Tuesday, December 6, 2011


She had a constellation of zits spread out across her forehead and it dazzled him. He could see the orion belt, he could see it guiding him to the right direction without a compass. All that was needed was darkness, and a tilt of the head towards the stars. He talked to her about thought, action, emotion, and she talked to him about the philosophy of swings. She swung in her swing as she spoke and she listened, and he followed the pendulum of her movements, completely hypnotized. Later that night he swung her with his virginal movements and she was saddened by the sexually insatiable woman she had become. They were both rendered insecure by the certainty of the other half's pretenses of security.

Sunday, September 25, 2011

"Men do not like girls who cannot stay put"

She was starting to believe she saw patterns in her head. She was starting to give me conclusions. I wanted to tell her that I have no trouble getting men to like me, but the fact of the matter was that I am still single.  I hate that she is implicitly blaming me for being single. It is very unfair. I would never do that to my daughter.  But she's too lovely to hate.

She asked me to explain how I have never regretted all my failed relationships.  I am sure she has never regretted anything either. I am sure it is not an alien concept to her. But she would be ready to feel that regret on my behalf, if she had to, so that I wouldn't. She consoles herself from my refusal to be worried about anything by telling me that she prays to God that I will find the right man.  Amen, I say.  At least that part is covered so I can focus on other things.

Mr. Seven replies to my email later that day. I emailed him because it is his birthday, and I remembered because of facebook.  It is a long delicious email that feels accidentally articulate. On our second date several centuries ago, he was the one who saw the irony of being an atheist eating ice cream on the steps of a church with a virgin muslim girl who wasn't fasting. He was too shy to kiss me. He told me he would never email me once I'm gone because he would not have the stories nor the writing skills worthy of mine, and it would be unfair for me.  He said it with a comfortable confidence, which could only mean he would do anything he could be horrible at because it wouldn't damage him one bit.

I haven't found the right man perhaps, but I've found the right memories.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Se todos fossem iguais a voce / If only everything were equal to you

"Are you working or killing time?"

"Working. Trying to. But I don't know anything... I just conned everyone into thinking I'm smart."

"Oh you are smart. It's just that you can't get yourself to actually care.  And if you don't, you have trouble employing all your brain in it."

"Thanks for your habit of just putting your finger on it."

"This is precisely where you fooled people: into thinking you care."

"I'm still a con-woman then."


Friday, August 5, 2011

Man on the Side

Mr. Six posted that and I suspect it is for me.  Now I feel guilty and insecure and confused and mashed, as the foundations of a defense that I've built over the past two something years since we ended our relationship are struck by little canon balls called The Other Side Of The Story.

Update: If I would just wise-up, I might realize that a relationship would not work in the end if a girl had to dampen her enthusiasm for life so that the boy would not feel left out and marginalized.  The problem is that I have been raised to feel slightly guilty about being so enthusiastic.

Monday, July 25, 2011

To exist.

To physically exist, I have lunch sometimes. With the people whose office rooms are next to mine or below mine or across from mine. I rarely see them.  I prefer to write during lunch break or just stare at my twitter-feed until my eyes hurt.

But they are nice people and they know I am nice. We exchange countless e-mails during the day bursting with niceties such as "noted with thanks' and "appreciate it" and "sorry for troubling you".  If I'm lucky we get to see each other on the hallways and I can compliment how much weight they've lost. When I'm feeling particularly personal I like to get creative and say "girl you are hot!".  When a girl says this to another girl it is a compliment, not a harassment. The recipient smiles and slaps the general air in front of her shyly, dismissively. 

Nobody really knows how to take a compliment. You can't say, "Thank you," because you are afraid that people will think that you agree with their compliment, which means you are full of yourself. You can't say, "No I'm not," because you're afraid that will sound like an outright disagreement with someone who just paid you a compliment, which isn't very polite.  You could say, "Amen. I hope that is a kind prayer that will be granted by God," which really works most of the time as it shows you are not only religious but also humbly cultured, but then again it only really works on old people.

The safest easiest way to take a compliment is to make a nonsensical gesture or meaningless utterance in what you hope is a humble manner and let it just float vaguely past the audience. Like slapping the air.

Of course, she isn't really that hot.  I probably just envy her legs.

Every self-help self-guide self-psycho-analysis book always says that one must venture out of one's comfort zone.  So when I start to feel too comfortable in my little office room with my choice of artwork on the wall with nobody I need to physically talk to except for the random hallway encounters, I have lunch.

