by Loren Hallilah Lao
“Get your feet off that kayuga,” Sadik told his son when he noticed the boy’s feet slung on the baby’s cradle of malong. “It will make the baby cry.”
The seven-year-old boy had been lying on his parents’ cotton mattress above which hung the kayuga and he had both feet slung on the kayuga which he gently swayed from one side to the other.
Sadik went to the narrow kitchen which was the only room partitioned from the rest of the wooden house. The rest of the house was a large square room in which three rows of mattresses lie on one length. The first was for Sadik and his wife above which the kayuga hung; the second for their three older children and the last laid against the wall of the kitchen was for his wife’s old mother and younger sister. Only the lone narrow post at the middle of the room, barely holding the sagging roof, divided the area so at nighttime, mosquito nets separated the group of people on one mattress from the others. On the other side of the room, opposite the rows of mattresses, an old sala set was placed on the corner near the front door. Between this furniture and the door to the kitchen were two kabans where clothes are kept and two cabinets with transparent glass doors, one containing unused glassware and the other clothes.
“I told you to take your feet off that kayuga!” Sadik roared at the door to the kitchen. The tall lean man had just reemerged at the door carrying a broomstick and he saw his son again whose feet were still swaying on the kayuga. ”You are so hard-headed!”
The loud booming voice of his father startled the boy and he quickly took his feet off the malong. The shout also startled the baby who had been lying on the middle mattress beside her elder sister. The baby wailed.
“There, you see?” Sadik scolded his son.
Amira, the elder sister lying beside the baby sat up and scooped up her baby sister in her arms but the baby continued to wail at the top of her lungs. Sadik put down the broomstick and went to the mattress where his daughters were seated. He took the baby and rocked her in his arms. He tried to pacify the baby but the wails only got louder.
“What was that?” Jamila asked who had appeared on the kitchen doorway with her old mother, both alarmed by the shrill cry of the baby.
“How many times do I have to tell you never to sling your feet on the kayuga because sooner or later the baby will cry but you never take it in your head!” Sadik continued to scold his son. The frightened boy scampered from the mattress, went towards the kitchen and vanished from view of his father.
“What happened?” Jamila’s mother asked.
“These children. I told them many times over never to sling their feet on the baby’s kayuga but they never learn.”
Mother and daughter exchanged knowing looks and Jamila went to take the baby from her husband. Her mother went back to the kitchen to finish cooking. Out of fear of her furious father, Amira got up and took the broomstick left by her father on the kitchen door and started sweeping the floor. Jamila sang lullaby to her child as she continued to rock the baby. Sadik sat on the sala set looking irritated.
“Where is Abdul?” He suddenly asked noticing the absence of his four-year-old son.
“He must still be out,” Jamila said.
“He was playing with his friends at Babo a Saima’s yard,” said Amira.
“Still playing? At this hour?” Sadik’s face was again a picture of anger. “Amira, you go and find your brother and tell him to come home. It’s purimon.”
“Amira, go call you brother home,” Jamila reiterated in a low voice to make her daughter hurry.
The girl dropped the broomstick and went out to call her brother. When she was gone, Sadik turned to his wife. “Inaman, don’t let them play outside this late. At a time like this, you don’t get anything outside except bad things. Ati, you’re supposed to close windows and doors. Bad things start to wander around during this time and you’ll never know when you will bump into these things.”
Jamila did not say a single word. She was a tall flabby woman, a year older than her husband. Though she normally had no tolerance to her husband’s raised voice when directed against her, this time she ignored him. She quietly went to put the baby on her kayuga and started closing the windows and the door. The baby stopped crying and she picked up the broom left by her daughter. She felt the broom sticks getting loose from the rubber that tied them in place so she pummeled the handle’s end on the post at the center of the house.
“There you go again!” Sadik shouted at his wife. “You too! You mark my words there will be fighting in this house again.” He shook his head in exasperation. He got up from the sala set, now looking very annoyed and went to lie on their own mattress under his baby.
The exasperated look on her husband’s face looked comical to Jamila that he almost made her laugh. She could barely stifle her giggles as she started sweeping the floor.
Her husband had many pamalian. Slinging the feet on the baby’s kayuga will cause the baby to cry. Hitting the post at the middle of the house will lead to the members of the household fighting. The doors and windows should be closed before dusk because only bad things could happen at this hour and one should not go out during this time because bad incidents usually happen at this hour. In contrast, the windows and doors should be opened immediately at sunrise and one should get up because then blessings descend down from heaven.
