By Mark Ulyseas
For The Bali Times
This occurred in the first week of my arrival in Bali. Name and details have been changed to avoid hurting friends.
I arrived sheltering from the storm
Cloaked in loneliness
Carrying the pain and sorrow of a lifetime
Soulless, loveless and barren of thought
– Wayfarers, Mark Ulyseas
Talking to Jane, a charming woman of 40-something, over dinner the other night, I couldnâ€™t help wondering why she had ended up as a hairstylist in Bali. Her face is creased. But her warm, moist eyes and sudden gentleness of speech is comforting to me as earlier in the day I had spent time interviewing a local in sign language and pidgin English, resulting in frayed nerves and a short attention span.
â€œSo whatâ€™s the story?â€ I ask her.
She stretches her long legs, leans back and to my astonishment rests them on our dinner table. I look at her disapprovingly.
â€œOh, no one cares a fish here; the restaurant needs the business and I need a break,â€ she drawls. â€œI came here with my French boyfriend, who on arrival took to the streets photographing everything, including the aftermath of the first bomb blast at the Sari Club. He made a killing. Sold them pics to a television station for 10 grand, US not rupiah. After the money ran out, he lost interest in me. He fancied the younger girls. You know, whatâ€™s it with these guys? All the men I have met here come for the girls. Some marry and settle down while others keep changing their girlfriends like they change their clothes. Us (Western) women rarely get lucky with these guys. Probably we are too â€˜oldâ€™ for them. They need that little young woman to reassure them of their manhood and to make them feel superior,â€ she says.
I look embarrassed. What could I say? She appeared to be a cultured woman but was it worth asking her out again? Words sometimes are incongruous.
â€œLook at you – what the hell are you doing here?â€ she waves to me, and quickly apologizes for her abruptness.
â€œOh,â€ I reply, â€œjust recovering from a 20-year marriage. I came here from London after working as a ghost writer and graphic designer for two years. What I am doing here is writing for two Indian magazines. Maybe Iâ€™ll travel across the island and meet some of the expats who have become more Balinese than the Balinese themselves.â€
â€œDonâ€™t tell me you are going to meet them? All I know is that they are a lotta hot air. Yap, yap, yap – thatâ€™s all they do; people who are losers in their countries land up here,â€ she says angrily.
The waitress, in a sarong, comes to the table and points at the half-eaten food on my plate.
â€œYou like, yes?â€ she asks. If she had come any closer she would have knocked me off my chair.
â€œYes, I like,â€ I say. Looking down at the chicken satay, I remember what Jane told me earlier in the evening. She said that imported dogs, particularly retrievers, are kidnapped and if a ransom is not paid, the dog ends up as satay. Very often the kidnappers donâ€™t wait for the ransom. They just sell the dog to people who make satay.
Jane punches me playfully on the arm and points to my laptop.
â€œShow me what youâ€™re up to,â€ she says, and then starts picking her teeth with a satay stick. Reluctantly I remove the laptop from its case, place it on the table and put it on. Suddenly, a few of the waitresses rush to our table to look see whatâ€™s being shown. One giggles and asks, â€œShahrukh Khan?â€
Dreadful, I think to myself, one canâ€™t get away from those awful Bollywood movies!
Glancing through the pictures in Photoshop, Jane remarks, â€œYou did all this?â€ She seems a bit incredulous. I keep quiet. I am too tired and desperately need another whisky on the rocks to wash down any glimmer of the loneliness of the past years that may suddenly arise and make me sick again.
â€œI come from a very rich family,â€ she says. â€œDad is uncouth and has a very sharp tongue. I think he loves me, but he never seems to show it. He does construction, you know.â€
â€œWill you ever go back home to Kangaroo Land?â€ I ask her, taking a sip of my whisky and reaching for a cigar.
â€œNaa, donâ€™t think so, just want to save money and go to India to buy some jewelry to sell here. Will you help me with your contacts?â€ she says looking hesitantly at me.
â€œYes, of course,â€ I reply, and launch into the whole drama that is India, the depths of despair in doing business in a country I had left years ago. She looks at me and strokes my long white hair.
â€œPoor chap,â€ she says tenderly, as if speaking to herself, â€œwhen was your last date?â€
Taken aback, I donâ€™t answer. What could I say? The truth? That it was a few years back?
â€œI want to have two boyfriends,â€ she says, gazing into my eyes intently. â€œWill you like to be the other one?â€
I nod my head. She laughs.
â€œWhatâ€™s it with you Indians? You always shake your head in such a manner that no one knows whether you are saying yes or no.â€
â€œYou know, my friends in London used to call me Noddy because I would nod my head when talking to them. I suppose in Bali you can call me Noddy in Neverland,â€ I say as we burst out laughing.
Jane tells me about her yellow scrambler bike and how she rides around doing the society ladiesâ€™ hair: cutting, curling, blow drying, coloring and sometimes shaving. She likes her job. Her flat with two air-conditioned bedrooms is a luxury. She likes her little world. Everything is neat and tidy. But she is getting old and her trembling voice betrays false bravado. I think the rumbling engine beneath her is warm and reassuring, and where she is always in control; itâ€™s her comfort zone. The place she feels at peace is on her bike riding round the city.
The bill arrives. I pay it and walk out with her.
She jumps into the cab I am sitting in and kisses me with her warm, wet, open mouth, mumbling goodnight. She saunters to her yellow scrambler, puts on her yellow helmet and roars off into the night.
The cabbie asks me, â€œWhere you go? You follow her?â€
â€œNo!â€ I reply, â€œWe go Oberoi.â€
â€œSeminyak?â€ asks the driver.
â€œYes!â€ I say and mutter under my breath, â€œWe are on an island; how many Oberois could there be?â€
The evening ends with a displaced Indian and an Aussie, both marooned eight degrees south of the equator on an island called Bali, both waiting for the future to happen. Waiting.
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om