For Omar, it seemed an eternity. For Landing, it was a bigger tragedy. He missed her, particularly missed this wife. They no longer slept together, nor did he see his daughter. Saving face became a big issue, perhaps bigger than anything else. Saving face caused his biggest problems.
He couldn’t be blamed for why his wife Landing and their daughter Raise couldn’t live in his palace. He couldn’t be blamed; yet he blamed himself. He clearly wanted to forget their last night together, a cold, wet moonless night. There was no colder cold than being cold in the tropics.
Raise was accustomed to sleeping between her parents. She wouldn’t settle down unless she slept between her parents, and even then it was torture. Omar did his best. He tried to endure it, and he endured his daughter’s fits for as long as he could. And he endured them longer than expected. The big girl jerked and stirred and kept them awake. She kept them awake night after night all night long. She couldn’t be pacified, and he attributed it to a curse. Spirits were definitely at work. Omar attributed his daughter’s problem to a curse, a curse of betrayal. And at the same time his father’s mantel seemed to be crumbling piece by piece.
The girl’s jerking had always been a problem. Then Raise’s gibberish and gesturing got worse. It was rather difficult to describe. Omar had never seen anything like it. But call her tormented, not unclean. He couldn’t think of her as being unclean. He couldn’t think of his daughter being unclean. But because of a stigma attached to Raise’s problem, no one (not even one’s own slaves) besides her mother would take care of her.
Stigma! Conceivably started by a false rumor! Stigma! Conceivably caused by a false rumor! Someone heard that Raise’s likeness was seen on the body of a pig. When dogs avoided Raise, people’s suspicions were confirmed. And for a devout Muslim, there was no greater insult, no greater accusation that people could make than they saw your likeness on the body of pig. They didn’t eat pork. They didn’t touch pigs. Pigs were dirty. Worrying about when someone would again see his daughter’s likeness cavorting through the woods, Omar only survived a stigma and stopped rumors by separating himself from two people he loved most. Caught somewhere between his palace at the foot of a mountain slope, and a small house built over the sea at the end of a long boardwalk, Omar gazed from an open window with a broken heart.
Remember Omar was the sultan’s son. And by this time he was very powerful and respected and enjoyed privileges peculiar to Sulu royalty. He was powerful and respected but it was still doubtful that he could survive the stigma of having an unclean daughter. He had to do something and wanted more. But he had to wait until he became sultan.
His daughter danced to a rhythm that came from back when all men were infidels. Raise danced and danced and she was very beautiful. Some people thought she was seductive when she danced, too seductive when she danced and called her a whore. The negative affect of watching Raise dance naked (for they couldn’t keep clothes on her) swallowed up any pride Omar had for her. It swallowed any pride he felt over having sired such a beautiful girl; so he was sexually drawn into an abyss. Whore! He sired a whore. A whore! It rang his brain. Whore!
Here was an answer to his dreams, an escape from his woes. Here was happiness, happiness he sometimes held in his arms. When she swayed to the motion of the tide, bamboo slats creaked.
Who could see into her heart? Who could see inside her? Who could distinguish her soul from trash? Who? Try to interpret her dreams! Who could say for sure what was going on? Who could say what was going on inside her? What was it like being cut to pieces with a kris-voice? With a swish of a kris?
She heard a scolding devil. He heard her scream. She screamed, and it became quite clear that it was directed at him. “Raise, Raise!” pleaded her father.
Voices accused her of being pregnant. She heard voices. She heard voices that accused her of being pregnant with a belly full of fish and hope of pardon disappeared into shadows.
She couldn’t carry any more guilt. Guilt, guilty! Ordinarily you’d expect her to hide truth from world. Instead, she announced her pregnancy through her nakedness. She danced and announced her pregnancy. And an innermost force that binds earth to the sun and guides its course controlled her too. Thus filled with sexual desire, her father looked at her as she danced and danced … danced naked. And he saw she was indeed pregnant.
Or did she simply find shelter in the beat while she danced and had no other motive? Sometimes, prostrate, her four limbs became snakes and worms, and evil spirits transformed her body into a riving ocean. She returned to the sea. She swam in the sea every day, while destructive forces were activated, as her father screamed, “whore!”
But she substituted gibberish for words. Omar saw his daughter’s face and tried to make sense out of the incomprehensible. Raise would start moving and lose control. She also became vicious and violent, a cycle incorporating dance, progressive motion, self-perpetuating. Feeling both empty and full, she frustrated and infuriated her father, and driven by light and darkness, Raise exhausted herself
She broke into sobs. At first feelings of unreality filled her with such anxiety that she broke into sobs. She broke into sobs and wouldn’t talk about it. She didn’t dare talk Then recurring nightmares led to panic; and she wouldn’t talk about it, and connected with this phenomenon were feelings of persecution and imprisonment. Walls (white washed with a mixture of coral) reflected brilliant, harsh light: equatorial starkness and blinding light augmented fear.
