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-Qurân sung mellifluously
by unseen muezzins;
patterns of corrosion gnawed into ship hulls
and break-wall facades recording the ocean's impatience with structures of
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
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
... 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
... 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
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
"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.
BACK TO CONTENTS