The morning of Day Three is like hitting the replay button. It’s comfortable and familiar with no surprises. I slept fairly well before and after some distressed wild thing shrieked in agony for about an hour in the night but I don’t mention it. Nobody else will have heard it, and if they did, they won’t say so.
I’m invited to a wedding reception today. Gede, the sweet, sensitive jokester who works in the house next to mine, is thrilled. His girlfriend of several years is finally pregnant. Children are important, if not essential to the culture here and often a wedding is forthcoming only when the woman’s fertility is a proven fact.
I’ve been told the reception will be in the morning, but a message from Gede to Ketut let’s him know not to bring me before 1 p.m. The couple is still having their makeup and costumes done. I find a straw broom and sweep the baked earthen yard halfheartedly, kicking up clouds of dust. I recharge my camera and delete several dozen photos to make room for a few wedding shots. I walk to the side of the cliff and gaze at Mt. Abang in the distance. Then, when I’ve exhausted all my options, I twiddle my thumbs.
“Maybe relax, you go in room, relax.”
“Okay? I won’t disturb anybody?”
“No. It’s okay.”
I stretch out and allow my body to melt into the bed. When I wake up and look at the clock, two hours have passed and it’s time to go. Today the temple clothes aren’t a requirement and I’m grateful to be able to grip the bike between my thighs for the plunging drops and zig-zaggy turns. My sparkly sandals are the only dressed-up thing about me, but I’ve learned that as the token foreigner I’m going to look unusual no matter what I wear.
Upon arrival we’re told that Gede and Ary are still inside. We’re offered Coke, Sprite, and sweets. Ketut sits with the men. I chat with the women and Gede’s father who is a round, jovial gentleman and has the same sense of humor as his son. We’re having a fine conversation when right in the middle of a sentence, he jumps up, pulls back a blue curtain that I hadn’t noticed before, and says, “Eat! Please! Eat!”
The row of chafing dishes lined up on the buffet table is impressive and as our host uncovers each one, spicy aromas fill the tent. I heap my plate and every bite is more delicious than the one before. As I’m shoveling the last morsel of banana tree trunk into my mouth, there’s a ripple of excitement from outside. The bride and groom have arrived.
I take a volley of photos, then Gede joins the men and Ary and I join the women. She asks me about weddings in America. Does the bride have her makeup done? Does she wear traditional clothes? I reassure her that many brides hire a person to do their hair, makeup, and nails and that for traditional weddings, the bride wears all white. She thinks an all-white dress sounds boring. I start to argue then glance again at her elaborate costume and say no more.
After a dignified length of time I thank the parents, say goodby to Gede and Ary, and let Ketut know I’m ready to point my nose toward home. We pull out of the gate and bump along for about a half mile when Ketut says, “Want to see my grandmother? She 150 years old.”
“One-hundred fifty? Are you sure?”
“Oh ya. Very old.”
I’m at that point where the horse can smell the barn. I just want to be home! But I’ve learned that when Ketut throws out an off-handed suggestion, I’m a hundred times the fool if I don’t jump at it. In a few more yards he hangs a hard left and revs the gas for a vertical climb. We’re now on a dirt trail about the width of the bike tire.
“Where does she live?”
“On mountain. No more house, only her house.”
“She’s 150 years old and she lives in a house alone on the mountain?”
“My grandfather also.”
“Your grandfather is still alive?”
“Oh ya, very strong, still in garden, feed cow, good body.”
I marvel silently at this information while trying to ignore the fact that all signs of civilization have disappeared and we’re still going straight up. With a lurch, the bike swerves right and a cluster of concrete block buildings lays dead ahead. Ketut kills the motor and I swing my leg over for the dismount. It feels like we’ve warped into a different universe surrounded by a vacuum of silence.
I follow Ketut through a gateway into an immaculate courtyard. The black dirt is smooth and hard as concrete without a tree or shrub or blade of grass and there isn’t a soul in sight.
“Maybe in garden,” Ketut says.
We walk around the corner of a building and a broad, parched meadow spreads before us. Several yards away a stooped figure rises to look at the intruders. Communication passes between Ketut and his grandfather.
“She not here,” he says after the exchange. “She cut grass for cow.”
“Well she couldn’t have gone far. Let’s go find her.”
