"Do not harm me!" I pleaded, hunching my back with tears in my eyes, underneath the grey morning sky of Ubud, Bali. The rotted yam bounced off my shoulders after Jantan threw it at me with disgust to amuse the villagers.
"Putri is a monkey! Putri is a monkey!" Jantan yelled about the street across from my peanut stand. Jantan was born with a jaunty walk, boisterous voice, smooth golden skin and a sharp nose. His handsome father, Priam, with deep set eyes and thick eyebrows, owned the café nearby Ubud Temple, with umbrellas and mahogany chairs, where as I was the adopted daughter of a peanut stand owner across the path from the temple. For two decades of my life, I was the village monkey and Jantan was the prince.
"You are a monkey, Putri," said Jantan, the fortunate belligerent teenager whose life was destined for success. He was three years younger, but I felt three years lesser than him.
The village children pointed at me as if I was a disgrace for a furry animal and a horrible excuse of a human being with dark features. What was fun for them was ridicule for my whole entity, whose skin was the color of dried grass with coarse black hair that grew over my face and body.
The rotten yam laid softly on the ground, as I slid it inside my empty pocket before running away to escape another atrocious moment in my life. I scratched the skin underneath my arms covered with coarse black hair as they itched from the humid air.
Moist of sweat underneath my shirt, I smelled as wet sage. The sweltering heat in Ubud, Bali, was no solace and the rains during the Balinese monsoon only drenched me with sorrows.
Known in legends as the Monkey God Forest around the world, Ubud, Bali, was also a town to live for local villagers who were too poor to live elsewhere. The fragrance of Ratna flowers and pink geraniums scented the air that alluded of peace about the temple, yet the taunts from Jantan and Priam ostracized me.
I was named Putri, which meant Princess in Balinese, but I was nothing of the sort. I was the anathema, a girl anomaly.
"Scratch your ears! And say, MACAQUE!" yelled a village boy, as his mother came and pulled on his ears. "But, I want to see her act like a monkey!" His mother pulled his ear lobes harder as he squalled and kicked his feet up in the air.
For a brief moment, I felt relieved. Yet, I was still scarred as a creation by the gods who perhaps had lost a bet upon my soul.
"Putri, stop wandering and clean the street for our customers," said my adopted father, Nyoman.
My birth mother was Nyoman's maid. Since my mother's death, I became the property of Nyoman and his wife, Ani. There was no remorse for my destiny, but it was better than death at child birth. Although I was at child bearing age, no sane and good soul would glance at me. Who would desire a woman with indigenous birth and hairy features upon romance?
"The customers want cleanliness, not a mess of a place," said Nyoman, handing me the broom.
"Yes, master," I said, as I swept the street about the peanut stand. I wished he called me his daughter, but it was too much for a wish today.
"Putri, your name is no Princess. It is a lie! You are comedy, Putri!" yelled Jantan, still wandering about the peanut stand as the nuisance that he was. Some passerby who wanted to purchase a handful of boiled peanuts left after staring at me, because of the scene Jantan caused.
Tears soaked the hairs on my cheeks as I wiped them away out of annoyance. The cheeks of a princess should be rosy yet smooth, but mine was fuzzy with long hair that flowed to my chin. I had a beard since I was a teen, with facial hair flowing down my chin to my chest, as the skin underneath made me sob at my life. The beautiful ladies in Ubud once told that a woman's hair was the crown on her head, but these hairs of mine was no crown, it was a scandal for good fortune.
"May I visit inside the temple, after I clean the street about us?" I asked Nyoman. There was a smile on my face, although unseen beneath the moist black hairs. Nyoman nodded. The temple was mirth for my heart and it was where I found peace.
"Gather the woods and place them in the fire for the water to boil first," said Nyoman, as he pushed the cart near the street corner where tourists could order some peanuts to feed the monkeys in the temple. "We must boil more peanuts now. We expect a lot of customers today."
Nyoman cut the banana leaves in squares with scissors to become containers for the peanuts. Dried branches from our kitchen inside our humble home was how I started the fire for the pot of water on the peanut stand. Our dwelling was nothing but a storage house for wood and branches to heat the village during monsoon seasons. We lived in the outskirts of Ubud, where tourists often passed by, just before they reach the temple.
"Putri, you must come back by noon after your prayer time, because we will need your help," said Ani, my step-mother as she placed dried wood at the foot of the peanut stand.
"I will," I said, wiping the hair on my forehead as I placed the large pot full of water on top of the fire.
