Bali At Dusk

The sun is setting, and the Bukit is a sensory wonderland. The scenery that is bright green and crisply alive in the daytime is now a sort of muted blue-green blur interrupted occasionally by the pink of a neon sign or the yellow of a bare bulb illuminating a public phone. It’s like a landscape painted entirely in black, and I feel that if I don’t pay attention to the smallest of details, I might lose the picture. Bali streams by my window, and I can feel the warm wind on my face. The lush, distressed neighborhoods we pass through look like the kind you’d see in a television documentary about scientists searching for hard-to-find animals or detailing the life of a rice farmer than the outskirts of a bustling city.

But where the dimming light fails to provide clarity, the smells compensate. Wet foliage is the predominant odor—the pungent air of certain nut-bearing trees, the occasional hint of citrus, the familiar tang of grass. The rain that falls each afternoon serves as a delivery device for these aromas, unlocking them from a prison of dryness. Woven in the scents of nature are those of man—the tar-like stink of wet asphalt, the musty interior of the van, the lingering coconut-tinged fragrance of sunscreen, and the mouthwatering spice that comes from cafés and portable food carts littering the side of the road.

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I’m awake and alert—but relaxed. My head lurches forward as we hit potholes, and it leans left and right as we round corners, but I don’t fight it. When we stop behind a stalled truck, a woman approaches my window, softly takes my left hand and holds it in hers. Her palms are rough and dry, but her touch is soft and warm. She’s speaks to me softly. So softly it’s like she’s singing me a bedtime song. Am I dreaming? I’ve driven hundreds of thousands of miles, but this is my first roadside lullaby. As we drive away, pulling my hand from hers, I turn to see her move to the car behind us and take the next passenger’s hand.—Joel Patterson