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Blog: The shaman’s daughter

I was the shaman’s daughter. I helped the shaman with his work until I was no longer a virgin. I did the deed in the warm, makeshift bicycle shed, in pitch black, seven paces eastwards from my room, with a boy from the next village. He was tall and lanky and older than me by five years. He often came over to our house for silat practice and Qur’an reading.

I knew he liked me from when we first met. The shaman knew this and he warned me. He warned me of boys in general but he warned me particularly of this boy. He warned me of gossip, of my reputation smeared with dung, of his reputation smeared with dung. I told him once that people would come to him for help whether I was his daughter or not, they cared not what I did, but what he could do. He slapped me between my shoulder blades. It made the world around me spin; I coughed and vomited everything I ate for the next two days.

But it did not stop me from doing the deed, eventually.

I was beating the laundry onto my usual rock by the river when I caught the boy from the corner of my eye. I knew he was watching even when he did not show his face. A week later again, at the river one of my sarongs went missing. He returned it to me that week, secretly, on the Friday night that Qur’an reading classes were held. It was dry and ironed; he had slipped some wilted jasmine into its folds. I recognised the flowers; they came from just behind my room. They made me smile. Since that day I often slanted the window louvres just a little more, so that he could catch a glimpse of me. And sometimes I shut them but left the light on and made noises with the cupboard door when I was putting away my clothes or sweeping the room.

One day he knocked on the thin wooden wall of my room and whispered I love you. It made me laugh so much, I had to stifle it, stifle it so he would not turn around run away. Stifle it so that he would whisper the same words every day for the next two weeks until we planned to meet in the bicycle shed, one night a week. When we met I never wanted him to stop touching me. I would go to bed, trying to stop thinking of those moments in the dark heat, get up in the same heady stupor before dawn to the river, so that I could wash away his fingerprints.

There was no embarrassing moment when my apprenticeship with the shaman stopped.

A week after the deed the shaman slipped a yellow cloth with a spell scrawled on it underneath my door. On it was a note that I returned him the things that he had given me on my apprenticeship: an ancient Javanese coin, a kris with seven lekuk on each side and seven different types of flowers. I had to wrap the items in the yellow cloth and hand them in that night.

As usual, I did as I was told. The next day, when I was serving lunch to him, he said, “You’re already in trouble, whether I’m angry with you or not,” he said, without looking at me. We did not speak to each other. It was hard to tell if he was angry or he was just resigned to the fact that I would do what I wanted to do. Perhaps he could see further than my own misbehaviour.

But everything else was like clockwork. His gravy was in the saucer, the meat was on his rice and there were three glasses of water that he would drink at the end of every meal after whispering some suras or mantras, I never knew the difference.

He did not explain and I did not confront him, for fear that I might assume that he knew about it when he did not. And for a few days, we went on like this.

One day, he came home panting; his face was white like he had just seen a ghost. He was clutching the waist of his sarong; it might have come loose from sprinting across the compound.

“I already told you that you’re in trouble. Quick, your mother’s just been possessed,” he said stepping into the house for a change of clothing. I followed him around the room, as he rattled off the list of things that I should carry with me.

“Three bottles of Zam Zam water.”

I made a noise to show I understood.

“Is that a yes or a no?” he asked.

“It’s a yes.”

“Twenty-one cempaka flowers from our backyard.”


“Three limes.”




“The Toraja machete.”

I grunted.

“The Kris of the seven princesses.”

He turned around and grabbed my hand suddenly. With a tiny kris the length of my hand, he pricked the middle of my palm. I gasped. He held my hand, dripped the blood into a bowl of sand and stirred it around with the kris until the blood was no longer visible.

“This is so that no one else will pay for your mistakes.”

I heard a long scream outside of the house, the rustling of the tree just outside, and birds fleeing. A boy poked his head into our living room; his face was lined with worry.

“Tok Wan,” he called.

“Hurry up,” the shaman said to me. “We don’t have all night.”

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