Grub & grog are promptly ordered from the rich Ya Udah Bistro menu.
WE CONTINUE THE TALE OF THE FIVE ADVENTURESOME EXPATS IN JAKARTA
Once again, the dramatis personæ:
- [Tall] Paul, yes very very tall. Snooty, elegant and condescending, as well. Has a long bule nose and a management firm striving to impart mysterious advanced western corporate techniques to unsuspecting Indonesian start-ups. Looks down that long nose on the whole wide world. Basically a useless fuckwit selling useless shit. A ‘character’ (these are common in the East – particularly in Bali, where they are always trying to one-up each other). The others tolerate him, in spite of his manner – or rather, his lack of them). Why only God knows.
- Lulu is knocking them back. She is what is known in the trade as a ‘serious drinker’. But she pays her way, tips the waitress and is an all-around rewarding customer who knows how to hold her grog, and have a fine time while doing it. She’s been married and divorced in Kuwait and married and divorced in Kazakhstan and married and divorced in California to a serial line of [immensely wealthy] dummies, lambs she has shorn neatly in divorce court. Is she on the lookout for a new hubby in blissfully unaware Indonesia? Not likely, as by now with the alimony she’s scraped off the hides of her various exes she could buy and sell just about all of the candidates. Watch her when she folds her folding money and stashes it in her purse: it’s frightening. So what’s she doing here? Oh she loves Indonesia. And it loves her (duit).
- Brett is bad and he knows it. He grew up in a bad family living in a bad part of town. He likes Indonesia because folks here just assume a grumpy whitey is a bule gila and tolerate his moods. He actually tries to put a hold on ‘the Bad’ because otherwise sooner or later he’d be grabbed by the collar and given the bum’s rush out of Indonesia toot sweet. But he’s bad. Nobody likes him. Secretly, he envies everybody else, because they’re happy and he’s not. But don’t expect him to show it. Brett is currently >ahem< ‘out of work’ (but everybody knows he’s a notorious Remittanceman) (‘stay-away-for-pay’).
- Fresh, sweet, smart, fun Alan. He’s going to have a tough time of it but he’ll win in the end. (Proper stories always need a ‘happy ending’.)
‘How come Alan didn’t show up? These sessions are obligatory, you know. We take our slathering and snorting and glugging and burping seriously at our Yaudah sessions.’ Lulu even glanced out at the road quizzically. ‘Alan’s never missed a meet.’
Tall Paul looked bored. He was going to enjoy passing along the sad news.
‘Alan’s gone for the day. He’s out at Cibubur, for his wife’s funeral. That big graveyard near the lake.’ He looked annoyed, as though the death was somehow improper.
‘Well once again thanks a million, Paul’, snarled Brett, snatching an unsuspecting fried squid off the long platter. ‘You really do work hard to enliven our little get-togethers.’
Tall Paul scanned the joint, ignoring the boorish Brett. Over yonder, a couple of African customers, attempting to swindle one another on a counterfeit money / garment export / fake wife deal. Both undoubtedly knew that the other was wise to such antics, but they kept up the chatter just to stay in form.
Nearer them a dour Dutchman and his supersize wife, barely able to fit in her chair and wearing plaid shorts that looked like they were going to explode. Unhappy kid ignoring them, punching his mobile game device. Loser.
Death drifted in the conversation, tamping the mood of the moment.
Lulu finally overcame her shock and spoke up. ‘Well that’s a dramatic finale. I thought those two got divorced. A long time ago.’
Big surprise: all four patrons reared back as a towering waitress rattled dark towering bottles of ultra-cold Euro-beer onto the table, BANG.
‘Maybe he showed up at the funeral just to make sure she was dead’ cracked Brett, right in character.
‘Brett, you’re a real piece of work’ sighed Lulu. ‘Anyway I guess for the sake of our Happy Hour Conspiracy it was better the wife than Alan who bit the dust.’
‘He narrowly escaped getting killed by her. Twice’ added Tall Paul, always the bearer of exciting tidings. ‘But the fool should plainly have seen she was bad news from day one.’
