage and Yusuf was complaining to Paris. “I should be performing an Agnes Monica song.”
Paris was in the middle of helping Yusuf attach his false eyelashes. “What? You’re not a rocker! Can you see yourself stomping your feet on stage. Ieris B choezen inu sinaung for Yoelandu. You’ll sing the one I chose for you. With you as Britney Spears singing ‘Womanizer,’” you’re sure to win. I guess he’d changed his mind about Yusuf singing an Indonesian song.
What with it being the third week June and in the middle of the dry season, the club felt especially hot that night. I couldn’t stop sweating. Neither could Oskar.
As per usual, the contest was marked by laughter and loud clapping, but that night everyone seemed to be drinking. Ice was going fast and the bartender could hardly keep up with the orders.
When Yusuf appeared he forgot his lines in several places, but that didn’t seem to affect the audience’s reaction. I too laughed and clapped my hands, not because of Yusuf so much, but because of Oskar who was on stage acting as Yusuf’s slave. A few days beforehand, Yusuf had entreated Oskar for his assistance: in his performance he was going to play a dominatrix and he wanted Oskar to be his whipping-boy. To get his way, he whispered, “You know, I still haven’t forgiven you for the comment you made the first night we met. If you really want me to forget that incident, you have to do what I want.”
In the end, Oskar finally agreed. Little did Oskar know that I had given Yusuf the idea.
In the middle of the performance, when Oskar was on his hand and knees acting like a dog and Yusuf was whipping him, Paris came looking for me in panic. His eyes were moist and there was a worried look on his face.
“Iwenk’s here and he’s seen me!” he said loudly.
“So what?” I asked while flapping my wings, hoping to cool down the situation.
“Iwenk’s seen me!” he said once again.
I didn’t see a problem. “So what?” I asked.
“He laughed at me! That’s stressed me out!” Paris’s wig bobbed about on his head as he shifted his weight from one foot to the other.
I had forgotten to tell Paris that Iwenk already knew about him and that there was no need for him to feel stressed but at that moment I had no time to explain because Paris was as panicked as a drag queen, who had lost his wig.
I tried to calm him down.“ Don’t worry. People are going to know eventually.”
“No, I don’t want him or anyone else to find out!”
I frowned with confusion. “So what do you want then?” I had enough of Paris’ indecisiveness. Plus, it was so hot, I just wanted to fly away.
“I want to go home. I want to go home,” he whined dramatically.
I looked at his face. He seemed embarrassed. I didn’t understand why. If he wanted to become a woman, then he had to be able to show himself to other people, not just to his close friends.
“Wait for Yusuf to finish,” I told him.
Paris bit his lips and moved about restlessly, but did what I said. As soon as Yusuf was finished, Paris accosted him and held him they were going home—even though the contestants who had been selected for the final round had yet to be announced. But I would be there to hear the news. Oskar and I were always there until closing time. We could either take a cab or get a ride back to Tangerang with someone.
With the show nearly over, Oskar and I sat together at the bar: two angels together, a sight that drew looks of admiration or envy from numerous customers. Several offered to buy us drinks or otherwise engage us in conversation but, because of the heat, neither of us were in the mood. And then, a familiar person appeared: Mulyono, the salon owner whose existence I had long tried to forget. The thought of me being groped in the bathroom at his home immediately came to mind and made my stomach turn. I didn’t want anything to do with him but could do nothing as he came over to me.
“Hi Sexy,” he said in greeting while sitting down and giving me a look-over. “How are you doing?” he said with a grin while extending his hand.
I stared ahead of, not bothering to look at him or shake his hand.
“Stuck up are you, now that you’re a celebrity?” he said.
“Just normal,” I said quietly. I didn’t want to deal with him. Plus, the lecherous look on his face made me angry.
Oskar gave me a nudge, a reminder that I was dealing with a customer, but I ignored him, too. Orders from Om Bram were that even if we didn’t like a person or felt bothered by a customer, we were still supposed to smile and at least pretend to be polite. But with this Mulyono guy, I couldn’t fake it. The man revolted me. Had I been able to, I would have liked to flap my wings in his face and shred his skin with the wing feathers.
