I coughed roughly as some of the dirt in my current hidey-hole made its way into my lungs. I hated running and hiding but with the Esmeralda Meredith winning lotto amount of over two million dollars -- heaven forbid when someone decided to switch that to Euros because then I'd be screwed every which way to Sunday and not a one of the monsters chasing me would use lubricant -- I didn't have many options. I sketched a finger over one of the shards of pottery and contemplated the last time I'd been in such a bad position. I thought of my Indonesian adventure and the bizarre set of circumstances I'd found myself in -- it really hadn't been my fault. I didn't take a single bit of history from that scary invisible temple and I hadn't even lifted an ashtray from the lobby of that last hotel. I remembered the look of shock on the face of the guy at the front desk when I waltzed in without having been picked up by them.
"Missy," (that seemed to be my name for the past few hours I noticed), "You have reservation?"
The sweat was running down the middle of my back but at least I felt safer than I had at my last hotel about a mile down the road. I still couldn't believe all that had happened to me in the past few days, but then it wasn't like my life was ever normal. The temple of death and destruction seemed to overshadow me and my normally sunny disposition. That witch lady backing away, while she was probably cursing me, she seemed to have set everything in motion because up until then I'd been a good little tourist. I had landed in the ancient culture and adapted to some minor differences from East to West. And with all this I used my passport for a change. I resisted popping out of some awkward moments after things started going seriously sideways. Which had brought me to the closest hotel from the one I'd abandoned. I wasn't sure how to make the flight Uncle Harry'd booked for me if I didn't get a ride to the airport. I'd never be able to walk the distance and with those weird meat puppets trying to get me I didn't think toting a backpack and duffle bag along the side of the muddy roads would make me exactly invisible.
His fingers flew over the keyboard behind the counter at his waist level. The hotel staff was scattered throughout the lobby and most of them were tidying up from the morning guests' departures. A stray newspaper was collected along with the numerous ashtrays being emptied into a large battered tin. On the tour we'd been informed that this hotel was popular with Japanese tourists. The full ashtrays confirmed Johnny's tale. From all I knew a large number of Japanese as well as Chinese were smokers and the smart hotels catered to the countries close and with expendable incomes to travel. It was rare to see so many places welcome smokers but then it wasn't illegal like in so many American cities.
"No, actually I don't need a room. I need to hire a driver to take me to the airport." I put on my best pathetic look. He appeared relieved that I wasn't trying to check-in. He nodded sharply and clapped his hands together. One of the young men who'd been standing off to the side instantly appeared at the summons.
"Yes, Sir?" Subservient tones were used but he had the gleam of a lively humor dancing in his eyes.
"This lady needs a to be driven to the airport. Your uncle home?" No attempt at hiding the obvious nepotism made me bite back a grin. The hotel may have been booked fully for a good reason, it seemed they also hadn't heard anything about me, which was a welcome relief.
"He's home. I get him. Five minutes?" The last bit was aimed at me. I nodded and automatically tacked on at least another half hour. Indonesian time wasn't precise and I'd yet to see any of the staff with a watch on their wrists.
The young man hustled out while I looked around for a spot to wait. The clerk was sharp and he volunteered, "Why don't you wait in the cocktail lounge? Nobody there, I'll get you when uncle arrives." I smiled and said, "Thank you."
He came around the desk counter and insisted on taking my duffle bag and escorting me to the deserted lounge. It smelled faintly of spilt beer, stale cigarette smoke and heavy use of an industrial cleaner. He glanced around as if to confirm the location of every ashtray and chair.
Leading me to a small table near the entrance he set the bag down next to a chair he slid out for me.
"You really don't have to go to all this trouble."
"No trouble, next time you visit Indonesia, you stay here." He slid a business card out smoothly onto the tabletop and nodded slightly while hustling away.
Again and again I had been amazed while traveling through the islands at how gracious everyone had been to me and the other visitors I'd seen. The staff and guides were for the most part genuinely happy to have people visit their country. Business cards were constantly being offered along with invitations to stay longer or return soon.
Sitting down, I plucked the card off the table and stuffed it in a pocket of my backpack. I sincerely doubted that I'd ever come back to Indonesia, but I definitely had learned never to say never. Sure as shit before I knew it whatever it was that I was 'never' going to do happened.
I looked around with interest at the cocktail lounge. The walls were covered with dark woods that had been waxed to a nearly mirror-like shine. Bits of daylight streamed in from the doorway and two large windows that were partially blocked by the dense brush outside. For the most part there was enough illumination to suit me. I was mentally in a somewhat dark place, so it was fitting that I sat in the shadows.
