Somewhere over the Java Sea, my body gave out.
The first clue revealed itself during takeoff, when I glanced over to see my seatmate – a twenty-something blond newlywed, decked out in halter top and lightweight pants – fanning herself with a folded up piece glossy paper, c/o the airline’s inflight magazine. This I noticed as I was zipping up my winter-grade dark blue velour hoodie, chilled to the bone.
More clues accumulated swiftly. For rest of the flight, as I alternated between standing, walking about and crouching near the galley (out of attendants’ way, as best as I could), I paid close attention to the tickle sliding up my throat, the ache taking hold just behind my eyes and the sniffle that spewed little specks of liquid out of my nostrils.
Fortunately, the normally turbulent crossover from Changi Airport to Bandara Ngurah Rai (which, for a 2-2.5 hour trip has always proven to be the singularly most bumpy ride in my traveling repertoire) was by far the most placid I’d taken on that flight path. A godsend, really, given the deteriorating state of my health – combined with the perpetually unforgiving aches in my butt ‘n leg.
Touchdown was a tonic. I was home. At least it was the closest feeling to home on this side of the world. I felt comforted knowing that, once I’d passed customs and collected my suitcase at the conveyor belt, a familiar face would be waiting for me at the arrivals lounge. Indeed, there amidst the ocean of Wayan/Ketut/Komang-drivers wielding signs and names of arriving tourists, I found Putu. No sign, no pomp and circumstance. Just a “Hello Amit,” a smile and handshake.
There was still one hurdle to overcome; after the meet and greet, passengers are still required to bypass yet one more curvy swath of duty-free shops. Just in case (what?) you wanted to purchase a Balinese trinket before you visited the island and its plentiful souvenir markets? Ahhh.. Welcome to Bali.
Laying back in Putu’s car was a balm for my back. Straight away, we launched into discussion about the upcoming trifecta of holidays – a rarity, since the timing of Ramadan, school holidays and summer holidays will this year coincide – that were going to be a boon for the tourism industry and a frightening prospect for drivers forced to contend with heightened traffic snarls.
I was so engrossed in conversation that I took little notice of the blaring air-conditioning; turning the vent away from my face a couple of times, and then asking Putu to turn it down once. But by the time we pulled into the laneway, and though I’d tried to ignore the symptoms (which has, by the way, on occasion worked to great effect!), I could tell that I wasn’t in great shape.
My friend H’s house in Singakerta (a short ride from Ubud) would be my home for the month, while she was away visiting family in the Netherlands. Putu (one of H’s drivers too) hauled my bags through the front gate and garden, helped transfer the SIM card back into my phone and gave me a quick tour of light switches. I then locked the gate behind him, turned off the lights, showered and promptly fell into bed.
I fell asleep to the sounds of Bali that have become so familiar and comforting in their own way; the resident tokek (super-sized gecko), flexing his vocal muscles, crescendo style, before belting out his multiple midnight squawks, then a cicada, the distant chants of a priest and the lulling whirs of a fan nearby.