Womb

My name is Nagari. Thirty years of age. There is no need to explain; I understand.

. . . That evening, after my bath, my hair still wet, I heard a pounding on the door of my rented room. Three men had come to pick me up. From the sight of the jeep waiting out front; from the low hum of its engine, as light as the evening air; and from their voices,  polite but firm, I knew what was happening.

The three men took me to a cold building with slippery  floors. A long corridor separated what seemed to be a score or more of facing doors. The celing was so high that when I walked  down the hallway or even whispered to myself, the walls threw back the sound along with a strange buzzing. The place resembled an abandoned motel. The air inside moved feebly.

I came to an open door. Without speaking, the three men motioned with their hands for me to enter. As I passed through the doorway, trying to guess what kind of room I was in, I sensed something strange .

In the room was an ironwood table—not too large but not too small either—with two chairs on either side. On the wall was a large clock with a hand telling the passing seconds, which caused my heart to shrink ever faster. The air was permeated with dust which stung my throat. 

The door closed behind me with a rush of wind that made me feel as if I were being pushed toward a pool of quicksand. My neck stiffened; my head felt heavy. Again, the ticking of the clock made me shiver.

At that moment,  I thought I understood why they had brought me to this room.

Just a week before a friend had warned me that such a thing could happen. But I had dismissed my friend’s advice as too hard to believe. Of course I had heard about strange things happening to others—for instance, a friend had been blindfolded and taken away in the middle of night by a group of men—but to me?

Where the men had taken my friend, she wasn’t able to explain. All she knew was that they had kept driving around, never stopping at all. During the entire time, not one of her abductors had uttered a single word. The only sound my friend heard was that of heavy shoes tapping in time with the cock and release of an empty pistol. What would you call that? A prank? Terror? Intimidation? I couldn’t figure it out.

In the end, my friend reported, she was taken back to her house and dropped off as if nothing had happened. Since that time, she has resumed her normal life. The only telltale sign of the experience is a look in her eyes which makes me feel as if I am being drawn into a tornado. With more poetic license, I might say that I could see growing inside her pupils an immense tree with extremely strong roots of fear.

There is indeed a vast difference between hearing about something and experiencing the same thing yourself, between the story of what happened to my friend and having it transformed into reality—something that might happen to someone else but never would happen, or so I firmly believed, to me.

Yet it did happen to me, but   thanks to my friend’s experience, I had a better idea of what was to happen. The room I found myself in provided plenty of clues.

My name is Nagari, I answered. Job? Sometimes I write, sometimes I sing—if what I’ve been doing all this time can be called work. Yeah, that is what I do. In short, I entertain people!

“Address?”

“You already know that, don’t you?” I tried to calm my heart. Tried to look into the eyes of the man in front of me, who seemed to be lacking nerves because he hardly ever blinked. (Like a snake’s eyes. They say a snake never blinks!)

“Just procedure,” he said calmly. “Your address?” he asked again.

“Boarding house number 2212.”

The man  pursed his lips . He was wearing a white shirt and a leather jacket, the cuffs of which were scuffed and dirty. His lips were discolored from an excess of nicotine; his fingers, chunky and coarse. But his face, in the light of what I guessed to be a 25-watt bulb, glowed with conviction.

“I am hoping for your cooperation so that you can go home soon. I am tired. You’re tired, too. So let’s work together on this . . . ”

For some reason, the sound of the man’s voice, the statements he made, were, to my ears, like jokes slipped by friends into desultory conversation at a café. His tone seemed intentionally neutral—the lighthearted sound of a bureaucrat’s voice when being interviewed by a television reporter.

“You do understand what I mean?” the man asked suddenly.

“No, I don’t!”  

His eyebrows rose. Then, suddenly, a smile—a nice enough smile—bloomed on his face, and he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a packet of cigarettes. “Do you smoke?”

“On occasion . . . ”

“Modern women usually do . . . ” he muttered, his nostrils flaring. “I’m sure you understand. I’m being honest here. I realize that you are an educated woman. Many people admire your writings. And to hear you sing . . . ” His voice now resembled that of a television presenter. “Well, I, too, am one of the millions of people who feel lost if, in the morning, I don’t see your byline in  the paper!”

The man then exhaled, blowing cigarette smoke toward the light, giving it a chance to form abstract shapes, resembling clouds, animals, uninteligible symbols.

