A Torrid Affair
crossed briefly in Jakarta in 1979. Within the year we had returned to the countries we
called home, yet I remember Heather more clearly than I do anyone from my years in
Indonesia, even Mary.
Mary introduced us.
Heather was in none of my classes at the school and teenage worlds can be insular to a
nonsensical degree. We passed without acknowledgment until Mary and Heather found support
for each others ignorance in their maths class. Mary was my best friend; but then we were
called Little Lunch by the less mature of our age from whom we pointedly distanced
ourselveswas a major production in image creation and management, complete with a
central stage. Much money had been spent designing and building the school for the
children of the international community and the result was a sprawling network of
hexagonal buildings revolving around a courtyard, which we too as students revolved
around, awaiting the main show, which was not the classes.
Three steps up, in the
middle of the courtyard, was the stage. It was instinctively known to even the most recent
arrival that not everyone could wander up those steps to the slab seats beneath tropical
foliage and park their bum. That privilege was reserved for the gods.
Us lesser mortals
clustered as satellites on the outer fringe, ever hopeful of some inter-planetary
gravitational pull to propel us legitimately to the centre. Mary and I had a designated
spot on the edge of the walkway surrounding the courtyard. This year wed carefully
maneuvered to a more advantageous position slightly left of centre, for this was no
theater in the round, and the young and gauche were relegated around the courtyard to the
rear of the stage, without view of the display. It was only much later that I realized
these were not the most underprivileged kids in the world. The children from the kampong
never got past the barbed wire that guarded the school.
One morning in May I
was perched in a most nonchalant manner, refraining from eating, which, at the advent of
the teen years suddenly seemed an awkward and unattractive activity for public places,
when Mary brought Heather over. Introductions made, Heather began to tuck into a huge
donut dripping with chocolate icing. Her strong white teeth sunk into the doughy mass,
muddy, sticky icing smeared her lips; my stomach gnawed in a hollow cavity of hunger. I
had to turn my eyes away from envy and craving. And back to their normal focus.
The girls of the gods
ate, and drank, and smoked, and did whatever they pleased.
"Her mother is
Indonesian" commented Heather, following my gaze.
We were slightly
shocked. Shocked that this was spoken aloud. We understood very little about race
relations despite our country of temporary residence. We only knew what we saw: the
servants at home, and the young people we legitimized as leaders of the school body. The
boys were tall, strong, and very white; the women they chose were an exotic coterie of
many hue with just one thing in common: they complemented those fine-young-men
beautifully, never creating any doubt to the superiority of Thomas, Mark, Jimmy, Heinrich
"She and Heinrich
I never knew what to
say in reply to many of Heathers comments. Her pronouncements had the authoritative
ring of someone who knew. She talked about boys with a fair whack of disdain which I was
too naive to cultivate.
Mary too listened to
Heather with awe. We were inexperienced colonials in the face of her agelessly sure (but
somewhat dowdy I told myself) British presence. Her blond hair fell in a timeless
page-boy, while Mary and I hid within the perms of the unsure; her skin was pale where we
had yet to learn to avoid the sun; but mostly, she spoke out against adults, teachers, the
gods, finding fault in things we had never thought to notice. As she became a regular at
recess, and then lunch, she gained our confidences, if never quite my confidence.
I had a secret; a
passion of the most predictable kind, but a secret nonetheless.
I was a realist. I knew
Thomas was too high above, just too unattainable, to be brought into the realms of my
fantasies. Thomas, the Dutch boy, taller, blonder, more charming, with that
smileyes, he smiled at me once. Thomas on his big black motorbike, Thomas who swayed
the coldest heart to sympathy the semester of the accident when he bravely made his way
from class to class on crutches. Thomas must be unsullied by anything as immature as an
adolescent crush. But Jimmy; well he was Australian too, so I perhaps felt I had some kind
of right. Jimmy, I discover in my School Annual of 1979, had a pointed ferret face and
hair that wasnt washed as often as it should have been. The trouble with truisms is
that they do tend to be true, and love was most certainly blind. For Jimmy rode with the
pack, on a yellow Yamaha. And I had a poster of a yellow motorcycle on my bedroom wall.
There was to be a party
to celebrate the end of the school year. After that, three months of freedom: June, July
and Augustwhat the Americans called summer though the climate showed little change
in temperature. I didnt actually know the girl to talk to, but everyone was invited
and my parents gave me permission to go because it was at a private home. Mary and Heather
picked me up in a taxi. Arriving in a mass of girls was a bit gorky but the rooms were
pretty dark and we found a corner. The motorbikes were parked out front, we passed them on
the way in, though a discrete frantic search failed to find the unattainable deities in
"There in the drug
room" explained Heather, as if reading my mind.
