Author's note: Before you read this novel, please know that I spent three years writing and editing it (circa 2015-2018). I wrote it to help increase awareness about the homeless plight of Balinese children, in Indonesia. I also wrote it to help increase awareness of the tragic statistics of child abuse in Indonesia and to help children in Bali. However, this novel was copyright infringed with its first 30 pages by a person who did not belong to the Rocky Mountain Society of Childrens Books Writers and Illustrators, nor my writing groups and writing classes. This person sent it to several agents with her name, and told negative remarks about me as a writer. It turns out she also had the full manuscript. But, I also sent this manuscript to other agents about the same time, and received two full manuscript requests, yet they were both a rejection at the end.
I showed this novel to my Dad, and he felt it was an adult novel. I showed this book to my siblings and they both felt it was PG-13 with adult content, and not at all a middle grade fantasy novel I had intended. But, I know my family loves me and wanted me to have an age appropriate novel. I trust my siblings and my Dad. So here I am, releasing it online on my blog. I felt this story deserved an audience and worthwhile to read. If at all, you feel any positive effect to help children, or feel the awareness about homelessness and child abuse makes you want to help kids, please do help. Please donate any amount to Bali Childrens Foundation, because I spoke to them personally, and I intended and promised myself that if this book gets an agent, I will help them. In this case, if you read this book and like it, please help the organization and donate any amount you are compelled to give.
Please enjoy reading, keep writing and keep on helping children. Thank you, Diana.
Chapter 1 – Ayub
The gods must have lost a bet upon the birth of my soul. So far, life smelled sour as my armpits and the stench of my sweat stuck to me like the salt on my skin. My sweaty shirt was damp on my back, and these ragged shorts made my crotch itched.
I was supposed to wear yellow for the final evening of the Galungan festival tonight, but what could a homeless boy do besides be thankful for the little he has? Running about the shores during the day made the earthy brown skin on my arms and legs moist from being under the sun. Hot summer days in Bali was a warm hug from the gods, but it stifled me.
"Surya, do you think mangoes are better than rambutans?" I asked Surya, as I wiped the sweat from my forehead and palmed my wild short black hair through my fingers. I wanted to know if the gods made comparisons upon the creation of fruits or vegetables.
"Both have qualities we all love, Ayub," Surya replied.
Heaving, I sat on the floor of the tourist station wondering if love was godsend. My thin limbs felt as wasted branches from running about the city.
The strong scent of jasmine bursting its blossom from outside of the tourist station reminded me of a night on a full moon during the summer festival.
The night I was abandoned.
The sonorous gong echoed in the distance. It must be time for the festival to start.
"Why don't we just love both mangoes and rambutans? They never judge you any, have they?" Surya said. I looked to him, then outside the window to find out if night fall had graced the evening festival.
"No, they never did," I said. Lowering my head, I felt a prickle of sadness inside my chest. Perhaps if the gods loved mangoes more, I would at least have a reason for my heartache.
Tonight, was the last night of the summer, and that meant the good won over evil. The tall Penjor bamboo poles were on the sides of the streets, hanging down like lanterns in the night. The fruits underneath the tall bamboo poles made me hungry. My stomach growled with a soft whirl. The evening clouds began to fill the purple sky outside the window, as the moon looked like a glowing bowl of rice in the dark. The Jaganatha temple was a bright palace, lit up with the Penjor lanterns.
"I need some more Betel leaves, to sell for tonight! May I cut more?" I asked Surya. Immediately, I stood up from the barren floor and walked to the drawers near the kitchen sink.
Surya worked as the keeper of the Jaganatha temple and his counsel for the villagers meant life and death to us. In a white robe tied with a batik sash and a Balinese priest hat, made of folded white fabrics around his head, Surya was the community leader and a figure of kindness amongst the villagers.
"Look here first," Surya said, with his greying shoulder length hair tucked behind his ears. He took a medium sized round object wrapped in brown paper from the other side of the kitchen near the cabinets, and opened it on the table. A lightning bolt struck my heart as I marveled at the fleshly fruit inside a large and round shell with sharp spikes, cut in halves. "Fresh durian. Have some. You can cut more Betel leaves tomorrow. Enjoy the festival for now," he said, pointing to the durians.
Reaching with my bare hands, I grabbed a bulbous creamy flesh of durian and shoved it into my mouth. My intestines starved with a raw longing for fruits and sweets, and the durians felt just right. I made sure I didn't touch the spikes outside of the shell. If a durian fell on a man's head, that man would surely die.
"Wash your hands, Ayub," Surya said. Immediately, I reached for the sink and washed my hands with the soaps that the village mothers made of rice flour and ginger.
The pungent sweet durian scent made my body swooned to the side, as I kept chewing on its flesh inside my mouth. My head spun like the inside of a spinning wheel as I thought I wouldn't get dizzy from the stench of the creamy scent. But, I ate too much durians at once on an empty stomach. Gripping the edge of the table, I held myself up after washing my hands. The sugars from the sweet durians immersed inside my blood stream, fattening my bony arms and legs. It just gave me energy for the festival tonight!
The old Mothers in the villages once told me to drink from the durian shells to rid of the dizziness. The old Mothers also said the moon was supposed to hold me with solace, but I only knew loneliness during times like this under the moonlight. I was named Ayub by my Mother who abandoned me, which meant 'the man who was dear to the gods.' But, I felt like screaming from the depths of my soul to ask the gods, why was I created?
"I need to go outside, Ayub. You can stay here and enjoy more durians," Surya said, as he walked out to the temple quadrants.
"I will see you soon, Surya," I replied, but he already left. Suddenly, I felt alone.
Sometimes, I believed I was born to be a waste. I wished I knew why. My sister from another Mother, Tuti, said she was born to give her Mother strength and they made each other strong. Inside my soul, I felt no one would gain strength through me, even the gods.
Perhaps the gods had special reasons for creating homeless children, even in paradise. My favorite god has always been Vishnu, because he looked like an elephant and elephants love children. The thought of Vishnu made me stronger. "I can't spend time being sick! I need to earn a living!"
Immediately, I filled a glass with water from the sink and poured the water into the durian shell. Carefully, I took the durian shell and poured the water down my throat and gulped it. As quick as a gecko crawling on the ceiling, the dizziness subsided and so did the self-pity. The old Mothers were right!
"I am okay now," I said to myself, shaking my head vigorously.
During the day, I sell Betel leaves to all tourists and anyone who would give me money for them. 'Leaves of the gods,' that was what the old Mothers in the villages told me about Betel. The scent cleansed the fishy human odor from the private parts.
Yesterday's earned dollars were placed into the corner drawer inside the kitchen, as I made sure no one would know where my monies were. The sunset had darkened the skies as my neck stretched to peek outside from the tourist station kitchen, scouting for customers.
Tomorrow, I will exchange my earned dollars into rupiahs, the Balinese currency, and I would be fine for the week. I would need to dodge some bullies on the way to the money exchange depot, the ones who called me "peculiar."
"I truly hope Vishnu loves me," I mumbled to myself in sullen thoughts. "Because those bullies will always be rotten avocadoes."
The festivities began near the temple fountain as I heard cacophony near the fountain. Four rows of bare- chested men were dressed in their checkered Batik cloth as they sat around a bonfire. The men chanted in Balinese as they prepared for the Kecak dance to praise the gods. Their eyes bulged with dark ink around them, as the torches around the edges of the temple flared their eyes.
Myth told that these men possessed the ghostly spirits in between heaven and Earth. Their hands raised and swung forward as they sent spells towards the bonfire, where heaven and Earth collided.
"Sorcery…," I said to myself. Softly, I tip-toed further out of the door of the kitchen in the tourist station, towards the circle of Kecak dancers sitting in the middle of the temple quadrant. Suddenly, my brain felt like it had a match that lit up with fire inside! I saw customers! I took my plastic bag of Betel leaves from the kitchen table and ran outside.
The men chanted "Chak, Chak, Chak," to the spirits then turned their heads to the right and left in unison. After a strong loud chant in Balinese, they stretched their arms forward towards the center of the circle with full force, sending their magic spells to a woman dressed in a velvet strap and Batik sarong at the center of the front row.
The beautiful woman with the golden sash across her torso had long black hair that was braided and weaved with purple orchids. She looked like a queen out of a Balinese folktale, as her eyes moved side to side as she danced with the rhythm of the Kecak chants. Her arms danced as a mystical butterfly fluttering its wings that was strangely beautiful.
Squeezing in between tourists, I locked eyes with the beautiful dancer with the golden sash. Her eyes had white dots near her temples, and her ornate head piece was made of metal covered with gold. The Kecak men began to chant louder, "Chak, chak, chak," summoning the gods and the spirit of Hanuman, the Monkey God, to help Rama with his battle with an evil spirit to rescue Sinta, the goddess. Kecak was a ritual dance symbolizing a romantic story of a hero rescuing his princess. I only cared because this dance drew attention to tourists, although I wished I was Rama. Everyone loved Rama.
A plump lady in her pink shirt stood near the circle of dancers, clutching tight onto her brown leather purse. She must be rich! Let her be my first customer!
"Lady, you want to smell like a beautiful Balinese Princess? Heat these leaves in hot water and take baths in it. It will get rid of the sweaty body odor," I told her. "You could even put ginger in the boiling pot with it…to make it into an astringent!"
"Astringent, eh," she said, with her wide eyes. She looked at the plastic bag with ten Betel leaves, and took a bag. The lady breathed into the plastic bag, then looked into my eyes. "How much?"
"Three American dollars," I told her. She gave me a five-dollar bill. The dollar was what I looked for. Immediately, I ran back to the tourist station because I didn't have any change.
"Hey! Come back!" she yelled. Immediately, I ran into the kitchen inside the tourist station and grabbed some American dollars from my stash of change from inside a box in the corner drawer. Fumbling, I ran back outside to give my change for the lady in the pink shirt.
"You won't regret it!" I told her. The lady smiled at me and inhaled the scent of Betel leaves which was that of steamed water spinach.
Shadows appeared from behind me as the hairs on my arms raised. I turned around and saw Kakak. He came for me. I owed him ten American dollars, but I didn't have enough.
"Hey, worm! Come here!" Kakak yelled, with his high-pitched nasally voice.
Kakak looked like a wet hungry dog. He must have swum in the ocean and didn't bother to dry. What an odd human being he was. I meandered inside the crowd to escape from him, as some of the tourists wiggled their noses from my stench. Furtively, I crawled beneath the crowd to the other side of the temple because Kakak, although short for a man, he was fast as rats.
"I'm sorry, sir. Please excuse me, ma'am," I told them kindly. Finally, I reached the other side of the temple, with the bonfire in the middle of the Kecak dance in close view. Kakak walked further away from me as I hid in between the legs of tourists and strangers. Tonight was sacred and being tormented by Kakak was the last thing I wanted.
Slowly, I stood up and was eager to ask a man in front of me if he wanted some Betel leaves. But, a long strand of white hair caressed my face as if a thin strand of soft silk touched my cheek. It felt eerie, as if a black widow crawled on me. Where did this strand of hair come from?
To my left, I saw was a woman with long white hair as thin layers of her white dress trailed after her. She glided over the ground as a ghost would and disappeared under the moonlight. All that was left of her was the long strand of white hair on my arm. My mouth gaped open, because she reminded me of an albino snake slithering away.
Everyone was still entranced by the men in the checkered Batik cloths chanting, "Chak, Chak, Chak." Good Vishnu, let tonight be the last night of battle of the gods, because I couldn't handle any more oddities.
Chapter 2 – Tuti
Bali was meant for lovers. At least that was what my Mother told me. Sadly, that was how she felt before my father left. Mother told me fairytale stories about how she met my father, but truthfully, he ended up gambling all his monies away and hit her. Ratna was my Mother's name, and she named me, Tuti. If it was up to me, my name would mean "sweet and spicy."
"Mother, I know you must not believe me, but I can beg for ten whole dollars this week," I told my Mother. Trust me, my heart shaped face and cheery smile catches the hearts of tourists, easily. My face was a budding rose blossom.
"You keep talking so loud, you won't get anything at all," she scolded me. I stuck out my tongue at her.
People said I was tiny for an eleven-year-old, but they didn't know I was made with a giant might! My Mother cut my hair short because I felt prettier with this odd length. I could show off my rosy cheeks when I smile, to melt the hearts of tourists from all over the world.
Don't think just because I grew up without a father, that I was lesser than the other children. Nope. As a matter of fact, I was faster, swift like the geckoes in rich people's bathrooms and smart like a mouse deer. My Mother told me I was born out of her womb, but I truly believed that I was also born out of the sparkles of magic between a roaring lion and the breath of fire from a dragon. My wit could jolt the heart of man.
"No, trust me, Mother. I know I am very cute," I said to her. "Even tourists told me so."
People knew my father left my Mother three years ago, but so did a million other fathers in Bali. They were all fish guts. They all wanted money and tried to move to Jakarta, only to come back beaten, ruined, and with an addiction to chicken fights. What a waste! That was what happened to my father.
"Mother, I will go out to the temple now, the festival must have started," I told her.
There were some unkind tourists in my past, who bothered me and my Mother. But, not tonight. Tonight, was the end of Galungan Festival, therefore not a soul will be bothered because the good won, as it should be. Besides, not all tourists were spoiled fruits, but those who hurt me in the past were molded persimmons.
One man told me that if I was his daughter, he would give me anything I wanted, but I had to disown my Mother and be his property for all of my life. What type of shadow puppet did he thought I was? I saw the devil inside his soul. He would visit me and tried to lure me away from my only family. No gods needed to tell me that he was trouble, because I saw his evil myself. I was sharp!
My purpose here in Bali was not to be labeled as a homeless girl. Only tourists called me that. The natives, like my best friend Ayub, knew better. Besides, I told everyone I was smart and strong, just like boys who were born with a crown on their heads. I was one of them!
Ayub and I were supposed to swim in the ocean today. He had not showed up for half the day. There he was! I caught him running inside the temple!
"Ayub! Where are you going? What are you doing?" I yelled at him. He ignored me. That darn rascal was always snobby since he was little. It seemed as if the whole village took pity on him. No one took as much pity on me because I had a Mother.
Ayub was like my brother, nonetheless. We have been friends since my father left my Mother, and we had to live underneath cardboard boxes at the end of the market for shelter. It was a blessing anyhow, because it turned out the tourist buses parked close by our shelter.
Blessings were what I lived on, ever since I saw my father hit my Mother, and he left her. Since then, I've had over a hundred blessings. One of the blessings was witnessing my father being beaten by the villagers because he hit my Mother so bad, that my Mother bled and almost died. That rotten banana was damaged to his core. My father was shameful, but my Mother was an angel, even if we lived underneath these cardboard boxes. It was a blessing rotten banana left us. One less spoiled fruit I didn't have to take out myself.
Ayub was also a blessing to me and my Mother. "Ayub! Can't you slow down? What ghost are you trying to catch?!" I tried to fetch Ayub, but he was selling his Betel leaves again.
"Tuti, can't you see I am working?" Ayub retorted. Mud must have gotten stuck up his nose. I walked away, and lifted up my chin because he didn't deserve my affection at this moment.
Another blessing was the free water from the restaurants. The restaurants waitresses let us have water during the day and never asked us to pay for it. A water source from their own backyard were made by the privileged people of Bali. The restaurants boiled the water over the fire and blessed us with some when we were thirsty.
With my heart in shambles, I walked to my shelter because my only friend didn't appreciate me. Ayub acted like a crazy monkey again. My brain only kept good times inside my mind, so Ayub won't matter in a few moments. Especially during nights like this, when Ayub won't speak to me.
Another blessing was when a tourist gave my Mother a bowl of fried fish and rice. A bald man with a rich young wife gave me rupiahs and a fat Japanese man gave me some yens. Rich tourists from United States gave me dollars and a blanket! Monies from other countries like francs from Switzerland and krones from Denmark were all common for me. Last week, I bartered with the lady at the money exchange depot and traded the monies for rupiah, so we could buy our drinks and foods. It was reasonable, trust me. I convinced her it was worth a few more rupiah than it was probably worth. So what? She had a job, and I was only eleven. As a matter of fact, I helped the money exchange depot clean their front steps, and I would come in the morning with their 'Canang Sari' flowers offerings. So, you see? I was the smart one.
Canang Sari flower offerings were easy to make. A square bowl from the palm leaves were folded into shape, and I arranged some flowers for each direction of the Earth. North, South, East and West. Different colors of flowers praised different gods. Afterwards, I lit up the incense and praised the gods and goddesses for a successful and thriving business for the day. Bali always smelled like incense and flowers, because the people of the islands trusted on the good fortunes of the gods. The tourists called Bali the mystical island of paradise. I called it home.
Chapter 3 – Ayub
The moon hid behind the clouds, just the way I felt with the world. I looked to the skies to ask Vishnu for more courage when Surya came to me. Surya was the only person who cared for me. The night my Mother left me, I cried like a baby, and Surya was the only person who took me and gave me a hug. He was a young priest back then, with long black hair, but he got older, and his hair became shorter. I even saw more strands of grey hairs on him now.
"Why are you still awake?" Surya asked me, as he watched me pacing back and forth in front of the tourist station. His handsome face looked tired and weary with red eyes as he wiped his face with his palm.
"I don't feel like sleeping in my shelter tonight. I want to enjoy the midnight to myself," I told Surya. I looked around the temple and the Kecak dancers left the temple. My heart felt somber because the festival ended. My aching eyes demanded rest as I yawned.
"You were thinking too much again," said Surya, as he opened his arms to me. "You must go to sleep, Ayub."
My arms dangled from my shoulders as I moseyed to him and hugged his flat stomach. His body was tawny and taut. For a man in his late forties, he looked young and handsome, compared to Tuti's ugly father.
Surya sometimes made me feel as if I had a father, but I knew it was only pretend. He was the village priest, everyone's counsel, and it was his duty to be kind to everyone. I was not special, but he was special to me. With my weepy eyes, I looked to Surya and begged him, "May I sleep on these steps, tonight?"
Surya looked at me, as if he knew that question was coming and let out a sigh.
"Of course. I wouldn't shoo you away," said Surya. "All the homeless kids come to me when times are hard. Tonight is no different."
It would be safer for me to sleep on these steps.
Kakak was also looking for me to pay for my debt. The holy temples were not to be bothered by street scoundrels like him, so I felt safer here.
"Just sleep here on these steps and guard the kitchen for me," Surya said. My heart felt a flutter of joy.
Every day, I relied on good will and I raised up my hopes to the skies. I believed Vishnu could hear me, because sometimes tourists would give me money. I knew the goodness of the human heart exists. Surya was no stranger to good will, and although I still had to beg to sleep on these steps, I believed his heart was pure because he never hurt me in any ways.
"Thank you, Surya," I was happy and looked into his eyes with a smile. Surya brought a piece of green Batik cloth from inside the kitchen and tossed it to me. "To cover you up, in case you get cold," he said. "Come inside if you are cold." His face looked calm and his eyes, although red and watery, smiled at me. He turned around and walked inside the tourist station, then went into his room and closed the door.
I was left outside, alone.
My chest sheared like a sharp knife was inside my heart some nights, as if I was newly abandoned. Other kids were tucked in bed by their Fathers and Mothers. I had no one and I was not expecting anyone, either. Perhaps, I might be a nuisance to normal people, like an insect that had to be squished away.
I covered myself with the green Batik cloth on the steps of the tourist station and soothed myself to sleep. "Another night in paradise," I whispered to myself, with the breeze sweeping over my shoulders.
Chapter 4 – Tuti
Our shelter was made of sturdy brown boxes the hotels threw away. My Mother and I collected them over the years. There were also some long plastic covers that sheltered us from the rain during monsoon season. Sometimes it smelled like motor oil and burned rubber in our home, but it was good luck to have a rundown shelter near the tour bus stop.
While twisting my Mother's long black hair with my hands, I pinned a white orchid that I took from the waste basket of the hotels. I tied her hair with an old rubber band that I found on the street and kissed her forehead.
The moment I heard the wheels of the tourist bus turned into our street, it was a code for me and my Mother to beg for dollars. Tourists would come out ready to shop at the markets, as we were always ready to plead for our month worth of food.
The buses took a moment to park as some tourists came out. My Mother eyed a glance at one of the tourists. "You see that nice man with dark brown hair with his light orange shirt? He's holding his wife's hands and they have matching visors. Bright colors and smooth clothing. A sign of wealth, Tuti," my Mother said.
"I am already watching them, but I don't stare, Mama," I said, tucking growing strands of my short hair behind my ears.
"You keep working hard and tell me if you have trouble from the market vendors. I work hard for them, cleaning their space and washing their dishes," my Mother said, caressing my hair with her saliva on her palms. "You took a shower in the community bath, right?"
"Yes, of course. I sneaked in last night," I said, scratching my underarms, and scrubbing it with Betel leaves. "I won't let the other kids get to them. I can tell they're the rich ones. I can smell Americans."
My Mother and I would have something to eat tonight, I believed it. My intestines felt like it was outside my belly, with a sting that made me longed for fish and rice.
A blessing came to me and my Mother, the other day. The British tourists gave us some pounds when the exchange rates from British pounds to rupiah were high. I won't complain because we traded our monies and we earned more than we thought we would, for our whole week!
Confidence and courage were inside me at this moment, as I approached some tourists.
My favorite tourists were Americans. They're compassionate, or at least that was what the French tourists told me. "Ask from the Americans, because we don't have a budget that includes homeless kids," said some of the French tourists who came out of the bus. Snails were up their noses.
"Please, sir, just some monies, for a piece of fish and rice," I begged him, reaching for the French man's arms as he shoved me. Wiping his khaki shorts, his face squirmed at me with disgust as if my touch was infested with fleas.
"Oh, I'm so sorry, I didn't mean to be that harsh. I am just on a budget with my wife here," he said, a moment later. The orange shirt man hurried to the retail store, where no homeless children were allowed to enter. Just what I thought he'd do. Snob! My gut growled. He was a bad example.
"Just for a piece of fish and rice, please," I begged another couple in French, twisting my words with every curly French word. I just had to beg sometimes! We tried to melt their hearts by speaking in their language, to show them that we were smart. I hoped our gesture ignited their kindness for us. Some of us homeless kids spoke more than two or three languages, enough to beg and to earn our foods for the day.
"No, sorry. We have to go," said the man and his wife, as they hurried further down to the other side of the street.
"I hate you, Frenchies," I said under my breath. I needed to be fierce. This has got to be my mission today, to earn at least ten American dollars, for the week's food. I needed to help my Mother!
Ayub walked towards me and as usual, he had to be the kind one with the nice attitude.
"Tuti, stop calling the tourists names!" said Ayub, who saw the same group of tourists. "If they heard you, they'd report us."
"Sometimes I hate tourists," I told Ayub, my lips puckered like a wombat's nose from being bitter.
"Ask them if they need directions or to translate when they go shopping," Ayub whispered.
Of course, this was coming from Ayub, the protégé of a priest. He thought he was so good inside, like he was made of something magical and I was not.
Another tour bus approached the market, I smelled Americans, and this time the tourist bus was larger. Mother must be told this!
"Mother, the French said no, but I'll prove to you that we can get ten American dollars today!" I yelled to her in Balinese.
"She's too young to be on the street," said an older lady with a woven shirt just coming out of the tour bus. She took out a dollar and gave it to me, without any need to beg for it. YES!
Ayub saw the new group of tourists and the generosity of the lady with the woven shirt. Immediately, Ayub ran to her side. "Do you want to know which stores are the best to shop in? The favorites, and directions to the whole market? I can give you a native tour!" Ayub said.
Ayub eagerly jumped on the chance to sell his business and he ignored me! He tried to steal my tourists. I shoved his face with my palms, and told the lady, "I am his partner. We can do this together." If anything, we would be better united to work together. Ayub nodded and smiled at me.
"Oh no, we don't need a tour guide. We already have one," the lady said, as she pointed to a man with a cap that said Compass Tour. I looked down to the ground, disappointed.
"I wish you want our services," I told her. Fanning herself, the lady in the woven shirt wiped her forehead and ignored me. Bali was always tropical, which meant hot weather and humid air. I giggled at the sight of the lady sweating and heaving from the humidity as her cheeks rouged.
A man with his wife came out of the tour bus. Their white shirts said Mr. and Mrs. in black letters, as the man's face smiled bright, holding hands with his wife. "Baby, you see, Bali has its share of poor islanders," he told his wife. He must be speaking of our poverty. I was happy, because he had a heart.
"We still call Bali home, sir," said Ayub. "Can I give you directions? Or translate for you to buy lunch? Please, sir. It would help us for the day."
"You should buy some lunch. You look very skinny. What is your name?" said the man's wife. She took out a five-dollar bill and gave it to Ayub whose eyes widened as if sweet tamarind candies were on his palms.
I saw the five-dollar bill, and ran to Ayub's side, and yelled out, "May I have some, too? I'm the skinny one!" I had to be honest.