Jamila particularly liked one particular story of his. Before his parents went to hers to ask for her hand, they had gone first to see another woman. His parents were the first to visit the woman’s house “to test the waters”. They were welcomed to the house but when they asked to see the girl, one of her sisters said the girl was still having a bath down the river. His parents never returned and he never went there. Thus ended the courtship. When a suitor’s first visit to a woman’s house coincides with her taking a bath, the man will become a widower of the woman.
Sometimes Jamila found all these beliefs funny and ridiculous making her laugh but he would say, “Our ancestors did not die for believing in them.”
But perhaps his superstitions were made more acute by the money he recently lost. He had arrived early in the afternoon from the ragat where he had a thriving business and he was very tired from his trip. After his late lunch, he told his wife about how he lost his sales while he was on his way to buy more goods for his store. But despite this, he still brought home gifts for her and the children.
“You should not have bothered, you know…” she told him, feeling sympathetic with the forlorn expression of her husband.
“I cannot possibly come home without anything to give you and the kids.”
This endeared him more to his wife. Even in the face of adversity, he still thought of his family, her and the children. So Jamila perfectly understood his temper this afternoon.
“What is the matter with you?” Sadik boomed again from the mattress. Jamila had just swept out of the door the dust and some small scraps of papers she had gathered with the broom.
This time Jamila could no longer stop herself from laughing. One should not sweep dirt out of the door at night because it would mean sweeping luck out of the door also.
“Will you relax? Your loud voice had me confused that I no longer know what to do. I get to forgot all your pamalian out of my confusion,” she said with a touch of mirth on her eyes.
She finished sweeping the floor and placed the broomstick on the corner near the door. Then Amira and Abdul entered the door in a huff, the boy wide-eyed with fear of his father.
“Close that door,” Sadik told the girl. Amira closed the door slowly while the boy stood nervously beside the sala set facing his father but avoiding his eyes.
“Where have you been?” asked Sadik in a flat monotone barely concealing his annoyance.
“I was playing…”
“Playing! I told you many times over never to stay out at dusk and you never listen to me! Do you want some beatings now?”
“Alright, you take your brother to the kitchen and make him wash his feat,” Jamila told her daughter to relieve the boy from her infuriated husband.
Amira took hold of her brother’s hand and led him to the kitchen. Jamila had just sat down the sala set to rest when a loud knock rapped on the door. Sadik lay back on the mattress.
“Who is it?” he asked before his wife could get up to open the door.
“It’s me.” It was the voice of Raida, Jamila’s younger sister. Jamila opened the door. “Saima arrived,” Raida told her sister when she got inside. “She said to tell you to go to their house.”
“You can go there tomorrow,” Sadik told his wife. “It’s already evening.”
“She said it’s urgent,” Raida told her sister under her breath. Jamila winked at her sister conspirationally not to let her husband hear her.
“It’s not that far,” Jamila said trying to assure her husband for going out at night. “It’s only five houses away.”
“That’s up to you but don’t say later I didn’t warn you,” Sadik said and turned his back on his wife.
Jamila unwrapped the upper end of her malong to cover her head and went out of the door. Raida went to the kitchen. Her mother asked what was Saima, the old woman’s niece, wanted from Jamila.
“I don’t know,” shrugged Raida. “She said it’s urgent. Sounds of pots, ladles and plates clanging mixed with the children’s noise as Raida and her mother started serving dinner to the kids.
“Amira, you go on call your father to eat,” the old woman told her granddaughter. “So that he can retire early. He’s tired from his trip.”
The girl got up from the table and went to the door that led to the main room and called her father, “Ama, the meal’s ready.“
“You go on eat. I’ll wait for your Ina.”
Amira went back to the kitchen and joined her brothers and the two elder women on the table. They were midway with their dinner when they heard the front door banged open. The door crashed on the wall displacing the broomstick Jamila had earlier put on the corner. The two elder women rushed to the kitchen door, the children following immediately behind them. The sound also made Sadik sit up from where he was lying on the mattress.
“Where is that kiyasokaran!” Jamila shouted as she stood at the door, her face fuming mad.
“What’s the matter?” Her husband asked looking alarmed.
“Kiyasokarangka!” She rushed to her husband but she tripped on the broomstick. She took the broomstick and ran to the mattress and started hitting her husband. The man fell on his back and Jamila straddled him and continued to hit him with the broomstick.
“What is this? What is this?” The old woman asked as she rushed to the couple on the mattress. Her malong fell and she stopped on her tracks to gather the cloth. “What happened?!”
