What started as a journey to escape the confines of one’s own mind turned into an enlightening encounter with a young Balinese man and an enchanting tryst with the goddess of Toye Masem.
Everybody’s talkin’ at me
I don’t hear a word they’re sayin’
Only the echoes of my mind
People stoppin’ starin’
I can’t see the faces
Only the shadows of their eyes…
– Everybody’s Talkin’ (Echoes) by Fred Neil
He began the night drive to Amed feeling like the protagonist from the movie, Midnight Cowboy, on his ‘end’ trip who reaches his dream destination only to arrive dead.
The following morning, after a sleepless night in his favourite room at Wawawewe, he walked down to the beach to catch a fishing boat out to sea. As he sat in the vessel in the warm glow of the sun waiting for the fisherman to check the motor and sails, thoughts of madness echoed in his mind. The agitated sea taunted him by rocking the boat and the errant wind blew his cap into the air.
Suddenly he heard, above the raucous wind and sea, a shout, “Useless…Mark Useless”. Striding purposefully towards him along the pebbled shore was Made Boy.
“Made says you not go to sea. Also, sea take you…you wearing green. Today full moon, you come with me to Toye Masem near Bangle Village. My wife prepare offering with chicken especially for you. Come brother we make offering and do meditasi”, he said breathlessly.
Made Boy is a friend. He runs a small shop selling semi-precious stones and sacred stones, and assorted pieces of silver jewellery. He is married to a pretty Balinese woman and is the proud father of Putu, a five month old boy. Made’s long black hair, lithe body and goatee beard gives him an air of serenity personified. This soft spoken individual’s pronouncements on Hindu Dharma and the all embracing Karma to visitors who chance upon him, endears all to him.
Reluctantly, Useless followed Made back to the hotel and put the offerings into his jeep. Then they drove into the hills to Toye Masem.
At Bangle Village he parked the vehicle on a narrow hill road and carried on foot. Nyoman, an acquaintance of Made’s from the village, joined them on the trek to Toye Masem., where there is a shrine and five holy springs.
They walked along a dusty path strewn with boulders, across dry stream beds, rice fields browning in the sun and under overhanging bamboo trees creaking in the wind. The land lay expectantly for the rains like a virgin anxiously awaiting the night of the nuptials.
When they reached the small shrine of the goddess, Nyoman swept the area in front of the shrine of dried leaves and chicken feathers (remnants of previous offerings). Useless at the bidding of Made washed his face and hands in the small spring. Made then poured spring water into a glass and gave it to him to drink. “You take this and sit quietly. Take all bad feeling you have and throw away. Don’t keep them,” he said in a whisper as if not to disturb the deity. Useless drank the sour tasting water like the wine he had sipped while serving mass at the Carmelite Chapel in Calcutta. The water tingled on his skin and in his mouth. He felt a sudden urge to weep. And he wept uncontrollably. He remembered that the festival of lights. Diwali, would be celebrated on October 27th by his son, once again without him. The Laxmi Puja, the silver coins on Paan leaves and the colourful sweets were now ethereal images. He could not smell, feel or touch them anymore. He could only dream them. The past had become the future continuous. Tomorrow would never come in this lifetime.
“Useless it is good to cry. If you don’t you will carry all the sorrow in your heart and it will kill you one day. What you want from life? Tell me now so that when we begin to place offering before the goddess I will speak on your behalf in Balinese,” he said with his hand on Useless’s shoulder.
Then they sat down in front of the shrine. Made handed Useless a Sok Kasi (a woven square basket filled with fruit, Bukakak Siap Pangang (a specially prepared chicken), flowers and burning incense sticks and told him to place it on the altar. After he had done this, he sat cross legged beside Made who began to chant a haunting prayer to the goddess asking her to favour him. The urgency in his voice, the folded hands, the gurgling of the spring and the intermittent thumping sound of ripened cashew fruit dropping to the ground from the surrounding fruit trees cast a comforting cloak over Useless. Ever so gently the goddess had touched his soul. He felt comforted by the gentleness that permeated the air around him. Shakti slowly began creeping into his sinews.
“Om Shanti Shanti Shanti Om”, sang Made as he ended his prayer for Useless.
Then he got up and threw spring water over Useless and placed flowers from the offering on his head. The spiritual encounter had ended for he could feel the goddess departing from him leaving behind the beginnings of kindness, love and forgiveness.
Made, Nyoman and Useless sat on the nearby Bale and ate the chicken, fruit and sticky rice in silence.
After the ‘feast’, Nyoman disappeared into the trees and returned with a handful of sweet, succulent cashew fruit and gave it to Useless to eat. He sucked on them reminiscing of Goa and the foul smelling highly potent Fenny (liquor) that is made from this luscious fruit.
As the sun set and shadows emerged from the enveloping darkness the three men returned to the vehicle.
That night , when Useless sat beside the infinity swimming pool gazing out at the full moon cleansing the sea in its silvery light he felt the goddess of Toye Masem pass through him. He was not afraid for he knew then that the path of his life had finally changed course to the sublimity of loneliness..
Om Shanti Shanti Shanti om