In Which I Lose A Child and Gain a Motorcycle
If there is one thing more disconcerting than being woken up while sleeping al fresco under a mosquito net by a chap who wants to exchange motorbikes, it’s being woken up while sleeping al fresco under said mosquito net to find a child in your care has gone AWOL.
“Excuse me, Theodora, it is me, Komang.”
I surface, groggily, realizing that my nightdress has tucked itself into my knickers and the blanket has slipped. “Oh, Komang, I’m sorry,” I say, adjusting myself hastily.
Z hosted his first sleepover last night, a process which has required a degree of rearrangement of our modest abode.
To wit, relocating me to the verandah.
Having given birth –- a process which involves an apparently endless series of strange gentlemen shoving their hands up one’s vajazzle with, at least on the British National Health Service at shift change time on a Saturday night, no such thing as a by-your-leave –- I’m actually quite hard to embarrass. Nonetheless, I am a little flustered.
“About the bike,” Komang says. “I have brought you the new bike we talked about.”
“Yes, yes,” I say. “I parked your bike outside the pizzeria. Let me just find my keys…”
In more than two months in this little house, I have yet to settle on the routine place where I leave my keys. And, with barely a fortnight left before we say goodbye to it, I doubt I will ever do so. I head inside to begin the daily quest.
Z is sleeping. I assume R is in the bathroom, but figure I’d better check.
I knock on the door. No response.
I open the door. R is not there.
I check back in the main room. R is not there, either.
“R?” I yell, hopefully. No response.
Fuck! The first sleepover at our place and I have misplaced a child. Panic surges, falls, surges again.
“Z!” I say. “Wake up!!! Where’s R?”
“How should I know?” he says. “I just woke up.”
We are neither of us at our best in the mornings.
Nightmarish scenarios flicker through my head.
I discount child abduction. This is globally extremely rare and, I think, unheard of on this small, populous island where everyone knows everyone’s business.
“Well, he’s gone,” I say. “Wake up! He’s missing.”
“I’m sure he’s fine, Mum,” Z says groggily. “He’s probably gone for a walk.”
Has R decided to walk all 5k back to his house, finding us unwakeable?
He’ll find the way. But how on earth can I face his mother if he has?
Has he woken up, bored, and summoned his driver to pick him up? (A man, incidentally, whose brutal cutting up of vehicles including taxis would put the average London cabbie to shame.)
No. He has no phone and can’t work mine.
I wander outside, stick my head out into the rice paddies. No sign of R in either direction. “R!” I yell. “R!”
Komang has been hovering tactfully, watching this insanity with a general lack of scrute and a Buddha-esque expression. He’s in his 20s, but looks about nineteen.
“Have you found your keys?” he asks.
“No!” I say. “My son’s friend is missing.”
“You think he has your keys?” asks Komang. Then, panic dawning, “You think he has taken the bike, maybe?!”
“No,” I say, taking a deep breath. “I am sure he hasn’t taken the bike. But I am worried because he is ten years old and I don’t know where he is.”
Could R have taken the change from last night’s game of table football to buy sweets? Has he just gone off for a wander in the rice fields and got lost?
What the fuckity-fuck am I going to do???
I am supposed to meet a friend for breakfast in about 20 minutes time. This is not a situation which lends itself to text message summary.
R had told us he was an early riser, up at 6.30 at the very latest, so I figured that, rather than set an alarm, I’d just wait for the boy noise to wake me up.
There had been some boy noise. But, as I’d been previously focused on sleeping through the noise of Bali Spirit revelers stumbling past our home en route to their residences, it had hardly registered.
And now, Z’s guest is AWOL.
I stand in front of the drooping boudoir in which I have spent a fitful night and scan the rice fields, yelling R’s name pointlessly.
One thing no one ever tells you about mosquito nets, by the way, is that the things are borderline useless without yards of string, which we have, plus nails, which we do not.
“No worries, Theodora,” says Komang. “Take your time.”
Balinese rarely raise their voices.
I figure I will take a systematic approach.
Sending Z out to look for R is a recipe for farce, disaster or, most likely, both.
Komang and I start at the path on the street where our new red motorbike is parked, across the road from the old one outside the pizzeria, and also the location of the sweet shop.
