One day, few months after my mother had fallen ill, there was a carnival held in our Acehnese town.
I asked Maya to accompany me there and see what the shebang was all about. Maya, carrying her backpack and camera bag on the walk home, looked a little tired. Or, let’s call her deflated.
I figured that, after few months of living in Aceh, the dirty side of the humanitarian industry was starting to sink into her. I told her that she needed the break of routine. And pulled her to a waiting motorbecak, going “Carnival”.
The sun had already set by the time we arrived. It looked like the entire town was concentrated on the carnival grounds. We squeezed ourselves through the crowds. Nothing we saw was worth noting. The same food, the same mobile and mobile credit stalls, the same clothes. All but the change of location, the town wasn’t showing much of a carnival.
It only took us five minutes to realize this. Just when I decided that it wasn’t worth the trip, Maya tugged my sleeve. “I can’t find my camera bag.”
We traced our steps back trying to find the camera amongst the stalls. We had just spent 10, 15 minutes on he carnival grounds, without stopping on any of the stalls. That’s when we realized that her camera bag must have been left in the becak that we came with.
I saw Maya’s face flatten. She gave up trying to find it, and asked if we could go home. I was aggravated that she could give up so soon. Beside her laptop, the camera was her only other treasure.
She was right, though, as small as this Acehnese town could be, it was still big enough to hide a camera or a vaguely remembered, middle-aged, becak driver.
The next morning, on the way to work, I saw a becak driver waiting at the front of the gate. The very same becak driver from last night. Who, in the morning light, looked older than he seemed to be last night.
The moment he saw me approach, he reached to the becak seat, and pulled out – what else – Maya’s camera bag.
“Kakak," he muttered shyly, "I think this camera is yours. I checked the pictures in it -- and I’m sorry about that -- but I had to know where it came from. I found a picture of this house, your house...I’ve been waiting all morning. I didn’t dare to knock on your door. I only had a hunch. That this camera is yours.”
And just like that, he gave Maya's camera to me.
I took the bag. Checked inside. It was in perfect condition. I looked at the becak driver. He didn't look like he was waiting for a reward. He simply stood there, looking for signs of recognition, that "Yes, this is mine."
Above all, I wondered, was HE PRACTICALLY INSANE? Even a beat DSLR camera, of the dumbest make, can make a becak driver’s whole month’s worth of income.
Yet, here he was.
When I got to the office and saw Maya, still speechless, I raised the camera bag to her view.
She screamed in ecstasy. Hopping towards me, she kissed and hugged me and her camera bag. When she regained her sanity, she asked “Did you give the driver any reward?”
I nodded. “Something blue.”
Maya blinked, and was silent for a minute.
Then, in a tone that between scolding and awe, she asked, ”You gave him a blue Indonesian banknote?”
I tried explaining, “It was all that I had. I would’ve given him more, but I didn’t have any…”
“No, sweetie,” she said with a strange calm, “It's perfect. You gave him something blue...” She walked away, hugging her camera bag, shaking her head and mumbling in disbelief. “By Jove, she gave him something blue."
Over lunch (which she paid for because I was…you know), she calmed my suspicion of possible insanity or POSD (Post Overjoyed Stress Disorder). She told me her story about another kind of blue.
The deepest shade of blue yet.