"We are skinny too, see…, my bones are out of my shoulders," said one boy, who came out of nowhere, pointing to his bony arms and legs. I was so upset because this was our territory, our area, Ayub and me! We were regulars here for the past six years!
"Hey, get to the back of the market! Aren't you in the restaurant area?" I told the skinny boy.
"We beg to the people in the restaurant, but it's before lunch. You don't own this space!" he said. His voice tinged my ears and they were not begging anymore, instead shoving me out of my spot!
"We haven't eaten in days, please lady, dollars for us," said one little girl, who pushed me into the crowd towards the lady's legs.
The lady with the woven shirt held me between her legs and shorts. Her face grimaced as if she just touched a piece of trash. "Oh dear, we started a raucous, didn't we?" she said.
Before long, the small crowd of homeless children turned larger. Some adults were selling tangible arts and crafts on foot. "Buy some fans, sir? It's very hot!" said the man with fans and hats, swaying the fan to the tourists' faces. They all shouted for more dollars and asked for the couple to spend more American dollars on their goods.
Ayub reached further into the crowd of imploring kids, and I called, "If she takes out a dollar, let's get her for it!" I was shoved onto the legs of the lady with the woven shirt.
"Hold on, let me see if I still have some change," the lady said. I held on to her legs.
"She is going to give me the dollar first!" A taller boy grabbed me by the collar of my already torn dress and yanked me back behind him. I let go of the lady's legs but we fell to the ground.
"You sea urchin!" I yelled at him and pulled on his arms.
"I said she's mine!" The taller boy kept yelling. The other children were screaming, "Me first, lady! I'm skinnier, and poorer than Tuti and Ayub." We pushed and shoved each other to touch the woman's hand.
"I have coins! Hold on!" yelled the lady with the woven shirt, searching inside her purse on the ground. The small circle of homeless kids became a crowd, as the nice lady and the married couple were now in the center of the homeless children, begging for dollars and coins. We started to pull on the pants of the married couple and the couple got angry.
"Jesus! Here! Here! Take it. You have to let go of my shorts!" The man threw the coins in the air as he tried to get out of the circle of homeless children.
I crawled onto the street and took the coins. I shoved another innocent girl begging for the same dollars and coins from foreign strangers.
"You take those coins, I'll stab you in the eye!" I yelled at her.
"You savage!" the little girl fled and cried. I didn't care if she cried, because it was all about me and my Mother. It was our lives that I was responsible for! As I stood up, the tourist guide rushed into the crowd to save the couple and helped the kind lady with the woven shirt off the ground.
The tourist guide had big round sweaty spots through his shirt by the time he took the disheveled tourists out of the crowd. A little excitement from us Balinese children gave them good memories for being rich. They should see it as a blessing! I giggled seeing the tourist guide and the couple almost out of breath. The kind American lady with the woven shirt smiled at me. I liked her, and her smile made her cheeks rosy.
The tour bus had to leave, and the tourists left with it. They left after an hour of shopping at the market area as the crowd of homeless kids were no more. As I searched for Ayub, I saw a pair of huge giant denim shorts in front of me. Slowly, I looked up and it was a man with blonde hair and high cheekbones. Large sparkly blue eyes looked down at me as his handsome face made me smile. He took out his wallet, and said, "Squeaky wheel gets the oil. Where's your brother?"
"I have a Mother and a father, but only my Mother loved me," I told him, "My father is a rotten banana, so he's gone. But, I've never had a brother."
I stopped caring about who heard about my parents and my life story.
Immediately, I asked him, "Sir, you have dollars to give us?"
He laughed. "I have a job to give someone," he said. I think he was scouting, too!
"I'm alone, sir. I can take the job," said Ayub. He appeared from behind me. I was so angry at Ayub, because he was NOT alone!
"I do need a boy for this position," he said, with his eyes squinting into slits.
"I'm with my Mother, but I can do what Ayub can, sir!" I told him. I didn't want to lose an opportunity just because I was born a girl.
"Well, I need a boy to help me. Not like a house maid, but more of a little helper," he said.
"I can clean with him, if you have a big house, Mister," I said. "I know you do, Mister. You look rich and handsome."
"You're a little pistol," he said to me. "What's your name?"
"Tuti," I said. I smiled at him and showed off my warm rosy cheeks.
"I'm the best boy. My name is Ayub. And Tuti also has a birth Mother," said Ayub. "Just to let you know." There goes Ayub again, asking for pity because he was an orphan. I stuck out my tongue at him.
The handsome man closed his eyes for a moment and reached for me. "I'm so sorry, Tuti. I need a boy, because I will need him to carry some boxes for me. I'm a retailer, and I import-export clothing. I will need to train this boy to help me with the work."
"I understand, but I hope you still have five dollars to give me? Yes?" I asked him politely, with a smile and a wink. Foreigners loved the sweet stuff, so I wanted to make sure he remembered me as a sweet girl, not the little "pistol" he labeled me.
His thin lips curved upwards and his teeth were showing. He looked handsome and regal.
"Yes, I have five dollars," he told me, reaching into his pocket for his flip wallet and took out the money. He gave me a hug, and gave the five-dollar bill to me. "You're a sharp cookie."
His eyes were focused on me! I was the apple of his eyes for a full minute. I smelled status. I smelled dollars! He looked down onto my face and gave me a hug. I was fixated on the color of his eyes, blue and peaceful as the ocean. The color of his eyes made me swoon.
I must have memorized the details of his royal and generous face in five seconds. Pointed nose, with chiseled cheekbones and deep-set large eyes with a square jaw. His hair was golden, and I was in awe. He looked famous.
"Thank you, Sir! You're a rich man! This money will go far for me!" I told him. I didn't care what job I missed out on.
"What's your name, sir?" I asked him.
"Dale," he said, and his big blue eyes was a crescent moon when he smiled.
Ayub was just as mesmerized as I was. He kept staring at Dale's nose that was pulsating like a dragon about to flare over its prey.
Was he a good man? I knew I was made of blossoms of jasmine from Bali, even if I was homeless. But, I didn't know what Dale was made of.
"Now, I expect you to tell me the truth at all times. That is, if you would like the job," Dale said to Ayub.
"I am all truths, sir!" Ayub told him, gesturing praying hands. "Let us go to Surya. I help him to clean the temple and help the people in the village. We can ask for tea from Surya."
"Who is Surya?" Dale asked.
"He's not Ayub's father," I told Dale. "Or mine." Why wasn't this gorgeous man interested in me? I was the cuter child?
"He is our counselor, for the villagers!" Ayub screamed his answer.
I knew my manners, and of course I didn't scream, but I was no scrap to be unnoticed. I was entranced by Dale, but why didn't he want me?
Ayub kept smiling and his wide eyes told that he was in adoration. I was made to be his sister, and that meant taking Ayub's mind out of the gutter.
"Ayub, stop acting like a monkey in love!" I scolded Ayub. He wiggled his hands on my face. Who did Ayub believed this man to be? A gorgeous hero? Then, he would have noticed me first, the Princess of Bali, because supernatural people must recognize our own kind. Besides, I wondered why Dale was so interested in Ayub and not me, who was smarter and prettier?
Chapter 5 – Ayub
I won't let Tuti beat me to a job. I didn't have anyone and Tuti had a Mother. I needed this job more than anyone. I felt opportunity. It was so bright. The heavy rocks that hovered above me were gone and only feathers of wings lifted me off the ground. I felt destiny awaiting! This must be a sign from the gods.
"Dale, let's talk to Surya about this job!" I told him. Jumping up and down, I felt something heavy on my arm. I looked to my right, and Tuti was holding my arm. Her face frowned and sour as the taste of curdled milk. I felt the taste of her attitude on my palate.
"Tuti, it's for a job. No worries," said Dale.
"See! No worries," I repeated. Tuti still held onto my arms, with a limp face down to the ground.
"Tuti, here are five more dollars. Enough for the fish and rice, right?" Dale said, handing her five one-dollar bills.
Dale was so generous. I knew Tuti would say 'thank you,' but what was this face I saw on Tuti? She was a spoiled vegetable, when Dale just gave her money for a week's feast. Besides, she should be happiest for me. I was about to get rich!
"Please be kind to Ayub," said Tuti. She took the five dollars and ran home, but her face was sullen as a smashed turnip. Who cared what Tuti thought about right now? I needed to seize this moment for opportunity. Dale came from the other side of the world, yet now, he was in front of my face and he offered me a job. I needed to seize my moment!
"Would you come to work with me, Ayub? Or do you need permission from Surya?" asked Dale. "He's not your father."
"I don't need anyone's permission. I am alone, sir," I told him, quickly. "I don't even need to tell Surya!"
"I see. Then show me your shelter, Ayub," Dale said. He held on to my shoulder and I was touched. It was not every day that a foreigner was nice to me. I didn't have to beg him to be my friend, and it felt like being accepted for who I was for the first time.
"I sometimes sleep on the steps at the Jaganatha Temple," I told him. "That's how I met Surya."
"I can tell, there is something about you. Something that brings luck," said Dale, with one side of his lips rising. "All truths, Ayub. We agreed about this."
He didn't have to repeat it, but like a good man, Dale wanted to make sure I understood his ways. Ah! The sign of a great boss!
"Ayub, let's go see what I do for a living, and how you will help me," said Dale.
"I am so proud of you," I said. "You became rich all on your own!"
"Why are you so proud of a stranger, Ayub?" asked Tuti, from behind me. She must have crept in quietly like a lizard. "You hardly know Dale and you show so much love for him?" Tuti quizzed.
I knew Tuti would be skeptical about fate and destinies.
"Why must you be so direct, Tuti? Why can't you be happy for this privileged foreign friend?" I scolded. I was so angry that Tuti was anxious to interrogate this prestigious American.
Tuti could at least be on my side to help me get this job!
"Ayub has a great heart, and I could tell in a split second," said Dale. "He's so innocent."
"But there are hundreds of homeless children, and Ayub now has a place at the front steps of the temple," said Tuti. "And he has a friend here. With me."
"I can feel Ayub's spirit. He brings good luck," said Dale, he shook his index finger while pointing at me. "I need pure souls, and his gentle heart and beautiful manners took me by surprise. I'd like for Ayub to work for me."
"Retail is big business!" I said. My heart jolted out of my chest. "Tuti, let go of my chance! You don't understand luck!"
"But you've just met him," Tuti said to me, with her hands akimbo in her high-pitched voice. Tuti was annoying me.
"I look for good souls to help me," said Dale. His eyes swooned down to the ground for a moment, then he looked towards me. "I would love to show you what kinds of retail work I do, Ayub. Let's go to the retail stores."
"I am his friend, Tuti! Let Dale hire me!" I told Tuti. Sometimes, Tuti could be such a fly over my good rice. What a nuisance! Tuti was trying to fend off this raja that I met. I've met a kind man who wanted to help me, and Tuti was hurting my chance at riches!
Tuti's face turned as sour as a pickled bitter melon. "But you are here! With me, Ayub!" Tuti turned to Dale. "You better be a good businessman."
We walked outside and left Tuti in the temple, and we saw her walk back to her shelter near the tour bus parking area. Thank you, good Vishnu, because I didn't want Tuti to bother my first lesson with my new friend, Dale.
"See that store over there, Ayub?" Dale said, as he pointed to a store with a lot of Batik sarongs and clothing.
"They sell similar things to my Batik and clothing business, except my store is in Kuta District. Let's take a look at their store."
We walked to the store and Dale went inside, took a Batik shirt and we looked at it closely.
"Bad threads and bad sewing. The hands who made this weren't good and weren't small enough," Dale said, pointing out the messy threads in between the seams of the clothing.
"I will make the clothing? What else will I do?" I asked him, anxiously as my hands fidgeted. As if golden shells were entering my stomach, I was eating knowledge. I believed I was about to gain skills.
"You will help my workers, and yes, you will be making some of the clothing," said Dale. "It's soft work. Not manual work, just sewing and making designs."
"That sounds fun," I said. I understood Dale immediately. He was so juicy with information! I will drink whatever juice he will let me drink!
From the corner of my eyes, I saw Tuti walked towards us again. She was so impossible!
"You can't leave me," said Tuti. "You are only eleven years old. You can't work too hard. We need to beg for more tourists. Let's go!" Tuti demanded. She looked like a haughty cat with too much pride. Those types of animals would always be hated. I was hating her because she wouldn't let me and Dale have our privacy.
"Tuti, can you let Dale and I have our time together?" I told her, trying to be stern with my eyes staring deeply into hers.
"You are too innocent, Ayub!" Tuti yelled. "You hardly know what Batik is and you have no idea how to sew clothes. How are you supposed to make it?"
"That's the idea. I will teach Ayub," said Dale. "It's very easy and I have my staff who will help you." He took the Batik sarong, caressed it with his hand, and placed it over my shoulder. "Look at the clothing, Ayub. It's good business. It makes a lot of money. You won't be homeless and you will stay in my compound."
"Dale has a house, Tuti!" I yelled at her. Dale was being honest about his successes, and I felt a sweetness of joy inside my heart, as if someone gave me fresh coconut juice.
"Then he would have hired me, too," said Tuti. "But, I don't trust him because we hardly know him and we just met him. Now you want to live with him, too?"
Tuti was being difficult as tears began to roll down my eyes.
"Dale, I want to work for you," I told Dale.
"Tuti, you don't have to be worried," said Dale. He touched Tuti's shoulder and Tuti dodged his touch as if Dale was a leper. She turned around and walked away, then looked back and stuck out her tongue at Dale.
Dale looked to me and told me, "Let's take some time to ride to Kuta, and if you don't like it, then you can go back to the temple."
"I'm sorry about Tuti," I said, my eyes stinging with bittersweet triumph. "Do you mean we should leave now?"
"Yes. Now," said Dale. I looked towards Tuti who was walking towards her shelter.
The chances of someone caring for me might never come true, so I needed this moment. I felt a magic with Dale, as if it was Vishnu from above who came into flesh, in the form of Dale, who was standing in front of me right now. This royal American just told me I would be a great worker, and he told me I could stay at this "compound." That must be a big palace? What luck! What could defeat this?
"Do I have time to say goodbye?" I asked Dale, with my mind anxious, yet afraid. "I want to make sure someone knows I'm going away."
"No, you don't need to do that. Tuti will be fine," Dale said.
My destiny was awaiting, so I said, "Yes… let us go now."
Chapter 6 – Tuti
Dale said he was a businessman, but if I was a businessman, I'd hire me! I was the smartest kid I knew! I was so angry that foreigners still loved boys more than girls. Was it just my face or skin color? I knew dark skin must be a nuisance to some, but the darker the skin, the more resilience the girl has. Or was it my hair? I thought short black hair of eleven-year-old girls meant strong wit and personality.
Didn't Dale realize that girls have as much grit compared to boys? This pretty face had vigor. Girls dealt with so much the world threw at us. Like my Mother for instance, we lived in a small shack with my father, but he kept hitting her until her face became swollen. Didn't people know my Mother was stronger than my father?
My Mother handled the suffering and the rejections from my father like a champion. She was my personal warrior, and I was made like her. I was hurt by my father too, but I didn't cry every day or walked with a limp like I was a beggar. I walked with pride in my heart, because I was important to my Mother. I knew since I was a child that I was a beautiful Balinese Princess. Begging for money was common because my Mother and I needed food. The privileged people believed we were weak, but truthfully, our strength to survive in life was as powerful as men. Didn't people take confidence into their brains when they would hire a worker? Dale was dumb.
I wished Dale saw my potential and hired me. My Mother and I have been hungry for a long time, some days without food and only boiled water to drink. My Mother and I have been survivors for more than three years, and that took courage. I wished people saw how priceless we were, even if our stomachs were empty from hunger. The prickles of pain in our stomach meant nothing to us. Our stomachs felt like worms ate their way through our intestines and left our gut out under the sun. We felt brutal hunger, but we wrestled with it. Somedays, I chewed on sticks dipped in honey from the restaurants and counted on their leftovers. Leftovers kept me and my Mother sane from the hunger and thirst. My Mother and I were strong.
I supposed we worked for a living. My Mother washed dishes from the restaurants, and I made Canang Sari offerings to the gods in the mornings with jasmine flowers. I blessed each store with my heart's prayers for prosperity and riches. I was always valuable to the people of Bali.
The gods were crazy for creating "rotten bananas," but I also knew the gods loved me and my Mother. Something over the skies loved us because the rain never got us sick, and the heat never got us burns. We lived with this earthy brown skin underneath cardboard boxes without being hurt. Why should I be lesser than human about living on the streets of Bali with my Mother? We were blessed, and we were just as valuable as others. But for some reason, I still felt bad because Dale didn't pay attention to me. I just wanted an opportunity, and a chance for a future.
"Why does your face look like a crying monkey?" My Mother asked me when I arrived in front of our shelter.
Sometimes, I wished foreigners wanted me to work for them more than others. I wanted to earn money regularly, not just beg for money every day.
"I told Ayub not to work for a foreigner," I told my Mother.
My lips puckered from bitterness. I was glad I followed Ayub and Dale to the retail store and ruined their meeting. I wanted to see how trustworthy Dale was. Ayub didn't know him. I also wanted to be hired, but if he didn't hire me although I was the one who had more tenacity, then something must be wrong. Dale was looking for innocence, but why?
"Were you competing with him? A race?" she asked me. Her hair was still twisted in a bun with the wilted white orchid.
"A foreigner liked Ayub, and wanted Ayub more than me," I told my Mother.
"Those foreigners only want labor, not sharp skills," said my Mother. "That man will be sorry later."
"I am too smart for Dale," I told my Mother. A mosquito bit me and I slapped it. It left a splatter of blood on my arm. Ouch! A prickle of bad luck.
Chapter 7 – Ayub
Dale was so rich that he had a car. A bright blue one, with coverings on his wheels as if it was a decoration for the wall inside a house. The leather seats felt soft and cold with the fresh "air conditioning" inside his car. From the stories of the rich children I met at the nearby hotels, they said 'air conditioning' was made because rich people hated to smell their own stench.
"Can you smell me?" I asked. The sour smell of my armpits made me cringe from embarrassment.
"I don't care, you can take a shower when we get to my compound," Dale said. He drove his car like a professional, meandering through the streets because I knew he must own half of Kuta.
"Am I annoying you?" I asked Dale. My jaw locked from my nerves. I felt like a rabbit in a bear's cave.
"Dale, I will work hard for you…I really will. Thank you for letting me into your nice car," I told him, to ensure him of my intents. My temples felt a sharp prick from my nerves and the back of my eye sockets tinged. I was about to cry but my mind wandered as to what else Dale owned in his "compound." An airplane or helicopter? A secret city?
Dale looked me in the eyes, and uttered, "You are not a nuisance, Ayub. You're just a kid, like any other kid."
"I am not dumb," I told Dale. Perhaps he would love me more if I was capable.
"Relax. Enjoy the ride to Kuta," Dale said.
The rice paddies to the side of the road were green and tranquil, but inside my chest was a roaring thunder. This royal ride to an adventure ahead made my temples prickled even more.
The blue sky calmed me, but my smile was stopped short as the skies suddenly became grey and the dark clouds appeared. Monsoon season was hardly near, and fear came over me but I ignored it. This was my chance with Dale, the raja, and although frightened, I believed Dale was powerful and he would protect me.
Dale drove to a side road, off the beaten path of the traffic, and into a gated area covered with tall trees. Birds of paradise with flowering blossoms were to the side of the entrance. Dale pressed a button on a small box near the driving wheel and the gates opened.
"This is your 'compound?'" I asked. The trees to the side of the gates were so tall that I couldn't look to the skies. This was a palace!
"Let's rest inside first. We'll eat supper," Dale said. He smirked to a smile and parked the car in front of the mansion that we were about to enter.
"How long can I stay here? Will I sleep here too? You said 'rest' and 'work,' and that means…," I said, but Dale cut me off.
"Yes. You will rest here. Come in," Dale said.
A tall ceramic oriental vase was in the middle of the foyer of his house, as the cream marbled floor made his house luxurious.
"Come with me to your room," said Dale. His pace was swift as I followed.
A small pond with Koi fishes was inside the living room, the symbol of prosperity and wealth that all Balinese knew. A triptych wooden carving of Vishnu, Brahma and Shiva were on the walls close to the hallways. "May the gods be with me," I mumbled. This palace made me feel small.
Dale walked ahead of me to a hallway and stopped at the first door to the left to seize it open. "This is your room, Ayub," he said, as we walked inside.
The sight of the huge bed with blue satin blankets and large matching pillows made my jaw dropped. Immediately, I sat on the bed as Dale turned to the door, and said, "Come out in a few minutes and we will eat a delicious meal." He walked outside and left me alone inside this huge room.
The still room made me sat in silence on the bed, not knowing what to do. I walked around the room and caressed the carved wooden tables. Bali was an artist's paradise and every carver seemed to live here. The table had sunflowers chiseled on the center with weaved carvings on its legs. The teak windows felt smooth with the scent of sandalwood. The silken window drapery were ivory and slightly luminescent. Fresh orchids were on the table in a glass vase, with vanilla scented candles to each side. The natural beauty of this room made me feel as if I needed to dress the part.
The mirror near the bathroom reminded me of my torn shirt and tattered shorts I wore today. I felt grateful that Dale told me I brought good luck.
"Please, Vishnu, please let Dale love me," I uttered under my breath.
People say that if an American loved you, you will surely succeed, because Americans were the world's power, and Balinese people were just poor islanders.
My mind was still spinning over the ride inside his car, the gated palace, and this vast bedroom. The soft and fluffy pillows and blue satin bed sheets made me want to sleep on top of it. I never slept on a soft luxurious bed before and every touch of the satin sheets made me quiver. The soft bed encased my thin body as I laid down, and the pillows felt like the clouds with fresh blue satin blankets that molded into my face. I laid my head on the soft pillows and nothing inside of me moved, as my eyes closed from its comfort. This felt like paradise, as I fell into a deep sleep.
Chapter 8 – Tuti
Surya left the temple to pick up furniture from the hotels and I couldn't wait! He said we will open a small café at the tourist station and he asked me and my Mother, Ratna, to help him. I wanted to decorate the café and I knew my Mother couldn't stop thinking about this whole idea.
Ayub was not around since I last left him at the bus area, but I didn't care. I couldn't stop thinking of this new job that Surya asked me. I hope Ayub wasn't sour about Dale and his opportunity. Besides, I told Ayub not to work with Dale, because I didn't trust any man who believed I was not good enough. Ayub didn't want to face the truth.
Ayub couldn't be that stupid. I haven't seen him yet, so he must be at the shores again, swimming.
"Mother! Mother! Do you think we can serve coconut juice, too?" I asked my Mother.
"I suppose if we have enough coconuts for the tourists and we have some good ones with juice inside. It will be a sweetness that is fresh to the palate during a hot day," said my Mother.
"Mother, I can see good things ahead," I told her. In an instant, I saw a vision of a small table with some sugar and napkins with tourists sitting on the chairs, saying, "Such is life, to enjoy moments like these…"
I swooned to the right, from this heavenly vision.
"Do you think the tourists will be kind and tip us?" my Mother wondered. "I heard the ladies who work at the restaurants get tips."
"What are tips? More money?!" I asked with excitement.
"It is for doing a good job, my daughter. I will hope they tip you, at least, that is unless you are too loud again," said my Mother. Her lips pursed as if she was sucking a straw of a soda pop. A moment later, she smiled, because she was just being silly.
As my Mother and I were in the kitchen making tea and coffee, Surya abruptly came into the room.
"Ratna, don't you always tell Tuti to stay close to home?" Surya asked my Mother. "I told Ayub to never go out too far from here."
"Yes, I do. I don't allow Tuti to go out to the shores without my permission. There are too many tourists and locals there. They might get lost in the crowd and be taken by someone."
"I haven't seen Ayub for hours, it is almost evening! Tuti, did you get mad at him and he ran from here?" Surya asked me. "I looked everywhere!"
"Why always blame me? It was not my fault that Dale took him for the job!"
"Who is Dale?" Surya asked, as his eyes became round and vigilant. "Did he go with a foreigner? Why did you not tell him to stop?"
My heart shattered as a beautiful glass vase that fell on the floor into pieces. "I think he went with that American, but I don't think he ran away," I told Surya. The hairs on my neck and arms rose.
"Yes! I do think he ran away! I need to ask Nyoman if he saw Ayub," said Surya.
Nyoman was a rich man who owned a large Balinese restaurant on the outskirts of Denpasar, and words around the villagers told that he knew all of Bali.
"I'm coming," I told him. I wanted to search for Ayub with Surya.
Surya gathered his walking shoes and put them on. He held my hand as we walked several miles towards the outskirts of Denpasar, passing the metro, the hotels, and the residential areas. I wasn't sure what to do other than ask a passerby if he saw a dark skinned and skinny eleven-year-old boy with black hair, walking towards the edge of town.
