The ferry swayed and tossed in the small swell  that was kicked up by a north  monsoonal wind. The boat   rode the troughs and peaks with reservation. Fuck this, I’m going to the front of the boat and annoy the captain. If I need to jump ship , I got a better chance of survival than being stuck in the bottom of the boat that was getting a good pounding from the one meter waves.

I poked my head in the cock pit. Someone was smoking. Great. I wasn’t going to risk smoking out the back. I knew one buck of the boat, I’d be in the water.

The pilot had one hand on the accelerator and the other on the steering wheel. He was accumulating points in this game of avoid getting sunk from wayward waves. The waves splashed over the cockpit as he adjusted the boat on the right path. The waves were  trying to destabilise the bucking boat that wanted deliverance.

The guy smoking couldn’t speak a word of English and kept on laughing at everything  I said. A perfect kind of audience.

Eventually the boat found a smooth patch and the captain relaxed and lit up a Marlboro Red. He was a cool cat and even under pressure he had the boat under control. “Bad weather today,” he says. “Bad weather for the next two months.” He says he’s from Sumatra and had been covering the local routes since he got married. “Before I’d pilot ships to Cambodia, Vietnam and the Philippines.”

I needed a cigarette and found the ideal place to smoke it. The Captain could speak English well, and the catering guy, who sold drinks and instant noodles was still laughing at everything I  was saying.

“That’s the Wave Master,” said the Captain. “It’s going to Singapore.” The guy who couldn’t speak English said it was a Catamaran.

When I found out  he was from Sumatra, I let it rip. “Your President is a toad. He put up fuel 30 percent, and visas by ten dollars. My country is the only one that doesn’t get a free visa. He promised to  build more hospitals and better roads. How many new hospitals do you have in Sumatra, or new roads?

It’s taxing the poor and filling the pockets of the politicians in Jakarta, he said. “Most of the presidents are from Java. The only one not is Habbie who is from Sulawesi, and he was an honest president. ” Another wave kicked up and the boat bucked like a bronco.

I better be careful who I tell this shit too. One day I’m gonna get caught out.

“The rise in fuel is our GST tax,” said the pilot. “Pockets will be  lined so that they can get another new investment house in Singapore.”

The small swell was enough to rock the ferry every which way. “January and February are the worse month’s of the year to travel between Batam and Bintan,” said the captain.”Only last week the boats were in port for four days until the bad weather cleared up,” he added. 

I had a crazy thought. If I paid this guy 100 000 Rupiah would he let me navigate the boat. But another saner thought, if I capsized the boat, I’d have lives on my hand. That thought was cut short when the captain excused me  from the conversation. “I need to concentrate,” he said, as he steered the boat into the bay.

The pilot said he gets 4 million Rupiah a month. But it’s never enough, what with putting his three children through school. “Batam is expensive,” he said. And it’s full of criminals, said my Sumatran taxi driver. “If you go to Nagoya outside the Karaoke bars, they’ll either shoot or stab you.”

What is it about the  Sumatrans?  They are the talkative and kindly drivers and pilots who get you from A to B with a smile and the feeling that the world really isn’t against you.



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