At the Water Palace restaurant we sit cross-legged on cushions on a raised platform. A sign at my side says, Please, for the comfort of others, no lying.
And I’m not lying when I say I haven’t felt so relaxed in years. At home I swim, walk and do yoga to stay sane and flexible. I take baths to soothe aching limbs, a stiff neck and anything else that needs doing. In Ubud, yoga retreats, massages and herbal baths abound. I just don’t need them.
After our honest lunch during which my son drank three mango juices – he’s fourteen and apparently bottomless – we retrace our steps some metres and turn left into Jalan Kajeng. The lane tapers upwards. There are no taxis and few motorbikes, no pieces of footpath upheaving like tectonic plates. Paving stones are carved with messages by previous tourists. We love you, Bali! Jan and Macca.
We walk past homestays and house shrines with their morning offerings of rice, flowers and incense arrayed on banana leaves. We sing selemat pagi! to everyone we meet. Everyone sings back.
Soon we pass the school where, each time we’ve come this way, a class somewhere inside is practising a song we can’t understand. We stop to listen anyway. One day there are big kids, as big as my son, in bright orange uniforms, the boys dishevelled like any teenagers, ties awry. I’ve heard they ride their motorbikes to school underage, which is illegal, but suits everyone.
The lane begins to climb more steeply. Big black butterflies appear and jink on hectic aerial pathways around us. We emerge suddenly from buildings and concrete into the shocking luminous green of rice paddy upon rice paddy. Coconut palms line both sides of the narrow path and soar over our heads like windmills. Tall thin poles lean out over the rice, aflutter with strips of cloth, of plastic, to scare the birds from those precious grains.
This is where The Old Man, who may well be young, greets us with a grin punctured by two betel-stained teeth and sells us a fresh coconut. He takes up his cleaver and, while spinning the heavy green ball rapidly in one hand like a basketball pro, in swift strokes cuts chunks from the soft flesh. His hands, I muse, were they severed from his body, would probably continue this work all by themselves, so accustomed to it do they look. He pops a straw in the opened coconut and bids my son sit, drink. The Old Man could be made of dried coconut husk himself, so brown and fibrous are his legs and arms, his face. His wife comes to me and rubs coconut oil into my hands, mimes using it on her hair, and for cooking. This couple are probably ninety per cent coconut.
My son asks how to climb a coconut tree and The Old Man shows him, his feet prehensile, one arm flexed downwards, hard, like a clothesline prop. Up the straight trunk he catapults, making it look so easy. My son tries and fails, tries and fails, and everybody laughs. There is no need of a common language.
Oh, the novelty of having no work to do. The novelty of being so at ease that I smile all the time and laugh often, the novelty of warmth on my skin all day and even at night and the pleasure of good food and a strange language and the glad company of my big, beautiful son.
Further on, at the Sari Organic Café, Made shows us his patch of water spinach and the freshly harvested galangal. He takes us on a tour of his vegetable garden dug in among the paddies, while I listen to frogs singing to themselves, and birds, despite the long poles, singing back, and mosquitoes buzzing.
I’ve worn thongs because it’s hot and everyone else wears thongs and because my feet feel free, and I feel free, and suddenly I feel young again. I feel as young as my son, as if all parts of me have been made new by being in the new air, among the new people and, everywhere you look, something new to see.
Although we’ve left the Water Palace behind with its thousand lotus flowers – tightly budded like sleeping birds, or open-petaled with laden bees bumbling drunkenly among stamens, or with a hard seedpod, like a stemmed salt-shaker – all of this will stay with me, in my mind’s eye, along with the grandmother at our guesthouse shaking the frangipani tree, its creamy blossoms littering the lawn, later to be gathered up to sell for 10,000 rupiah a kilo and the smallest grandson playing with my grown-up son in a language they seem to be making up as they go along.
About the Author: Kathryn Lomer has published across the genres of fiction, YA fiction, short stories and poetry. She lives in Hobart, Tasmania, Australia, where she writes and also works at MONA, the Museum of Old and New Art.
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