Ayub felt alone and he wanted someone who cared for him. That was why I always annoyed him, to make him realize that I was here for him. Was I just too much this time?
"Every little boy in Bali has dark skin, skinny, and black hair. You must see in the city, there are a million of them," said the passerby.
That man was just being rude! How could he not recognize my friend, Ayub? He was much different than other dark skinned, skinny, black-haired boys. Ayub had a soft demeanor, big brown eyes, and a heart that reminded of newborn puppies.
"I'm sorry, little girl, but I haven't seen this boy you asked us about," another man told me.
When we got to Nyoman's place at the restaurant, he didn't remember seeing a skinny brown skinned boy named Ayub.
"Are you sure you haven't seen my boy?" Surya pleaded to Nyoman, hoping he might have seen Ayub.
"No, Surya. He's probably about in the whole island, looking for a job," said Nyoman. "You had an argument? Why did he leave you?"
"He's angry because I've been strict to him," said Tuti. "He said he was going for a job with an American."
"You know there are a lot of Americans in this island? You need to go to the retail business areas, and the factories, and the big mansions. Perhaps, Ayub is there," Nyoman said.
"That is not close to Denpasar," said Surya.
Ayub might not be in Denpasar anymore, because the mansions in Denpasar were the big hotels, and most of the places in the residential area were normal size. During the night, everyone would travel to Kuta for the nightclubs. The North Shore was too far. Surely, he must have travelled in some type of transportation. Ayub must have left with Dale to Kuta or maybe he rode on a Bemo to go elsewhere.
"If I see him, I will tell you right away," said Nyoman. "I will ask my friends around the island."
My brain throbbed as I thought of how vulnerable Ayub was, and how rude I was to him. My heart thumped loud as if I had a twin that ran away because he hated me. I felt like my heart cut into halves. I should've been more supportive, but Dale stunk something peculiar. I didn't trust Dale the way I trusted Ayub or Surya. Like seeing a crab behind a rock, I felt Dale had other motives than what he said.
Surya's eyes drooped. He was quiet and didn't talk to me at all, as he was lost in his own thoughts. He held my left hand tight and didn't want to let go. We kept searching the city, walking about the retail stores and the restaurants. There were no signs of Ayub anywhere. He was gone.
I felt drops of tears on my hand, as Surya held it tight. I knew it was time to go home. He cried and we stopped by the shores to sit on the rocks together.
"He's searching for something," said Surya. "He's unsure of our love for him."
"It hurts me that Ayub trusts Dale," I told Surya. "They just met. I know Dale is rich, but not all rich people can be trusted. I wished Ayub wasn't so naïve."
The space in between my chest cracked and I felt my spirit left me. My best friend ran away. I knew what he was looking for, but Ayub never realized that I told him the truth. The truth hurts sometimes. Like the truth that we were homeless and that everyone thought of homeless children as a nuisance. The truth that I didn't trust Dale. The truth that all rotten bananas hit women, that they only wanted money and never want to take care of children. The truth that Dale could possibly be toxic. The truth that love was a godsend and it was an everyday miracle, not earned or a job to work on. Love was something as sacred as a relationship between my Mother and I. Love was something my Mother and I tended and took care of, not worked on.
If love was work, it would have been a chore. Dale could be a monster in the façade of a kind human, but underneath, he was a python waiting to attack. I couldn't handle my own brokenness anymore, because my only friend left me.
"Surya, do you really think he ran away to go work for Dale?" I looked up to Surya, only to find him in tears.
"I don't want to believe that, but we must be honest to ourselves," Surya replied.
Surya's eyes kept tearing up as if he was injured by a knife to his liver. I was not sure of what to do, other than to walk back with him to the temple. When we arrived back at the temple, he boiled some water inside the pot in the kitchen and dropped some loose-leaf jasmine tea inside. He took a small ceramic cup, poured some tea and sat on the kitchen chair quietly. He didn't speak a word and I went inside the tourist station guest room to sleep on the bed. I didn't want to start the cafe this way.
Chapter 9 – Ayub
My eyelids fluttered open as the flickering candle emitted a soft, golden light with a sweet scent of vanilla. The soft pillows felt as cotton flowers on to my face. Beside the bed was an ornate wooden table with chiseled paisley carvings on the top center of the table, covered with glass over the surface. On the table was a wooden bowl with a cloth immersed in cool water to wash my face. I sat up from the bed and took the cloth to wipe my face as the cool water awakened me.
This bed I slept on was so large that it could fit ten kids, and it felt softer than when I first sat on it. "Now this felt like home," I said to myself, smiling. The mosquito netting caught at the top as I looked above, with a round brass ring over the bed with four bed posts.
The teak shutters were directly in front of me and I walked towards it to enjoy the outside view. Dale was standing outside, speaking to an old woman who looked much older than him. Her eyes darted into mine as a nectar bat preying on white flowers. Her dark eyes were black pearls against her long white hair. The woman pointed to me and Dale looked inside. Immediately, I closed the shutters as the old woman startled me and I walked back to the bed.
A moment later, the bedroom door slowly opened.
"Let's go outside," he said. Dale pointed to a pair of new sandals on the floor and I put them on. He walked out and I walked behind him. As I walked towards the door to go out of the mansion, I searched for the triptych wooden carving of the gods. Vishnu's eyes did not wink at me. "Don't disappoint me, Vishnu," I whispered, and stepped outside towards the fountain.
The air was cool outside as if it was high tide near the ocean with the wind on my face. I knew I've made the right decision to run away from Surya and Tuti. Truly, would anyone expect me to forgo my luck?
"Are you ready to see our factory? We will need you to work with someone very closely," said Dale.
"I am ready. I've waited for moments like this," I told him.
Dale led the way towards a dirt path to the East side of the house, passing the bamboo trees, towards a small cottage that was so quaint as if it was from a folktale that the old Mothers told the village children.
The roof was thatched with banana leaves and dried branches. There was a hanging orchid garden inside multiple agar bottles, and orchids in earthen pots on the front porch. Birds of paradise were everywhere surrounding the cottage, and a large sirsak tree was to the right side of the house with branches over the rooftop. The brown walls camouflaged with the Earth and the thatched roof. There was a wooden door with a rounded top as the entrance, carved with flower motifs and leaves. The cottage had its own story to tell.
The same woman I saw outside of the windows walked outside, with her long white hair trailing three feet behind her. She startled me, and suddenly my feet stepped to the side of Dale's tall physique, as I looked down and hid behind him. Her face was that of a gorgeous middle aged woman, although her white hair made her as ancient as the Balinese temples. Her eyes stared at me deeply as black onyx stones stoked on a rainbow.
Dale knelt down and hugged me. "That's Roro. Don't be scared of her. She's our thread mistress. You will work with her. She is very kind," he said.
"Good morning, Roro," Dale said aloud.
"Morning it is, Master," said Roro. She walked to the hanging orchid gardens on the side of her cottage. There were green, white and purple orchids with agar inside large bottles hanging sideways, held by wires to the thatched roof. She took a small canister and opened one of the large agar bottles to drip some water inside.
"How old is she?" I asked Dale, flinching from the tinge of fear that lingers like fireflies in a swamp inside my chest.
"She's not old. It is only her hair that is white. She takes care of the threads my workers need every day," said Dale.
"I sensed your presence miles from here," said Roro. She stared at me. I felt my body tingle as if a needle trailed down my back.
"We hope to find you well this morning, Roro," said Dale.
"When have I ever been well?" said Roro, her eyes drooped as she looked down to her canister of water, then suddenly looked towards me. "New spirit you brought to me? Is he kind? I felt a young soul before me."
"He is everything we desire and hoped for, Roro," said Dale. He smiled at Roro and held my shoulder to lead me forward towards her.
"Hi," I said. Her face was dour even with her peaceful demeanor. I smiled at her and she smiled back, slowly stepping from one side to another with her feet. Her black pearl eyes danced as a purple strand of hair grew from the top of her head, to the side of the face. I gasped and couldn't help utter, "Your hair is so long and white, but your face, is beautiful and young."
Frightened yet enthralled, I felt my eyes locked and fixated on her. I stood frozen next to Dale. She reminded me of a white cobra dancing in front of me, swerving from side to side.
"I am a world wonder, aren't I?" said Roro, as she smiled wider, her teary eyes no longer moist, instead brightened and merry. The purple strand of hair turned to a darker shade. "You are so little and skinny." She came closer to me as Dale pushed me towards her. She tried to caress my face. I squirmed back but Dale kept pushing me towards her.
"He's here to help when you need him," said Dale. "He's from Denpasar, the homeless are plenty there, so I looked for an innocent soul. He was very kind and pure to others. I can almost feel his heart," said Dale, pushing me towards Roro by my shoulders.
I tried to dodge Roro's hands from caressing my cheek, but I couldn't. Her cold hands felt smooth on my skin, as I shivered from her touch.
"He is so precious," said Roro, kissing my cheeks. "You are so pure, child."
Roro reminded me of the white woolly bats in the dark night that feeds on insects in Bali. Scary, but fascinating.
"My name is Ayub," I told her, as I tried to gently get out of her hold. "I am here to help Dale."
"I am here to just work, and I need a good soul like you to help finish my work. Otherwise, I will never be well," said Roro, her eyes smiled at me.
"Are you sick? What would I have to do?" I asked her in trepidation. I was willing to do anything for Dale.
Anything… and I supposed I had to work with Roro, too.
"First, tell me your heart's desire," said Roro.
"Honestly, Ayub. We count on you to be truthful, remember?" said Dale.
I inhaled through my nostrils and exhaled through my mouth. I said, "I would love to have a family. That is what I wish for." I let another breath out through my mouth.
Roro softly touched my chest and closed her eyes. My heart drummed faster, nervous of Roro and her long white hair. Suddenly, her cheeks became rosy and there was color on her face, instead of the pale skin she possessed earlier. My energy diminished, and suddenly, I felt feeble and tired. Purple strands of hair slowly grew from more portions of Roro's white hairs on her head.
"I love you," said Roro. Why did she say that to me, I wondered?
The last thing I remembered was Roro touching my forehead as I fell to the ground.
Chapter 10 – Tuti
During my sleep, there was a voice in my ears from a spirit who summoned me to the shores. "Come and see me," said the voice. It was a whisper of a woman who sounded like my Mother's raspy voice, low and maternal. The voice crawled into my head as if cockroaches infested my brain.
Scratching the back of my head, I followed the voice because I wanted to know who was this voice that dared to tell me what to do? I snuck out of the tourist station and I didn't tell my Mother. I felt something secret needed to be found, like a message in a bottle, but from a spirit whom I never met.
The voice told me to go to the shore to witness an oracle.
The mist covered the beach and the tide was high this morning, although the humidity made the midst into showers of dew onto my face. I stepped on broken shells on the way to the shore, and it hurt the bottom of my feet. It felt like a bad omen.
The glimmer of the sun from the horizon was slowly rising, surely nothing would be able to hurt me with the good spirit of the sun.
A creature perched on the rocks made of mythical legends was before me at the shore. It was a mermaid. Her scales gleamed under the dawning light with iridescent blue hues on her fins and glimmering pink towards her bosom. Her long black hair shone with golden streaks, trailing to the shore. A bright light surrounded her as if the glow of the moon from the dark skies had encased her.
"Come, my child," she said, with her low raspy voice as the sound of a loving Mother to her daughter. Entranced by her beauty I stepped closer, and witnessed her lustrous golden brown skin as if glowing amber under the sun.
"Are you the Queen of the Seas?" I asked her, fixated by her full lips and radiant smile.
As I came closer to her just a few yards away from the large rock she sat on, I looked into her eyes. Her large hazel eyes allured me like beautiful marbles. She was beautiful, with a soft oval face, full lips, and high cheekbones. She stunned me as I stood sinking on the sands, captivated by her striking face. She wore a golden shell tied around her neck with the twisted green roots of the seas.
"I am a vision, aren't I? There is luck and fortune with me," she said. In her hand was a silver mirror with an ornate carving of the waves. She held the silver mirror tight as she looked into it, while caressing her cheeks.
"Would you like to see a vision from the gods?" she asked. She reversed the mirror towards my face and I saw my own reflection.
Suddenly, my reflection in the mirror transformed to a vision of Ayub standing next to Dale, walking towards a cottage in the forest. Ayub held Dale's hand, as if they were father and son. They met an old woman and as the woman touched Ayub, he fell to the ground.
I took the mirror from the mermaid's hands and asked, "Where is he?" I knew Ayub was in danger, from the vision of Dale and the old woman inside the mirror.
The Queen of the Seas smiled with her beautiful face and cheeks that rouged as her eyes twinkled gold. "First, you'll have to come with me."
"What will happen if I come with you?" I asked her, with my heart drumming fast.
My spirit told me she was temptation, not luck. I wanted to run, but my feet were planted deep inside the sand. My heart pounded hard, as the space in between my chest shifted from side to side. Her spirit frightened me slightly, although she was a beautiful mermaid.
Tears ran down my cheeks from my worries of Ayub.
"You will have everything you desire… even riches," she replied. "But you have to give up your family, and Ayub." Her hair that trailed towards the seas suddenly entwined around my ankles. As if a Boa snake coiling around my legs, her locks tightened around me as I cringed.
"No! I will not!" I screamed with terror. The waves from the ocean roared as my voice was masked behind the sounds of the waves. My heart tore in half and I knew my scream was from the pain that foretold of the sadness from leaving my own Mother in the city.
"I love my family!" I yelled from the depths of my gut. "Ayub, is my brother!"
The Queen of the Seas became angry as her hair that was black with golden streaks became silver. Her white teeth grew fangs, ready to attack me. Her youthful face that was radiant became old and wrinkled, as her now silver hair coiled up my legs, pulling me into the abyss.
Taking the silver mirror that was in my hands, I smashed it to the sands. I boiled with anger at this she-demon, as I punched the mirror with my right fist. My knuckles bled with trickles of blood as the pieces of glass were scattered all over the sand.
"COME WITH ME!" The voice of the Queen of the Seas boomed like an explosion near the shores.
Something in me told that she wanted to end my life by pulling me into the high current. With the broken pieces of glass from the mirror on the sands, I slashed off the long strands of her hair around my waist, legs, and ankles. As strands of her hair were cut off, it burned on the sand and became ashes.
"No! I don't like you!" I screamed at her, slashing her hairs into pieces.
The old Mothers in the village told me that dark spirits appears because demons loved to instill fear inside human beings. The old Mothers also told that demons would come to entice children from doing good things, to lure them away from success and from being helpful. I didn't want to be bothered by an evil spirit, or be fearful of a demon, let alone by the Queen of the Seas.
The spirit inside me spoke and told me, I was stronger and greater than the spirits of the seas, the world, or any demons that was before me. I wasn't about to let her scare me away. I knew she was not a powerful god. I refused to be afraid of any beings. Did she thought she was going to cook me like a piece of fish trapped inside a net? My brain was the size of a durian with sharp edges, too. Who did this she-demon thought I was? This she-demon might have powers, but I had powers, too. It was called grit!
"Tell me where to find Ayub!" I screamed at her face.
The Queen of the Seas was furious as her hair pulled me closer to her. Anger brewed inside me as hot water in a teapot, as I kept slashing her hair around my waist with the pieces of glass from the broken mirror.
She tried to grab me, but I stabbed her hands with the glass. The mermaid shed red blood, as humans would. I wasn't about to give up my life, my family, or finding Ayub just for her. For the first time in a long time, I was in fury.
"How dare you?!" said the mermaid. She dove into the ocean as her fins and tail wiggled under the water. "You stay away from Ayub!"
"What will happen to him?!" I screamed at her. It wasn't serendipitous that The Queen of the Seas appeared to me. Ayub must be in danger, otherwise an evil spirit wouldn't tempt me.
"Who do you think you are? You're just a mermaid!" I yelled back in anger.
"You will forever be poor and ugly!" she yelled towards me, as she splashed in the water.
The glimmering scales of the mermaid lost its shine as she swam out of sight.
"Go into the water!" I told her. "And never come back!"
The Queen of the Seas wanted to lead me to death, but I was too sharp to die.
Everyone believed that poor children like me deserved the mirage of riches and fortunes, only to reveal itself as suffering and death. The trickery of magical creatures and myths won't lead me astray, because I was Tuti. I was more than just a poor child with a shelter made of cardboard boxes. No one was allowed to hurt me, and I was not just anybody. I have the strength of a billion eagles to survive, and now I proved it!
Above me, the clouds were high in the sky as the sun chased away the darkness. The hot sun emerged from the horizon as it rose to a dawn. I breathed deep into my lungs because it was now morning and a new day arose.
Temptations were everywhere, and I needed to be smarter, swifter, and wiser. The Queen of the Seas was an omen that demons were at play in the island. She shouldn't have messed with me, because I was not a soul to be messed with.
The vision in the silver mirror told me that Ayub was in danger. I needed to find Ayub, wherever he was. To take him back to the temple and begin a new life!
Chapter 11 – Ayub
I woke up with Dale over me, feeling for my temperature inside his mansion on the sofa. "I think you're okay," he said.
"What happened?" I asked, feeling my forehead.
"Roro's powers can be overwhelming," said Dale as his brows furrowed.
"Who is she?" asked Ayub. "What did she do to me?"
"She helps my factory, and I need you to help her with love and kindness," Dale said. "She needs pure energy from children like you."
"I will help you, but Roro scares me," I told Dale, with my heart beating fast.
Dale smiled at me with his lips only lifted from one corner, and said, "If you help Roro, you can be my son. And we'll have ice cream in the future."
"I will do anything you need help with," I said immediately, because I wanted to try ice cream and be his son. I will have love and a family, after all! There was a jolt in my stomach when he told me that.
"Then, you will help Roro," said Dale. His face was stern as he placed his palm over my forehead. "You are fine. Roro is a powerful spirit. She is my best worker."
"What if I don't help her?" I asked. I wasn't sure if I could handle Roro's spirit over me.
"Then you are not allowed to be here," said Dale. His face no longer friendly, as his hands palmed my cheeks. "But, I don't think you are that dumb."
"Will she be nice?" I asked him, my eyebrows scrunching, wondering if Roro was truly a good spirit.
"She will help you. I understand you might be a little scared, but she just looks scary, not a monster," Dale said. "Hurry, I will lock the house and you will stay with her all day today."
"I don't want to go there again," I said. I stood up and walked to the corner of the room, with my hands folded in front of me.
"Remember the ice cream and this house, Ayub. If you help her, you will get to stay. If you don't, then you have to leave. It's that simple," said Dale.
I didn't want to be homeless anymore. I looked down to the ground and stayed silent for a moment. "You promised me a lot of things," I told Dale. I was hoping Dale would spoil me, but he hasn't.
"You better do what you're told, or you're out," Dale said firmly. His finger pointing to my nose. His blue eyes deeply searching into my soul. My heart beat faster, as my breath constricted because I was nervous.
"I will do as you told me," I said. I didn't want to be an orphan anymore. At least with Dale, I will be inside this house and have plenty of room to sleep, even if that meant working with a thread witch.
"Go on, then, go back to her cottage. You remember the way?" Dale asked.
"Yes, I do," I answered. I walked to the front of the bedroom, where my sandals were. I put them on to walk to Roro's cottage behind Dale's mansion. I toughened up inside, breathed in and out, and trusted my wiggly gut that told me I was stronger than I looked. I wasn't sure what I would do if I was homeless again. At least this way, I had a chance with Dale to be my father. I promised to work hard, so I shall start this very moment!
"Trust me, Ayub," said Dale from behind me. "You will be happier here than in the streets of Denpasar."
Chapter 12 – Tuti
"Perhaps he is indebted to Dale?" asked my Mother, Ratna, after I came back from the shores.
Words around the village told us Ayub ran away. Surya sat on the steps of the tourist station with me and my Mother. He recollected his mind, mending himself together with every sip of jasmine tea.
"For what, Mother?" I asked her. "Dale was the one who needed Ayub."
"I am gracious for spending just a small amount of time with Ayub. I won't spend a day without praying for his soul," said Surya, looking up to the skies.
"Dale is a rich man. He has opportunities, something we all wished for. He has plenty of money," I said. I hated money, because I knew it could spoil the heart. Just like how my rotten banana father was to my Mother. Ayub believed that with money, everything could be bought. Even love.
The morning skies undoubtedly understood my troubles, as it shone upon the temple with brightness, as if the sky was compassionate to my broken heart.
"He's no good," said my Mother. "He left without saying a word. He deserved to be missing." Sitting in front of the tourist station steps, my Mother loudly voiced her prejudices.
It was like hearing a monkey wail his mating call out loud with an annoying ring to my ear. I didn't want to hear it. I clenched my fist. I knew there were a lot of homeless boys in Bali, but Ayub was my brother. I refused to give up.
"Mother, he was desperate!" I scolded her. My Mother's judgements irritated me. She didn't know Ayub dreamt of having a room of his own, of having his own house, of having his own job. He was right. If we were homeless now, what would happen at 17 or 21? Would we still need to beg on the street and live like animals? My Mother didn't understand what he was trying to do. He wanted stability. Begging for monies everyday wasn't stability.
My Mother started to annoy me like mosquitoes on malaria season. I wished she would stop. "Why do you want me to forget about Ayub? You know he's my best friend," I asked, with my mood spewing bad water. I looked out of the kitchen window.
"I don't want you to run away like him. He is an ungrateful kid," said my Mother.
"You don't understand, he was chasing his dream of having a full-time job," I replied. Inside my heart, I didn't want Ayub to beg for monies from tourists anymore.
"You really think he's successful right now?" My Mother smirked as she sneered towards me.
I looked down to the ground, and said, "I want him to be successful. I am just defending him."
"Why are you defending someone who doesn't deserve it?" she said. My Mother sounded like the devil, spouting negative words.
My eyes moistened from tears and I couldn't believe what she just told me. I thought my Mother would be caring.
We knew Ayub since he was five years old when he first became homeless and abandoned. "You know he deserves everything in the world. You know that. He's a good kid!" I yelled back at her. I ran outside.
"Tuti…I'm sorry," said my Mother, her voice tremored.
"You've lost your confidence in our best friend!" I yelled at her from outside, near the fountains. My Mother's face was sour as pickles brine with her eyes staring at me.
"It's a dangerous game you are playing, Tuti! You are not going to be like him!" She yelled at me from inside the tourist center. She sounded like a crazy duck losing its feathers.
My Mother felt we should forget Ayub, but I knew Ayub was trying to become what he wanted most, which was a successful man. I believed in taking risks, and I knew Ayub took dangerous risks. It was like the way I wanted to be a real-life Princess for all of my life. But the difference was, I knew I had my own reality. Ayub wanted to force something that wasn't his. He wanted to become rich and have love, quick!
"Tuti, you get inside now!" My Mother yelled. "You still have to help me make some cookies and store the teas in the cabinets. You are not Ayub! And you will never be! Not while I'm here." Her voice ringing in my ears. She squealed like the sound of a dying pig. I was so annoyed by her.
I refused to let go of Ayub. I needed to do something. I needed to save him.
Chapter 13 – Ayub
The folktale cottage looked more like a strange dwelling in the middle of a forest as I looked at it. I stood outside of the cottage door, contemplating going inside.
The thatched roof looked rotten brown. The orchids in agar bottles were strangled flowers, caged inside glass bottles, desperate for air. The walls of the cottage were painted brown with water stains spotting the sides. There was mold on the bottom of the wall near the door. The novelty of it being a storybook cottage was not there anymore. Confused by the sudden change, I knocked on the wooden door with my eyes drooped down, and heard Roro's voice, "Come in, child."
As I stepped into Roro's cottage, I saw her sitting on the chair near the kitchen table with her head low to her stomach. She was like a wilted rose, and I wanted to splash some fresh water on her forehead to wake her up. The scent of mint lingered inside the cottage.
"He sent you to me?" asked Roro. Her face was pale, and her hair was white as snow. She looked drained out of her whole self and powers. The purple strands of hair that I saw this morning were no longer there. I was still afraid of her, as I cringed hearing her speak to me.
"Yes, I was sent here," I softly said to her. As I stepped closer to her, I saw the texture of her face resembled an elephant's skin, thick and wrinkled. Roro looked ill and her breath seemed shallow and weak. Her tear-stained eyes drooped, and she looked like she had cried for hours.
Sorrow so deep and hard was inside my chest, as I felt a heavy load that made me dropped down to my knees. Tears gushed out of my eyes, as this must be what Roro felt at this moment.
"You could feel my heart? What are you made of?" asked Roro, with her eyes glazed in disbelief. "Spinning the threads took all of my energy away. But I thought you were afraid of me?"
"I am afraid of you," I said to her, with stabbing pain inside my spirit. I couldn't help but to touch her feet, to empathize with her. "I feel your heart. It is very sad." Kneeling down, I kissed her feet to make her smile.