“He did not lose the money! He used the money to get married! I will kill you! To think that my heart even bled earlier for his story of his loss when he was having a great time with his wife! I’m going to kill you!” Each statement of Jamila was punctuated with a hit of the broomstick. Sadik tried to parry the blows but could not do it very well because he would have to hit or hurt his wife.
“Aydao!” Sadik continued to wince in pain. “I didn’t. Who told you?!”
“Don’t deny it! Liar! I know it! I know it! They told me so! You can’t fool me! I will kill you!”
The old woman reached the wrestling couple and took the broom away from her daughter and threw it away. But Jamila continued to hit her husband, this time with her hands. Then she grabbed his hair and tugged at them. The old woman tried to take her daughter’s hand but the she was no match to the strength of her daughter as the latter elbowed or kicked her mother in her wild attack against her husband.
“I will kill you!”
“Give me a hand here, will you?” The old woman shouted at Raida who was still immobile with shock at the kitchen door. The children had started crying. The old woman bumped the kayuga and the baby started to wail also. “Amira, get your sister!”
Raida went to the aid of her mother while Amira took her sister from the cradle of malong. Mother and daughter managed to take hold of Jamila’s hands which were now clawed on her husband’s face. The fingers scratched the man’s face as the two women disentangled his wife from him.
“Aydao!” Sadik shouted in pain, his hand groping where his wife had scratched his face. He stood up as the two women hauled his wife away to the next mattress. When they had her finally under control, Jamila was disrobed of her malong and only a thin chemise covered her legs. The old woman and Raida bore scratches on their arms. All three women’s hairs were in disarray.
“What’s the matter with you? What happened?” The old woman asked again in halting deep breaths.
“They told me he had married a woman in the ragat! He did not lose money. He used it for the butang for his wife.”
“I told you not to go out because it’s evening but you did not listen to me,” Sadik said wincing in pain.
“Don’t blame the evening! It’s you! This is nobody’s fault but yours! You! Yours!”
“Jamila, keep your voice down. The neighbors will hear you,” the old woman told her raging daughter.
“I don’t care! Let them hear it!” She lunged at her husband again and the two women scrambled after her. They wrapped their hands around her to stop her. All fell on the mattress face down as they pinned the violent woman.
“This is for hitting that post. I told you many times never to hit it with anything. This is what you get,” Sadik said.
“The post, ha!” Jamila pried away the hands of her mother and sister and went to the kitchen in long furious strides. She did not notice her sons who were sobbing at the door side while they watched the display of violence. She emerged in a moment carrying a badi.
“What the…?!” The old woman stopped in mid-sentence when she saw the bladed weapon she used earlier to cut firewood. She again wrapped her malong tighter around her waist and attempted to go to her daughter but stopped at the look of determination on Jamila’s face. Sadik looked frightened at the sight of the badi.
“Hey, you drop that,” he said now looking really scared.
But Jamila went to the center of the house and started hacking the wooden post with the badi. “It’s the post’s fault, ha! Let’s see if this will stop all the miseries in this damned house!”
The children’s cries started to get loud again. The three elder persons tried to come near Jamila to dissuade her but she turned to them with the badi held high and shouted a stern warning, “Don’t even think of coming near!”
They halted on their tracks. They tried to come near again but Jamila would raise the badi at them every time they did so making them stop again.
“Somebody stop her!” Sadik shouted at no one in particular looking helplessly at his wife.
Their neighbors heard the commotion and the children’s loud cries and they started appearing on the front door but stopped from coming inside the instant they saw Jamila hacking at the post, half of her body still covered only by the transparent chemise. The first neighbors to come were young women and they could only look at the hacking woman helplessly.
“What was the commotion?”
“What is this?”
“What were the shouts?”
“I’m cutting the cause of all the miseries in this house!” Jamila answered. The neighbors looked at the other members of the household in askance but the latter could not supply answers as they entreated Jamila to stop. No one dared stop her and so they began to suggest some elderly relative in the neighborhood whom they thought could talk reason with her.
“Somebody call Kaka to make her stop.”
The roof sagged even more when Jamila was finally finished cutting it in half. When the older women and the men arrived, Jamila was almost finished with her work. A stooped elderly aunt of Jamila arrived and wrested the weapon from her hand. Jamila straightened up and let out a deep breath. She tucked the loose tendrils of her hair behind her ears and turned to the neighbors to answer their queries.
“Sadik says hitting this post is pamalian. It causes the fights in this house. So if it’s hacked off, it might ward him off from getting married to more women. It was the cause of this fight.”