The deal fell through with Wayan. That property Felipe had found for her somehow didn't happen. When I ask Wayan what went wrong, I get some fuzzy reply about a lost deed; I don't think I was ever told the real story. What matters is only that it's a dead deal. I'm starting to get kind of panicked about this whole Wayan house situation. I try to explain my urgency to her, saying, "Wayan--I have to leave Bali in less than two weeks and go back to America. I can't face my friends who gave me all this money and tell them that you still don't have a home."
"But Liz, if a place has no good taksu . . ."
Everybody has a different sense of urgency in this life.
But a few days later Wayan calls over at Felipe's house, giddy. She's found a different piece of land, and this one she really loves. An emerald expanse of rice field on a quiet road, close to town. It has good taksu written all over it. Wayan tells us that the land belongs to a farmer, a friend of her father's, who is desperate for cash. He has seven aro total to sell, but (needing fast money) would be willing to give her only the two aro she can afford. She loves this land. I love this land. Felipe loves this land. Tutti--spinning across the grass in circles, arms extended, a little Balinese Julie Andrews--loves it, too. "Buy it," I tell Wayan.
But a few days pass, and she keeps stalling. "Do you want to live there or not?" I keep asking.
She stalls some more, then changes her story again. This morning, she says, the farmer called to tell her he isn't certain anymore whether he can sell only the two-aro parcel to her; instead, he might want to sell the whole seven- aro lot intact . . . it's his wife that's the problem . . . The farmer needs to talk to his wife, see if it's OK with her to break up the land . . .
Wayan says, "Maybe if I had more money . . ."
Dear God, she wants me to come up with the cash to buy the whole chunk of land. Even as I'm trying to figure out how to raise a staggering 22,000 extra American dollars, I'm telling her, "Wayan, I can't do it, I don't have the money. Can't you make a deal with the farmer?"
Then Wayan, whose eyes are not exactly meeting mine anymore, crochets a complicated story. She tells me that she visited a mystic the other day and the mystic went into a trance and said that Wayan absolutely needs to buy this entire seven-aro package in order
to make a good healing center . . . that this is destiny . . . and, anyway, the mystic also said that if Wayan could have the entire package of land, then maybe she could someday build a nice fancy hotel there . . .
A nice fancy hotel?
That's when suddenly I go deaf and the birds stop singing and I can see Wayan's mouth moving but I'm not listening to her anymore because a thought has just come, scrawled blatantly across my mind: SHE'S FUCKING WITH YOU, GROCERIES.
I stand up, say good-bye to Wayan, walk home slowly and ask Felipe point-blank for his opinion: "Is she fucking with me?"
He has not ever commented upon my business with Wayan, not once. "Darling," he says kindly. "Of course she's fucking with you."
My heart drops into my guts with a splat.
"But not intentionally," he adds quickly. "You need to understand the thinking in Bali. It's a way of life here for people to try to get the most money they can out of visitors. It's how everyone survives. So she's making up some stories now about the farmer. Darling, since when does a Balinese man need to talk to his wife before he can make a business deal? Listen--the guy is desperate to sell her a small parcel; he already said he would. But she wants the whole thing now. And she wants you to buy it for her."
I cringe at this for two reasons. First of all, I hate to think this could be true of Wayan. Second, I hate the cultural implications under his speech, the whiff of colonial White Man's Burden stuff, the patronizing "this-is-what-all-these-people-are-like" argument.
But Felipe isn't a colonialist; he's a Brazilian. He explains, "Listen, I grew up poor in South America. You think I don't understand the culture of this kind of poverty? You've given Wayan more money than she's ever seen in her life and now she's thinking crazy. As far as she's concerned, you're her miracle benefactor and this might be her last chance to ever get a break. So she wants to get all she can before you go. For God's sake--four months ago the poor woman didn't have enough money to buy lunch for her child and now she wants a hotel?"
"What should I do?"
"Don't get angry about it, whatever happens. If you get angry, you'll lose her, and that would be a pity because she's a marvelous person and she loves you. This is her survival tactic, just accept that. You must not think that she's not a good person, or that she and the kids don't honestly need your help. But you cannot let her take advantage of you. Darling, I've seen it repeated so many times. What happens with Westerners who live here for a long time is that they usually end up falling into one of two camps. Half of them keep playing the tourist, saying, 'Oh, those lovely Balinese, so sweet, so gracious . . .," and getting ripped off like crazy. The other half get so frustrated with being ripped off all the time, they start to hate the Balinese. And that's a shame, because then you've lost all these wonderful friends."
"But what should I do?"
"You need to get back some control of the situation. Play some kind of game with her, like the games she's playing with you. Threaten her with something that motivates her to act. You'll be doing her a favor; she needs a home."