A pink hue on Roro's pale face appeared, as I felt pure energy seeped out of my fingers, entering Roro's soul from her feet. "You just gave me a new light inside my soul," she said.
Roro smiled and her face shone with a sweetness like a blooming tiger lily. Roro closed her eyes and her tears stopped. The heaviness over my back eased and I felt a flutter of joy inside my chest as if I was given a soda pop for free.
Roro opened her eyes, and said, "I am well!" Her eyes, dark and black from the loss of life, turned light brown. The pale complexion of her face became the taupe color of human flesh, and her cheeks rouged into the colors of Hibiscus. "You are a sweet treasure, Ayub."
"You are very strange, Roro. You have a power I cannot understand," I said, with stiff shins as if ants crawled up and down my legs. I shook off my legs then walked towards the other side of the room, touring the whole cottage.
Potted mint were in clay pots near the front teak windows in the front right of the room. There were wooden spindles of various colors at the other side, some on the floor and others hanging on the walls. Mahogany browns spindles with round wheels and some spindles were made of bamboos. I turned to Roro and asked, "What do you need these for? You have so many spindles."
In an instant, Roro fell to the ground again as if exhausted. The colors on her face diminished as she tried to use her energy to stand up. I quickly fetched her off the ground as I held on to her arms.
"You must be ill, Roro. You shouldn't work so hard. This will kill you," I said, worried.
"You don't know what will kill you, Ayub," said Roro, sobbing again. Her emotions shifted unstable and I was so confused how Roro could be so sad, then became so happy in the next moment. The pink colors on her cheeks disappeared. "I hope you will be strong, child," said Roro, the corners of her eyes dropped to the floor.
"I can help you with whatever it is you need," I said. "But, I want to stay alive."
Roro looked about her and saw the teapot on the stove. She turned to me, and said, "Let's make some sweet jasmine tea."
"Let's do so," I said. Willingly, I wanted to try my best to help her and not be kicked out of this compound by Dale. "I want to help you because I promised Dale."
"Let's talk more about that," said Roro.
Roro took a teapot from the kitchen and filled it with water, then placed it on top of the stove. She took some loose-leaf teas from the cupboard and took two cups for us. "You never had jasmine tea before have you?" asked Roro.
"As a matter of fact, I have," I said.
The thought of having sweet tea made the hollow space in between my chest felt whole again. But, being with Roro felt as the time I touched a hairy tarantula.
"Where did you try jasmine tea? It is not something that homeless children have privy to," said Roro.
"Sometimes my friend Surya, the temple priest, gives me tea for a drink," I told her. The thought of Surya gave me a little more courage to face Roro. "What do you do for Dale, Roro?"
"I will teach you something first," said Roro, setting up the cups on the kitchen counter. A fear emerged inside me that wasn't overwhelming, but it crept into my hands again and I trembled.
"I am all ears to your teaching," I said, trying to be courageous.
The tea was done as the loud kettle whistled. Roro poured some brown sugar into the cups with loose-leaf teas, and the hot water to follow. "Come here, sit on this chair," said Roro, pulling the chair to the kitchen table for me.
Slowly, I walked to the chair and cautiously sat down. I took one of the cups and sipped the hot jasmine tea, gradually. The warmth from the tea soothed me.
"Why do you like Dale?" Roro asked me.
"Because he is rich, of course! Riches brings forth opportunity, respect, fortune, wealth, honor, and love!" I said, honestly. "He also told me that he can be my father, once I worked hard enough."
"Will this make you happy?" asked Roro.
"Yes, it will make me happy," I told her, in all honesty.
"What are the things that will make you happy inside your soul?" asked Roro.
"Often, I am also sad, but for the most part, my friend Surya and Tuti makes me happy," I said. "What makes me happiest is that Dale will become my father, soon. I will have the love of a father. I've never had a father before."
Roro placed her cup on the table and walked towards the spindle in the front room. She took an empty spool from the basket and the wooden spindle, then placed them near the table in front of me.
"Hold my hand and tell me about the things that make you happy," said Roro. As she pulled her chair closely to mine and held my hands tenderly. "Close your eyes and imagine those beautiful and amazing things happening inside your mind. Let us begin our first project together."
I closed my eyes, and imagined.
"I see my priest friend Surya and I walking at the street market, carrying a basket to shop for food," I said, while dreaming visions of my happiness. "He barters with the fishermen, so he would get a fair price for the day's catch. We also have vegetables inside the basket. Being with Surya makes me happy, to be his helper and his protégé."
"What else would you both do with the fish, and the vegetables?" asked Roro.
Curiously, I opened my eyes and Roro's hair were brown as the fertile soil. Fresh deep brown as soothing Earth that could only come from the rains, the humid air and earth worms fertilizing the rice paddies in Bali. There were tingles on my fingertips as if small prickles of needles were poking it and my blood was being drained out of it.
The core of my heart began to thump. I was anxious to know what Roro was doing to me. Roro took some strands of her hair and plucked them out, then spun them on the spindle and spooled them into the wooden spools. Her brown strands of hair became a long piece of thread that was fine as silk.
"Is this magic, Roro?" I asked her. My head felt as a hollow as a bamboo, and I didn't know what to think because everything was so strange.
"Keep telling me your visions," said Roro. "Let me lead you."
I closed my eyes again and imagined. "The village Mothers comes to Surya. They asked both of us if we'd like to have supper with them and their families, their children, and their husbands. Their husbands would always be on the market already, making money, and the Mothers would have everything prepared at home," I said. "I see tourists coming into the temple asking for stories and legends, while the Mothers and children asked for blessings from Surya. I would serve them porridge. Those are liquid pearls." My smile brought forth happiness inside me, all the way through my fingertips.
Roro took my hand and placed it on her palms. When I opened my eyes, she took another strand of her hair that turned fresh brown. "Yes, yes, that is what I like," said Roro, gasping from delight. "You can see how beautiful and happy your visions and memories are to me," said Roro.
My heart jolted as I yanked my hand out of Roro's grip. I fell from the chair and felt the prickles of needles all over my hand and body. I ran towards the door.
"Beautiful colors, aren't they?" said Roro, smiling. Her face was now the color of light brown skin that was wholesomely human.
Strands of lavender appeared on the sides of her hair. Her skin smoothed and her face brightened. She truly was a beautiful world wonder, but I was afraid of her.
"What are you?" I said, with my hands trembling and weak.
Chapter 14 – Tuti
My heart throbbed out of my chest and blood pumped through my veins that felt warm under my skin. Ayub has been gone for several days, and my stomach churned every time I thought of how hurt he was, because I was mean to him on the day he ran away.
The air smelled like coconut milk from last night's meal, pungent sweet and pleasant, but my heart ached. A tattered shirt and underwear were inside my cloth bag with some monies from the kitchen drawer, and some of the cookies from the table. My Mother and Surya would be so angry if they knew I was going to find Ayub, but I didn't care. Ayub needed me.
On the note I wrote to my Mother and Surya, I promised to be back by the end of the week. Although, I didn't tell them where I would be, because I didn't want them to find me. I could find my own way to Kuta and I would walk there if I must. Surya's room was cozy and silent as he was still sleeping, and my Mother was asleep in the guest room, where I was asleep before I decided to find Ayub.
Ayub needed help and if he was to be shipped to another village or another island, my soul would crush into pieces. He deserved to be at this temple and to be strong here, with us. We could go back to school together and serve in the café together. I just needed to find him! The serenity of the temple did nothing for my conscience.
Sitting on my knees near the temple, I meditated near the fountain with my eyes closed, while chanting Surya's words inside my heart. "You are my Princess and you are capable of anything in this world," I recalled Surya told me. Surely, I would be able to tackle this mess. I knew the gods must have good intentions to help me find Ayub and to help us bring each other home. Meeting the Queen of the Seas was a big sign, like the dark clouds before the monsoon. I was meant to help my best friend.
My eyes fluttered open from meditation, and I looked towards the source of light in the sky that rose to dawn. The budding light made the shape of a bird in the sky with the clouds.
"The gods will guide me," I said to myself, looking at the bird-shaped cloud in the dawning sky. I stood up and took my bag with me. It was time to go.
The Bemo drivers were surprised to see me when I walked outside near their station. Their eyes widened as if they just saw a lioness out of its cage. They must be surprised by my moxie, as everyone always was. I was no baby orangutan.
"You're too young to travel alone, ya? Where do you want to go?" asked one of the Bemo drivers.
"Kuta," I replied.
"It's not far from here, but you sure you want to travel alone?" he asked me again.
"Yes. I will come back. It's nothing to worry about," I told him.
"You must be only eleven or twelve. We charge half price. Ten thousand rupiah," he said.
I handed him my monies I took from the tourist station. "Well, let's get on then. We can be there in less than an hour," he said.
"Thank you, sir," I told him.
"Why are you going to Kuta?" asked the Bemo driver.
"To find a friend," I told him.
"I hope he wants to be found," said the Bemo driver.
The peaceful drive was spent in silence most of the way. The green rice paddies were tranquil to my eyes, and the crisp air whipped my hair from the small opening of the window. A grateful warmth soothed my soul as I sat in the Bemo. I hoped Ayub will hold on, wherever he was and whatever he was doing. I knew we were soul siblings and I couldn't bear to see him be let go and left behind in life. The gods must know I would be the smart one in my friendship with Ayub, so I would be able to save him from trouble. My short and small stature might be lesser than most for a girl my age, but my powerful drive to help my best friend meant enjoying Tamarind candy in his company. Friendships were meant to last forever, and I won't let Ayub be gone before it was time.
"Pak, is Kuta crowded?" I asked the Bemo driver, wondering if Ayub would survive the congested city.
"Kuta is the big party city here. Of course, it is crowded. It's got discoes and theaters," he said. "You are not going there to dance?"
"No, I want to see the retail stores, and find my friend," I replied.
"It's best to ask the retail stores near the shores and hotels. They have a lot of workers and a lot of people come there," the Bemo driver said.
As the Bemo arrived to Kuta, there were some night clubs that just let out and a lot of people waited in line at the internet cafes. The neon lights from the discoes blared red and bright, as they hurt my senses a bit.
"Okay, little girl," said the Bemo driver. "Promise me I will see you again travelling to Denpasar and be back with your family."
"Promise," I smiled at him. The salty ocean smelled fresh but the motor oil from the street infested my nostrils. I walked to the curb and found myself in the midst of the night clubbers coming out of the discoes. A man and a woman kept kissing each other as they struggled to walk. They looked very much in love, but they stunk as moist sweat and alcohol.
A homeless man was on the other side of the street, cradling his bag as he laid down. I didn't recognize him. He wasn't from Denpasar. Passing the people towards the retail stores, I tried to peek to inside but they were still closed. Some retail stores had metal railings as doors, and others had metal doors that I couldn't see inside. The mannequins on display on their glass windows wore Batik and some fashionable attire that I didn't understand as a statement.
The smell of cigarettes bothered me. I sneezed from the smoke that were blown into my hair from the men and women walking out from the discoes.
"You! Homeless kid! Why don't you go home?" said one of the young men as he laughed. "I bet you haven't got one!"
The smell of alcohol in his breath made me dizzy as he bothered me. He didn't know how important I was as a human being. I was trying to save a soul! Besides, he reminded me of my ugly father. I walked faster and left him behind. Towards the end of the outdoor retail stores was a bench and I sat down.
I realized I had to be very careful in Kuta. I might be the Princess of Bali, but only I knew that. The bright sky turned pink as the sun began to emerge. Kuta was too overwhelming for me. Even the sky was difficult to enjoy.
I breathed in. I couldn't think of anything else except for Ayub. What he was doing, if he ate the night before, or if he was beaten or not. He was my best friend and I considered him my brother. Ayub was everything I called a companion since we were five years old.
The sun fully emerged over the horizon, as I looked to the retail stores. A woman at the café in the corner opened her doors and I watched her tidy up her area. The cookies from my bag was what I searched for, as I ate one then I stood up near the sidewalk. I let the cookies settle in my stomach before I approached her.
"What time does the retail stores open?" I asked the barista, kindly. She looked to me and smiled, as if she was a big sister from another family.
"They will open as soon as eight in the morning. They open early for the tourists," she said, with dark circles underneath her friendly eyes. She had a red flower hair pin to her dark hair that made her look young as a teen.
"Thank you," I replied. Eight in the morning was about an hour away, and I saw an empty chair in the café. I approached the chair and sat on it, putting down my bag.
"You want something to drink while you wait?" asked the barista.
"If you have something like ginger tea," I replied. "It will go with my cookies."
"You are my first customer. It will be free for you. What are you doing here this early?" asked the barista.
"I am searching for my brother. He ran away from home," I told her.
"They never come back," she said. "He must have been taken by someone, ya?"
"He said he was going to work for a man here in the retail business," I said.
"They all say the same thing, and they never come back," the barista said, shaking her head. "Where do you live?"
"Denpasar. I stay at the Jaganatha Temple from the kindness of the priest. But, my best friend was homeless, and I took him as my brother," I told her.
Her eyes drooped, and she said, "I was homeless, too. We have to be patient." Her eyes looked to me, as she said, "But, if he is missing. He won't be found easily."
The anxiety ran through my veins bursting through my skin, and I began to sob. My back felt a chill of fear for losing Ayub.
"You can ask the retail stores when they open if they've seen him," said the barista. "I'm very sorry you lost your brother. Do you have a picture of him?"
"No, I just have to ask everyone. His name is Ayub," I said, with tears in my eyes.
"It will be difficult, especially with such an odd name like his. His name is not Balinese," she said, avoiding my eyes.
I sat in that chair for a moment, drinking my ginger tea. I meditated to calm myself down and hoped Ayub was okay. Ayub was very different from the rest of us, homeless children. He had a heart that was so pure and I would never know if he was Balinese or not. Ayub was abandoned when we met and immediately, I knew we were meant to become brothers and sisters. I didn't care which Indonesian island he came from.
"I think the stores are open now," said the barista. She took a glance outside of the café. "Ask the one in the far corner there. They are the most successful. They have a lot of good products that everyone seems to love."
"I will," I said. I walked outside the cafe as the retail stores were opening their doors.
I asked the salesman of the first store, if there was a young boy about my age working for the company. "Not a child," said the man. "We only have adults working for us."
I walked to another store. They said the same things, "We don't have anyone by that description, and we don't employ children."
Some stores were angry I asked and kicked me out. "We don't serve homeless kids around here," said one of the store clerks.
When the store vendors said they would never employ children, I knew Dale was a scoundrel. He must have tricked so many children into working for him, when it wasn't even lawful to employ children.
The last retail store was full of customers and all I wanted was to ask a question about Ayub. From the corner of my eyes, I saw a woman near the front door with white long hair trailing behind her. Her face was youthful, but her long hair was white as if she was ancient. She saw me and looked away.
Immediately, I asked the store clerk, "Do you know that woman with long white hair?" I asked her with a soft and polite voice.
"What woman? There is no woman with white hair. You must be seeing things," said the store clerk, curtly.
The odd woman with white hair was nowhere to be seen. Was she an apparition?
Chapter 15 – Ayub
Roro laughed with trickles of giggles as she danced in circles inside her cottage. Her face was youthful again as strands of her hair shined with different shades of lavender and fresh brown. She looked beautiful as the different strands of hairs made her look exotic and vibrant.
My hands trembled and I felt my bones sore from deep inside my body. My legs were stiff and limp as I sat on the floor near the chairs in the kitchen.
Roro came towards me and said, "Oh, please Ayub, show me more of what makes you happy."
"I can't help you anymore. I have to stop," I told her, refusing her touch. My breath felt heavy. I fell back to the floor as my eyes stared at the ceiling.
"You must not! You are here for me! We sought you from all the homeless kids. Oh, you are so pure. You're a diamond," she said as she came over to me, caressing my cheeks.
Blood from my head rushed down to my hands as I felt dizzy. My eyes felt weak and sleepy, but I didn't want to sleep inside this cottage. Roro might use me without my permission.
"Please don't hurt me," I pleaded. Roro kept dancing, and smiling, as she turned around and around in her white dress. I saw her feet stopped as she knelt towards me on the ground. Her black pearl eyes turned hazel, but they looked sinister even with the alluring color.
"Oh, you are sleepy, aren't you my dear," she said, her eyes softening me. She pulled me by my arms and lifted me up by my waist, to lay me on top of the chair near her kitchen table. Tears emerged out of my eyes because I felt helpless as a little bug underneath the thumb of an evil woman.
"Please, don't use my energy anymore," I told her. She touched my face and her hair turned a lighter shade of brown. I felt clouds inside my head, blurring my vision. "I refuse to be touched," I told her, my voice weak. My eyes rolled back and I couldn't help but to close them to rest from the heaviness over my soul.
"You are a fool, Ayub," Roro said. "You don't have the choice to refuse." Her long white hair wrapped around my whole body, clenching me tightly.
"I thought you were partly good, even a little." I tried to get out of her hair that was tightening around my body. "I want Dale back."
"You're lucky I haven't used all of your youth and energy. That is what you are here for!" said Roro. Her heart was rotten and not an inch of her was good. She was evil in the flesh and she never asked for my permission to touch my body or my soul.
An angry heat simmered inside me. "Let go of me!" I screamed. Suddenly, my whole body felt light as feathers as a white formless energy seeped into Roro's hair, emptying me.
"You are nothing but a homeless scab, and no one will look for you! Not your friends, or anyone you know, because they don't care!" yelled Roro.
Inside my heart, there was a knife that shredded every piece of my flesh. Roro was right, I ran away and now no one would want me back and no one cared. Not even Tuti knew where I was. I chose my own ending. Tears burst out of my eyes. I sobbed and couldn't stop. "Dale didn't tell me that you're evil. I hate you so much, Roro!" I said.
"Likewise, little worm," Roro said.
Chapter 16 - Tuti
The woman with white hair glided over the ground as if she was riding on a flying lotus blossom. She left the store and I caught her in action. My feet began to chase after her, as if the goddess Shiva pushed me towards a path. I knew she was my clue to find Ayub.
Her swift pace was difficult to follow as she entered the cemetery near the edge of the dirt path, far from the Kuta Market. There was a fire inside me and deep in my gut, I knew I would find Ayub, if I could catch her.
Green moss covered the walls, as its natural green soothed my senses. Tall and short tombs made of carved soapstone with the names of the dead were on tall pedestals in the graveyard. Checkered Batik cloths tied around the stones, with flowers scattered on the ground from prayers by families and loved ones. There was no eerie mist or spooky shadows instead lush green trees soaring to the skies.
Princesses don't fear the dead, but I also knew not to step over the flowers over the tombs. Those flowers were of tears and grief from their families. They were something sacred from the hearts of their loved ones.
Graveyards in Bali were just plain temples with soap stone tombs and rotted skulls. Tourists were afraid of Balinese cemeteries, but I knew from my Mother that fear was just courage under pressure. Besides, those skulls were dead objects crushable with my bare hands.
The woman with long white hair walked towards the right, with her hair flowing behind her as if a giant white and hairy caterpillar was attached to her head. She turned to look at me as her large eyes stoked with an angry stare. She looked fierce as a vicious skunk hissing and about to splatter its urine at my face.
By this time, I was deep inside the graveyard with tombs, skeleton heads, gravestones, and shrines from families who worship their ancestors and the gods. I focused on the woman and kept walking further into a small dirt path with pebbles on the ground.
Quicker than a hermit crab trying to hide under the sand, I saw a glimpse of white hair flying in the wind that curved around a wall, deeper into the shrined area. I didn't want to lose sight of this being. She ran towards a tight path in between the walls, and I followed.
I couldn't believe my eyes! The woman with long white hair walked into a wall. Her body absorbed into the soapstone wall and disappeared, as if her body was made of particles that dissolved into the stones. I walked towards the wall of the shrine, and there was nothing there but a headstone.
Was she a god, a ghost, or a demon?
Chapter 17 – Ayub
The air inside Roro's cottage felt dry although Bali was humid. The windows were closed and all I wanted was some water. My tongue stuck to the roof of my mouth as I salivated to prevent the thirst. My forehead was moist from my sweat as if I worked on the rice paddies on a hot day.
"Please, Roro. May I have some more water? Or even tea?" I pleaded, holding my empty stomach that pained from thirst and hunger. My hands were as limp as a plant that had gone without water for days. I sat on the floor near the kitchen with my energy seeping out of my body like a dying dog. My gut felt like leeches were sucking and pinching the inside layer of my stomach. My soul felt as if I was carrying a large basket of rocks, heavy and burdened.
I begged at the street corners before I came to meet Dale as I felt the tinge of pain inside my intestines. I felt as a wasted piece of flesh when I was homeless on the street. This time, inside this cottage, I felt just as soiled added with guilt, because I did this to myself. I haven't slept or seen the inside of Dale's mansion for days. I haven't showered, and I smelled like a rotting cabbage.
Roro took my arms and carried me across the room to the spindle. Roro wound the spindle and touched my palms. She took my face and caressed my cheeks with her hands as her face was centimeters away from mine, "I need more reds," she whispered. "Were you ever angry at anyone?"
"Yes, I'm angry at you right now. I need some water," I told her, pleading and hurting inside as I was about to burst into tears.
Roro smiled a subtle smirk. Trapped and afraid, I felt Roro would boil me inside a pot and turned my life story into soup.
"Let's have some ice cream after this," she said, with her twinkling eyes smiling at me.
Ice cream sounded nice, but why must I beg for water? Roro quickly walked to the kitchen to fetch a cup of water and she sprinkled a little salt inside the cup.
"Good for the soul," she said, giggling.
She handed me the cup as I took it and drank the water in an instant. I felt the moisture of the water against my mouth. "More, please," I asked her.
"Promise to be angry and give me more reds?" she asked, as she touched my hand and my skin itched. Her touch made my skin turned dry. I wasn't used to her caresses on my cheeks and her touches on my hands. Perhaps she was trying to be affectionate. I never had a loving Mother. Would this be how a loving Mother treats her child? I wouldn't know but I didn't care for it.
Roro gave me another cup full of water and I gulped it down. I felt better after I drank it. All I wanted was to sleep in the mansion again. To be Dale's son again, sleeping inside that giant room with the blue satin pillows on a soft bed.
"Give me your elbow," said Roro, as she touched the spindle to my elbow, pulling me closer to the wicked needle.
"Tell me of how you were just mad at me."
Sadness lowered my spirit as I felt confused and tired, and didn't know what to do. Roro kept asking me to feel more emotions to change her hair into colorful threads.
"I hate having to do this for you," I blurted out. "You are hurting me with your magic."
"Good … now more anger," Roro said, as she pressed against my arms with her palms. Strands of her hairs turned deep red as blood as she plucked those strands and spun them to be spooled into thread.
My veins boiled inside with hot emotional rage bursting through my body. I grabbed the spool and wanted to throw it across the room, but Roro grabbed my hand.
"No, no, no…. you are not allowed to do that," she said, with her fingers closing my eyes, "Now…let's calm down, shall we little one?" Her touch made me weak as she took another surge of spirit from me. I felt my spirit lifted off the ground. Did I turn into a ghost? I opened my eyes, as the rancid taste on my tongue from the salty water made me cry. I was sitting on the ground, begging for mercy.
"Please, don't hurt me," I said, pleading with my eyes.
Tears dripped onto my thighs as my face lowered to my stomach. I felt like a coward, but I couldn't gain any energy to defend myself against Roro's powers. My head ached and my stomach gurgled to my neck and I wanted to vomit. What was she doing to me? Could Dale help me? Was this the help Dale wanted me to give Roro? I felt shaken to my core. The space in between my chest shattered as I closed my eyes. Perhaps, Vishnu might notice me from above.
I mumbled, "Vishnu, Ganesha, Brahma, Shiva, please hear my aching soul. Please help…"
Roro's hair wrapped around my head as the sides of my temples throbbed. Like an orange sucked out of its juices, I felt my energy taken out of me. I slumped to the ground. My body felt like a carcass.
"Ayub, remember when you were in the temple, what did you do there? Were you happy? Be happy and give me the strength of your joy," said Roro, "Now, I need more greens and yellows."
"I am so tired, Roro. Please stop," I begged her. She wiped her hair out of my face as my scalp hurt and tingled.
She massaged my eyelids and kissed them. "Now, now, little one… we must not be so demanding. You do deserve ice cream. But, I will let you rest first," Roro said.
Roro's hair had turned deep orange as ripened papaya when I opened my eyes. The right side of my ribs felt stabbed as if jagged needles poked through my liver.
"Ayub, rest a bit," Roro said. She took an orange strand of her hair, plucked it, and wound it into the spindle to spools it into thread. Her hair grew as quickly as seconds turned into minutes. Her hair was the ever-growing source of the colored threads.
"Please don't kill me…," I said, begging Roro. The tears in my eyes rushed as a river, because outside I begged for money, yet inside this cottage, I implored for life. I didn't know I was going to be her source of energy.
