Untying the Balinese Knot

By Richard Boughton

“Divorce,” as Felix Unger said in the 1960s movie The Odd Couple, “is a terrible thing.”

“Oh! It can be,” was the punch line rejoinder, “if you haven’t the right solicitor.”

There is always a punch line.

From Robin Williams we have: “Ah yes, divorce … from the Latin word meaning to rip out a man’s genitals through his wallet.” Zsa Zsa Gabor said “I’m an excellent housekeeper. Every time I get a divorce, I keep the house.” She said as well that getting divorced because you don’t love a man is almost as silly as getting married because you do.

The quotes available are almost endless (just look it up on Google); and new quotes will be added every day, from here to eternity, as new voices arise as witnesses to mankind’s second most popular pursuit, silly people that we are.

So my friend Mick is getting divorced. A prince among men, an Englishman from the midlands, a man acquainted with both success and failure in this long life, Mick will soon race at least one marriage and divorce ahead of me. Life ends and begins again. You get better at it every time, or at least less surprised. You learn the ropes. You cut your losses and move on. It’s sad. Almost as sad as marriage itself.

I’m being facetious, of course. I’m just feeling cranky because I’m about to lose my best friend. Never mind the marriage and the Balinese wife, who never liked me anyway because I smoke and smoking is a nasty, disgusting habit. The result, in purely careless and self-absorbed terms, is that I must soon find myself divested of a chunk of life in Bali as I have known it over the last two years. Mickey the chunk. He’s going back to England, has already booked the flight, after five years of life in Bali (most of which, as he now claims, was spent stuck in traffic).

We are neighbours, Mick and I, out in the Biaung boonies, and every morning he will walk down to my house and sit, unless it’s “pissing down rain,” at the table in the yard where I generally do my writing, to visit for a bit – always a welcome interruption – over a nasty, disgusting cigarette or two, a modest bit of luxury disallowed at home. I think it was ultimately this sort of disallowance that drove the marriage to dissolution – not just of the occasional “fag,” as he would put it, but of … well, of just about everything that is truly rewarding – tobacco, alcohol, the internet, Facebook, Farmville, loafing in a lazy beach café, flirtations with strange women. You know what I mean.


But I grow facetious again. It would be truer to say that Mick, for most of his adult life, had been a man in charge of himself, married or not. He was a boss at work, managed other people, made the decisions, determined outcomes. And so had life been for his wife as well. Two people, both in charge. It’s the most common ingredient in explosive marital outcomes. I suppose they should have known better. But perhaps one, or both, had played a part for a time – during that period in which silliness results in marriage. Perhaps façade had altered the plain visage of fact and led in turn to blind roads and false hopes.

It has often been said, within my hearing anyway, that Indonesian women are difficult to live with. They are bossy, controlling, hard-hearted, sharp-tongued, greedy; sweet on the outside, bitter within; stubborn, pompous, intolerant, unkind, argumentative, hot-blooded. And so on. They are never wrong; and if proven wrong, it must have been you who had misunderstood from the beginning. I make no sweeping judgment of the Indonesian woman. Being married to one, I need to be careful. I will simply be swift to note that my own wife, a perfect sweetheart, must surely be an exception.

Mickey came here for life, and that lasted five years. He’s on his way home now, back to the old country and the familiarity of friends, back to one language, one culture, one convention, leaving in Bali only memories and anecdotes: Mick, who once stormed into an apotek demanding to see their selection of condoms along with demonstrations of the same; Mick, who asked the middle-aged woman on the beach, a purveyor of younger women’s flesh, whether she could find him one without teeth (for whom he would pay a possible fortune); Mick, the proverbial bull in a China shop; Mick, who would try to sell watches to watch hawkers and rides to taxi drivers, the consummate rib-jabber and leg puller.

Straight talking, hip-shooting, no nonsense Mick – reliable, trustworthy, “sound as a pound” Mick, who would give you the shirt off his back, repair your stove, replace your front door, fix your motorbike, install your tap, re-route your electricity, watch your dog – a Jack of all trades, a man for all seasons, a world traveller who nonetheless never once left home – both a simple and a complicated man, and therefore not unlike the rest of us; a product of his time and culture and country, as much as his wife has been of hers.


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