Little Island

Drive your scooter one handed, a dog on your lap after seven cocktails without a helmet. Indicate by beeping; overtake the man with two dead chickens hanging from his handlebars by their feet. Pass the old shirtless Ibu, her feet like smashed crabs, her dark nipples scraping along her sarong as she walks. Bounce over the potholes; go cross country into the bush when a truck passes in plumes of smoke with a big yellow drum of water sloshing around in the boot. Say hi to Effie the cow among the banana trees who is given one metre of rope through her nose to move around with. Buy your beer warm from the village tailor; have lunch made in a wok on the dirty floor with dogs sleeping among the pok choy, whipping the flies that disturb their dreams with the tips of their tails.

 “Where you stay?”

 “Where you go?”

Curiosity slips into a form of interrogation here. An old man stands a foot away from me watching as I purchase a hammer and select nails. He stares over his wrinkles, his jowls, his sagging pants, bare feet dusty and the ends of his toenails like brown quarter moons.

I walk my adopted street dog down to the seaweed farms, a carpet of coral and sand, hens round up their troop of chicks, dogs sleep among the discarded cigarette packets and plastic, the baby blue of the sky blurs into oranges and pinks in preparation for the evening. You get the very distinct feeling as a boule (white person) you are not welcome down there. Bamboo shanty shacks sway in the breeze with walls made from weaved fronds and shards of corrugated iron; clothes dry on makeshift lines hung between coconut trees. Old ladies untangle blue lines of rope from their harvests and smile stiffly in reciprocation of my smile; other ladies walk up from the water which is a shade nothing short of paint palette turquoise with baskets of seaweed on their heads, baggy T-shirts soaking, salt water dripping on their faces. A group of men hold roosters, stroking their feathery backs sparkling emerald in the light and with both hands under their wings they bounce them – bringing them off the ground slightly and dropping them down onto their clawed feet. They repeat this process a dozen times, a kind of physiotherapy for their prized fighters. The men mumble amongst themselves as I wander past; I pick up the words “dog” and “white person” in their dialect, I smile and keep walking.

“Where you go?” One man calls out, a clove cigarette dangling from the corner of his mouth chimneying smoke over the side of his face.

“Jalan Jalan,” I say. Walking.

“Local dog,” he says grinning.

“Yes,” I say. “Nama Alfie.”

“Alphine?”

“Alfie.”

“Ah, Alphine. Where you stay?”

The main street is closed for a ceremony, a cremation. There are no morgues; seldom even a fridge in most of the warungs – cooked chicken just sits all day in plastic cabinets reminiscent of where my grandmother keeps her Scottish trinkets in her air-conned living room back in Boondall, Brisbane. Corpses are buried right after death. Loved ones stick colourful umbrellas into the mound of dirt to protect them from the weather as the flesh and organs decompose. In two years the bones are dug up. Word has it sometimes a bone or two goes missing. You learn to shiver when you see dogs in the grave yard.

Cremations are done in batches; it’s more cost effective that way. Ten at a time in a big puff of smoke and the whole island it seems is invited – this island and the two islands over. Tourists sit on the side of the road, their beachy print sarongs tied to their waist like the tops of plastic bags to show their respect as they snap away on their cameras. The local warung owners move their shanty bamboo shacks right out the front of the cemetery and sell candy and chips and soft drink like it’s a bloody fun fair. A large palm frond dwelling is erected ten metres long, put up in the space of a few hours when every other job on the island seems to take weeks.  Offering boxes are dotted along the floor, swirls of musky incense blow with the sea air.

I take a back street – more of what the western world would deem a foot path witches-hatted off for repair. I pull over to let a group of old Ibus in traditional dress shuffle past – lace blouses, sarongs, a scarf around their waist. I smile at two young boys sitting barefoot beside a temple and as I continue along one of them pegs his empty juice bottle at my bike. I turn around and he sprints behind a tree. I keep driving and say good morning to a young girl with pig tails all of about five. The knowledge of what my pale skin stands for isn’t lost on her either. “Give me money,” she responds.

I park and stick a cigarette into my mouth, digging through my bag for a lighter. Discrimination here slides down the bloodline, idea hand-me-downs served to the kids for breakfast lunch and tea. All of us boules are the same, come here in our droves with our wads of cash and no respect.  I hate that it is like that. I feel my faith slide like oil down a mirror and I am shuffling through the mound of contents in my bag  when an old man pops up with a lighter held out in his hand, his dark palm covering the flame. I breathe deep, let the smoke pour out of my mouth and before I have time to thank him he disappears back into the crowd, cracked heels flicking up from under his sarong.