Confessions of a Netherland East Indies Opium Eater
But who are they (this whole class of opium eaters)? Reader, I am sorry to say, a very numerous class indeed … I do not readily believe that any man, having once tasted the divine luxuries of opium, will afterward descend to the gross and mortal enjoyments of alcohol. I take it for granted: that those eat now, who never ate before … and those who always ate, now eat more.
– Thomas de Quincey, Confessions of an English Opium Eater
Her eyes were dreary, with her very curved eyelashes. And if she spoken, we could hear that melodious voice of her. Once in a while her lips would give us smile, making our heart intoxicated, going up to the seventh sky. The more I loved her, the more she loved me too. Then I would touch her fingers and we hold our both hands for so long. Everyday was like that, until she had to leave this cruel world. Alone and languish.
This is not a tale nor a roman. No, my sensible reader, these notes not mean by the writer as that. I wrote this as a warning for anyone that were willing to see for a while, on what things had happen to me. Maybe one of them will be useful to be pick on its goodness.
In the end of this August, the wooing rain made the heart go melancholic, and I started to remember what has passed. In this bamboo platform, my reader, the place where I made this notes, she had slept intimately. Her head placed on my lap. Her small and light body, once a while coughing raising ones pity. In her once dazzling skin, I can felt her fever. But see those dreary eyes, my reader, if we smartly saw, we could still see her flaming spirit.
“Are you happy?” I asked once in a while.
“Yes, I’m happy,” she answered.
It’s enough for me to hear that she was happy, so I become happy too. Of course not all the time she was that happy, on the other time I saw her very worried and gloomy. But she always felt happy when she slept on this bamboo platform. I would hang people heads if I had to, so I could always take her here.
A woman maid would come kneeling dragging her knee, sitting in the corner of the bamboo platform and we would smell the breeze of her body. We would be given two pipes, she would took out those opium balls and heated it above the fire of the oil lamp. That maid would go, teasing by the sway of her hips, and a little of her vicious smile. Maybe she was upset seeing other woman sleeping stickily on my lap. That was how the maids were, their manners and character are not good towards female guests.
But because of this woman who was now sleeping that I came to this opium house. My sensible reader, now her hands that was shaking reaching out to that bowl of opium. Urge by overflowing love, I pushed the bowl so she could take it. For that she gave me another smile, that made two dimples appeared on her cheeks, and I passionately stroke those dimples like I wanted to nibble it.
Under the light of the oil lamp, we started to smoke that opium with the pipes. I heard that she also started to cough, then I caress her hair to make those cough go away. For a while those cough was gone and we started to smoke opium again. In other platforms, people also laid their back stretching their feet, some of them talked, others played with those nasty women.
Half a slept this heart lover laid again her head on my lap. Like she used to be, she would tell me things back and forward, then when she was exhausted she would asked the book that she always kept between her arm and side like a baby titled Baboe Dalima. Because, “I wanted to be like those Dutch women,” she said.
We laughed because that book told about this opium houses, and my reader, it was told that we are people with bad manners and dirty, lazy and morally damage also. Maybe, Mr. Perelaer forgotten, those opium houses build as it was so people who feel that they are good people not to go near to those houses, so they also does not know what actually happen inside there.
My sensible reader, we came to the opium house with 20 cents of provision only. Many people had to work to their bones in the cane fields to earn a couple of tents cent. We were pretty lucky, there was a little inheritance from a relative that died suddenly a short time ago. But, my reader, with that 20 cents we had only a few opium, only a couple roll of tike*. I just sold our antic wardrobe so we could have opium that was better quality.
And from that antic wardrobe we only got a small tip of opium, the rest of course for that owner of opium house. A person that never show up even to see the house for a second, sitting relax in his nice house to received money that delivered by his male servants that guard those opium houses. But my reader, that money not all went into his pocket, because he also had to paid opium tax to the government. Not a small amount of money. He also had to pay to buy new opium, to whom else, also the government. So my sensible reader, the money from that antic wardrobe, most of it goes to the house of the governor in Buitenzorg. They can say that the opium houses are having no good, but they would stay silent because they made a lot of money for those big pockets.
The old people said that a long time ago, opium could be bought easily. Sundries sellers that came by carrying goods on their shoulders and who also sold cane liquor sometimes sell that opium too. They bought it as retail from the Arab merchants, very cheap also. But when the government took over the opium market, those opium houses were built, we could not buy those opium from an unknown person, accept we wanted to be jailed or got fined. And we bought that opium in those houses five times more expensive than the one that you could buy from those sundries sellers, which went around the place. The old times have past, now everything is government business.
Of course my sensible reader will asked, how the both of us can enter the opium house and smoke the opium, that regular salary not even enough to pay them and we had to sell our things, which also the antic wardrobe that had been mention before. Is it like people eating rice and have to eat it all the time, because if not we could die? Or we were trap as a person sink to a deep pool in a stream and did not mean to drink its waters unstoppably because we were drowning? Or we experimented like we tried a cooking given by a relative and we wanted to know how its taste like, then those opium become addiction so we try and try it again?