Hiroshi, the quiet, thoughtful one, spoke up. ‘Well Paul I can see you are bursting with narration. I know nothing of this since my acquaintance with Alan is only at these gatherings. I like him. How did he get mixed up with – what? A murderess?’
Everybody snickered. ‘We don’t use that word any more’ Lulu said drolly. ‘It’s “politically incorrect”.’
‘Alan had the misfortune of moving into a house right next door to the “King of Togel” in Cakung, East Jakarta.
Everybody winced. ‘Ooo, that’s the nastiest part of the city. Madurese plastic and metal recyclers. Blackwater canals. Really dreary. How come he stayed there?’
‘The school opened a branch and they had to have a paleface to decorate the classroom.’
Hiroshi frowned. ‘What is “togel”? Wait, I’ll hunt it up on Google.’
‘It’s a numbers racket’ Brett began. ‘We used to call it “Sicilian Lottery” or “Nigger Pool”.’
They all jolted mildly at this unpleasant epithet. ‘You wouldn’t get far talking like that back in the old country these days’ warned Paul.
‘Well we ain’t there so put that in your pipe and smoke it,” goes Brett, GLUG GLUG GLUG as he chug-a-lugs another Dunkel.
Burp. ‘Yeah at least I didn’t fart.’
‘Alan?’ Hiroshi patiently reminded them.
‘Oh yeah. He couldn’t help but notice all the big fancy cars with darkened windows zipping into this house day and night, with guys in Hawaiian shirts and sunglasses looking around ominously as they got out.’
‘They have evidently seen too many gangster movies’ growled Brett. ‘I think the woman Alan saw there was related to the Bugis Chinese boss of the gambling racket.’
‘His sister. She was mean, he was mean, the whole family was criminally inclined’ sighed Paul. ‘How Alan could have been attracted to that…’
‘She had a unique homing device implanted between her legs’ laughed Brett. ‘That Alan must have been cuntstruck.’
‘No actually it was more interesting than simple sexual attraction’ smiled Paul. ‘When the togel business ran into trouble – maybe the competition was heating up or the military goons protecting them weren’t happy with what they were being paid – Erna – that’s her name – latched onto Alan as a bolthole. An escape hatch. She literally grabbed this virgin guy – at least he was a “virtual virgin” and dragged him to the altar.
Now he frowns. ‘Never knew what hit him. BINGO, soon as they’re married the brother disappears.’
Brett butted in. ‘You mean “…is disappeared”, don’t you?’
Paul sighs. ‘I’m afraid that’s what happened. They were just kampung Chinese anyway – not part of the power structure. One less Chinaman swaddled in chains and buried in the Java Sea: no big deal. Particularly when he’s known to have criminal connections.’
Brett smirks. ‘Yep, can’t move in on the territory of the “official criminals”, can you?’
Lulu: ‘Cut to the chase, Paul. My food is freezing.’
‘No it’s not. That’s one of the beauties of Yaudah Bistro: no air conditioning to solidify your food. Most places you have to wolf it down before it starts to sprout icicles.’
Lulu (patiently): ‘Uh, “happily ever after, till death do us part?”’
‘Not quite’ Paul frowned theatrically. ‘She was used to the good life, and now that some ambitious colonel has muscled her family out of the togel trade she faces grim reality: learning to live on an English teacher’s salary.’
‘Not a happy camper.’
‘No, dear Brett, she certainly was not… because, unbeknownst to innocent Alan, she had a “habit”. And that “habit” demanded a lot more money than Alan was bringing home. They had big fights after a month or two, once the novelty of sex wore off.’
‘Drugs? She was a junkie?’ asked Lulu, startled.
‘Nothing that straightforward, Lu. She was a gambling addict. Always had been, since she was a kid. And she was a bad gambler – big-time loser. It soon got so bad that she was bursting into Alan’s classroom, right in the middle of a TOEFL Practice Test, and yelling at him to give her money.
‘Poor Alan was in a fix. He was stuck – reprimanded more than once – and he was scared he’d lose his job. Turns out marrying that hot young Chinese chick was a bad move, he realized. Too late’
Hiroshi suddenly entered the conversation. ‘Oh I heard something about that. Didn’t they stop traffic on Jalan Gajah Mada one day?’