Time passed slowly. There wasn't much that I could do but brood. Naturally it was closer to an hour than five minutes before the boys came back with an older man. He looked like he'd been fast asleep and pushed into some random articles of clothes. The juxtaposition between the starched fresh uniforms the boys were wearing and the uncle's attire was odd but not unexpected. I knew from the trip that the hotels were like an oasis from another world of lush opulence in the midst of poverty. Most of the Indonesian people didn't pull down anything close to minimum wage much less thousands of dollars monthly like other places in the universe. Less is more wasn't a glib bon mot but a fact of existence.
That the uncle didn't speak much English became readily apparent as the nephew put a hand towards me and said slowly, "Missy needs ride to airport."
The man smiled slightly revealing a large gap in his teeth. No bright red stains from betel nuts, but instead a light tan coloration -- clear sign of cigarette use. His eyes were bright but there was no indication that he understood a word spoken. He nodded and waited. The hotel desk clerk said softly to me, "I will let you work out details." He dropped my duffle bag at my feet next to my backpack. I had a few American dollars in my pocket and offered them to the young man with a thank you. He appreciated my discretion and accepted the illegal donation. He flashed me a bright white smile and nodded again saying, "You visit here next time."
Then the clerk briskly abandoned me. There had been no mention of how much the transaction was going to cost me but honestly I really didn't much care. I wanted off the island and out of the country.
The other young man said, "My uncle is a quiet man."
I nodded, not seeing what else I could say. I wondered how much to offer and if I should ask the kid's advice or just guess. Making a decision I said, "He'll take me all the way to airport for twenty American?"
I knew it was far more than the ride would cost if I had hired a normal taxi service, but with my time crunch I thought it was fair. I didn't need to swap out any more money and American money was extremely desirable in some communities. I hadn't exchanged a lot of money while traveling because it was always hard to get rid of the money later.
The kid beamed and said, "Sure, Missy. That more than fair. You pay him when you get there, okay? Not let others see." That made sense since it probably was completely illegal. I knew that the kid would be the one to get the money in the long run because the uncle doubtfully didn't have any way of swapping it for the local currency without detection. And I had the sense that there would be a tad bit of a charge for the job, and I didn't think the uncle much cared. He still looked half asleep.
The kid snagged my bag easily leaving me to hoist my backpack over my shoulders again. My shirt had finally dried out a bit sitting inside the lounge but I knew once in the vehicle I'd be dripping wet again. Humidity was a way of life in this country.
Instead of heading back towards the lobby I was trailing behind the boy carrying my duffle bag with his uncle shuffling slowly behind me. We went further into the room and across the small wooden dance floor. He headed for a pair of doors painted a dark green matching the staff's uniforms nearly exactly.
Once we cleared the swinging doors I found out how primitive the kitchen was. When I had been sitting waiting for the uncle I hadn't snooped around but simply sat and let the lukewarm air blowing in the lounge to cool me down. With interest I looked around the space -- it wasn't any larger than a family bathroom -- with a double sink. Two large metal pots rested upside down in the left side sink. A small countertop was directly across from the sink with a cutting board centered with hash marks from heavy use. The stove was little more than a single burner with a wok suspended above the stove from a hook. A whisk and some wooden paddles were on the right of the wok. Under the counter was a very small dorm sized refrigerator humming noisily with use. The odor of oil and garlic clung to the surfaces, as did a faint burnt greasy smell. On the opposite side of the tiny kitchen was another door. Not for the visiting guest to see, obviously, since it was marked with scuffs and paint chips. A large barrel bolt style lock, about five inches long, kept the door shut. No keys or locks were involved. The kid slid the bolt free and opened the door outward to a dense forest of green.
Anywhere else it would have been considered a lush if somewhat overgrown tropical garden. On the island it was just the natural flora and fauna around every bend in the road and over every hill. A huge lizard ran from the cobbled pathway outside the door as the young man exited. A few birds fluttered up higher in the branches of the trees pushing in on us.
A battered rusty can sat outside the door filled with dirt and a dozen or more cigarette butts. I kept my thoughts to myself when the uncle dropped to his heels and rooted through the mess plucking out two or three partially-smoked cigarettes. He chuckled softly at his discovery while rolling one of the filtered smokes in his fingertips.
His nephew saw him and let loose a torrent of words, most of which sounded surprisingly like curse words, while his uncle winced and cackled back something before pocketing his finds. All I hoped was that the uncle would refrain from smoking them before he dropped me off at the airport. Second hand smoke be damned, I knew I'd gag if he recycled them with me in the vehicle. My thoughts must have been plain to read because his nephew called back, "No worries, Missy, he saving them for tonight. No smoking in car. I told him that."
Well, that could have explained the wince.