Iowa Writes

LAKSMI PAMUNTJAK
from Lives


5.

She is the one who crunches numbers and traces the arc of company progress till her eyes give way at midnight and there is nothing in the fridge. She is unabashed about being a right-winger, about her two-minute attention span, about her preference for airport bestsellers. She is skittish, demanding, terrifies both men and women, but what earns her our respect is that she is not scared of being hated.

This is because in a lot of ways we want to be her. Hers has been the sort of post-college release into the world most people dream of—an effortless unspooling, as it were, into the best in the best of possible worlds: a seven-digit salary, upward mobility, and a doting but relaxed family. OK, so that was the 90s, when the word “manager” was one’s ticket to anything from hotel discounts and round trips around the world to house mortgages and marriage proposals, but we’re always around twenty years behind anyway.

5.

She is the one who crunches numbers and traces the arc of company progress till her eyes give way at midnight and there is nothing in the fridge. She is unabashed about being a right-winger, about her two-minute attention span, about her preference for airport bestsellers. She is skittish, demanding, terrifies both men and women, but what earns her our respect is that she is not scared of being hated.

This is because in a lot of ways we want to be her. Hers has been the sort of post-college release into the world most people dream of—an effortless unspooling, as it were, into the best in the best of possible worlds: a seven-digit salary, upward mobility, and a doting but relaxed family. OK, so that was the 90s, when the word “manager” was one’s ticket to anything from hotel discounts and round trips around the world to house mortgages and marriage proposals, but we’re always around twenty years behind anyway.

The thing is: most people are also so wrong about her. The only thing that she has going for her really is the doting but relaxed family bit. The rest is not so much all the best in the best of possible worlds as a simple, alienating, dogged single-mindedness. In that she is like Singapore, that peculiar island state whose trees, so methodical, so in place, are almost a put-on, whose sky is so formal that its structures of light and dark might well have been concocted indoors: the loneliest set-up on the planet. And now we’re five years into the millennium and people are cheating the system right left and centre, collecting a paycheck while staying at home, the true rent of life being the one that lies between job and children. Yet she has chosen her mold and keeps at farthest bay any illusion that the fire will not burn her. Having your cake and eating it too may be the currency of the day, but not hers.

Like yesterday: it was only four days into the New Year, and while all of us were sipping G and Ts in some island resort, she was talking about having five episodes in the can, shouting down all four corners to winnow down the long list of topics. “’Stay on message!’ I told them,” she told us, failing as usual to see the irony. But it’s all there: television, PR, marketing, all those 90s buzzwords. She talks in terms of what is appropriate and what is not while batting nary an eyelash at spending nine million rupiahs on a Manolo. And the tube is not even her field—it’s just a spinoff of the core business.

But sometime just around midnight the voice that called out from the other end of the line was stricken. She told me, as anyone who appreciates fruit knows when handed a mango by the moon, she has always known what to expect. The age difference. What people think. But it’s not as if she’s known how to keep them as most women who have been kept seem to be adept at—demanding as she pleases both their erections and their nurturing warmth. She has no cunning to keep them in sweet suspense, or to rout another female, no children to sell off as she was once sold. She has nothing else to call green, not pea, not olive, not viridian.

The next morning when I called her, though, she was at the gym. “All they want, these boys, is your body.” she said with no trace of last night’s vulnerability. “Like black soldier flies, you know. In Week 28, after they have had enough of you, they leave their pupa casings and disappear. So I have 19 weeks left in which to recuperate my losses, which is really not so bad—three weeks to whip myself into shape, give and take a week for the imponderables, and another sixteen to even out the balance sheet.”

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About Iowa Writes

Since 2006, Iowa Writes has featured the work of Iowa-identified writers (whether they have Iowa roots or live here now) and work published by Iowa journals and publishers on The Daily Palette. Iowa Writes features poetry, fiction, or nonfiction twice a week on the Palette.

In November of 2008, the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) designated Iowa City, Iowa, the world's third City of Literature, making the community part of the UNESCO Creative Cities Network.

Iowa City has joined Edinburgh, Scotland and Melbourne, Australia as UNESCO Cities of Literature.

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LAKSMI PAMUNTJAK

Laksmi Pamuntjak is a columnist, translator, bookstore owner, and award-winning poet from Jakarta, Indonesia. She is participating in the 2006 International Writing Program.

International Writing Program

This page was first displayed
on October 24, 2006

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