Roro walked to the other side of the cottage into a room and came out with a small pillow. "Come into your bedroom. You will sleep here from now on," she said. She lifted me up, and carried me to the small room in the hallway of the cottage.
"Why do I have to stay here? Will I ever see Dale again? I want him to be my father," I pleaded for answers. I still cared for Dale. Maybe Dale would still be my father? Even if I was dying? Roro laid me down on the bed, and I felt my eyes closed.
Roro softly massaged my temples. "You must revitalize your body," said Roro. "Just sleep and afterwards, we will eat dinner together."
Tingles erupted inside my head and everything turned dark.
Chapter 18 – Tuti
My mind was in chaos as if a tsunami hit my brain. How did the woman in white disappear into the graveyard wall? This must be a sign that an evil spirit was near. I dared to conquer this journey, and this mystical clue pushed my courage forward to tackle the evil Ayub was facing.
Rustling noises came from above me and as I looked up, two pairs of grey eyes stared back. It emerged quickly, swaying on branches from atop the trees, finally catapulting on top of the wall where the woman with long white hair disappeared. A small grey monkey scratched its head and wiped his eyes. Squalling and hissing, the monkey showed its teeth to me.
"Hanuman, the monkey god? Is that you?" I asked the monkey in consternation. But, what else could it be? So much happened in my life that anything was possible.
The grey monkey looked naughty, as it pursed its lips then scratched its face as it ran on the wall towards the back of the graveyard. It stopped to turn around and stared at me. Something inside me told to follow the grey monkey as the grey monkey showed its teeth at me. Was that a smile? Shall I follow? Immediately, I ran after it as quickly as I could.
Trampling over pebbles, rocks, and broken stones, I ran to follow the grey monkey with its arms and legs steady on top of the wall. The monkey squealed and jumped up the tree and swung to the end of the graveyard. It looked as if nothing else was there but a dirt path leading to a godless adventure.
"Hanuman, you can't go! You must stay and help!" I yelled, but the grey monkey leaped high and disappeared into the trees.
The grey monkey led me behind the cemetery, to a small trail behind the city. The ground was sandy but turned to asphalt as miles passed. I kept walking passing the banana trees, the trail of wild orchids, and bamboo trees onto a developed road.
A steel gate with big shrubs surrounding it was to the right of me. I peeked inside and there was a house. The house was bigger than what I could have ever dream of.
Sometimes, Ayub and I fantasize about our dream house, but even the house of our dreams was small. It would only fit my Mother and us. This house would fit at least ten people. A fountain with flowing water was at the center and the house had teak windows on the sides.
"If I don't climb over this steel gate to find out why Hanuman led me here, I would never know where Dale lives," I told myself. I dropped my cloth bag and stepped in between the ornate steel design of the gate to scale it over. The good thing about being small was how light and agile I was, compared to a fat man. Something was a blessing again.
I climbed down the other side of the steel gate, and walked to the huge wooden double door and knocked.
A man opened the door, with his face aghast as if he was afraid of me.
"Tuti!" Dale said.
Chapter 19 - Ayub
The blankets made me sweat. I heard a loud knock and I woke up with my head airy as if it was hollow. I looked around the room and there was only the bed with its wooden frame, and a wooden table with two wooden chairs.
The door creaked slowly and it was Roro, with her pale but beautiful face in jubilee.
"Ayub, I have prepared something for you," she said. "Follow me."
With my ankles weak and my legs sore, I strained to get up from the bed. I walked out of the bedroom to follow Roro, and we walked to the kitchen near the main room in the cottage.
On the kitchen table was an array of foods, with a deep-fried milkfish on a plate, stir fried water spinach in another, a bowl of steamed white rice, deep-fried sweet potatoes, with sweet soy sauce and hot sauce in small bowls.
"We will have ice cream for dessert," Roro said. She took my hands and led me to the chair. She opened the cabinets and took out a big ceramic plate for me, "Please sit down, Ayub."
Salivating from hunger, I immediately sat down on the chair. My stomach growled, but I held it for a while as Roro served the dinner on my plate.
"When one works hard, one deserves a good meal," she said. "A reward for a job well done."
"Thank you, Roro," I said. "Is Dale going to visit us and take me back to his mansion?"
Roro looked at me, and she smiled widely, "You will be here with me from now on," she said.
I looked into her eyes, and my heart dropped. "Dale said I am to be his son," I told her.
"Oh, I see… then you are," Roro replied. "But, you don't have to see him all the time."
Dale told me I would be his family, and I believed with that were certain privileges. I should have the right to live with him, in his mansion! I truly wanted Dale to be my father, and I would dedicate my life to him if he asked me to.
"You know, Ayub. With Dale, it's different. You are not always guaranteed the conditions that are promised," Roro said, as she looked at me and smiled.
"Does this mean I have to stay here and work with you forever?" I asked her. My chest dropped to my stomach and my gut felt heavy. My eyes couldn't help but to close from disappointment. "Does Dale love me?"
"Dale sometimes loves me," Roro said. I opened my eyes. Her face looked stern. "Sometimes he also doesn't, but I need to make sure I have enough threads first. Let's eat."
The deep-fried milkfish had crispy skin as I took pieces of it with some white rice. Wolfing them with my fingers into my mouth to satisfy my salivating tongue. After I finished chewing on the crispy milkfish, I yearned for more. I supposed all of the energy from making those threads meant I needed to replenish myself with these foods.
Roro looked to me as I ate my way with my hands. Her face looked endearing with her eyes twinkling. Her smile was wide with her lips stretched that looked happy from inside her soul. Roro looked as if she had feelings behind those black pearl eyes. I ate with my hands like a hungry grown man to the fullest of my stomach.
"I am proud of you, Ayub," she said. "You did well today with your memories."
"Dale said I had to do it," I told Roro, savoring every crunch of the crispy skin of the milkfish. "Or I won't get ice cream or become his son."
"Yes, let's bring out the ice cream," Roro said. "You deserve it."
Roro went to the refrigerator and took out a big bowl of chocolate ice cream with red strawberries and caramel swirls on top. My eyes bulged because I have never seen ice cream like this before. My chest exploded with excitement and joy.
The ice cream I enjoyed were pictures at restaurants in Denpasar, and never would I expected to taste a whole bowl of it. The corners of my lips lifted to a smile, and I was excited to taste the cold spoonful of chocolate, strawberries and caramels in my mouth. Some moments were meant to happen to me, like meeting Dale in the middle of a busy market place.
At this moment, I was confident, Vishnu sent the kindness of Dale and Roro to please me. What luck I had! Perhaps they would still be kind and want me as family?
"Dale made sure you got the best," Roro said, placing the big bowl of ice cream in front of me, and handed me a spoon.
With the spoon, I scooped a large dollop of the chocolate ice cream into my mouth. My thoughts were numb from the coldness of it, as the sweetness whirled inside my brain. The ice cream solaced my whole being, as if my troubles were gone in an instant. I didn't care that I was abandoned by my own Mother, and I didn't care that I ran away from the temple. I didn't care that Tuti was not with me. I got to taste ice cream, and for the first time, I felt like a kid.
"May I have this whole bowl?" I asked Roro softly, "I love it."
Roro laughed, and replied, "Yes! It was made for you."
As quick as a starving child for food, I finished the whole bowl because I was worried it would melt from the hot and humid air outside the cottage. There were some ice creams on the spoon as I licked it to completely devour the sugary delight. My stomach felt full to my neck. I never understood what "full" truly meant, until this moment. The satisfaction was up to my chest that filled me with pleasure, and for the first time I was not afraid of Roro. Roro giggled as she watched me devour the ice cream fast, as if I had an ice cream race to finish.
"What must I do now?" I asked her. Working the rest of the night making threads was the last thing I wanted to do.
"Get up and follow me," Roro said, "I prepared a bath for you." Strands of her hair turned purple with some light hues of blue, perhaps from her joy of watching me eat dessert.
As Roro opened the door to the bathroom, I stepped back in awe for in front of me was a big porcelain tub with soapy bubbles and water. The scent of eucalyptus emanated inside the bathroom. I never took a bath before.
My first luxurious shower was several days ago inside Dale's mansion, and now this? I felt privileged yet nervous, as if I won a contest I didn't deserve. What would I need to do after the bath, to truly earn this?
"Take off your clothes, then soak yourself inside this tub. Enjoy it," She took my hand and her cheeks bloomed to pink hues as she smiled.
I couldn't believe how good she was to me at this moment. First the dinner, then the ice cream, and now the bath.
"What would I need to do for all this?" There was still a prickle of fear inside me.
"Nothing. Enjoy it. I will be back," Roro said, as she walked out of the bathroom. Her smile tipped to the side, almost sly.
Chapter 20 - Tuti
My heart yelled, "I found Ayub!" but my mouth didn't utter a word. Dale's eyes bulged as he saw me at his front door. He froze and hesitated to speak.
"Come… in!" Dale said.
I walked into his house and realized it was as big as a five-star hotel.
"You are very successful," I said. In awe, I looked at the high vaulted ceiling and was mesmerized by his palace. A large vase was in the middle of the anteroom, filled with bamboo sticks and fake flowers. My bare feet felt cold on the cream marbled floor. Everything in his house sung luxury.
"I am happy you are here, Tuti," Dale said. He was lying, because I knew that I was the last thing he wanted to see. Dale knew I was not as naïve as Ayub, because this Princess knew that Dale was no harmless potato.
"Where is Ayub?" I immediately asked him.
"Is that why you're here?" Dale asked me. He lifted his left eyebrow and smirked.
"I am here to take Ayub back," I told him.
"He is my son now," Dale said. "Come in, sit down."
Following him to the next room, we passed the fancy kitchen and the lowered dinner table. The living room was vast with the Koi pond and the cream marbled floor cooling my warm bare feet. We walked towards the sofa and he sat down. "Tuti, why don't you rest a while? Enjoy my house and you will see why Ayub loves it here," he said.
"Where is he?" I asked Dale again, standing with my feet apart. There were tricks in Dale's words, as I knew there was something lurking behind his intent. "I don't want to waste your time. Where is Ayub?"
"Come, Tuti. I have strawberry cookies," Dale said.
That did sound good. Perhaps, I should play his game to find out where Ayub was.
"Five minutes, and we will go find him," said Dale.
Suddenly, my eyes wandered to the other side of the room where there was a triptych wooden carving of Brahma, Shiva and Vishnu on the wall. It demanded my attention and I felt their eyes fixated on me.
"You like that carving, Tuti? Ayub loves that thing," Dale said.
"Vishnu is his favorite god," I replied. I looked around the room and realized that Dale was as rich as a raja.
"Try some strawberry cookies with me, and we can have coconut juice with it," said Dale. "I will get it from the kitchen." He walked away. His house was so large compared to the cardboard boxes shelter I lived in. The ceiling was brightly lit, and his sofa was so soft. I've never sat on a sofa like this before. I slowly walked towards the couch and touched the leather seats.
Dale came back with a glass of coconut juice. "Here, drink this. You must be thirsty," he said.
A plate of strawberry cookies was placed in front of me. They looked like vanilla shortbread with strawberries jellies on top. My palate yearned for it. I felt a fear inside my gut that rumbled. I was hungry, but I didn't want to admit to it.
"Tuti, don't be afraid," said Dale. "You are welcome here."
The cookies were round, with a strawberry round glaze in the middle. They looked scrumptious. The tall glass with the coconut juice looked cold and fresh, with pearl droplets of dew outside of the glass.
"I will eat one with you," said Dale. He took a strawberry cookie and ate it. He closed his eyes, savoring it, and said, "Yummy…Tuti, you should taste this. Ayub loved it."
Quickly, I took a cookie and put it inside my mouth. I crunched and munched, and it tasted like nirvana. The shortbread broke apart on my tongue and the taste of the sweet strawberries melted in my mouth. Strawberry cookies were luxury, and I have never had these delicious cookies before. The fresh coconut juice was inside a tall glass with droplets of dew rolling down. Water was a privilege and having free fresh coconut juice was a miracle. I took the glass of coconut juice and slurped it. Good Shiva, I wasn't supposed to do this, but they tasted so good!
"I'm so glad you decided to try it," said Dale. He smiled from ear to ear and sat closer to me. "You have nothing to be afraid of."
I kept munching and ate more of the strawberry cookies. My Mother never baked these types of cookies before.
The cookies were sweet to my palate with a soft crunch that was so delightful.
"Where is Ayub?" I mumbled with my mouth full.
"We will see him tomorrow," said Dale.
My stomach still grumbled. I grabbed another cookie and swallowed it. I took the coconut juice and finished it. The pearl droplets of dew almost made me drop the glass on the ground. I held it tightly. This moment of scrumptious but sinful delight felt so precious. It was as the time my Mother told me to stop taking the flowers from the hotel lobbies for my hair, but I wanted to truly be a Princess for once.
"I will bring some more," said Dale. He went away and came back with another plate of strawberry cookies and this time, a whole young coconut with the top shaved off. "Eat as much as you'd like, Tuti. Ayub will be happy to see you."
I took a breath and ate two more cookies as my stomach was full. My Mother would be angry at me, if she knew what I was doing and eating, and whom I was with. I was eating foods I didn't earn, even without monies I begged for.
I drank the coconut juice from the shaved shell, and tried to ignore my guilt. "I've never had these treats before," I confessed to Dale, as coconut juice squirted out of my mouth, accidentally.
"I know," Dale said. His smile was wide, and his blue eyes twinkled. "Tuti, I will be right back. Just sit here and enjoy the coconut juice."
"I will wait for you, as long as you promise me that you will take me to Ayub," I told him.
"We will see him as soon as possible," Dale said. He put on his slippers and left me sitting on the sofa. I looked towards the wooden carvings. Brahma's hands moved palm to palm into a prayer stance as Vishnu's and Shiva's eyes bulged to stare at me.
I swallowed the cookies fast. The gods were always watching.
Chapter 21 – Ayub
The bath water was so warm that my fingers wrinkled at the tips. I dipped under the water and felt the eerie tingles of the hot water on my scalp. Bubbles floated over my face and I blew them away. Surely this was a work of the gods, these bubbles. I knew Visnhu was with me in spirit, because he has the spirit of the good elephants and they loved water.
I heard the front door to the cottage slammed and I heard Dale's voice.
"Roro, I need you to work harder," he said. What did Dale say? Work harder? Roro and I needed rest.
"I'm taking this slowly. Ayub is very pure. We have to do this slowly," said Roro.
"I made sure he was innocent, but you need to do this faster," Dale said. "You are not getting any younger, Roro. And I need to make sure my stock is full."
As I wrapped my shoulders with the towel that was before me, I put on my shorts quickly and peeked outside the door. They didn't notice me as I softly tip-toed out to the hallway, hiding in the shadows.
Dale was walking around the living room, while Roro was on her knees, begging. "I love you, please let us do this slowly," she said. Her eyes were red and moist as she pleaded to Dale, "Please?"
Dale kissed Roro's forehead and a dirty brown mark appeared where the kiss was. She touched it and reached for Dale further. "Please master. That was the most gracious gesture. Please. More of those," Roro said. Dale looked to her and reached for her long white hair, as it was everywhere.
"You are a magical creature, Roro. Why don't you create a spell?" said Dale, swiping her hair away on the floor with his slippers.
Roro's face became wrinkled as she began to sob and said, "I deserve love, Master, and you are my true love. Please, Master. I have no spells, Master, I am just a worker for your love."
"Roro, you must understand. Love doesn't come easily. You must earn love, and I need more threads as soon as possible. Tomorrow," Dale said, softly to her.
"Master, please do promise me your heart?" Roro pleaded on her hands and knees.
"We will speak about this soon," Dale said, clenching his lips as he walked out of the cottage.
Was love something you earn? Was it the same as money? I loved Dale since he told me that he wanted me to be his son. Love was just love, why must there be so many conditions? I loved Roro, although I was afraid of her. She fed me ice cream and that delicious crispy milkfish.
If Dale said love had to be earned, have I earned enough for him? When will I know his love was complete for me? Did Roro earn enough, yet? She has lived here for a very long time.
"Roro, are you okay?" I stepped out of the shadows in my towel, to see if Roro needed more help.
Roro nodded. "I'm sorry you had to hear that," she said.
"Why is your face wrinkled now?" I asked her. I wondered why Roro cried so much.
"Fear makes me older," Roro said. She stood up and walked towards me.
"Why are you always so sad, and Dale is always telling you what to do?" I asked her.
I stepped back towards the wall in the bathroom as she kept approaching me.
"I need you right now," said Roro, as she pulled me by the arm to the front room near the spindle again. That one particular cursed spindle had its own bad spell and I refused to touch it.
"I don't want to, please let me enjoy the night!" I screamed, as Roro dragged me closer and closer to the wooden spindle.
"I have fear inside right now, so I need you to be peaceful, Ayub," said Roro, her eyes filled with tears. Roro seemed broken within her soul, as her lips trembled from crying. Her eyes lost its shine as she took me by my arms. "Let me feel the peace inside your heart right now. Please Ayub," she begged me.
Roro pulled me close to the spindle as I writhed, holding on to the towel wrapped around my shoulders. My head felt the same tingles I felt before. My brain felt like a hollow conch shell as my chest thumped out of fears.
The strands of hair in the middle of Roro's head turned pastel yellow. "I love you so much, Ayub," Roro said, suddenly all smiles. Her face became young again, as my brain itched and my temples tinged as if a needle pricked through it. Roro touched my forehead and I felt my skin dried. Everything she touched on my body became dry and my body felt like an old dusty cloth.
"Will I ever become normal again? I am terrified of you," I told Roro.
"You're normal now, and so am I," she replied, soothing the strands of hair. Her face was smooth again, as if a piece of aloe erased the wrinkles on her forehead.
Roro's emotions and desperation confused me. I saw her plead for love to Dale and she looked shattered like a broken rice bowl. But now, Roro seemed fine because I was here with my peace taken out of me. Was I a hero to her? Or was I an object to her?
"We are normal as long as we adjust to the conditions we are given," Roro said, with a smile so wide that I knew it was fake. Something inside me told that Roro didn't love me, but she loved what I could give her. Love meant never feeling fear or confusion, but Roro and Dale puzzled me and caused me to fear for my life. Did they truly love me?
"When will you tell me what you really do with these threads?" I asked her. "If you are so magical, how come you can't turn all of the threads to different colors yourself?"
"Your mind is full of rubbish right now!" she suddenly yelled at me. "I want the happy Ayub back!"
My lips trembled because inside me was a crushing fear. I felt my destiny was gone because of Roro's magic. But, I didn't want to become homeless again.
"Be happy, Ayub. I've needed more yellow this whole day," she said. She plucked some strands of her light yellow hair and spun it on the spindle. She kissed me on my forehead.
The cursed spindle wound itself and began to turn on its own, spinning the threads around the wooden rod. The cursed spindle emitted a light through the threads. It had a spirit of its own. The threads were so bright they looked like strands of gold under the light.
"You are such a gift, my child," Roro said, as she kissed my hands.
I yanked my hand and saw my skin cracked. The threads had turned bright yellow as ripened ginger, and it glowed as the spindle kept spinning.
The spindle and Roro were cursed. Was I cursed, too?
Chapter 22 – Tuti
Where on Earth did Dale get these cookies? Surya never had these cookies and I'd be lucky to have coconut juice. If a god made these cookies, I would tell all the children in the village to pray.
My eyes watered because I was disappointed in myself for eating them. These cookies must be from America, the land of candies and cookies factories. The strawberry jelly was just the right amount of sweetness to my tongue. They were so delightful, I had to close my eyes to savor my moment. Dale came back from behind me and sat down on the sofa next to me. He looked anxious and out of breath.
"Do you always have these cookies here?" I asked with my mouth full. I took another sip of the coconut juice. My good Shiva, this was the liquid of the gods. "This is refreshing," I said to Dale. His trancing blue eyes smiled at me.
"Let's eat real food. Sit down at the table," Dale said.
More food? Better than these cookies?
"Wait, I want to see Ayub!" I yelled, as coconut juice spurted out of my mouth.
"Be patient, Tuti. We will see him for sure. Just enjoy yourself first," Dale said. "Please?"
His blue eyes spoke sweetness, but I was not sure of his heart. He still looked like a snake to me, and it didn't matter that he was handsome as a king.
"How do I know the food is not poisoned?" I asked, tersely.
Dale leaned towards me with his right hand on his heart. "Well, I'm not a bad person, Tuti. If that's what you were thinking," he said.
"I am not sure about that," I replied, still chomping.
"You'll see. You can work for me too, and you can stay here as long as you want," he said.
His smile raised the hairs on my arms. "Was that the deal with Ayub, too?" I asked, gulping down cookies.
"Yes. Ayub loves it here," Dale said.
"How do I know you will keep your word?" I asked.
Dale turned around, walked to the kitchen and came out with a large plate of Balinese fried chicken. The scent of palm sugar, hot red peppers, garlic and spices made me salivate. He placed the chicken on the dinner table, near the sofa. He walked back to the kitchen and came out with a plate of stir-fried vegetables with a big bowl of steamed white rice. He set them both on the kitchen table, took the plates that were already at the dinner table and placed them closer to each other.
"Let's have dinner," he said, as he pulled the chair and sat down.
My heart thumped in worries because I wasn't sure what to do.
"Relax, Tuti. I'm just hungry. I want to eat dinner," said Dale. He scooped some white rice and placed it on his plate and some on the other.
"How come you have so much food? You bake and cook?" I asked and wondered if there was a chef in the kitchen. Adults used food to lure children into temptation, and I never understood why. The old Mothers in the villages told me that too much foods would curse the mind. The strawberry cookies and coconut juice might have cursed my mind.
"I buy them from the restaurants near the market. Only from the best places in Bali," Dale answered. His left eye winked at me.
My fingers fidgeted and came to my lips. I was still hungry, but I wanted to find Ayub, not dinner. I would starve for my friend. Ayub was my reason for being here and to bring him home. That was all. I wished as a Princess of Bali to have special powers, such as flying, being courageous, or never being hungry again. Even for love or acceptance.
"Do you like eating with these?" Dale asked me about the fork and spoon.
Balinese eat with our fingers, so I shook my head. "I don't want to eat anything more," I told him. Dale took the spoons and forks from the table and put them to the side.
"Come, eat" he said, offering a whole table of delightful dinner.
I swallowed my own saliva. "No thank you. I want to see Ayub," I said.
Dale smiled, and said, "All you can eat, Tuti. This is your home too now."
I won't dare to sink those words inside my heart, because my desire was to bring Ayub back to the temple. Dale pulled two chicken drumsticks on his plate, and bit into it as his lips glistened with oil.
"I'm eating," Dale said, scooping the rice on to his plate.
He ripped more chicken flesh and a pinch of rice, then put them in his mouth. The mix of sweet and savory scent of palm sugar, hot peppers, and garlic made my tongue water. But, I restrained myself because I won't be the servant to foods or temptations.
My Mother and I ate leftovers from restaurants every day. The buttocks or scraps of the neck of fried chickens were what we sucked dry. We crunched the bones into pieces to savor the flavor on our tongue. Scavenging from the trash cans were our last resort, but on desperate days, we would. Most days were full of luck because my Mother washed dishes from the restaurants, and they provided foods for us in return. Those days, we would have a meal but divided it in half to share. Being with my Mother was blissful even if it was homelessness.
Dale tore some dark meat into his mouth. "You should taste this piece, it's soft and so good for the stomach," he said.
"I need to see Ayub," I told him. My shrewdness came as I sat on the chair with my arms crossed.
"We will see him tomorrow," he said. "But he won't want to go back with you. This is his home now."
Like a huntress, I pierced into Dale's eyes and demanded, "I want to see him as soon as possible."
Dale kept eating, as I watched his monstrous appetite fueled itself.
Chapter 23 – Ayub
The bright ginger color of the threads tickled my brain.
"You see how amazing you are?" Roro said as she smiled at me. "Do you know how to create green?"
"Will you be kind to me if I do?" I asked. Watching Roro's strands of hairs being spooled into threads was captivating as dolphins dancing in the ocean after sunrise.
"Here, sit with me," Roro told me. She plucked a strand of her golden strands and touched my hand. "Imagine your birth Mother and tell me what you see in your vision."
As I closed my eyes, I envisioned Bali and imagined my birth Mother. Her round face with sweet brown eyes, perfectly shaped lips, and dark brown skin. Her infectious smile brightened all around her. The wind caressed her curly black hair that was long coils of beautiful. Looking at her was as watching a butterfly flutter its wings in the middle of a sea of roses.
"I see my Mother holding my hand," I told Roro. In my vision, my Mother and I walked on the muddy path near the rice paddies. Our feet soaked in the mud as earthworms wiggled in between my toes. I squirmed and my Mother laughed. She ran ahead of me towards the mountains, where the trees reached the skies. She pointed to the tall trees, and said, "Wonders of the world." The harmony of my heart with my Mother and the earth made me smile during this visions inside my mind.
