I’ve had a thing going with the girl around the corner. From the day she picked me up on her motorcycle the first day I arrived, we’ve been seeing each other on the sly.
“Don’t tell the old lady,” she instructed (referring to the landlady of my home stay), as she wheeled out a shiny new mountain bike from a dusty corner of her compound.
“Tell her you got this on Hanoman street, not from me, okay?”
“O…kay,” I reluctantly agreed. It wouldn’t be too hard to deceive a 75-year-old Balinese woman, though she had given me a bunch of tiny bananas and a sweet cake that day which made me feel a little guilty.
“Brand new, first client,” Agung assured me, her eyes searching me for trustworthiness with her shiny new machine.
“Okay, I take good care of it,” I assured her with a smile, already rehearsing my story for the old lady, who would surely wonder why I hadn’t rented her bike.
Honestly, I couldn’t have cared which bike I used, but Agung’s insistence, and the fact that she had found me a place to stay, had won out in the end.
I handed over two day’s rent ($6) and peddled away, ceremonial bamboo tassels still attached to the handle bars.
Two days later, happy with my slick new wheels for having carried me around Ubud, from warung to cafe to rice field to warung, I returned to Agung to renew my ‘lease’.
Stepping over a large mound of fine black dirt, I entered the compound, passing Agung’s ageing Grandfather sat on the ground cutting bamboo into strips for weaving baskets. Through his one good eye, he looked up, nodded and smiled, then returned to his work.
“Is Agung here?”I asked a guy who emerged from a dwelling on my right. He called out to her as I made my way further into the compound. An older lady appeared who remembered me from before, and motioned for me to sit down, causing rice to fly from her fingers. She carried a banana leaf topped with rice and tiny black fish away with her and emerged a few minutes later with a cup of Bali coffee for me.
I was touched, I love Bali coffee, but I did have to try to ignore the bits of rice (I hope it was rice) stuck to the side of the grotty cup, as I sipped away at the grainy goodness of its contents.
Agung emerged a few moments later, greeting me with raised eye brows and an upward nod. She was pleased as I handed over two more days’ rent, and then began negotiations on our next deal, “Balinese painting? Legong dance show? Laundry?”
Laundry. That I did need.
Her eyes lit up as she realised she closed another deal.
“Okay when you bring? I come with you now?” she asked, anxious at the prospect of losing it.
“No, I’ll bring it in the morning,” I assured her.
“What time?” she questioned me, her insistence starting to irritate me now. I mean, did she have to check her schedule?
“I bring in the morning… about eight thirty…” I said, keen to make my exit before I was I cajoled into any more deals.
“Okay, see you eight thirty!” she confirmed, as I retraced my path back over the black dirt mound to the street.
I was pleased to receive my perfectly folded laundry the next afternoon, after submitting it at precisely eight thirty. As I got to the front gate of my home stay compound, I found myself stuffing the package of perfectly pressed clothes inside my backpack before I walked through.
Just maintaining neighbourly relations, I thought to myself rationalising my ridiculous behaviour. Then I wondered, had I got to the point of deceit that I actually believed the lies?
DID I REALLY RENT THE BIKE FROM HANOMAN STREET?!!!!
As I flashed an innocent smile at the kind, elderly land lady (in the spirit of nothin’ to see here…laundry? What laundry?) I knew I had really sunk to a new low.
The secrets and lies of Ubud had reduced me to a pitiful state, committed to one woman, but playing around with one on the side. I sidled past the old lady with a guilty smile, resolving to finish things with the other woman.
But then I thought about the shiny new bicycle and the freshly laundered clothes, and said to myself, ‘Tomorrow. I’ll do it tomorrow.”
And I honestly believed it.