If asked, Landing preferred to think of her daughter in terms of being sickly. Where madness was totally unacceptable, sickly children (if exorcised) were pitied. Whereas, Raise lived more and more in a world filled with voices and noises that seemed detached from any source.
Then, one night, as wind howled and grew mournful and stronger, there was a sequence of melancholia, a maudlin sense normal to adjusting to a life forsaken by Allah. Wind added to Raises’ turmoil and encouraged her to laugh and dance. Like groaning trees and from dreams, she expressed herself with a kind of energy that accompanied mania. Then exposed without a guardian spirit, she became intoxicated with movement. She flew through the air, fighting giants and monsters. No one knew why, in addition to mania, she became aggressive. And she flew into a rage and recognized her father less and less, and at this point, she revealed hostility and a brutal side to her nature. But to her it was like entering an empty envelope. And when she was most troubled, her parents blamed themselves.
Having disparaged, Omar retreated and followed a predictable pattern. This led him into a fog of opium, which was a solitary path. He turned to opium. And it was the only way he withstood anger and pity he directed toward himself. By then, he never left his palace. He had opium brought to him. Omar was reduced to a straw mat and turned to smoking fancy grade candu, spiked with betel quid, at a strength great enough to kill a dozen carabaos. Candu. Francy grade candu. But he couldn’t totally obliterate images of a mad house, from which he was trying to escape.
Some suspected Landing, for her features could be traced back to her pagan boat and her roots, traits that pegged her as an outcast. People never understood what Omar saw in her.
Raise danced like her grandfather and placed her soul (in the shape of a miniature human being) on a wall. All her parents could do was try to restrain her.
For Raise, staying alive was a struggle. Entangled in a ritual state of multiples and mutilation, in her mind her father carried a magical sword. She heard whining and pitiful voices say, “whore.” She heard real voices cry “whore!” Yes, her father carried a magical sword, and she heard him say, I’ll slice you up like I would a citrus!” And this finally was blamed on her father’s rejection of her.
She laughed for no reason. She said things that didn’t make sense. And in her eyes you could see spite and mischief; and sometimes she looked as old as an old hag.
So much was a puzzle. It was a mystery. Such things were always mysterious and attributed to spirits … curses and spirits. Landing did all she could do. She did all she could do for Raise. She did all she could do about the situation. But she gave her husband a girl and faced rejection because of it. And the world seemed out of balance, with bad deeds outweighing good ones, and with hell as an ultimate and final form of retribution. Here was a sense of failure that came with a birth, a birth of a girl, a girl who was different from the norm. She lived by different rules, though rules changed and were unfair. It was bad enough that she was a girl.
“…… solely and simply because,” he said with great difficulty. “….solely and simply” (with moisture under his eye lids) “because I lost it.”
Landing witnessed it. Bruises said it all.
Omar saw murder in his daughter’s piggy eyes. Swine! His religion prohibited eating pork. Swine! Whore! He feared koko spirits that lived in strangler fig trees and distrusted the forest. Though to equate him with his enemies was impossible. He didn’t use to distrust the forest.
She suddenly fell to her knees and kissed her father’s feet. This was a travesty, a travesty to him. It bewildered him. Bewildered, and pulling her up, he left marks around her neck. He wanted to kill her. He wanted to strangle her.
She heard poisoned words and, extra vigilant, continued to raise her head like a cobra ready to strike. Then her spittle mixed with his tears. That was a final blow. He wanted to strangle her.
Some people thought that Raise deserved what she got. Some people thought she deserved a beating. This worried Omar, and he felt pain in his chest and thought he was dying. He blamed it on Raise and worried about what people thought.
Specific corners of the sea were etched in Landing’s brain. When she looked at the open sea through her window, she recalled her mother’s songs,
“Sleep my child, sleep, for your mother is tired.” Now she was tired, worn out. And at the same time she remembered spring tides of a full moon, when seas spilled over normally exposed reefs and big fish were then attracted by an abundance of small ones. From sunset to sunrise, all through the night, she sat in her one-room house, a prisoner, not thinking of herself as distinct from a dancer, a dancer, her daughter. As a harbinger, most neighbors shunned Landing and her daughter, while some threw rocks onto her roof. These circumstances forced Landing to become more and more reclusive. Old friends stayed away, some using their families for an excuse. Others were legitimately too busy.
O frustrated, angry, and jealous mother. O frustrated angry woman who witnessed shenanigans of a robber. If only her husband had done more … done more than yell and alert his bodyguards. That night a baby cried in her womb. Actually the night belonged to bats and witches and not to the sleepless. Only shadows were seen because of darkness. That was when a shaman ordered a tree cut down. Only Landing saw the culprit and knew when a thief entered her body and attempted to kill her baby.
Omar conjured up images of happiness. He tried to reject criticism. He tried to close his ears. He closed his eyes and tried to close his ears. But he didn’t expect to find happiness whenever he took a pea-size ball of candu out of a heavy betel box and warmed it with a small oil lamp. Nor did he expect to find it lying on an opium bench. He never expected to find it. He never expected to find happiness again. And he blamed his heavy smoking on his taste for pungent, bitter opium with lemon extract. He loved opium. He loved to smoke it, though it didn’t bring him happiness.