When I do have lunch I realize two things:

1.  I have missed out on so many things. 

A group of colleagues have made a mailing list linking their personal emails together. This is to enable us to email each other when we don't feel like using the default office email to email each other like we do all day. An added value to this is that we can continue emailing each other even when it is the weekend, a luxury which office emails cannot facilitate.  I ignore these emails.

Another group of colleagues have made a blackberry chatgroup linking all the blackberry messengers together in one chat window. Here colleagues can exchange gossip, photos of their lunch, photos of naked celebrities, and other enlightening pieces of information.  I joined for two straight days and then kicked myself out, telling everyone that it was making my blackberry go slow.

I can't bother analyzing why, I really can't.  Perhaps I am a closet introvert. That is not the point.

Apparently one day a colleague posted a picture of himself and another colleague, in the middle of having a cozy candlelight dinner in what appeared to be a skyscraper in another country. He is married, she is not. The picture was posted on the blackberry group. Several months later it became apparent to everyone that they were having a full-fledged affair.  Everyone knew that they were doing things that everyone thinks everyone shouldn't be doing. Everyone knew that they fucked, in hotels, on neatly arranged weekly schedules.  Everyone knew that his wife had called her a slut  and everyone knew this because the wife had said it on twitter.  Everyone knew that she had responded to the wife by tweeting "I've already won the war".

Everyone, that is, except for myself.   Until a few days ago when I had lunch.

2. I don't really give a damn.

Orphan Express

It is an unprecedented charity plan.  The ladies have never thought of doing charity together before. That is why they are excited about plans to break fast together at the orphanage this coming fasting month. Apple is hardly containing her excitement.

"I'm soooo excited about our charity plans at the orphanage!" she says.  "While we're there I want to ask the orphans to pray that I will get married soon. You know how they say that the prayer of an orphan will be granted sooner by God Almighty, right? Berry, you want them to pray for you too, right?"

Berry agrees with enthusiasm.  She says "I doooo!!! Amen to that!"

Monday, July 11, 2011


I had it coming.  I knew I had.

Spending a weekend in Ubud with him was generally something of a passionate suicide. I live still but am dazed. It is not any label of feeling or hope or other banal beginnings of a description to any kind of established emotion. I refuse to declare anything except that the certainty I would come back to Jakarta, back home, in a daze of yearnings, is proven.  

Of course I would never have turned back even if I knew that with twice the certainty that I had. To make life simple, so says my friends.  Life is simple, just do what you want to do.  Don't over-complicate things, they say.  And I wouldn't. I would flow, leaping and frolicking like the froths of a shallow river over stones and pebbles and salmon spawn. The natural thing to do. But this stupor that I find myself in, on this gloomy Monday in my office, is not simple.

I am not over thinking or over analyzing more than normal. I have simply sat on my office chair unable to have a single coherent thought.  Just missing the wind in my hair as we cruise through the winding roads along green rice fields on his motorbike enjoying the little things and sleeping to the sound crickets and waking up to the sound of roosters and fussing over paintings and coffee. It sounds exotic, yes, and too obviously likeable and missable. Quizas, quizas, perhaps. So what. 

So fucking what?

Before we parted he gave me a book by Zadie Smith and inscribed in it he had written:  "To Stella.  A book filled with all the things you cherish:  Seeing, Reading, Feeling, Being, Remembering."   Each verb the title of the chapters of the book.

He watched the expression on my face and asked whether that was sufficient as an inscription.  I felt slightly crushed and could only manage a weak smile. The sensation of having someone know me and express it so effortlessly felt almost offensive. Tinged with the suspicion that he could find a million things fascinating to him whilst I am stupidly in awe of everything he finds fascinating. And he will leave and pursue his insatiable interests around the world whereas I am unsure of how to channel my insatiability, my millionth outburst of a half-baked idea.  Yearnings and yearnings piling up without form.

And I leave his atmosphere and his idyllic home to a place that has once more become confusing.  Every time I find comfort elsewhere, the comfort that I've worked hard to build at home falls away. Why does coming home always have to be hard? 

Yes. Yes. Yes I am disoriented today. Completely so. Like a little girl. I will get better tomorrow and work like an intelligent woman with a passion and vision.  But today I am burnt with pleasure and I am dysfunctional.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Ladies lunch

Still on the topic of lunch, but of the literal kind.

