"What is this life? Do you understand? I don't." This was Wayan talking.
I was back in her restaurant, eating her delicious and nutritious multivitamin lunch special, hoping it would help ease my hangover and my anxiety. Armenia the Brazilian woman was there, too, looking, as always, like she'd just stopped by the beauty parlor on her way home from a weekend at a spa. Little Tutti was sitting on the floor, drawing pictures of houses, as usual.
Wayan had just learned that the lease on her shop was going to come up for renewal at the end of August--only three months from now--and that her rent would be raised. She would probably have to move again because she couldn't afford to stay here. Except that she only had about fifty dollars in the bank, and no idea where to go. Moving would take Tutti out of school again. They needed a home--a real home. This is no way for a Balinese person to live.
"Why does suffering never end?" Wayan asked. She wasn't crying, merely posing a simple, unanswerable and weary question. "Why must everything be repeat and repeat, never finish, never resting? You work so hard one day, but the next day, you must only work again. You eat, but the next day, you are already hungry. You find love, then love go away. You are born with nothing--no watch, no T-shirt. You work hard, then you die
with nothing--no watch, no T-shirt. You are young, then you are old. No matter how hard you work, you cannot stop getting old."
"Not Armenia," I joked. "She doesn't get old, apparently."
Wayan said, "But this is because Armenia is Brazilian," catching on now to how the world works. We all laughed, but it was a fair breed of gallows humor, because there's nothing funny about Wayan's situation in the world right now. Here are the facts: Single mom, precocious child, hand-to-mouth business, imminent poverty, virtual homelessness. Where will she go? Can't live with the ex-husband's family, obviously. Wayan's own family are rice farmers way out in the countryside and poor. If she goes and lives with them, it's the end of her business as a healer in town because her patients won't be able to reach her and you can pretty much forget about Tutti ever getting enough education to go someday to Animal Doctor College.
Other factors have emerged over time. Those two shy girls I noticed on the first day, hiding in the back of the kitchen? It turns out that these are a pair of orphans Wayan has adopted. They are both named Ketut (just to further confuse this book) and we call them Big Ketut and Little Ketut. Wayan found the Ketuts starving and begging in the marketplace a few months ago. They were abandoned there by a Dickensian character of a woman--possibly a relative--who acts as a sort of begging child pimp, depositing parentless children in various marketplaces across Bali to beg for money, then picking the kids up every night in a van, collecting their proceeds and giving them a shack somewhere in which to sleep. When Wayan first found Big and Little Ketut, they hadn't eaten for days, had lice and parasites, the works. She thinks the younger one is maybe ten and the older one might be thirteen, but they don't know their own ages or even their last names. (Little Ketut knows only that she was born the same year as "the big pig" in her village; this hasn't helped the rest of us establish a timeline.) Wayan has taken them in and cares for them as lovingly as she does her own Tutti. She and the three children all sleep on the same mattress in the one bedroom behind the shop.
How a Balinese single mother facing eviction found it in her heart to take in two extra homeless children is something that reaches far beyond any understanding I've ever had about the meaning of compassion.
I want to help them.
That was it. This is what that trembling feeling was, which I'd experienced so profoundly after meeting Wayan for the first time. I wanted to help this single mother with her daughter and her extra orphans. I wanted to valet-park them into a better life. It's just that I hadn't been able to figure out how to do it. But today as Wayan and Armenia and I were eating our lunch and weaving our typical conversation of empathy and chopsbusting, I looked over at little Tutti and noticed that she was doing something rather odd. She was walking around the shop with a single, small square of pretty cobalt blue ceramic tile resting on the palms of her upturned hands, singing in a chanting sort of way. I watched her for a while, just to see what she was up to. Tutti played with that tile for a long time, tossing it in the air, whispering to it, singing to it, then pushing it along the floor like it was a Matchbox car. Finally she sat upon it in a quiet corner, eyes closed, singing to herself, buried in some mystical, invisible compartment of space all her own.
I asked Wayan what this was all about. She said that Tutti had found the tile outside the construction site of a fancy hotel project down the road and had pocketed it. Ever since Tutti had found the tile, she kept saying to her mother, "Maybe if we have a house someday, it can have a pretty blue floor, like this." Now, according to Wayan, Tutti often likes to sit perched on that one tiny blue square for hours on end, shutting her eyes and pretending she's inside her own house.
What can I say? When I heard that story, and looked at that child deep in meditation upon her small blue tile, I was like: OK, that does it.
And I excused myself from the shop to go take care of this intolerable state of affairs once and for all.