was an entire bar inside a hollowed out baobab, with low tables and chairs assembled in a
half circle under thatch extending from its trunk like a flared grass skirt—the shelter
toward which Yayuk and Sebastian immediately headed upon reaching Chizumulu's rocky
shore. Kubira Lodge was the sight of this renowned tree, about which the couple had heard
from Helmut, among others, back in Cape Maclear. And when a welcoming staff-member assured
the arrivals that genuine Malawi coffee was being served, their Ricoffy-weary faces lit up
with Juan-Valdez smiles. Did it matter that the concrete floor of their rondavel
was furnished only with a mattress under a mosquito net, or that bathing was to be
done in a boulder-bordered inlet down at the lake, or that the outhouses were of the pit
variety ensuring trips thereto would be hold-your-nose bear-the-buzz tribulations, or that
the only source of drinking water was unfiltered partially-boiled Lake Malawi itself, or
that the twenty-three-year-old Lodge owner, during his thirty-six months of
proprietorship, had come down with malaria eleven times, or that the flies by day and
gnats by night conspired to make each mealtime a shoo-chew-shoo test of forbearance? Not much. Not when mornings could be whiled away sipping the real
thing—whole coffee beans ground by hand, using an ntondo (a large wooden
mortar and pestle), then freshly brewed. Not when Betsy, Queen Bee within her rudimentary
kitchen, turned out a constant stream of piping-hot delectables, from fruit scones—big,
moist, and buttery, to chumbo stew—served quaintly in coconut-shell bowls. Not when
a fifteen minute climb to the island's re-forested gum trees earned vistas, in all
directions, of unspoiled splendor, accompanied by choruses of cock crows and magpie
caws, of rainy-season storms clapping with Doppler-effect thunder—storms which dropped
their measure then vanished as abruptly as they appeared... magpie caws and cock crows
once more predominant.
On their first exploratory walk, the couple met a teacher named Joseph,
who introduced them in turn to Chief Mabvula—one of six leaders on a land mass not much
larger than Golden Gate Park. The Chief was a short man with an abbreviated torso,
extra-long legs, hunchbacked, and chosen to rule from among four brothers and two sisters
by his predecessor, Mrs. Mabvula, the family's matriarch. Informed that the Chief
had converted to Christianity, Sebastian (using Joseph as an interpreter) launched into
his homegrown religions spiel, citing the physical and spiritual genocide committed
against Native Americans, and the loss of belief systems environmentally harmonious
compared to their Euro-based replacements—'lessons to be learned by native peoples
"Once you shift God from the land to somewhere above it,
to say 'beyond' it, human beings become less reverential toward Mother Earth," ran
Sebastian's argument, without his really having studied Indian cultures. His
principal objection was to missionaries, who promulgated faiths he viewed as
"If you forbid the original practices, as Chief Wowa has done in
Cape Maclear," (Sebastian had done some research) "you discredit a tribe's
forefathers, which is disrespectful; it undermines a people's cultural heritage, not to
mention the traditional lines of authority."
Whether or not persuaded by Sebastian's unsolicited convictions,
the Chief listened politely, shook the couple's hands upon parting, and vouchsafed
they were welcome, any time, to visit his home. Yayuk, silent partner throughout this
exchange, subscribed to Sebastian's views only to the extent that faiths—legitimate
faiths—observe conjoint tolerance. Taking her cue from Islam, Yayuk formally recognized
religions of the book—be it Torah, Bible, or Al-Qurân—while regarding
her Indonesian ancestors' creed, Animism, somewhat askance. But to be totally devoid of
religion—Sebastian's sorry state—was to be, in her opinion, beyond salvation. Yayuk
therefore feared for her mate's Immortal Soul.
"So proud you are, say atheist. Human beings limited,
Sebastian. You cannot understand about life, about death, using only your brain."
"What other organ do you suggest?" was the skeptic's
His heart, of course; Yayuk took exception to Sebastian's infernal
logic. Intuition better unraveled certain truths. He thought in rational sequences, which
was fine on the material plane, but was a flashlight missing batteries when investigating
things supernatural. Faith was the source of power for shedding light on Spirituality.
Faith was likewise the basis for successful relationships... especially marriage, as Yayuk
forecast the steps their path might take, a path upon which she already had
embarked the moment she boarded Garuda flight #801. This pilgrimage to Africa was merely
a detour—interesting but incidental to Yayuk's prime objective: a faithful,
everlasting bond with the man she loved... or an overdue return to her life of
Days bled together like
watercolors on pre-moistened parchment, lake-baths at sunrise and sunset become favorite
interludes for Yayuk and Sebastian both, morning-light toasting Ms. Kertanegara's
marshmallow complexion, evening-light setting aglow Mr. Lazarus's deepening tan,
youth revisiting his lean physique under Yayuk's appreciative glances, while
prettiness, under Sebastian's, inundated hers. They climbed the island's only
mountain—dubbed facetiously Chizumulu's "Kilimanjaro"—a hillock crested
with aromatic stands of blue gum and pine... gray kites circling above... monitor lizards,
with brilliant yellow-to-turquoise tails, scurrying underfoot... stones strewn
everywhere... the landscape like a rock pile by verdure reclaimed.
Afternoons were mostly lazy; a nap, a session of love-making, a stint of luxurious stupor, would be followed by a bit of
sunning, a little reading, a lackadaisical chat—waking hours defined by
scrumptious breakfasts, lunches, and candlelit dinners.
Then, during a hike along the less populated eastern shore, Yayuk cried
"Oh, pain! Uh, come, come! Pain, really pain!"
Sebastian scrambled over the craggy terrain to where Yayuk was
stuck, one foot wedged between the rocks—her ankle possibly broken. He dislodged the
trapped limb gingerly... then, removing its sandal and sock, inspected the damage: no
flesh wounds; a bruise begun over the bone; but swelling and heat from a fracture were
nowhere in evidence.
"Sprained," was his diagnosis.
After the throbbing eased, Yayuk tried to walk—a wincing, limping,
pathetic perambulation—recommending that Mr. Lazarus carry his damsel home.
"But your bad knee; if broken, we both hopeless," was
Yayuk's protest—Sir Galahad's left knee having been troublesome off and on for
several weeks, ballooning with fluid on occasion to protect something
"not-quite-right" inside. Nevertheless, Yayuk mounted up, her pleasure redoubled
at being the recipient of so selfless a gesture, as Sebastian sweated and lumbered his way
toward the lodge... approaching in full view of its staff and guests... depositing his
crippled burden amid outcries of concern... Yayuk suddenly abashed by her status as the
Her sprain turned out to be minor, just excuse enough to retard their
already sluggish activity, Yayuk managing to hobble now and again with Sebastian's
support... until his yen to wander off alone made the crocodile resurface.
"You leave me? I cannot even walk? That's nice," was Ms.
Kertanegara's stab at Sebastian's conscience.
"Im suffocating; cant you see that? Every relationship
needs a little breathing room. Ill be back in half an hour"—though his
departure suffered nearly as long a delay.
Yayuk's need for attention held him like Chinese handcuffs; the
harder he pulled, the tighter her grip became.
After a tediously drawn out battle—old arguments rehashed without
resolution—Sebastian left, muttering, his solitude won so bitterly it proved
melancholic... while Yayuk vented her anger and sense of abandonment in a two-page
harangue—read to him next day once tempers had abated.
Were they a step closer to
understanding one another? Would Chizumulu, in retrospect, become a metaphor, its insular
peace and tranquility symbolic of the couple's ideal state, where individualities
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