Ethnic Reconnection -Chapter 2

Reluctant Return

The Chaniago company guest house was a sprawling complex built in colonial style with wide verandas and high roof to let the air circulate with fans slowly whirling in each room to keep air circulating. It was decorated in Javanese style and had everything to make the stay comfortable with servants at the beck and call of guests. Bert luxuriated in the warm shower and changed clothes to be more comfortable in the heat. He appreciated the room refrigerator with its assortment of cool freshly pressed juices and sampled one before answering a knock on the door. A servant handed him a message. Lunch was to be served and Abyasa requested Bert join them. There were several guests waiting at tables in the dining room along with top administration of this branch office next door. They looked at him curiously as he entered the room behind the servant who indicated where he should sit. Five minutes later he was joined at the table by Abyasa and Murni now dressed in colorful national dress. Murni looked beautiful and Bert couldn’t take his eye off her as she was seated by the servant. Murni stared at him and nodded in appreciation.

“I see you took my advice and changed. That’s a good start. Too bad you didn’t think to bring your wife with you Bert. We could have seen she was treated to a good tour while we are out in the villages.”

Bert blushed.

“I suppose it’s strange to you, but I’ve been so busy climbing the corporate latter that at age thirty-two I haven’t slowed down enough to find a wife. I guess you thought it was mean of me to leave my partner behind while I enjoyed Indonesia.”

Abyasa and Murni laughed at his embarrassment. Muni spoke.

“I understand Bert. All I could think of was gaining a PhD and returning to my beloved homeland to help father specially after my brother Panuta’s death just before my graduation. It took our family some time to get over that as Panuta was to replace father when he decided to retire.”

Abyasa looked crestfallen at the mention of his son and reached for the menu.

“I will order for everyone.”

Once the selection had been made, he clicked his fingers and the waiter who’d stood by the kitchen entrance watching each table responded quickly nodding as each item on the menu was pointed to and rushed to the kitchen. Fifteen minutes later a selection of dishes reached the table and the waiter served each in turn.

Bert was ecstatic in his praise remembering his grandmother’s excellent cuisine and Abyasa watched smiling.

“I think you love our culture, so isn’t it time for you to return to the land of your ancestors? What are you doing there in London? We could use you in our organization though I suppose the Suharto’s would lay claim to you knowing you were one of them.”

Both father and daughter eyed him curiously to see what his reaction would be.

Bert saw their curious expectation and decided to be diplomatic.

“I feel honored at your invitation sir. Now I feel committed to helping humanity as best I can in this job, but your invitation is tempting.”

Abyasa turned to look at his daughter.

“This man is one of us Murni, see to it his work here is successful and he’s not fooled by those who try to bypass the system and give our country a bad name.”

Murni was more interested in her food and consumed that with appreciation while Bert continued to take in her beauty. If he was ever tempted to return to this country it would be to see her, he thought. Then thought of how impossible that would be as she was obviously going to be the one who took over the empire after her father retired and he’d never be able to fit in with her responsibilities.

In Murni’s background checks on the bona fides of those seeing project financing she discovered there was politics involved. Among various tribes there was a contest for influence both with the government and trying to position themselves if they could gain independence from Indonesia someday to be the dominant tribe. There was a genuine need for the kind of projects funds were being sought from abroad, but it was placement that needed attention. Looking at it with experienced eye Murni realized the projects mainly favored one tribal area with a token project here and there in other tribal areas. This could become a hot political issue, so she contacted the local government and sought a fairer distribution. After considerable argument a compromise was reached, and village projects spread fairly between tribes. Bert was grateful for her input. The more he had to do with this woman the more eager he was to keep contact going with her. He had no idea how this could lead to a relationship between them, but hope overcame logic. He needed to see how she viewed her future.

As they approached the last project village, he turned to her on impulse and asked if her father had arranged a match for her in marriage. Murni laughed as she studied his face while being jostled around in the back of a jeep.

“Father did mention a couple of Indonesian businessmen we have dealings with but seemed as enthusiastic about it as I was in considering them. I think he likes having me with him all the time specially since my mother and brother have passed on. It would be nice to have my own children, but it seems I’m a career woman by fate. Why did you ask? Are you getting even because we intruded on your privacy by asking about your wife?”

The jeep lurched to avoid a large pothole in the road and Murni was bounced off the seat and onto the floor. Bert reached out to help her up and the jeep hit another pothole bouncing him to the floor too. Murni shouted to the driver, and he looked back over his shoulder horrified at what his driving had done to this important woman and the foreigner. He thought his life would be at stake and braked to a halt depositing Murni on top of Bert. She quickly extracted herself and climbed out of the jeep to run around to the driver and give him a good slap. The driver was shaking so much she ordered him and his helper into the back and took over the driver’s seat indicating Bert should sit in the passenger seat. The twenty-kilometer drive back to town was accomplished at breakneck speed over dirt roads jostling the two at the back around like rag dolls. Then Murni calmed down and began to laugh at the memory of it all. When they reached their destination, she calmed the driver and assured him he wouldn’t lose his job then turned to Bert.