“As a friend . . . I’m sorry, as a fan, I would very much like to know whether there was a reason for the hysterectomy you underwent on December 22?”

I tried to get my mind around the man’s question. Then, when I finally did understand it, I was truly amazed. So this was the reason I was here! Well, damn it to hell. Frankly, at first I thought I had been shown the honor of being invited to this place because of an article I’d published the week before. Now, as it turns out, I was completely wrong. I don’t know why but, suddenly, I felt disappointed: it hadn’t been for my thoughts, my ideas, or my criticisms at all that I was here, but because of what had happened on December 22!

I asked, “What do you mean? The hysterectomy? Are you asking about the operation I had last year?”

“Yes, the one you underwent on December 22 at 11.30 Western Indonesia Time, at a private hospital...”

“I don’t understand, sir...”

“And I understand that you might not understand. You probably aren’t aware or, let us say, at one time you might have thought that what you did was perfectly normal, a basic right, as it were. And I understand that, too. Very much understand it!”

The man stopped, suddenly attacked by a coughing spell. His brow furrowed.

When he continued, his cough stopped automatically. “The only thing we want to know is the reason behind your actions!”

Silence suddenly surrounded us. I looked at the man’s face. Beneath the light of the 25-watt bulb, his skin seemed bright and made my temples throb.

While trying to  ignore the pain, I repeated my question: “You’re asking me about my hysterectomy?”

“Yes...” His voice was steady, his eyes black dots.

Seeing his resolve, I was disappointed. Deep inside my heart, I had often imagined that one day I would undergo this kind of thing. Papers would be full of the news, a topic of intense discussion. Rumors would fly until it was all over, without ending. Yes, in my deepest of hearts, I had often imagined myself being tortured and that the drops of my blood would serve as proof that I had struggled for something and had moved people’s minds.

But now, here I was being questioned about a defective uterus, my womb, whose state had deprived me of my confidence and even to doubt my own standing as a woman.

“In fact, I’m surprised . . . ”

“I know you’re surprised,” he said, cutting me off. He looked at me sharply, as if conscious of my anxiety. “Surprised that it’s only now we’re asking you about it. and not, for example, after you had checked out of the hospital.”

 “I had an operation  because there was a cyst on my uterus. It was a medical procedure. I find it strange that you would be interested in that.”

Hearing my explanation, the man smiled broadly. Just as his mouth opened its widest, a house-lizard let out a shrill cry. The echo bounced around the room.

“OK then, just as I said before, let’s work together on this! We’re in this thing together. You know what it is we want to know. You can be frank. We’ve been in this business since 1971!”

I tried not to shake but my  stammer betrayed me. “I don’t understand. The hysterectomy makes me very sad.”

“Sad? Are you saying that you were forced into an operation?”

I felt hot under the man’s harsh gaze.

“Of course I was forced. I wouldn’t have done it otherwise,” I answered slowly. “Would a woman ever willingly have her uterus removed!”

“And who was it that forced you?”

“Excuse me?”

“Please, there’s no need for you to be afraid. We are on your side. We feel guilty for not being able to have saved you . . . ”

“What do you mean?” My temples were throbbing.

“Who was it that forced you to  have the operation?”

“No one forced me, sir!”

“But you just said that you had been forced . . . Just tell us who it was that forced you.”

The man’s brow furrowed again. The light shining off his face seemed to be reflected everywhere. What did this man want? I had begun to feel feverish. And the ticking of the clock on the wall made me suddenly think of my rented room. I hadn’t latched the window! I thought of the rice that was waiting to be warmed.Why did they want to know about my hysterectomy? Why?

“The indicators that we studied... And the facts that we gathered... Have pointed us in the right direction. You know that this hysterectomy movement has become the modus of a new terrorist movement whose goal it is to obstruct reform. It is part of a political movement being engineered by outside forces. That is why we are asking you for your help—to find out who is behind it.”

How odd! How very odd indeed to draw links between things that are, in my opinion,  completely unrelated. Forced links are possible, of course; a coincidence can always be found. But was a defective uterus reason enough to be suspected of having links with those extraordinary events?

