‘Did she do a voice like in the exorcist?’ I ask, my eyes bugging wide.

Komang nods, though I’m not sure he’s seen The Exorcist. ‘Yah,’ he says.

To be sure he’s really understood me I do my own impression. ‘You must not wear short-sleeves!’ I say in a scary demon voice.

Komang nods, ‘Yah, like that,’ he says.

‘Woah,’ I sink back in my seat. ‘That’s nuts.’

Komang has just told me a story about a woman in his village who decided to go to temple wearing a short sleeve kebaya (a blouse that women wear with a sarong and sash for ceremonies.) The spirits were not happy. One took possession of the woman and told the villagers (happily the spirit spoke Balinese) that this fashion crime was never to happen again. As you can imagine, it never did.

In response to my wide-eyed woah, Komang tells me another story about the time when his village performed a special dance in the wrong part of the temple. In punishment, having angered the spirits, one person in the village died every three days.

‘How many people died in total?’ I ask.

‘Over one hundred. Every three days someone else die. For two months it go on until the priests do big ceremony.’

By my calculation that only makes about twenty dead people, but maybe something’s been lost in translation. I hope the rest hasn’t though. I really want to believe it. Another thought occurs to me; what if there was just a serial killer on the loose?

The stories started in the car where most my scary ghost stories with Komang begin. I love asking him all about Balinese culture and beliefs and Indonesian politics, struggling still after almost five years to get a handle on it all. What I love most are the black magic stories and the tales of angry spirits.

Komang also told me he never accepts a drink from anyone ever, and if he can’t get out of it he pours it away when they’re not looking. ‘Why’, I asked, thinking of some cava I once happily accepted only to realise it wasn’t the bubbly kind but some mysterious mushroom drink that tasted of mud and death. I threw it on a pot plant when I thought no one was watching.

‘In case they’ve tried to put a black magic curse on me.’

‘Why would anyone want to do that to you?’ I asked.

He shrugged nonchalantly. ‘Because, you know, everyone see me all the time at home, not really working, yet I have lots of money. They all jealous.’ (nb. Komang isn’t rich but he earns a salary from us because we pay him to take Alula to and from school so I can squeeze as many writing hours out of the day as humanly possible).

‘So you don’t drink coffee when it’s offered?’ I asked, wondering if perhaps I should be testing my own drinks for black magic curses before drinking. Perhaps some kind of litmus paper could be invented for the job.

‘No,’ he said, ‘I check the bottom of the cup, make sure it is warm.’

‘I don’t understand.’

‘If warm, no black magic.’

‘Er… no, still not understanding.’

‘If black magic potion in there it would be at the bottom and the cup would be cold.’

I glanced at him sideways, thinking; but what if they stirred it? What if they added the potion after the coffee? What if the potion was warm to begin with?

I’m confused. Lost in translation perhaps. Again.

 

 

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