[read earlier parts of "In Bali With Baggage" here]
Perhaps it is some fluke of Balinese grammar. Perhaps the words for “lonely” and “alone” are the same. But the hotel staff keeps asking me, “traveling lonely?” and I say, “Yes.”
“No friends?” they continue, just to make sure.
“No,” I say, feeling my nose being rubbed in it. “No friends.”
In my short time here, I’ve already learned that the Balinese are really sweet. Despite the surge in tourism – often a loud, drinky, druggy kind of tourism – they’ve retained their basic niceness. But if this wasn’t the case, why, I’d think they were sticking it to me.
“Oh no,” they say, making a frowny face. “You are traveling lonely, Mr. Jonathan.”
That’s another thing. They call me “Mr. Jonathan.” Respectfully, like I own a schmata factory. Like I’m Mr. T’s brother.
I walk out of the hotel and onto the street. The sun is bright, the air warm, and I am filled with nausea. Not the hangover kind but the French Existential kind. As always, on my first day of travel, I can’t help thinking of the city I come from, Montreal, empty of me and it makes me feel dead there. Because in the streets and buildings of Montreal, I no longer exist.
On the sidewalks are freshly laid out offerings. They are called Canang Sari and everyone seems to make them. While most of Indonesia is Muslim, Bali is predominantly Hindu, and offerings are made three times a day. The ones I see are made up of little baskets filled with rice, crackers, flowers and even cigarettes. It is later explained to me that these offerings are made in thanks, in celebration, of life’s abundance – as opposed to being made in fear like, say, Jessica Lang being turned over to an adenoidal ape in “King Kong.” Later in the day, I will see these offerings run through with tire tracks and flattened by people’s feet. And in the days to come, I will even see these sacrificial flowers clogging bar room bathroom sinks. (Another neat thing about Bali are the bathroom surprises. I’ve already seen multi-colored urinal stones and above them, at eye level, aquariums.) But right now, the sacrifices are bright like children’s book drawings.Up in the sky, over the beach, kites swirl. At first, because of the way they swoop, I think them some kind of colorful breed of daytime bat and I retract my head into my shoulders. Down below, I watch a 15-year-old Australian boy haggle with a woman his grandmother’s age over the cost of the bracelets she’s selling. She is seated down by his feet with her big see-through bag filled with colorful thread. The boy sits in a beach chair and dangles a bracelet in front of her and she snatches at it. The boy pulls it back and flashes her the smile that probably gets him out of trouble with his mom. It seems like he is taking a sadistic delight in keeping the bracelet just out of her reach while she lunges at it. He tells her it’s not worth more than 10 cents, but he will give her 50 and she should take it. You feel like you’re watching some age-old colonial drama playing out. Was Gauguin such little asshole, too?
I lay my towel out and indulge in some irrational thoughts while putting on sunscreen. Who am I to think the sun will bother tanning me let alone burn me? A man like Captain Ahab would have punched the sun in the face if it insulted him with burns, but I on the other hand squeeze lotion from the tube – the flatulent sound draws attention and makes me feel like Mr. Bean on holiday.
The desperate, reaching finger streaks of whiteness on my back will bear testament to the world of my loneliness, the shame of sitting on the beach – in this world – all by myself. As I never have occasion to take my shirt off in room light, this loneliness will only become apparent if I am in a medical emergency that necessitates my being stripped. And laid out on my stomach. I’m imagining some kind of rectal accident involving a rodent or rake.
“Call his emergency number,” the nurse will say, “but get ready for an out of service message. The poor, friendless bastard probably just made the number up.”
[Illustration: Dmitry Samarov]