|The sun beat down on me in the run down Indonesian bus station. A scalper was desperately tried to flog me an over-priced bus ticket. I looked into his mind. He was trying to sell the ticket for double the real price.
“Yes, Mataram to Dompu, 200,000 rupiah is real price!” He was lying through his teeth.
He wore a large, red-stone ring and his nose hairs dangled out of his nostrils. Parasite.
My friend James helped me get my board bag out of the taxi.
“How's how this guy is trying to sell me this over-priced bus ticket,” I said to James, feeling smart that I wasn't going to fall into his trap.
“How much is it supposed to be?” Asked James.
“A hundred thou,” I said.
“Ok, 150,000, no problem,” butted in the scalper, scared of losing a sale.
“Ha ha ha, maybe,” I said.
No way was I going to buy anything off that guy.
I looked into his mind again. He was hoping I wouldn’t go to the ticket office a little bit further inside the station.
“Ok, it was great to meet you James, we will catch up back in Aus,” I said to James.
“I'm going to the ticket office inside,” I said to the scalper.
I shook James's hand, exchanged contact details and went inside. A few old buses sat in the sun. An old building, whose white walls had been stained black by grime, sheltered passengers waiting to leave. Desperadoes tried to sell snacks and unrefrigerated drinks to passengers.
“Ok, 130,000. A good price for you. With surfboard,” pleaded the scalper.
“Why don't you get a real job?” I asked.
The question took him off guard, maybe because of the language barrier.
“I am travel agent,” he said.
I looked into his mind. I saw him amongst a crowd, getting forced off a construction site. They were getting replaced by workers who would work for lower wages from Jakarta, Indonesia’s mess of a capital city.
I ignored the images and headed towards the ticket office.
“Look, Langsung Prima ticket,” he tried to tell me, showing me a booklet full of tickets.
I got into the line. I put my board bag down and peeled my shirt off my sweaty back. Someone tried to sell me some biscuits. The scalper hung around the line smoking a cigarette.
“What is your name?” he asked me.
“Marco, what is yours?”
“My name is Tony,” he held out his hand and I shook it reluctantly. His name wasn’t Tony.
“Are you married?” He asked me. He was only asking to get me so I would ask back.
“No,” I said, not falling for his trap.
“I have big family.” I didn’t respond.
“No money,” he said, putting on a depressed look.
Curiosity overcame me and I looked into his mind again.
Last night he sat on the floor with his wife, two kids and parents. His house was a pair of rundown rooms. The kids slept on the living room floor and the scalper slept on a mat in the second room with his wife and parents. Outside was a shelter for his gas cooker and a community bathroom. They had just finished their meal and they were opening a box. Inside was a brand new TV. The kids jumped around excitedly. They had school the next day so they had to go to sleep…
“Ok, please. 115,000. That is the same price. 15 for board,” he pleaded.
Well, a dollar wasn’t much. And it meant I didn’t have to wait in the line anymore.
“Ok fine,” I gave him the money and got his ticket. I got out of the line and took a seat.
My bus left in another three hours. I bought a packet of rice and dried fish wrapped in banana leaf and tried to ignore the heat. I tried to avoid conversation with the guy next to me. I sensed he really wanted to talk to me. His cigarette smoke and loud radio invaded my personal space anyway.
A couple of kids squatted on the floor around me out of curiosity, looking at me with dumb expressions. Then the scalper came and squatted in front of me as well. He lighted up a cigarette and greeted me. I said hello and we all sat in silence. Boredom overcame me, so once again I focused on the scalper’s presence and looked into his mind.
His wife held their limp baby in her arms. She bounced him playfully, up and down, trying to extract a joyful laugh or even a cry that healthy babies give. But the baby just lay in her arms still, with soulless eyes, a tiny little skeleton. The scalper sat by them smoking a cigarette, completely helpless. They were used to this. This is the third world after all. This wasn’t the first child of theirs that wouldn’t make it past infancy. Not to mention all their friends and relatives who had faced the same fate. The scalper was thankful for his two healthy kids, and that they were still too young to realize what would happen to their sibling.
“Do you go to Lakey Peak?” he asked me. His shark eyes now looked tired and desperate. His ring, just cheap glass. He was just some guy on the knife’s edge trying to get through.
“Yes I am,”
“I can sell you cheap ticket. In Dompu, you have to pay 300,000 rupiah. But my company will take you for 100,000 rupiah, you can buy now,”
It was a fake ticket. He was hustling hard. This would be a big score for him.
“Ok, I will buy the ticket,” I said.
Ten dollars isn’t much for someone from the first world anyway.