Dark Alleys and Dead Ends in Bali
There’s no mistaking being in Kuta. Hordes of mopeds fill the congested streets with smoke that burns my nose; the endless ring of honks and beeps serenade my every step. I am called to, stood in front of and grabbed in a feeble attempt to sell me painfully fake watches and sunglasses. I turn my head to my feet with a waved hand of disinterest as my shoes scuff the littered ground.
After hours of dancing, drinking and failed attempts to pick up girls, I struggle to support my muddled mess of a head. Joel witnesses my limp-noodle neck and decides it’s time to go. With the composure of a blind, three-legged dog, I sling my arm around him and we make our way down the staircase that appears to me as a rocky cliff-side. Out into the streets, we stumble in search of food and a way home.
As per usual, the bustling vortex of Kuta has traffic at a standstill, leaving only the mopeds to dart in and out through questionable gaps, crafting a path through the daunting gridlock. My lack of directional skills and common sense are a renowned feature of mine, so Joel asks me whether I want to double on a scooter taxi. Drunken me has a wave of confidence, an uncommon feature of mine. I assure Joel I can get home on a bike alone.
Finding two local men sitting together and chatting, we ask for them to drive us both home; they accept, and we each hop on the back of a scooter. Before we depart, Joel offers me one more chance to scoot with him, but I refuse. Overconfidence is the key that fits the lock, but snaps when you try to turn it.
As Joel’s noble steed nips in front, I slump and wrap my arms around my driver, who I have immediately come to love. His back shields my eyes from the gusting wind that sweeps over us, and he is a one-way ticket to the warmth and safety of my room. My helmetless head gently bumps his body, and he yells above the roaring wind “Ey boss – you like girl?” Thinking my embrace around his belly may have been misinterpreted, I shout back above the piercing wind, “Yeah! I love girls!”
Joel’s scooter races closer to our villa, but mine suddenly takes an abrupt right turn, into the unknown darkness.
As my journey continues along an untraceable number of lefts and rights with mere porch lights to illuminate our way, a lump in my throat forms. I am sure this is not the way home. Not wanting to question local knowledge, I keep my slurred questions to myself and tell myself this is one hell of an elaborate short cut. Then our final right turn is taken.
We enter a dead-end alley flanked with a semi-circle of men, each one more daunting than the next. Their dark clothes blend into the shadows, and I refuse to make eye contact with the menacing stares burning through me. With tattooed faces, the men tower above me as we slowly pull into the dead end, a term which – to me – has just been given a whole new meaning. As my condemned bike slows, a flurry of Indonesian chatter bounces around. Is this a plot to kill me? Who gets to defile me first? I have no idea what they’re saying, which makes it all-the-more frightening.
We park and my driver gestures for me to get off. As I stand confused and concerned beside him, he says in a slow and stern voice, “You want girl? Go get girl!” He points a finger to a shack, if that’s what you could call it. A door hangs slightly off the hinges of the jagged, rusted tin exterior, but its pitch black doorway gives no insight as to what hell is inside.
“Oh no, no,” I explain with urgency. “I don’t want girl.”
“YOU SAY YOU WANT GIRL, GO GET GIRL!” he roars angrily, jabbing his extended finger into my chest with a surprising amount of force.
After arguing back and forth, the semi-circle around me begins to tighten. “Holy fucking shit – I’m about to either die or be forced into contracting an STI.”
I get ready to pee in my pants and accept my inevitable fate as the newest member of the Balinese sex trade. My scooter driver makes for me and the surrounding gang continues to close in, baby steps at a time.
I can hear vibrations – a phone is ringing. My driver is distracted momentarily as he reaches into his pocket to retrieve it. I toss up my options. Running away during this micro-distraction would probably not be wise. I can’t run for shit. Especially when riddled with fear – any attempt my move my legs is like dragging my feet through wet cement.
After a few exchanged words, the phone call ends. My driver slides his phone back into his pocket, and I am frantic to ensure a knife doesn’t come out in replacement. We lock eyes again. A few seconds pass – the longest I have ever experienced.
“Get on bike,” he mutters in a tone of angered disappointment.
I almost feel as though I’ve been winded – sucker punched by his words. Not knowing whether to believe him, I stand still, stunned.
“Get on bike!” he says again, his temper rising. With the second command, I scurry over to the scooter and sit where I was before, not quite believing my luck and still suspecting deceit.
As the driver takes his seat and the engine roars to life, I look back to the gang of not-so-merry men and the humble abode they attempted to put me in. I take a deep breath. That was fucking close. Away we go, back along the winding roads to the behemoth main highway that usually terrifies me, but is now a welcome sight.
I pull up to my sweet, sweet villa. Joel is standing waiting for me out the front, shaking his head at me with a look I know all too well.
“You bloody dickhead.”
Joel hands my driver a sum of money. After he had arrived home and I didn’t follow shortly after, he’d smelt a rat and refused to pay his own driver until I was back in one piece. Again, my driver’s bike comes to life. I’m not sure whether he looked at me. Would it have been a grin, an angry stare, a punch in the nose? I hastily walk back to my villa without a smile or a Terima Kasih.
As I make my way through the door, the coolness of the air conditioning sweeps over me.
“Do I have a story for you boys.”
Cover by Cedric Meyla