Stretch reality, expand it until it becomes unreal, a thing so far removed from the familiar that words of explanation cease to exist.
I awaken at 6:00 a.m. to the hollow wooden echo of the kul kul and a chorus of roosters. Morning. The fingers of the great coconut palm brush my window, whish, whish, and clouds in the east blush golden. My feet meet the silky chill of the tiled floor. Curls of sweet cempaka incense from morning offerings tells me that Pasek has already appeased the gods on my behalf. I pad to the bathroom and assault my face with cold water.
Yoga pants and sports bra await. Yawning, I slip into clothes and push the wall of sliding doors aside. A rush of morning air carries the scent of onions and garlic frying and the gossipy blither of sparrows busy vying for best nesting rights under the eaves. With a practiced flick of the wrist, my mat unfurls and I step into place for morning sun salutes. Today I do the sequences quickly, pushing myself to wake up.
Forty minutes later, muscles warmed and mind clear, I open the front door. Sitting in bags, striped black and white and one shocking pink, are papaya, salak, jackfruit, sprouts, spinach, cozy brown eggs from chickens that have never known captivity, and sweet kue. I didn’t order kue, but periodically the irresistible, fattening delicacies appear. Mmmm yum! Shallots and garlic round out today’s picks. Ketut asked for my shopping list last night so he could visit the Ibus’ produce trucks before sunrise.
The teakettle whistles. Scalding water with one part Nescafe and one part Torajan coffee, mixed well and allowed to settle, brings me fully into the day. I answer e-mails then pick up writing where I abandoned it the night before. Half-way through morning Ketut appears to cook rice, vegetables, and tofu for the noon meal. Before he begins, one-quarter of the papaya is sliced into a bowl with a spritz of fresh squeezed lime juice. Breakfast is served.
“Have program?” he asks while he chops and minces.
“How about flower shopping? Go to Mas?”
“What you want?
“Short flowers, red, yellow, for the garden.”
“Ya. Two meters make many many.” It’s clear to me that I have a fuzzy idea of what I want but Ketut has the master plan. I don’t pursue with questions.
At noon we set off by motorbike to the nurseries in the next village. The woodworker shop where I left a sketch and a request for a quote is on our way. We swerve in and stop so I can check to see if there’s a price assigned to my drawing.
“Bapak belum,” says the little moonface in pigtails. (Daddy not yet.) The shy older girl says nothing and both turn back to the cartoon characters shouting at each other on the rabbit-eared t.v. We press on.
Another mile down the road lush, well-ordered gardens appear on the right. “Grass here,” Ketut says. In the States I’ve seen turf rolled into neat bundles and delivered by truck to create instant lawn. Of course that’s what I expect. Dumbfounded I watch as the stooped Balinese man marks off two meters of ground cover and skims it from the earth into a pink plastic bag in exchange for 50,000 rph. ($4.75 U.S.) An hour later we’re on our way back to Ubud. On the bike seat between us is the bulging bag of sprouting earthen knobs, and atop that, the yellow and red blooms of ten plants bob gaily like the flowers on a clown’s hat. For a split-second I imagine us tooling down Nicollet Ave. in Minneapolis. A Neil Diamond song runs through my head,
It’s Love, Brother Love, say
Brother Love’s Traveling Salvation Show
Pack up the babies and grab the old ladies
And ev’ryone goes, ’cause everyone knows
Brother Love’s show…!
Why that song?
Back at home Ketut serves up lunch then heads to the garden. I resume writing. The sounds of drumming and male voices in a staccato kecak chant jolt me from my altered author state. Gede and Kadek, the staff from Rumah Jepun next door, and Alit from Rumah Kita on the other side of me, are helping Ketut prepare the ground for grass. Ketut scrapes and chops at the hard-baked earth and shovels it into buckets.
The three volunteers relocate the contents. On the return they pound a wild beat on their empty bucket drums and fill the afternoon with the syncopated chak-chak…chak-chak-chak… that they’ve heard since before they could walk. Primal energies churn through my nervous system. There is something deep in my cells that knows the language of drumming, knows that understanding its message meant survival. I close my eyes as the force of their sound vibrates through me.
The performance is by them and for them, but I’m the lucky bystander and when the camera appears smiles beam upward.
Last night this same group gathered around my table to play Uno. We’re vastly different in age, cultural background, education, and life experience but at the core, our hearts desire the same things, community, acceptance, laughter, love.
As the sun and heat intensify, Ketut lays down the clods, pressing them into moist, loosened earth. Now I understand his cryptic, two meters make many many. He’s already planted about four meters and that pink plastic is still half full! I hurry downstairs and slip into my garden flip-flops . It isn’t until I’m eye level with the artful ‘ruin’ in the far corner of the plot that I notice the cheerful yellows and reds embedded in their new home. I had imagined stewing, contemplating, The yellow here? No, over there? No…. But I’ve been spared the indecision and it’s perfect.
“Wow Ketut! I love it! Amazing job!” He knows he’s good, but you can never give a Leo too much praise. He poses for the camera looking like something from The National Geographic in the rolled up ‘PINK brand’ sweat pants that some guest discarded, with his t-shirt swathed around his head.
“Facebook?” he asks.
“Ya, okay!” His grin spreads wider.
My phone tings and there’s a text from Nina. Join me for a cocktail? I leave the garden and go around the corner to her kitchen. She dusts off the tiny blue stool that we both know is my spot. I sit, sipping a Mandarin orange juice shot through with mango vodka and marvel at the way she can talk, gesture, drink, and cook all in the same breath. We remark again at the fate that made us neighbors and agree that our friendship is a happy accident. We share the knowledge that people who haven’t experienced this kind of life cannot possibly understand its rich rewards.
At dusk I toddle home and hear the trickle of the water hose as Ketut gives the new plantings their kiss goodnight. An hour later he appears, showered and fresh. “Want fish?” he asks as he scans the contents of the refrigerator.
We feast on Lake Batur bounty smothered in Balinese sambal, and a savory mix of sautéed veggies over rice. At eight he closes the sliding doors and heads down the hallway. “Want door lock?” he says as he lets himself out.
“Please. And thank you for everything.”
“Ya. Good night. See you tomorrow.”
It’s a snippet, a typical day in a life that I could never have imagined for myself. Ketut is staff. Every foreign resident in Bali must employ at least one Balinese person. He has his own bedroom and bath on site. He shops for me, cleans, gardens, cooks, and carries me on the back of his bike wherever I need to go. He’s up at 5:30 a.m., to the market by 6:00, and sometimes he’s still hauling me to and from engagements at midnight. He manages my life so it’s a seamless, effortless, joyous event. But he’s also my friend.
How did this happen?