Sunday, October 21, 2012



Losari Waterfront, Makassar
Makassar Sulawesi Indonesia 2000
I left Phil in the Jet Club about eleven pm and ambled along the dark, rain-puddled waterfront, back to the Makassar Royal Hotel. In the lobby, sitting straight backed and smiling primly, was a Mamasan and two girls. I was sleepy and said, ‘No’ to the offer of company but as I turned the handle of my room door, one of the girls stepped up beside me, smiling. She looked up at me, tilted her head and motioned to go in. She was a real beauty and I thought, ‘Oh well, why not’? Her name was Olla. She had long brown hair and stood about five feet tall. She had a beautiful white toothed smile, deep brown eyes and as I would find out later, a wicked sense of humour. For the next month, she and her 'family' commandeered my life. I let it happen because I was at a loose end, waiting for a boat to sail, and it was fun; we laughed a lot. The vessel I was waiting for was the 20 metre wooden, motor-sailer 'Toby B' which was being readied for its maiden voyage from Sulawesi to Dili, the capital of East Timor. A lot of construction work was going on in Dili, after the bloody withdrawal of the Indonesian Army in 1999, so there was money to be made. Phil and I had been working there, at the Metanaro army base, coating concrete slabs with epoxy resin and readying the buildings for occupation by the ex-guerrilla force, the new Timor Leste Army.
Tex, ’Toby B’s owner/builder, was new to the boating caper and had never captained a vessel, or even sailed before. Tex needed help, at least for awhile, until he gained confidence. So, Phil was to skipper the boat and I was to navigate. After parting with Olla, I made a two-day trip to Bira to check on the ’Toby B’ and meet the crew. I didn’t want to work on the boat. I had been in similar positions with other boats and I didn’t want to do it again, unless it was my own. I zipped back to Makassar before I found myself lugging sandbags or cleaning the bilge. I was willing to help sail her but I wasn’t interested in doing any heavy work to get her ready.
Olla knew immediately that I was back in town. While I was out and about, chasing up the bank, she moved into my room-just like that. The desk staff apparently had no problem with it. They gave her my room key! As I walked in through the lobby, the staff kept ‘mum’. I could hear a racket coming from my room. I opened my room-door and peered in to be confronted by a flotilla of females. Olla came with an entourage; her gypsy family, girlfriends, sisters, Mamasan and all that entailed. The room was full of cigarette smoke and chat. Mamasan introduced her thirteen year old son, Asri, a quiet lad unable to compete with the constant girl-talk and Mamasan’s younger sister, Mila. They stayed late; watching TV, taking showers, smoking clove cigarettes and singing karaoke. Olla ordered everything from room service, but didn’t ask me for money. At some point in the evening, upon a secret sign from Olla, they all said their goodbyes and a calm silence engulfed the room. We turned up the air-conditioning and cuddled up for the night.
The next day we spent curled up on the bed watching TV. Olla was eighteen years old but knew very little of the outside world. She could read and write, but not well. I showed her a dictionary but she couldn’t use it. Mamasan brought her two youngest daughters to visit; ten year-old Uti and twelve year-old Dosi. She told me that her husband had died in a head-on car collision and, true story or not, she had to feed the family somehow. Whether Olla and Tilsa were really her daughters I never found out.
Olla called room service on the slightest whim. She called for fresh towels, to order beer, forks and spoons to eat our take away food, to order taxis, to send the room boy out for her favourite cigarettes. When I came back with our lunch she fed me by the spoonful and placed her tiny hand under my chin to catch any falling grains of rice. She smiled and kissed my closed lips and whispered ‘luar biasa’. She moved a boom-box into the room so she could listen to ‘Indo-pop’.
One night, after drinking beer at the Semarang kiosk with Canadian Bruce, who was also building a boat, we went back to my room to talk. It was full of girls. They were friends and cousins, plus Aunty and Mamasan, a big woman with bearing, who at forty-five, was a formidable character. The two youngest jumped up and down on the bed, twittering like birds, ecstatic at my arrival. The older two were lazing, bodies stretched lasciviously across the bed, in white towels fresh from bathing. Mamasan, like a sentry, was perched on a bamboo chair by the wall, talking loudly with her own sister. We had brought sweet meats with us from the supermarket and everyone got a cake. Bruce stayed for one beer but couldn’t bear the smoke that billowed from the clove cigarettes and filled every corner of the room. We watched MTV while room service delivered anything that Olla's dialling fingers considered necessary. The girls chattered and Mamasan looked on. Bruce disappeared upstairs with Mamasan’s sister and the rest of us took showers and laughed and ate and drank and smoked. Room service remained on standby.
On Olla’s wink, Mamasan took the young ones home and the others went out to Zig Zag, a locals only sleaze-pit/disco; very crowded, very dark, very loud; alive with pickpockets and illicit sex in the dark, dead end corners. My first night in town I walked into the Zig Zag and it was pitch-black. Shoulder to shoulder, hip to hip, people danced or more properly seethed around the dance floor. Two arms pushed me backwards through the crowd to the back of the room and sat me at a table and stool arrangement. I was wearing cargo pants. I had a lot of pockets to protect. She was pretty, about twenty and had calloused peasant palms and while distracting me with one, probed my cargo pants with the other. It was a gentle war of wills. I survived without losing my wallet or even my pride; it was too dark for anyone to see! Phil didn’t fare so well, his wallet gone in a flash.
