Air Garuda continued… by Pandora
Air Garuda continued…
Finally, in the car leaving the airport, Claire felt some relief from the sticky evening heat of Bali. Ida had insisted Claire take the front seat, which at first Claire had resisted (surely she doesn’t expect me to drive? Claire thought to herself as Ida opened the front left car door for her, before realizing the driver sat on the right), but now she was grateful for the weak, but cool, current of air coming from the A.C. out of the dash. She had fumbled for a seat belt before realizing there weren’t any and thought to herself this may be the first time in her life she hadn’t worn a seat belt while in a vehicle. And from the way things were going, Claire thought it might be her last ride anywhere.
“Strange to be sitting on the left isn’t it?” he father asked as he zoomed around a large traffic circle with a large stone statue of an ominous looking winged god perched at the center.
Claire nodded as she braced herself for a collision with one of the many motor scooters also zipping around the intersection. Sitting to the left of her father Claire felt particularly vulnerable. She was a very safe driver and often bragged of never having gotten a ticket. Here in Bali it felt as if there were no rules of the road. Her feet pushed into the floor of the car as if pumping the brakes to slow down as her father sped through the seemingly endless traffic circle. He honked the horn briefly and the motorbike drifted to the side to let them pass. Claire saw the scooter carried a family of four, the father weaving thru traffic with a small child, who couldn’t have been more than 4 years old, standing between his legs, peering over the handlebars, while the mother sat behind, sidesaddle and holding an infant in her arms.
“Isn’t that dangerous?” She asked pointing as they passed the family on the right. “They aren’t even wearing helmets! Isn’t that illegal?”
Her father laughed, “Welcome to Bali!”
Traffic eased as they traveled further from the city. Claire was still amazed at the number of people out on the roads this time of night. Then she began to see the dogs. They were everywhere. And they were all different colors and sizes. There were yellow mutts sitting on the side of the road, yawning in the headlights. A tall black dog strolled nonchalantly in front of the speeding cars and scooters, somehow avoiding being hit without changing his pace. A pack of dogs were rummaging at the feet of the statues that seemed to populate every major intersection.
“What’s the deal with all the dogs?” Claire asked as a particularly bold tri-colored mutt strode in front of their car forcing her father to finally use his brakes.
“Bali dogs!” Ida laughed from the back seat. “They are free to go wherever they want.”
“But who takes care of them? Who feeds them?” Claire asked skeptically.
“We all take care! They eat the rice offerings we put out at the temples!”
Claire shook her head in the dark but didn’t say anything sensing Ida’s pride in the “Bali dogs.”
The rest of the drive Claire kept silent and only partly listened to her father’s explanations of this statue or that temple. It seemed that every corner held some holy significance. The road had climbed gradually away from the city and up into the hills. Claire could see from the car headlights that they were now driving by flat fields, which Ida pointed at and simply said, “Rice.”
When they finally arrived at the home of Ida’s family, Claire was almost delirious with exhaustion. She retrieved her suitcase from the trunk of the car and was trying to surreptitiously slide the stinky salmon bag out alongside it. Her new plan was to 86 the opened salmon by feeding it to one of the stray dogs. But just as she was pulling the bag out Ida appeared at her side.
“I take bags!” Ida exclaimed as she shooed Claire away from the trunk.
Claire felt defeated and followed her father and Ida, who carried both bags, into the family compound. As they entered through an ornately carved wooden gate, Claire saw that the house was actually a collection of buildings and pavilions all softly lit by the glow of candle lanterns. It was beautiful. Claire thought it looked like a staged setting. The air smelled like perfume and incense. She could hear soft chiming music from somewhere in the distance. Ida tilted her head to one side and asked, “You know gamelan music?” Claire shook her head. “Tomorrow I will show you!” Ida declared.
Claire saw an ornately carved wooden day bed at the center of it all. Her father saw where Claire was looking.
“That’s the Balinese living room. Tomorrow we’ll meet there and you’ll get to meet everyone. But for now let’s get you to bed! You must be exhausted.”
He took Claire to her own small building. Inside was a smaller version of the ornately carved bed, this one was swathed in fine white mesh mosquito netting.
“Hope this set up works for you. We don’t have any A.C. but if you keep the fan on and the windows open I think you’ll be fine.”
Claire happily climbed into bed and promptly fell asleep with all her clothes on.
She awoke with a start a few hours later to the sound of a rooster crowing from outside her window. It was still dark out but the dawn was just beginning to lighten the sky with pinks and purples. There were other roosters now calling in response and she heard bird call that she didn’t recognize. Claire felt very awake and realized it must be jetlag. Putting on her shoes and still wearing the clothes she slept in, Claire began to explore the interior of the family compound. She saw a light in one of the buildings and went over to peer in the window. She saw Ida standing with her back to her over a small charcoal fire stirring a pot of something. Quietly entering the open doorway, Claire cleared her throat to announce her being there. Ida turned to her and Claire saw she had something strapped to her side. A shock of white blond hair stuck out of the swath of fabric. Claire stood in place but her eyes grew wide. Ida placed her free hand on the baby strapped to her side and looked at Claire.