Thursday, July 26, 2012

Four Clowns

Johnny is wearing lipstick today, a luscious pomegranate red which sweeps into his cheeks and chin. His face is framed by a gold and silver foil crown and triangular tresses.
In the shade of a bamboo roadside shelter are four clowns. Each wears an antiquated music box on a long strap around his neck. Pockets like panniers flank the music machines. A hand-painted sign above the wooden shelter reads Nasi Uduk Betawi.

Johnny is cheaply regal. The second clown has a heart between his eyebrows and a rich gold and black waistcoat. The third has wobbly spectacles drawn around his eyes. And the fourth is nebulous behind his cigarette smoke. He wears a ski hat and the black exclamation marks of tragedy pour from his eyes.
The wandering quartet have worked together in Jakarta for two years.
"What music do you have?"
"Oh, a complete collection," Johnny breezes. "Music from all over Java. And India."
"May I photograph the show?"
"Will you pay?"
In single file they walk quickly and silently down the road, glittering. Then they split up, darting into adjacent lanes like startled prey. I shadow Spectacles.

He branches into a narrow lane which opens into a dirt yard. There are potted plants, shattered tiles and the remnants of an old road. Beneath a sheet of corrugated metal is a makeshift cafe. Standing amid sunbeams and debris the clown turns on the music and smiles. Notes whine discordantly. In flip flops and drainpipe jeans the clown dips his knees and fleetingly flutters his arms behind his back. This is a gauche and cheerless show.

A man hurries out from under the metal tarp. He gives the clown a coin. The clown bows his head, no longer smiling. In less than five seconds the show is over and the clown is leaving.
I find Johnny ambling on the main road and fall into step. He smiles and sparkles. He's beguiling. "We're originally from Indramayu," he chats. "Where are you from? We live in Pulo Gadung. How about you?"

The sky is a rare blue, the greens are sharp; what adventure lies ahead!
"When are you going to give us money?" Johnny simpers, his eyes coquettish.
"After I've got some photos."
"C'mon," he purrs. "Now."
I give him Rp 10,000 ($1.00) and everything changes. Johnny snatches the note like a hawk and jettisons me abruptly. The shift in mood is unequivocal. His performance is over. He walks swiftly away and the other clowns snap at his heels, crowing for their share.

I don't follow further.

1 comment:

  1. Great essay.

    I got sad reading this.

    Reality is a bit sad sometimes, no?

    Love the blog. :-) Will look forward to many more.