Back in the 90s once Richie Boy and his father finished their January vacations, I quit selling diamonds on 47th Street for the winter and bought a round-the-world ticket from Pan Express. Bali was my main destination and I gave my parents Poste Restante Ubud as my address.
Ubud was a simple market town in the verdant rice paddies. I lived in a simple house overlooking a ravine. Villagers bathed in the stream in the evening. The sun set between two distant volcanoes. The music of the Legong band warbled in the air filled with dragon flies. The small village offered backpackers a chance to discover hidden Bali with cold beer and nasi goreng.
The town was very family friendly and many of them stayed at the hotel up the path from my house. It had a swimming pool and served a tasty gado gado. One couple with two teeange kids came from the North Shore of Boston. The older girl looked about 16. Her name was Dawn or Kakatu in Bahasa Indonesian.
Dawn had long brown hair and she would sneak peeks at me lounging by the pool, when her parents weren’t watching over her every move. I had a good idea what she was thinking and avoided her, for young girls are big trouble for men in their late-30s.
One night I was watching the Legong girls at the temple. Their lithe movements to the acoustic music was a pleasure to the eye. The candle-lit courtyard was easily to mistake for the 18th century, if I ignored the rumble of traffic beyond the red brick walls. After the end of the show I gave the venerable teacher $5 or 10,000 rupiah, which was enough to buy her pupils a meal at the market.
She thanked my gift and lifted her eyes to the flickering streetlights. They wavered with the dying surge of distant electricity and then the village was plunged into a primeval darkness. Outages were common occurrences and I flicked on my flashlight.
Dawn was standing in front of me.
“Hi.” She was wearing a red shirt without a bra.
“Where are your parents?” I walked out of the temple. Kerosene lamps illuminated the small warungs. Car headlights blinded me and I yanked Dawn out of the road.
“They went to the hotel before me.” Dawn pushed back her long brown hair.
“Then I guess I have to walk you home.” There were no taxis in Ubud, at least none that could navigate the narrow footpaths bordering the rice fields. “You’re not scared of the dark, are you?”
“Not with you.” She reached out to hold my hand.
“Just follow me.”
I skirted her grasp and proceeded down a small lane between several Balinese family compounds. The high walls created a narrow chasm and soon gave way to the rice paddies. The hotel lay across the darkened fields and I felt a little like Orpheus leading his wife from Hades, except Dawn was no Eurydice and Bali was more heaven than hell.
“Can we stop for a second?” Dawn asked sounded a little winded. “I want to look at the stars.”
“Okay.” I sat in a rice shack. Thousands of fireflies hovered over the golden husks of rice. Overhead the cosmos glowered with an equatorial intensity heightened by the lack of electric light. Dawn lay down on the bamboo pallet. Her shirt was undone. The stars painted her skin silver.
“Do you think I’m beautiful?” She touched my thigh with a trebling hand.
“Anyone your agee is beautiful to a man as old as me.” My resolve weakened under the caress of her fingertips and then cracked with a kiss tasting of bubble gum.
“How old are you?" I sat up straight and sidle to the edge of the rice hut.
“15, but my friends say I look older.” She shimmered with forbidden youth.
"You do look a little older." I had hoped 18. I had hoped wrong. “Let’s go. Your parents must be worried.”
"Can't we stay a little longer?" She buttoned her shirt without haste
"No." One more minute and I would cross the bounds of decency. "Hurry up."
"You don't know what you'll be missing." She pouted with the failure of seduction.
"Oh, yes, I do." I had been fifteen before.
Dawn's mother was waiting at the hotel entrance. Worry was not the word to describe her expression and I said firmly, “I brought back your daughter intact.”
“I’m not intact.” Dawn pouted with vengeance. “I’m not a virgin. I’m a woman.”
“Young girl, get to your room.” Her mother nodded her thanks and the next day the family had decamped from Ubud.
I resumed my life there.
Beauty was around around me.
I thought about Dawn as a dream on bamboo several times in the following weeks.
I regretted telling her 'no', knowing that I would have been wrong to say 'yes', but then it was only one regret of many and at thirty I still have plenty of chances left to regret doing the right thing instead of the wrong.