The automatic and justified response to a cruel and graceless age is to run away

Written by

Blackout Beach – The Roman

Begrudgingly, he thought, the scenery in Java is impressive. There’s waves of trees interrupted frequently by babbling brooks with smooth, gray rocks to step across. It’s gorgeous to look at.

But he would have preferred a postcard. Slipping in his muddy, wet sandals, he lurched along the path toward, allegedly, a waterfall a few kilometers outside of Sentul, a rich suburb of Jakarta. He spent most of his time in Indonesia trying to get away from the people, an abrasive, caustic race. It wasn’t the mildly racist cat-calls or swarming, shameless merchants he was avoiding; she said no.

He wanted to be alone, on the planet if possible, but the only one in eyesight would do. The kids weren’t making it any easier. Two prepubescent boys with slender brown limbs followed him into the jungle, shouting “Mister! Mister!” They were explaining that any small donation and they’d gladly show him the way to the waterfall (the path was clearly marked). Just any amount would do. He told them to go home, that they were not needed. After half a kilometer of babbling on next to him, watching him stutter across rivers and slip when the path became steep, the kids gave up, calling out “Watch and see if your motorbike gets ruined” over their backs as they turned away. They could have the damn thing. He just wanted isolation.

He looked up, savoring the quiet. The sun — searing, brilliant — meant he would have a burn on his forehead and face.

He’d been pulling the covers over his head at night. He couldn’t bare to be exposed. Unfortunately, in this climate, that meant he woke up sweating in the heat of night, terror in his chest and loneliness in the air around him.

He sympathized with ostriches.

He arrived at the base — where a tractor and bulldozer sat on rich brown soil, waiting to create a more accessible road — took off his clothes and waded into the pool at the bottom. The rocks were mossy and uneven, which made for slow going. He fell more than once. But eventually he reached the cascading water, the roaring descent, and shoved himself under it. It repelled him — down and away. He could feel the tiny beads on his skin form one gigantic, insurmountable force — shoving, shoving, shoving. But fuck nature; he pushed back into it, unsteady on his feet, and screamed at the top of his lungs, his face pointed upward.

When his eyes and nose stung too much to continue and his voice was hoarse, he turned around, gathered his clothes, and walked back.

Along the way, his feet brushed up against the prickles of malu grass on the side of the path. Malu means ‘shy’ in bahasa; when touched, the tiny blades fold up against themselves as if huddling from danger. Terlalu malu means ‘too shy,’ and he said the words aloud, savoring their cadence. He knelt down and stroked a piece with his finger, watching it cower.

What malu grass and ostriches would never know, could never understand, he thought, was that the best way to hide is to run away. [Skin of Evil.]

Got something to say?