“Introduce me to your hunky friend,” Mulyono said to me, while leering at Oskar.
Oskar smiled but just barely, not wanting to encourage further conversation. Generally speaking, it was easy to discern a customer’s intentions, even when veiled, but Mulyono made no attempt to disguise his.
“How much for your time?” he asked straightway.
“Sorry,” but I don’t do that kind of thing, Oskar answered firmly. “You may look, but not touch.”
“You like to play hard to get, huh?” Mulyono commented, “Well I like it even better when it’s not so easy.”
Both of us blew wind from our mouths and silently prayed for the man to go away.
“Would would you like a drink?” Mulyono then offered.
“No thank you,” I answered quickly for the two of us.
“Don’t be that way,” Mulyono responded. “I may not be your type, but you could at least let me buy you a drink.”
Not wanting to be overly rude, I gave a slight nod of consent and not too long later Mulyono handed glasses of cola to Oskar and me. We took them reluctantly and at first made motions of just sipping on them, but the night was so hot and the glass of iced cola so refreshing, we’d both soon drained our glasses.
After standing beside us a while longer, Mulyono finally nodded and went away. After that, all of a sudden, and for the rest of the night—or at least the part that I remember—I felt extremely happy. All I wanted to do was dance. I grabbed Oskar by the arm and went to the middle of the dance floor to take advantage of what time still remained before the club closed. Oskar and I laughed and laughed. I felt a bit tipsy but also warm. I didn’t know if Oskar felt the same, but I felt giddy and strange. We were two happy angels on the dance floor and we didn’t care if our wings got into other people’s faces.
When someone pulled on my arm and led me off the floor, away from the crowd, I simply followed while laughing. Still holding on to Oskar’s hand, he too followed, laughing as well.
“Where are we going?” he called over the riotous sound of the song.
“I think we’re flying to heaven…” I answered, still letting myself be pulled away from the crowd by an unknown hand. After that, it’s a big blank.
The next thing I remembered was the sound of a cell phone assaulting my eardrums with its ring tone. The phone rang again and again, tens of times, dozens of times. I recognized the ring tone but my eyes felt heavy, as if bricks were on my eyelids. I was half-awake, half-floating somewhere I didn’t know. But the cell phone kept screaming at me. Finally, I opened my eyes a crack. My vision was blurred but I was able to spot the culprit on the edge of the bed. It was Oskar’s phone, flashing and vibrating wildly. I resisted picking it up, hoping it might stop ringing of its own accord. But it wouldn’t stop and its sound grated against my jagged nerves. I wanted to reach for it, then throw it away. I tried to move my right hand, but it wouldn’t move. I then tried to move my left, but it wouldn’t move either. Something was wrong, very wrong, I realized subconsciously. Maybe I was dreaming. I rested for a moment and tried to concentrate, isolating the sound of the phone in the back of my mind. I tried to gather my wits and return to full consciousness. But then, when consciousness did return, I discovered that I was in an unfamiliar place. Not only that but my entire body felt sensitive and sore: my neck, back, waist, chest, nipples, thighs, butt and crotch. I shook my head, trying to clear my vision, and that’s when I saw Oskar, lying naked and motionless across the mattress with his two hands tied to the bedposts. His eyes were blindfolded. Looking around, I saw the remains of our broken wings scattered around the room. I then looked at myself. I was naked and seated in a chair, my arms tied to its arms.
The cell phone rang again.
I struggled with all my might to release my arms, ignoring the pain that was wracking my brain. I roared as I fought with the bindings. Finally, I managed to break free one of my arms and then the other. I groped for the cell phone and stabbed the answer button with my finger. It was Paris calling.
I heard him chatter: “Hi! Where are you guys? We’ve been looking for you since last night. How come you didn’t say anything? What’s going on? Helloooo! Oskaarrrr!” But I couldn’t manage to say a single word.
