When the Old Life Ends a New Life Must Begin

Patricia Pedross

 
Copyright 2018 by Patricia Pedross


 

Photo of a temple in Bali.


One o'clock in the morning and I found myself to be wide awake, even after a 25 hour journey during which I had hardly slept, choosing to indulge in watching one movie after another instead. The city was still bustling even at this hour and I craned my neck trying to get a look at the enormous statues which hovered above us. They were at the centre of the many roundabouts we navigated and my head spun left and right as my attention was caught by what I was later to realize were the many shrines along the way.

I had felt little curiosity about my trip to Bali. The devastating events of the early part of the year had left me bruised and battered and I survived, as many others have done, by taking 'just one day at a time'. We had retired to Nova Scotia, built a new home and found ourselves living in a warm and welcoming community. Life was perfect. We were living our dream.
A few months earlier, when my middle son suggested I spend the whole of August with him and his family. I was only too happy to accept and was whisked off to Mexico for two weeks and then on to Innsbruck in Austria, where they lived and where I had spent most of my life and still have family and friends.

My three grandchildren were just the distraction I needed as we spent the first week relaxing in a beautiful hotel on the beach. Then we spend several days touring the Yukatan where we stayed in the most beautiful haciendas, visited Chichen Itzu, climbed pyramids and learnt much about the Maya Civilization. I soon realized that the children's presence happily saved us from hearing the more gruesome details.

We crossed by ferry to the idyllic island of Holbox. Very few cars are to be seen, instead golf carts are the preferred method of travel around this quiet and beautiful island.

We swam with dolphins and more adventurously, far out in the ocean, with a whale shark. Our skipper bargained with local fisherman and obtained just caught fish which he later cooked for us while we strolled along the pure white sand beach of the lagoon and gazed in awe at the hosts of flamingoes and large beaked pelicans surrounding our boat waiting for leftovers.

By heading off for early morning walks on the beach or occasionally opting to stay at the swimming pool when the rest of the family were on the beach, I managed to gain some alone time, essential for my frame of mind. I knew enough to realise that grieving has to be dealt with and that keeping busy and pushing sad thoughts away would only bring more upset down the line.

My undoing almost came when my beautiful, blue eyed, blonde, three year old grandson gently stroked my face and gazing into my eyes said "Stimmt es Nana dass Opa gestorben ist und du bist sehr traurig?"
 
I could feel my son's anxious gaze upon me. I was aware that he must have spoken to James about his much loved grandfather otherwise the questions would already have come fast and furious. "Yes, sweetie', I said.' And we are all sad, aren't we?"
 
We were all relieved that the moment had arrived and been safely dealt with.

And now, three months later I was on the other side of the world. My youngest son had relocated there and was anxious that I should visit.

We arrived at Rob's house and as late as it was we sat in the kitchen with a glass of wine, catching up. I could have gone on all night but he had to work the next day. He carried my bag up to my room and said a firm goodnight.

It seemed that no sooner had my head hit the pillow that I was asleep. It wasn't to last long though. I jolted awake.
 
A rooster! Really? In the suburbs of Denpasar?

And what was that? It took me a while to recognise the call to prayer, the adzan. The loudspeakers made it sound as if it was coming from next door but even hearing it four or five times a day I wasn't able to find its location.

I was up with the sun, peering over the balcony. Beyond the courtyard I could see a long narrow road with houses lining both sides. The design was clever: no house was overlooked and everybody had their privacy. Cooking smells, which I didn't recognise, already filled the air. People were on the move, scooters and just a few cars, the drivers struggling to turn in the limited space.
 
Dogs and cats, lots of dogs and cats roaming around freely, with hens busily clucking away and looking for scraps: strange to western eyes. With the start of the school holidays an amazing number of young children joined the throng. It was a joy to watch as kids circled playing dogs on their bikes, cats sauntered around showing no fear, even getting into play fights with the dogs occasionally and grandmothers strolling up and down with tiny babies in their arms, a hive of activity from morning to night.

Our own dog, Tzumi, a smallish white Balinese dog, happily joined in. Rob had brought her home one evening about two months earlier after she had been pressed upon him at the grocery store. At first he had tried to keep her in the house and courtyard, taking her for regular walks just as we had always done with our dogs. But Tzumi had other ideas. She chewed up everything she could find, dug up the garden and every time somebody opened the gate made a mad dash for freedom and would disappear for hours. Eventually he had to accept that she was indeed a Balinese dog and needed her freedom. From that day on she chose to stay mostly on the right side of the open gate, darting out only when her friends came out to play. Dog and owner were a lot less frustrated under the new order.

It only took me a day or two to realise how much danger she was actually in and no, my son had not given a thought to the fact that she was at an age where she could have puppies. We called the vet who arrived next day to collect her. He returned a sleepy Tzsumi 24 hours later with a supply of antibiotics, painkillers and cream. She loved the attention we showered on her. Normally she slept in the covered courtyard outside as was the custom, but I grabbed the opportunity to keep her in the house while she was convalescing.

