Tanga became Mombassa became Malindi became Lamu, the couple crossing from Tanzania to
Kenya—distinctive countries interchangeable when viewed with travel-weary eyes.
Sebastian had visited Africa's
eastern seaboard twice before; Yayuk had never seen it; yet each had grown somewhat jaded
from having logged so many miles. Resembling a miniature Zanzibar, Lamu was an intriguing
complex of crossword-puzzle streets, with no motor vehicles. Instead a plethora of
dung-dropping donkeys—"crazy donkeys" by all accounts—were at large, their
spontaneous bouts of braying (and mating) BLATANTLY disarming. Magpies every morning
marauded the multi-level rooftops. Swallows every evening darted from under eaves. Bats,
on silent wings, took over every nighttime.
What was so difficult, Sebastian wanted to know? Why must Yayuk
"try" to enjoy each new situation?
Underestimating the effort it cost Ms. Kertanegara simply to get along
with him, Mr. Lazarus could not fathom her chronic regrets. Had he forgotten she had never
been so far away from home? Did the fact that it was Ramadan—a season of fasting, prayer,
and making amends among friends and family members—fail to render intelligible
Yayuk's estrangement, her sense of isolation? Must his Scottish generosity be
acknowledged around the clock? How would he feel, coming to the end of yet another
gratuitous journey, sensing his traveling companion was bent on farewell?
"Im headache," Yayuk would announce—her complaint both
metaphorical and linked to her injury.
Sheltered comfortably, idyllically, at the Sunshine Guest
House, their tidy room equipped with an indoor bath, mosquito net, overhead
fan, with access to an open-air top-floor lounge and a view that took in
town-shore-and-sea at a panoramic glance, the duo, nonetheless, found
... 'often' unhappy, which worried Sebastian when weighing Ms. Kertanegara against lovers prior, none of whom, true, was disposed to lifelong loyalty
(among other shortcomings), but none was so temperamental or immune to rational thought;
Yayuk would not concede to a superior argument—nor would she conform to somebody else's
mold (a rebelliousness rather admirable were it not equally exasperating)...
... unhappy period, which preyed on Yayuk's mind, as Sebastian
chipped away at her identity, eroding her self-concept with his constant criticisms,
poisoning her with comparisons to 'women worse than whores.' Furthermore, his frugality
verged on stinginess; his opinions seldom yielded to other points of view; his clinical
intellectualizing squelched all opposition; and his inattention to the little things—his
contempt, in fact, toward needs less austere than his own—eclipsed more positive
attributes, rendering Yayuk hopeless.
Then something bizarre happened.
It was early Monday morning
before the work-week began for Lamu's gainfully employed, but after the
pre-dawn call to prayer. Sebastian, answering a more pressing summons, had repaired to the
commode. Yayuk, having shifted to their spare bed, sat holding a mirror in her left hand
to pick a pimple with her right. Sunlight, spreading itself over the confused geometry of
structures outside, likewise lit the simple room's interior—along with Yayuk's
features which faced the window, with a closet area and hallway to the bathroom reflected
behind... in front of which Sebastian, impossibly, passed... paused... grinned... then
moved beyond the handheld mirror's perimeter... disappearing just as Yayuk (all the while
hearing unmistakable evidence of the flesh-and-blood Mr. Lazarus relieving his bowels)
whirled around to catch but a fleeting glimpse.
"Sebastian!" she blurted, the alarm in her voice drowned out
by the sound of flushing water. Dropping the mirror—as if it were the
apparition's origin—Ms. Kertanegara gained composure as Sebastian re-emerged. She
described to him the encounter, then lost her nerve afresh upon hearing his
"Doppelgänger, the phenomenon is sometimes called. It means
walking double. A lot of authors have written about it. The doppelgänger
exists in legends, too. It stems from a belief that, somewhere on the earth, every human
being has a twin."
Sebastian elaborated by relating what he could remember of various
"Oooo, look; like chicken!" Yayuk exclaimed, pointing to the
goose-bumps risen on her arms.
For the rest of that day, she refused to be alone while inside their
Memory of the incident was slow
to fade; both Sebastian and Yayuk took it seriously—though neither would admit as
much to the other.
For Ms. Kertanegara, an eerie premonition clung to the
like a residue of foreboding, something from the past that jeopardized the future. She
tried not to dwell on it. But when the decision was made to leave Lamu one day
early—avoiding thereby a twenty-four-hour non-stop trek to Nairobi—Yayuk was glad,
associating Lamu with the supernatural.
For Sebastian, alias Mister Rational, Yayuk's sighting (which he
did not doubt she had recounted with absolute accuracy) reminded him of a dream from his
early twenties—a vivid nightmare—prompting him to quiz his companion about the
specter's demeanor. Satisfied that Yayuk had seen a kindly, not a malevolent
spirit—as had been the one that attacked him years before—he breathed a little easier.
Still, the very suggestion that his personality might again have split, gave the book he
was composing an unsettling torque. There were times, for example, he felt the writing was
other than a simple travelogue; events, as he transcribed them, would trigger déjà vu.
Situations, characters, settings, would then take on a retrospective aspect, a looking
back, when, in truth, he simply was recording them. Or inventing them? The distinction,
fact or fiction, was too often blurred.
"Is not about your stupid novel," Yayuk would protest, irked
at the writer's presumption that whatever his pen put to paper was somehow authentic. An
author ought not confuse himself with his protagonists. Had that begun to happen?
