The gay guy from earlier in the year still cruising at the mall, more circumspect today with his mum attending. Neat, well-dressed, tidy woman retaining her looks, uncertain whether she knows.
Two small amusements from earlier in the afternoon.
Joshing with the drinks-waiter at Beringharjo about his stone fixation and the stalls out on Mangkubumi, the fellow volunteers what had been half-guessed: the gleaming, polished rocks provided benefit way beyond vanity and adornment.
Drawing the plastic bag from his pocket, the man indicated the power of the jewel.
Any kind of calibre pistol, machine-gun, rocket-launcher, whatever, could never penetrate his circle when he was wearing his prize band set with that particular stone.
Dull green, with a range of fires from the depths of the volcano and washed in the rivers probably. Worked a treat. Giant size was unnecessary; not the factor here.
The guy was not kidding of course—the old animism sat just below the surface.
One mil. and no budging, Dude.
What the man said. Reports of half that price for precisely the same on Mangkubumi currently left the chap scoffing.
The sparklers the older chaps flashed were certainly something; the kampung lads with discretionary dosh could carry more than ten, doubling on some of the digits.
Immediately after lunch footing over to the post office, a glance in the gutter brought that day’s counter punch; ugly sock between the eyes.
Little greybeard sitting there had his old fella out the side of his shorts, hung over a plastic cup.
Oh! YUKKO! Puke.
Thanks to one’s lucky stars, the old devil was still straining—not yet a drop, let alone hissing stream going.
Occasionally the becak drivers on the street turned aside into a corner to wee. Give this bloke that much, he was taking care not to make a puddle for peds to tramp unawares.
Look-away too late. The old dingbat had imprinted that floppy old hose of his in a single glimpse, difficult to shake even after the newspaper and café.
Evening it was still sticking.
Head of a tortoise; short, but unexpectedly thick. (The Javanese might have it a shade over the Chinese.)
Magnified top of the slit somehow leapt out like a tiger from the jungle onto the retina.
You could be unlucky like that, zapped by thunder out of a clear sky.
One old grandma shortly before had been caught surrounded by her baskets of tapioca & greens, in classic angelic pose—out-stretched on her side facing the roadway, peacefully dozing. Another close-by seated with her hung flowers was a picture.
Only to be obliterated by the old buzzard smashing the frieze of the street to smithereen.
Busker & Beggar
Both could have been avoided easily enough of course, even though the first had stood immediately against the seat, albeit back turned to the main body of passengers.
And of course, you really don’t seek to continue documenting the beggars of the region; only they compelled so strongly.
A shaved head was all that was visible. Soiled parchment attire. Even from behind his years were easy enough to guess.
Unaccompanied, but man oh man! What was that?
Possibly something of his own composition. Prayers and passages from the Holy Book would have gone down well in the last days of Ramadan. This though did not sound like it.
Despite the low tone, the man was making himself audible over the clacketing and the traffic. Bent your ear well and truly. This was drawing up from deep down. Tantalizing snatches of rhythm.
If there were resistant faces showing among the passengers, no matter how stern, they were all ears for this man. The people on the back bench would have strained to capture.
Imbecilically, you leant out of your seat an hour later at the Warnet PC, straining as if to recapture.
The man was fasting of course. The Busker strata alternated fasting and starving; it was what gave them their depth of feeling.
Daily miracles of this sort pursued one in Tanah Abang. It was little wonder they believed in all kinds of things in these parts—transmigration of souls, astral travel, levitation. Communion with the dead, naturally.
The second encounter involved a lady at Sabang. Not really begging; not really on the job. Seeing the Bule stride by, though, it was worth a shout.
A hand stretched out, smiling and expectant.
Woman was sitting on the dirty pavement beneath the shelf of a stall that had closed. Most of Sabang had closed days ago. Street lady; dirt poor. Living in the dirt.
Likely special; or at least disturbed, understandably. Indeterminate age.
In the quick she needed to be granted.
As usual, the notes were divided in the pocket either side of the wallet.
Did locals really walk these paths day by day without feeling the need to give? Having money themselves.
There were coins too in the pocket. Four came out on this occasion. Three Rp500s was judged sufficient; the Rp1000 could be kept back for the angkot, perhaps.
Even before the coin was presented, the woman began shaking her head and calling in English.
In a child-like whine calling.
The lady was not going to be treated so casually.
Impossible to argue the case when she was adamant, seated on the dirty pavement.
No meant no.
A Rp2000 brought a smile. That was better.
Only passing over were the hand and the misshapen fingers noticed. It was difficult for her to clutch and the note needed to be inserted between stubbed digits.