"No babies!' I tried to explain to the clearly disapproving Balinese lady who came in to clean ever day, pointing to the wound on Tzsumi's stomach. She shook her head, pointing at the muddy pawmarks that our little invalid had just left all over the newly washed marble floor.
 

A few days later it was my turn. I needed some dental work done and had decided to take advantage of the much cheaper prices on offer in Bali. I took a taxi to the clinic and sat in the dental chair, worrying.
 
Was this really a good idea? I had expected an examination and then to come in at a later date. But no they said, treatment would be carried out there and then. Within an hour and a half the work was complete and I hadn't felt the tiniest twinge. Like Tszumi, I was sent home with antibiotics, painkillers and cream and my recovery was just as rapid as hers.

I knew that Rob lived some distance from the beach and the shops and had wondered how I would get around. He had no car, just a scooter. He'd mentioned that taxis were cheap and I'd told him in no uncertain terms that I no intention of riding on the back of his scooter.

Mid morning on my first day he suggested we go to Starbucks for a coffee. I was happy to agree and walked outside to see if the taxi had arrived.

He handed me a crash helmet!

Reluctantly, I climbed inelegantly onto the back of the bike. I had never been on one before.

It was truly horrifying. I kept my eyes tightly shut and clung on for dear life. Scooters came from all directions, swerving and weaving in and out of the lanes, overtaking cars on the left and on the right, wherever there was a space to squeeze through.
After a couple of days I began to feel slightly more confident, enough to open my eyes at the traffic lights on the large intersections. The bike next to us was carrying, Mom, Dad, newborn and toddler, all of whom seemed to take it completely for granted.
 
I began to look around. If there are laws about wearing crash helmets or speeding they do not appear to be enforced and as we stopped for each red light, the lines of scooter drivers would whip out their cell phones and text until the second the lights changed to green, when off we would all roar again.
 
At one such stop, I smiled at the two young women on the bike next to us. One, two, three, four five, I counted, much to their amusement. Yes, they had three small children with them. Dogs, and even chickens, were often to be seen perched on the running boards.
 
Bali is mostly Hindu and I was enthralled to see the many statues, temples and shrines everywhere you cared to look , many built from marble for which Bali is famous. It is the custom to make offerings to the Gods every single day and these are placed outside, on the pavement, of every stall or shop front and on the shrines at every home. Offerings, consisting of food, cigarettes and money are placed in small, yellow cardboard containers. At the end of the day, they are collected and dumped. I was not surprised to hear that poorer people sift through to find anything of value.

By choice I spent my days alone. I wasn't in Bali as a tourist, indeed, I probably wouldn't be there at all if I hadn't suffered such a devastating loss. But I was determined to make the most of this trip. I needed to come to terms with the fact that life as I had known it was no more. That my dreams of the future were gone, never to be realised and above all to accept the fact that the love of my life was never coming back and I would live my life alone.

I soon developed a routine. Always an early riser, I would take my coffee and sit outside facing the biggest stone Buddha I had ever seen and enjoy the comparatively cool morning air. Too soon the encroaching heat would drive me indoors again to the comfort of the air conditioned living room.

Most days I took a taxi to a nearby hotel complex where I could enjoy the beautifully landscaped gardens and the many shrines with generous offerings placed at their feet, fresh every day. Although it was the Christmas period and normally a busy time in Bali, the threatened eruption of the volcano on Mount Agung had caused bookings to fall off drastically, leaving the beaches and hotels almost empty. A sad situation for the local people who depend almost solely on tourism.

We had decided not to do anything special on Christmas Day so I made my way to my usual location, had a swim and then ordered lunch. An Australian band had set up and began playing Christmas carols. It felt a little strange as I looked around at the couples and families who had gathered there. I was the only person sitting alone but I decided I would not let that faze me. The music was good so I ordered a glass of wine and sang along. Later Rob joined me and we enjoyed an excellent seafood meal on the beach as the sun went down. A very different Christmas we agreed, but certainly not as sad as we had expected it to be. We ordered another bottle of wine as the dreaded motor bike had been left at home and we could take a taxi home.
 
This was just a taste of Bali for me but certainly, when I return in a few months I know will be in a more robust frame of mind and will thoroughly enjoy a more detailed exploration of this beautiful place.

*****

I am Patricia Pedross. I am mother to three sons and grandmother to seven aging from four to 16. I have retired to a small rural community in Nova Scotia where I spend my time walking my three dogs and volunteering with the local Fire Department. I am an avid reader and also enjoy writing.
 
Welsh born, I left my home town of Cardiff to move to Bristol and when my youngest son was about seven we moved to a small village in the Tirol in Austria where my sons concentrated on school and their skiing careers and I worked in tourism. I was later to work as a teacher of English as a second language, which I enjoyed very much.



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