Roro tapped me on my shoulder, and I opened my eyes. "Look at what you did," she said. Long strands of her hair towards the back of her head turned into the most vibrant green with a shine over them. She ran her fingers through those strands and placed them on her chest.
"Wow," I said. Roro's green strands of hairs were brilliant as the colors of the leaves of a fertile banana tree. "Beautiful greens."
"Now, we can turn it up a shade, to make it darker," Roro said.
"Darker?" I asked and wondered how.
"Think of the beautiful women in our island, the children, and the families," said Roro.
As I closed my eyes, I was reminded of Tuti's Mother, Ratna, and her embrace on the first night I became homeless. Her heart was pure and nurturing to Tuti and me. Because of Ratna, I felt less ashamed of not having a mother of my own. The full moon felt safer and less daunting from the reminder of my own Mother's abandonment.
"Open your eyes, Ayub," Roro said. The green strands of Roro's hair turned a darker shade of green. I smiled and felt an endearing sweetness in between my chest. As a dove flying over a field of sunflowers, there was magic inside this cottage.
Suddenly, my skin on my arms became dry and as I touched my face, I felt wrinkles over my face and neck. I gasped, "Roro, what do I look like now?"
Roro looked to the ground and wept. "I am most sorry, Ayub," she said.
I tried to search for a mirror inside the cottage and couldn't find one. "Why haven't you got a mirror, Roro?" I asked.
"It is the devil's creation!" Roro yelled.
Roro pulled me beside her, and said, "Don't you worry what you look like. It's your energy that can create the most amazing colors." She started the spindle again. "Trust me, dear Ayub," she said softly. "Oh, Dale will love me for these colors!" Roro's eyes were now hazel and wild.
My knees were weak, and I sat on the floor quietly. My heart broke in halves, as I knew I became damaged. Feeling helpless, I slowly walked to the bedroom. Softly, I laid on the bed and wept as I left Roro alone because it was all I could do.
Chapter 24 – Tuti
After dinner last night, Dale showed me where Ayub slept when he first arrived to this mansion. All I could do was wait for the next day. The room was vast, but it wasn't home for me. This was Dale's house, and I didn't want this place to be my life story.
My sleep wasn't special. It was as sleeping on the side of the street, except softer. A bed with an omen was no bed at all. The only good thing was, I never knew how it felt to sleep with soft pillows. I touched the pillows and they felt as soft as the clouds in the sky. But, I felt as a sacrifice inside this house. Dale's mansion felt like a trough I had to go through.
Dale gave me clothes to wear the next day, and I took a shower before I put them on. The bathroom was clean, not like the community bathroom with the mold on tiled walls from the sands in between the cracks and the humid air. I didn't care about these luxuries, because I was not here to enjoy it. I was here for my best friend, to take him back home.
The pair of shorts and shirt Dale gave me were snug. I didn't mind it, because I never had new clothes before. The shorts were khaki brown and my Batik shirt had orchid flowers embroidered on it. My ponytail felt tight with the hair tie that Dale gave me. I felt like a kid. I never felt like a child, because I always felt as if I was made to be older than the rest. But, this time I was a kid. This must be what eleven-year-old girls felt like during their holidays.
There was a knock on the door.
"It's me, Dale. Ready to meet Ayub?" he asked from outside the room.
I was eager to hear those words. "Yes!" I said, and ran to the door and opened it.
"Then we shall go to Roro's cottage now," Dale said.
We walked out of the mansion towards the path with soursop trees. "Now, Tuti. Ayub has been working hard, and he likes having a home. He might want you to stay here with him."
"I just want to make sure he is okay," I said, biting my lips.
Inside my heart, I spoke different words. Words to persuade Ayub to escape from here and come home with me.
"I don't want you or Ayub to leave this compound," Dale said. "I will try everything I can to make sure you will stay."
Of course, Dale was going to say those words and I knew Dale would want me to be his next protégé. I was no young avocado, because my mind was ripe carambola. Dale wanted something out of Ayub, but I didn't know what.
The walk was brisk as we arrived at the cottage very quickly. The thatched roof covered the cottage with molded walls and teak brown windows were on the sides. Orchids in agar bottles were outside of the cottage. Birds of paradise were to the left side with more orchids on the ground surrounding the cottage.
"This place is very strange," I told Dale. "Who lives here?"
"Roro. She is my thread mistress," said Dale. He knocked on the door.
The face of the woman I saw in the graveyard opened the cottage door. "Hello, Master," she smiled. I gasped, because she was the same apparition who disappeared into the wall.
Dale looked to me, and asked, "You've met her before?"
"No, I never met her," I replied, with my right palm on my lips.
"Roro, this is Tuti," Dale said, as he introduced me to the she-demon I saw at the graveyard. Her hair wasn't white anymore, as the sunlight spilled over her flawless face. Her hair was light brown with strands of gold, lavender, orange, and blue, and her eyes were not black, they gleamed a hazel shine. She looked happy as if she just ate some strawberry cookies. She looked towards Dale as her smile grew wider, revealing a stunning woman in front of me.
"Master, I am so pleased to see you," said Roro, her eyelashes batting.
Dale stared at her face and didn't say a word. "Roro, you look different," he said.
"Do you think I am beautiful?" Roro asked him. She caressed her hair and reached for him. He dodged and stepped to the side. Roro looked to me, and said, "I am so happy to see you."
"Is Ayub with you, Roro?" I asked her immediately.
"Of course. He is sleeping right now. Please come in," Roro said, as she opened the door wider. Her cottage had a kitchen and I saw some rooms down the hall.
"I cannot stay," said Dale, stepping away from the door.
"Master, but you are my most honored guest. Please, come and kiss me," she said. "Don't you think I am beautiful?"
Dale jumped back. "Your beauty doesn't last. Besides, you are to work for me, Roro. Not to make me feel uncomfortable," said Dale, stepping away from Roro. "Just work with Tuti and Ayub. I want those threads immediately. You must do as you are told."
Dale walked away briskly, and left me with Roro. She watched him walk away from the cottage as tears hovered in her eyes. Roro opened the door wider to let me inside the cottage.
"Dale doesn't love me," she cried. I walked inside her cottage and felt the dry air.
"You are very strange, Roro," I told her. "Why would you like Dale?"
Roro was lost in sadness as she hunched her back and stepped inside her cottage. She looked as somber as Ayub would be during full moons on summer nights.
"I'm sorry," I said.
"Dale doesn't love me," she kept saying. Roro walked to a wooden spindle and plucked a strand of her hair as she sat down in tears on the floor. The colorful strands of her hair became grey as my mouth gaped open. Each color disappeared as particles of white glittered and diffused into the air. Reaching to grab some particles, I jumped high to reach it, but I couldn't catch it. Roro's rosy cheeks subdued into her pale face.
"Where is Ayub?" I asked her.
"Ayub is tired, so he went to sleep," Roro said.
"But, I need to see him," I told her. Ayub was who I came here for, not to befriend this frightful creature and her magic.
Roro looked into my eyes, and her eyes smiled. "You have a strong spirit, little one," she said. Roro got up and walked to the kitchen and took the tea kettle to pour some hot tea into a cup. "Please come and sit in the kitchen with me. We will have some tea and cookies," she said.
"No, no more cookies, but I will take the tea. You must promise to let Ayub and I see each other again," I said to her, as I tried to grab another glittering particle soaring to the ceiling.
"You will see him. Let him rest and we can savor this tea together," said Roro.
Thinking, I looked to the ground, unsure if I could trust her. I felt a soft sore inside my chest, as if I had a bruise in between my ribs. I said nothing.
"Come… sit," Roro said.
Reluctantly, I walked towards the kitchen table. I sat down on the chair, with a soft whirl inside my gut. Roro took two cups and set them in front of me. A jar of honey and some mint leaves were on the table. She plucked a mint leaf and put a little bit of honey into my cup.
"What must I do for you, Roro?" I asked her. My mind ticked like a clock, hoping to see Ayub again, then to run away from this cottage as fast as we could.
"Do you remember a mysterious or scary moment?" Roro asked me.
"Yes, of course," I told her. Although my gut whirled a slight fear, I knew my soul was stronger than Roro.
"Close your eyes and picture it. Let me hold your hand," Roro said, reaching for my hands.
"Why must you hold my hand?" I asked her, immediately, taking my hand away.
"Do you want to see Ayub?" Roro asked. I nodded. "Trust me," Roro said. "Envision a scary moment."
As I closed my eyes, I envisioned moving pictures of when my Mother and I were hungry while walking about in Denpasar. We saw a man skinned a live snake in the market. He peeled the snake skin as if peeling an orange. The naked snake meat was white as a giant slithering tape worm. I hugged my Mother's arms tight, afraid the snake would leap and wiggle into my mouth.
The man in the market deep fried the snake into a boiling hot oil pot and asked us if we were hungry. My Mother and I nodded, and he gave us some of the snake meats. It tasted great with the yellow curry sauce.
"Tuti, you are magic," said Roro.
Vibrant fuchsia strands were in her hair when I opened my eyes. Roro smiled full of life.
"I have never seen fuchsia this hot before!" Roro said, plucking the fuchsia strands as she spooled them into threads. "Dale gave me a beautiful phoenix of a child."
"I'm the Princess of Bali," I told her. My heart beating fast as I felt my tongue froze and tingled.
"You certainly are," Roro said. "And I know just how to use that feisty vigor you have."
For the first time in a long time, I was scared.
Chapter 25 – Ayub
Tuti's voice awakened me. Perhaps it was a dream? I slowly stood up from the bed and softly tip-toed towards the kitchen. My eyes burst into tears as I shook to the ground in trepidation. Tuti was sitting next to Roro, helping her with the threads.
"Tuti!" I called out her name, and she ran towards me. Tuti hugged me tight and kissed me on my cheeks.
"Ayub! I miss you," she said. Tuti's eyes looked wide, and she stood in front of me with her mouth open. She looked as if she just saw a monster, as her face cringed at me.
"Did you run away?" I asked her. "Why? I wanted to work for Dale, but you… you didn't need to come find me. Why did you come?"
"Are you crazy?!" she answered. "I won't survive knowing that somehow you were here with Dale and will never come back to me. We were never meant to separate. We are brother and sister!"
A fuzzy warmth grew inside my chest, and it travelled to my heart.
"Tuti, you are my sister forever," I told her. My soul felt a soft hug encasing me.
"Ayub, you looked different, almost horrible," Tuti remarked. "What did you do to yourself?"
Roro looked towards me, and my chest felt suffocated.
"Tuti, I wish you never came," I told her. Tuti's eyes grew wider.
Chapter 26 – Tuti
Ayub was alive! He had more meat on his bones, but he looked ancient and fragile. What happened?
"Ayub, how come your hair is greying?" I asked. Ayub's hair felt coarse with streaks of white hair. He looked like a greying old man, but he didn't grow taller, only fatter. Ayub seemed hurt as if he got sick but he ate some food at the same time. Something was wrong. Spiders don't weave webs on moist rocks on the shores, and young boys don't grow old and tired overnight.
"Ayub, are you okay?" I asked him.
"I am tired. It has been a long week," Ayub said.
It was not even noon, and Ayub was tired? Usually, we would play near the shores and run to the market begging for food and money from the tourists. Ayub looked too feeble to run. Ayub slowly walked towards the chairs in the kitchen table with a slight hunch. "I need to sit down, I might need to help Roro again," he said.
Roro came to us, and said, "Now, my kids, we need to celebrate! We are a family now!" Roro danced around in a circle in her white dress, with her colorful hair whipping my face.
"We barely met, Roro," I told her. Besides, no one could replace my Mother. Even with her temper and even if she felt Ayub was ungrateful.
"But, you live here now. With me!" She laughed. She took her hair and twisted it into a bun. "Now, let's see. We can eat together and we can have a thread gathering together! We can make so many threads. I think Dale will fall in love with me!"
My breath felt short from the fearful thoughts speeding inside my brain. What did she mean by 'thread gathering?' Why was Ayub old? How could he age in such a short time? How would we run away from here when Ayub couldn't even walk?
"Tuti doesn't have to help us," said Ayub. "I don't want her to feel so tired like me."
"Oh, Tuti wants to work for me and Dale. She told us that she came particularly for you. But, she told me that she would work with us, too," Roro said with a huge smile. Her arms wide open in triumph as if she won a prize.
Tears were in Ayub's eyes. "I'm so sorry, Tuti," he said.
"I don't understand, what did you make Ayub do for you?" I asked Roro.
The skin on Ayub's arms felt dry when I reached for him. My skin was tight, supple and warm, as a child's skin. Ayub's skin felt like my Mother's skin, worn from the sun.
"Why does Ayub feel this way?" I asked her, with my gut simmering like spicy red curry from the anger inside. There was nothing in this room that would surprise me. Roro looked like a thread witch, but what were those threads for? What type of spell did Roro cast upon Ayub? Did Roro made Ayub eat those threads and caused him an illness?
"Tuti, I simply asked Ayub to help me with his memories. It is very simple and harmless," Roro said. Roro touched my cheeks, and a part of my spirit lifted out of my body as if a wind had whipped me from within. I almost fell, but I stood strong with my feet further apart to hold my balance.
I looked to Roro and wondered why I swooned from her touch. But, the might to help Ayub was stronger than the fear I felt towards Roro. "I will work for you," I told Roro. "But I want to know what you did to Ayub."
"Roro, please don't hurt her," Ayub pleaded.
"No, I want to know," I said. "Roro, I'm here to work with you. I promise!"
Ayub knelt to the floor and cried.
Chapter 27 – Ayub
My heart was heavy with regret as I heaved. I didn't want Roro to touch Tuti. My knees on the ground felt sore and I could barely stand up. My soul felt gaunt as if I was scorned by a million people.
"Ayub, would you like some candied plums?" Roro asked me.
Roro always knew how to entice me, but she won't be able to give me my energy back. She walked to the cupboards and took out a small canister of candied plums. She handed me a moist round bulb of the sweet plum, as I put it immediately into my mouth. The molasses taste of sweet plums squirted liquid sugars on my tongue.
"Can you give my soul back?" I asked her, with the plum aftertaste. My chest still heaved in pain. I won't be able to play with Tuti the way we used to. I won't let Roro hurt her.
"Ayub, tell me what's wrong?" Tuti pulled on my arms and cried. She looked lost as her eyes pleaded for answers.
My lips muted as I was afraid to tell Tuti that Roro could take away the energy of life and the joy of childhood. I didn't know how important it was for me to have those things, until they were gone.
"You know what other homeless kids are doing right now? They are starving to death and they don't have a bed to lay their heads on to go to sleep. But you two are privileged," said Roro. "You both have everything now. You just need to work with me."
Roro smiled as if she just gave me the whole world. She truly was a witch, and I felt my chest burning in volatile hate brewing inside me. What I would give to have my youth, hopes, dreams, and joys again, running around in the temple with Tuti.
"Ayub, how can I help you?" Tuti asked me.
"I felt old and used from the work I do," I told Tuti. "I suppose I agreed to it. I gave Roro all of me."
"Roro, what did you do to him!? Tell me!" Tuti yelled at her, grabbing Roro by her hand. Tuti began to sob. Tuti turned to me, and yelled, "Ayub, you look like the crazy old man at the edge of the forest. The ones the old Mothers would tell us about. Sick and dying!"
"Now, now, little fireball," Roro said, laughing. "Oh, you've got a fire inside your belly, don't you? I love that."
"What did you do to him?!" Tuti demanded. She grabbed Roro's white dress and tugged at it. "How did you take away his soul?"
"I did nothing. He said he wanted to help me, so we worked on making threads together. He just worked hard for me, so we will slow down with you, Tuti. I will take my time with you," Roro said.
Roro came to me and touched my shoulders. My body suddenly felt dried out of my energy like a rotting mango from her touch.
Tuti's hand folded up her chest, and she walked towards the spindle. She looked around the cottage and I saw the same curiosity as mine, the first time I came to this house.
"Tuti, Roro is right. If we want a house, a bed to sleep on, food and the privileges to be here, then we must work hard," I told her. My heart sunk deep to the floor, but I didn't want to be homeless again.
Tuti looked as a lost doe who lost her mother. Her eyes teary with her mouth gaping open. "What happened to you, Ayub? You became so weak," Tuti asked me.
My loss of dignity out of surrendering to Roro silenced me. I wanted love and happiness. It was that simple.
Chapter 28 – Tuti
Roro did something that made Ayub looked old and I wanted to find out.
"Okay Roro, so Ayub worked so hard that he became sore like this. I bet I could do the same and I won't be tired like Ayub."
Ayub looked into my eyes, then to the ground. "I hope not. I feel like I've lost everything," he said.
"Well, we are together now. Can we heal Ayub, Roro?" I asked her. I needed an answer.
"Well, of course we can! He will need time to rest and then he will be okay," said Roro.
The sides of her lips curved up. Spicy curry spirit churned inside my gut and I wanted to breathe fire through my mouth.
"Good. Then I can start working and when we are done, we can play outside!" I told Roro. Roro was a conniving monster in my eyes. I couldn't wait to begin this new work that Dale told us about.
"Wait a minute… outside is forbidden for now, unless Dale is with you," Roro said.
How come Ayub and I won't be able to go outside as freely as we deserved? What was around here anyway? What was behind the mansion and this cottage? Was there some type of monster that we had to be protected from by adults like Dale or Roro? What did Roro do to my best friend?
"Why? I am eleven years old. I can take care of myself," I told Roro. "I found you and Dale, didn't I? Let's get to work! I want to know what Ayub did for you."
"Tuti, you are not an adult. It is dangerous here on the other side of Bali," said Roro. "A lot of people would ask you to work for them, and you are now our prized children. We don't want you to work with other people, would we? But, I can't wait to work with you."
Why couldn't Ayub and I have our freedom to play outside, especially if we worked here? This meant I needed to find out what was around this place, and how Roro took Ayub's youth. Just as the time when Surya won't show me what was on the other side of the ocean. My stomach gurgled with curiosity, and I felt my brain warming up with plans to escape.
"Okay. I will follow what you say, Roro," I said.
Roro has no idea what was really inside my mind. I was smarter than I looked.
Chapter 29 – Ayub
The candied plums Roro gave me went down my belly and the sugars absorbed inside my bloodstream. I had more energy. I could stand up now. I walked to Roro who stood near the spindle. "Roro, please promise me that you won't be so hard on Tuti," I said to Roro.
Tuti turned to me and she had this scrunch on her nose and smirking with a squint eye. Tuti always made that face when she's irritated.
"It's my turn to help Roro, Ayub. You can sit down for now," Tuti told me.
Tuti always loved a challenge. Something tickled inside my stomach from Tuti's defiant attitude. "You won't be so happy after you've worked hard for Roro," I told Tuti. My heart was beating hard out of fear.
"Let's start with something small, Tuti," said Roro. Roro smiled and for once, I saw her truly happy. Tuti must be entertaining to Roro. Deep down, I felt love for Roro mixed in anger at the same time. She would be a good Mother if she wasn't so cruel. Roro was still nicer than my own Mother who abandoned me at the market. At least Roro wanted to work with me. My Mother never even said good-bye, and even the full moon couldn't convince her to keep me.
"What do you want me to do, Roro?" asked Tuti. She walked towards Roro as they sat down near the spindle.
"Tell me how you have so much fire inside your heart, Tuti?" asked Roro. She held Tuti's right hand and closed her eyes.
"Well, I knew the gods must be in love with girls since we have to do everything, even give birth!" Tuti said loudly, as usual.
Roro laughed and told Tuti, "Oh, you are the most amusing little girl I've ever met." A strand of Roro's hair from the center turned gold. Roro reached for her own long hair to see if it had changed colors. She gently smiled at Tuti.
Tuti's eyes bulged out. "You really are a witch!" Tuti said.
"Tuti, do you feel different?" I asked her.
"I didn't feel anything, Ayub," Tuti said, looking back towards me.
All this must be as plucking flowers for Tuti. She was always so energetic, and her strength won't be easily depleted.
"Tuti, you are one amazing ball of sunshine!" said Roro. She was exhilarated with the new golden colors.
"Roro, please don't use all of Tuti's energy," I begged Roro.
My soul felt charred as I cried seeing the bursts of gold from Roro's hair.
Worried for Tuti's safety, I begged, "Roro, please stop."
"Ayub, please rest," said Roro. She plucked out the gold strands and wound them into the spindle, looping them into a spool as threads. "There is no reason to panic."
My stomach felt queasy and my chest heaved in pain.
"Please Vishnu, please bring your spirit into me," I pleaded to the gods. Perhaps, there would be some magic to make me the way I was before. "Roro, I am valuable," I told her.
"Roro, how can I help you more?" I asked her. Tuti walked towards me and knelt on the floor. Her face somber as the grey skies.
"Ayub, I love you, you are my brother" Tuti said. "I will work with Roro, for you. You rest."
"Ayub, come here," Roro said, and she took an empty spool.
With my weak knees and ankles, I slowly walked to Roro and sat down on the ground next to her feet. "Will you love me more?" I asked.
Roro hugged me and laid me sideways to her lap. She caressed my hair as my energy seeped into her hands from the back of my head. Flashes were in my visions as I stopped crying. I became drowsy as my eyes were beginning to close.
"Ayub, you have to rest," Roro said softly. My eyes shut tight as I fell into a deep sleep.
Chapter 30 – Tuti
Witnessing this much magic made me want to see what else went on inside this compound. I wanted to go outside.
"I think I deserve some sweet tea, Roro," I told her.
Roro laid Ayub softly to the floor and let him rest from being depleted of his energy. She immediately got up to make some tea. "Yes, my Princess," she said.
It felt good to be recognized as I was, a Princess of Bali. Adults prey on homeless children who were vulnerable, but there was a lion inside of me who believed in myself and my intelligence. Inside my heart, I knew I could outwit Roro's magic, because my brain and soul were stronger than magic or money that Roro and Dale were so fond of.
Also, I knew there was a secret outside, something that Roro and Dale didn't want me to find out. Nothing could stop me, now. I was inside this cottage and I knew what I needed to do.
"Roro, let's do one more thread and you can go rest with Ayub," I told her. If I was the reason Roro's hair turned gold, then I deserved to call out what to do next!
"Oh, what a beautiful young lady you are, Tuti. You took ownership of your tasks!" said Roro. Her large eyes narrowed into slits, and she said, "But I'm still the boss here."
Dark circles showed under Roro's eyes. I knew she was tired.
"I hope you will eat the rest of the food on the table, Roro. You must be famished, always working hard," I told her.
"I will eat once we do another thread. Come, let's spool another one," Roro told me.
My fingers played over the spindle, looking for something that made it special. There was nothing beyond unremarkable wood spindle under my touch, smooth and worn from overuse. It was Roro's powers that made this all happened. Her powers made the spindle possessed a magic. Without her power, the spindle was just an object like any other. If Roro could seep energy, what else could she seep into her sensory?
"Tell me, Tuti, what makes you happy?" Roro asked me.
"Hmm….so many things make me happy. Please close your eyes, Roro, and I will tell you a story," I told her. Roro held my hands and closed her eyes. Tingles of needles prickled on my skin with Roro's every touch.
"Roro, rainy days makes me happy, with the sound of the water trickling on the ground. The sound of the rain soothed my soul. I laid down on my bed and put my head on my pillows and spoke to the gods. Asking them to kiss me with deep sleep, and soft whispers of love to my ears," I whispered softly. "The monsoon would comfort me, and the rain would drop on my head moistening my sadness with the tears of the gods."
Roro's eyes lids closed as strands on her hair became sky blue with a glimmer of translucence in the hue. She looked calm and her breath became heavy.
If Roro could take Ayub's energy then she would be able to take mine. After all, she was the emotion and youth parasite.
"The smell of the ocean makes me happy and calm. It was so fresh and salty. The sounds of the waves made me tranquil and serene," I whispered softly, soothing her with my voice.
Roro's head began to nod forward as her eyes shut tight. I heard grumbling from her stomach. She was hungry and tired. Perfect.
"The wisp of the wind caressed my hair as I walked on the sands. My toes touched the waters. With the ground so soft, I laid on the sands letting the sound of the ocean waves lull me to sleep. My body felt cool as I lay still and closed my eyes even deeper," I softly whispered.
Roro's eyes looked shut tight. Surely, a little trickery won't harm her. I slowly took my hands away from her gentle hold.
Roro was sound asleep. Which meant, I could explore what was behind this cottage. If there was a way out for me, I would be able to take Ayub back without Dale's knowledge. Quickly, I opened the door and slid through it, and swiftly walked behind the soursop trees and further down the path behind the cottage. Wildflowers were to the side of the path, and a mango tree ahead of me. Banana trees stood tall as I walked further down, and there was another cottage with the door open.
