Oily silty water leaks onto uneven sidewalks, toward a crowd of wet sandals waiting to depart to relative paradise. Wealthy Indonesians, foreign tourists: from Japan, Germany, Australia, America; fleeing the stench of smog and littered rivers.
Dense bands of trash: plastic bags, wax coated cartons, plastic silverware, cans, bottles, cups. It floats on the face of the water like the strings of the universe, expanding and contracting with the current.
Toilet only slightly better than a hole in the boat; there is no seat–squatting only–a single handrail for stability crossing the chop.
A green interior mimics submersion under cloudy skies, air flow amounts to breathing through a straw at depth.
Container ships casting heavy wakes born of deep drafts, the ripples of international commerce; LNG vessels, lined with spherical tanks full of frigid low-pressure liquid; dingies and traditional bagan, floating precariously like the local economy, propped up on makeshift platforms of bamboo stilts.
The city retreats into smog, blue sky emerging with distance from the myriad high-rises and office buildings––monuments to the truest of human creation: absolute destruction.
Pilot cuts engines, puts them in reverse to free the props of seaweed, most passengers share concerned looks the first time.
Some islands heavily speckled with buildings, pink brown roofs and beige walls. Others have nothing but trees, a dark, dense green standing against the grey of the clouded sky. Yellow and white huts stand off the shore, balancing on stilts.
Arrive at Putri, discover we are the second twin of identical arrivals, greeted by topless mermaids filling the sea from pots.
Disembark and wait not in line for room keys, learn that I will share with the big German, Gunter.
Aside from trees there is little vegetation, though a recognizably foreign calls in the trees.
The rooms are two per structure, constructed of cement, foundations raised off the thin layer of sand covering packed volcanic dirt.
Thirty or forty yards from the low seawall is the reef, blocking the chop of open water, leaving gently rippling water inside.
The room is dim and cool, even with all lights on. The A.C. is set to 18c, but the contrast to the hot, humid air outside is welcome.
We suit up and head back to the pier to pick our gear and assemble it–those of us taking the course; those at the island for fun dives are exempt from this. The boat men load the equipment, then we board the Anemone, fitting our feet between the tanks laid port to starboard between the benches along the sides of the boat. The roof is low, but no one hits his (or her) head.
Traveling to the dive site it starts to rain, growing in intensity from drizzle to a steady pelting. The air is robbed of heat, and everyone wants to hurry into the water. After discussing the plan we don our equipment, and back roll off the edge one at a time. Floating on the surface, the world is grey and diffuse, once-visible islands seem millenia away, and the nearest are but thin lines of forest green.
Immediately the cacophony of aquatic clicks and distant marine motors presents itself, an alien world just a broken surface away. The water is warm and salty, more pleasant than the shallow, chlorinated practice pool. Once all are in the water we descend to twelve meters along the anchor line, relieving our ears against the pressure as we go. See dive logs…
Lunch is a traditional Indonesian meal, fried chicken, deeply marinated grilled fish, rice, spinach(?), and squid with a fragrant mix of red and green peppers with tomato, served buffet style. Despite my bday unfamiliarity with Bahasa Indonesia, I recognize the word boleh and bashful giggles multiple times. The staff scavenges the deserted plates, bowls, glasses, spoons and forks.
A pretty young girl with slightly protruding ears and a sharper than normal Indonesian nose, hair pulled tightly back, stands out. She has delicate red flowers tucked above her ears, which lessens the protrusion and accents her deep brown eyes. She wears the uniform shirt, a red batik polo, with a form-fitting black skirt with vertical ribbing, drawing attention to the modest bulge of her ass, the firm, beautiful foundation of her legs, leading to her sandal-clad feet. She is dutiful and gorgeous, though obviously shy, avoiding eye contact in favor of work.
See dive log…
After showering, we sit by our section of seawall while waiting for dinner, watch a large bat swoop and beat its wings awkwardly, landing among the heavy bunches of leaves, causing the drooping branches to sway almost imperceptibly. One fish chases another in the calm waters, appears to catch it, judging by the disappearance of dual ripples. The sky darkens as the sun sets on the other side of the island, obscured by the trees and cloud layer beyond, and the mosquitos begin to bite. After another wine as our new German friend enjoys a Bintang, we head to dinner, nearly the same meal as at lunch.
I watch for the girl with delicately prevalent ears, tuning in and out of the conversation strained by loud live music as I once again eat much more than I should. My inner ear, having acclimated to boat rides and underwater weightlessness, feels an inexorable seaborne sway, even sitting in a solid wooden chair on dry land. It occurs to me that this not-quite-imagined drifting is the visceral manifestation of an underlying lifelong sensation.
We don’t linger after dinner–the music is too loud and not of our taste. Though it’s still early, the day was long and the sky is dark, so we walk back to the bungalow and get ready for bed. While waiting for my bathroom to become available, I sit outside in the warm night air considering the infinite complications we’ve built into an otherwise simple existence, how, like Urizen, the constant classifications and compartmentalizations we make in life can push us further and further away from it. The water gently laps at the seawall and my heavy eyelids lap at my alertness.
The morning begins with the sound of snoring, my German bunkmate’s, and the restlessness that comes from a good night’s sleep on an unpadded mattress. I have beaten my alarm but not the sunrise, so I quietly pad into the bathroom to brush my teeth and catch an early breakfast.
Arriving with my renovated family, it becomes clear that we aren’t the only ones with the same idea, as the dining area is already as film as it had been at dinner. I take a simple if incongruent breakfast of fried rice, hardboiled eggs, a small bit of fish and chicken, and pancakes drowned in syrup, alongside a slurry of instant coffee and a cup of juice-flavored sugar water. An unusual meal for me, but it’s satiating. Flies buzz about and congregate on a plate of broken eggshells and the chalky balls of yoke I tend to avoid. I count eleven at one point, before they scatter as I reach for my caffeinated sludge. My favorite employee to watch is back, and I catch another staring at me and hold the eye contact for a second. It’s tough to tell if she scampers away because she has work to do, or if Boleh––perhaps that should be my new name––has made her bashful.