Could the act of saving one’s life through a hysterectomy, which was something normal and ordinary, somehow be seen as a threat to public order, akin to a terrorist plot or the stockpiling of staples?**  

What was actually going on in the mind of the man? Was this an act of loyalty? Was national safety his only concern? Or, as my mind played devil’s advocate, could there possibly be any truth in what the man had said? What if there were a movement to stockpile uteruses—a movement of women, stockpiling them in a warehouse, instituting an embargo against the millions and millions of male sperm out there, a kind of pregnancy and birth strike. An incredible thought! But . . .

“In our investigation, we have come upon a group that wants women not to have wombs as a means of negating any opportunity for the birth of a new generation! We have been looking into this for a long time, now. For years, we’ve been collecting information. We have analyzed it. We have punched the numbers... And do you know what their argument is?”

He immediately answered his own question, so enthusiastically that spittle guzzled from his blackened lips: “That rather than giving birth to children who will neither be cared for nor protected by proper regulations, then it is better to have one’s womb removed! You must know that, don’t you?”

Good god! I truly was thunderstruck. I tried to imagine myself being able to think such a thing. Clack! No more new births. Clack! All the old people  dying! Clack! No more need to think about staple foods or about  this or that because life would end too. Just imagine  that a woman having her womb removed was a political act. A public threat. You can see  the question: “Who was it behind this idea of yours?”

I stared at the man, trying to compose my words calmly and clearly. “I had the operation because there was a tumor in my uterus. It was to save my life, sir. Truly, I don’t understand why you are asking me about it. It’s not something out of the ordinary. In terms of health, it’s quite natural, sir!”

The man smiled slightly and inhaled. For the first time, he blinked. I heard approaching foorsteps. Moments later, the door behind my back opened and I felt a rush of wind. The three men who had picked me up had returned. Without a word, they motioned for me to leave the room. Then to leave the house.

 

***

The next morning,  I  looked at the alendar, then at the hands of the clock. From outside came thunderous cries and applause. I opened the window of my room and looked outside to see banners proclaiming, “Save Women’s Wombs for the Future of the World!”

Suddenly I felt a pain in my stomach. Then, again, heard a knocking on the door. I didn’t want to open it. I could sense three men coming toward my room.

“We can see the consequences of your actions. Tell them now that you did not intentionally have your womb removed. Tell them that what you did was not a show of sympathy that could be linked with the high price of food! And tell them they need not worry, that the future generation will not be born as idiots because of poor prenatal nutrition. Tell them! They do not have to remove their wombs—not as you have done!”

My stomach tensed. I felt an incredible pain. Everything turned to black. Softly, I heard the voice of the man in that room giving a speech! Whose sound and the ticking of the clock pained my heart.

“Calm down. I ask you to calm down. Nagari will be unconscious in a moment. I ask that you give our team the opportunity to carry out its task—for the safety of Nagari…”

I tried with all my will to open my eyes. I knew the light: a 25-watt bulb. I knew the wall clock. I even remembered the lizard. I saw a face, a face I knew well.

I understood. No need for an explanation. Just like what several friends had reported. In this era, no explanation is necessary; no need for elucidation. Explanations are nothing but obfuscation.

Then, softly, I heard a strange voice. My name is Nagari. Thirty years of age. Jack of all writing tades. Gender: female! Room number 2212. Note: criminal victim. Stabbed in the womb by the movement against a new generation.

Was it true my womb had been ripped out with a dagger? How very strange! Why would they say something like that? All my friends, everyone, knew that I had had a hysterectomy because of a tumor inside my womb.

Godsakes. Who was I to ask why the news about my decayed womb had become such a spectacular story? Television, newspapers, and radio were all giving it coverage. Hundreds of new commentators on politics of the womb had been born in just a week.

From inside my room, I heard cheers mixed with screams. I shut my eyes while recalling that I may have once seen that decayed womb. But I failed to imagine it. Even though it was once a part of own body, perhaps I never will know what that decayed womb looked like. I felt my stomach. It felt empty. Suddenly I felt an incredible loss.

I turned on the television to see the news of long queues at all the major hopsitals in the large cities. I asked myself, “What are they in line for?” No answer was provided. They looked weary, as if waiting for their names to be called for their turn to enter the operating theater.

Nagari! Thirty years old. . . . On television, I saw my own face! So strange. So very strange.

Food riots have occurred in Indonesia because of the stockpiling of staple foods by unscrupulous merchants.—Translator’s note