Laverne Boulogne Van Ryk
A Garland Of Emeralds
garlandofemeralds.com
Excerpts

 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."

"Which man?"

"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."

"Merdeka?"

"That means freedom." Sari looked at Jasmine anxiously. "You won't tell anybody, will you?"

"Why not?"

"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?"

"What?"

"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

From Chapter 17: Merdeka

What happened next went so fast, Jasmine barely remembered every detail later.

One of the men in the group, who had a klewang, sprang towards Uncle Philip, and at the same time Aunt Hanna ran to her husband, her arms wide. She flung herself in front of Uncle Philip just when the man raised his weapon. It missed Uncle Philip, and the next thing Jasmine saw was Aunt Hanna sagging to the ground, and Uncle Philip bending over her.

Eyes wide with shock, Jasmine stood stock-still. Then she took a shaking step, saw the big gash in Aunt Hanna's neck, blood streaming....

After a few seconds of stunned stillness, Uncle Philip, with an inhuman growl, picked up the gun and fired but the horde had already disappeared into the forest. Even the man on the ground, who had seemed near death a few moments before, was nowhere to be seen. Uncle Philip's shots disappeared into a dark void.

Mama was on her knees, beside Aunt Hanna, cradling her head and shoulders. Mama looked up and Jasmine saw grief burning in her eyes. Jasmine tried to swallow the lump in her throat, but it was too large.

"... Don't... kill... them...." Aunt Hanna's head sagged sideways, as Mama still cradled her and rocked her gently.

Mama whispered, "She's gone.... Philip...my sister...."

Aunt Hanna had been the link between Mama and Holland, and now all she could do was clutch at the limp form. The sky was still full of stars and the kerosene lamp on the veranda streamed light across the yard, but the night seemed blacker than any Jasmine had ever seen.

The next thing Jasmine would always remember was Uncle Philip's look of desperation, while he carried his wife inside and laid her on the bed. He sat on the edge of the bed, and fumbled with a gauze bandage, trying to cover the gash.

Cold fear penetrated the room. A dim light came from a small oil lamp, which stood in the corner. Outside branches rustled in the wind. The clock ticked clearly and precisely against the silence in the house.

Uncle Philip stared almost pleadingly at the white face and the blood stained bandage, the bloodless lips, and the closed eyes.

Jasmine could do nothing except look. She tried to pray, but there was only a vast vacuum.

Mama sat on a chair by the bed, holding her handkerchief to her mouth. She didn't know that it was soaked in her sister's blood, which she was smearing over her tear-streaked face.

Uncle Philip bent more closely over the bed, as if willing life back into the limp body. He balled his fists, then grabbed the edge of the bed. He moaned.

There was a fine smile on Aunt Hanna's lips, and she seemed at peace.

Time faltered, as if the clock had skipped one tick, then Jasmine realized suddenly that this was a final farewell. Her hand curled in a tight ball.

It rained on the day of Aunt Hanna's funeral. Ellen and Yvonne had come with Papa the day before. After the service in a small church, they went to the cemetery. Aunt Hanna's body rode in the car ahead. Behind them a long row of cars followed under the palms along the avenue. When they arrived, everyone formed a silent circle around the gaping grave. Jasmine stood between Papa and Mama with Uncle Philip on Mama's other side. Yvonne and Ellen stood beside each other, crying. Danny looked stunned. Mama cried, and Uncle Philip stood stiffly silent, head bent.

Six men carried the coffin, and the silence became oppressive, as the pastor stepped forward. He had white hair like Pastor De Waard. He coughed a few times, then began to speak with an old tired voice. Jasmine tried to listen, but his sentences came in pieces, as if he had trouble stringing them together.

"Like the grass, that is today...." Some of his words seemed to disappear into the grave.... "This life, which God has taken to...."

Jasmine listened but the words meant nothing. She hoped they would comfort Uncle Philip. She looked at Mama's tight face and swollen eyes, and wondered if Mama heard anything at all. Yvonne was rubbing her eyes, sucking in her bottom lip, but Ellen looked angry now.

Uncle Philip stepped forward when the pastor had finished, and thanked the people for coming. It had stopped raining and Jasmine tried to discover figures in the clouds. There was a lion, and Jasmine was just trying to imagine a sheep, when the pastor announced their final song. "Far above the stars...." It was a poor, thin sound compared to Aunt Hanna's joyous laughter.

A few days after they got home Jasmine found Mama's diary open on the buffet. She wondered if Mama had written about Aunt Hanna. That thought resurrected all the horrors. It was as if there was a dead body in the house. She struggled against the pointlessness of it all.

"She's home in heaven," the pastor had said, but Uncle Philip had balled his fist, and Jasmine had done the same. She widened her eyes again in anguish at the memory.

Aunt Hanna had loved Java, saying repeatedly that she wanted to stay here the rest of her life.

And she had.