By Anje Rautenbach
On a beach in Indonesia, against the backdrop of tropical dreams and coconut trees a tall figure walked over to my side as I peacefully sipped my cocktail and pounded my laptop’s keyboard rhythmically.It was a solo vacation – like most of my trips – and it was almost coming to an end. “May I?” he asked as he pointed to the candle on the table with a cigarette dangling from his mouth. “Of course,” I said and continued on the laptop while I pretended to be completely unaware of his presence.
On the horizon swirls and twirls of clouds gathered patiently as the clock ticked the sun closer to dawn. It was a windless day, the air did not move and neither did he. I looked up; his eyes sincerely smiled.
I smiled back.
The waves crashed on the black volcanic sand and he fired the first question, “Where are you from?”
“South Africa,” I replied.
“Ahh, Afrika Selatan. That’s how you say it in Bahasa Indonesia.” I repeated it after him, slowly – A-f-r-i-k-a S-e-l-a-t-a-n – and fell head over heels in love with the language as the words exited my mouth.“Bagus bagus,” he announced cheerfully, “that means good in Bahasa Indonesia.” I repeated the words. “You speak like a local,” he charmed me with a toothy-dimpled-cheek smile.
He asked a few more typical local-to-foreigner questions: How long are you staying? What do you do? But by the sixth question I was intrigued. The questions turned into a conversation and there was nothing typical about it anymore. It was real. It was raw. It was honest. It was insightful. It was beautiful. He pointed to the empty chair and asked, “May I?” I gesture ‘go ahead’ and pressed my laptop screen half way down.The sunset flickered its last breath into the humid air and ideas about karma, yin, yang and living in the moment whirled in conversation around the table with an introductory lesson to the Indonesian language on the side.
I was intrigued.
I pressed my laptop screen all the way down. Minutes quickly turned into another cocktail, and another cocktail quickly turned into one more hour.
I was intrigued.
But a few days, hours of conversation and multiple toothy-dimpled-cheek smiles later my vacation came to an end and I left something oddly special and strangely familiar behind and went home with a Skype contact and a ‘See you soon again.’ I scheduled my hours to foreign time and day in and day out we talked over the phone and over the laptop; we talked in English, via poetry, sunsets, lyrics, and attempted conversations in Bahasa Indonesia.
“Sayang,” he said one evening, “I miss you.” I ended the conversation with a “miss you too” as my fingers reached for the dictionary. I flipped through the pages, until I spotted sayang and there, in black and white it stood: darling.
I was hooked; hooked to the language and a little bit hooked to the person too.
Days dragged into weeks, the conversations never stopped, the sayang got more and the seasons changed until I met the humid air of Indonesia again and between the crowds of vacationers there he stood, at the airport with a toothy-dimpled-cheek smile, two motorbike helmets, adventure, open arms and one word…
We traversed from the road to a boat to an island to a boat and back to the road; ten days filled with sayang this and sayang that; ten days filled with something oddly special and something strangely familiar. Poetry made sense, the music got louder, more candles flickered and the sunsets imprinted shades of orange onto the horizon as I heard whispers of promises and hearty words until it turned into yet another goodbye.
The airport became my bane of existence; a joyous hello and a miserable ‘see you again.’ A week after my departure I accessed Facebook from my ancient iPod, he was strangely quiet and said he lost his phone. A red notification grabbed my attention and under messages I clicked on the infamous other-inbox of Facebook. A stranger’s name popped up from the screen and the more I read the colder I got.
“Hi Anje, you don’t know me, but I am Blah Blah’s wife. Did you know that he got married on the blah blah date of the blah blah month?”
The date shouted: fool.
The month shouted: bastard.
The reality shouted: he got married two days after he said ‘goobye sayang’ at the airport. With calm fingers, I replied, “Hi Blah Blah’s wife. No, I didn’t know, it’s been a while since I talked to Blah Blah, but congratulations to both of you! May you have a beautiful life together filled with happiness.” I meant every word. I even inserted a smiley face. I confronted him and rejected the last sayang with unwelcoming arms.The next day I went back to that infamous other inbox. There was another message from another stranger.
“Hi, I am Blah Blah’s girlfriend from New Zealand, I saw you were with Blah Blah. I just need to know, did anything happen between the two of you?”
My mouth shouted: Fool.
My heart screamed: Bastard.
The reality shouted: Ouch. That hurt.
This article was first published on Traveller24.
Follow Anje’s adventures on www.goingsomewhereslowly.com