Unlike any other room I’ve ever been, my room in Ubud smelled faintly of dog shit. I arrived at dusk, when the sickly half-light blanketed everything with sober gloom, along with the day’s dying. I was awfully tired, miserably hungry and started smelling of dog-poop myself. The combination of all the above cooked up a rounded, well-feared sense of loneliness.
The odds were either to be safe and secure in a closed environment, or to don my street gear and thug mask to satiate a more basic, more savage need. I’M STARVING!! So I stuffed my pocket with Rp200’000 ($20) bills and stepped into darkness.
The sight of the foreigners on the street was strangely comforting. If they can walk, why can’t a frightened native-looking girl walk by herself, WITHOUT GETTING RIDICULOUSLY ANNOUNCED DEAD OR MUGGED ON THE NEWSPAPER TOMORROW?
I passed an overly-lit restaurant interiors, guessing overly-priced food. You can’t maintain a hefty electric bill if you don’t keep up a hefty food price, you see? Yet I was too spent to seek too far, so the second reasonably-lit restaurant was as far as my body could humor my thrift.
It was an Indian restaurant.
The waitress startled me browsing the menu at the door. A standardized procedure to trap probable guests, and partially to rest her own anxieties, a gentle way of saying: “ARE YOU GONNA EAT HERE OR NOT?”
The waitress was brusque and slightly impatient. I told her I needed rice and didn’t want meat. She snapped, “Then you’ll
stop wasting my time and eat vegetable curry,” before leaving me in solitude again.
Solitude rang in my head like a persistent migraine, or toothache. When was the last time I was so solitary? It must have been years since the last time I had to brave eating alone. It has been that long since I left Sigli; the most alone I’d been on an island.
I took out my notebook and started writing. Writing makes a lovely company, a kindly sponge to absorb the echoes of loneliness and runny stupid. Writing distracts the ache; sublimated in a one-way (or imagined?) conversation.
“How are you feeling right now?” asked my notebook.
Fucking miserable and homesick. That’s what I’m fucking feeling, you fucking fake therapist.
The waiter came back throwing two metal pans on my table. *DUGH* *DUGH* sounds the rice and curry made on my table. Shaking my pen to a halt; ARE YOU GONNA EAT THIS OR NOT?
What is it with anxious waitresses anyways?
And eat I did.
I think the food was demonic. It didn’t just possess me. It immediately catapulted me from static melancholy to shameless hogging.
The first serving splashed my taste buds, my larynx, my nose, my EARS, down to my Buddha belly with life. OH EAT YOU I SHALL! *NOM.NOM.NOM* And whoosh was how quickly it disappeared from my plate.
See? Demons do disappearing acts too.
The second serving made me delirious. How could so much pleasure manifest in HALAL food? THERE’S GOTTA BE A CATCH! Nevertheless, gardens of spice flourished on every layer of consciousness. Over and over I sang, “Ammu, Ammu, oh Lord in Heaven and Mothers of YUMMY, Thou hath resurrected and proven to me that heaven doth exist. How could I doubt Thee if you’ve manifested Your Selves in all Your might and glory on this plate I’m served with today.”
I slowed down to caution by the third serving. If heaven and the God’s glory was eternal, than hunger was not. The food was running out, satiety was closing in. I forced myself to slow down to make note and remember and obsess about every individual taste bud’s experience. The food was cooler, and awareness gently called. A cardamom popped in my mouth. Beads of pepper kicked. Ginger stung. Masala curled. Laces of cumin caressed while saffron danced.
Then love, LOVE, oh orgasmic love shuddered in the arrival of sublime and undeniable ecstasy.
Didn’t I tell you that writing distracts?
There was a naughty curry smudge resisting my fork, at the bottom of the bowl. DON’T EVEN THINK ABOUT IT, my dignity warned. I licked it off anyway, before pushing EVERYTHING away, lit my cigarette and stuffed my face in my notebook again.
Failing to hide the obvious, unembarrassed afterglow.
I thanked God and all Mothers of Spice that satiety, as much as hunger, isn’t eternal. At least I know that I can
shudder with earthly pleasures eat here again, tomorrow.
Oh, and the proud waitress was a lot warmer when I spoke to her in my sultriest voice, “Enak sekali.”
That was good.