Sebastian, by mistaking objectivity for subjectivity, by dwelling on people's flaws to
generate dramatic tension, by selectively broadcasting secrets to inject a semblance of
reality, was maybe losing sight of things as they were. No wonder his twin had emerged;
Sebastian, figuratively and literally (through Yayuk) was seeing double.
On Valentine's Day, the
couple rode donkeys to the village of Matondoni. They took this trip with four Germans
(two of whom had become friends after crossing paths several times) on a semi-guided tour
that made Sebastian cringe... loathing such activities—a long day's journey of
camera shutters clicking, tongues clacking, and clouds of cigarette smoke fouling the
Yayuk, contrarily, blossomed with affability... to a
point... reached later than her misanthropic sweetheart... whose grumpy
disposition she soon-after aped—weary to the core of 'other-people's' company.
Once returned, Sebastian, fulfilling a wish that Ms. Kertanegara had
expressed throughout their mule-train trauma, whisked her off for an iced cappuccino at
Rumours Café—paying a price that rivaled one day's rental for the buttock-bruising
donkeys, a grand, if exorbitant, antidote for their sprechen-sie-Deutch fatigue. Two
chilled refreshing glassfuls worked wonders; the trip had been rather entertaining,
looking back; they liked Franz and Hilda, despite their exhaust plumes; it had been fun to
sample cashews roasted on an open fire; the ships being built, baskets being woven,
seashells being crushed for making whitewash had all held their interest. Still, to be on
their own again always seemed preferable, reconfirming their mutual bent toward aloofness.
After love-making that evening, Yayuk summarized this penchant with a
"You are my everything," she murmured to Sebastian...
... reviving his spent erection with a post-coital throb. She was his
exclusively. She had penetrated his defenses no less than he had hers. She had rebuffed
his domination, asserting her independence, yet managed, in so doing, to embrace his
idiosyncrasies, to love him for them, in effect...
... despite his hard heart's often failing to reciprocate,
threatened as he was by becoming 'a pair.' Solitude was superior; existential truth
meant living detached; love of self took precedence over cornball camaraderie.
"If, by some sort of
psychological surgery, your faith were suddenly removed, what would you two miss from
Sebastian's question was addressed to Yayuk and Mister Rashid
Chelule (an old—young—Lamu friend from a previous visit who had stayed in touch
"What does mean?" Yayuk asked with an ingenuousness that
guarded against her partner's wading off into the deep-end of his vocabulary.
"Without belief in Allah, what would life be like as you're living
"Empty," was Yayuk's instantaneous response.
Rashid, a twenty-two-year-old less accustomed to fielding philosophical
questions (and perhaps a bit more reticent in the presence of elders), paused before
"I would feel as if I did not exist."
Rendering, therefore, an atheist hollow and fictitious? Sebastian
sometimes rued this apt implication—when the Pointlessness of Being was made too
self-evident. Still, perhaps these believers—in their twenties—had intuited something
the skeptic—in his forties—had failed to comprehend.
Pressing them further, Sebastian watched Religion draw its hallowed
veil; insights were revealed to those of faith exclusively. Cynics could scarcely imagine
Allah's intentions. Surrounded by a community of fasting, praying worshippers, Mr. Lazarus
felt the weight of being outnumbered.
When the conversation turned toward the rules of Islam, Rashid sharply
criticized those who disobeyed, calling such Muslims "hypocrites"—to which
Yayuk raised a typically Indonesian objection.
"If someone is a perfect level 10 in Islam—studies well,
understands all—but someone else is maybe only a level 3, is 3 a hypocrite? No, 3 needs
to learn. 10 has to help 3 with nice things—come to the mosque, read a little this, read
a little that, pray—not call 3 names like hypocrite. To say like that makes 3 maybe slip
back to zero."
As Rashid paused to consider Yayuk's sympathetic argument, its
articulate presentation impressed Sebastian—who wondered why, when he and she were
squabbling, such fluency failed.
For squabble they did: Yayuk,
still jumpy after the doppelgänger incident, was preparing food in the Sunshine Guest
House kitchen, when Sebastian, approaching from behind, gave her a playful pat—which
Yayuk misconstrued as an attempt to scare her. The reprimand she delivered was swift and
... her rash reproof avenged by a night in separate beds...
... and requited even further the following morning, when
Sebastian planned to go to the bank by himself.
"To spare you the strain," he rationalized; Yayuk was coming
down with a cold (and had started her period).
"Go, then," Yayuk dismissed, with a petulant scowl...
regretting she had spoken the instant he left... afraid... feeling abandoned... then
nearly losing face when Hilda and Franz intervened—'sent,' it appeared, by Sebastian, who
had met them outside.
The warring couple, eventually,
was reunited at Kenya Commercial Bank's Bureau De Change... from which they
proceeded, along the waterfront, to Lamu's GPO... then back home... in tandem...
still estranged... still edgy and out-of-sorts... tempers on the rise.
Sebastian managed to keep his to a self-controlled simmer—once
sequestered in their room. Yayuk lost hers outright—seething with hardboiled rage.
Invoking the word "Karonga" proved unavailing; Sebastian was
ordered to "shut up!" He complied, weathering Yayuk's blitzkrieg with mute
She rained blows; he did nothing to defend himself.
She shouted in his ear; he stood still.
She wagged her finger in his face; he waited for the abuse to stop—or
to run its course, which... at length... it did.
But Yayuk's predictable apology went un-accepted.
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