I drive down South of Jakarta to where my pretty young ladies have assembled. We are like sex and the city. A group of attractive and stylish career women who've known each other since we were still unattractive. Apple has perfect tresses of hair and is in a steady relationship with a boyfriend who demands to know her every movement wherever she is, and had just been to a wedding party with her boyfriend's mother. She is distressed. Oh, why is she distressed? Because the mother, for the first time, asked her seriously whether she is serious about her son. Apple smiles, surprised, happy, and says, "yes".  Yes and why is she distressed?  Because the mother then said, "Please be patient my dear.  Wait for his elder brother first."

Apple understands, but she cries. She anxiously wonders how much longer she will have to wait to wed the boy. She laments that the elder brother is not outgoing, she wonders how on earth he can be encouraged to find a girlfriend and get married. She presses her palms against her pretty cheeks and her pretty cake lies abandoned on the table, half-eaten. 

The conversation swings here and there and after a while, Cherry announces that she will be getting engaged next month. A sudden rush, rather like a graceful stampede, occurs as the girls fling themselves around Cherry and shower her with emotional hugs. They demand to know how it happened, whether he proposed, when's the date. She calmly explains that, during her two-week bed-rest recovering from typhoid, she grew bored and restless and decided to browse wedding sites.  She then got a little over-excited and decided to call one of the venues to see if they were available.  When the venue responded favorably she decided to just book the damn thing. Her mother set the engagement date. The boyfriend, who had been ready for a long time, was informed of the developments. 

Berry, a sexy divorced single-mom whose first marriage happened when she was 22, fixes Cherry with a radiant gaze and rubs her bare caramel-colored arms and declares she is getting goosebumps. She herself is hopeful on and likely to be getting engaged soon. However, she is likewise distressed.  Because her boyfriend's father insists that they must find a house before they marry, whereas her mother insists that she must stay in her mother's house after they marry. She says she shed tears at the nerve-wracking dilemma. She sees no way out of the current situation. 

Other stories become intertwined. Of the wedding of Apple's close friend, and how pretty the bride was, and how dashing the groom was. Of what color our uniforms should be at Cherry's wedding next year. Of our countless friends or people we know of from people we know. 

Of not being able to get married before the eldest does, and deciding weddings because of typhoid, and mothers who demand their children stay in her house after marriage. And then incoherent buzzing and humming as I start to disconnect.

I go to the bathroom to breathe and look at myself in my pretty pink summer dress.

"What am I doing here?" I ask.

From the window I see a foreigner sitting alone on the outdoor patio, working on his laptop.  I suddenly envy him.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Free lunch

The unexpected mid-year salary raise offered to me on a silver platter did, in fact, occur, and it came with a pile of work because there is, in fact, no such thing as a free lunch. 

The new housemaid, 15 years old, left again after two weeks of employment.  I am back to washing dishes and bearing mother's lamentations on doing the laundry.  I secretly suspect she enjoys the leverage of driving me to guilt for never being home with enough time to do the laundry. But my guilt is purely based upon her pleasure or displeasure, and nothing to do with my time or the laundry. Obviously if I had my own way I would invest in a one-touch button washing machine and come home to find my clothes dry.  It would of course be a waste of Jakarta's scorching hot sunlight to use a drying-machine, but I would of course be using solar cells to power it so that should be fine. 

I digress.  The maid resigned, saying she was tired and wanted to go home. Mother asked whether she wanted a raise, whether she wanted less work, whether she wanted to go to school. She said, no, she just wanted to go home. Mother asked what she was going to do back home and she replied that she didn't know. I heard the story over the phone, in my office, at my desk littered with a thousand-million to do's. My primary concern was for mother, but we had gone through so many long periods without a maid it really wasn't anything out of the ordinary or insurmountable. My other concern was if her parents had no money and she would not go to school and she did not want to work then what did she want to make of her life? 

I was overworked, harsh, and prejudiced. I knew nothing of her 15 year old mental situation. If her parents were anything like typical uneducated parents in this country they would hope to just marry her off as soon as she came of age and hope for the best. But I wouldn't know.

All I knew was that I had no patience for her lazy explanations because nobody should expect a free lunch, not the rich and certainly not the poor. That said, she is too young to be working. If it weren't for the thought that she needed the work to help her get by in life, what reasonable person could hire a child? 

