The end of July came, and my thirty-fifth birthday with it. Wayan threw a birthday party for me in her shop, quite unlike any I have ever experienced before. Wayan had dressed me in a traditional Balinese birthday suit--a bright purple sarong, a strapless bustier and a long length of golden fabric that she wrapped tightly around my torso, forming a sheath so snug I could barely take a breath or eat my own birthday cake. As she was mummifying me into this exquisite costume in her tiny, dark bedroom (crowded with the belongings of the three other little human beings who live there with her), she asked, not quite looking at me, but doing some fancy tucking and pinning of material around my ribs, "You have prospect to marrying Felipe?"
"No," I said. "We have no prospects for marrying. I don't want any more husbands, Wayan. And I don't think Felipe wants any more wives. But I like being with him." "Handsome on the outside is easy to find, but handsome on the outside and handsome on the inside--this not easy. Felipe has this."
She smiled. "And who bring this good man to you, Liz? Who prayed every day for this man?"
I kissed her. "Thank you, Wayan. You did a good job."
We commenced to the birthday party. Wayan and the kids had decorated the whole place with balloons and palm fronds and handwritten signs with complex, run-on messages like, "Happy birthday to a nice and sweet heart, to you, our dearest sister, to our beloved Lady Elizabeth, Happy Birthday to you, always peace to you and Happy Birthday." Wayan has a brother whose young children are gifted dancers in temple ceremonies, and so the nieces and nephews came and danced for me right there in the restaurant, staging a haunting, gorgeous performance usually offered only to priests. All the children were decked out in gold and massive headdresses, decorated in fierce drag queen makeup, with powerful stamping feet and graceful, feminine fingers.
Balinese parties as a whole are generally organized around the principle of people getting dressed up in their finest clothes, then sitting around and staring at each other. It's a lot like magazine parties in New York, actually.("My God, darling," moaned Felipe, when I told him that Wayan was throwing me a Balinese birthday party, "it's going to be so boring . . .") It wasn't boring, though--just quiet. And different. There was the whole
dressing-up part, and then there was the whole dance performance part, and then there was the whole sitting around and staring at each other part, which wasn't so bad. Everyone did look lovely. Wayan's whole family had come, and they kept smiling and waving at me from four feet away, and I kept smiling at them and waving back at them. I blew out the candles of the birthday cake along with Little Ketut, the smallest orphan, whose birthday, I had decided a few weeks ago, would also be on July 18 from now on, shared with my own, since she'd never had a birthday or a birthday party before. After we blew out the candles, Felipe presented Little Ketut with a Barbie doll, which she unwrapped in stunned wonder and then regarded as though it were a ticket for a rocket ship to Jupiter--something she never, ever in seven billion light-years could've imagined receiving.
Everything about this party was kind of funny. It was an oddball international and intergenerational mix of a handful of my friends, Wayan's family and some of her Western clients and patients whom I'd never met before. My friend Yudhi brought me a six-pack of beer to wish me happy birthday, and also this cool young hipster screenwriter from L.A. named Adam came by. Felipe and I had met Adam in a bar the other night and had invited him. Adam and Yudhi passed their time at the party talking to a little boy named John, whose mother is a patient of Wayan's, a German clothing designer married to an American who lives in Bali. Little John--who is seven years old and who is kind of American, he says, because of his American dad (even though he himself has never been there), but who speaks German with his mother and speaks Indonesian with Wayan's children--was smitten with Adam because he'd found out that the guy was from California and could surf.
"What's your favorite animal, mister?" asked John, and Adam replied, "Pelicans."
"What's a pelican?" the little boy asked, and Yudhi jumped in and said, "Dude, you don't know what a pelican is? Dude, you gotta go home and ask your dad about that. Pelicans rock, dude."
Then John, the kind-of-American boy, turned to say something in Indonesian to little Tutti (probably to ask her what a pelican was) as Tutti sat in Felipe's lap trying to read my birthday cards, while Felipe was speaking beautiful French to a retired gentleman from Paris who comes to Wayan for kidney treatments. Meanwhile, Wayan had turned on the radio and Kenny Rogers was singing "Coward of the County," while three Japanese girls wandered randomly into the shop to see if they could get medicinal massages. As I tried to talk the Japanese girls into eating some of my birthday cake, the two orphans--Big Ketut and Little Ketut--were decorating my hair with the giant spangled barrettes they'd saved up all their money to buy me as a gift. Wayan's nieces and nephews, the child temple dancers, the children of rice farmers, sat very still, tentatively staring at the floor, dressed in gold like miniature deities; they imbued the room with a strange and otherworldly godliness. Outside, the roosters started crowing, even though it was not yet evening, not yet dusk. My traditional Balinese clothing was squeezing me like an ardent hug, and I was feeling like this was definitely the strangest-- but maybe the happiest--birthday party I'd ever experienced in my whole life.