The Letters Page, Vol 5, #3: We’re Good, But Just Not Good Enough

Ziggy Zezsyazeoviennazabrizkie is the author of Di Tanah Lada, which won the Jakarta Arts Council Novel Writing Competition in 2014, and Jakarta Sebelum Pagi, winner of the Editor’s Choice Award from Rolling Stone Indonesia in 2017. Ziggy incorporates social criticism into her writing, she tells us, and in this letter addresses the particular anxieties that face Indonesian Muslims when placed in situations compromising their religiosity. Illustrations are the author’s own, from her letter. (Note, particularly if someone is reading this over your shoulder, that this letter contains words describing parts of the human body with fond relish.)

I know we have WhatsApp and you’re always online on Facebook, but I think I should do this with a letter – hand written. Gosh, can you believe how archaic? But I need you to know how much I need you to know, and how difficult this is for me. Among other things.
Marcy, this is difficult, and the beginnings are the difficultest. So, here goes.
I went for a hookup the other day. Hookup? Not a scheme to sleep out of your shitty kosthuis bed for the sake of better lumbar support through midnight slumber? No, Marcy, a hookup. With all the dick and rubbing of stuff and stuff. But his uncle walked into the kitchen while I was there. I was eating their leftovers and he smiled at me and asked who I was. He was real pleasant but I choked on that ice cold nasi kuning and wished I was dead. But I wasn’t, and the guy I wanted to hook up with told the uncle that I was just there for the Wi-Fi & the free food. I really wish I was dead.

I know, I know what you’re going to say… Harlot! Shame! Shame! Shame! Oh pft, feel free to go all High Sparrow on me; re-enact the whole Game of Thrones if you like. Our parents taught us well, Marcy. I know everything you know. Your values were mine. Are mine. So this is going to be hard, knowing where we came from. But I want you to know this about me. You, specifically.

The thing is, Marcy, the thing is, there’s something he did. Way back then, years ago. And what he did was this, Marcy: he stopped. That’s what it is: he stopped. I didn’t say a thing, but I wanted him to, and he stopped. So, yesterday, Marcy, I let him touch my tits. He’s the first I actually let. All others were trespassers. You get it, right, Marcy? You get what I’m saying, right?

So I’m going to do it. I’m really going to do it today, Marcy. His uncle is back home now so there’s just going to be me and him and hopefully that teabag I dropped somewhere in his house (it was Bigelow Vanilla – Caramel). And between me wanting to tell you and me not wanting you to stop me (which I know you’ll do), I think horrifyingly–delayed means to travel of information is the best way to let you know AND to actually do it.

I’m really afraid Marcy. I think of all the prayers we’ve prayed, I think of all the lectures we’ve had, and it doesn’t make sense right now but it does tell me something. A prophecy, that is, Marcy. Of what they’re going to make me feel after it’s done.

And what I’m afraid of the most, Marcy, is what you’ll think of me after everything. Mother believed that those who committed zinna will have their houses burnt by divine means, although I swear you can find that nowhere in Quran, but anyway she might disown me. What I don’t know is what you’ll do, Marce. But, Marcy, I have nowhere else to go. We were raised in sandwich class – you know what I mean right? Between the Holy Holy Holy class who’d frown upon me and hit my exposed upper boobs with recitation of holy verses, and Rogue Class who wouldn’t think it’s a big deal because my faith is a joke; is that even a choice, Marce? But you and I—we’re sandwiched between them; we’re good, just not good enough. So you’ll see condemnation as you’ll see reason, won’t you, Marcy?

I really don’t know if you will, Marcy. And that scares me. Hence, Marcy, a letter. Properly stamped and terribly delayed.

I need you, Marcy. And I’m afraid.
Please don’t disown me.

Love you always –
your little sister 

The Letters Page is a literary journal in letters, published by the University of Nottingham’s School of English. Vol. 4, featuring letters from Roddy Doyle, Andika Budiman and Sarah Whiteside, is still available to purchase.

We are reading submissions again, for publication in the ongoing Volume 5. Published contributors will receive a gift subscription to one of our favourite small presses or literary journals. Send your letters to: The Letters Page, School of English, University of Nottingham, NG7 2RD, UK. We look forward to hearing from you.