Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Indonesia: Getting Answers

Instructions: 1. Play video (which is just music). 2. Read story. 3. Enjoy.

It started with a nightmare and the way that the only answer was yes.

It was one of those dreams that just kept going. The moment of realization; the moment I knew this was a dream had come a long time before, but I kept digging up the bodies anyway. Dream or not, I needed to lay the bones out straight: heads to the north, face holes to the sky. That was the only way to quiet them down.

Hard at work in the backyard, surrounded by a fence of the dead, a shadow passed over me. I tipped my head up to the sky but by the time my eyes arched high enough, the bird was gone.

When I woke up, my skin dripped cold sweat like the last iceberg. The first glow of dawn pressed against the window and I rose to greet it, grateful not to find myself entombed in darkness after a dreamscape made of corpses. The sky had yet to receive its color; it stretched above me in depthless gray.

And the shadow, the shadow sliced it in two. The long, fiercely angular shadow of a bird, its whip-tail dragging behind two triangle wings. I watched it glide towards the forest until its outline blurred to nothing.

Funny, it seemed almost more stingray than bird, with its points and its wisp of a tail. Birds have a visible softness; you can tell that they feel light and warm and fluffy when you hold them cupped as carefully as eggshells in your hands.

This creature would have slashed your hands clean off. That is, if you had hands large enough to hold it, which you don’t.

I didn’t even consider the alternatives. The name for this bird rose up from my childhood and stuck to my brain right where it’d landed. Right in the front.


Though it was only a quarter past five, I threw my clothes on and rushed out to the lobby. It was darker out than I thought it was, and colder too. The air had yet to fill to the brim with the soggy heat of the tropics.

I’m gonna need some coffee if I’m going dinosaur hunting this morning.

“Coffee, madam?” He came out of nowhere. Stepped out from a shadow and materialized ready to serve.

“Did I say that out loud?”


“Oh. I didn’t realize.”

“Yes. Here. Welcome to coffee.”

I took the cup from him (it had also appeared in a puff of magic smoke) and smiled at my favorite welcome in the world.

“I saw something this morning,” I admitted to my host, sitting on the bluer of the two chairs.

“Yes?” he answered, standing near enough to seem a part of the conversation and far enough to distinguish me as an Other.

“I saw a bird. A big one.”

“I will tell the maid.”

“No. Outside. I saw a big bird outside my room.”

“Yes. It has flown away.”

I was losing him. “No. It was really big. It was a really big bird like, from here to here.” I tried to stretch out my arms to show him but quickly realized I lacked the length for that so I moved some furniture. “Here to here.”

“Oh. Yes. That big.”

“Do you know what it might have been?”



He shrugged. He didn’t know the name. Or he didn’t know what it was. Or he didn’t understand what I was saying.

“Do you know what a dinosaur is?”

“Yes.” Translation: obviously.

 “Have you ever heard of a pterodactyl?”

“Yes.” Translation: I’m not dumb.

“You know what it is? A pterodactyl?”

“Yes. It is dinosaur.”

“It looked like that.”

“Yes,” he agreed, happy to offer me the information I wanted, “That was it.”

“A pterodactyl?”

“Yes, a… what is the word?”


“Pterodactyl, yes.”

“Have you seen one before?”

“Yes.” Of course I have.


“Yes.” Not too often, but often enough.


“Yes.” Well, not here exactly, but nearby. “You will go into the forest. Look for Dian. You will see him and he will show you. He knows all the forest.”

I did just that. I hopped on my bike and coasted down the hill towards the line of jungle.

After ten minutes riding, I met my first gatekeeper.

You may not know this about me, especially if you know me personally, because I used to be the queen of the animals, but I don’t really like monkeys.

I like monkeys, but only if they are in trees or on the other side of a moat. When they’re sitting in the middle of the road, blocking my path with their ridiculously large balls and dagger teeth, I don’t like them.

The feeling is mutual.

I skidded to a stop in front of the alpha male, who greeted me with a customary teeth bearing while his harem circled around. Gripping the handlebars tightly (for if I was going down in a monkey fight I was taking some of these monkeys down with the bike), I let one foot come softly to the road. My eyes stayed on the ground in front of the alpha. Okay, fine, my eyes were on his balls. How could they not be? The point being that I did not make eye-contact with the monkey. I did not look him in the face, but I said to him, in my loudest person-voice, “Move.”

He showed his teeth again. One of his women chattered.

“Move, asshole monkey.”

He stood on all fours and took a couple steps towards me.

“I hate you. Don’t you bite me.”

Getting back on the bike, I rolled slowly into the mob. The locals moved through monkeys like fish through water, but I never gained that graceful stride; I never learned the monkey-walk dance.

As I rolled through the monkeys, several of them hit me, moving in fast to take a swing and then darting away. Just like in school, I ignored the harassment. The years of practice pretending not to notice bullies were put to work here in Indonesia. Good thing for that. If my instincts had run the other way, if I’d been taught to fight back, if I’d told the monkey jerks to step up yo, you’d be reading the tooth holes in my bones instead of this story.

On the other side of the monkeys, I rewarded myself with another cup of coffee. I kept my eyes pointed up as I drank, searching for signs of forgotten reptiles.

Fortified with caffeine for the journey ahead, I got back on the bike and continued down the road towards the Great Valley.

Read the second part of the story, Indonesia: Getting Closer.

No comments:

Post a Comment