The frogs and the cicadas were so loud I thought they were at the foot of my bed. I imagined them hanging from the mosquito net, even though it was absurd. But anything seemed possible in this place. On the other side of the window the rice field gurgled like a giggling baby. Deep in this cheerful symphony I drifted off to sleep.
It had been a long day. We travelled twelve hours and thousands of miles. As I walked off the plane the humidity seeped into my skin like steam. I realised then that even the weight of air could transform me.
In the afternoon I navigated my way through conversations in Bahasa. Stilted at first, then it started to flow. When we finally arrived at the villa perched on a rice terrace, I was speechless. Partially affected by exhaustion, partially affected by beauty. This was paradise. I had finally made it. I had returned.
At 2am the rooster crowed. A curious screeching flat note. I was a little surprised, but it didn’t bother me. In fact, it was comforting. I wanted it to crow over and over again. And it did. At 3am, at 4am. And the hallelujah chorus of all crowing at 5am.
Each crow was a far-off call in time. Back to when I was the girl. The girl who was born and raised in this place. The white girl spellbound in a foreign land. Thirty years had changed so little. I was still spellbound. But this time I began claiming what was mine. Somewhere in this country I had left keepsakes of my DNA. They were in the swirl of wooden carvings, in the fragrance of candlenut from street-side cafes, in the beeps of motorbikes on narrow streets. They were in the sticky wax of batik, in the sweetness of rose syrup, in the jangle of the gamelan drums, in the crow of roosters. And I started picking them up piece by piece.
Each piece added to the picture. A picture that would never be a glossy painting. Instead, a collage stitched roughly together over a lifetime. It wasn’t seamless or neat. But it would have texture and relief, it would have colour and sound. And it would be beautiful because it was mine.
There, in the serene discord of a rooster crow, just for a moment, I belonged.