It’s the day before Galungan, a bi-annual celebration and one of Bali’s highest, holiest days of the year. I know it will be mayhem and madness at the morning market; last-minute purchases of prepared offerings (or individual elements thereof), apples, bananas, kebayas, sarongs, live feathered chickens and roasted ducks.
I’m walking to town a little after 6, and hear the expected sounds of CHOP CHOP CHOP. I’m passing through men’s turf: Awake since the wee hours of the night, they’ve been at it; slaughtering sacrificial pigs, removing innards, dissecting down to each organ and tissue, separating into piles, preparing spicy sambal laden with garlic and chilli pepper, fashioning sticks of satay for the day’s meals.
With (repaired) camera in hand, I arrive at the market not quite knowing what I’m in search of. Motorbikes are parked 3 or 4 rows thick, keeping the juru parkir (parking ‘valets’) on their toes – and earning a healthy daily wage.
Scanning the dense crowd, comprised mostly of women and children, I attempt to wade through. A sudden feeling of claustrophobia overcomes me. I detour onto the steps leading up to the second floor, where souvenir shops are still shuttered.
A wraparound terrace affords me a bird’s eye view of the colourful chaos below. Standing with camera in hand, I wait for moments to capture.
As if out of nowhere, a young girl in blue appears by my side. She offers me a smile, and asks me a question in what sounds like basa Bali – which I don’t understand. I smile back. She stays put. She pipes up again, this time in bahasa Indonesia. That, I can understand.
Her name is Komang Ayu.
I walk around to another section of the terrace. Komang follows me soon after. Stands by my side. I’m snapping away. I turn to see that she’s blowing bubbles. They float off the terrace, into the air above the vendors and frantic shoppers.
Among the throngs of women trying on kebayas and haggling over fruit, I spot a young boy in the crowd below. His eyes are glued to the bubbles floating overhead, and he follows their downward trajectory. There is quiet joy (or is that envy?) in his eyes.
I’ve forgotten about my intention to take photos of market mayhem. I’m mesmerized. Transported into a magical world where Komang, the little boy and I are momentarily brought together in our own little world;
It’s as if the rest of the world is oblivious to the magic that’s been sparked in the market. Here we are, an unlikely trio connected by a fleeting experience of sheer shared perception; captivated by a playful dance of bubbles that nobody else seems to notice, a beautiful moment in time that’s ours alone.