For a short while he may have fooled himself. Illusions were possible until drugs wore off, and he ended up staring at the ceiling. Entertainment, such as being fed sugar by hand and amusing himself by blowing silk handkerchiefs into the air, sometimes helped. He also found amusement in something as frivolous as watching rabbits mate.
Let us enter a paradise Omar’s parents (particularly his mother) bequeathed him. Omar had everything a young man would ever want and more and could acquire almost anything he didn’t have. Those who entered this world of teak floors and lattice blinds ran a risk of never being satisfied again. One glimpse of this paradise was all it took. Bear in mind, Omar was the sultan’s son, and in line to become sultan, and had a right to comfort and luxury.
His greatest supporter was naturally his mother. Naturally his mother doted over him. Omar was her darling. She loved him. All through childhood, she smothered him. She arranged everything. She did everything she could for him: from orchestrating his meals to making sure his bed was just right: with cushions embroidered with pearls, with flowers, fruits, and rich wood, with birds in cages, and providing him with anything you could imagine. She wanted him to become a poet but he preferred to spend his time walking on stilts through knee-deep water.
It was his mother’s idea to dress him in rich silks, predominantly reds and greens; and once again he dressed up, dressed to the hilt and armed with his kris. Once again he stepped across a small courtyard to his mother’s chamber (also on piles) and presented himself. There he found her isolating herself. With him, he brought mango, flowing silk, and a small gold box, so that he could be her darling again. Yes, or else she would’ve felt hurt; and he, guilty. Having been distracted by Landing for so long, he didn’t know how his mother would react. She didn’t understand why he chose Landing. Of all the young girls he could’ve had, why did he choose Landing?
As he hurried up broad wooden steps, through a narrow passage past her bodyguards, he knew his mother could be quite pleasant. Being in meant to him being with his mother. Naturally, he turned to her, along with opium, in times of crisis or when he wanted to forget sorrow. Now his mother re-packed the box he brought her with grape-green silk, taken out in protest, which clearly signified their falling out.
Other contents of the small box: tow, and a bit of coverlet, a broken pair of scissors and a pocket looking glass, pleased her and said for him, “I’ve been so unhappy to have displeased you. Pardon me that fault or command me to die. I am ready to sacrifice my life out of love and obedience.” Again restored to her eminence by his gift, she knew the meaning of the contents of the box, for she taught her son this language. She tutored him as she had all his concubines, giving each a specialty.
A thousand April tricks, tricks he knew worked, tricks for when he felt fragile, tricks guaranteed to delight and reduced him to vermilion and gilt. When Omar entered his harem, he knew he was handed paradise but found little pleasure in it.
Wrestling with the lure of beauty, cheerful humor and graceful beauty, noses turned up, mouths and teeth perfect, it always made him ponder the imponderable. Yes, the imponderable, which led him to question what he saw in his wife. What did he see in Landing? What did he see in her when he had a harem? When he had a harem and had his choice of young girls? He knew Landing as a baby and grew to love her, but could he explain it? Could he explain the imponderable? Though he had his choice of young girls, in his heart choosing favorites came down to choosing one, when randomly and idly he teased and played with them all. He couldn’t explain his feelings for Landing. He couldn’t explain why he loved her more than any one else.
Yet all things change. Nothing remains the same. This same Omar, who once rejected his harem, entered it again. He tried to please his mother again. He tried to please her by entering his harem again and hated himself for it. And hated himself … hated himself for adopting traditions and pleasures that were rightfully his, pleasures which if it hadn’t been for Landing he might’ve accepted without remorse. Condemn him, if you want, but first compare him to Spanish Dons, and realized in those days that there were few saints.
Flowery language, like silk, created within him resentment. He laughed and said “you kill me by laughing,” and, therefore, misled his mother. But this was not so bad and in no way gave a clue as to how he really felt: disorder that came from loss. She handed him peppercorn, a little parchment of velvet, a small splinter from a box, and another piece of cloth, which was tattered. He looked at these items carefully, searching for meaning. He found none.
Worth a sultan’s ransom, a personal slave, bathed him and did things that she naturally expected would arouse him. He wasn’t aroused, and the more she did the less he responded. She tried more things, but nothing aroused him. Nothing aroused him, and all her preconceived ideas about how he would react were shattered. Her feelings didn’t mean anything to him. She meant nothing to him. And while adjusting a cushion just so and sharing candu (for his every whim was catered to), he listened with sadness to an instrument similar to a xylophone.
He lay there and listened, listened in paradise, to sweet laughter of women, women he knew since they were girls; and the more he looked into their faces (lean, nice, oval), the less sense he made of it. He lacked words to ask for what he wanted. For him, it helped that she chose to play CAT, a familiar game; and in order to catch a cat, he couldn’t flinch, or respond, as she explored his body from his toes to his head with her tongue. This time it was easy. This time he didn’t flinch or respond.