Jakarta Bound is a travelogue about life in one of the largest and most densely populated cities in South East Asia.
As soon as I read Jeff’s text message my overactive imagination became over activated. I read the words again, and then again, and then again trying to elicit the tone and intention. Those 16 words said so little, but in their brevity alluded to so much more. Simon had definitely done something wrong, but what? Surely he hadn’t forced himself on the drunken girl and caused a disturbance that had woken Jeff. And why was Jeff using his wife’s phone?
I sent a message back to Jeff to say that I hadn’t seen Simon and almost immediately I received a reply asking me to meet him. The immediacy of his reply and his request to meet him were loaded with latent information and my curiosity was piqued to the point of distraction. I was just about to go into my first lesson, but the focus of my attention was now on constructing the complete body of this unknown story out of the DNA of cryptic information I had. So I replied to Jeff saying that I had to go into my lessons and I would call him during my break, which would be in couple of hours. I decided to leave my phone in the teacher’s room so I wouldn’t be distracted by it during my lessons. But it wasn’t the phone that was the distraction, it was my impatient need to know what had happened.
As I sat in the lesson talking about vocabulary and verb tenses, in the back of my mind there was a detective constructing plots and scenarios. I saw Simon’s naked body hurriedly trying to get dressed whilst telling a crying girl with smudged make up to be quiet. I saw him, sweating, dishevelled and unkempt, fleeing from Jeff’s apartment; waiting nervously at the elevator before rushing down the stairway, his comb-over uncombed, wispily wafting above his head as he stumbled down the stairs. I saw the fear in his face as he scanned the streets for a taxi to take him… somewhere, anywhere, just away from where he was and away from the trouble he had got himself in. I saw Indonesian policemen in his room going through his things whilst Evi was consoling the now starkly sober young girl, mascara smudges and tear streaks running down her face. I saw Jeff gravely giving a statement to the police, telling them how little he knew of the lodger staying in his spare room. I saw his little daughter sitting quietly, maybe drinking from a bottle with sweetness in it, oblivious to what was going on, but, wide-eyed, sensing the drama and feeling excited. But then of course I was aware that all of this was just in my imagination. Perhaps nothing bad had happened at all. Maybe Jeff had spoken to Simon about the apartment that morning and he now wanted to speak to me. The cliche about having watched too many movies was was actually true for me. However, on the other hand, coming from the Manchester council estate culture I had come from, I had borne witness to some real wrongness and a lot of fucked up shit, and right now my instincts were telling me that whatever had happened, it definitely wasn’t good.
My distracted mind and the fluttering butterfly wings in my gut meant that my lessons were not the best, but that wasn’t important. What was important was finding out what had happened with Simon. So I immediately checked the messages on my phone when I got back into the teacher’s room, but there was only one message from Jeff. He wanted me to meet him in Central Park at a place called Solaria, a cheap restaurant chain that you find all over the city. It was Jeff’s local apparently. I wasn’t too comfortable about meeting him without getting a little bit more information, so I decided to give Simon a call to find out what happened. But, and this was no surprise, all I got was a brief pre-recorded notification in Indonesian that I couldn’t understand before the call cut off. His phone was obviously switched off. This confirmed to me that something was definitely wrong, so I decided to call Jeff. All this to-ing and fro-ing with text messages was irritating, a phone is for talking.
Talking in Mall Taman Anggrek is more difficult than it sounds. First of all, it was Saturday afternoon so it was full of people and the noise that crowds of people make. In addition, with it being full of people, there was also some kind of promotional event in the main auditorium on the lower ground floor and it was very, very loud. The high pitched tone of the lady speaking on the microphone accompanied by some Asian pop soundtrack was impossible to escape. The building’s design is structured around an atrium so each floor is open to the sound of the PA coming from the auditorium below. This meant that there was nowhere to hide from this noise. The best you can do is go inside one of the shops or get to the end of one the many passageways on each floor. Only then you don’t get a phone signal. So after trying and failing to connect with Jeff a couple of times, I decided to go outside. However, when you get outside, the shrill screech of mopeds and roaring noise of the traffic that surrounds everywhere in Jakarta is so loud that it’s very difficult to hear anything there either. Difficult but not impossible. So when I did eventually get through to Jeff I managed to get some details and the basic gist of what had happened.
After hearing the brief outline of his story through the street noise, I agreed to meet him later that evening after I finished work. I hung up the phone and couldn’t help but laugh as I made my way back into the mall to get some lunch. From what I managed to garner from Jeff, Simon had been well and truly Kemang banged. Only it seemed that poor Jeff was the one who had paid the price.