Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
Stepping out into the thick, humidity of late night Kemang, I felt that inflated high you get from alcohol when you come out of a club and the air hits you. With these high spirits I suddenly felt optimistic about the coming months in Jakarta and was at ease with the ever so slightly swirling world. I’d had a genuinely good night, listened to some good music, and even though it was the early hours of the morning the lights were still shining in Kemang. This area was clearly the place to be for any adult adventure. It’s just a shame I lived in Taman Anggrek, which was miles away.
“Right Simon” I said – probably with a little bit of a slur, “let’s find a cab, I’m pissed.” I turned around and, adjusting to the dazzle of the streetlights, I noticed that Simon had found some company. Where she had come from, I don’t know, but as drunk as I was, I was nowhere near the state of this young woman. Beneath the sparkly makeup, her sleepy eyes, harshly framed in thick mascara, told the recent story of a night of excess. Nonetheless, Simon was undeterred.
“What are you doing?” I said to him, as he signalled an Express taxi to stop. “Are you taking her home?!”
- If spiders could smile, that smile would look like the grin that was on Simon’s face. It would be the grin they have when a fly takes the unfortunate flight path that leads it into their web. Before I knew it Simon had bundled this girl into the back seat of the taxi, climbed in beside her and shut the door behind them.
“Seriously?” I said, as I got in the front.
“Taman Anggrek, Mediterranea Gardens”, he told the driver.
“Simon, is she even conscious?”, I said as the driver moved off.
“Of course she is,” he said, grinning like a Cheshire cat “aren’t you?” She spoke with a level of slurred legibility that was a couple of grades below what mine was and just about understandable. Understandable enough for Simon to deduce that she was fair game and happy to share a taxi with us back to his place.
“I drink too much”, the girl replied.
“Drink too much eh? What’s your name?” I asked her.
“Sindy. My name Sindy?” she replied.
“Ok Sindy; are you sure your alright?”
“She’s fine”, said Simon, “She’s just had a few too many drinks perhaps.”
“A few! D’ya think?”, I said. “She’s fucking pissed!”
“Ya; drink too much” she said as she slouched under Simon’s arm. “Open window please”.
As she reached over to open the window in the back, the little floral miniskirt she had wrapped around her waist offerred an undignified display of her pink underwear. Nevertheless, legs akimbo, she leant back to nestle herself under Simon’s arm as if they were a couple returning from a dinner party where she had drunk too much wine; but it didn’t feel right.
The girl was in no fit state. Her eyes were half-closed and she was practically laid out in Simon’s arms in that back seat. To say she was vulnerable was stating the obvious and I suddenly felt sober and uncomfortable about the moral dilemma I found myself in. I had just spent the night bonding with my future flatmate, was I now really going to accuse him of an intended date rape by forbidding him from taking his drunkenly aquiescent prey into his bed? The taxi was already on the highway so what was I going to do? Stop the car and kick her back out onto the street, potentially putting her at risk of being picked up by someone even less scrupulous than Simon, but more forceful, more aggressive? Better the devil you sort of assume isn’t a violent psychopath than the one that definitely could be. As far as I knew the last girl Simon took home with him got out alive. He had even told me that they had exchanged numbers and he was considering getting in touch with her again. Furthermore, I was a witness to what was happening here, although whether I would even remember what the girl looked like the following day was doubtful. And how much danger could she be in? Simon was not exactly an athletically intimidating or imposing man. He shared a flat with Belgian Jeff, his wife and their four year-old daughter so he wasn’t taking her back to an empty lair. He had told me that he wasn’t even supposed to bring anyone back to Jeff’s apartment without telling him first. If anything seriously bad went down he couldn’t possibly get away with it. Could he?
Anyway, besides all of that, this girl wasn’t even my responsibility. I didn’t get her drunk and I didn’t tell her to get drunk. I was in a developing country in South East Asia where the rules and protocols are very different to back home. I didn’t create the socio-economic environment where pretty young girls felt the need to offer themselves up to the western Bulays for exploitation. Maybe deep down I was just a little envious that a drunken girl hadn’t fallen into my lap, that my moral compass was taking me nowhere other than to an empty bed. No, I had no responsibility here. Only I did. I had a moral responsibility. A moral responsibility all the more acute for having a daughter who could easily be the same age as this girl and who could maybe find herself in the same situation. How would I feel if my daughter got drunk one night and was then used and abused and there was another in the same position as me who did nothing to stop it?
The trial by conscience taking place in my mind had turned my mood from an alcohol fuelled joy and optimism to a feeling of sober anxiety and guilt. I already knew I was going to allow the night to play out by itself and could only hope that it played out safely. Although in all honesty, I don’t think I really believed in the worst-case scenarios my imagination had conjoured up. Nevertheless, I found myself trying to quietly convey to the taxi driver as best I could with the snippets of Bahasa I took from my Google translator that he should keep an eye on my friend in the back. Somehow I don’t think the driver was interested or concerned. I think he was more interested in taking the two drunken Bulays in his taxi on a long diversion. I say this because we had been in his cab for almost half an hour and I hadn’t seen anything that looked familiar or any signs to suggest that we were driving toward Taman Anggrek.
“Does this look familiar to you?” I asked Simon. “We’ve been driving for ages. We should be near Taman Anggrek by now”, I said. The fare showing on the meter was already well over the 50,000 IDR or so that it had been last time I returned home from Kemang that late at night. When I pointed this out Simon suddenly turned. Sounding for all the world like a colonial master rebuking one of his subordinates, he started remonstrating the driver; “Look, I don’t know what you’re playing at but you better take us to Taman Anggrek right now… This is ridiculous… I’ll report you to the police… Polisi – you understand?”
Of course the driver didn’t understand a word Simon was saying, but he got the gist – the Bulay in the back was angry, Polisi, time to start going in the right direction.
“Taman Anggrek. Yes, I go Taman Anggrek. This way sir”, the driver replied.
“Well stop pissing around and take us the right way”, Simon shouts back at him. “I’m not paying any more than 50,000 for this journey, you understand?”
Listening to Simon’s uncharacteristic little outbust of petulance, I didn’t know whether to laugh or be even more concerned. Despite sounding like a Leslie Phillips character from an old Carry On film, there was clearly an aggressive side to Simon’s character and he could assert himself when he needed to, and it worked. Minutes after his outburst we started to see some familiar signs and it wasn’t long before we found ourselves coming over one of the overpasses of criss-crossing highways that lead toward Taman Anggrek and Mediterania Gardens Residence. The huge LED screen that usually beamed out across the sky had long been switched off, but Central Park and the Podomoro complex are the most imposing structures on the landscape in that part of west Jakarta so you know when you have arrived.
As the driver pulled up outside the Mediterania Gardens Residences, Simon leant over and said, “There’s a hundred”, and pushed a banknote into my hand before whisking his young prey off up to his dirty little den of salaciousness. What happened from herein was out of my control. My primary concern was to get back to my bed and enjoy that deep sleep of the drunk. So I told the driver to head toward Centro City, which was only a few minutes away.