Jakarta is the lover I picked up in a club in one of those crooked back alleys with hidden nooks and grimy doors that open into dark rooms full of dodgy characters with everywhere eyes. Jakarta and I did tequila shots together and woke up with pasty mouths and sketchy night recollections. She is the lover I’m ashamed of, the one I’m most seduced by, the one I hate the most and love the most. She’s the one I keep in secret, meeting in shadowy laneways along broken bricked footpaths, in the gutter next to sewers, and sometimes - when we’re feeling decadent and daring - in the looming shiny malls, where we watch each other’s reflections in the windows of shops containing items we can never dream of affording.
My lover will often flash about millions of Rupiah but the gifts remain undelivered.
My parents have expressed interest in coming to visit me in Jakarta and I’ve coaxed them down from their excitement, managing their expectations and making excuses for my lover.
“But you won’t like Jakarta,” I say pleadingly, “I mean, I don’t mind living here, but I don’t even know what you would dohere…”
The divide is so great that I can’t even imagine my parents and my new secret lover in the same room together.
“But it’s your home,” they respond patiently. “We want to know what your life is like.”
What they really mean is: “We want to know who you’re spending all your time with, and whether we approve.”
“Maybe I can meet you somewhere else?” I suggest hopefully, shamed by my own shame but still trying to change their minds. I make a few half-hearted suggestions - like sunshiny Bali, or straight footpathed Singapore - somewhere that’s a little morehusbandly material??
Everyone has a lover like Jakarta at least once in their lives: the lover nobody else understands. You know the one I’m talking about, because you’ve had one too. Your parents don’t approve, your friends wonder why you keep going back, and everyone tells you over and over that you’re just too good for it.
But you’ll hear none of it! You’re too far in it. Your lover seduces you with grand plans and glances of greatness amid the squalor. (My lover, Jakarta, is a shameless slut and seduces many this way – it’s famous for bringing the young and ambitious from all over the Indonesian archipelago to its heaving bosom on the promise of unimagined richness). This lover beckons you close and with an arm around your shoulders and says - LOOK! Look up through the smog and see the stars! We can lasso them together; I can show you how – do you trust me? No one knows what really goes on between lovers, and who could understand the sacred bond shared between two souls who plot to capture the stars together?
The unravelling of Jakarta is a forever entertaining journey. This city always feels as if she’s holding back beauty; always holding the promise of more – if only I love her a little more! If only I make her feel secure that I won’t leave her, then she will stop running around and showing her beauty to others (she’s always ugliest with me). She only wants me to believe in her!
And I do believe, I really do… this particular quest for beauty is just taking a little longer than I thought.
Next time my parents ask if they can come visit Jakarta, I just might say yes…. Perhaps the four of us can sit in the gutter together with the sewer stench in our nostrils, and my lover can show us all how to lasso the stars.