By the time I reached the taxi stand underneath the bridge, it was 10:40 in the morning and beads of sweat were dripping into all the wrong places. My jeans were suctioned to the backs of my legs and I kept wiping my brow on my flowy cardigan which sort of felt like scrapping sandpaper against damp skin.
Little bits of me, thanks to the gorgeous amount of sun I had not put on sunscreen for during the previous two weekends, were peeling in the crook of my elbows, my neck, and it gave the impression that I had walked under a tree in the process of spring cleaning.
My pack was stuffed with what would make me a happy camper for the weekend—my blanket (excellent for picnics), laptop (for writing my little heart out), jar of peanut butter (perhaps not a necessity), a plethora of sanitary napkins (thanks to my womanhood), a swim suit, a change of clothes, two books (Quiet by Susan Cain and A Farewell to Arms by Hemingway)—but the load upon my shoulders in the stuffy midmorning heat was doing a number on me.
I was to spend the weekend in central Jakarta at a lovely place I had found on Airbnb for very cheap. A sort of “staycation”, as central Jakarta was just a day trip away from my place in Serpong. But I was looking forward to a weekend snuggled up in fancy eclectic cafes drinking Sumatra coffee and writing like a fiend.
I draped myself into the first taxi.
“Rawa buntu, please,” I said, in my best Bahasa Indonesian accent.
“Huh?” came the reply, whistling through a missing front left tooth.
“Rah-wu Bunt-oo?” I said, a bit disappointed that all the pronunciation I had practiced in front of the mirror that morning was for naught.
“Huh?” came the reply, whistling through a missing front left tooth.
“Uh…station? Wait, I know this one, stasion? Train? Vroom-vroom?”
I began a very elaborate charade of a young boy unwrapping a train set for seventh Christmas and in his joy at getting to be his very own conductor, something he had longed for since he could remember (about three months), he threw his arms around his parents and kissed them heartily on the cheeks and spent the rest of the day putting together his new track.
“Huh?” came the whistle.
The sweat had now completely saturated my handkerchief-cardigen and was threatening to capsize the entire Josie vessel. I abandoned my carefully constructed character development and pulled out my phone. I clicked open maps.me (a capital resource for the data-less traveler) and zoomed into the train station. It was about a 20 minute drive, and the closest station to BSD city. I handed him the phone, the picture on the map showing little train track markings, a picture of a train, and the words Rawa buntu.
Good freaking gravy! Had he seriously never taken someone to the train station?!
“Address?” he whistled.
I shook my head. The address is “Rawa buntu”. Can we please go there? I am going to miss the 11:18. I then abandoned further attempts to make contact and popped back out of the taxi, giving him a cheerful wave and a thank you!
Should have seen that one coming, really. I hopped into the next taxi in line.
“Ra-w-ah bun-too?” I said.
“Huh?” came the reply.
“Ruh-whuh-bun-tuh?” I tried again, my hands starting to shake. It was 10:55 and the train was to leave at 11:18. Before he could shake his head at me or utter another “huh?” I whipped out my phone and showed him maps.me. To my delight he flashed a big smile and laughed.
“Ra-wa bunt-oo! Yes!”
I was pretty sure that was exactly what I said the first time. But the sudden flooring acceleration was enough to dissipate any further irritation. We made it to the station at 11:08, I got my one-way ticket to Palmerah (for 15,000 rupiah, or $1.08) and walked to the platform.
The sun was very eager to make friends with all the passengers on this side of the track, and when the train came 15 minutes later, I was a pool. My hair was stuck to my sticky cheeks and when I attempted to remove it, it bit at me and refused to leave.
I loaded myself into the train. It was very full, especially for a Friday at noon. The woman standing behind me was spooning my backpack, as if she were the banana peel, and I thought this was very excellent anti-pickpocketing. Unless, of course, she herself was a pickpocket.
It was a thirty minute ride to get to Palmerah station. Here I was to meet Renata, my airbnb hostess, at the street entrance to the station so she could motorcycle me to her apartment in central Jakarta. I was very grateful for the offer, and as she was coming that way from work anyways it was inconvenient to neither of us.
Well, the station at Palmerah was very large and had not one street entrance, as I had imagined, but four of them.
Four of them to choose from.
I don’t have a SIM card or any form of communication without wifi, which I also did not have, so I was slightly alarmed at how I would locate Renata. The heat was climbing and the number of sticky bodies pressing against me (and walking extremely slowly in front of me) was doing nothing to calm me down.
It was 11:49, two minutes after our selected meeting time. I was quite anxious to inconvenience her as little as possible, as her offer to transport me to her apartment was above and beyond for a hostess.
Before I began my search, I went to the ticket counter and handed in my commuter line card for a refund of 10.000 rupiah, rendering my one-way ticket $0.56.
Then I shuffled myself around strollers of children and slow-moving adults and made it to the northwest entrance. I scanned the motorcycles on the streets, looking for Renata.
To my horror, I found that, first, everyone looked the same, and second, that I didn’t actually know what Renata herself looked like outside of her airbnb picture. My only hope was that someone would shout, “look, it’s a bule! And then someone named Renata would recall that her guest was American and come and take my hand and lead me across the street and perhaps give me some cookies and a glass of milk and a train set for Christmas.
I scanned for two precious minutes until I gave up on the northwest entrance. It was all I could do not to forcibly remove the people who walked like turtles in front of me. I severely disliked them for the oscillating leisure.
