CHAPTER SEVEN

WISDOM IS QUIET

    The night boat from Zanzibar encountered rough seas. It pitched and yawed with nauseating disequilibrium, Yayuk's ultimate recourse a plastic bag that Sebastian fitted like a feed sack—which served as the reverse. Shed of an odious, copious, miscellaneous mass, Ms. Kertanegara tried to resume her toss-and-turn sleep, while Mr. Lazarus weighed the odds of his navigating an aisle clogged by slumberers to crab-walk his way above deck, toss the baggy overboard, then somehow stagger back without throwing up himself. A long-shot. Yet he accomplished it, resolving thereafter to remain seated come Hell or high water (anticipating both), deciding it was better to drown than to die from non-stop puking.

    Next morning, anchored in a sultry harbor smooth as a steam-ironed sheet, the M.V. Muungano disgorged its gill-green passengers. Single-filing their way onto a sun-swabbed wharf, then through Tanzanian Customs (a farce, since mainland and island were one and the same, thanks to a recent, hotly contested, local election initiative) the couple fought off a rip tide of taxi drivers to walk the few short blocks to Salamander Café (prearranged rendezvous point for themselves and the Lawrences). Finding it closed, of an early Sunday, Yayuk once more had need of a plastic bag, ducking behind the café's outdoor counter to empty her bladder this time—Sebastian discarding, curbside, the done-up remains.
    Where was George? Where were Ratiporn and the kids? Perhaps they had not received the telephoned message? Learning from a shoeshine-stand owner next-door that the Salamander would not be open until ten—two and a half hours away—the pair resigned themselves to a caffeine-free wait.

 

    "Been here long?"
    George Whittaker Lawrence
III, a moniker far more pretentious than the humble man himself, embraced Sebastian in a bear hug of boyhood reunion. Friends since elementary school, the two had maintained contact, despite residing at opposite ends of the earth. Their size difference—George a meaty six-footer, Sebastian, bones like a bird, a mere five feet six—was analogous to their contrasting lifestyles. George was a family man dedicated to humanitarian service; ‘Arnie’ Lazarus was a bachelor dedicated to himself, or, put more charitably, to his Muse—these disparities somehow a catalyst for the relationship's epoxy.
    Yayuk was introduced. George then went to move his Land Rover—in which Ratiporn was waiting. Host and hostess, shortly thereafter, returned.

 

    As guests—one familiar, the other not; one relaxed, the other horribly self-conscious—Sebastian and 'his consort' played their roles with respective ease and chagrin. Having visited the Lawrences on several previous occasions—in Brattleboro, Buffalo, Divonne-les-Bains, and here in Dar-es-Salaam—Sebastian felt at home, his sporadic visits always welcome, his eccentricity and story-telling proclivities entertaining diversions for parents and children alike. Whereas Yayuk felt the pressures akin to an intruder. Scrutinized from all sides, she was especially mindful that both George and his thirteen-year-old daughter had read about her and Sebastian—as told in that misbegotten novel, whose single saving grace was its unpublished status. Of course she had not read it herself; she assumed it was inaccurate. She assumed it was distorted and chockfull of lies. The fact the he had written it in the first place was sufficiently dishonest. To distribute it, then, among his friends and relatives—describing its pretensions, worse yet, as true—was to prejudice all before Yayuk had the chance to represent herself. She felt helpless, hopeless, voiceless, and unforgivably betrayed. Nor did she want to read his "Indonesian Odyssey." Those two lost months of disgrace were best left forsworn—though vengeance might redeem them. Barring that, she considered them dead and buried.
    Why, oh, why did Sebastian insist on resurrecting them? For insist he did, not two days into their stay, plucking the desktop-printed manuscript from its place on the Lawrence's bookshelf, then force-feeding Yayuk its "bull-bull" cover-to-cover.
    Wrong, wrong, wrong; all was wrong—the parts to which she listened, anyway. Mostly Sebastian's words just droned on and on... so she tuned them out—incurring, as intended, the proud author's wrath.
    "This is important, Yayuk, pay attention! I’m not reading for my own edification. I want you privy to details as I’ve recounted them."
    Meaning he wanted Yayuk to endorse his lopsided version, to condone it and thereby absolve him of its bald-faced fabrications.
    Better to clear the air once and for all, was Sebastian's opinion. Better to brave recriminations now (four months into their African travels) than to have their future spoiled by a retroactive feud, especially with the fate of Yayuk's visa still undetermined. In other words, better to force the issue...
    "You always push me, Sebastian."
... than to allow Yayuk time enough, space enough, to forget his shameful past, to forgive his having ripped her from her roots, bragged about the process, then rubbed her nose in the dirt of his former relationships.

    As might have been predicted, recitation of this novel sparked malice in its listener, consternation in its orator. Less a recapitulation, more a first-time-made confession, the story struck Sebastian, even, as unfair. He had gone too far in betraying confidences, exploiting character foibles, boasting about his conquest of the book's unworldly heroine...
     ... reminding Yayuk of her plight as a wanderer's passing fancy—while reanimating 'whores' to whom she was compared, thus scandalized by this self-aggrandizing "artist." Had anything changed? She was no closer to respectability here in Africa than she had been in Indonesia: still unmarried, still traipsing around with an older man, still ostracized by her family and friends back home (while less independent financially), and once more made the butt of a fiction- writer's ego.
    It went without saying that she closed her ears, allowed instead the unfamiliar vocabulary, foreign idioms, and convoluted sentences to excuse her from a word-by-word translation...
     ... her blank response infuriating him who persevered, who read, as into the record, this fraudulent account.

