Cinq à sept

I had already been awake for quite awhile, thoughts and questions lingering and reaching into the deepest recesses of my mind, as relentless and pervasive as a jackhammer, when the first sounds of movement down below roused me more fully. It was just after 5 in the morning. The curtain of darkness had not yet lifted.

Pak Ketut’s voice, muffled but still eminently recognizable, accompanied his shuffling, flip-floppity feet. From then on, I could sense that a busy day lay ahead for the Family.

And yet, without sounds of a priest’s bell and no sight of (New) Kadek in kebaya and sarong, laying out offerings throughout the compound, I gathered pretty quickly that a ceremony was not in the works. But it was not a typical morning; plenty of sounds and sights alerted me that something else was up.

From my vantage point up above, I watched people come and go, coming and going with large plastic bags, their contents displaced into larger boxes, then taped, tied up, marked up and piled up.

Lights were switched on. The smoking was in full gear. Coffee and tea was brought out and served to those present.

One son after another awoke, dressed and emerged from their respective balés (each bedroom in its separate pavilion); the youngest in typical teenage garb rather than in his school uniform – a dead giveaway.

Motorbikes came and went, with more stuff. Murmurs, shuffling, birds shuffling around in their cages. Then the son-in-law showed up. Alone. From Denpasar – nearly one hour’s drive away. That clinched it: Ketut and the boys were going somewhere. And it wasn’t for a vacation.

The beginnings of this mystery unfolded before 6 am, at which point dawn began to usher in the day’s early shades of grey. By that point, it was abundantly clear that I wasn’t going to fall back asleep, so I dressed quickly, picked up my water bottle and bag and headed downstairs and out to the street; stopping on the way to bid adieu (and selamat jalan = have a good trip) to Ketut, who (I found out) was heading to Lombok.

Except for the rare motorbike whizzing by, the only sounds that greeted me during my walk to Jalan Raya were the chopping and sizzling oil (from Mama’s kitchen) and sweeping. The only dog in sigh was the brown one with the lazy eye from the warung next door, sprawled out in deep slumber, right in the middle of the road. The saté grill was getting heated up outside that warung, the owner pouring charcoal bits on top… out of a plastic bag nearly touching the grill – the flammability factor ostensibly a non-issue for Pak Saté.

An old man, not quite having made the psychic (let alone fashion) leap from rural village to touristy town, was dressed in sarong, flip-flops, down jacket, scarf and baseball hat. He ambled down the street, as if a Balinese Moses; tall staff in hand, reaching it out to mark his next step.

A large bag overstuffed with water spinach was waiting – as it does every morning – outside the shuttered doors of another warung.

As I near the market, pick-up trucks are lined up on the side of the road, their wares laid out onto a tarp on the road. I ogle at the papaya, watermelon, snakefruit, mangosteen, impossibly gargantuan-sized jackfruits; tomatoes, cucumbers, red & green chilies, water spinach, singkong, carrots; bushels overflowing with bananas and mangos.

How do you pass by mangos without buying any? Not in my capacity. Not when it’s high season for mangos. Not when I can get a mango for about 15 cents.But I have to limit myself to three, because their combined weight – combined with a few bananas, oranges and a tiny pineapple – will almost guarantee that I’ll be over my weight allocation (i.e. too heavy for me to carry them home).

Why are all the tastiest tropical fruit also the heaviest?

On my way home, I see kids ferried to school on the back of their parents’ bikes. The parking clerks, whistles at the ready, are herding drivers, directing them as they back out of their spaces, juggling bags, baskets and babies. Trying to get paid too.

I notice that the motorbike belonging to the bank’s overnight security guard still stands watch, parked just inside the bank, atop a swatch of carpet just large enough to keep the gleaming floor tiles clean of the bike’s rubber markings. The security guard himself, however, is nowhere in sight.

As I turn into my street, it’s clear that the dogs are sussing out territory, sniffing around for what has been dropped from bikes driving by with freshly bought fare.

Ibu Dayu calls me over, her morning bubur ayam is steaming hot and most people are still at the market. How can I pass? Mostly it’s about supporting my neighbors’ ventures (!) and, above all, people-watching and eavesdropping – which, naturally, is in my case an uber-limited endeavor, so it really boils down to watching life unfold, people gossiping, infants staring at me blankly.

Just as I approach my guesthouse, the last of the bags and boxes are piled into a van together with Ketut and the boys. Ngurah stands nearby, ready to begin his morning sweeping.

It’s still before 7 as I walk up my stairs. Many (if not most) expat Ubudians are probably still dozing. Being awake and present in these early morning hours, however, has its perks; it allows me to bear witness to the evanescent shadow, seeing the remains of the night.

In the West, cinq à sept (= 5 to 7) is a French phrase referring to after work/early evening hours, when people gather in bars and clubs for cocktails and chitchat. I’ve never been one for bars and clubs anyway – let alone small talk and the stifling office environment of a 9 à 5 workday. But give me a cinq à sept first thing in the morning, and chances are… I’ll probably be first in line.

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