The upstairs room is long and narrow, dark and drab. There is just enough light I can read the words in my lap. Nicole Kidman reflects on the risks she’s taken in her career and shows off the roses she’s growing in her Nashville garden. A few pages earlier, Tory Burch attempts to convince readers she’s just another working mom. Oh, the irony. I’m reading the world’s most glamorous publication, Vogue, in a most unglamorous setting.
“Crack,” goes my toes. Ten cracks in a row and the petite Balinese woman at my feet is finished pulling each of my toes until they pop. I put down the magazine and pay, 90,000 Rupiah, for my hour-long reflexology session. Barefoot, I walk past a couple of older Aussie tourists who are getting their scalps massaged (or scratched, from the sound of it) and head back down the narrow stairs to the street. It only takes a minute for me to find my flip-flops in the growing pile outside the spa’s front door. Besides the older Aussie man, I think I have the biggest feet on the street.
The street has a name, but I don’t know it. I’ve been in Bali for about two weeks and I still don’t know any street names. But I don’t beat myself up over it. I know other important things. For instance, I know where to find a spa with quality reading material in English. I know the WiFi password at Monsieur Spoon is enjoylunch. Furthermore, I know to order my scrambled eggs “well, well done” at Mr. Spoon’s because the cook has a tendency to sear them and then serve them.
I know which pharmacy in Canggu has the widest selection of remedies for Bali belly. I know to ask for Sanprima (an antibiotic) instead of taking the Imodium they’ll try to give you. I also know there’s a good chance I have Bali belly from handling dirty money. A South African couple informed me that everyone thinks it’s the food that makes them sick, but it’s actually the cash. And I handle a lot of cash. One USD is 13,000 Rupiah.
A 2,000 Rupiah note is almost worthless enough I can use it as toilet paper. (But I don’t because the Sanprima seems to be helping.) I actually used one of those NO COMMISSION Money Exchange places the other day. The rate posted outside seemed reasonable, 12,900 Rupiah: $1USD and the place didn’t seem the wrong shade of shady. It’s easy for establishments in Indonesia, like my favorite spa, to scream sketchy. Anyway, the twenty-something-year-old working behind the counter took my U.S. dollars, $187 total, and proceeded to tell me how much each individual bill was worth. Apparently, the advertised rate only applies to a Benjamin Franklin fresh off the mint. My manhandled George Washingtons were only worth about 10,000 Rupiah.
At one point, while counting out the 2.2 million Rupiah he owed me, the guy held up his phone, put it on selfie mode, and took a photo of him and me. There was no exchange of words. When I asked why he took the photo, he said “Facebook.” Then he took another. Apparently I was quite cockeyed in the first take. Frankly, I don’t mind if my mug shot shows up on some Balinese man’s Facebook page. Plenty of locals grace mine.
Like Geday’s. Geday—pronounced “good day”—is a small wiry, chain-smoking Balinese man with some of the darkest skin I’ve seen on the island. He looks like the type of guy who puts the street in street fighting. I knew he was either the guy who steals your bag while you’re swimming at the beach, or he was the guy who goes after the guy who steals your bag. I chose to believe the latter.
So the first time I met Geday, I didn’t buy a drink from his tiny wooden bar on the beach. I asked if I could pay him to hold my backpack—containing my iPhone, iPod, wallet, keys, etc.—while I swam. He was a bit taken aback by my request. Surprised, he looked at me and in Balinglish, he said of course he’ll watch it but why should I pay him for that service? He hung it on a hook by the bar. Then he asked me what was in it. I was honest. My answer prompted him to move my bag from the hook to a more secure location: between his legs, under the bar. I knew then that I had made the right choice to trust him. Without hesitation, I gave my full attention to the waves.
After my swim I went to collect my bag. Without saying a word, Geday gave it to me. I tried to give him a 20,000 Rupiah note, but he just shook his head and waved it away. I folded the bill and slipped it into the tip box on the counter. I wish I could say he smiled at that, but he didn’t. He may have shrugged.
And so Geday and I established a routine. Every day I would hand him my bag and he would put it behind his bar. An hour later, I would return, sandcoated and sunkissed to the point it looked like the sun had given me a body hickey. I’d slip a 20k into the tip box, and Geday would shrug. To my knowledge, I was the only one he was bagsitting for.
Until day five. On that day, he didn’t watch my bag. I rode my scooter to the beach so I locked my things up in the storage space beneath the seat. I put the scooter key in the zippered back pocket of my board shorts and walked toward the beach. Admittedly, there was a trace of a pep in my step. I was being an independent adult (although I had plans of attacking the waves like a child), and I didn’t need to rely on Geday today.
As I walked by his bar, I saw my neighbor from the surf hotel where I was staying. His pinkish completely-shaven head peeked over a coconut the size of a pumpkin. The straw between his lips told me he was busy hydrating. For some reason I decided to say hi. Mind you, we hadn’t exchanged a single word despite having seen each other at the hotel at least four times a day for the past four days. To be honest, like Geday, he wasn’t the approachable type. Sure, he was attractive enough and about my age, but he was a big guy and those were not shooting star or frog tattoos snaking across his huge arms.