 

    With compromise in mind, Yayuk and Sebastian proceeded to the American Embassy, their way purportedly paved by an 'unofficial' phone call. Scheduled to see a man George Lawrence knew both socially and professionally—"an easy-going, likable sort of guy"—the couple found themselves interviewed by no such persona.
    After filling out the appropriate form then approaching a bullet-proof window, Ms. Kertanegara (Mr. Lazarus shadowing) was summarily grilled:
          incredulity expressed at her Indonesian employer granting indefinite leave;
          skepticism greeting her stammered explanation of the job's part-time nature;
          an arched eyebrow countering her denial that marriage was in the offing;
          and a "somewhat irregular" determination making it unlikely that her visa would be approved.
    "Come back at 3 o’clock," was the interrogator's parting instruction. Argumentative, brusque, and discouraging, George's 'pal' would soon stamp VISA DENIED—or such was Sebastian's presentiment. Yayuk, on the other hand, had endured this process before.
    "I got it," she concluded.
    "How do you figure that?"
    "Let's have lunch."
    And have lunch they did, after well-earned cups of coffee at the Salamander Caf´┐Ż, Yayuk's spirits higher than those of her doubting sponsor... 

    ... until their return to the Embassy at 3:00 P.M. sharp, whereupon Sebastian joined wholeheartedly in Yayuk's elation.
    "Five years? They’ve given you a multiple-entry visa good through 2001?"
    Problems related to Immigration, of a sudden, were solved. Problems related to choosing from among a whole host of new options, just as suddenly, loomed. Now that Yayuk could return to America, would she do so... should she... and to what end?

    As for the Lawrence family, life went on as usual: George coping with a refugee crisis, Ratiporn busy with housework, tennis, and golf, their teenage children preoccupied with hormones and multi-ethnic schoolmates. Courteous, generous, hospitable, the Lawrences—to Sebastian—were domestic ideals whose international context served to embroider their otherwise conventional aspirations. Yet he did not envy them. Nor, in his heart-of-hearts, did he want the same. Nor did Yayuk.
    "No freedom, if you too much like a model," she protested—their hosts' conservative profile too mundane for her renegade taste.

    "I want traveling. Go where we want, do anything we like; so what," was Yayuk's assertion, once distance had been placed between herself and Dar-es-Salaam. Due to no lack of kindness from the Lawrences, Ms. Kertanegara had felt at odds with Sebastian's surrogate kin—his expectations, more than theirs, having made her ill-at-ease. Their acceptance, granted or denied, had not been her objective. What mattered was the harmony she, with Sebastian, might achieve. 'That novel,' and all it meant, perhaps lay behind them...


     ... perhaps not, as they jointly reconsidered, reflected from afar, from the town of Lushoto, to be exact, a peaceful, eye-delighting village tucked into the Usambara Mountains.
    Fresh alpine air, in a positively luscious setting, breathed a breath of coolness into the couple's heated relations. Lodged at Kilimani Guest House, a prison-style establishment, with cubbyhole rooms, unsanitary toilets, and no running water, Yayuk and Sebastian escaped each morning to the nearby Lawn Hotel, where coffee, served on the verandah, cost more than half of their budget accommodations—though was worth it for the view. Perched on a hillside bounded by verdurous peaks, scarcely a tourist in residence, the Lawn was a stately  throw-back to colonial times—as evidenced by its idle, if agreeable, personnel. Taking full advantage of this, Sebastian resumed novelization of his and Yayuk's journey, ending the hiatus imposed by ‘old business,' consulting his principle character evermore closely.
    "You only show my negative, Sebastian, cover up your own," was Yayuk's main criticism.
    Adept at exposing other people's defects, Mr. Lazarus often camouflaged those he possessed, albeit subtly, manipulating the language—a dearth of introspection thereby concealed. To be "right" was enough—ignoring the limitations of black-and-white rectitude. To be "right," however, with respect to Yayuk, won precious few arguments. Hers was an emotive form of reasoning, anathema to Sebastian, who ran roughshod over anything at odds with his unrelenting logic. "Karonga," he would cry, attempting to squelch his anger... while Yayuk would retaliate with a well-aimed "fuck you" (profanity he had taught her).
    On a slope above Lushoto, one such fracas raged.
    "You don’t understand. I look up that word in the dictionary. ‘Bitch’ mean ‘female dog.’ To call an Indonesian virgin ‘dog’ without reason, is worse than say like prostitute. For all my life until now, I'm not called that."
    At issue was an offhand remark made by "that cheap Japanese slut" (Yayuk's classification of Sebastian's most recent part-time girlfriend), whose catty denigration had been scrawled on a napkin and forwarded in a letter... two years earlier... its cancer having metastasized to Ms. Kertanegara's brain.
    "It was no big deal, Yayuk. You’re making a mountain out of a mole hill, to use an American expression. And you’ve been punishing you, me, and us—like a mad woman—ever since."
    "Not like that, Sebastian. Until she apologize, for all my life, I never will forgive!"
    And therein lay the problem. Unaware of her offense, the party in question could hardly say she was sorry; Yayuk's only recourse was to lambaste Sebastian... who deserved it...  guilty as he was of inciting the long-term spat. His mischievous intention to stir up a little rivalry had become the chronic impetus for unremitting rows.
    "Okay, okay, I'm to blame. The one to hate is me, not her. Get over it!"
    "No! For all my life... "
     ... at which point Sebastian cut her off, as he did too often, abusing his powers of persuasion to argue Yayuk speechless—though no less fit to kill in her wounded-pride pique.
    This time, however, the outcome was less hysterical. Yayuk was staring meat-cleavers, sure enough; Sebastian's affected calm disguised aggravation; but a subtext of forbearance kept tempers in check.
    On the front of past offenses, progress had been made.

 

Metaphysical tears...

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