We set out along the treeline bordering the meadow. Within a few minutes we’re passing mounds of fresh-cut grass. Another figure comes into view, swinging a curved knife that mows down the long green blades with stunning efficiency. She sees us and stands, erect and alert. I don’t know what I expect a 150 year old woman to look like, but I flash on a memory of a proud buck, frozen in a meadow, watching me. She’s elongated. Her thin, bony body and face seem stretched out rather than the slumped and shrunken form so common to the elderly.
I smile. She glares and stares for a moment, then issues a command to Ketut. He jumps to attention and gathers up a pile of grass while she picks up another. I trail behind gleaning the shreds that drop from their overloaded arms. The cows are excited to see us as we dump dinner in front of their noses. Then granny disappears inside the house.
“Wait a moment,” says Ketut and we stand in the courtyard until summoned a few minutes later. There’s been a transformation. Field worker granny has donned a coral satin blouse and a fresh sarong. We’re invited in and grandpa, not to be excluded from the action, enters behind us. They sit side-by-side on the low bed and agree to a photo.
Granny still hasn’t smiled, but Ketut engages her in conversation and the more they talk the more animated she becomes. They’re speaking Balinese so I understand nothing. All at once she jumps up, bustles to the other side of the room and rummages in a cabinet. She returns holding a tablet and opens it to a page covered with what appears to be tiny circles. But the longer I look, figures emerge. The detail is dizzying.
“Spirit picture,” Ketut says. At that she moves to another corner and returns with a fabric pillow about two inches square. Once again she rattles a string of words at Ketut. “Oh, she say cut cut picture, put inside. People buy. Make good spirit come.”
“So besides the cow, she has this business?”
He turns and asks her a question. Suddenly she’s very animated, talking fast and with intense feeling.
“She say before, she fighting.”
“Ya, she study fighting.”
“You mean like martial arts? Kung fu sort of thing?”
“Ya, ya. Like kung fu.”
It takes me a minute to digest this when he turns back to her and asks her something else. As she answers, her cheeks grow pink. A youthful energy shoots through her body. Without warning, granny’s hands clench into fists. Her feet come off the ground and with lightning swiftness she kicks and punches the air.
My mouth flies open and I gasp. She doesn’t stop.
“Wow! Wow! Wow!” It’s all I can say. The woman is phenomenal. Her face glows with a beauty beyond anything I’ve seen on glamorous stars. She radiates a fierce, fabulous, power that captivates and stuns me. Long after she stops, I can’t take my eyes from her face. She fires another string of words at Ketut and he translates.
“Oh, she say study in many place and king of Bali ask her to teach all police how to fighting.”
“The king asked her to teach the police how to fight? Really!”
“Ya, but she say no. She say no good for woman to teach man how to fight.”
“Wow,” I say again for the hundredth time and then we all fall silent until granny once again breaks the spell.
“She like your sandal,” Ketut translates. I kick one off and slide it over to her.
“Ask her if it fits.”
She slides her foot into my newest, sparkly-est, sandal. It fits. Not perfectly, a half size larger would have been the best, but for all intents and purposes, it fits.
“Does she want them?” I ask as I kick off the other one. The delighted grin on her face is my answer.
“Tell her I want her to wear them when she cuts grass for the cow.” Ketut translates and granny nods vigorously through her laughter.
“But you no shoe,” Ketut frowns. Miles and miles on the motorbike barefoot isn’t going to cut it.
“I have extra.” I pull my everyday pink rubber flip-flops out of the bag beside me. Meanwhile granny slips on the other one and she’s back in kung fu mode, her new sandals flashing with each thrust.
Twenty minutes later we’ve taken our leave.
“Did you know your grandmother was a fighter?” I’m working hard to assimilate the mind blowing encounter I’ve just had with an ancient kung fu warrior on the side of this mountain.
“No, don’t know. She don’t say before.”
I lean forward and close my eyes as the plummeting path ahead presents a perilous reality. The kung fu granny image is burned into my retinas. She moves like a twenty-year old. Her mind is clear and present.
“Are you sure your grandmother is 150?”
“Maybe 150, maybe 115. She don’t know.”
I feel the bike flatten out and open my eyes. We’ve reached the main road, safe. One hundred fifty, one hundred fifteen, what’s the difference? Kung fu fighter, spirit pictures, farm girl deluxe. Do you want to see my grandmother? More than that, Ketut, I want to BE your grandmother when I grow up.