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June 05, 2023

Good Morning? 03

By Lydia Manx

I most certainly didn't sign the release form to be on their little dog and pony show, and the crew had to be fully aware that if they tried to film me, I was going to rip their cameras from their hands and stomp them into unrecognizable shards. I hadn't said it aloud quite like that, but my intentions were definitely felt by the entire team. Since I'd ponied up some serious coinage -- no discount for me, unlike the teacher and her niece -- they pretended for the most part that I was utterly invisible. All three of them avoided me like I had actually already caught the plague and a mere touch from me would kill them. Once they'd actually figured out I wasn't fooling around, they went to great pains to make sure that I didn't appear in a single frame of film. They didn't ask me any questions when I'd further made it perfectly clear that I would be ruthless in my legal pursuits if filmed without my consent. With my cash influx having paid the full price, I figured I was safe, besides I was totally bluffing because I didn't have a clue what sort of legal recourse I even had if they filmed me in a public place in a foreign country -- but they didn't seem to know enough to challenge me so it worked. Being wanted dead for a couple million dollars gave me enough incentive to make sure they took me at my word.

I wasn't always 'charming' despite what the werewolf back at Uncle Harry's place had said. Riley's claims of how charming I was arose when he met me at Uncle Harry's, bringing a thick slab of bacon. I could still hear Uncle Harry saying, "Emma, stop and watch." I knew he was serious because he didn't call me my childhood pet nickname of Magpie. That said, he always did watch my back. But with how the day was dissolving I was feeling more than a bit edgy. More than one cameraman to pay attention to and the drama rapidly unfolding added to my worries.

Sherry, on the other hand, was sashaying towards her aunt with an absolute awareness of where each of the camera lenses was focused. She dipped her head allowing her stringy hair to spill forward, half-covering her rather unremarkable features. She seemed to be trying for a sexy siren pose but fell oh-so-far short of the mark. Instead she looked like a tense uptight college girl posing awkwardly for class pictures without having even brushed her hair properly. I doubted that she looked very good on film, but that didn't seem to cross her mind as a possibility.

The substitute teacher was still venting. She'd finally figured out that she was being filmed. The film crew had been the bane of my existence but once I'd refused to sign their release and they knew that I was going to sue them beyond the grave if I'd appeared in a single frame, they'd skipped me and focused on the rest of our group. I held firmly to the wishful thinking that would remain status quo until it didn't -- I wasn't being unrealistic given how everyone was acting; I knew that something would give. As long as I kept out of the mix I would be happy. The teacher had supplied some lovely shots, and now with the latest tidbit they were hooked -- reality TV at its finest. The teacher and her niece hadn't been taking any malaria pills and I'd just seen the teacher suck down more than a few ounces of the local water with aspirin or something but not a malaria pill. She'd told us all that malaria didn't exist any more and she was fine. After that stupid declaration she'd finally noticed that the film crew was still actively taping. She'd continued to scream causing the local monkeys to go nuts while her niece preened for the camera. I thought that Sherry, the niece, had a fantasy or two of being discovered by Hollywood.

Johnny, our guide, looked completely confused by the woman's hysterical ramblings. I didn't blame him. I wasn't sure how the film crew was to blame for her ignorance of medicine. Malaria being one of the few curable diseases that killed people regularly, and once you added in poverty and lack of easily attainable medicine, there were always issues that figured into the death count -- horrific on many levels. That these two women came from a corner of the globe where there were many choices of medical care and the medicine was readily available just further illustrated how dim-witted they were.

In the distance I could see a woman walking towards our group balancing a pole across her shoulders resting against the back of her neck. Suspended from the ropes in a teeter-totter arrangement were two wicker baskets dangling at waist level filled with various shaped jars and containers. Johnny noticed where I was glancing and clapped his hands together briskly and said, "I know what to do."

He shouted out to the woman a greeting not in English, and she slowly made her way towards our group. The film crew didn't bother to try to be discreet with their intentions and hoisted up another camera to film the woman's delicate approach. She seemed unaware of the camera or didn't care. Her movements were not much more than a gentle walk, but from the filled baskets she carried smoothly over the uneven path with her calm gait there was no swaying or clattering of glass from her motion.

Once she was nearly to Johnny, he walked quickly to her side and began talking in soft tones in the foreign language I'd heard him call out to get her attention. The woman's face was heavily lined and she had bright pink lips. I knew from my research that meant she was eating from a local plant -- the betel nut -- which was used for either religious purpose or simply to numb her senses. From the simple, yet sturdy clothing, I figured it was more likely religious in nature rather than simply to get high. I'd already concluded that she was probably a traveling medicine woman. I'd heard that they were more likely to cure you rather than kill you, something that in the local hospitals, on the other hand, wasn't in the least as guaranteed. I was cautioned away from them since they weren't equipped to handle much in the way of emergency care. I didn't plan on any hospital trips and if I got injured I'd phase out of the area rather than risk any close scrutiny.

