‘Why you don’t like papaya?’
He places the plate of fruit salad on the table on my terrace and waits for a reasonable response. I realise I can give none. I shrug apologetically and say I just don’t like the taste very much. (But already I am doubting myself; really, it’s just a bit nothing-y.)
He tilts his head to consider things for a while, then gestures at the watermelon and pineapple I have allowed to remain in my salad; ‘I think maybe you like crispy.’
‘Crispy? The texture?’
‘Yes. You know, like… potato.’
‘Maybe,’ I say, trying hard to understand what he thought the word ‘crispy’ might mean.
But I am pleased; this is the most conversation I’ve had with one of the sons here since I arrived. When I last stayed here in October, the three sons were young boys, smiling shyly at me and boldly daring themselves to say ‘hello, how are you?’ each time I walked past the porch outside reception, where they sat flicking pieces of grass at each other. In the last three months, though, they have seemingly been commissioned into hard work (cleaning rooms and delivering fruit salads), and they are cross about it. They have also all suffered from that inevitable growth spurt, the syndrome which causes teenage girls to arrive at school in September after a summer break only to find that the boys they knew and pitied are now several feet taller, with unpredictable croaking voices and serious, manly noses.
I’m genuinely unsure if these boys are the same boys as before, or if they are completely different staff – cousins, perhaps. I’m constantly trying to figure it out.
Bali is known for its smiling population; you know you are about to receive service at a restaurant or shop because you are smiled at from several miles away; you feel the smile first, then hear the gentle ‘excuse me’ or some variation, and you are treated to the beaming face of someone who emanates the promise that they can fix your life if you eat at their place or buy their sarong.
Not Ketut, though (Ketut, I have just discovered after enquiry, is his name; it was probably always going to be Wayan (/Gede/Putu), Made (/Kadek), Nyoman (/Komang) or Ketut, according to the amazing Balinese naming system, which is essentially a numbering system; if there is a fifth child, he or she is usually called ‘Wayan Balik’, which means ‘Wayan again’.) Ketut (who must be the fourth child) prefers to sulk around and remove plates with a cursory ‘you done?’ (I think he may have watched some American films) to which I always respond ‘I have finished, yes, thank you,’ with a semi-pointed smile.
This morning he has asked me what I’m going to do today. He asks me this every day, but usually with an air of extreme boredom; I am unsure if he is attempting to practise his English or if he has merely been instructed by his mother to appear interested in the guests.
I answered, ‘I think I might see some rice paddies,’ which was shorthand for ‘I think I’m going to write a blog post about you, see some rice paddies, brainstorm a massive new idea I had this morning for a novel, play music, wander around, read a book and sit in cafés… that kind of thing, Ketut.’
He barely managed to stop himself from rolling his eyes. ‘Rice paddies? Rice field?’
‘Yes, rice field.’
He glanced behind him, beyond the pond which is full of lotus flowers opening and closing at their own whim, beyond the pool and over the low wall which encloses this homestay. ‘Lots of rice fields. Rice fields everywhere. Right there is rice field.’
‘Yes,’ I said. ‘There are a lot of rice fields around Ubud.’
‘OK,’ he said. Then: ‘You need anything, you just call. Call Ketut.’
And, in a flash, I remembered October. I remember being told the same thing; you need anything, you call Ketut. It is the same boy.