Paul smiled sadly. ‘Erna had a fancy knife collection. Swords too. Big ones. I think she may have saved them from her late brother’s, ah, “estate”.
‘And one fine afternoon the enterprising ethnic Chinese-Indonesians in Kota were treated with the action drama of Erna chasing Alan down the street wielding a kris – a Javanese sword. She said she was going to cut off his balls. In perfect English too. Alan was a great teacher. But now he was running to protect his manhood.’
‘So then he dumped her?’
‘Oh no’, Paul said, shaking the perfect ringlets of his fancy hairdo. ‘She kept pleading “Give me another chance” because by this point Alan is all she has left. And’ he smiled ruefully, ‘her sword collection’.
‘So what finally terminated the marriage?’ asked Hiroshi, thoughtfully.
‘An unfortunate concatenation of events’ muttered Paul. ‘Alan was going out of his mind, trying to do his full teaching load while dealing with this wild Bugis Chinese woman. He stayed home one day when the stress got to him and he was about to have a breakdown. Phone rings. Guy on the other end says brightly “Oh! You must be Mister Alan! You have to go in for your medical examination.”
‘Now Alan was perplexed. “What for?” he asks.
‘”This is Budi from Sampoerna Life Insurance. Your wife took out a two billion Rupiah life policy on you and my Manager wants you to get examined by our doctor. Your wife said she’d handle it but we can’t do it that way.”’
‘Life insurance? Gambling? Knives?’ TING! A light bulb lights brightly in Alan’s head.
‘I’ll call you back.’ Now he is troubled. He decides to lay down and take a nap, to rid himself of the headache. He pulls down the cover in the delightfully cool bedroom (air conditioning never turned off) and fluffs the pillow.
‘He picks up the pillow. There is a small, sleepy-looking cobra, coiled comfortably under it.’
High-pitched imitation of a frantic woman’s voice from Brett: ‘Alan darling, I can explain everything.’
Tall Paul ignored the interruption. ‘Alan said his heart was beating madly and he had the shivers as he slipped out of the house before Erna could return. He refused to ever see her again. She had already taken all of his stuff and either sold it or gave it away to her family – who were also quite angry with her, since she had sold their TV and motorcycle to pay on her habit.
‘Same day. Alan’s in the office. Director of Studies barges into a class, asks the students to excuse him, and takes Alan into the hall. ‘It’s your father on the phone, from Perth. He says he needs to talk to you urgently.’
‘”Oh my god. My mother’s dead.”’
‘”No, he didn’t mention that or act weepy. Actually he seemed rather angry when we talked.
‘”Alan, you’re a good guy. And a good teacher. But you keep dragging your personal catastrophes into our business. We just can’t have that, fella”.’
‘”I’ll handle it,” Alan promises weakly. He picks up the telephone.
‘”Son, are you all right?” his father’s familiar booming voice. “What the devil’s happening up there in Jakarta?” Alan told me all this. I became sort of his “father confessor”.
‘Alan holds down his emotion, he took a breath, and he says “I am fine, father. Why are you calling me during work hours?”’
‘”We are so worried about you, son. Your wife called – she’s frantic – she says you started gambling, and you got in debt for nine thousand dollars.
‘”She says the Chinese gangsters – what, the triads – they threatened to kill you if we don’t pay up right now.”’
‘Alan sat down. He forced himself to breathe deeply.
‘”Hello, Alan. Are you still on the line?”
“Yes father. No father, I have not been gambling, not at all. Nothing like that. There is a serious misunderstanding here…” and he was at a loss for words.
“Then why in blazes did Erna phone us up? She was sobbing – frantic. She loves you.”
That did it. “Father I must go now. The important thing for you to know is that I am well, have no gambling debts, and am in the process of getting divorced, as quickly as possible.’
Everybody’s delicious Yaudah Bistro food was sadly cooling. The two heavyset Africans had started quarreling. The Dutchman and his family were about to waddle away to Belanda.
