When he changed his number, when he lost his phone, seventeen million black-haired, dark-eyed human beings crashed in on Edi Murpi and he was gone from me in a whirl of wretched life. I imagine my friend still out there reaping from the roulette of his own small havoc, giving eleven-year-old Muhammad the keys to the motorcycle, doing karaoke on ecstasy on the side of the road. Last I’d heard he was trying to get a Visa for Australia to legally acquire his sixth wife, but still I can’t imagine him out of his environment, which is the manic, grid-locked city of Jakarta.
Once the head hairstylist at my ex-girlfriend’s salon, Edi would get in there behind your vulnerable head right between your ears and speak to the back of your cranium – for hours. He could sell a balding man hair extensions and stick them there with rubber melted from an inner-tube, or convince you to get a red Mohawk for your Monday morning meeting with Fuji San in the basement of the Intercontinental Hotel. And in the forty five minutes it takes for the dye to set in, he tells me the nomadic, Badwe tribe can’t be killed – even with guns; the machetes of the Dayak tribe of Borneo once flew to Madura to avenge their owners’ deaths; the Chinese employee Gins to work the nightclubs and keep people coming back, night after night…From his lowly position, Edi built himself up on lip-service, and selling invisible babies to prostitutes at four hundred dollars an infant.
The children would be waiting in a beringin tree somewhere in the city of Solo. He knew the right Dukun magic man to get you there, and removing a blindfold – perhaps with some incantations – you’d see them: Rocker babies, punk babies, goth babies, business babies, winged babies. The long-haired and serenely calm magic man would then ask for you to choose your tuyul baby, and you’d be free to leave.
Heading back to the city on the economy train, though your pockets might feel light, instantaneously you’d sense the feathers and naked feet of an immaterial little cherub going about you in the grime and the piss. As if in thanks for their freedom, tuyul form a whirling circle around you as they scurry around and pilfer undetectable amounts of money – or luck – from total strangers, and route it all back through you. At the very least, they are a placebo as expensive and as far-fetched as just might be necessitated by the extreme circumstances of your wretched life.
Right away, the reverence I had for this head-stylist set in – but it was undeserved. Four years later, I’m at ease with the idea of tuyul – as educated people with office jobs, iPhones, relatives in Holland, and company stock options also claim their existence – as one factually comments on the weather.
Hey, perhaps I could interest you in one?
Months into the venture, a long-haired man enters the salon. Edi’s associate from Solo arrives with mad stacks of Rupiah. Business is good. The trees are stocked; so in local fashion, we all go out for as much as we can drink and we dance all night with a Dukun from Solo.
Habis makan beras makan gaba!
Because if the rice is gone, you can always eat the sheaths!