A brief narrative sketch of a Balinese hotel
|No guests were seated in the patio section of the Ubud Hotel. In the wide, partially covered area, were 20 wooden tables and 80 wicker backed armchairs, Dutch style. Still waiting for the patrons who would not come. Three ceiling fans with leather blades circled slowly over the unfrequented café.
Behind the long wood and brick bar skirting the left wall of the place, by an empty stage, a barman was clearing broken glass from the floor and wiping up a blend of liquor - sticky, bitter and smoky – from the cracks in the red brick tiles.
A waitress was righting the last of the upset chairs and returning salt and peppershakers to the center of their tables. Taking a rough cloth she beat the remaining grains of salt, dust, plaster and insects off the worn but now empty seat cushions.
The empty birdcages, which hung for decoration at either end of the covered patio, were still once again.
The barman’s mop was pushed dejectedly back and forth behind the counter. The countenance of the barman, better suited to a hotel smile, endearing him to guests, increasing his tips and (unknown to him) often being the deciding factor for passing tourists looking for the right place to stop for a drink; was now tired and set to a task he know would have to be repeated. It had been for some time.
The guests so usually fond of travel, keen on excitement and besotted with the pursuit of ‘new experiences’, had read the news from far away and decided en-masse not to take the risk. Most of those who kept their reservations were shaken free of their moral obligations on the first night. The rest preferred not to use the café on account of a local man who came in every lunch and dinner making bird noises for spare change.
It had been a bad season. The barman pressed down on his mop and drained the sweet, dirty smelling water into a tin bucket. He stared into the middle distance of empty chairs and contemplated a humid summer helping his father in the rice fields. Hybrid rice, double rows, two harvests with green beans on the ridge. Long close hours in the day hut; one eye on the cascading silvery steps, palms and high clouds fleeing with the Balinese sea in between; one on the crows. The summer was inevitable. The guests had read the news from far away. It was bad news.
The bar was clear and the café once again in order. The barman prepared a pot of tea and set out two cups for him and the waitress. They sat in silence as the waitress added a sprig of lemongrass to the cups. The barman sat back and sipped. They both felt a shudder. The waitress’ teaspoon began to rattle against the cup and saucer.
‘It has been a bad season’ thought the barman.