From Chapter 1: Sari
"Are you allowed out this late?" Sari asked, shoving the rest of her banana into her mouth.
Jasmine nodded, unwilling to voice a lie. She looked around the room, wondering where Sari's brothers and sisters were.
After Sari had swallowed her banana, she said, "I'm glad your mother lets you come. Now you can see my baby brother."
A moment later Sari's mother came in, carrying a tiny brown baby with dark brown eyes. She greeted Jasmine with a smile. Sari coo-ed at her brother, and he responded with a toothless smile. After Sari's mother had shown Jasmine the baby, she took some soft cooked rice from a bowl and pushed it into the tiny mouth with her thumb.
Jasmine was watching this curiously, starting when Sari poked an elbow in her back. "Let's go outside. I'll show you something."
They went out into the dim light under the trees. Sari pulled Jasmine behind a bush, and put her finger to her lips.
"What's going on?" Jasmine whispered.
"I don't want anyone to see us, and if my father finds out where we're going, he'll be angry." Sari added, "My uncle and cousin came today, and they would be annoyed with me too."
Jasmine wanted to leave, but Sari pulled her behind another bush. They crept from bush to bush, until they finally settled behind a dense thicket. Jasmine heard men's voices not far away. As she peered through the branches, she saw a circle of men squatting around a fire. The fire made her realize how dark it had become, and she was scared. The moon shone on the banana leaves, and made a bright streak in Sari's black hair.
They were close enough to see the men's faces, but too far to hear any words. Firelight flickered over the brown faces with lips that barely moved.
Sari whispered, "Do you know who those men are?"
Jasmine was just going to answer "no" when, with a startled shock, she recognized one of the faces in the circle. A young man had just squatted down, and she remembered him from their last visit to the Mission where they used to live. He had brought the mail and she was sure then that he hated her, for he had looked at her so angrily. Aunt Beatrice, who had replaced Papa as leader of the Mission, said she suspected the man of being a nationalist, a rebel against the Dutch government. Aunt Beatrice was not really her aunt. Many close family friends were called Aunt or Uncle.
When the young man looked in her direction, Jasmine hid behind Sari, although it was already much too dark for them to be seen. She nudged Sari, and whispered, "That man there who just came, he...he hates me."
"The one beside the old man with the sarong. I saw him at the Mission."
"Hates you? Why?"
"I just feel it." Jasmine shivered and crouched behind Sari.
"That's Sukandar," Sari said.
"You know him?"
"Yes." Sari laughed with her hand against her mouth.
"Shhhh! They'll hear us! And it's not funny. He might be dangerous."
A few more repressed giggles, then Sari whispered, "He's my cousin, Sukandar. He doesn't hate anyone."
"Why is he with them?"
"It's for the Merdeka cause, and it's secret. No one is supposed to talk about it."
"That means freedom." Sari looked at Jasmine anxiously. "You won't tell anybody, will you?"
"If the Dutch government finds out about the meetings they will exile all those men."
They were silent for a few minutes, and then Sari pulled Jasmine to the next bush from where they could hear the mumbling voices.
"You know what those men are saying?"
"They want to be free from the Colonial rule. At these meetings they always talk about how to chase out all white people."
"Chase us out?"
"Yes. They want Merdeka, freedom from the blandas."
"Why would they want freedom from the white people?"
"Because they want to be their own boss."
"They don't like us?" That was new to Jasmine. The native babus, the maids, as well as their djongos, houseboy, were always friendly. There had never been a native who had been mean, except Sukandar, and he had not really done anything. He just looked mean.
Jasmine shrugged off her uneasy feelings, and turned her attention back to the circle of men. "What are they saying now?" she asked.
Sari whispered her reply so softly that Jasmine barely heard her. "They say they want to see all white people killed."
Jasmine suddenly felt ice cold. Her legs were strangely heavy; a rushing sound in her ears was like a far waterfall. She shivered in her thin dress. Had the air become so much cooler? She had not often been outside this late.
"I'm going home," she whispered.
Fear trembled inside her. The trees stood somber and threatening in the eerie moonlight, drawing sharp leaf shadows on the ground. At the side of the path a gladakker, a kampong mongrel, caked with mud, dug in a pile of garbage. Jasmine thought about Mopsy, her Maltese dog, so much nicer with his long white hair. Well ... not always white. Mopsy liked mud, but compared to this ugly gladakker!
A child cried, and Jasmine wished she had gone back home sooner.
That night in bed Jasmine could not stop thinking about Sukandar, and the men around the fire. Did they mean what they said? Strange that Sukandar was Sari's cousin. If Sukandar knew she was Sari's friend, would he still want to chase her out? Perhaps none of them cared whose friend she was. She would talk to Papa about it. Somehow they could find a way to stay on Java.
She dreamed about a circle of men in the dark, with fire light flickering over brown faces. Above them was a wide-open gate, through which golden light streamed. But the golden light suddenly changed to a fire with dark faces floating over it