I drove behind a funeral procession that was winding its way in the midday heat over a shallow little river and then up a steep incline to the cremation ground. About 500 people were following an approximately six-metre-tall tower, the golden costume of which shimmered in the sunshine and seemed to emit tiny sparks that sparkled over the tops of the cars that were patiently following the procession. Often, the tower shook and every now and again it swung like a compass needle in various directions heavenward – accompanied by a Gamelan orchestra playing a galloping rhythm in metal. From every house in the village a dried coconut shell released a slender spiral of smoke into the air.
I could have turned back, because I had no pressing reason to proceed along that road. But something urged me on. Did I find it indecent to turn my car around and go back? Had I had the feeling that I was going to run away from something inescapable? Perhaps I had been afraid of the commotion that manouevering my car among all those people in that narrow street would have created – suddenly all eyes would have been upon me, instead of on the coffin.
At some point the funeral tower swivelled clumsily around its own axle for the last time – the cremation site had been reached. I drove on through the sparse coastal forest in an eastward direction, but with no clear destination in mind. Again and again the streets passed along tiny rivers, the bright blue waters of which reminded me of the glacier lakes in the Alps. Children played in the water, men bathed their slim brown bodies, the youth cleaned their motorbikes. In one of the rivers also sat an old lady. She had let down her gray hair and allowed her peaks of her heavy breasts to hang in the water. She sat so close to the street that the tyres of passing vehicles sprayed water into her face. That seemed not to bother her, though. I drove past her at walking speed.
I veered off the road, simply in order not to drive on stubbornly, and got casually onto a way that took me along steep curves past gardens, huts and small farmhouses in the direction of the sea. Ayoung man on a scooter squished close to me and asked me if I had lost my way. I said I was searching for a good view of the coast. He drove ahead of me, I parked before the house of his parents, and we went to his place above the water.
It was a green garden, in which cows and goats gambolled. At the end of the garden were a couple of cacti plants, and behind them stood a cliff that loomed a solid hundred metres above the water. «Whoever falls over is dead», my guide remarked – and: «perhaps the person‘s body will never be found thereafter.» He pulled a sorrowful face. In Bali it is important that one dies in proper fashion – otherwise the soul cannot be freed from the body in correct fashion and is doomed to simply drift. Perhaps the young man suddenly saw in me a prospective ghost that would wander around his garden and seek shelter in the home of his parents. He dragged me away from the cliff and looked visibly relieved afterwards. «I had absolutely no intention of springing down from the cliff», I reassured him with a laugh. He simply said: «Thanks».
First Publication: 28-12-2013