But the three listeners were glued to Tall Paul’s tall tale.
‘At this point the woman should have known the jig was up. But she was a gambler, so she made a final “go for bust” gamble.
‘She went to the dukun santet and promised him a fortune if he would send a bolt and kill her annoying, inconvenient husband. She lays down a snapshot of the happy couple beaming on their honeymoon in Bali on the table, in front of the skinny, bearded old fellow. “That’s him. I want him gone.”
‘She evidently thought that since she had signed the life insurance policy forms they were already active. The agent probably lied to her. So all that remained was to whack hubby.
‘The sorcerer is no fool; he mumbles and hisses and demands half the money up front. She hasn’t got a rupiah, but she promises to get the cash for him pronto.
‘Holding Alan’s bank card in her hot little hand she makes a bee-line for the ATM; Uh-oh: you can imagine her dismay when the screen tells her the card has been blocked. Now what. Nobody to borrow from. No Alan. She is getting frantic.
‘The dukun has allegedly done a lot of the preliminary mumbo-jumbo work –‘
Brett, drunk a bit by now, butts in impolitely. ‘Hang on there a second, partner. You’re telling this story to us like the old brujo – black magician – is not a phony just looking to rip off the gullible. I don’t buy it.’
Hiroshi suddenly pipes up, speaking to them all. ‘I know two people who were reportedly attacked this way – by a dukun santet. Both had strokes – suddenly and without warning. One, my Japanese woman friend, was in ICU a month before she died. The other was a nasty English guy who insulted the wrong people. He is paralyzed for life down half of his body.’
Brett shakes his head violently. ‘I don’t buy it. No deal. There’s no proof of any of this nonsense.’
Lulu touches his arm. ‘Let Paul finish the story, Brett. Don’t ruin our fun this afternoon.’
He snorts. ‘”Fun”. Bad juju. Ungawa. Rumble in the jungle.’
Paul ignores this sarcasm. ‘Well for whatever reason a couple of hours later Erna – who had been in perfect health as only a true villain can manage – collapses while pleading for a loan with her schoolmate, right at Starbucks. Created quite a scene.
‘They rush her to the hospital but she never regains consciousness. Massive stroke. The doctors are puzzled. Normal signs, non-smoker, thin, strong body… within a week she is dead.’
‘I don’t get it’ complains Brett. ‘What’s the connection?’
Tall Paul looked annoyed as he patiently explained. ‘The consensus – well, the Indonesians whom I’ve spoken to all say the same thing: the dukun santet thought he was being stiffed on the deal, Donald Trump-style, since he had seen no money whatsoever from the bitchy Chinese woman.
‘So he sent the bolt of badness at her instead of Alan. Victims normally suffer a stroke.’
‘And Alan?’ asked Hiroshi softly.
Paul raised his eyebrows. ‘He got a twofer out of the deal. The School had had enough of his melodramas and relieved him of his duties. Sacked. Fired. Sent on his merry way.
‘But on his last day he had a big surprise: among the fringe benefits offered to expatriate teaching staff is – get ready for it – ‘
‘Life insurance on the spouse’ guessed Lulu, laughing.
‘Yep. Alan cashed in close to a hundred thousand dollars on the policy covering poor Erna. With sincere condolences from all the staff at the School’ he laughed.
‘So Alan walked away from it – and since he’s not here I can’t tell you the twist ending.’
They all moaned and complained loudly and pounded the table.
‘Don’t stop it now. There’s MORE?’
Paul smirks, knowingly. ‘Alan’s living in Jogja with a really cute 19-year-old he met bartending.’
‘I hope she is nicer than the first one!’ cracked Lulu.
The rest of them didn’t miss the allusion.
Brett: ‘”She” it seems has got a penis. But I can’t say I’m surprised. I never liked the look of that Alan.’
‘But you’ll keep your opinions to yourself when he comes to wine and dine with us next time,’ suggested Lulu. Then, menacingly, ‘Won’t you, Brett? Or else we could tell some stories about you and the banci.’
Brett thought about it for a split second and then clammed up. He knew when to keep his dirty mouth shut.