They went to Changuu Island, a.k.a. Prison Island, to see the giant tortoises. Yayuk tried to ride one and got jabbed by a cactus spine for her mischief. Sebastian, determined to get his money's worth from the snorkeling gear they rented, bobbed on a rough-‘n’-tumble sea like a soft-shell crab. They also took a spice tour—after which both felt rather sheepish, having been shepherded dawn to dusk with a flock of upscale sightseers. Mostly, however, they just ‘hung out’ in and around Stonetown, allowing themselves to get lost in its labyrinthine streets, exploring shops, galleries, restaurants, then wandering home for an afternoon shower, a nap, a bed-creaking interlude of love-making—the propeller fan barely keeping pace with their ardent perspiration. Later, when the light framed by their arched windows hinted that sunset was about to paint the Indian-Ocean sky, they rose and wended their wavering languorous way to water's edge... to watch... to listen... to sniff the seasoned air of Forodhani Gardens as food vendors fired up braziers for Zanzibar's nightly smorgasbord. Theirs was an idle, indulgent, idyllic day-by-day, purposeless yet embellished by a wealth of unfamiliar sights, sounds, textures, scents, flavors, which they hoarded, as might pirates, precious gold doubloons... in the guise of:
        dhows putting out to sea or returning to port with sails hoisted like wan dorsal fins;
        readings from Al-Qur’ân sung mellifluously by unseen muezzins;
        patterns of corrosion gnawed into ship hulls and break-wall facades recording the ocean's impatience with structures of seeming-permanence;
        aromatic octopus, beef, and chicken chunks sizzling on skewers made of coconut-leaf spines, with char-broiled yam, maize, cassava, deep-fried potatoes, and toasted chapatis, plus a host of other savories tantalizing their taste buds, priming them for a dessert of lemon-grass ice cream and cardamom tea.
    Then, without warning, Yayuk's headaches resumed. The sore spot on her scalp radiated a dull drone that drowned out any pleasure she might take in their surroundings. At first, she kept her suffering to herself. But, after a sleepless night unalleviated by half a dozen pain killers, she confided in Sebastian...
    ... who worried lest the damage be pernicious; who considered the relapse a harbinger of debilities yet to come—images of Ms. Kertanegara as a babbling idiot, a brain-dead vegetable, plaguing Sebastian's conscience, causing him to experience a relapse of his own... into attentiveness... into a reinstated spate of tender-loving care.
    Yayuk, who detested being pampered, nonetheless appreciated this change of mode. Disinterested in the ‘sampler’ approach to love and marriage, she was on the verge of making a choice. Rashly? Looking back at her behavior two years prior, events had seemed to happen of their own accord. Unless he had engineered them. For it certainly was not she who had planned to fall in love, being unaccustomed to a phenomenon her seducer had enjoyed with relative frequency. Whereas Yayuk, wooed from twenty-seven years of romantic apathy, had succumbed to this older man before entertaining nary a masculine suitor. Not seriously. Not carnally; a woman bestowed virginity on her husband alone. Why had she given hers to the likes of him? And did she want Sebastian, in the end, to make their love legitimate?
    Damned if he committed, damned if he did not, Sebastian turned on the spit of Yayuk's indignation. Reluctant to embark on a binding relationship period, to do so with an antagonist lacked common sense. Better to embrace a middle-age solitude, to renounce or at least to curtail delights of the flesh, than to tie himself to anyone so hopelessly incompatible. True, they shared some aesthetic sensibilities; sculptures they had bought appealed to both—as had the chess set, various jewelry pieces, Yayuk's duck-shaped bowl. Sexually, their desires were....
    ... nobody else's business! Time and again Yayuk had exhorted Sebastian to be more discreet. Intimate matters were private, not grist for expos's. Which was not to suggest that intimate matters went unexplored, especially in the realm of bodily functions. Nose picking, gas venting, urinating, defecating; none was to escape a helpmate's scrutiny. Western pseudo-chivalry, in other words, was dead...
    ... though it died kicking in Sebastian's case, uncomfortable with milady's candid togetherness. He was used to women who "sometimes dropped by," who retired to the bathroom solo, who kept their ablutions (if invited overnight) under wraps...
    ... niceties that, to Yayuk, were reserved for mere guests or strangers. She looked ahead. "In sickness and in health," could hardly be fulfilled by someone unfamiliar with life's raw banalities. "Grooming," she called this tending to one another's person—from plucking errant body hairs to excavating pimples...
     ... gross and yet conducive to a confidential fondness that neither had anticipated...
     ... that both indulged.
    Lastly, despite the fact that Sebastian's Indonesian was lamer than lame, and Yayuk's English a limping approximation of proficiency, they loved language, with an extra-special regard for the written word. "Read!" Allah had commanded Muhammad (via Gabriel)—and thus the illiterate prophet received Holy Writ. "In the beginning, there was the Word," heralds Genesis in the Christian Bible. The gift of communication—God to humans, humans to each other—was therefore Divine; or such was Yayuk's belief, Sebastian's 'superstition.'
    One further common denominator—strong black coffee—laced the couple's nerves like cats-cradle twine. Cup after cup they guzzled, at Jaws Corner, regulars now after finding their way to the well-worn steps on eight of their ten consecutive mornings spent haunting Zanzibar town and its general environs.
     Time to leave? The Lawrences should have returned to Dar. But Sebastian's eagerness to introduce his sidekick was offset by contentment with their easy-going life, its rhythm like the captive surf in shells... luring them to Zanzibar's eastern shore... where the Circe-like enchantment might be sustained.

 

 

    Jambiani was their choice, one of several seaside villages served by a fleet of buckboard lorries—with all the butt-brutalizing comfort of wild-west covered wagons. Tooth-loosening jolts absorbed by a throng of vacuum-packed bodies—dust encrusting eyelashes like chalk-white mascara—punished Yayuk, Sebastian, and their fellow public-transport passengers down a highway better described as the Chisholm Trail.
    "Nineteen-ninety-six, and Zanzibar still have road like this?" was Yayuk's incredulous comment.
    A ribbon of palm trees hemming the coastline signaled their journey's none-to-soon end, the couple evacuating user-unfriendly seats with sighs of relief. Then, after being ushered to a beach-side lodge by its owner (who just so happened to be aboard the aforementioned vehicle), and after a late lunch of fried octopus, chips, and chai (followed by showers and the daily laundry), a native species of quietude filled the couple's ears. It was a deep, powerful, perpetual off-shore roar, as waves bombarded a reef well out to sea, creating a boundary so sonorous, it seemed as if the ocean—out there—ended in some ancient cartographer's nightmare, while preserved—on shore—tranquility much like a dream.
    Later, apace with the sun's slow set, Yayuk and Sebastian took an idle stroll—she consulting her archives for some apropos bone to pick, he attempting to savor the peace while it lasted.
    "You share bungalow with that woman who made for you that shirt?"
    "Huh?" Sebastian, nonplused by Yayuk's disregard for the spellbinding scenery, suddenly caught the hostile drift of her interruption. True, he had been to Jambiani before. True, he had written to Yayuk, describing the experience. True, a local woman had made him a shirt—converted it from a kanga, in fact, that he had admired. So that meant they had slept together? Unequivocally false.
    Under a sky festooned with Milky Way stars, along an unspoiled stretch of beach, with breeze-blown palm fronds rustling in opulent counterpoint to the far-off breakers’ rumble, Yayuk badgered Sebastian with her trumped up charge (Karonga!)...
     ... for which she later apologized... going so far as to admit that she had been wrong... bringing them closer or taking them further or leaving them equidistant, neither could tell.

 

I remember...

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