On that note I shall make myself imagine that she is going back home to follow her heart, defy her parents,  tell them that she has her whole life in front of her, that she is not ready to work or get married, and she wants to just sit home and read whatever she can read so that she can get a scholarship to school.

What are the chances of that being the case?

I regret that I wasn't home enough to talk to her properly.

Monday, May 30, 2011


I toss my pen away in despair. It is a bright purple pen, the brightest I could find. As if having a bright purple pen would cheer me up and give me the strength to continue my arduous trek through the pages of this vomit of a document.

I stare at it disbelievingly, refusing to comprehend how such a pretentious excuse for a product of intellect has drained so many valuable hours of my life.  How I sit with my purple pen and correct poor excuses for sentences instead of looking out my plane window at the twinkling lights below, instead of tossing away my worries together with my sweat on the treadmill, instead of writing nonsensical proses, instead of staring into space as I hug my mug.

I want to say "I cannot! I will not!"  I will remember this day forever as I submit my resignation letter in a few years time.  Life at a corporate desk reviewing black letters on white paper that have no life in them, just monetary words, legal words, pretentiously complicated phrases that die before they even begin because they are not meant to invoke any insight or emotion.  There is no sense in this lack of madness.


A slow post. Something to come back to like little bites of dark chocolate in between the pages of a boring novel (somehow intermittent guilt feels less guilty than a full block of guilt even though it will collectively sum up to the same result).  I am reviewing a document from hell that makes me wish zombies were real and I could turn into a mean certifiable one instead of being the half-dead work-slaved zombie that I am now.

The weekend in Bali seems distant and other-galactic from my cold office room. The wedding party was fun and riotous but I wish it had felt more Bali than simply the rooftop poolside party that it was.  I don't complain. The single girls were desperate for action but not me because I am tranquil and collected and I simply tell myself these boys are too stupid to approach me and that's why none did. One lucky fellow ended up kissing three girls in a row. It is funny because I am guessing he thinks he's got game whereas he is simply the whore of the night. Somehow in the exact same situation girls will be whores but guys will just be lucky or good at his game.

I danced with a young old friend instead and he tells me I'm gorgeous and he admires me "somehow". I don't get why Indonesians love to use "somehow" in the wrong moments.  It is probably a Javanese effort at euphemizing everything. He escorts me into my cab and as I give him my cheek he sneaks a dry peck on my lips. I get inside and Woody asks me: "Did he just kiss you?!" I giggle semi-consciously and say "That fucker. Yes. The bastard."  The next day Woody tells me that if I seriously end up with that silly guy it will break his gay heart. I dramatize my hurt offense at such a suggestion. His gay heart confuses me sometimes. Somehow (and this is the proper use for the word), I feel as if he might really love me.  But love comes in many shapes and sizes.

The next day Woody and I head to echo beach at Canggu, just the two of us as usual, armed with style. His scarf and shockingly stylish sunglasses, a bottle of wine, and three joints. The skies opened out limitless above us.  I lay back on the warm sand staring at the white cirrus clouds rippling across the sky like the surface of a light blue lake being gently stroked by the breeze. The actual breeze was stroking my skin. The scent of marijuana was as familiar and comforting as the sound of crashing waves. Nothing else I wanted to do, nowhere else I wanted to be.  But I sent Mr. Ten a picture message right there and then and told him I wish he could feel the breeze from where I was. Woody asks me whether I am going to date Mr. Ten.  I say I don't know, and why complicate things by asking questions?  

"I could fall for you." Mr. Ten once said.
"Does that scare you?"
"I live my life by heart, like a moth to a flame."
"Me too."

Ideally.  The word "want to" was missing from my sentence. "I want to live my life by heart."  But as Mr. Eight so wisely reminded me, even free spirits are limited by their own freedom. "You're a classic existentialist" he said. He told me that existentialists are people who want to be free but in so doing they limit themselves by the consequences of their own freedom.  I miss Mr. Eight too. With the mellowness of a cherished memory and the comforting warmth of having a truer friend than most true friends.

And then there are the random multitude of other men who are merely anthropologically interesting. I don't know why I talk about them but for some reason, and at the risk of cheapening down my life in this blog to flirts and affairs, they feel natural to write about. These days married men are making quite a comeback. I oblige with a dinner or two sometimes and I make a subtle but firm point of being purely platonic. They are happy with that. They tell me how interesting I am. God, they are so lonely. 