My watch read 11:55 by the time I made it to the northeast. I scanned the faces, which, again, looked like a clone army, and heard no shouts of “I’m Renata!” and no offers of cookies.
Life abroad is teaching me many things but not attending to my anxiety over being late. Come on buddy, I say to my amygdala. We’ve been late loads of times! Cool it in there, will ya?
I had to pick my way now to the southwest entrance. The throngs of people increased, my state of mental sanity was not good, repeat, and the heat was getting at me so much that there was a little sweat waiting line at my pores.
Suddenly, as I was striding myself across the bridge connecting the entrances, the call to prayer from the mosque right next door SCREAMED into existence. It was the loudest, most forceful I have yet heard in all of Indonesia (and Bosnia and Morocco, for that matter).
I began to cry. Wild, hot, breathy tears. I was extremely moist. I was a child who had lost her mother in the grocery store, except that I was taller than nearly everyone around me and no one was giving me any cookies.
At the southwest entrance there was again no one who could be a Renata. It was past noon, then. I went back into the main part of the station and wrapped on the “customer service” glass with one sweaty knuckle. With the other hand I wiped away hot salty tears. A neon-vested man came out and before I could explain my problem and ask to potentially borrow his phone, a woman with a purple hijab and about thirty thousand shopping bags pushed me out of the way and began speaking rapid Bahasa with the customer service man.
She was older than me, probably, so “respect” and all that. But I was pretty pissed. I did all the knuckle work, here lady, he’s MINE. But I stood “very casually” behind and allowed her to recite Tolstoy’s War and Peace from memory. After about forty years, she grabbed his arm with her third hand and began leading him away. My face was concerned. The man shot me an I’ll be back soon look, and I had to bite my tongue before I shouted,
“DO NOT LEAVE. I NEED YOU.”
Which would not give the correct impression, I believe.
I swayed back in forth in my anxiety and anger and frustration and the call to prayer was not ceasing and I wanted to throw things. If I weren’t absolutely positively sure I was an introvert and of the “high reactive” sort that Jerome Kagen had defined, I was sure of it then. The self-reflection and introspection wasn’t helping, however.
The man came back, sporting a fully grown salt-and-pepper mustache and a bald spot, and I, wrinkled in my old age and lack of dryness, explained my situation. By some miracle he understood me and allowed me to borrow his phone to type in Renata’s airbnb phone number which I had screen-shotted from the website. Look at me, eh, I really plan ahead.
Well, she didn’t answer.
We called her back. No answer.
I was prepared for the marathon here, and steeled myself in for just massive amounts of redialing until she answered, but he looked at me and shrugged and I realized we’ve both got to move on. I’ve got one last entrance to try, so as much as I am more than willing to crawl back onto the train and go home, I persevered. I thanked him for his time.
I shoved myself through molasses once more and made it to the southeast entrance. As soon as I stepped out of the building, I locked eyes with a petite woman sporting a Minnie Mouse motorcycle helmet.
“Josie?” She asked. I longed to throw my arms around her neck and vow to never leave her ever again, but I decide that’s not a great first impression. I settled for a wild nod.
“Sorry I’m so late!” I said, as it was now 12:15. She looked confused, and handed me a matching Minnie Mouse helmet.
“Did you not get my email? I was running late from the office. I told you I’d be at this entrance around 12:15.”
These are the moments when having a working phone is really splendid. I like to say that I am a voice for the campaign to free yourself from the phone, as it is the norm for me to travel internationally without the use of a phone. But still. This is one moment when having a working phone would be really splendid.
I clambered on the back of her motorcycle and we sped away from the bellowing mosque and the throngs of people. We maintained a bit of small talk, which was surprisingly pleasant in how human it was. As the wind evaporated the sweat on my skin, I began to feel a return to Josie. My anxiety was dissipating, blessedly, and I was breathing again.
It took fifteen breezy minutes to reach her apartment in the Diamond Towers and she dropped me off at the door to the lobby. She handed me a set of thick golden keys and told me “press 8 on the elevator, I’m room 8S.”
That lobby was fancy. Tall, gold-rimmed sofas and huge paintings on the thick purple wall. The floor was speckled marble and reflected the chandelier light around the room in a dazzling sort of spectacle. I had a bit of…miscommunication with the door to the elevators (not realizing that you have to use the keycard before selecting the buttons) but eventually made it to the 8th floor, room S.
It was a beautiful, cozy studio apartment (exceptionally clean and featuring much Minnie Mouse memorabilia) with a fabulous view of the city. More than that, though, I was alone in a cool, humidity-free place, and very shortly I increased my joy by slithering out of my pants.
AND. My god. She had left a myriad of snacks on the counter for me, including (but not limited to) chocolate chip cookies. In the fridge there was a little cartoon of soy milk, which she had indicated was for my enjoyment, too, so you can bet that I had myself some milk and cookies.
I went out to explore the area for a bit, and came back just in time to watch the sunset from the 5th floor (which was really the 8th floor, I believe, because the numbering system goes GF, P1-P7 (for parking), then floors 5-36).
It was glorious, truly, and made the entire flutter of a day worth it.
I changed into my swimsuit after that and came back to the 5th floor to swim in the empty pool and watch a little lightning storm.
Ahh, beautiful lightning. The sort of unpredictability that I prefer.
Peaces and blessings,