“Let’s go freshen up and put on clean clothes. I know you were planning to leave and tour around Indonesia tomorrow. Can you change your plans as I know father would like to have you visit Surabaya where our main factory and corporate office is and introduce you to the Suharto family. Tomorrow, I will introduce you to the province authorities here, so they give your team full cooperation when they arrive to complete the projects if your board in London approves them. I hope they do as we can use all the help we can get, and I think we have removed politics out of the equation now. Oh, when I insisted on cancelling your hotel booking it was because that hotel is used by those seeking to impress visitors to gain their favor. They provide women companions overnight. Perhaps you are sorry we insisted you come to our guesthouse now?”

She laughed but watched him closely for his reaction.

Bert was aghast!

“In all my travels that situation has never arisen, and I’d never lower myself to engage in such practices. First because that’s not the way I am and because it would compromise my objectiveness in looking at projects. Thank you for telling me, Murni. I hope you didn’t think I welcome that kind of thing. Yes, I have three weeks to spend here and will be happy to fit in with your suggestions. I really appreciate what you and y our father has done to make this a successful trip and have appreciated your company while here. I’m really going to miss having you around.

Murni turned to look at movement on the street below the guesthouse and said something quietly to herself.

Bert looked at her with interest.

“I didn’t hear what you said Murni.”

She remained silent staring at the street. Finally, she turned toward him and spoke smiling.

“If you really meant that then you wouldn’t be going back to England, would you? However, I’m just teasing you as our two jobs are incompatible. Promise you’ll come and visit father and I whenever you can. To me you are not Dutch you are a Suharto. That was funny back there in the jeep and I hope you don’t think badly of me after the way I reacted with the driver. I hate being covered with dirt and the floor of that jeep was dirty. At least you tried to be a gentleman and help me get up before that clown did it to us again.”

Abyasa finally finished his work in Irian Jaya and the three of them headed for Surabaya where Abyasa intended to show Bert around his main factory where they produced equipment and other products for the hospitality industry. The Suharto’s owned a chain of hotels and restaurants around Indonesia, Malaysia, and Singapore. They’d moved out of the spice industry once supplied through Europe by Grandfather Baas and left it to Abyasa’s family who almost had a monopoly in that industry now. However, the two families were joint owners of expanding palm oil factories and there had been some intermarriage between the families. It was one of the Suharto young men Abyasa had tentatively suggested to Murni as a potential marriage partner to further cement relations between the two families. That young man had married soon after.

When Abyasa informed the Suharto family of their connection to Bert who was now staying with Abyasa there was much joy and the two families got together in a huge homecoming ceremony. Some of the young women considerably younger than Bert took a special interest in this foreigner who was somehow connected with their family as did their parents thinking of the possibilities of having someone through marriage to facilitate contacts in London and Murni watched Bert’s discomfort with suppressed mirth. He had a lot to learn. She teased him about it when they returned home after rescuing him when the Suharto’s pressed him to stay with them. She informed them Bert was in business consultations with her father so could not be spared on this trip. She told her father so he told the same story should inquiries be made. Abyasa smiled to himself. He had not seen his daughter so protective of a man before and began to look for a chance to keep this man in his orbit. The more Murni teased him about these girls the more desperate Bert became. He realized he only wanted to be noticed by this woman and felt wretched their two careers and places of business were so far apart.

The remaining weeks he accompanied Abyasa and Murni as they went around the islands inspecting their various enterprises and they made sure he saw all the tourist attractions to leave a lasting impression on him as he prepared to leave Indonesia and return to his work in London.

At the Jakarta airport Abyasa left Bert and Murni together as they waited for processing through immigration and customs before he was to go through security again and wait to be called for the flight to Singapore and a connection to London. He was hoping against hope this man could be a replacement for his son but knew that was almost impossible as their worlds were so far apart. He’d seen that look in Bert’s eyes whenever he looked at Murni now and knew there was a spark between both. He could only hope that spark became a flame. Both Bert and Murni stared at each other as they waited silently. Each wanted to express what was in their heart but didn’t want to be disappointed with the supposed outcome so remained silent. Finally, the departure hall began a purposeful movement and Murni watched sadly as Bert paused to wave before he went inside and out of sight to resume responsibilities at home.

Bert tried to get Murni off his mind but that was difficult, so he threw himself into work to try and block her out. But compulsively each day he’d write to her telling her what he was doing in London repeating over and over his pleasure in his visit with her father and her. But each day he held back mailing that letter until quite a few had accumulated then on impulse one day he placed all those letters into a packet and sent them priority mail to the Chaniago residence in Jakarta. Several days later Marni and her father returned from one of their business trips and Abyasa sorted through the mail on his desk discovering the packet and checking the return address. He smiled. His daughter had that drawing power about her, and this man had not forgotten her. He walked to her room and not finding her there left the packet on her pillow. Later at supper he waited for his daughter’s reaction and was puzzled there was no response. Perhaps she’d decided there was no hope and resolved to not respond. He didn’t know she’d been out all afternoon following up with government agencies on some of their regulatory needs and had not been back to her room. They talked for a while then Murni excused herself to prepare for an early evening rest. Tomorrow they’d be back at the factory office to deal with management issues there.

To be continued.

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© Copyright 2023 Ian Grice, “ianscyberspace.” All rights reserved

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