"Ma'am, she will fix you all up. Right away." He indicated the woman as she began to pour various colored liquids together and shake them. It probably wouldn't look good if he had two of his tourists die while taking them through his homeland. The woman cautiously sniffed the bottle and shook her head as if disagreeing with herself and then with a frown on her forehead took a pinch out of one of the jars nestled in one of the baskets. Soon there was a swirl of more browns and yellows in the liquid and a serious look crossed the older woman's face. She asked Johnny something in a lilting language I didn't understand and he shook his head and pointed out Sherry.

She looked directly at me and went ash white. She hadn't really raised her eyes since she'd walked up, keeping them dropped to the ground respectfully while talking with Johnny. Then he pointed to Sherry, who was a foot from me. With slightly shaking hands she quickly mixed a few more things, and thrust the old glass bottle she used to create the tonic at Johnny while edging out and away from me. The woman made a few gestures in the dirt, rapidly pulled something from her baskets and dropped it down by my feet in a fluid motion, leaving a what looked like a leaf and some rice in front of me.

Johnny began talking rapidly and it sounded like he was chiding the woman for something. I didn't look up. My ears burned and I knew without understanding the language she wasn't asking about the teacher or her niece. I could feel the film crew trying to overcome their fear of me and also risk angering me by shooting my reaction to the woman.

Johnny was still arguing with the woman. Both the 'Auntie' and Sherry were looking at the bottle in Johnny's hands and the green waxy leaf resting at my feet. The woman hissed something back and began again to edge away from me -- backwards -- she was obviously terrified of me. I sighed and tried to figure out how to calm her before I ended up starring in the YouTube Indonesian show.

The woman's eyes never met mine once she'd dropped the bits of rice on the slick green leaf in the dirt at my feet. She continued to argue with our local guide, Johnny, in a singsong voice, but stubbornly not giving into whatever he was mandating. It was apparent because she kept shaking her head negatively, causing the bottles and jars suspended from the makeshift harness across her neck and dropping from her shoulders to clink and clank against each other in a rather ominous tone -- further illustrating how much I truly terrified her.

I wanted to scream as I looked down at the dirt beneath my feet and saw the rice-filled leaf offering -- for that was what it was -- the medicine woman had used her skills along with the various powders and herbs to arrange the small palm-sized slice of green to look like a miniature art piece. I could hear my fellow tourists snapping pictures of the leaf. I could make out some sorts of seeds and flower petals on top of the rice as I looked down without physically dropping to the ground. I knew it was to ward me off -- as I must be potentially evil. Johnny had casually explained to us on the tour earlier not to step on the little piles of food, flowers and offerings set out in front of shops and in the road where there had been serious accidents and horrific fatalities. Indonesian drivers had a unique way of driving as if they were the only vehicle on the road. Add in they regularly had their vehicles blessed and wove flowers and leaves into the grill word to ward off evil and protect them from harm. I knew the offerings were how various religions dealt with evil spirits. Something flip-flopped in my stomach looking at the woman who was still backing down the dirt road -- away from me. Johnny didn't say anything to us about what had just occurred. Instead he thrust the bottle of odd colored liquid at the two ladies saying, "Both drink this down. Half for you -- other for you. Keep you okay today. Tonight call doctor you need medicines."

Turning to the film crew he did something that totally shocked them.

"Give me all film now or you stay here."

Since 'here' was at the backside of a rather large mountain in fairly a remote village where we'd stopped to pretend to shop, I watched them quickly try to figure out if any of them had a clue how to get back to 'civilization.' To help them make up their minds faster, a rumble of thunder and a loud crack of lightning gave punctuation to their thought processes. They were still hemming and hawing as the black clouds rolled in and dropped what seemed to be a bucket of water on all of us standing near the SUV. The skies opened up and thunder began to punctuate the rain, accented by huge bolts of lightning. I could feel the electricity coating the region and the hair on my arms raised at the energy. I really wanted to phase out of the area with a quick pop but resisted.

Within seconds most of the tour group had run for the van with their light clothes plastered to their bodies and rain filling in their footsteps as they poured back into their spots inside the tour bus. I saw that both 'Auntie' and Sherry were wasting no time passing the nearly empty bottle back and forth between their lips. There was another bolt of lightning that struck the brush near, and I felt alive and a bit frightened.

Article © Lydia Manx. All rights reserved.
Published on 2012-10-08
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