Two Backpacks

Mount Bromo

Chapter 4 - Meeting special friends again.

            While in Surabaya, I want to catch up with my special friends Arief and Pat

            I first met Arief on Madura ten years before and had stayed in touch via email. We arrange to meet at The Coffee Bean café, where Arief works as the manager.

            The café is busy when we arrive. Arief is busy but waves to Ron and me and guides us to a corner table where he orders cappuccinos for us all.

            ‘It’s amazing to see you again, Arief! How are you? How’s your family?’ I ask after introducing him to Ron.

            Arief smiles. I can see he’s itching to tell me something.

            ‘I’m married, Sandi! And, I have a son!’ Arief reaches for his wallet and proudly produces a photo of his beautiful family.

            ‘You have to meet them. Tonight? Can you come?’ he asks, his face full of pride.

            ‘We’d love to, Arief,’ I confirm, seeing Ron nod his agreement. ‘Give me your address; we’ll be there,’ I promise.

            Later that evening, we meet Arief’s wife, their two-year-old son, and his in-laws, and while the conversation is limited (Arief has to act as translator), we have a wonderful evening catching up on ten years of news.

            ‘Will you come back to Surabaya?’ Arief asks as we get ready to leave later that night. ‘My parents would be so surprised if you and Ron could come to Madura with me!’

            ‘Oh, I’m so sorry, Arief, we can’t. We’ve got plans to meet up with another friend, Pat. You remember, she was a teacher at English First too,’ I reply, sad that I’ll miss out on a trip to Arief’s home.

            We say our farewells and promise to stay in touch. As our taxi drives away, all the family are on the porch to wave goodbye.

            A mix of emotions confuses me as we return to our hotel. I’m so happy for Arief. I know how hard he’s worked to support his family on Madura and to achieve success in Surabaya. Seeing him again also brings back unhappy, gut-wrenching memories, ones that I thought I’d relegated to the past. I reach for Ron’s hand; his touch chases the whisps of those memories away.

            The following morning, we pack our bags, check out of our hotel and hail a taxi. We’re on our way to visit my other friend, Pat Malone.         

            When Pat retired, she moved with her Indonesian friend, Ratni and her husband Jay to their village, built a house there and seemed settled and content from her emails. Over the years, she has become Ratni and Jay’s adopted mother and grandma to their two boys.

            Before boarding the bus to Carubin, the closest stop to Pat’s village, I found an internet café and emailed her our approximate arrival time, receiving a prompt reply from Ratni – We’re all looking forward to seeing you and Ron. Will meet you at the bus stop.

            As we search for the right ticket kiosk, a man close by is shouting – ‘Carubin, Carubin,’ in a sing-song tone. I point to the nearby ticket booth and ask, ‘Tiket ke Carubin?’

            Immediately the man grabs our two backpacks and runs towards a nearby bus that has just begun to slowly pull away from the stand, throwing our bags onto the bus and frantically gesturing for us to follow them.

            Unwilling to see our bags disappear to an unknown destination, Ron and I run after the bus. I leap on first and land on our bags in a heap. Ron is close behind. With one foot on the step and the other straddling me and our bags, Ron pushes me into the bus as it quickly picks up speed.

            We find two vacant seats, one on each side of the aisle, but with all storage space taken, we shove our bags beneath them. Inquisitive faces gaze in our direction.

            ‘At least we’ve provided some light entertainment for the journey,’ I comment to no one in particular.

            ‘That was crazy,’ adds Ron as we settle ourselves. ‘Are we even on the right bus?’

            ‘I’ve no idea!’ I reply.

            ‘Carubin?’ I ask the woman seated at the window next to me.

            She looks at me blankly.

            ‘Carubin?’ I repeat a little louder, a sense of foreboding creeping through my bones. Where are we going? What if we’re on the wrong bus?

            Luckily, a man seated in front of me understands, turns and nods.

            With his confirmation, Ron and I begin to relax and enjoy the views as the bus trundles its way through the countryside. City housing gradually gives way to open rice fields, the water that fills them reflecting the blue skies and white clouds.

            The three-hour ride takes us east. Bags of rice, vegetables, chickens, and a boy of about five who keeps being sick add to the madness of the journey.

            Distant volcanoes dot the skyline. As the day’s heat grows, the inside of the crowded bus becomes hotter. Even with all the windows wide open, the aromas torture our senses as the hours tick by. With only one bottle of water each, Ron and I eke out our supply, hoping we’ll reach our destination before the water is gone.

            Our bus begins to slow as we reach the outskirts of Carubin. I know we’re approaching our destination because I spotted a road sign a mile or so back. The driver pulls the bus off the road onto a dusty patch of ground. Ron and I make our way to the front, ready to get off. Before we can step down, the bus begins to pick up speed again. We jump down, each clutching our bags and stare in disbelief as the bus disappears in a cloud of dust.

            Shaking the dust from our clothes we look around. A car pulls up, and Pat, Ratni and her boys tumble out and run towards us.

            ‘Sandi! You made it!’ laughs Ratni, looking at our dishevelled state.

            ‘Only just!’ I reply before turning to hug Pat.

            With introductions made, we all clamber into Jay’s car. It’s only a short drive to the village where the family live. As we pull up, I spy a brick build house, a palace compared to some of the traditional houses.

            Life in the village is simple. It’s a traditional Muslim community, with prayers called morning and evening from a noisy public address system a few doors away!

            We stay for two days. Pat and I spend as much time as we can chatting, exploring her vegetable garden and wandering through the village. While Ratni speaks English and Pat Indonesian, Javanese is the local dialect and is entirely different to Bahasa.

            It’s lovely to spend a few days with Pat and for Ron to experience village life in Java. Ratni is an excellent cook, and for the two days we are with the family, she treats us to all her favourite dishes, including percadil, a favourite of mine.

            All too quickly, our visit is at an end. Pat and her family take us to the train station where we buy tickets for Jogjakarta. Rory and Joe are so excited to see the trains.

            With one last hug, I board the train and wave farewell to Pat.

            Since our visit to Arief and Pat, both have sadly passed away. I have added this chapter in their memory. Rest in peace, my dear friends.