Malay speakers call female vampires, "pontianak". If we were to compare the pontianak to its Western counterpart, the vampire, one thing is obvious, both possess similar mesmerizing and attractive physical traits - their modus operandi to charm and lure their victims. What's different is that the pontianak is always female, and originates from a woman who had died while in labor.
I first saw her at twilight. I had entered the cafe to escape the heat, and darkness that was slowly enveloping the backpackers' lane. There were no streetlamps. The only glimmer of light came from the guesthouses and hostels that flanked both sides of the narrow gangway.
Things were kind of too quiet too early for a backpacker's lane, I thought. I had only passed by another person as I walked down the alley. The whole place was unfamiliar, and I felt a tad nervous being out there alone.
My croaky voice had deteriorated to a pathetic whisper. I realized that I had spent a good 40 minutes or so talking to the lady manning the secondhand bookshop a few doors away, as I browsed and flipped through the books on the shelves and the floor.
Unfortunately, I had caught a mild case of flu and sore throat after being stuck 5 hours in the delayed flight coming over. In all the humidity, my throat felt extra dry and stinging. Some water would be good.
Entering the cafe, I passed by a group of twentysomethings having coffee and busily chatting away. They sat on a sort of elevated wooden patio in front of the cafe. I was instantly grateful for the company of others, the cafe's bright white wash interior, and of course, the air-conditioner.
At the far back, there was bar high enough to hide the kitchen from view. 2 teenagers, a boy and a girl, both dressed in uniformed black t-shirts and blue jeans stood leaning casually against it as they talked to a tall Caucasian teenager in the local language. From their posture, I supposed he often frequented the cafe.
I sat down and turned my attention on the doodle-like graphics by the door. And just then, she walked in, looking stunning in black and white.
She looked to be in her late twenties. From the back, I could see her long, black hair held neatly by a sparkly banana clip. Her white baggy blouse was loosely tucked into her flowy long skirt with bold white and gray floral patterns. Its lacy bell sleeves bounced as she walked quickly towards the bar, briefly joining in the conversation there and laughing. In her high heeled shiny black boots, she stood a head shorter to the Caucasian teenager.
I saw her reach for the menu, and turned towards me smiling. She greeted me in English. When I answered in Malay, her round mascaraed eyes grew bigger slightly out of acknowledgement maybe, and her smile widened. She then continued to take my order in Indonesian.
Up close, I could see her face fully. Her eye brows were thick and neatly trimmed. She had a small, sharp nose and her lipstick were in the shades of plum. As she talked, her mouth revealed slightly crooked white teeth that actually enhanced her smile.
She had dark coffee brown skin with slight reddish undertones. And that was the most striking thing about her. Slightly bedazzled, I could only think of the Malay expression "hitam manis" (literally translated as black sweet) to summarize her coloring.
It didn't take long for my order of warm water, iced americano and churros to arrive. The warm water gave immediate relief to my sore throat. I forgot her temporarily as I savored the toasty, freshly-made churros and its chocolate dip. I took out my secondhand copy of Michelle de Kretser's "Questions of Travel" and began to read it.
"Kakak, are you from Malaysia?" She asked me in Indonesian, and pulled a chair to sit.
"Yes, how did you know?" I smiled and asked her back in Malay.
"From how you pronounce your words. Folks from my place speak Malay too, and in quite similar dialect to your Malay, you know. That's how I figured you're from Malaysia," She replied excitedly, her round eyes twinkling.
"You're not from Yogya or Java? Where are you from?" I admitted that she did indeed have a dialect like mine when she spoke. I thought she just code-switched to accommodate to a foreigner like me.
"I'm from Pontianak. And I am ethnic Malay just like you. I came to Yogya to continue my studies, and right now I manage the cafe..." she continued.
As I listened to her, my mind reeled quickly downloading old stored knowledge of Indonesia's geography. Pontianak is the capital city in West Kalimantan, Borneo.
"I only know that there are Malays in Bangka-Belitung. Didn't realize there were Malays too in Pontianak," I told her, interested.
"Oh yes, we are quite a big community there. And there are also people of Madura descent, Dayak, Javanese and Chinese too," said the intriguing Pontianak girl.
As the story goes, when Abdulrahman Alqadrie (the would-be Sultan of Pontianak) first set foot in a place called Batu Layang, his entourage came face to face with the undead pontianaks. He then ordered his men to fight and drove the pontianaks away by firing canons at the forest where they hid. And that is how Pontianak got its name.
This story is purely fictional. Rest assured, neither humans nor pontianaks were harmed in the midst of writing this piece.