Central Java 1925.
Slender, light olive colour complexion, shiny dark hair. She was a girl of natural youth and beauty. The 18 years old Rani was exuberantly happy that she was able to go home earlier. She helped her parents with their business selling vegetables and fruits in the market. The hustle bustle of the market day had started to reduce.
“Rani, you can go home now because most of the fruits and vegetables have been sold. You need more time to finish the embroidery on your wedding gown,” Rani’s mother said to her only daughter.
Quick and light little steps brought her down the familiar stony path. The wild rose bushes along the road were blooming. The white, pink and red flowers released the sweetest perfume. She stopped and picked some of the flowers, and she was going to put them in her sewing basket where she also kept her unfinished wedding gown. When she was trying to reach up for the flowers, her batik skirt lifted up and showed a shapely ankle. All the way home, her mind was thinking about Surya and about their wedding which would be held in another six months. Just like herself, Surya also helped his parents with the family business. In his early twenties, he was tall, darker skin, and his face was a reflection of strong determination. He travelled from town to town to sell batik clothes and sarongs. Rani remembered that day when he said: “After we are married, you can come with me and we will travel to many places together. I hate to go on my own. It is very comfortable to ride on my new carriage. You’ll enjoy it.”
While thinking about the joy of travelling with the man she loved, it couldn’t be helped that her mind was back to the nagging feeling that started to darken her thought lately. Surya took longer and longer trips in the last few weeks. Usually he was hardly away for more than three days, but lately he went for a week or more before returned home. The last time, he deeply apologized for missing their date to see the shadow puppet show. Rani thought that she should not doubt her fiancé. She had known him all her life because they had grown up together and she trusted him.
For more than 300 years Java, Sumatra and the rest of the Islands around them had been ruled by the Dutch Imperial Government. For many generations life for the local people had been hard. The Dutch made poor farmers do force labours. Educations were only for those in upper class especially for those who helped the Government. Most local products were sent to Europe, to their home land, especially tobacco, sugar and spices. Since the beginning of the occupation, the Dutch Government had faced many rebellions from all over the Islands. However, the struggles were never a united effort. There were too many different ethnic groups and different little kingdoms. Now since 1920, the struggle against the Colonial Government was more organised. The Young Sumatran and the Young Javanese Movements were united. They were recruiting more and more young men to join the fight in the last few years. Surya had been secretly joined this new movement. Just like many other young men, he dreamed that one day Java and the rest of the Islands would be free from the occupation. In the last secret meeting the Young Javanese Movement’s leader told them about a bad news. The Dutch Government had suspected their movements for some time and few of their members had been arrested. Now they were planning to start a guerrilla strategy and it meant that they had to live hiding in the wilderness.
It was not an easy decision for Surya, because he was left to choose between two commitments. It had been an agonizing life for him in the last few weeks. He felt that he had involved himself so much in politics, and it was too late for him to withdraw. He couldn’t imagine what reaction he would receive from Rani and her family. Even his parents condemned the rebels for causing troubles. They thought that it was a waste of young lives. The Dutch had ruled the Islands for too long, so most people couldn’t imagine living differently. However, Surya believed in freedom and better future for the next generations.
When he broke the news about his plan to his parents, her mother cried hysterically. It was a relief when his father gave him the support that he needed.
“Don’t worry about your mother, son,” Surya’s father said, “but you have to explain to Rani and her family. Tell them that your future will be uncertain. No body can tell how long you’ll be away and when it will end. There is no doubt that you can be arrested or God forbids that you may loose your life. The point is that you can’t tell her to wait for you. Either you drop your crazy plan or you tell her that she is free to marry some one else.”
After giving it the last thought, Surya did exactly like his father had told him to do.
It had been more than a month since Surya left to join the freedom movement. No one would know where he was. He had promised to send secret messages to his parents to tell where he was about. So far they heard nothing about him. He could be somewhere on the rugged terrains of Merbabu or Merapi Mountains, or he might be among the tall teak trees in Roban Forest. Rani felt that she was cheated, abandoned and unloved. “How could he be so cold after all the promises that he gave her?” she kept on asking her self the same question. Friends and families gave her supports by saying: “You have to be proud of him because he is fighting for freedom so the next generation can decide their own future, to have good education and to enjoy our land’s resources.”
The sharp afternoon sun blinded Rani’s tearful eyes. She felt like being drifted into uncertainty. She felt powerless. It was hard to accept that she should be proud of him and that he should be her hero. The cheerful laughter of the children who were playing and singing in the courtyard seemed to drawn her spirit deeper in desperation. It was almost the end of a long dry season, and the Mahogany trees started to shed their leaves. The gentle win blew them off the branches and lazily they drifted away taking with them her dream of happiness.
It was the end of August 1945. Indonesia was only a few weeks old since the Independence Day on the 17th of August. The Dutch Colonial occupation was ended in 1942 and the Japanese Empire took over. During the World War II, the situation was even worse than before. The brutality of the soldiers of the Land of the Rising Sun was unimaginable. Many people were left without food and they suffered from beriberi. When the Allied Force dropped the atomic bombs in Hiroshima and Nagasaki and followed by the defeat of the Nazi and Japan, there was a void of government in Java and the surrounding Islands. In the middle of the chaotic time, some young freedom activists Sukarno and Hatta took the advantage of the situation and proclaimed an independent for a brand new country that was called Indonesia.
Rani just received exciting news from Surya’s family that he was safe and well after all this time. For more than fifteen years he had been in and out of jails, and in the last five years he had been put into exile in Surinam by the Dutch. Now after the independent, the Dutch had to release him and he would be home in a few weeks.
All this time, Rani had learnt to accept Surya’s decision. She vowed that she would never marry another man despite her parents’ persuasions and the embarrassment of becoming an old maid. She decided to help her people by teaching young girls useful skills like cooking, housekeeping, sewing and embroidery. She fought the oppression of the Dutch in a different way.
Once again, after all these years, she started to think about finishing the embroidery on her wedding gown which was still neatly folded in her large sewing basket. Her patience and faith to wait for her love one had been worthwhile. This time, she could feel the sunrays warmed her feeling and brightened her new found dream. Once again the delightful fragrance of the white jasmine and muraya flowers in her garden captivated her soul. Her heart was aching for the thought to see Surya again after the long, long wait.