"I don't want to play games, Felipe."
He kisses my head. "Then you can't live in Bali, darling."
The next morning, I hatch my plan. I can't believe it--here I am, after a year of studying virtues and struggling to find an honest life for myself, about to spin a big fat lie. I'm about to lie to my favorite person in Bali, to someone who is like a sister to me, someone who has cleaned my kidneys. For heaven's sake, I'm going to lie to Tutti's mommy!
I walk into town, into Wayan's shop. Wayan goes to hug me. I pull away, pretending to be upset.
"Wayan," I say. "We need to talk. I have a serious problem." "With Felipe?"
"No. With you."
She looks like she's going to faint.
"Wayan," I say. "My friends in America are very angry with you." "With me? Why, honey?"
"Because four months ago, they gave you a lot of money to buy a home, and you did not buy a home yet. Every day, they send me e-mails, asking me, 'Where is Wayan's house? Where is my money?' Now they think you are stealing their money, using it for something else."
"I'm not stealing!"
"Wayan," I say. "My friends in America think you are . . . a bullshit."
She gasps as if she's been punched in the windpipe. She looks so wounded, I waver for a moment and almost grab her in a reassuring hug and say, "No, no, it's not true! I'm making this up!" But, no, I have to finish this. But, Lord, she is clearly staggered now. Bullshit is a word that has been more emotionally incorporated into Balinese than almost any other in the English language. It's one of the very worst things you can call someone in Bali--"a bullshit." In this culture, where people bullshit each other a dozen times before breakfast, where bullshitting is a sport, an art, a habit, and a desperate survival tactic, to actually call someone out on their bullshit is an appalling statement. It's something that would have, in old Europe, guaranteed you a duel.
"Honey," she said, eyes tearing. "I am not a bullshit!"
"I know that, Wayan. This is why I'm so upset. I try to tell my friends in America that
Wayan is not a bullshit, but they don't believe me."
She lays her hand on mine. "I'm sorry to put you in a pickle, honey."
"Wayan, this is a very big pickle. My friends are angry. They say that you must buy some land before I come back to America. They told me that if you don't buy some land in the next week, then I must . . . take the money back."
Now she doesn't look like she's going to faint; she looks like she's going to die. I feel like one-half of the biggest prick in history, spinning this tale to this poor woman, who-- among other things--obviously doesn't realize that I no more have the power to take that money out of her bank account than I have to revoke her Indonesian citizenship. But how could she know that? I made the money magically appear in her bankbook, didn't I? Couldn't I just as easily take it away?
"Honey," she says, "believe me, I find land now, don't worry, very fast I find land. Please don't worry . . . maybe in next three days this is finish, I promise."
"You must, Wayan," I say, with a gravity that is not entirely acting. The fact is, she must.
Her kids need a home. She's about to get evicted. This is no time to be a bullshit.
I say, "I'm going back to Felipe's house now. Call me when you've bought something." Then I walk away from my friend, aware that she is watching me but refusing to turn around and look back at her. All the way home, I'm offering up to God the weirdest prayer: "Please, let it be true that she's been bullshitting me." Because if she wasn't bullshitting, if she's genuinely incapable of finding herself a place to live despite an
$18,000 cash infusion, then we're in really big trouble here and I don't know how this woman is ever going to pull herself out of poverty. But if she was bullshitting me, then in a way it's a ray of hope. It shows she's got some wiles, and she might be OK in this shifty world, after all.
I go home to Felipe, feeling awful. I say, "If only Wayan knew how deviously I was plotting behind her back . . ."
". . . plotting for her happiness and success," he finishes the sentence for me.
Four hours later--four measly hours!--the phone rings in Felipe's house. It's Wayan. She's breathless. She wants me to know the job is finished. She has just purchased the two aro from the farmer (whose "wife" suddenly didn't seem to mind breaking up the property). There was no need, as it turns out, for any magic dreams or priestly interventions or taksu radiation-level tests. Wayan even has the certificate of ownership already, in her very hands! And it's notarized! Also, she assures me, she has already ordered construction materials for her house and workers will start building early next week--before I leave. So I can see the project under way. She hopes that I am not angry with her. She wants me to know that she loves me more than she loves her own body, more than she loves her own life, more than she loves this whole world.
I tell her that I love her, too. And that I can't wait to be a guest someday in her beautiful new home. And that I would like a photocopy of that certificate of ownership.
When I get off the phone, Felipe says, "Good girl."
I don't know whether he's referring to her or me. But he opens a bottle of wine and we raise a toast to our dear friend Wayan the Balinese landowner.
Then Felipe says, "Can we go on vacation now, please?"