A commotion could be heard coming from Suliah’s house as she scolded Meriam, her one and only daughter. How could she help being angry – Meriam, who had now turned 16, was often the butt of gossip of the villagers of Madurasa. From a young age Meriam, an only child, had been the delight of her parents Abas and Suliah. The small girl was extremely beautiful, but it was her beauty that made her the object of teasing by the boys she was friends with. When Meriam was only 6, Abas had set out for Jakarta to try to strike it lucky in the capital. The responsibility of bringing up Meriam now rested squarely on Suliah’s shoulders.
“How many times have I told you not to play around with boys while you’re not married. Do you want to become a prostitute?” screamed Suliah, slapping her daughter’s face. “Even though we’re not rich, I’m still looked up to by the people in this village. Don’t you realise that your behaviour is dragging the good name of our family through the mud?”
The cause of all this was that, returning home after doing the laundry in the river, Suliah had discovered her daughter giggling and kissing Didi, Gadé’s oldest son, in the bushes near the school. After bawling out Didi, Suliah had dragged her own child back home to be taught a lesson. Although it was with a heavy heart because she could hardly bear to hurt her beloved child, to her unsophisticated way of thinking there was only one way to teach her a lesson and that was by beating her.
That night Meriam sat brooding on her bed with eyes swollen from crying, mulling over what her mother had said. Her teenage blood boiled in rebellion at the harsh treatment meted out to her. It just wasn’t fair, she felt. Was this the way a parent expressed the love she deserved? Was it her fault that her schoolfriends, especially the boys, liked her? If my mother doesn’t love me any more what’s the point of my staying in the village any longer? But even if I went where would I go? Jakarta! Yes, I’ll head for JAKARTA to look for father. A thousand questions swirled in her head but her mind was made up. She was leaving for Jakarta!
The moon had crept high into the sky when the door to Suliah’s house slowly opened and the slim figure of a girl slipped outside carrying a bundle for the journey containing two changes of clothes and a pair of her favourite shoes.