My eyes fell on Oskar again and at once I wanted to explode from anger. I untied the rope that was around my waist and then moved quickly to Oskar. While fumbling to untie his hands, I kept saying, “Wake up…! Wake up…!” but the sound of my voice was that of an injured animal. I couldn’t scream; I didn’t have the strength. It took a long time for me to rouse Oskar and when finally he was half awake and we found ourselves huddled naked like two animals in a cage, that was when the fear we were feeling emerged.
We couldn’t speak. We just looked at each other, our eyes welling with tears.
I looked for my underwear and, after finding them, located Oskar’s and threw them next to him. Our bodies smelled. The entire room stank. My body felt broken.
Oskar finally managed to return Paris’ call: “Come get us,” he said in a broken voice. “Come get me and Ricky.”
I knew how dry his throat must have been. My own mouth hurt inside.
I heard a loud cry at the end of the line: “Where are you?”
Oskar looked around the room to find an identifying feature. On a cheap ashtray was the hotel’s logo.
“That hotel… That hotel where we took you.”
“What’s your room number?” Paris then asked.
“I don’t know! Just come here!” ” Oskar screamed in frustration before realizing that he needed to get control of himself and the situation. Finally he said slowly, in a calmer voice, “And bring us some clothes…”
After he clicked off the phone we sat and stared at each other again.
After Paris arrived and somehow managed to find our room, he blinked wildly when seeing us, his mouth fell open wide. Without a word, we took the clothes he had brought along, dressed as fast as we could, and then made our way to the lobby. But just as we were leaving the hotel, a security guard stopped up. Only a deposit had been paid for the room; we had to pay the rest. Paris took out some bills and handed them to the guard.
In the car, Yusuf was asleep in the front seat. Oskar and I got in the back and sank wearily against the back seat.
“I don’t want to go home,” I said.
Noting what I had said, Paris took the initiative and drove the car to the nearest toll-road entrance and headed westward towards Tangerang, but when the Tangerang exit approached, he drove straight by. We were now headed towards Merak. When nearing the next rest stop, Paris called for a piss-stop. There, Oskar decided to take over the wheel, and the four of us changed positions with Oskar and I in the front and Yusuf and Paris in the back.
We passed the exit to Balaraja and then the East- and West-Serang exits as well until we merged with the Cilegon toll road. Finally, after reaching the 140 KM mark, Oskar exited at West Cilegon. At first I thought, he might continue on the northern road that led to the harbor at Merak where we would get on a ferry, cross the Sunda strait to Sumatra, and traverse the island, not stopping until we came to the western-most point of Indonesia, five hundred kilometers away. Instead, he took the western route, a beat-up road made pockmarked by the weight of the semi-trucks that filled both lanes, which lead us through a huge industrial estate dotted with chimneys that billowed white smoke, until we came to the other side where the road suddenly emptied and the drive became peaceful.
Driving on, it wasn’t long before we came to the white and sandy coast at Anyer were the sea was a canvas of green and pale blue. I looked at the clock on the dash; it had been four hours since we’d left Jakarta.
Finally, at a deserted stretch of beach, Oskar slowed the car, drove off the road and parked on the edge of the sandy strip. Opening the car door, he jumped out and began to run towards the water’s edge. Paris and I jumped out of the car as well and followed him in pursuit.
At the point where the sea meets the strand Oskar stopped and stared at the distant horizon. He then screamed as loud as he could. No words but a wounded scream.
Paris looked at me, his eyes full of questions. We still hadn’t told him what had happened.
I wanted to scream as well but could not. My throat was killing me and I could only gurgle.
Yusuf woke up, squinted his eyes, and then got out of the car.
Oskar suddenly tore off his clothes and ran into the ocean. I hesitated but then followed his lead as well. That was our first bath after the realization hours earlier that we were no longer virgins. But I didn’t think the water of the entire ocean would be able to wash away the anger that would haunt us for the rest of our lives.
John McGlynn, translator. ‘Not a Virgin by Nuril Basri’. Queer Southeast Asia: a literary journal of transgressive art Vol. 1. no. 1, October 2016.