You have to know that in these times all of the people smoke opium, in an opium house or in one of our own house, and also there were people who smoke it in the field or in houses’ party. I had seen a small boy already tried that opium and his mother let him, she even tried it too. People said, I heard it before I tried myself to smoke it, opium can make the exhausted and tired body gone, and make it more spirited. When I got married, my parent in-laws gave me the opium, so my work would be vigorous, they said. It was right, my reader, that opium made us as strong as a cow spur.
It was right said by the great poet Ronggowarsito, “Become mad, if not, you will not be allotted.” My wife and I started to smoke opium since our first night, to have fun and for our social life. Once a week, if we had the money and wanted to see the stamboel** comedy near the town square, we would visit one of the opium houses, which lately we became regular customers. We spent 20 cents to recover our body, which were tired so we could become happy again. From the opium house we would go home hand in hand, sing silently and eat peanuts.
But all those images had gone stolen by the passing time. Now I only can remember it with a sad heart and an open wound, which are painful. My reader, but let me tell you how those events made me left by the woman that I fall in love so much.
Once a while, which these things similarly happen often, my reader, I did not have enough money to go out once in a week, so we stayed home. It seems that if we did not show up in that opium house for a long time, they thought that we were buying opium not in that opium house again, but from the illegal dealers that often around, which their opium were totally forbidden to buy and sell because they were from the black market. Of course we would not make problems like that and I already said that today we do not have money to buy opium. They never trusted that kind of reason, so they sent their thugs to our house. Those thugs messed up our clothes, wardrobe, bed, and kitchen, to search the illegal opium. Of course they could not find what they were looking for, but when they left, at the same time they threaten me and my wife to buy opium at the opium house. No wonder if we say that this world are crazy.
But not because of the threat that made us came back to that opium house. No, my reader, I am not afraid to those thugs. I am still a descendant from the master of martial art champions and can still took care of myself from all the hit that will come. One time, I forgot what day, I had to accompanied the woman that I loved to that opium stall, not other than because of one particular disease that started to become serious in her body. They said that the disease was cholera.
How I hate to have to remember the disease that chewed away the body of my wife, that her behavior become depressed, swept away the radiant of her looks. I borrowed some money from my parents-in-law to buy the opium medicine drinks, Bleeker. Once a while I met with Isaac Groneman that advised me to just take my wife to the opium house. This man told that he was writing a book that he would give the title as The Book of Self Preservation and The Medicine When Cholera Disease Strike. “Opium can make your wife cured from that disease,” he said. So I believed it, my reader.
At least, the woman that I loved here seem to be happy and spirited and forgot her disease, as long as she was sleeping in this bamboo platform to smoke some opium.
My reader, let me confess that her disease were not getting any good. I could see the foreseen death on the look of her face. I could only take her to the opium house, give her a couple of tike rolls, if in luck I could give her better quality opium, to see those ghost of death scared away by the opium smoke that made my heart lover become cheerful, smiling and showing those dimples of her.
I also read in De Locomotief that I found accidentally, people wrote about how bad is opium. Is opium an evil friend, my reader? Is it right that opium exploiting the money of the poor native of this land? Is it right that opium made the body ruin and not curing anything? If it was right that opium are evil and made us ruin, I will never regret having to come to this place and let my wife to be an eater.
Everyday, my reader, the disease made her freezing and feverish, also coughing. I was sad to see her melancholic, declining and very tired face. I often saw her crying putting up her misery, and pleaded to be taken to the opium house to rid the pain.
That was why, my reader, I am happy to see her please, smile sweetly and talk funny. Is there anything that can replace a pleasure as that? Doom the people whom saying that opium is evil in De Locomotief. They do not have wives that are dying and the only thing that can make her happy was to smoke opium from its pipe!
Until it came the day when her closing time was without mercy. Back and forward I brought opium for her to our home. She vomited as well. A week past and I had to make a decision that was so hard. I … that was why I lost that woman.
What do I have to say, my reader? I will cry remembering her. But it is all right, let the reader know what had happen. I killed her. How it was, let it be buried. I just did not want to see her suffer. One time I saw her so cheerful, smoking her opium, and I wanted that misery would not come again. I stop her life when she smoked that last opium of her. She died happily, didn’t she?
Now let me feel a small happiness also with opium, getting rid of sadness and loneliness, while making this notes. A naughty woman came along to accompany. My reader, do you know the difference between a lover and a naughty woman from the opium house? If you are sitting together with your lover, my reader, you can hold and caress your lover, and you will get to be hold and caress intimately too. If you are sitting together with naughty women, you can hold and caress her, but you will not be hold and not even be caress. Those differences were very distance, my reader, and those differences not only sad, but it also hurt. Believe me.
But with opium, that pain will be swept for a while.
Translated by Astrid Reza from “Pengakoean Seorang Pemadat Indis” (Cinta Tak Ada Mati dan Cerita-cerita Lainnya, 2005). Short story © 2005 by Eka Kurniawan, Translation © 2006 by Astrid Reza.