The Beauty of Bali

Bali was my preferred destination during the early 90s. Poste Restante Ubud was my address for most of the winter. I lived in a simple house overlooking a ravine. Villagers bathed in the stream in the evening. The sun set between two distant volcanoes. The music of the Legong band practicing for the evening performance warbled across the verdant rice paddies. Ubud was paradise and backpackers swarmed to the tiny village hoping to find a piece of Bali gone.

The town was also very family friendly and I met many of them staying at the hotel up the path from my house. It had a swimming pool and served a tasty nasi goreng. One family came from Boston. A couple with two teenage kids. The older girl looked about 16. Her name was Dawn or Kakatu in Bahasa Indonesian. Either way was pretty.

Dawn had long brown hair and she would sneak peeks at me when her parents weren’t looking our way. I had a good idea what she was thinking and avoided her. She was young and young girls are trouble for men in their late-30s.

One evening I was watching the Legong girls at the temple. Their lithe movements were a pleasure to the eye. The music was acoustic. The lighting by candles. I imagined myself in the 18th century, ignoring the rumble of traffic beyond the red brick walls. After the end of the show I gave the venerable teacher $5 or 10,000 rupiah. Enough to buy the girls a meal at the market.

Nights were dark then. The streetlights wavered with the dying surge of distant electricity and then blacked out completely. The blackness was complete, until I flicked on my flashlight. Dawn was standing in front of me.

“Hi.” She was wearing a red shirt. No bra. She pushed back her hair.

“Where are your parents?” Kerosene lamps were illuminating the small warungs. Car headlights blinded me and I pulled Dawn from the road.

“They went to the hotel before me.” Dawn licked at her lips.

“Then I guess I have to walk you home.” There were no taxis in Ubud, at least none that could navigate the paths through the rice fields. “You’re not scared of the dark, are you?”

“Not with you.” She reached out to hold my hand.

“Just follow me.” I skirted her grasp and proceeded down a small lane between several Balinese family compounds. The high walls created a narrow chasm and soon gave way to the rice paddies. I could see the hotel across the fields. A good 5-minute walk. I felt a little like Orpheus leading his wife from Hades, except Dawn was no Eurydice and Bali was more heaven than hell.

“Can we stop for a second?” Dawn asked sounded a little winded. “I want to look at the stars.”

“Okay.” I sat in a rice shack. Thousands of fireflies hovered over the golden husks of rice. Overhead the cosmos glowered with an equatorial intensity heightened by the lack of electric light. Dawn lay down on the bamboo pallet. Her shirt was undone. The stars painted her skin silver.

“Do you think I’m beautiful?” She touched my thigh.

“Anyone you’re age is beautiful to a man my age.” My resolve weakened and then cracked with a kiss. She tasted of bubble gum and I pushed myself back from the brink. “How old are you?’

“15, but my friends say I look older.”

No court in the USA would agree and I stood up with difficulty, because Bali wasn’t the USA either.

“Let’s go. Your parents must be worried.”

We arrived at the hotel to be greeted by Dawn’s mother. Worry was not the word to describe her expression and I pushed the teenager forward, saying, “I brought back your daughter intact.”

“I’m not intact.” Dawn pouted with vengeance. “I’m not a virgin. I’m a woman.”

“Young girl, get to your room.” Her mother nodded her thanks and the next day the family was gone from Ubud. I can still see her in the starlight. A dream on bamboo. Regrets none, but then the best lies we tell are the ones we tell ourselves.

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