Priam passed by as he snickered, and said, "The small monkey grew up, didn't she?"
"I am not a monkey," I retorted. "I am a woman!"
My heart crumpled from Priam's comment. My soul felt closer to the dirt on the ground because my short stature and hairy features never gave me any favors. I felt my blood boiled with anger as I ran towards the temple.
"Putri, come back by noon!" yelled Ani. I will, I replied in silence inside my heart.
The cool ravines covered with green moss soothed my eyes, and the fragrance of eucalyptus was a healing elixir for my heart. Banyan trees shaded the pathway towards the temple underneath the brave sky. I ran across the path towards the fountain in the middle of the temple. To the left where a small stupa stood with a figure of a beautiful goddess in meditation inside. This temple was made of ancient stones older than anything I remembered. My birth mother's spirit lived inside it.
Since my youth, the old grandmothers in the village told of a curse that had transformed all the humans in Ubud Temple into macaques, because their hearts were evil creating war and unharmonious life. The old grandmothers also told that touching the gods or goddesses inside the stupas will bless one with a magical future, and I have tried many a times.
I stretched my arms into the stupa to touch the goddess. "Please make me normal and beautiful," I whispered, as I stretched my arms inside the stupa and the tip of my fingers rubbed the thigh of the goddess. "Yes! I touched the goddess!" I screamed as the echoes broke the silence of the temple.
A hush in the ravines calmed me as the sound of the rustling of trees tingled my eardrums, but nothing happened. I looked above and inside my tormented soul was thunder jostling my spirit, as I cried in pain and silence. Perhaps the gods and goddesses were angry at my birth, because I expected magic, legends, and beauty to surround me in life. In whispers of tears and shame, I uttered, "All of my life, I have been humbled and bullied. I wish nothing but death upon myself. It is better than to suffer the ridicules from everyone."
"A morsel of bread, my child?" said a gentle voice from behind me.
I turned around and an ancient woman in a ragged brown robe with silver hair was before me. Deep lines and wrinkles were on her face with dark drooping eyes, as if shiny black pearls suspended in her eye sockets.
"Perhaps, change? For the poor?" said the ancient woman, with her palms out, pleading in mercy.
"Where did you come from?" I asked with my big eyes wide and bewildered. I thought I was all alone.
"I am hungry, child. Could you help this old woman with something to eat?" said the silver haired woman, tugging at my tattered brown shirt.
I took out the rotted yam that Jantan threw at me from my pocket. "It is still food," I said, shrugging my shoulder, as tears trickled down my cheeks. Was she the mystical being I was to meet because I touched the stupa, I thought. The ancient woman grabbed the raw rotted yam and peeled the skin as she bit into it.
"Does it taste sweet or bitter?" I asked with my clenched jaw while feigning disgust of her earthy response.
"Oooooeeeeeh…it is sweetly divine, my child," she said. "How can I ever thank you?" The silver haired woman looked utterly happy as her crescent eyes turned half-moon smiles, finishing the delight of sweet yam.
"There is no need," I answered. "It is free and out of my heart. I am sorry I cannot give more for you." I looked above and around me, in wonder of who she was and how she got here.
"I can feel your heart is troubled from the tears you shed before me," said the ancient woman. "My name is Moon."
"Good day, Moon," I said. "My name is Putri. It means, …"
"Princess, … I know," said Moon, as her cheeks lifted to her eyes with a smile. She raised her hands and palmed my cheeks covered with coarse hairs.
"I am no such thing," I said, as tears came again with sorrow filling up my lungs.
"There is a greater spirit inside your soul that can conquer your fears and sadness," said Moon. "You may call me Mother Moon." Her arms fell to her sides as she tenderly looked into my eyes.
"How would you know my spirit? We just met," I asked, irritated at her assumptions.
"Do not undermine your own strength, Putri. You are truly a princess," said Mother Moon, whispering words I could not understand.
"It is unfair to have a name that ridicules me at every moment," I said. "My features conflict its meaning."
Mother Moon closed her eyes as she began to weep, and said, "If you can only see the truth of your heart, it is beautiful. From now on, you shall know the truth, and for your heart to be set free."
I sighed and looked to the ground, but as I looked up, Mother Moon had disappeared. With wide eyes I gasped with a chill over my nape, then looked to the stupa and saw something was different. The goddess inside it was gone.
"Mother Moon!" I yelled around the stupa and looked to the fountain, but no one was in sight.
