A Ghost Gave Me Hickeys
Deep purple bruises covered my body. Contusions appeared across my neck and upper arms. I had just risen from a peaceful slumber and was puzzled as to how the damage to my body had occurred. It looked as though I had been beaten relentlessly. Had someone come into my bedroom in the middle of the night to hurt me? Did I fall out of bed during my sleep? It just didn’t make any sense.
Residing in Sumatra at the time, I made my way down to the kitchen to eat breakfast with my host family. I sat down on the floor to dig in to a traditional Sumatran bowl of soup.
“What did you do to yourself Sam – why are you covered in bruises?” my host mother asked me.
“I have no idea!” I replied. “They just developed overnight.”
“Ghosts,” my host brother said monotonously. He had about as much expression as a sloth.
I dropped my spoon in surprise as I looked around at my host mother, father and younger sisters nodding in agreement.
“What are you talking about?” I asked in disbelief.
That’s when I found out about the ghost.
“Agus” lived in the bathroom. He had died when he was 20, and had apparently then decided to take ghostly refuge in our home. According to my host family, I had neglected to cough upon entering the bathroom – Agus doesn’t like surprises, I was told, so took it as his apparent right to take advantage of me while I was sleeping.
I looked down at my skin and was informed that Agus had in fact smothered me in love bites. I had been kissed by a ghost and my host family didn’t even wince.
As it turned out, they weren’t the only ones to believe in ghosts. A few weeks after the hickey incident, I sat amongst a group of Indonesian friends in a hotel lounge in Padang. The venue had recently been rocked by an earthquake that took the lives of 200 occupants. As we laughed about the antics of the night before, one of my friends asked a question.
“Did anyone see that ghost child last night wearing a diaper?”
I continued to laugh at what I thought was a joke, until I realised my friends were deadly serious.
“Yes – I did,” another friend said. “I saw him standing in the doorway of the eating area – he had half his head missing”.
“Yep, that’s the one!”
Another exchange student I knew in Sumatra was outraged when his host family refused to let him out after 6pm because of the risk the ghosts walking around after dark had on his safety. I even have a half-Indonesian, half-Australian friend who doesn’t believe in ghosts for a second when she’s in Australia, but the moment she steps foot onto the tarmac of an Indonesian airport runway, she feels the chilling presence of supernatural beings in her bones.
For someone who grew up with ghost stories a mere chilling campfire tale, it is still hard for me to comprehend that ghosts are part of reality in other cultures. But in Indonesia, supernatural activity—namely magic, witches, ghosts and miracle-performing healers—is thought of as the norm. Only 17 years ago, more than 200 suspected witches were killed in Indonesia, and hundreds more were taken into the custody of police. Under a bill proposed in 2013 by former Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, anyone found guilty of using witchcraft to bring about “illness, death, mental or physical suffering” could be punished with up to five years imprisonment or more than 4 billion rupiah ($405,000AUD) in fines.
Do I believe in the supernatural? No, I don’t think so, but who am I to say ghosts don’t exist? When such a vast majority of a country with a population of 250 million is certain of their existence, maybe they know more than I do. Until I see something with my own eyes, I can’t make any further conclusions, but I’m flattered there’s a boy who fancies me across another realm of existence.
Cover by Ana Wahine