Woody tells me it is because they got married in order to fulfill society's expectations, and not because they had found the one, after first of all finding themselves.  It was a personal choice, but one that was wrought by social conditioning. I almost don't want to believe that. Woody tells me he decided to be gay so no one could pressurize him into getting married. He says the silliest things sometimes.

I don't want to be married and lonely.

Thursday, May 19, 2011


To be half-hearted is to be half-fake. And so is this job.  But I won't go there because why complain about the obvious.  Why complain about anything at all.

Mr. Nine once said "wow you complain a lot don't you". And I said well "nobody's complained about it before".

I would berate him as an asshole if it weren't for the fact that no heartbreak was incurred on my part. Besides, as he used to say about me, and I quote, I think of every asshole as just misunderstood or weren't hugged enough by their parents when they were little, like Pol Pot and Hitler.

He sets up a lunch meeting with me a while back.  Returns a few things I lent to him. Shows me pictures of his new girlfriend.  Tells me about his plans to visit her parents and other very serious things that I can hardly bring myself to write in public because it is simply none of my business. I warmly wish him success on all fronts. I suggest that he not to rush into things.  I am genuinely bubbly and cheerful.  He nods. He looks at me with concern and asks me whether I'm okay.  In general life, and specifically after the breakup. And were any tears shed?

Were any tears shed?? Oh the heavy lightness of a question.  The insensitive sensitivity of a question. The polite audacity of a question.

I turn my head away for a minute and pretend to be choosing my words.  Inside I suppress a mixture of guilt and lightheartedness.  I did not shed a single tear, you silly boy. But the concern on his face was not convincing.  It was the damnest thing.  I couldn't decide whether I would be disappointing him or reassuring him with my lack of a heartbreak.

I couldn't decide.

I finally tell him that it was exhausting (mainly referring to prior the breakup instead of post, but somehow forgot to add that little detail). He nods.  I gain a bit of confidence.  I tell him that it was tough, and therefore it feels like a weight lifted off my shoulders.  He nods again rather uncertainly.  I then tell him that I'm very happy with my life right now. Because I am. He smiles. Tells me that is good to hear.

I feel a little ridiculous that I am allowing myself to be subject to condescension from him just to reassure him that I am alright. At the same time I am not even sure that is what his ego wants to hear. 

I become slightly flustered.

But even assholes can fall in love or think they are in love.  And I've certainly felt that he loved me sincerely at some point, which is more than I can say for myself.  It is a shame that I realize post-mortem that I should never go through a relationship with only half a heart. So maybe I should just consider myself lucky and leave it at that.

He described his new relationship as "life-changing".  I smiled and told him I think every relationship is life-changing.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


Apparently a date tonight.  Set up by a friend based on certain criteria and so forth.  The boy immediately scans through my facebook page and probably figures that I'm cute and we have things in common, like photography. He quickly adds my bbm and texts me some preliminary questions, such as, "are you into photography?".  He sends me a link to his flickr site and it is named after his name + "aholic".  For example, if it were mine it would be "stellaholic".  Very original, you see. 

I flick through his flickr (there you go, flickr, I used the pun exactly as you envisioned) and find some very nice shots and street scenes. His camera is serious and his colors are considered. His travels are extensive and his eye is keen on little details that the audience will be surprised to realize look good when cropped in a little square frame.

I'm not impressed.

"Let's go photo-hunting some time," he says.  In the pictures he comments on what type of camera he used.  Maybe he discusses with his mates what ISO it was set on and so forth, I don't know.  I don't understand the concept of photo-hunting.  I travel for the sake of all five of my senses and to fulfill an unexplained hunger in my soul and I take photos to preserve them. He praised my pictures for being "raw" (well, that sounds appropriate) and professional-looking and I am mildly surprised at the fuss he's making.

But perhaps I am being too hard on him too soon.  (Which is also his fault because why waste time on standard banter over blackberry messaging when he could have saved it for the date?).  Okay, I'm done.  I will meet him tonight and see how it goes. Oh and by the way mother reminded me this morning to "be calm and not too illustrious because he might end up liking you and then you'll be in trouble".  She is impossibly the best.

Mother was right and I am in trouble.