Walking back to the peanut stand, I scratched the hairs on my head and thought of magic. Perhaps, Mother Moon was an apparition, but it must be a farce because she ate my rotted yam.
Upon my return to the peanut stand, plenty customers were there as it was close to noon. The macaques were out and Ubud Temple began to fill with tourists. Nyoman came to me, and said, "I need you to speak to our neighbor's son. He is somber, perhaps seeing your hairy face will make him feel better about his life."
I nodded, as I understood how Nyoman wanted to help those about him, and he often led me to be an example of misfortune to trade sorrows with the villagers.
The boy next door was on his rattan bed when I came to his house next door. His father came to me and told me, "Putri, he is afraid of the dark. You can be a big sister. He is always tired and won't get out of bed. Just let him look at your face, perhaps he will laugh at you and feel better."
Blessing my fellow villagers gave me gratitude for their joy, but often I gained nothing to reconcile my shame. I nudged the little boy as he looked to me, and said, "Hi Putri. You came to make me smile? It is no use. I lost my dear mother."
"When did you lose her?" I asked.
"Two full moons ago. My life ended with her," said the boy. I realized he was afraid of the dark night, as it reminded him of the moment his mother died.
"I met the Moon, she came to me today," I said, nudging him again.
"That is impossible," he replied. He turned around and asked, "Is my mother with her?"
"Yes, and your mother said that she is unhappy if you won't step outside and play. She wants you to live and enjoy your life. She is happy and has no more suffering," I told him, though in sympathetic lies, but one won't be harmed by its encouragement.
The little boy looked to the ground, and said, "Rinto, that is my name. I am six years old. My mother loved me." My chest filled with merriment, as Rinto smiled. Good deeds surely restored the strength of my heart, although I was often dishonored.
"Come out and play with me," I said, serving as a good example.
Rinto's father cried, and hugged me, "You are so kind, Putri. Thank you!"
Nyoman came into Rinto's house and yelled, "Putri, come outside. Plenty customers." I ran out the room and out to the street where the peanut stand was with a long line of customers who wanted to buy our boiled peanuts.
"To feed the macaques, sir? This is good snack," said Ani, giving a man his folded banana leaf of boiled peanuts.
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Jantan and Priam standing to lure customers to their café down the street.
"Our café has fried bananas, sir. Come and enjoy the cool air," said Jantan, politely, but I knew he was a faux.
"She is a peculiar thing, isn't she?" said a lady with a sun hat and pink t-shirt. Her features were foreign, and I supposed, it was fun to watch me spot my shirt underneath my armpits.
"Yes, madam, she is a girl, with much hair about her body. Born this way," said Nyoman.
The lady laughed raucously, and said, "She is godsent! Definitely a spectacle all on her own."
I laughed with her, and said, "I am happy you are happy, madam. Come to purchase more peanuts later. We are happy like you, if you spend more of your money."
"Hah!" said the lady, as she winked at me. I waved good-bye to her.
Jantan stared at me and my interactions, as he flushed in anger. So far today, all of the customers came to our peanut stand and no one ventured to their café.
Another customer came to purchase some peanuts, and he had light skin and blue eyes.
"You are a strange creature," he said, with his eyes wide as if he was in fear.
"Sir, we are made different to enjoy one another and to learn from each other," I said. I realized my skin and features were a contrast to his, but I was sure that my heart and its language was somehow familiar. "I can feel and I can understand, sir, that we are not the same, but I am human, made to love and not to be harmed."
The man looked on to his arms and skin, and looked to the ground. "You are a bright woman," he said, as he took a breath and smiled.
My spirit felt brighter as sunshine, because he was willing to speak and dialogue with me and to attempt to understand me.
"What is your name?" asked the man with blue eyes.
"Putri, it means Princess," I answered and the corners of my lips lifted to a smile.
The foreign man smiled, and said, "I am happy you are named Putri. Your demeanor is of a Princess, and thank you for these peanuts, … Putri."
"Come again, sir, we have plenty," I said, in gratitude.
The foreign man left the peanut stand with what I hoped, was a revelation.
With my presence as the anomaly, our peanut stand became a third-world-wonder as we sold out of all the peanuts by afternoon. Our peanut stand welcomed those who wanted to experience Ubud at its raw splendor, and to help the tourists with an unforgettable interlude of life in this civilized world.
From mornings to mornings, I was reminded of Mother Moon, and her words to reveal the truth about me as a beautiful creature, not an anathema. A woman came to our peanut stand the next morning, and there was a melancholy about her.
