Translation Tuesdays An Excerpt from Nayla by Djenar Maesa Ayu (UWRF Feature) – Asymptote Blog

Excerpted from the novel Nayla by award-winning Indonesian writer Djenar Maesa Ayu, this piece continues our series, A World with a Thousand Doors —a showcase of contemporary Indonesian writing. This showcase is brought to you in partnership with this year’s Ubud Writers and Readers Festival, where Djenar will be appearing as a guest. For more on the ethos behind A World with a Thousand Doors , read our preface to the series, and stay tuned for further installments.

In the past, whenever Nayla saw her mother strike a match, her body would shake in terror. Her mother would take Nayla’s chosen safety pin—obviously the smallest one—and burn it long enough to rid it of bacteria. Once Mother was satisfied that the pin was sufficiently sterilized, she would plunge it into Nayla’s groin.

Nayla would squirm and squeeze her thighs as tightly as she could, attempting to minimize the pain. She would cry. She would struggle against her mother’s actions, which made Mother even more furious.

Now, there was no safety pin in existence that could make Nayla tremble. Nayla would even pick the biggest and sharpest pin to defy her mother. She would sit calmly as Mother heated up the pin, and even prepare herself by spreading her legs as wide open as possible. Nayla no longer cried. She no longer struggled. Her calm demeanor infuriated Mother even more. Mother started to pierce not only her groin area but Nayla’s vagina as well. Nayla remained quiet. She no longer felt the pain in her body. The pain had moved to her heart, which was pierced with an unspeakable sorrow. Nayla was no longer afraid. Now she felt a toxic mix of raging emotions.

Even though Nayla had grown accustomed to her mother’s assaults, her mind was filled with questions about her predicament. She wondered why she still wet her bed every night despite being almost ten years old. She wondered why her mother insisted it was laziness that led to the bedwetting. She wondered what the cause of her bedwetting could be, since she tried her utmost to wake up in the middle of the night to pee. Most of all, Nayla wondered why her mother was thoughtless and heartless enough to punish her so severely, thinking it would solve the problem.

Aside from her vagina, Nayla’s heart too was pierced with deep pain. Nayla saw that her mother was no different than a monster. All she wanted was for Mother to be like the mothers she saw waiting at the school gate or in the doctor’s waiting room. She wanted her mother to be a normal mother, one who gasped in shock and horror upon seeing their child fall down and scrape their knee, red with blood. Instead what Nayla got was quite the opposite, a mother who caused shock and horror as she pierced Nayla’s vagina with holes, red with blood.

You’ll never know, my dearest daughter, how much your father hurt me. First of all, while you were still in my womb, he denied being your father, which was hurtful for us both. Secondly, he abandoned us all of a sudden, without bothering to think about your care. And after the divorce, he did nothing to provide for you. Who then, was the one who looked after you right from the beginning, without any help at all? Who was the one who raised you single-handedly without support? I provided for you financially. I gave you a roof over your head. I bought clothes for you to wear and food to nourish you. I made a promise to myself that I was going to succeed and prove to your father that I didn’t need him.

And what about food? You never had to worry about that either. All you had to do was open that mouth of yours and delicious nourishment came pouring down your throat. What else could you possibly ask for? I anticipated your every need and provided for them all. So how come you continue to be so lazy that you can’t even wake up in the middle of the night to pee?

I really don’t know what to do anymore, girl. You act like you don’t care, when I’m trying to teach you a lesson. This punishment is supposed to cause you to reflect, but instead of feeling repentant, you act tough. This is your mother you’re being stubborn to. The only one in this whole world that you can rely on. Why are you acting like your father, trying to hurt me instead? And why did you inherit so many of his useless character traits, instead of adopting the attitudes and values that I taught you?

Understand this: if I didn’t care about what happened to you, then I wouldn’t bother to correct your laziness. Then you could be as pampered as you choose. You could be a kept woman, letting men look after you instead of standing on your own two feet. But I don’t want that for you. I want your entire being—your soul, your mind, your body, to attain a higher form of intelligence. Only then can you conquer men.

Believe me when I say this, my girl, there isn’t a mother on earth who hates her child. I had to punish you because I was becoming desperate. I’m certain God understands my actions and forgives me because He sees my intentions. Everything I’ve done has been for your benefit, including banning you from ever meeting your father. I’m sure God is on my side and will prevent you from ever hating me. I have faith that one day you’ll realize just how much I’ve done for you and how much I love you. At the same time, you’ll see just how little your father loved you, if at all. When you come to these realizations, you’ll finally be grateful that you had me as your sole parent all these years, instead of that man who callously abandoned you.

Nayla awoke to a cacophony of frightful sounds she had never heard before. In the wee hours of the morning, she and the other girls were awakened by loud slamming sounds. It didn’t take long to realize it was the Rehabilitation Center’s counselors who were causing the ruckus, banging on the barrack doors. But instead of knocking with their fists, they were kicking the doors wide open.

The Rehabilitation Center consisted of several barracks, each one housing twelve rooms, six on either side. Every room contained two bunk beds and could accommodate up to four girls at a time. The unspoken rule was that a newcomer had to sleep on a top bunk, while the old-timers or those who’d been to the Center before got the privilege of skipping the climb and sleeping below.

Separate rooms housed at the front of each barrack were designated specially for the counselors. The counselors also had their own bathroom, located at the back of the barrack. Opposite this was the girls’ bathroom. It was a communal one, consisting of five shower areas and five squatting toilets. There were no partitions at all, allowing girls to watch one another while taking baths, shitting and peeing, and washing their clothes. Nayla discovered that as private spaces vanished, so too did people’s inhibitions—some girls would make love to one another while they showered.

The communal dining room was close to where the counselors’ quarters were. There was a steel gate between the dining area and the girls’ rooms that was locked and chained whenever the girls slept, which was twice a day, at night and in the afternoon. Furthermore, the doors to the girls’ rooms were locked from the outside during these times.

Despite the embarrassing situation, Nayla kept quiet and carried on scrubbing the floor. For the first time in her life, Nayla was being shamed publicly, in front of strangers. For the umpteenth time, Nayla was forced to submit to an unfair situation that life had presented to her. And once more, Nayla became aware of the extraordinary pain she had to endure, from which there was no escape.

Djenar Maesa Ayu is the author of seven short-story collections and the novel Nayla . Her first collection, They Say I’m A Monkey (Mereka Bilang, Saya Monyet! ) was a contender for the Khatulistiwa Literary Award in 2003 and adapted into a film directed by the author in 2008. In addition to being a writer, Djenar is an actress, screenwriter, and filmmaker. Her film hUSh , a collaboration with Singaporean filmmaker Kan Lume, was nominated for Best Asian Feature Film at the Jogja-NETPAC Asian Film Festival 2016.

Sebastian Partogi has been working as a journalist for The Jakarta Post since January 2013, covering tourism, arts and culture, socio-economic empowerment, medical issues as well as foreign affairs. He also works as a copywriter for the same publication, writing advertisements for the newspaper’s clients. His translations of literary works include Ratih Kumala’s The Postal Order (edited by Soe Tjen Marching) and Djenar Maesa Ayu’s Nayla (edited by Kan Lumé). Both novels are forthcoming from Gramedia Pustaka Utama.