Her voice catches me first. It’s actressy, well-honed, modulated, and, my lord, it carries. It’s like Princess Diana in her “three people in this marriage” era, only the accent’s East Coast American.
Phrases drift across. “Intense spirituality… a passion for life…”
I sneak a glance.
There’s only one man there with her. Balding, stocky, T-shirt and jeans.
By their noticeboards ye shall know a place. And this one tells a million tales. It’s a pizzeria. A damn fine pizzeria, with a deli attached. But there’s more than a whiff of patchouli on the board.
There’s the rental adverts – “room to rent: suit single female, must like cats”. Kilo upon kilo of wheatgrass powder and barley germ going for a song in a relocation sale.
And holistic schtick enough to fill the back pages of Gullible Monthly. Raw food cuisine classes for “pembantus, staff and locals – materials in Indonesian!”. Shamanism courses by a Native Cherokee medicine woman. (We are, for the record, in Bali.)
Crystals. Dances. And, yes, colonic irrigation. The whole apparatus of a post-hippie culture in search of meaning, like something out of Michel Houllebecq’s Atomised.
It works, of course, a lot of it: the placebo effect’s so well known in science that half of German doctors prescribe placebos. (The more expensive, incidentally, the better they work: more here.)
But I digress…
Back in the pizzeria, the lady has turned her volume up a notch. “I could have made a lot of money, of course. If I had wanted to,” she pronounces. The tone drops to a note of quiet, dignified pride. “But I didn’t.”
My head snaps round. I inadvertently catch the eye of the Indonesian guy at 12 o’clock who’s performed a similar rapid turn.
We look away, with that embarrassed, conspiratorial amusement you get when you catch each other eavesdropping.
Her dinner companion isn’t saying much at all. Though it reads like a first date, a blind date, maybe, I’ve yet to hear the magic words from any lady to any man “But what about you?”.
Or even close.
The chemistry doesn’t seem right, somehow.
Nor, for that matter, the place.
For if he were the type of guy who liked the type of gal who talks at length about her spirituality – and Ubud is, for that rare breed of gentleman, every bit as much a mecca as the Philippines or Pattaya are for a different type of gentleman caller (more here) — surely he’d be taking her to Yoga Barn? Kafe?
There’s just too much, well, meat here. Bloody great salamis behind the deli counter…
Plus he doesn’t, to be honest, look like that sort of chap.
“So you believe,” he’s saying, “That this is healing?”
She’s flustered. “I’m intense, and very spiritual,” she says. “Physically, too. I’m intense, very passionate…”
She’s gazing at him, intent. A note of vulnerability. “Though my eyes aren’t as good as they were…”
I look at her again. I can’t really place her age, though she’s older than I thought. While she may not believe in earning money her funds appear to stretch to collagen.
Our waitress has neglected to bring madam her juice. She reiterates her order, in English, shakes her head more in sorrow than in anger at the lack of commitment of the lower orders to the service of those with higher paths to follow…
Her guest is questioning her, in a quiet, controlled voice. He has a mittel-European accent. She says something about “the course of work…”
And then I get it, I think. He’s her student?
No. He’s too assertive. He is the guru. She’s the student. She’s come here to learn from him, study his mysteries, not he hers.
The juice arrives. And with it her salad.
“This is fantastic salad,” she says. “They do great salads here.”
A pause. “You know,” she says. “I barely go out at night, now. The lights are off and the gates are locked by nine most nights…”
“So I’ll be sleeping on the verandah?” he says. He sounds a little relieved to be finally cutting to the chase.
“No, no,” she says. “You won’t be sleeping on the verandah! You’ll have a key! And, besides, that verandah’s mine.”
Another question. “Oh no,” she says. “You won’t hear from me! You can go out if you want. Every night if you want. After seeing my clients, often, I’m so drained, I just want to lie on my bed. That’s all I do, sometimes. Just lie on my bed.”
Another question. The interrogation not to be stopped.
“She’ll clean for you,” she says. “Change the bed every four days…”
“Every four days?”
“Well,” she says, her irritation at his pedestrian style, his sheer, goddamned literalism coming through. “It doesn’t have to be four days. She’ll do it more often, less often, if you like. Three days, two days…”
We leave before they begin to talk terms. It will be, one imagines, an interesting house share.