My short story, “Bali Magic”, is one of five finalists in the Bali-High.com community blog contest.
“Michael!!” she screamed as I parked my bike at the warung restaurant. What the hell?? I had never been to this village before or even to this part of Bali.
I was staying at an eco-luxury resort down the road, writing a travel review. One night, I drove into town looking for a local equivalent of a greasy spoon diner; this place hadn’t looked particularly promising but, unlike the others, it was open.
Putu ran up, giving me a huge hug before I had a chance to even remove my helmet. “Great to see you!! When you come back??” It took me a minute to connect the beaming smile to a vague memory. Ohhh … we had met the previous summer at a café in Ubud, where she had been working as a waitress. We’d become Facebook ‘friends’ and that had been the end of the story. Or so I thought.
Not only was it odd that Putu worked here but, as I quickly discovered, I had stumbled upon one of the island’s only organic warungs – in fact, they were ‘ground zero’ for training local farmers on organic farming methods. Strange, as this happened to be my area of specialization.
But this was nothing compared to what would come next. I mean, how could I have even begun to imagine that Putu – a random, nearly forgotten acquaintance from the previous year – might actually be the key to unlocking the mysteries of Bali’s mystical magic, the very reason I had just returned to Indonesia.
As I described my life-changing encounters with Balian Supernatural – healers whose powers, by Westerns norms, would be considered either impossible or fraudulent – Putu listened intently, occasionally nodding silently.
I thought for certain she, like so many of my other Balinese friends, would simply laugh, if nervously. When it came to the supernatural, I was finding that the younger Balinese generation, like their peers back home in the States, simply didn’t believe in magic (outside of Harry Potter novels).
Something about her thoughtful silence caught my attention. I’d like to imply it was my finely-honed reporters instinct, but the truth is, I was desperate for leads, and I had been asking, nearly pleading with everyone I met – from shopkeepers and taxi drivers, to random priests I’d met at restaurants – for insights into Bali’s energetic underbelly. Few of these effort had led to any serious leads and, with Putu – a hard-working, unassuming divorced mother of three young children – I certainly couldn’t anticipate what came next.
“Michael”, she jumped in, “I’ve had a strange life. Many people think I’m crazy.” I waited. “I have many friends who are dead,” Putu said. This didn’t sound crazy, just horribly sad, I thought.
“I mean,” she continued, “we hang out, talk, all the time.”
There was a look in her eye, and I knew now was not the time to interrupt.
“Over there” (pointing towards the organic rice paddies), “a pregnant woman was murdered by her husband who didn’t want the child. That was 170 years ago … she still lives here. She’s my closest friend. Often, we sit and talk, just like we are doing now. She
gives me advice, like a mother.
“One day, my friend Wayan didn’t believe me, so she came over and sat there (pointing to my seat). I was sitting here, and the old woman sat across the table. Wayan waited, not believing. Then the old woman picked up a cigarette, held it this high, then put back on the table, spinning it around. Wayan was so scared, she fainted.”
A rare moment of not knowing what to say, I remained silent. Her youngest daughter, about three years old, nestled into Putu’s lap, began to fall asleep. There was a special bond that felt somehow different than with her other two daughters, who are running around the kitchen. Seemingly reading my mind, Putu continues.
“Once, after having my menstruation, I traveled to Uluwatu, where my friends told me a god lives in the Ocean. I didn’t believe, but I wanted to see for myself. Looking over the water, I threw a rock and where it landed, the sea began bubbling. After a moment, a beautiful goddess arose from the water. She floated towards me, and touched my belly. The next morning, my husband calls my cell, saying he had strange dream about me and an egg. I didn’t think about it any more, but about a month later, I realized I was pregnant.
“Michael, I didn’t have sex after my menstruation.”
I sat there, quietly sipping my tea. What I had just heard – ghosts from another dimension, immaculate conception – was only just the start. Somehow, it didn’t surprise me when Putu told of the white stones that her dead friends had given her – stones with supernatural powers. Nor was I surprised to learn that a tiny, purportedly-magically enhanced hot spring up north – which had been recommended by a random acquaintance in the distant city of Sanur – turned out to be owned by Putu’s family.
I stared at Putu. Maybe she was, indeed, crazy. However, with so many coincidences stacked upon synchronicities, I was no longer certain of anything. Well, maybe one thing: I had returned to explore Bali’s magic, and I knew, now more than ever, that I was in for one wild ride.