"Just one banana leaf of peanut for me, please," said the woman. Her face was plumb with a brunette bob on her and light brown eyes on fair skin. Her tears made a trail from her eyes to her chin as she quickly wiped it with her hands.
"Are you okay, miss?" I asked, afraid to hear her answer.
"I was hurt in the past, and I've lost my dreams with it," she said, wiping her tears.
"You are on holiday?" I asked. "I hope you have some enjoyment today."
"I can't seem to escape my own mind and troubles," she said, as tears dropped to the ground.
"Do not be tired of sowing the good seeds, ma'am, even for yourself. Those good seeds become mist of worship to the gods, and they turn into rains of blessings for your harvest in the future," I said, in hope that my words consoled her. "Be kind to yourself."
"How ever did you know such wisdom?" she asked, tilting her face askew.
"Do not let others make you fear of doing good works. You must live through kindness and love about yourself, that is how I survive," I said. From a woman to another woman, I wanted consolation for her pain through my words and to empathize for her suffering.
"You are the first person who made me want to keep living," said the woman.
"Don't be afraid to enjoy the small moments," I said to the genteel lady. "It is the only way I can live in this small island."
Priam came from the left corner of the peanut stand and yelled, "STOP TALKING TO THE CUSTOMERS! You are not a shaman!"
"Ugly Gorilla! Putri is an ugly gorilla!" yelled Jantan, who stood next to his father.
Nyoman and Ani were afraid of Jantan's words and Priam's violence. Priam pushed the cart as it rolled down the street, further and further, and hit a rock then toppled as the boiled water spilled onto the street. Cracked peanuts scattered on the ground all over the entrance of the Ubud Temple.
"Now people can come to my café and stop caring for you, ugly gorilla!" said Priam.
My heart dropped to my stomach as I never knew Jantan and Priam were capable of doing such harm to Nyoman and Ani. Tears rushed out of my eyes as I wanted to end my whole being for causing such a havoc upon my only family.
"Stop talking! Stop pretending to be kind!" said Priam.
"You look like an animal, an orangutan! You are worthless!" yelled Jantan.
Their violence burst the peaceful conscience inside my brain, as the core of my chest shook out of its peace. Out of fear, I ran to the temple, afraid of being physically assaulted by Jantan and Priam. Fumbling to the temple, I scraped my knees as I ran faster towards the fountain and turned left to the stupa where I once met Mother Moon.
Kneeling on the ground, I tried to calm myself, breathing in and out hoping for the resiliency of peace to harness my fears. I blew on the hair on my mouth and tried to wipe the moisture out of my unmerciful face. I pulled on my own hairs, wishing it would disappear.
"Have you tried cutting them?" said a familiar voice.
I gasped and looked up.
Mother Moon sat next to me on the ground, with legs crossed and her arms on her thighs. I looked to the stupa again but the goddess was not inside it.
"Why are you miserable?" asked Mother Moon.
"Jantan and Priam hate me, and they will make others hate me too. Why do others taunt me so, Mother Moon?" I asked her. I felt the tip of my eyes wilted to the ground as dying sunflowers.
"My child, I am merely a messenger, but I assure you that the god inside you is stronger, than this world. You are not alone in this," said Mother Moon.
"I am too humbled and dejected, I wish I was not alive anymore, and I wish I can be with my mother who died when I was a child," I pleaded to her, to perhaps evoke the magic within her to change my life.
"Putri, you have much humility, but humility gives wisdom, not death. Jantan has too much pride and it is a disgrace. Jantan is toxic pride, and he breeds ignorance, violence and hatred. You do not deserve suffering or death. You are beautiful in my eyes," said Mother Moon.
"I am so scared. I don't believe I can live a long happy life," I said. "My face itches with this monstrous fur and I look like an animal, much below the worth of man."
"Speak up, Putri! Show them you are capable and worthy. Unless you speak up, they will always believe you are lesser than them," said Mother Moon. "Never succumb to the ways of toxic humans. Keep loving, and never let violence silence you. The truth is, animals are kind and have pure hearts, they just need pure minds. Igniting violence is vile upon life itself. Demand kindness upon yourself and speak up!"
"What if no one listens, and I am a fool, Mother Moon?" I asked, worried because the only people who believed in me were the destitute and the powerless.
"You must have faith," said Mother Moon.
"Faith in what?" I asked.