I wanted to sleep. At intervals, during the night, one by one, my new friends appeared in the room to use the phone or the bathroom or just to talk. The night disappeared through a haze of door-knocks, phone-calls and changing CD's. By four am I was getting tetchy, someone was knocking again but I ignored them. I just needed to sleep. Olla let herself in, she was a little drunk-a tigress, demanding sex from a sleepy old man, nostrils flared, and a wild sexuality flaunting itself to the soundtrack of the buzzing neon sign outside the window. We made love as it flashed greens and reds on the windowpane.
Next morning, Olla, her 'sister' Tilsa and I wandered the market looking for an extra microphone, so two people could karaoke together. It was a bizarre situation and I was intrigued watching it play out.
Tilsa bought a microphone and they spent that day in talent quest heaven, singing Indonesian love songs, now with two singers! I found myself standing in the room as an observer thinking,
‘This can’t last.’
I couldn’t help but smile.
Phil rang from Bira wondering about the money situation.
'Whataya doin’? He asked.
'Well,’ I replied, ‘I'm lying face down on the bed with Olla spread-eagled beside me feeding me grapes. She has just finished shaving me with a Gillette, double-sided, blue blade. Holding the blade between thumb and index finger she sat on my legs and shaved my lower body from stem to stern and I can tell you, yes, I was a little worried but it is something she does to herself every day, so hopefully, I'm in good hands, I haven't annoyed her about anything so I wasn’t thinking mutilation’.
Phil laughed, and gave me an update on the ’Toby Lee’ departure.
'I'm coming back to Makassar, he said. 'I've run out of money.
‘So have I’, I replied.
Bira had no bank, so getting money meant a trip to Makassar.
Olla and I went out for lunch to her favourite ‘warung’. Wherever we went, building workers stared and laughed and shouted lewd comments. She’d look up at me, raise her eyebrows and grin. I think she liked the attention. Olla never tired of expounding upon the intimate details of our love making. She told the ‘becak’ (bicycle rickshaw) driver, street friends, and the shop-keepers she knew. She hammed it up, complete with boom-booms, hand motions and theatrics. She giggled about it, but, without sounding shrill or acting grossly. She was young, and a little gauche. She said I was ‘luar biasa’.
In the afternoons, about two o’clock, Olla usually disappeared into the bathroom to perform shamanistic beauty rituals, and freshen up. She’d reappear wearing the same short, blue-flowered, cotton frock every day. She’d lie down beside me and I’d give her a gentle massage and when I lifted her skirt I’d find she had no pants on. Then I’d look at her and she’d smile, and well, you know the rest. It was a ritual that we never tired of and when, eventually, I crept away from Olla, knowing I’d probably never see her again, I missed those afternoon shenanigans.
At seven-thirty pm the security guard knocked on the door and implored them to cease and desist with the karaoke. I heaved a sigh of relief as well. Mamasan arrived with the family and we watched Indo-pop on VCD. She massaged my feet and I got Dosi to walk on my back Japanese style. It was a cosy evening with the bed full of bodies sleeping like a pack of puppies. Next morning, Mamasan took us to see a house for rent. It was a two story pink edifice with stainless steel banisters and white tiled floors; the best house in the worst street but, no hot water and no fans and I thought we could find better. Rent was six million Rupiah a year. Olla keeps saying 'luar biasa' to me. I'll have to find out what that means. I went out to the Semarang Kiosk to see Bruce and when I got back there was a strange man in my room. Apparently he was a regular client of Tilsa's, who came to see her whenever he was in town. He sat on the only chair, unconcerned at breaching my privacy, as were the women. Not that I cared, it was all theatre to me. Phil and I went back and forth to Bira until the day finally arrived for us to move aboard the ‘Toby B’.
Before that time arrived, Olla’s evil twin descended upon us. They were the same size and had the same features but they were born fifty years apart. Olla’s grandmother arrived from Kendari wearing a long, floor-length, black lace, dress and a black lace ‘jilbab’. After being informed of my social position she said hello and asked for the plane fare back to Kendari. I didn’t have a plane fare to the centre of town let alone Kendari! That morning Olla had given ME money because she knew the bank hadn’t delivered yet.
Grandma’s arrival prompted the party to move upstairs where Mamasan had rented a room. I went upstairs with Olla, to visit. I shot some video with Phil’s new Sony and amazed the old lady, who had never seen herself on video before. The room was packed to the rafters with family, eating and talking and smoking all at the same time. I returned to my room to enjoy the peace and quiet, grateful to the old lady for providing a change.
One terrible day, it was time to leave; the boat was finally ready. Terrible for me, because I was making a cowardly exit without saying goodbye, and terrible for Olla because she actually liked me and probably thought she had a fish on the hook. I packed up and left Makassar for good. She told me she was pregnant. Can you know that quickly? I would never be sure. Olla thought I was going for a couple of days as usual, but I wasn’t, I didn’t see her again.
I still think of Olla. She came into my room when I was away, in Bira, once and wrote a letter in my writing pad.
Hello Papa,
Papa I love you. I will never forget you. For the rest of my life, you will always be in my heart. You may have forgotten me. If you have, that’s ok. You can tell me and I can take that. I miss the time when we were together. I often cry alone. I don’t feel like eating and sleeping. I always miss you. – Maybe you don’t love me anymore? I may go far away and may not see you. You should find another good woman. I won’t be jealous. I love you because you are nice, but sometimes you aren’t nice.
Bye, Olla
luar biasa—extraordinary, amazing

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