Birds of Paradise (Part III)

Birds of Paradise (Part III)

By Mark Ulyseas

For The Bali Times

This is the third in a four-part series about wonderful women I met in Amed.

I’ve seen fire and I’ve seen rain

I’ve seen sunny days that I thought would never end

I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend

But I always thought I’d see you again.

– James Taylor, Fire and Rain

Ina called Bali the Garden of Eden, with beautiful people who had arrived on its shores losing themselves after tasting the fruit of momentary love.

She had seen a friend vanish into the carnival-like atmosphere that pervaded the air in Kuta. The clothes, the culture, the pretty faces – all making up for a panoramic view of a paradise the likes of which she had never known.

This was her first journey to Bali. She was working as a manager with a multinational in Paris – a 40-year-old, highly successful single woman with a long-time boy friend and a golden retriever back home.

I met her in the small restaurant in the hotel in which we were both staying. She was eating nasi campur with a red face as she had just bitten into a green chili that looked like a string bean.

I went up to her table and introduced myself. Ina held out her hand and instead of words rice came out. She apologized profusely and rushed off to wash up.

On her return, she offered me a glass of rosé wine, which I happily accepted.

Talk centered around religious beliefs and in particular the Christian church’s teachings about God and salvation. I suppose the wine I was drinking instigated the conversation. Ina spoke passionately about her notion that God did not exist and that we were creatures born of accident. I attempted to reason with her but to no avail. She felt that if God existed, he could have prevented an accident that killed her beloved uncle many years earlier.

“So why did you come to Bali?” I asked.

“I have come to seek solitude, meditate and to spend time with myself,” she answered softly.

Just then one of the hotel boys broke out in song, strumming his badly tuned guitar. We both laughed. She looked at me and asked a few personal questions, which I avoided for fear of being dragged into a dialogue that had been laid to rest over three years ago.

I abruptly walked out of the restaurant and lay down on a sunbed next to the pool. She followed me and sat at the corner of the sunbed and placed her hands on my legs, patting them gently. Ina told me that although she didn’t believe in the existence of God, she did believe in the power of love. I didn’t answer her nor comment on her views, for I was tired. I turned my back and closed my eyes.

Moments later she retired to her room. We met at an internet café the next day. She was punching the computer keys with a vengeance and cursing under her breath.

“Is the internet slow today?” I asked.

“No, just got news from home about the death of Sparky, my golden retriever. Yesterday morning my boyfriend discovered him dead on the floor of my flat in Paris,” she said in a soft voice.

“Sorry to hear that. How did he die?”

She didn’t answer.

We met again the following morning on the beach, as we were coincidently sharing the same boat that would take us out for the sunrise cruise. On the way out, an agitated sea and an errant wind buffeted the boat. We didn’t speak until we returned to shore. Then, as if the moment had arrived, we held hands and walked back to the hotel. That day and the following night we shared quiet time together interrupted by a few meals, lots of arak and Made’s explanation of the dark moon or night of no shadows, when black magic is performed. Ina quizzed Made and me about the Devil and the existence of evil forces on such a night.

For a person who didn’t believe in God but found the existence of evil forces plausible, Ina was confronted with the logic that if evil existed, there had to be a counterbalance, i.e. good, because the Universe works on the principle of yin and yang, positive and negative.  She never verbally acknowledged the predicament that confronted her for it was apparent that our logic was inarguable, as it had aroused within her the profundity that if the Devil existed, then there had to be a God.

The tranquility was broken when Ina received a phone call from home that her father had suffered a heart attack.

“I told you there is no God,” she wept.

Hearing her sob, Made, the owner of the hotel, walked into our room and suggested I take her to a temple to make an offering and be blessed by a holy man.

“We Balinese pray and make offerings every day because we believe that we must acknowledge God’s existence. Otherwise we will not be blessed with the power of love and our lives will not be peaceful,” he said.

An hour later we arrived at the temple, made our offerings, prayed and were blessed by a priest. On the return journey Ina confided in me that she had felt a powerful force embrace her soul during the religious ceremony and was afraid, as she hadn’t encountered anything like that before.

When we reached the hotel, she went straight to the seashore and sat on the rocks till sunset. At twilight she returned to her room. Ina surfaced next morning, fresh-faced and smiling. She told me in an excited voice that she felt a change within her.

“I believed that when I went home I would be greeted by Sparky, who would lick me on the face. You know he was my best friend. He knew me, trusted me and loved me for who I am. When I kissed him goodbye, I thought I would see him again. It’s like a replay of the parting with my uncle when I was 10 years old. I left his home with my parents after a dinner party. He kissed me on my forehead and said he would drop by our home the next day for lunch. He died in a car accident on his way to us the following day. I never got to see him again. I feel a deep sense of loss. But I can handle it now.”


“Because when I got a call today from my mother informing me that Dad was out of danger, it dawned on me that your friend Made was right after all – the Balinese have understood the power that controls their lives and by paying obeisance to this power, they are able to handle the pitfalls in life. I feel that my earnest prayer for my father’s health was heard by some divine force and that’s why he is recovering,” she replied.

I removed a small silver coin with the image of Lord Ganesha on one side, which I carried around in my pocket as a good luck charm, and gave it to her.

“Always keep this coin close to you. Believe there is a God and your life will become a lot less unbearable.”

Ina held the coin to her cheek and smiled, for it was apparent that she had begun to believe in the power of the Almighty on a small island called Bali.

Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om

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