It was all very cloak and dagger.
I was minding my own business and thinking Graeme Green thoughts as I eyed up the big titted natives.
I joined a guy who was hogging up a park bench.
I love imposing myself.
He was cool with it.
I don’t believe in finding an empty bench.
The occupied ones are far more interesting. You just never know what conversations are going to crop up.
I was playing Forrest Gump at a park bench.
There’d be big and tall stories, and everyone one of them true.
I pegged the guy as an Indian Malaysian.
We were on the promenade of the Sarawak River.
He was on holidays from Kuala Lumper.
He’d be returning in ten days.
I forfeited my trip back to Pontianak.
I had explored that town for all it was worth. Any more exploring, I might find myself with a slit throat. I was reading the signs. It said fuck the laptop you left at the hotel and the mouth guard you ordered to stop you grinding your teeth in your sleep. That could wait until next time I called into that mosquito-infested port.
I pulled out a smoke and oggled at the skirt.
There were Malays, Melanaus, Chinese, ( Indians, didn’t see many, presumably scared of poisoned darts and headhunters), Ibans, and Bidayuhs who paraded their wares on the promenade.
It was lit up with fairy lights. It brought out the moths like me and that dirty old Malay sitting next to me. He told me later he was Malay.
I’m sorry, I said, I still have so much to learn.
So romantic, I thought. I was smitten by the place.
I was in the heart of James Brooke territory, the ‘white’ Rajah of Sarawak who ruled the island from 1841 until his death in 1868.
I’d been working on my British accent, in the hope that the locals saw a bit of the white Rajah in me. I wasn’t here to liberate the island of pirates. Just throw away your bras, and I’d be happy.
Then the Malay pulled out his phone, after we chatted for a while, neither of us looking at each other, only focusing on the talent on the promenade, and showed me a picture of the Bugis Pirate himself, dining with a very sexy lady.
Surely it’s photoshopped, I asked.
He nodded in the negative.
I looked around.
Who is that guy sitting next to you?
‘Just my friend.’
This picture confirmed my suspicion of what most Malaysians quietly think, at least east of Peninsular Malaysia. Even the immigration guy I spoke to about the state of affairs didn’t like that upstart whose bloodline ran from the Riau islands.
I told the immigration officer about my cavity search in Medan in Indonesia.
‘Bad form,’ he said.
Even the lady doing the X-ray didn’t want to give me a cavity search after I put my bags through the machine and spilled my beans for anyone who cared to listen. The young backpacker, I pegged him as British, waiting in line to get stamped in, failed to join in the mirth that I was sprinkling around in generous amounts.
No doubt about it, it was a piss fest and a half.
‘Have a nice trip mister,’ said the lovely customs lady who looked Dyak to me. She was eyeing me up, waiting for me to grab her number.
I walked off, saying to the Malay guy I met at the park bench I’d hope we’d see each other again.
Further up the promenade, I stopped to talk to some guys dressed in military fatigues. They were volunteers.
Then the Malay walked past me and slyly prods me in the ribs.
I promise I wasn’t talking about you.
I was. I was telling the volunteers, the one who looked like a pig in fatigues, that this total stranger asked what was the name of the hotel I was staying at.
To that, the volunteer who had the porky features asked me where I was staying.
I said it was none of your business. That was when the shadowy Malay figure walked past me.
I excused myself and followed him.
We had more to talk about.
But the well had dried up.
Maybe he thought I was a government spy.
Or maybe I should stop reading Graeme Green books.
Either way, Borneo is ideal for an intrigue or two.
They are really open to outsider’s opinions.
I’m just an empty vessel, needing to be filled up I say.
Besides, what I say could change in the next sentence. I’ve learned to be slippery and to slide off a conversation to the nearest exit.
Self-preservation is a potent force.
I even had the official scan me for Malaria. It was a heat sensor camera.
Apparently I was in the big clear.