Softly, I walked into the cottage, and heard chattering noises in the room to the right. I peeked behind the door and there were men and women sewing by machines and by hand. Sewing machines were on the tables as the women sat on the floor with threads and needles in their hands. The threads were on wooden spools as the ones Roro made. Roro's hair was sewn into the fabric to make the clothes!
The threads on the spools emitted a bright light as they were sewn into the fabric and clothing. Iridescent glittering light emitted from the Batik clothing. This was why Dale asked Ayub to work with Roro? To create these magical threads to cast a spell upon the customers? The pieces of Batik clothing became magical!
Ayub and I gave the colors to Roro's hair, but why couldn't Roro do this herself? Why must they use Ayub's energy? How many children did they use to make these magical threads?
I couldn't believe my eyes.
"What are you doing here?" I heard a voice. Dale was standing behind me with his arms crossed over his chest.
Chapter 31 – Ayub
The door slammed, and I jolted up. What happened to Tuti? Dale entered the living room with his hands clenched on Tuti's shoulders. He pushed Tuti inside as she fell to the ground.
Roro jolted up. She must have fallen asleep near the spindle.
"Why did you let Tuti leave the cottage?" Dale closed in on Roro. He looked like a rabid dog with his nostrils flaring.
"I'm sorry, Dale! I promise I won't go out again!" Tuti cried.
Dale turned to Tuti as she slowly stood up from the ground. Her hands were on her cheeks as if she stole cookies from a store.
"What happened?" I asked Dale.
"I am so sorry, Master," Roro said, kneeling to Dale's feet with her palms on Dale's shoes. She kissed his shoes and hugged his feet.
Dale took Roro's hair and pulled it up from the ground. Her face lifted to his as he whispered, "I am starting to lose my patience."
Tuti gasped and crawled away to the kitchen. The fright clenched my shoulders as I walked away to the other side of the living room. My aching heart thumped fast as it felt vulnerable from the fears that overwhelmed me.
"Please, Master, I feel asleep. I am so truly sorry. Please forgive me," Roro said. Tears burst from Roro's eyes, as her face grimaced from the pain of her hair being pulled by Dale.
Tuti ran behind the chair in the kitchen and squatted down behind it. I walked to Tuti and held her shoulder, while breathing hard.
Dale's eyes flared red with his hand clenching Roro's hair.
"You have worked for me for a long time, old lady," Dale said, between heavy breaths of fury.
"Please call me Roro, master," she replied, as her voice trembled.
My shoulders tightened and I was fearful as the night when my Mother abandoned me. I wanted to comfort Roro, but Dale was a wolf holding onto his prey.
"I told you not to let them be by themselves," said Dale. "I will burn this cottage with you inside if I can't trust you anymore."
"Please, Master," Roro sobbed. "I was asleep. Please forgive me."
"I'm sorry, Roro," Tuti said. Tuti looked like she stole priceless jewelry and bit her lips.
"Roro was very tired!" I yelled.
Dale let go of Roro and suddenly came towards me. He gripped my neck and lifted me up by his clench.
"No, don't hurt Ayub," Tuti yelled at Dale. She reached for Dale's hand, but she was too short to reach him. Tuti kicked Dale's shins and he kicked Tuti in her stomach. She landed near Roro, crying from the pain.
Roro took Tuti by her arms and held her hands, "Please stay here." Roro guided Tuti towards the spindle.
"Master, I will finish another batch tonight," said Roro, as she stepped softly approaching Dale. He slowly let me down from his grip. I heaved for a breath of fresh air. The sides of my throat throbbed from Dale's grip. Tuti was terrified with her face in tears.
"I'm so sorry, Dale. Please forgive Roro and Tuti," I told Dale.
"It was my fault, Master," Roro said. "I was too tired and fell asleep. Please don't harm these children."
Dale looked deep into Roro's eyes and told her, "You must be getting too old for this job, Roro. Need I replace you with someone younger?"
"No, Master. I love you too much, please forgive me," Roro sobbed. "I love you more than you know, Master. I was just tired."
"You are reckless and old. You are too messy to deal with, and you are so demanding!" said Dale. "Always asking for love. Don't you know that you must earn it? What benefit would I have from loving you back?"
"Oh, Master, but I love you with all of my soul," said Roro. "I promise you, Master that I will earn your love. I am good enough. Please, let me make more threads."
Dale took the strands of Roro's light blue hair, and said, "I suppose I can give you another chance. But, if you make another mistake, it is your life that will be gone."
"Master, please let us live. We will make more threads for you," pleaded Roro.
Dale tossed Roro's hair to the side as the strands of her hairs fell limp to her shoulders. Immediately, Roro's hair became grey. Dale walked outside of the living room and out of the cottage. He looked like a sadistic wolf.
Roro dropped to her knees. I couldn't bear to see her sob again. Tuti approached her and said, "I'm so sorry, Roro."
"I was tired, my dear," Roro said.
For the first time, I dearly felt love for Roro. I knew Roro wanted love from Dale so much, just as I wanted to be Dale's son. I suppose we all have something we yearned for.
Chapter 32 – Tuti
Roro sobbed in front of me, and I didn't know what to do.
"Ayub, do you really like it here?" I asked him. He sat on the floor near Roro after Dale left the cottage along with his demands for more threads.
"I promised Dale and Roro that I will help them," Ayub said, with his face staring blankly at me. "I don't want to be homeless, Tuti."
"You don't look happy," I told him. "You look fat and tired." I was honest with him.
"You are always so free to comment on others," said Ayub. He looked away and walked to the kitchen. He grabbed a cup of tea and drank it. "I am not tired. I can still work and keep staying here, so I won't have to beg for monies anymore."
"Was that the only thing that bothered you?" I asked. My eyes moistened, because I didn't like begging for monies either, but we were poor and eleven years old. What other jobs could we do besides use our talents to beg and awaken compassion from tourists?
"If that was the only thing that bothered you then we will work with Surya on other things. Go back with me and leave this place," I told him, kneeling beside him.
Ayub looked to me, "I don't think Surya wants me anymore," he said.
"Are you senile?!" I yelled. "He was the first person who noticed you ran away!" My heart twisted and wrung out of my kindness. "You are so crazy!" I walked away from stubborn Ayub.
"You're mean!" Ayub yelled back. "I'm here because I finally found a man who would be my father, even if that meant I had to work for his love! Because my own Mother didn't even want me. Why would Surya want me? He never asked me to be his family."
Ayub's eyes looked wild and angry as a stray dog. He was intoxicated with desperation for Dale's love as if he was given the money to stay here.
"What benefit have you found from working with Dale? You're not even working with him. He just gave us food. We could make monies from begging to tourists and earn the same foods with those monies. We don't need Dale. You just met him and thought he was god!" I screamed at Ayub. I was tired of Ayub's mulishness.
"Roro needs me here to make her threads!" Ayub yelled back and folded his arms to his chest, the way rich kids would when they wanted to be spoiled.
"You have gained nothing but fat and stupidity!" I screamed at him.
Roro walked to Ayub and covered her arms over him. Ayub hugged her back.
"I am not stupid, Tuti," Ayub cried. His face deep inside Roro's chest.
"You are exquisite, my dear boy," said Roro, with the sweetness of a Mother to a child. "I wish I never hurt you. We both have no choices but to work for love for Dale."
Ayub sobbed as Roro held him inside her arms.
"Ayub has been helping me. I need him here, Tuti. I love Dale, too," said Roro.
"You are both so blind," I told them.
Was I the only sane person in this cottage? I was tired of Roro and Ayub defending Dale for his love for them. It was obvious that he was not kind.
"He is using you, Ayub," I told him, and turned to Roro and told her the truth. "Roro, Dale doesn't love you."
Their weak minds frustrated me! I cried to myself and fell on my knees from the distress. Roro was still in love with him and Ayub was naïve to want Dale as a father.
"Is it because he is a handsome American?" I asked Roro and Ayub. "I'm a Princess. Surya told me so! And my Mother told me since I was a baby. I know my worth. I don't care if I was homeless or I was born as a girl. I know I don't deserve someone as crazy as Dale."
"All of my life, I was cursed," Roro replied. "When Dale found me, the whole village ostracized me. People called me a witch, and I was not. I was gifted. Dale believed in me."
"What did Dale promise you?" I asked Roro.
"Dale told me that he loved me. He told me that I was useful, even with my long white hair. Everything I touched would die, but he knew how to use my talents. Dale offered me this cottage and the chance to earn his love. No one would want me the way Dale wanted me. I know he loves me deep down inside. It is only a matter of time that he will take me as his queen, and we will live happily ever after," said Roro.
Tears rolled down my cheeks as realization slapped me in the face. Roro was just like my Mother before she left my father.
"If he loved you, he won't have tried to beat you," I told her. Roro was too blind to see it! I was devastated. Roro was afraid of never being able to love herself. She didn't realize that she deserved more than Dale's abuses. "Roro, you need to claim victory over your curse, and over Dale's power over you. Your love for him is not love. You grovel and beg, for nothing in return. You're too desperate that you're hurting me and Ayub, for the sake of his affection."
Vishnu, please bring fire into this belly of mine! How could I ever convince Roro and Ayub that they were more valuable than they felt?
Chapter 33 – Ayub
I won't go back to begging for monies and face rejection every day. I felt like garbage compared to the rich tourists. Their eyes filled with annoyance and disgust towards me. I've had enough. I didn't know what work felt like. I felt old and tired, but at least I didn't have to sleep on boxes or on the steps of the Jaganatha Temple. For once, I was not a rat in the gutters of Bali.
"I wish you understood my desire for a good life," I told Tuti.
Tuti's face looked like molded squash. Her mouth frowned in front of me. I wished Tuti knew how good Dale was to me. Offering me a place to stay, a shower, food, and work. Dale really did care for me!
"Do you know how Dale's workers and factory make the clothing?" Tuti suddenly said. Her eyes glazed with fear, with a tremor in her voice.
"What do you mean?" I asked. I believed the Batik clothing were made in the factory elsewhere. What does it matter? I was not homeless anymore.
"They made the clothing here, behind this cottage. There are men and women who work for Dale in his factory. The threads that Roro made from her hair with your energy are sewn into the clothing. To make them glow and attract tourists," Tuti said. "Dale is using Roro's magic and our youth to gain riches. How many children do you think Dale asked to work with Roro?"
This couldn't possibly be the truth. "Are you making things up?" I asked her.
"I sneaked into the factory when you were asleep. That's why Dale was mad at Roro. I sneaked outside to see why I couldn't go out and play," Tuti told me.
"So, what? I'm working for him. This is nothing new, Tuti," I told her.
"You don't understand. Roro uses her magic to make the threads, with colors from your energy. Dale makes profits from those clothing because they contain magic. Before you know it, you will be so drained by Roro that you'll eventually die," Tuti explained. "He will only give you food and shelter, and you will be stuck here. You will always be here and never have a good life. You don't understand, do you? He's abusing you!"
I was speechless. Was this true?
"You will never be his son, Ayub!" Tuti yelled at me. She kicked the chair in the kitchen and sat on the ground.
"Roro, you are a fool, and you hurt me and Ayub!" Tuti screamed at Roro.
Roro knelt to the ground and held her heart. From her tears, I knew Roro wasn't a pure white rabbit. Roro knew what Dale did to her, and she knew what she did to other kids like me.
"Please forgive me," Roro said, imploring me.
Roro took my arms, but I dodged her touch. Roro told me she was going to be kind, but Tuti was right. I was becoming tired, although my gut was full. I looked at my arms and legs, and my skin was dry and wrinkled. My cheeks felt wrinkled, too.
"You look like an old man," Tuti said. She closed her eyes to keep tears from rolling down her cheeks as she knelt beside me. "My Mother and I love you more than Dale could ever love you." She sobbed and opened her arms for a hug.
My heart dropped to my gut, because Tuti was right after all. Dale never wanted me as his son. He was lying this whole time to me about being his son. I knelt on the ground to hug Tuti.
"Roro, did you know all this?" I asked Roro.
Roro nodded, wiping the tears in her eyes, as she sobbed hard as she collapsed to the ground. "I just want to be with him. I just want to fall in love. I just want true love. My heart is aching, please Ayub. Please, let's make more threads. Maybe Dale will come around," Roro pleaded to me. "Maybe Dale will want me as his wife."
Tuti was right. Dale and Roro were abusing me.
Chapter 34 – Tuti
Ayub must have lost his mind. He didn't believe me when I told him he looked like a fat old man. What profit would there be for me to lie to him?
Roro looked to Ayub, and her face was sloppy and wet from her tears. Her lips pressed tightly together as she walked to the spindle and spooled the remaining threads. "I love you, Ayub. We will just tell Dale that we need a break."
I have had it with Roro!
"Dale is a monster!" I told Roro and Ayub. "He doesn't love you! Don't you understand this?"
I didn't think it would be this difficult to convince Roro and Ayub that Dale had no power against them. Dale just wanted to abuse innocent lives for money as the sinful criminal he was.
"Roro, he is weak! You're the one helping him. Without you, he has nothing!" I chided. "Roro, you're the one with the magic! Don't you understand? He's using you until you die as his slave!" My gut was so warm as if I had the flu from being frustrated. Dale was a disease.
"I have nothing if I don't have Dale. I want to have love in my life, and I will hold on to it as much as I can," Roro said.
"He doesn't love you. Don't you realize that by now? He uses you for those magic threads," I told Roro.
Roro was a butterfly who loved being in the cage. "You live in this cottage using your magic and getting older just to help Dale, while hurting children and my friend Ayub."
"I want to help Roro," Ayub said to me. "Roro tried to help me with Dale once. Tuti, Roro is as sad about her life as I am."
My tears felt hot on my cheeks. I couldn't believe this. I desired revenge towards Dale. We all deserved to escape out of this compound!
"Ayub, you will never be happy here," I told Ayub, as I turned to Roro. "Roro, Dale will never marry you! You will become old until you can no longer use your magic. Dale is just like my ugly father. All men are evil if their heart is rotten, no matter where they are from or what they looked like."
Roro came towards me quicker than a slithering snake and slapped my face.
Bitterly, I stood up and walked towards the spindle at the other side of the room. The spindle meant nothing to me as I stomped it with my feet, and Roro screamed. "No! No! No!" Roro cried at the sight of the trampled wood.
"You are NOT my Mother, and you are NOT allowed to hurt me!" I screamed at her.
Although, I didn't have a home as privileged people, I was not afraid to help myself.
If I don't, no one else will!
"I don't care if people deemed us garbage. I was bestowed this life! I deserve to live and not to die, and Ayub the same!" I screamed at Roro.
Roro tried to piece the broken spindle together. Her eyes were lost as a duckling that realized it couldn't fly.
"We can't make the threads anymore," Roro said, her eyes wild, looking at me. "This was the only magical spindle."
Inside the cottage were spindles with broken parts. Some had rotting wood, and broken spinning wheels. I didn't care for any of them. I didn't believe in magical objects and all the superstitious myths were never my fancy. My might and actions determines my future, not magic or superstitions.
"Roro, you're insane about Dale. He is evil! You became as dangerous as Dale!" I told Roro. I didn't care if I had hurt Roro's feelings. The truth hurts sometimes, but we must face it to move forward.
"Tuti is right. I am too tired now, and I don't have any more energy to make more threads," said Ayub.
Roro looked to her spindle and closed her eyes. She stood up, took some of the threads that were wound from the spool and walked to Ayub.
"What are you doing?" Ayub asked.
I was terrified. I didn't want Roro to touch Ayub, anymore.
Roro took the spool and tied it to Ayub's forefinger, and she held it close to her heart, as the energies from the threads seeped into Ayub's hands. A glittering light entered his finger from the thread.
"What is happening to me?" Ayub said. His hands and feet were as slender lanterns illuminating from his skin. Ayub's hair became black again as the white strands slowly vanished. His skin became tout and supple brown as before.
A glowing light entered Ayub's forehead and his dark brown eyes became light brown. As if a revitalizing elixir entered into his soul, Ayub was a fresh young boy with a halo around him. Ayub closed his eyes, as I gasped from the brightness illumining his body, blinding me.
Roro fell to the ground, her face wrinkled, and her once-silky white hair became brittle with some strands falling to the ground. "I love you, Ayub," she said, as her chest heaved. I walked to her and sat down on the floor next to her.
"I am sorry, Roro," I told her, caressing her hair. "I know you love Ayub."
"You were right, Tuti. Dale doesn't love me," Roro said. Her face looked wan.
Chapter 35 – Ayub
I knelt down to Roro, with her breath short and shallow as she struggled to breathe.
"You didn't need to give me all of your energy, Roro," I said.
"I've hurt you, Ayub," Roro said. Her eyes were swollen red as her hazel eyes were now black pearls and dimmed.
"I am useless without you. I don't want to hurt you anymore."
"You are the one with the magic," I told Roro.
Roro and I yearned for love from Dale, but Dale didn't deserve our love in return.
"Tuti, can you hold Roro?" I asked. "Perhaps your energy will help her?"
Tuti held on to Roro's hands, and Roro's cheeks became rosy. Roro inhaled deep, and her breath returned to a healthier rhythm as a few strands of her hair turned green.
"You are so strong, Tuti," said Roro. "I've never met anyone I loved before, until I met you and Ayub. You are both so precious to me."
"It's my heart. It's stronger than man," Tuti said. "I am also royalty, so it's easy to fall in love with me."
Roro smiled and kissed Tuti's hands. She took a deep breath of air into her lungs filling her with life.
"I have a plan," said Roro, her breath slow and controlled. "Let us summon Dale and give him all the threads. Then, we all quit."
"Are you sure you want to do this, Roro?" I asked her. Tuti bit her lips out of nerves.
Thoughts of going back to Denpasar made my brain itched. Although, I didn't want to become homeless again, I deserved to be loved well, not exploited.
"Would Dale hurt us?" I asked. "I've never had to fight to save my own life."
"I am willing to do anything to get out of here and return to Denpasar," said Tuti.
Like a baby monkey yearning to face the day, I wanted freedom and the hope of another sunrise. I haven't seen the moon for many nights, and I missed its motherly guidance.
In this compound, I was under Dale's control. My life was like day-old bread about to be thrown as trash.
"Ayub, you are brave for wanting to work for Dale, but we need to leave if we want our lives back," said Tuti. "Tell us what to do, Roro!"
"Yes, tell us what to do," I said. I wanted to return to the temple!
Chapter 36 – Tuti
Roro slowly stood up from the ground, and strands of her hair were caught in my hands. Those strands became green as grass on the rice paddies. Sparks of joy entered my soul as I smiled.
"I wish my hair turned into different colors," I told her. I caught a glimpse of Roro's endearing side.
Roro turned to me and blew me a kiss. "I will summon him, and I will tell him to let you go," she said.
Tuti and I looked at each other. "Why can't we all escape?" I asked.
"I need to do something else," said Roro.
I wasn't sure what to say, but I didn't want to be hurt by Dale if we escaped.
Roro pulled the bell outside of her door to summon Dale.
Dale came to the cottage with his eyes wide as a hungry dog. He looked as a man with a trunk of treasures in front of his eyes and anticipating glory.
"You finished more threads! You should have, because you have two little fairies in your cottage," Dale said, grinning.
"We only have this small basket of the new threads," Roro said, handing him a round rattan weaved basket with ten spools of threads.
"This is all?" Dale asked.
"That is plenty! We don't deserve to work for you anymore. We quit!" Roro said, her hands akimbo, her chest up and her head high. Finally, Roro stood up for herself.
"This is the thank-you for allowing you to work for me?" said Dale. His nose flared as if fire was to come out of his mouth.
"I don't deserve to hurt any more children just to please you," said Roro, with her voice low and direct.
"We have to use all of our energy to make you rich, but we don't have any freedom," I told him.
"You're a little knife!" Dale yelled and mocked me. He shoved my shoulders.
I fell backwards, and screamed at Dale, "You're a scoundrel!"
Ayub kicked Dale's shins, as Dale kicked Ayub across the room. Ayub cringed from the impact to the ground.
Roro fought Dale and pushed him back. "You ingrate!" Roro said.
Dale stepped forward to push Roro forcefully, as she fell to the ground.
"Not so fast, devil!" said Roro, as she quickly stood up and wrapped her hair around Dale's face. Her twisted hair wrapped around Dale's neck.
Ayub grimaced from the pain to his right shoulder at the other side of the room. I slowly crept closer to Ayub.
"Roro, Ayub's shoulder is broken!" I cried.
"Let me finish Dale first!" Roro said, heaving and exasperated. Dale wiped away Roro's hair from his face as he pushed her to the ground. Roro kept steady and kept twisting her hairs around Dale.
"Roro, you are old and ugly," Dale told Roro.
Roro twisted her hair tighter around Dale's neck. His hair became white as his skin wrinkled on his face, hands, and arms. Roro's mystical powers seeped Dale's vigor and youth.
"Roro! Dale will lose his strength!" I yelled. They were two snakes entwined, seeping the life out of one another.
I knelt down next to Ayub as his shoulders looked dislocated, as I witnessed Dale and Roro battle each other.
"You will die, monster!" Roro clenched her hair tight around Dale's neck, suffocating him.
A faint light escaped from his soul as dark particles out of Dale's body soared to the ceiling. Roro and Dale became two old souls in the last battle of their lives. Roro seeped all of Dale's energy but there was nothing inside Dale that evoked youth, love, or kindness, as Roro became weaker and they both slowly wilted to the ground as dying ferns.
"Your darkness will leave us," said Roro, as she gasped for air.
"You will leave with me first, old witch," Dale said as his voice was weak and raspy. Dale was as a curmudgeon losing his life.
"Roro, you are stronger than him," Ayub yelled, cupping his shoulder. I tensely sat in the corner of the room with Ayub, as the two devils in the flesh battled the ends of their lives.
Dale finally lost his grip as his ankles twisted and fell down. He gasped for air as a fish out of water. His body went limp and motionless. Roro took a breath and fell down to the ground with him as her hair were wound around Dale's neck. Her breath short and shallow.
Gently, I took Ayub by his good shoulder and pulled him towards Roro.
"I am sorry," Roro said, as her eyes sobbed with tears.
Dale was pale with his lips chapped and his cheeks sunk in. His hair fell out as his bones protruded out of his body. Dark particles soared to the ceiling as Dale heaved his last breath. His body charred from the darkness of his soul as it slowly disintegrated into ashes.
Ayub and I gasped from the dark presence that floated to the top of the cottage, as Roro closed her eyes. Roro's face was pale as ivory as her hair fell off from the loss of energy. Ayub cringed from the pain in his shoulder and made a soft wail.
Roro looked at me, and said, "I want you both to leave this place and go back to the temple. Promise."
"I promise," I told her.
"Ayub, come closer," Roro softly said. I took Ayub by his good shoulder and together, we sat close to Roro. "I will give you the strength of my whole heart."
Roro placed her hands over Ayub's shoulder. A soft glow entered Ayub's shoulder, as Roro returned all of his energy into his soul. Roro's dimmed black pearl eyes turned grey. Her lips became blue as her eyes sunk in.
My body numbed out of marvel.
Ayub slowly posed his back straight, and straightened his nape as if a surge of electricity entered his brains from his gut.
"Roro, thank you," I told her. Roro had tears in her eyes, as her face was a thousand years old and her body was skin and bone. The dark circles under her eyes sunk even deeper, as if her face was a skull.
"Roro, can you hear me?" I knelt next to her and held her hand.
"Go, and leave this place," Roro whispered. Her heaving chest slowed down until she was barely breathing. Her head fell back as her eyes closed.
I palmed my eyes and cried.
Chapter 37 – Ayub
"Roro… Roro, can you still speak?" I touched her hand, as her skin had turned grey, as if she was becoming a carcass.
"Roro, you are dying," I said. Her energy was completely drained.
Slowly, I rotated my shoulder and realized I was healed, as my whole body felt stronger.
"Roro…. Can you hear me?" Tuti asked her. Roro didn't reply, and I wondered if she had already died.
Tuti took strands of Roro's hair as they became ashes. Tuti held Roro close on her lap.
"You are free now, Roro," Tuti said.
Tuti held her cheeks and caressed her face. I kissed Roro on her cheeks. Roro breathed and heaved as mightily as she could, and Tuti lend me her hands.
Tuti and I entwined our hands together and placed them onto Roro's heart. She gasped for air, and I could tell she was still alive. A bright light entered her heart as our energy began to drain.
"We love you, Roro," I told her. My soul weakened and heavy as the light from my hands entered into Roro's beating heart. The space in between my chest was whole and strong, but softly and slowly fading.
Roro revived but took our hands and pressed it deeper into her chest. She reversed our energies as a bright light returned into our hands and pushed itself into our chest. A surge of power catapulted me and Tuti across the room. A voice boomed around us, "I love you."
Tuti landed close to me, as my body crashed the spindles from the impact. We looked towards Roro as she disintegrated into ashes.
Slowly, I stood up and walked to her ashes as it was powdery as grey sand. Next to her was Dale's charred and lumpy ashes that was burned as the cremated bodies in the graveyards.