"Same at every
party. The lucky ones get to smoke dope in a stuffy little room."
"That hardly seems
like fun" Mary commented bravely.
I knew from then I
wasnt going to enjoy the party and when Mary started dancing with a boy our own age,
and seemed to be enjoying it too, I wanted to cry. All the effort of dressing up to look
understated and glamorous was wastedwasted on young boys and boredom.
"I prefer older
men myself" said Heather, still by my side, perhaps feeling as abandoned by Mary as I
"Like Thomas and
Hans and..." Was she goading me, prompting the response she wanted? I was too
dejected to think of protection.
I didnt see him
that night; he must have emerged from that smoky little room after Id given up and
gone home. And I didnt see Heather for three, entire, months.
School was not
something I ever dreaded and the summer months were rather slow, so it was
good to get off the bus and walk toward our spot in the courtyard again.
The walkways were abuzz
with noise: shouts of delight, groans of anticipated academic despair, the chatter of
friends, the glee of reunions. Jakarta for all its seven million people, was to us a quiet
old place when school was out. Mothers that could scooped up their offspring and headed
home for holidays, abandoning businessman husbands to whatever comforts they could find.
Even those left in the country were segregated by Company or Embassy. Mary and I spent
every afternoon by the Australian Embassy pool (reading mostly), while Heather disappeared
into some petroleum compound. Yet there she was, at our spot on the first day of term. She
sat there grinning broadly.
Heather was the cat
whod swallowed the canaryever so pleased with herself and just bursting to
tell. The onset of the telling was almost immediate, though the chronicle went on for
My first reaction was
incomprehension. How could he? What did she have? Was I not more special than she?
Apparently not, for
Heather and Jimmy had met up during the holidays, and continued to meet every day in a
series of torrid encounters that made our set English text "Sons and Lovers"
read like "Little Women". The flames had engulfed them. It was over, but, oh
what a summer. And we were to hear all about it.
Like a fairy story it
took us into another world, a different dimension. Yet every story raises in me questions,
of before the beginning, between the middle, after the end. My great need in life was to
fill in the gaps, to find and follow a life-rope of logic. After many questions asked it
was Mary who interrupted.
But I did believe her,
as much as I didnt want to, I believed every word. I spent sleepless nights. I
tortured myself imagining the events, each discrete episode, the horrible whole. The
meeting at an adults party, to which each set of parents dragged their reluctant
teenagers. The first time she heard the roar of his motorbike on the gravel in the drive.
The convenience of her mothers daily tennis lessons that left the house free. The
swimming pool. The near naked bodies. The...
But why did it have to
be Jimmy, my Jimmy? When she knew how I felt.
Throughout, I held onto
one shameless hope. Now he had to see me. I was with her, so now he must notice me. Yet
week after week he never approached our group, and I never caught him glancing our way.
One afternoon it did
seem as if my hope would be realized. Heather had casually mentioned more than once, that
she had something to return to Jimmy. As the last bell rang she decided it was time to do
so. Commodious bag with unimaginable male possessions under her arm, she strode away from
us at the front of the school. She strode toward the motorbikes. Jimmy had his back to us.
Now he would turn, see her, look beyond, see me.
The buses pulled
between us. I could see nothing. Till the motorbikes roared into view, and out of
the carpark throwing dust over the banana fronds and frangipani trees. My last coin of
optimism was spent. All I could do was content myself with the romance of a broken heart.
And attempt a broken ear drum to the noise waves of Heathers continued
My family returned to
Australia before Christmas. I took the posters from my wall and threw them out, every one.
Mary came back home soon after, and we heard Heather had left Indonesia also.
Inevitably, sadly, I
got over Jimmy. I grew up, got married, had children, lost touch with Mary. Then I met
another mother at pre-school who reminded me terribly of Heather. She told the biggest
flickered and could not be ignored. I realized in a wave of post-Jimmy objectivity and
distress that I had been deceived. It was something anyone should have realized at the
time. Heathers story was so preposterous in its foundation, so outrageous in its
details, and so blatantly unsubstantiated to the end. I had not only been young and
innocent, I had been naive and hopelessly, laughably, gullible.
I could hear Heather laughing down the
years. It hurt more than a broken heart.