Tanah Abang, Jakarta
Straight Road – Jalan Trus
Another arm of the barber shop beside Masjid India, which also ran the naan outlet there. Even five years later the barber who doubled as a waiter at the other place was immediately recognised. At entry a chap sat in the end chair with the short man beside him at some kind of loss, it seemed. Within a few minutes the latter, a man from Andhra Pradesh it turned out, was crying, pleading with the abang, the brother. Oiled and sleek,abang looked just cut, perhaps seeking some kind of final adjustment. Unclear the to-and-fro and what had preceded; in the end sounded like the guy would accept some no.2 trimming on the sides and that would do. Met with reluctance by the barber, who seemed to know better than to enter the challenge once more. An impasse. Unmoving. Only tears and tissues from the little barber, who briefly retreated at one point to a corner in the back room. Tissues were needed to wipe around the eyes too, separate sheets for each. Here was the big, towering owner arrived from up the road, short conversation ensuing that excluded the barber. Customer arguing his case; owner countering and politely encouraging custom elsewhere out the door. In brief, the chap had been in twice before, dissatisfied both times and refusing to pay. A simple no.1 following brought some relief to the short, Andhra barber; straightforward and no fear confusion. Three single blue ones—a little short of a Sing dollar—presented after the red ten, seemed not to surprise the barber. One met the good with the bad alternately. En route along by the shuttered old stores that awaited demolition for the avant-garde Coronation Square, an elderly man, neat and clean Malay by the looks, had stretched himself out on his scavenged cardboard, possibly fetching some sleep. What was that pillowing, though, rolled newspaper bundled that size? The man’s head was lifted some way. No. A few thin sheets covered a single, sandy-coloured brick. Truth to tell, nearer the water in the old quarter that was slowly getting the make-over with the new investment, you winced more at the displays.
Around in front the re-branded place at the head of the wide, empty thoroughfare was closed, perhaps for slow Mondays. All the other stores along both sides of the row there were likewise shuttered; the post-Covid lag dragging on in JB. The Chinese place on the next corner didn’t open evenings. Opposite the temple, Nilla’s offering of naan and a fair gathering finally decided the matter. A dozen odd patrons initially, as always in this part of the world, seeming familiar. In the case of Nilla, even when the place was more crowded, customers could be exceeded by the number of lads on the floor preparing and serving. It was difficult to conceive the groping of the Japanese girl last week on the street by the gang of young Indian lads like these here. Even raging highly sexed, it was difficult to imagine these young men descending to that kind of barbarity. Quite the Hindu establishment of course, Nilla, sited there with the gurdwara adjacent the temple, the framed gods & goddesses garlanded with chrysanthemums presiding over the register. For all that, almost certainly some of the lads on the floor would keep the five daily prayers. The one with the English who had been called over for the customer, sporting the finely etched lines over cheeks and chin, had been picked as a prime candidate. In fact turned out negative. The point however held true: a good number of the lads were indeed of the other faith. Same in the kitchen; same for the local customers. All worked smooth and fine as could be, the chap Prasad confirmed. All through the delectable, deeply scorched garlic naan, sambal & dahl, there was nothing like a single hint in the other direction, you would bet sheep stations on it. Wild street boys in Delhi it must have been last week during Holi. The young victim had reportedly slapped one of her attackers and got herself over to Bangladesh in quick time, with charges seemingly not to proceed. Could the story have been a Western beat-up, maybe? Truly, a joy watching the camaraderie on the floor; back in the day the football club could not get anywhere near. A small group of trannies entered, one very pretty one among them, without eliciting anything you would call leering. How many claspings of each other, arms over shoulders, touching of all forms? The smiles passed between the boys could never be counted. The local Tamils were perfectly in their element, lapping it all up, taking part in the theatre when they came to make their orders and exchange pleasantries. FEED REGULARLY was a tall, tough, don’t‑mess-with-me guy, tattoo protruding from the sleeve of his tee, going along the aisle giving a meaning thumbs-up to one of the lads. Still twenties a large proportion, clearly bearing the loves of their mothers and fathers in their person. Only a couple of them could be recalled from years past, excluding the older, unslept manager. Prasad had seemed familiar, though again it was not the case, as he had only recently started in that employ. The ghost of the naan-maker from Medina, opposite the hotel, returned here—run over on Jalan Wong Ah Fook one night on his way back home after his shift. On the last trip three months before, the young Bangla lad who had had a short term at Medina—who had falsified his age for the employment—revealed the news. We had both recalled two children orphaned as a result. One of the shy ones gave Hello when he had almost passed the table going to the kitchen. Good dutiful gal come in with her Pa knew she could not compete with the pretty trannie facing in the next row. Being firmly planted herself, she might not need to fret about that. Once again, a long delay that evening before the recollection you were a white guy here, the sole in attendance. (‘Twas ever thus.) Couple of the lads out front were finally caught exchanging rude smiles for the broad behind of the lass leaving with dad. Another chap from the other room returning to his table eventually managed a tentative nod and smile, when the thought on the other side had been quite abstracted. Through the hour how many adult daughters had entered hand-in-hand with their mothers? Such pretty ones, too! The lads from the ancestral land would charm them with their ways without any kind of trying. Modi was BS here among these people, safe to say. The BJP had always polled poorly in the South.
Johor Bahru, Malaysia
- Immediately off Jalan Trus, Restoran Nilla sits on Jalan Ungku Pijan – I’m Drunk. By some strange coincidence, the Malay sharing the same word for inebriation with Serbo-Croat.
Pavle Radonić is an Australian writer of Montenegrin origin who has spent nine years living in SE Asia. Previous work has appeared in a range of literary magazines, including Ambit, Big Bridge, Citron Review, New World Writing Quarterly & The Wrath-Bearing Tree.