A Boy’s Touch

It could well happen, one fine day, while out walking on a quiet stretch of street in Ubud, that you might pass by a young boy, perhaps only 7 or 8 years old, dressed in a pale blue school uniform (pajama-style), his head half-covered with a white crocheted skullcap (the kind worn by Muslims), his grin infectious as he cheerfully sings out hello , then continues to walk a few steps alongside you, suddenly reaches out and pushes his hand against your pubic area, snickers, backs off slightly, looks up to see your reaction, and when you’re frozen in place for a moment and turn towards him, he begins to scurry away, unsure of what’s next and you yourself aren’t quite sure what is next because it is one of those moments when you quite literally find yourself right in the midst of that fork, thrust out of the previous moment’s pleasant reality, vested with the almost instantaneous onus to decide what comes next, when you can in a flash decide to shrug it off, understanding quite rightly that it is the manifestation of – nothing more and nothing less – than a naughty little boy’s curiosity and playfulness, or you can follow the boy down the lane as he (not quite grinning as before) rushes home, and you follow him, not a very distant way down a lane, turning the corner to find, tucked right inside a family compound, the boy sidled up to his doll-sized grandmother, and you try in broken Bahasa to ask if the boy lives here and where is his mother, and when she suddenly appears behind you, on the path you just came from,  just outside the split-gate, and she asks what the fuss is all about and the grandmother chatters away (with a smile in my direction, always a smile), and the mother asks in her broken ingriss what happened, and I explain (again in such obviously fragmented Indonesian), what transpired and that, although I understand he’s just a boy, not every tamu (foreign) woman might find it excusable, and he anyway ought to learn that it’s not quite right and (as such) an apology might be in order once she has explained it to him, the mother and grandmother nod and shake their heads, apparently understanding and you can hear the word nakal (naughty) and the boy still grinning, whereupon you leave, but just as you all wend your way up towards the road, an Australian woman, M, you know emerges from her compound, asks what the fuss is all about, you explain and she tells you to calm down (though you are quite calm, at least you think you are; but still it is annoying when anyone tells you to calm down not having been a party to the act..), and the conversation quite quickly draws to a close – but not before you have learned that the boy is a product of a marriage between a Balinese mother and a Javanese father, thus the Muslim school garb, but that is completely irrelevant at this point – and you turn on your heels to leave this little gathering, return to the road and, still unnerved by M’s observation, you yourself wonder why you chose to follow that particular tine in the fork, and it suddenly dawns on you, like a jolt that even such an innocuous gesture of a little nakal boy, could still, even decades later, trigger a memory or an incident that you were sure was already long buried, dealt with, a thing of the distant past, but perhaps, despite it all, lies still just below the surface.

But still, deep in your heart, you recognize that you can, you must, forgive. And, in the end, it was just that, a boy’s touch.

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