The farthest shores are the warmest waves
Lapping gently at my toes in shivering ways
They know me and I know them
We're friends encapsulated in a stone gem

The mother knows not these hidden craves
Her tough soft fingers at my mind plays
I hide not, I want to be fluid, not phlegm
But she is a fragile thorny stem.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Happy Talk

The Queen Boss called me in today for The Happy Talk.  Everybody knows what this is about. I know what this is about.

I bump into her in the kitchen and she starts complimenting my sweater.  "You look great!" she says.  She links arms with me as we walk out the kitchen and starts prattling about some student sponsorship proposal sent to her by a kid who mentioned my name. She draws me into her room and as she closes the door she lowers her voice and whispers, "are you happy?"

I suppressed a smile. I love when things are handed to me on a silver platter.

I allowed her to prattle on a bit more and as she progressed I knew she would make a few welcome and unwelcome suggestions. 

"I was just wondering whether you are alright, whether your salary is too small."

A welcome suggestion.

"I was wondering whether you're getting enough exposure, I think you need an Indonesian boss as well."

An unwelcome suggestion.

I wanted to tell her I absolutely love working with foreign bosses because they trust me and let me do whatever I want and keep off my back and respect my personal affairs. Plus, I don't have to act Javanese with them.

I didn't tell her that.  Instead, I told her that I will be asking for a mid-year salary review. She seemed quite satisfied.

She then said I strike her as the sort of woman who would be ambitious and driven even after I have a family, unlike my colleagues who have recently quit.   God people can be so prejudiced. 
I have precisely an hour to blow before 6pm comes to whisk me away on my taxi ride to meet my new diving instructor.  Exciting shiny new things.  I haggle these shiny items with the excitement of a Jakarta socialite anticipating the latest Hermes product-launch:  with a tingling sensation underneath the skin and a slight anxiety in the pit of my stomach.  Actually, the uncomfortable feeling in my stomach is PMS pain, so let's not over-romanticize it.

Apart from the above tingles I am in a foul mood.

Reason number 1 being that I met a friend whom I haven't seen for about two years yesterday and instead of feeling elated as I deem it appropriate to feel, I am instead reminded of how little maturity he has gained. He prattles about his achievements and plans with the expectant, beaming demeanor of someone who expects his audience (me!) to be equally thrilled, amazed, and proud for him.  He asks me how I am and when I tell him my stories he responds with the exasperating demeanor of someone who is convinced that he knows me more than I know myself.  He ridicules or praises other people in whom I have no interest whatsoever with the enthusiasm of a talk-show guest. The night ended with one very sad realization: I do not like him.

Reason number 2 being that I attended a small intimate musical performance yesterday by a talented fledgling singer, who sang her own lyrics with the quiet emotion of a woman who sings her own words. It would have been beautiful and haunting.  It would have been one of those unexpected performances where her love and pain would fill up my own empty emotional void and leave me full, warm, therapized.

But there were her friends.  And the toddler.

Her friends were the type of senior musician friends who seem to believe that they are a privileged audience, that the venue is their home, that they have heard her many times before, that she is cool with them. One kept texting on her blackberry and, although it was set to quiet mode, refused to completely silence it.  I could hear the tapping of her thumbnails on her keypads as the singer sang of the man she would give her life for.

The toddler would not keep quiet during the performance, and chose to prance about and exclaim things noisily as the singer sang of the silence she received in return for her expectations of love.  In between all this we could hear his mother and her ineffective, half-hearted "shhh"s, which only added to the noise.

The singer loved the toddler.  She would smile at him and extend her arms, while singing, as he pranced close to her on more than one occasion.  The singer was pretty, warm, gracious.  The toddler was a brat.

Apparently his mother was the singer's friend too.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

White noise.