"Faith you can overcome in life, with the knowledge that not all humans will love the ways of toxic superiority," said Mother Moon. "Humans were made to love one another, not to harm the vulnerable, the different than or the less fortunate. It is against humanity. The human race will cease to exist when toxic superiority becomes bigger than life itself."
"I must get back to the village, Mother Moon," I said. I thought of how Jantan and Priam had harmed my adopted parents and my well-being. I needed to help my family.
"Run fast, and speak your mind, Putri. Go through the pathway of the fountain, away from the garden and you will come to the entrance from where you came," said Mother Moon.
"Will I ever see you again?" I asked.
"Putri, if the gods will it. Do not wish you lived another life, because you are enough and you are worthy," said Mother Moon.
"Thank you, Mother Moon," I replied. The fountain was behind me and as I wanted to leave, I wanted to hug Mother Moon but she had gone. My mind was wild in tangled thoughts as I was unsure of what reality was at this moment. When I opened my eyes, I looked to the stupa and the goddess was inside it, in meditation and sitting as a solid rock.
"Mother Moon, I will speak my mind," I uttered to the goddess.
Running towards the pathway from where I came, I passed the fountain beside me. My foot slipped as I fell inside the fountain with water soaking me through. My skin felt bare as I stood up inside the fountain, with water dripping over my body. The hairs on my arms and legs had soaked but fell off my body as my skin became smooth.
"Is this real?" I asked myself. I caressed my arms and all of the coarse black hairs that were on my body and face had disappeared. I touched my stomach and chest and there were no more coarse black hairs.
Immediately, I ran to the village and saw the peanut stand was wrecked out of the its stand and broken at the foot. Nyoman and Ani were trying to boil some peanuts from an altar of rocks at the front of our home. They were placing wood on the rocks and lighting the fire when I ran to them and hugged Nyoman.
"It's me, Putri," I said, smiling. The happiness inside my heart overwhelmed the past fears because my hair was all gone and I felt normal. I was the woman I wished to be. Everything came true and I did not wish for another life, because I was excited to live my own.
"Putri, how…?" asked Ani. She caressed my cheeks and cried as she hugged me. "You are beautiful!"
"I pleaded to the gods and goddesses for a magical future and they answered my prayers!" I replied. My smile made Ani cry and I felt fortunate because I felt like a daughter, not an animal nor a slave. "What happened to our cart?" I asked.
"It is gone. It broke and we cannot fix it. I will have to make do without it, but we can get peanuts from the farmers and sell it from plastic bags. We will boil it inside our home and on this altar," said Nyoman, handing me a small plastic bag of peanuts.
"Perhaps we can sit near the entrance of the temple and catch more customers that way," I said.
"What happened to you? How come you look human?" I heard a rude voice, that I never wanted to hear.
"Jantan, you broke us, you need to leave!" I screamed at him.
"You looked better as the tragedy you were before," said Priam.
I was fueled with passionate fire, and said, "You are both an enmity against the gods. You created dysfunction in this small village because of your selfishness and your toxic pride and superiority!" I screamed at them. I didn't care who heard, Mother Moon was right, I needed to speak up and release the voice that was inside me. The words to thwart his narcissism and evil towards my life, towards this village, towards this world.
"You are a circus monkey," said Jantan.
"I was born irreplaceable to my family and to the gods above. You are afraid I will become successful because I am a bright light to your dark world. My happiness gives you fear because it proves I am equal to you or perhaps, better!" I said.
From behind them, Rinto walked past Jantan and Priam, then stood next to me, and said, "I love Putri. She is my friend. And you have hurt those around you, Jantan."
"Priam, you are uneducated and a degenerate father," said Ani.
"You want everyone to follow you, but no one is following, Priam! You are poison, insanity and a disease to our lives. You are the tragedy and the violence that no one deserves!" said Nyoman.
Jantan looked about the village as the other villagers stood in silence.
"Your dysfunction eats human souls and corrupts life. You produce fear, violence, and self-harm!" I said.
Priam looked to Jantan and told him, "Let us attend to the café. There will be more people who will come, and we don't have to worship them as Putri does."
"Go about your own life, and leave me and my parents alone," I told Priam and Jantan.
For a moment, I saw them became small and cowardly, as they remained in silence since the moment I fought back.
As time went on, Ubud Temple was never short of tourists, and we were never short of customers. The villagers welcomed me as if I was the prized daughter and a kindred spirit. The tourists with tired souls would stop by for some peanut and conversation. Restoration of the soul was free of charge.