“Hey, I think you’re my neighbor,” I said. The straw slowly slipped out of his lips and he responded in the affirmative. Then he went back to sipping. He didn’t invite me to sit down on the empty stool next to him. But I did anyway, and in lieu of awkward silence, we got to talking. He was from Germany. I was from America. He had overheard me telling our other neighbors I was a writer, so he asked about my work. After explaining that working as a travel writer is not the dream job everyone thinks it is, I asked him about his work.
“I was fired from my job a week before I came here,” he said candidly. Shit, now I felt bad for asking. “That same day, my wife left me,” he continued. Instinctively, I looked down at his ring finger. It was naked but you could tell where a ring used to be. Unsure of how to respond to something like that, I was relieved when he went on talking.
“She was sleeping with my best friend.”
I looked out at the waves. I couldn’t look at this shaved head and tatted-up half-naked man who, for some reason, was telling me the source of his heartbreak and humiliation. What if he started crying into his pumpkin coconut? He had been in Bali for about a week, and I had a feeling I was the first person in Bali he had told WHY he was there. He had never been to Asia before, and after losing his work, his lover and his best friend, he had no reason to call Cologne home. He told me he’d spend the next year traveling, although he had never traveled alone before, and figuring out his life. I didn’t ask a lot of questions. I just listened and looked out at the waves.
After about an hour, Yves, pronounced Eve, had to go. “I have an appointment to get a palm tree tattooed on my middle finger,” he told me. Alone, I sat next to his empty coconut for a somber moment before deciding I was too sad to swim. I walked back to my scooter and strapped my helmet on. I reached in my back pocket for the key…nothing but netting. My fingers poked around but the only things they touched were mesh and flesh.
“Damn,” I said. I must have dropped it. So I traced my steps back to Geday’s bar and where I had sat with Yves. I didn’t see it. “Shit,” I said. Maybe I didn’t put the key in my pocket after all. Maybe I accidentally locked it in my seat compartment with my backpack. At this point, Geday stepped out from behind the bar and asked me what was wrong. I told him I thought I had locked my scooter key in my seat compartment. He asked me to take him to my scooter.
“Fuck,” I said. Before I knew what was happening, Geday had pried my seat off with his bare hands. Plastic scooter seat parts went flying, and I scrambled to collect them. I looked down at my backpack. I didn’t see any key. Geday stood there, asking me to check my pockets, and recheck them. I did. He asked where I was staying. I was honest. He started to call someone, and when I asked who he was speaking to he responded it was his boss. He was asking his boss to come and give me a ride back to my hotel.
About that time I looked up and noticed the food cart boy I made a point of not noticing these past few days. He stands next to a pushcart outfitted with a little fryer in which he fries something. I’m not interested in street food. I have Bali belly. Anyway, he’s cute, young and seems so hardworking despite the lack of demand for his goods. I’ve never seen him with a customer but then again, I try not to look his way. I’ll feel guilty for not buying anything.
Without making a conscious decision to, I walk over to the boy. Before I can even open my mouth he reaches up to the top of his cart where he has stashed a green scooter key with the numbers 3958. He slow motion drops it into my cupped hands. In turn I cup his face and begin to cover him in kisses.
Just kidding. I said terima kasih (thank you in Balinese) and gave him 50,000 Rupiah for finding, and holding onto my key. Like Geday, he looked at me as if to say, “Don’t be weird. Put that money back in your pocket.” The same pocket my key must have fallen out of. I walked back over to Geday and held up the key. He smiled. HE SMILED, and in all my life I have never been so happy to see crooked teeth and gnarly pink gums and wrinkles in the corners of a mouth. I tried to give him a 50 Rupiah note for helping me (or hurting me depending on how much it would cost to fix the seat). The sight of money wiped the smile off his face as quickly as it had come. He shrugged it away and then shoed me away.
When I made it back to my hotel, legs tightly clenched so as to keep my seat in place, Yves was sitting at the table on his front porch. I walked by and asked to see his middle finger. He laughed and said they had to reschedule his appointment for the next day. I thought about offering to go with him, for moral support, but I didn’t. Instead, I walked into my room and grabbed the book I was reading. I found it back in Billings at the Hastings going-out-of-business sale, and it seemed appropriate given my destination, Bali. It was a spinoff of Eat, Pray Love—arguably the bestselling book and Julia Roberts movie that put Bali on the map for many people, including myself.
I brought the book out to Yves and set it on his table. “You can have it,” I said. “You need it more than me. It’s about a recently divorced guy whose wife left him for another man.”
“Shit. Well, um, thank you,” Yves stammered before picking up the book and reading the cover, Drink, Play Fuck. Then he did a man giggle before asking if he had to give it back to me when he was finished with it. I looked at him like Geday and the food cart boy had looked at me. Eyebrows raised and forehead creased, “Are you kidding?” I asked. “Don’t be a fool. Keep it. Pass it on. Pay it forward.”
I can find more reading material. I know a spa with a Vogue I need to finish.