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Manoa 12.1 (2000) 13-23



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Village Dancer

Ahmad Tohari


February 1966: a small town in a remote corner of Central Java. The period of oppressive darkness had lasted for more than half a year. Except for security personnel, people did not leave their homes after dark. At night the air was filled with the sound of gunfire, military transport vehicles, the pounding of boots, and the howling of feral dogs whose noses tingled with the smell of blood and rotting flesh. Corpses drifted lazily down the rivers and streams. Hundreds more were buried in shallow mass graves or lay in open fields.

Late one night, only a single house was still lit, glowing faintly. Fixed in ghostly silence, the windows and doors of the house were bolted shut with heavy metal bars. In the front yard was a guardhouse, where soldiers wearing red scarves and armed with rifles and machine guns stood on alert.

The one-room house had been transformed into an emergency detention center for nearly two hundred people, many of them women. Because of the confined space, the prisoners were forced to stand, packed together like bundled kindling. The air stank of dirt and body odor. The floor was wet and slimy with urine and fecal matter. The walls dripped with moisture, the condensation of sweat and humidity. Few signs of communication passed among the two hundred prisoners, save for occasional soft whispers and the momentary exchange of glances. But somewhere in the crowd, a woman could be heard sobbing softly. She had momentarily dozed off, and her dreaming had taken her away from the night's cruelty and returned her to the day before, when she had been at home with her husband and children. The dream had lasted only a moment, and then she found herself awake again, pressed against other prisoners in a foul-smelling room.

A soldier, peering at her through a barred window, averted his eyes. Private Rasus could no longer bear to watch the prisoners. He turned and walked toward the guardhouse, but without the jaunty strut of a soldier wearing a uniform and carrying a loaded rifle. In the shadow of the guardhouse where he stopped to think, he suddenly heard the sound of an approaching vehicle.

The roar of the truck's engine shattered the evening silence. When it stopped in front of the guardhouse, two young men in black uniforms and two paramilitary officials got out of it. After reporting to the guardhouse, [End Page 13] they proceeded towards the detention center. The iron bar securing the front door was lifted, and the door swung open. Prisoners who had been crushed against the door by other prisoners were forced outside, but just as quickly shoved back by the paramilitary officials. All the prisoners were roused by the noise. Jostling one another, they stood on tiptoes to see what was happening, some briefly entertaining the hope that they might be permitted to leave the unbearably hot and claustrophobic room.

The prisoners listened carefully as one of the paramilitary officials called out names. Some of those whose names were called, feeling that their moment of freedom had arrived, responded with a clear shout. Others swallowed their dread before answering in faltering and choked voices. Seven prisoners were called: all men who wearily made their way toward the door.

When the seven were outside, the officers attempted to close the door. But at the last moment, a female prisoner broke through the crowd and slipped outside. She pleaded with the officer, "I want to come along, sir. If they're leaving, why can't I go, too? Please, sir, I don't even know why I'm being held here."

"I'm just following orders. You're not allowed to come along. Maybe another time. Go on, get back inside!"

For a moment the woman stood transfixed, then fell to the ground at the feet of the officer. He and the other men were even more startled when she jumped up and ran to the back of the truck.

"Very well," the man relented...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1527-943x
Print ISSN
1045-7909
Pages
pp. 13-23
Launched on MUSE
2000-04-01
Open Access
No
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