- Jalan Jalan
- May 19th, 2009
The child reaches out and grabs my earlobe. Her other hand presses against my mouth. She’s interested in my earrings. Her mother tsks but the girl is too young to understand reproach. I move her hand off my ear and she happily wraps her fingers around my finger. She gnaws on her bottom lip and I put my thumb on her chin and gently pull her lip out of her mouth. She’s got two teeth, her mother tells me. She’s just getting over a fever but she’s happy now. I smile at her and she reaches for my earring again. Her mother takes her from my arms.
Above our heads a dove ruffles its feathers in its cage. The child and I both glance up. “Many birds,” her mother says and I smile and reply “Yes, many. It’s good.” It’s a status symbol, I don’t actually think it’s good. There are no longer any wild song birds on this island because they have all been caged and sold at markets. There’s no wildlife at all left on this island, except for insects and reptiles. I don’t say this. I don’t know how to say this in her language.
The girl’s brother comes out of the house to join us on the porch. He has a disability of some kind, I don’t know what. He is carrying a plastic gun and wearing a Spiderman shirt complete with a cape. He has a cardboard box over his head. His mother smiles and says something to him that I can’t understand. He takes the box off and comes over and kisses his sister on the cheek before going back inside. He is careful and extremely gentle. His mother looks proud.
The girl wants to get down and tries to stand on shaky legs. She holds on to the cement wall I’m sitting on. Her father comes outside with a bowl of oranges and a cup of coffee. “Please eat, drink.” He says. I smile and nod but don’t touch the food until he’s offered it to me three times. Somebody told me that was polite.
He asks me when I will get married. I laugh and reply “later.” He asks if the oranges are sweet. They aren’t, they never are here, but I tell him I like them. He asks if I can eat rice and if I like Barack Obama. The coffee he gave me is too hot to drink. He shows me how to pour it into the saucer to cool it more quickly. I copy his actions but I still spill some onto the table. He doesn’t. He asks me about my sisters’ ages and my parents’ jobs. I don’t know the word for salesman but he understands the English word. He asks what my favorite food is and if I’m happy here. Then he asks something I can’t understand and I smile apologetically. He laughs and rephrases. I still don’t understand. He changes the subject and asks me how much money my father makes and how much a meal costs in my country. When I tell him his eyes widen. “A meal for just one person?” he asks, incredulous. “Yes, in a restaurant. It’s cheaper to cook at home.” He just nods, eyes far away.
His mother, fragile looking in her baggy sarong, comes out with a broom and distractedly sweeps the porch. Her eyes light up when she sees me, as they always do. I try to guess her age. She looks eighty but probably she’s about fifty. “Beautiful!” she says and grabs my arm too hard and for too long with her rough fingers. “Good, good. Very beautiful.” We smile at each other, me awkwardly and her sincerely. “Thank you,” I mutter.
“Let’s keep walking,” my friend says. Apparently we’ve visited with this family long enough. “Oh, ok.” I finish my coffee quickly and burn my tongue. We leave and they all thank me. They give me oranges to take home with me. There are tiny ants crawling on them and they start to crawl over my hands.
My friend goes home and I do the same. My house is empty. I turn on my laptop and watch a movie until I fall asleep. I wake up to the call to prayer loudly broadcast from the neighborhood mosque. It’s getting dark so I turn on the outside lights. My friend sends a message to my phone, asking if I want to take a walk again tomorrow afternoon. I say ok. I fry two eggs and eat them on top of rice for my dinner. I go back to my room restart the movie. I fall asleep again.