I don't want to tell Wayan about it, not until all the money has been raised. It's hard to keep a big secret like this, especially when she's in such constant worry about her future, but I don't want to get her hopes up until it is official. So for the whole week, I keep my mouth shut about my plans, and I keep myself occupied having dinner almost every night with Felipe the Brazilian, who doesn't seem to mind that I own only one nice dress. I guess I have a crush on him. After a few dinners, I'm fairly certain I have a crush on him. He's more than he appears, this self-proclaimed "bullshit master" who knows everyone in Ubud and is always the center of the party. I asked Armenia about him.
They've been friends for a while. I said, "That Felipe--he's got more depth than the others, doesn't he? There's something more to him, isn't there?" She said, "Oh, yes. He's a good, kind man. But he's been through a hard divorce. I think he's come to Bali to recover."
Ah--now this is a subject I know nothing about.
But he's fifty-two years old. This is interesting. Have I truly reached the age where a fifty- two-year-old man is within my realm of dating consideration? I like him, though. He's
got silver hair and he's balding in an attractively Picassoesque manner. His eyes are warm and brown. He has a gentle face and he smells wonderful. And he is an actual grown man. The adult male of the species--a bit of a novelty in my experience.
He's been living in Bali for about five years now, working with Balinese silversmiths to make jewelry from Brazilian gemstones for export to America. I like the fact that he was faithfully married for almost twenty years before his marriage deteriorated for its own multicomplicated plethora of reasons. I like the fact that he has already raised children, and that he raised them well, and that they love him. I like that he was the parent who stayed home and tended to his children when they were little, while his Australian wife pursued her career. (A good feminist husband, he says, "I wanted to be on the correct side of social history.") I like his natural Brazilian over-the-top displays of affection. (When his Australian son was fourteen years old, the boy finally had to say, "Dad, now that I'm fourteen, maybe you shouldn't kiss me on the mouth anymore when you drop me off at school.") I like the fact that Felipe speaks four, maybe more, languages fluently. (He keeps claiming he doesn't speak Indonesian, but I hear him talking it all day long.) I like that he's traveled through over fifty countries in his life, and that he sees the world as a small and easily managed place. I like the way he listens to me, leaning in, interrupting me only when I interrupt myself to ask if I am boring him, to which he always responds, "I have all the time in the world for you, my lovely little darling." I like being called "my lovely little darling."(Even if the waitress gets it, too.)
He said to me the other night, "Why don't you take a lover while you're in Bali, Liz?"
To his credit, he didn't just mean himself, though I believe he might be willing to take on the job. He assured me that Ian--that good-looking Welsh guy--would be a fine match for me, but there are other candidates, too. There's a chef from New York City, "a great, big, muscular, confident fellow," whom he thinks I might like. Really there are all sorts of men here, he said, all of them floating through Ubud, expatriates from everywhere, hiding out in this shifting community of the planet's "homeless and assetless," many of whom would be happy to see to it, "my lovely darling, that you have a wonderful summer here."
"I don't think I'm ready for it," I told him. "I don't feel like going through all the effort of romance again, you know? I don't feel like having to shave my legs every day or having to show my body to a new lover. And I don't want to have to tell my life story all over again, or worry about birth control. Anyway, I'm not even sure I know how to do it anymore. I feel like I was more confident about sex and romance when I was sixteen than I am now."
"Of course you were," Felipe said. "You were young and stupid then. Only the young and stupid are confident about sex and romance. Do you think any of us know what we're doing? Do you think there's any way humans can love each other without complication? You should see how it happens in Bali, darling. All these Western men come here after they've made a mess of their lives back home, and they decide they've had it with
Western women, and they go marry some tiny, sweet, obedient little Balinese teenage girl. I know what they're thinking. They think this pretty little girl will make them happy, make their lives easy. But whenever I see it happen, I always want to say the same thing. Good luck. Because you still have a woman in front of you, my friend. And you are still a man. It's still two human beings trying to get along, so it's going to become complicated. And love is always complicated. But still humans must try to love each other, darling. We must get our hearts broken sometimes. This is a good sign, having a broken heart. It means we have tried for something."
I said, "My heart was broken so badly last time that it still hurts. Isn't that crazy? To still have a broken heart almost two years after a love story ends?"
"Darling, I'm southern Brazilian. I can keep a broken heart going for ten years over a woman I never even kissed."
We talk about our marriages, our divorces. Not in a petty way, but just to commiserate. We compare notes about the bottomless depths of post-divorce depression. We drink wine and eat well together and we tell each other the nicest stories we can remember about former spouses, just to take the sting out of all that conversation about loss.
He says, "Do you want to do something with me this weekend?" and I find myself saying yes, that would be nice. Because it would be nice.
Twice now, dropping me off in front of my house and saying goodnight, Felipe has reached across the car to give me a goodnight kiss, and twice now I've done the same thing--allowing myself to be pulled into him, but then ducking my head at the last moment and tucking my cheek up against his chest. There, I let him hold me for a while. Longer than is necessarily merely friendly. I can feel him press his face into my hair, as my face presses somewhere against his sternum. I can smell his soft linen shirt. I really like the way he smells. He has muscular arms, a nice wide chest. He was once a champion gymnast back in Brazil. Of course that was in 1969, which was the year I was born, but still. His body feels strong.
My ducking my head like this whenever he reaches for me is a kind of hiding--I'm avoiding a simple goodnight kiss. But it's also a kind of not-hiding, too. By letting him hold me at all during those long quiet moments at the end of the evening, I'm letting myself be held.
Which hasn't happened for a long time.