It is always very noisy.  I cannot seem to get over how uncomfortable this city is. This overlooks my guilt in even saying that; how ungrateful that sounds and the fact that I have everything ‘delivered to my doorstep’ as he would say.  It makes me sound mean and spoilt.  But let’s put that aside for the moment because I cannot place everything in one basket and expect the basket to hold strong.  Something must come out, this green poison, this vapour that steams inside me and rots rust and acid.  
I sit, I stare, out the window as the roads and buildings pass by. The same way that I sit and stare as my friends and colleagues sit around the table passing jokes and gossip and laughter.  A filmy sunproof barrier shrouds everything, or perhaps shrouds me, and makes everything seem distant and foreign and unattractive. Square one, or more like square zero, coming back here thinking with stubborn ferocity that life will be great life be great life will be great, repeat ad infinitum until you believe it and the universe conspires to bring it to your doorstep.  With that same ferocious positivity I accidentally bumped into Mr. Nine and there began our story which started casually and grew quickly and spun out of control like a deranged ballerina.  For he was the embodiment of attractiveness in my mind and everything that I thought I wanted but yet he was not what I needed and a bit more than I could stomach.
It is always very noisy in this city. I call it white noise but if I really bothered to listen as is sometimes inescapable this is what my reluctant ears hear:
"Traffic was horrible, and shame on that celebrity for getting knocked-up before marriage, where has the morality of this country’s young generation gone to, we are doomed for sure as a nation, have you had sex, omigod how “far” did you go with him, is she a good fuck, oh I feel like a virgin again, LOL, not that I ever lost my virginity, but I’m so getting drunk this weekend, astaghfirullah I was totally kidding, pornography should be banned because it is immoral and the people who do it and watch it are immoral and it poisons our children’s minds, but I’m sorry I watched porn during the House plenary session, I’m only human and I make mistakes too, I have asked God for forgiveness, I will now go umrah and wear a hijab to my court hearings and press interviews, I just want to find a nice Muslim  man and settle down and have kids and it doesn’t matter that he is completely boring, and I just want to find a nice smart wife but not too smart to not understand that her primary role is as a wife and mother and respect me even if I’m not doing a good job at providing enough for the family, but lets go to the JavaJazz concert tonight, I LOVE jazz and therefore I’m going to watch Corinne Bailey Ray and Santana, it was so amaaayyyyzing, hahahahaha, gokilllll, paraaaaaahhh, wkwkwkwkw…."

I want to be whisked away from all this ridiculousness. 

Friday, April 15, 2011


I've been taught that the praying mat or the Qur'an should be the panacea I should gravitate to in times of need.  That's all very fine, but it is 3 am and Sylvia Plath's journals are tucked beneath my bed.  I don't place the Qur'an there because it is a holy book.  The final choice was made on purely logistical grounds, I swear I swear.

I open a page at random, with one sweeping gesture of my fingers against the book's ribs (for if a book has a spine then the other side must be its ribs). The book heavily splits and reveals its quivering insides.  Page 223.  I shit you not, this is what Page 223 says:

"I read his letter and walked the wet pine-dark path tonight, with the warm rain dripping and shiny on the black leaves in the humid blurred starlight..."

I read the entire passage transfixed and haunted.  And at the end of the passage, I shit you not, this is what it says:

"Not to be bitter.  Save me from that, that final wry sour lemon acid in the veins of single clever lonely women.  Let me not be desperate and throw away my honor for want of solace; let me not hide in drinking and lacerating myself on strange men; let me not be weak and tell others how bleeding I am internally; how day by day it drips and gathers, and congeals. I am still young."

At the risk of heresy I say, "Amen. Preach it sister."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Too dear

Farewell! Thou art too dear for my possessing,
And like enough thou knows't thy estimate:
The charter of thy worth gives thee releasing;
My bonds in thee are all determinate. 

In a lapse of weakness I wander into dangerous jungles: Mr. Six's long-abandoned site.  I find the above quote from Shakespeare posted years ago when he and I were just starting to blossom into a giddy romance. At the time he wrote it as part of a short semi-fiction, but after reading it again the premonition is uncanny.

I had a spontaneous dinner with Mr. Six last month. I asked him why he doesn't have a girlfriend.  I wasn't being nosy. I just needed answers. 

He launched into a technical explanation of how things didn't work, using a few fingers from his left hand to tick off the characteristics he was looking for in a woman, Muslim and Mature and Many-things, and how she failed because she couldn't understand  how busy his work requires him to be. 

I ask him, "where does love come in?"  He visibly starts, taken aback.  And then he grins sheepishly, caught being surprised at himself. 

"Geez I never thought about that."


"Well... I just assumed... well I'm sure that I will care for the girl who fulfills what I'm looking for."

I contemplated the cold dispassionate person in front of me with whom I used to spend many warm passionate nights.  Faintly wondering whether he ever really did love me, or whether I just ticked his checklists. 

It didn't really matter.  The present seemed confusing and distant.  I missed Mr. Nine for being a completely explosive opposite of Mr. Six, and for similar reasons I am wary of seeing Mr. Nine. 