“Ah!” says Komang, with a note of relief. “There is my bike.”
“Yes,” I say. “The bike is absolutely fine. I know where the bike is.”
“Have you seen a child?” I ask the guy at the warung. He shakes his head.
“I have a new helmet for you,” says Komang. He lifts up the seat and clears his possessions from the storage space. “Because it is new, you need to put it in here, not leave it on the bike.”
Nobody is bothered but me, of course.
Balinese children walk to school unescorted from the age of about five.
Z, too, is allowed out unescorted on short, time-specified trips.
R was born in Bali. He’s more than capable of crossing roads and far too experienced to go tumbling into ravines.
“Thanks,” I say.
It is a fine helmet, all shiny and new with a working catch.
Unlike the old one which blows around in the breeze if I stray over 50kph, it looks like it will provide some protection.
“Three more days?” Komang says.
“Yes,” I say. We hadn’t actually planned the sleepover. I’d taken the boys to a waterpark for the day, Z had invited R to sleep over and R’s mother had agreed.
“That will be one hundred and five.” I shell out one hundred and five thousand rupiah.
We return to the house. Z has surfaced. I do not check the time but I can tell we are late for breakfast.
Since search party activities would be premature, I decide to start hunting for my keys, instead. The desk is a puddle of artworks and books. They are not there.
OK, I think, I’ll take another look for R.
I stick my head out into the fields.
R is sauntering up the path, half a green coconut in his hand.
“Oh,” I say. “There you are!”
“Yes,” he says. “I woke up early and I went for a walk. I tried to climb the tree to get a coconut, then a guy came and helped me and cut it open for me. Would you like some?”
“No thanks,” I say, deciding not to address the ethics of coconut acquisition. “But, look, next time you go for a walk, can you just wake me up and tell me? Or leave me a note, or something?”
“Sure,” he says. “Would Z like any?”
Komang is hovering. We are exchanging bikes because I only want this one for a few more days as I am buying one, and he’s got a tourist wanting to hire his for 20 days, for a price, I would figure from his enthusiasm, at least 50% if not 100% over what I am paying. So he’s borrowed a bike from his mate to rent to me.
“Z,” I say. “Have you seen my keys?”
I begin the hunt for the keys in earnest. Not in the bathroom. Not by the cooker. Not in my camera bag. Not in my day bag. Not on the desk…
“Where shall I put the coconut?” asks R.
“I don’t know!” I say. “The fridge?”
“She always does this,” Z explains to R, wearily. “She never, ever knows where she has put her keys.”
“Z!” I say. “Why don’t you just get dressed? And, R, have you brushed your teeth?”
“Well, we didn’t actually eat anything after I brushed them last night,” R says. “So I figure I don’t really need to.”
“I think you should both brush your teeth,” I say. “And, Z, you need to get your clothes on.” R sleeps in his.
I check on the dressing shelf. No sign of the bastard keys. My searching turns to a frantic kind of burrowing and I begin to swear.
“No worries,” Komang says. “Slowly, slowly…”
“What’s this?” asks R, waving a packet of pink crystals.
“They’re crystals, for crystal growing,” I say.
“Can we make some?”
“Not now!” I say. “We are meeting people for breakfast.”
I find my keys under a snow drift of artwork on the desk. I swap the old bike’s key for the new one’s and Komang departs.
The replacement bike is red, and lovely, a newer take on the model I have been driving.
However, I would prefer to be debuting it without any passengers, let alone two boys with a tendency to wriggle and a combined weight significantly more than my own.
I am feeling a lot like Gerald Durrell’s mother in My Family and Other Animals. A sort of vague, flustered bewilderment that is somehow very English.
I turn to Z, open my mouth to start yelling at him to get dressed, and find he has done so already. His shirt is not exactly clean, but is marginally less grubby than R’s. I shove some entertainment into my day bag.
“OK guys,” I say. “Sandals, helmets, let’s go!”
We wobble up the road. Boy motion and boy size means I can see close to zero in either of my mirrors, but I am buggered if I am going to start adjusting them at this stage.
We take it slow.
I am not quite sure how late we are to breakfast, but at least our friends are still there. I try and explain why we are late, but I am not sure it makes much sense.