My heart uttered words that weren't mine, "Leave this place and never look back."
Tuti and I looked at each other, and immediately, we ran out of the cottage.
To the right of the cottage was the factory as I looked to Tuti.
"Should we try to free the other workers?" I asked Tuti.
"Let's just leave this place. It would be our justice," Tuti said. "They will find out soon enough."
We looked to the left and there was the path to the house where I first arrived to this compound. Escaping out of this compound made my heart pumped fast as my energy was back. I was a kid again.
"Let's find the way out from the house," said Tuti. We ran towards the house and saw the front gate was closed.
"Let us scale over the gate," I told her. We scaled the tall gate as our agile feet stepped in between the intricate designs easily.
"Which way?" I asked Tuti, because I was not certain of where to go.
"I don't know," Tuti said. We looked to one another. All I wanted to do was run away from here.
Chapter 38 – Tuti
I forgot the way out. The one dirt path ahead of us looked bleak.
"Let's go in between the trees," I told Ayub.
We ran in between the trees and next to us was the graveyard. I didn't know how far the road was towards the shores, but there was a blazing courage that told I will survive.
"I remember the way through the graveyard," I told Ayub.
All the blood inside me rushed to my heart, pumping energy through my veins. I knew I could run for miles.
"I don't like graveyards," Ayub said. "There are evil spirits there!"
"Evil spirits are afraid of us living beings. Besides, I only remember the way to the market through the graveyard," I told Ayub. "What if this road leads to a further place?"
"Are you sure you know how to get to the Kuta market from there?" Ayub asked.
"Yes, I am sure of it," I convinced Ayub.
"Let's go quickly!" Ayub said. His face looked pale as if he had already seen a ghost, although there was nothing around us.
"Ayub, we can do this!" I told him.
I knew Bali had its share of superstition, but as the Princess of Bali I was sure even evil spirits would be afraid of me. Evil spirits were dead, and I was alive!
"How come you are so fearless" Ayub asked. "You are not afraid of anything."
"Why are you so afraid of everything? Even before you try?" I asked him.
Ayub stood still and softly, he replied, "I was willing to find Dale to fetch my dream, didn't I?"
"But you were afraid to live your life with honest work," I told him. "That was your biggest fear. And look where it got you." I breathed in, hoping Ayub realized his mistake.
"I wanted to find a good life!" Ayub yelled. We were supposed to run as lightning, but this argument slowed us down.
"We had a home, Ayub!" I said. I was irritated by his arrogant spirit. "You are such a coward!"
"I'll run through this graveyard as if death was chasing me!" Ayub screamed.
I was sure Ayub woke up the dead.
The evening sunsets with the clouds over us, as the moon rose to the sky. The moon called the wolves out to play, and I was unafraid of wolves. The same moon over Bali told me that there was guidance ahead, as if my Mother was with me. All I could think about was my Mother and Surya, and how fast I wanted to return to the temple. We tried to run, but there were graves covered with flowers, pebbles, and cracked ground under our feet that slowed us down.
"Let us be careful," I said.
"Tuti, it's a graveyard," Ayub's voice quavered. He looked behind him and walked towards me. I walked towards a clearer path that wasn't as full of cracked ground.
"Don't step over the graves," I told him. "Their spirits demand respect."
Ayub and I held hands and he told me, "I am so happy we survived."
"We will live, Ayub. I know we will," I told him. I knew I couldn't survive without Ayub, my brother who was chosen by the gods.
The retail stores were visible. The lights from the discoes blared neon-bright. "We are close by," Ayub said. Over us was the moon of Bali, as we walked further towards the end of the graveyard and closer to the light.
A soft caress touched my nape as I turned around. Ayub was suspended in mid-air, held by the long wooly black hairs of Leyak, the notorious Balinese evil god who would eat children. Ayub's mouth moved as if he was screaming words but I could not hear his voice.
Leyak held Ayub with his hairs. His fangs out of the masks with long black locks surrounding Ayub's body. Ayub was bound by an evil spirit. The tiger chili inside me burst as it kindled rage within me.
Vocalizing my anger, I screamed at Leyak, "What do you want from him!"
Leyak did not reply. Ayub struggled as his legs kicked whilst suspended in mid-air.
Lost for words and horrified, I knelt to the ground.
Leyak was high above the ground, gripping Ayub with his evil black hairs clenching his legs. My eyebrows furrowed in worries as I never thought graveyards and evils spirits scared me, but at this moment, I felt helpless and afraid.
Chapter 39 – Ayub
Leyak's hair wrapped around my torso and waist as horror flooded inside my chest. My body was frozen from Leyak's grip, as my breath became rapid and shallowed. His hairs clenched me as my body floated in mid-air. The old Mothers in the village told me, Leyak was an urban legend told to bad children who would not listen to their parents. Leyak was also only to appear to evil people who hurt others. All the myths, superstitions, and folktales I feared when I was younger, felt like common stories compared to the fears I felt right now.
"I told you I did not like graveyards!" I screamed to Tuti below, hoping she would hear me. Tuti's face grimaced as a baby who just came out of her Mother's womb.
"Run, Tuti! Run!" I yelled again. If anyone was to die, it should be me. It was my fault Tuti got here. I won't let Tuti become a casualty. Twisting my body side to side, I tried to slither out of Leyak's bind, only to find myself being clenched tighter by his long black hair.
"Run, Tuti!" I yelled again. Death crept inside me, as my chest heaved from fright.
Leyak's laughter was over me, loud, high-pitched, vile, and ringing in my ears, as his hairs irritated my face.
"You are meant to be taken this way," Leyak whispered. His scratchy wicked voice was that of a witch who devoured children.
"Let me go!" I yelled. Leyak grabbed my legs and held me close to his fangs jutting out of his mask beneath his bulging eyes. My body trembled as I came face-to-face with the fanged monster.
Choking from Leyak's hairs on my neck, I strained to look away from its huge eyes. Its bloody mouth slowly opened, trying to swallow me whole. My heart sank into my gut and tears wrenched out of my eyes. I was going to die.
Tuti knelt on the ground as I looked down to find her. Her face looked worn from fear as her cheeks slumped to her chin and frowned. Her lips uttered words I couldn't hear.
Leyak laughed with its high-pitched voice as I pushed my palms against its evil face. "I will eat your heart," it snickered. His hair scratched my face as fears overwhelmed me and my voice cracked.
Frantic, I screamed at Leyak, "You will do no such thing!" It laughed louder, as my heart crumbled inside me from fear.
"Children are so delicious," it snickered.
My soul shrunk as it was about to shrivel from the terrors inside me.
The headstones and tombs terrified me from below as I screamed louder than ever before. Suddenly, a fierce anger spewed out of my heart, arousing my courage to come forward. I did not want to see my own death inside these graves.
"I did not deserve this!" I screamed to the skies. Mightily, I grabbed on Leyak's hairs to pull it apart. Enraged, I declared, "I deserve to live! I won't die this way!" I yanked out Leyak's hairs and ripped it to shreds!
In an instant, a fresh breeze caressed my nape and danced over my face as my heaving chest felt a sense of peace, quelling my fears. Quickly, the sudden breeze became wind as it shredded through Leyak's hair. The wind became a friend to my struggle as it blew Leyak's wooly black hairs away from my face.
Leyak's fangs were over my face, but I was not afraid. I knew I won inside my mind. The courage that emerged from my anger steadied my heart beat and empowered me. Leyak's long black hair twisted my arms and legs, but I only felt prickles that tickled my skin. Leyak's tricks played upon me but the shattering horrors floated and disappeared from my soul.
The debilitating fears over my shoulders were gone, and my body felt light as feathers. My spirit soared and my heart pumped as if new batteries were inside it, rushing my blood through my veins. A minute ago, I was crushed in pieces, but now, I felt powerful as a dragon slayer. Tuti told me once that fears were courage under pressure, but the love for my life that I declared shoved the pressure out and brought fourth courage that graced my spirit.
"You will not take my life from me!" I screamed at Leyak, declaring victory over the demon. My own voice boomed in the sky. "I am valuable!"
Holding on his fangs and hairs, the fresh wind launched my fist as I punched Leyak away from me. The clench from his long hairs became weak as I tore them to pieces. The powerful wind pushed Leyak to the banyan trees as it released me from its grip. My right shoulder pained through the bones as I landed hard on a tombstone.
The moon was still over Bali, shining bright with the night breeze caressing my face. Tuti ran to me and she laid her hands on my shoulder. "Are you okay?"
"I am hurt," I told her, because my shoulder pounded on the ground hard.
"You were brave, Ayub," Tuti said, with tears in her eyes. A wave of relief came over me, as Tuti hugged me. "I knew you could beat Leyak," she said. Nothing but pride entered my soul as if I was a warrior.
"What were you doing?" I asked Tuti. "I was yelling for you to run away from this graveyard!"
"I kept uttering positive words, hoping to see you break free!" Tuti said.
"How did you know I would?" I asked. I always thought Leyak was evil and no one could escape his grip and his sentence of death.
"He is only a myth that comes out from our own fears and during our darkness. Our heart is the light, and nothing can conquer the light," Tuti said.
Tuti was a fire of surprise, as usual.
"I didn't know I would make it through," I told Tuti.
"You're made with the most amazing particles of the moon and stars, Ayub," Tuti said. "Ayub, you are brave. We have much to talk to my Mother and Surya about. I think you never knew how much love you have in your life."
My body was sore from the fall as my legs felt wobbly and struggling to stand. We walked to the front gate while leaning on each other, because that was what soul friends were for. The stars were as jasmine buds in the dark skies, as the scent of salt of the ocean lingered in the night breeze. I looked above under the moon of Bali. It smiled at me.
Chapter 40– Tuti
Ayub and I walked slowly to the front entrance of the graveyard. A homeless man in his tattered shirt sang loudly as if he had an audience in an opera house, but no one paid attention. He stopped to look at us as if we were wolves in the night.
"Are you the ghosts of the children I abandoned?" he said, with his eyes wide in fright.
"You have some trouble, old man," I told him, shaking my head.
Ayub looked to him, and said, "I'm alive and I beat my fears, even in the graveyard." I smiled hearing Ayub's sobering words. Ayub raised his right thumb and lifted it to the sky.
"The gods must love you," said the man in the tattered shirt. He shook his cup of coins and sang a chant of mumbled words I could not understand.
"Ayub, you also saved me by thwarting Leyak," I told him.
"I wanted to live," Ayub told me. "I was not a coward, Tuti." His eyes were moist, with his chest heaving from excitement out of the wonder of his own powers. "I am lucky to be here, and to have this life."
Ayub finally said those grateful words for the sake of his life. He was never a flippant soul, rather something other, and something kind. As for me, I still didn't care about being homeless and I never cared about the many luxuries the world has. It must be nice to be rich, but that was not the life I was given. Valuing my own life was my first priority and time was a friend. As my Mother said, we all have to work ourselves out of it. It was something that was possible, and not impossible.
Ayub surprised me tonight. He defeated Leyak when he was so close to death. I knew he could do it!
"You don't understand how important you are, Ayub," I told him. He must hear my words. He was not my birth brother, not by blood, but he was the other half of my family. "You know that tamarind candy I always loved?" I asked Ayub.
"Yes. I love those, too," he said.
"To tourists with money, those candies meant nothing. It was something cheap and easily forgotten. But, to me… they are sweetness to my palate and a miracle to my soul," I told Ayub. "Ayub, we are meant to live a different life. But the life we have is as important as theirs."
"I love swimming in the ocean the most," Ayub replied. "I know it must feel the same everywhere for the privileged." He looked to the sky, and the moon was covered by the clouds.
We finally reached the retail stores. The neon lights blared over the marketplace. The discoes were beginning to open, while music pumped loudly from some of the open beach bars. The waves were crashing over the shores as the cool breeze hushed the evening.
"Bali shores cleanses me," Ayub said. "It is my home."
"Ayub, Bali is paradise and it will always be. No matter what happens in life, no matter where you are, my Mother and I love you," I told Ayub, walking towards the Bemoes.
Ayub needed the truth. Ayub never witnessed the suffering my Mother and I felt when my rotten banana father beat my Mother. The cries of her voice made me clench my fist and held them close to my ears. I saw her tears, and the colors of my father's anger.
My father never loved my Mother, and he would never love me. But, for Ayub, my Mother and I have nothing but the purest and sweetest love, for our fellow homeless friend.
Ayub looked to the dark skies, and said. "Bali has been my home since I lost everything," His eyes were not moist. Instead the corners of his eyes lifted as he smiled and uttered, "I'm not sad about the full moon anymore. I think the gods just told me that even without my Mother, I was their design." He held my right shoulder as he told me those profound words.
"There will be a time when you will feel as if you have everything," I told him. "I feel that way with my Mother, although we have nothing."
I wished my Mother was here to comfort me and Ayub, after these long weeks of fighting for our lives in Dale's compound. My stomach growled as I had nothing to eat since the day before.
"It's time for dinner. Perhaps Surya has left-overs," I wondered.
"We must hurry to the temple," Ayub said. He let go of my shoulder and we ran towards the Bemoes.
A man paced around the Bemo station with a cigarette in his mouth. He had a large sweat stain on the back of his white cotton shirt.
"I will ask him if he would give us a ride to Denpasar," Ayub said.
My eyes bulged because usually Ayub would be my support, not my lead. The space in between my chest bone felt whole. Ayub walked like a lion in front of his pride.
"Sir, can I make a deal with you?" asked Ayub to the man with the cigarette in his mouth. "Are you the driver for this Bemo?"
"What do you want, kid?" he said. "I am on my break. And it is almost time to go home."
"Just a question, sir," I told him. I felt my eyes pleading for the man's help.
The Bemo driver looked down to see if Ayub had shoes on. Ayub never wore shoes but he still had on his slippers that Dale gave him. I felt my temples tensed from my own nerves. I hoped he won't reject us because we were homeless children.
"Sir, may I ask for your help to give us a ride to Denpasar? We will feed you dinner with fried banana fritters and coffee for dessert," Ayub told him.
I couldn't believe Ayub bartered with the Bemo driver. What lightning sparked inside his brain?
"Or I could also make you sweet iced tea if you don't drink coffee," I told him. I might as well add some more bargains for the deal.
He looked into my eyes, then he looked at Ayub. "You are both kids. Where are your parents?"
"We got lost and we missed the last Bemo, sir. We don't have money, but we can guarantee dinner and dessert for you. We just need to go to the Jaganatha Temple in Denpasar," Ayub begged him.
"It is not far, sir. Not far at all," I told him. I came closer to him and showed him my face, desperate for his help. "We won't hurt you. We are just children."
He looked at me and dropped his cigarettes to step on the flaring buds. "Fine," he said. "What kind of dinner are you talking about? Fish? Or meat?" he asked.
"Anything you want, sir. My Mother is a good cook, and she also bakes. It depends on what she has for today," I told him. My heart smiled because he took our offer.
Ayub came closer to him and shook his hand.
"Get inside," he said, curtly. He walked into the Bemo and sat on the driver seat.
Ayub and I hurried to find a seat, and there were plenty because we were his last ride.
"Do you know where the Jaganatha Temple is, sir?" I asked him.
"Yes, even the homeless knows where it is," the man said. He turned on the engine, and off we were to Denpasar.
The moon over the rice paddies gave a glare of golden light over the vast darkness. The air from the open windows and the drive lulled me to sleep. It felt only a brief moment with my eyes closed when the Bemo arrived in front of the Jaganatha temple.
"You get off here," said the man. I jolted out of my seat, as Ayub and I got off the Bemo. He was about to drive off, when Ayub held on to the door.
"Aren't you hungry?" Ayub asked him.
"Sir, we made a deal. You give us a ride, and we feed you dinner," I said.
He looked at me and Ayub, "I have to get back to Kuta. I got a second wind to pick up more customers out of those discoes. You kids bring money next time!" He turned the Bemo around and drove off to Kuta.
Ayub nearly cried. I was so grateful for the driver's kindness.
"Thank you, sir," I said to the Bemo driver, although he already drove away.
Ayub said under his breath, "You are a good man."
I turned to Ayub and held his shoulder. "Let's go inside," I said. He nodded and we walked towards the tourist station.
As we entered the temple, I saw my Mother ran towards us with her arms wide open. My Mother was a crazy duck as she screamed with her flailing arms, "My daughter is home! Tuti is here!"
"Ayub is here too, Mother," I told her. My Mother took me and Ayub inside her arms, as our heads bumped against one another.
"Vishnu is alive!" Surya screamed loudly, as he ran out of the tourist station and immediately took Ayub into his arms. "My favorites, you are both home."
Ayub looked to Surya, and asked, "I am your favorite?"
Surya kissed Ayub's forehead and hugged him tight. "Yes, please don't leave this temple. You are my dear one. Let us stay here and be here in the temple. You can be here for as long as you need, Ayub. You don't need to be elsewhere. Please don't run away! You could have been killed!"
Surya looked as if he found a treasure from under the ocean. His dark brown eyes twinkled as they moistened. He looked to me, and told me, "I cannot believe you ran away to find Ayub. I was so angry!"
"I cursed god," my Mother said. "I thought Shiva will surely urinate on me, and it was going to rain for days! But, it has been dry, so I was wrong."
"Mother, the gods favor me and Ayub!" I told my Mother.
"But you are still a child, Tuti! What your Mother meant was, you shouldn't have run away, both of you!" Surya yelled at me and Ayub. My Mother could not stop hugging me.
They breathed in and cried for a few moments, leaving Ayub and I wondering if they were angry at us.
"We are so happy," my Mother said. Surya held Ayub close, and Ayub smiled at his fatherly affection. My Mother cradled my torso inside her arms. The moon was still shining over Bali.
Chapter 41 – Ayub
My shoulders felt sore as I woke up from sleeping on the humble floor in Surya's room, but I felt satisfied with my body still intact. Yawning and stretching, I laid on the floor for a moment, moving my arms and legs from side to side. I felt free although I was not rich or privileged. My heart was whole, even without a Mother or a Father.
The bamboo mat was peaceful to my mind and the small sewn pillow made of layered cloths filled with grains of rice was home. I felt comfortable, with no fears hovering over me. I felt free to be who I was.
Something changed from the depth of my being, as if blossoms of flowers bloomed inside my chest. When Ratna and Surya hugged me, I felt love was living inside me. At this moment, my soul felt whole and although there were troughs in my past, I won't discount what I have, even on this most humble floor.
Gently, I stood up and took a towel from the linen drawer then walked to the bathroom. The bathroom was a small, open-aired room with tiled floor and a bucket of water. I took the ladle inside the water bucket and poured it over my head. I shivered from the cold water, but I was invigorated with joy inside my heart. I lathered with the cloves-and-cinnamon handmade soap that Surya always bought from the local market. I took one last ladle of water and poured it over myself. I showered quickly, to assure Tuti and Ratna would have some water for a quick shower. Water was a luxury, but I felt happy for the little I had.
The same earthy dark brown skin I had since I was abandoned felt safe. This time, I knew I was meant to have it. This time, I loved my own skin, my own life and who I was. I realized no one was allowed to take my life away from me. I wanted to be me.
I was meant to live, and not to die. I felt happy.
I wanted to take care of myself, and I was not alone, instead I felt important! I will not know what will unfold in my life, but I will not cower from hard work and honest living.
Drying myself with my towel, I wrapped it around my waist and went back to the bedroom. I opened the drawers, and there was only my one white shirt and a pair of old brown shorts. They were not the button-down Batik that Dale had, but I loved all that I had. I put on my clothes and went outside.
Surya stood near the fountain analyzing the lotus flower that has been there for years.
"I woke up early this morning," Surya said, as I approached him. Streams of sunshine brightened his face.
"It feels good to be here, Surya. Thank you for letting me have the floor to sleep on," I told him.
"I never thought I'd see you again, Ayub," Surya said. His eyes were swollen and red.
"Did you sleep at all?" I asked him.
"I thought about you and Tuti," he said. He dipped his hands in the fountain and took the beautiful pink lotus flower.
Abashed, my gut moved out of nerves, and said, "Tuti and I are so very sorry, Surya. We didn't mean to cause any trouble."
Surya walked to the other side of the fountain and took a large ceramic bowl. He dipped it inside the fountain to scoop some water. He placed the pink lotus flower inside the bowl and walked back towards me.
"This lotus flower just grew in the fountain. Someone before me placed the leaves in the fountain and the flowers just grew. They've been here for a very long time, but I did not appreciate it enough. Until this morning," Surya said.
"What do you mean?" I said. Perhaps, Surya wanted me to clean the fountain.
"I want you to stay here, Ayub," Surya said. He looked at me and reached his arms around me.
"Should I help you clean the temple?" I asked. Was he asking me to work for him? I would not mind it.
"No, not work here. I meant as my son. You can be my son," said Surya. "I never married. I don't have a family either, and I've been a priest here, to help the villagers with counsel, ceremonies, and prayers, but I never had a family."
"Are you sure you want to have me?" I asked him. My heart leapt with joy that was so sweet and endearing. I didn't realize that Surya loved me like a son. I thought he wanted me to be his cleaning boy.
"If I may," Surya said. He sat down on the edge of the fountain. "I know Dale was rich, and I have just this temple and what little I own. But, time is our friend, Ayub."
"I only had a short time to be a son with my Mother who abandoned me," I told Surya. "But, I know I will be a good son."
Surya wiped his tears with his right hand. "I have this café now. We can earn a living here," he said. "Tuti can help."
Tuti came out of the tourist station with a tray of hot teas in ceramic cups.
"Surya, did you tell Ayub that I was very good at making sweet jasmine teas?" Tuti said, as she placed a hot cup of tea on the ground near Surya's feet.
"Is the café doing well, Surya?" I asked.
"Yes. It has been making good money," said Surya. "Who wouldn't want to savor the bliss surrounded by the gods?" He looked to Tuti and smiled.
Tuti walked into his arms and kissed his forehead. "Surya, you have me and my Mother, too" she said.
"Ayub, you have to realize that we are not going to have a lot of money, but we can work hard," said Surya.
"Success comes with hard work, Ayub. Not like what you did with Dale."
A stab came to my heart, but I knew Surya told me the truth.
"I just wanted to have a home, the things I would never have," I told him.
"Not everything rich is good, Ayub," said Surya. He took the cup of tea and sipped on the drink, "And not every human being is kind. As human beings, we have a job in this Earth, to stay alive, so we can help one another."
"I did not want to be poor anymore," I told Surya the truth.
"It is a matter of earning a living wage with honest work to carry you through," Surya, told me. His hand on my shoulder. "Love and trust are gifts that are nurtured with kindness and time. They are better currencies than money."
"We have each other, Ayub. You are rich with love. That is not poor," said Tuti.
"Tuti, you took things into your own hands. It was wrong," said Surya. "Tuti, you also believed you already know everything. You don't! You have much to learn in life."
Tuti's face turned pink as the lotus flower.
"You think you are so smart!" I told her.
"You both are just kids," said Surya. "You thought I was born with this temple in my hands?"
Tuti and I looked at each other and wondered if Surya felt the harshness of life the way we did.
"I was never rich, but I am very happy here," Surya said. "I was good to the priest before me, and he taught me everything he knew. I replaced him to take care of this temple. I never had a family, either."
"He took you as his son?" Tuti asked.
"Yes. If I may, I would like you, Tuti and you, Ayub, to be my children," Surya asked. His eyes looked desperate, as if he wanted the most expensive car in the world, with nothing in his pocket, "I know I am not privileged, and all I can offer is this temple and the tiled floor of the rooms that you slept in. But, I felt so lost when you both ran away."
Ratna came out of the tourist station, with her eyes also swollen red. She must have cried with Surya last night.
"We all can stay here, and we can make this café a good business," Surya said.
"We had a lot of customers while you two were gone," said Ratna. "But, there was no one to help us." Tuti ran into her Mother's arms and hugged her around her stomach.
"Are we turning into a family?" I asked Surya. A sunbeam warmed my face as it felt fresh and glorious.
"We may not be a perfect family, but we have each other," said Surya.
Ratna and Tuti held on to each other as if this was the last day on Earth.
"We have a home here, and we have a life here in Bali. We don't have to be rich to enjoy life," Surya said.
"Can we sell durian fritters in our menu?" I asked. "It would be fun to see the tourists smell it!"
Surya laughed and replied, "Yes… we can have durian fritters."
"Then I'll get sirsak juice for our drink menu," said Tuti. I knew Tuti would pick sirsak to impress Surya.
"You are always so jealous when someone shows affection to me!" I scolded.
"Look at you now, sounding like you have Ganesha inside your back pocket," Tuti said.
Surya rolled his eyes and walked into the tourist station. He yelled to us, "We are opening the café in five minutes!"
"Wash your hands and don't spill the coffee when you are serving to the customers, Tuti," said Ratna.
I saw a twinkle in Tuti's eyes, and we both laughed. I think I just found out what a family was.