It doesn't really matter now that he's not talking to me.

The only two close friends I have at work are resigning this month.  Both.

The near days ahead will feature empty cubicles, an empty blackberry inbox, banal twitter feeds, and my empty empty heart.   My bonds in thee are all determinate.


The title is Pepenero #1 because I have a gut premonition that there will be more stories  - e.g. #2 and #3 and so forth - to tell from my encounters at this place going forward.

I love Pepenero because (i) their generous bread basket and olive oil dips are comforting,  (ii) I can go on a budget or a splurge, and (iii) I always bump into someone I know when I'm there.  The last reason is either good or bad.  I guess everyone I know ends up working around SCBD at some point.

After finishing half a bottle of wine there last night, I was there again for lunch today. I ordered the Penne Arrabiatta and asked them to substitute the penne with tagliatelle.  The waitress said that would be no problem, and asked whether I'd rather have the narrow tagliatelle or the wide ones.  I love when the waitress gives me options.  It gives me the privilege to pretend I'm a picky eater who knows exactly what's good for me.  Without hesitation, I go for wide.  Images of rough cut laces of wide pasta conjure up in my mind, and that's exactly what I find on my plate when it arrives.  Reliability is comforting. 

When the bill comes, it is Rp.20,000 more expensive than the penne was supposed to be.  I figured that made sense, but for some reason Mr. Nine's once-made accusation that I "have no fuse" came up in my head.  I would have let it go, but wait.  In the interest of standing up for the sake of world betterment and quality service and defending my rights as a customer, shouldn't I make a constructive criticism? 

I call the waitress.  She explains, as predicted, that because the tagliatelle is homemade pasta... etc etc. It really wasn't necessary for me to ask.  I sternly tell her that that is fine, but at the time I made the order I should have been informed that my order would be categorized as something else on the menu so that I wouldn't mistakenly believe that they had given me the wrong bill.  I think in retrospect that I sounded unnecessarily stern.  Maybe even bitchy.  I unintentionally forgot to thank her as she came back with our change. 

Again, the memory of Mr. Nine once reprimanding me for not saying thank you to the waitress comes to mind. I feel I behaved like the snotty elitist he thinks I am, because I bitched and didn't even say thank you. I'm annoyed that he made me feel guilty, twice within 10 minutes, out of thin air.

He hasn't called me in two weeks but he haunts me.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011


"Sometimes I wish my parents had taught me differently," said my friend.  "Don't get me wrong, I do not regret marrying my husband.  He is very nice. But you see, my father always said, 'study, be smart, marry a nice man'.  Sometimes I wish he had said, 'look after yourself, be pretty, marry a rich man'."

"Why?" I ask her.   We went down the escalator while the Louis Vuitton model tipped her nose arrogantly at us from where she was frozen on the billboard.

"Well it would be nice to just sit down and enjoy life."

I nod in agreement.  And then I check myself.  "But that won't guarantee you happiness," I say. 

"I suppose so."  She shrugged vaguely. 

I take a sideways glance at her.  I never hung out with her much back in college. She is short and pimpled, a sweet smile framed by split hair-ends freshly rolled into curls.  She told me she had just been to the hairdresser before picking me up for lunch.  I couldn't imagine her being more happy or more sad than she was.  For as long as I knew her, she always seemed perpetually suspended in one mood: practical. 

Not a bad thing. The practical fact of the matter is that, this city encourages you to find happiness in practicality.  Service is cheap.  Rolled curls are cheap. Apathy is cheap.  The lack of it is costly. The pretty girls who understand this get the rich guys.

The nannies take care of your children at home and feed them with your refrigerated breast-milk while you spend three hours in traffic to go to work.  In the back seat while your driver negotiates the traffic. The pavements are foreboding, pitted like the surface of the moon, narrow like the edge of a cliff, littered like the depths of a marketplace. The buses are crowded and steamy and late.  They tell you: there is no place for moral consideration, just get a car.

My friend quit her steady office job to start her own venture and have more time for the child they had recently decided to have. 

Without being prompted, she felt she needed to explain her decision to me. 

"I felt that it was time, because I figured I need someone to take care of me when I'm old. Unlike people in the west, a child would never put me into a nursing home."

Maybe that is one form of guaranteed happiness.


How good it feels to be back on familiar territory.  A flashing cursor on a brilliant white blank sheet of LCD. Raw.