Anyone that could speak some English told us that people do not hitchhike in Indonesia. Everyone uses the taxi busses because they are so cheap and plentiful.
Eventually, though, someone did stop. I was on my way to the toilet when Mike called me back. In retrospect, I realise it would have saved me a lot of grief if I’d have just gone to the toilet when I had the chance, but we’d been waiting for a while and there was no way I could risk missing the ride.
A rather serious looking man, in a beige uniform, driving a patrol car, had pulled up next to us. He peered out of his open window through a pair of small dark sunglasses.
“Surabaya?” we asked, pointing at our sign. He thought about it, nodded and I hopped into the cab, at the front, and Michael the back. His name was something along the lines of Fatarama, but we referred to him as ‘Fatty,’ because we’re not clever enough to remember names that we haven’t heard of before.
He had a classic government-official-type moustache and whenever he struggled to find the right English word, which was often, he closed his eyes and seemed to meditate for a few seconds, wobbling his head, even while he was driving.
Fatty told us, with the little English he had, after a few bouts of meditation, he’d take us to Surabaya. He stopped at a shop to get some water and Michael and I changed places. It was when I jumped in the back that I realised that my bladder was screaming at me.
You can hold it, Rich, I assured myself; but after a few more bumps down the road I really started to struggle. I think what made it especially bad was that I didn’t know how long it would take us to get to Surabaya. I knocked on the cab to get Fatty’s attention. No reply. I knocked again. Nothing. I looked at my half empty bottle of water. I had to do it, I had to go.
In a risky move, I downed the remainder of my water. I looked out from the open paddy wagon. The streets were busy and everyone seemed interested in me. I felt another surge of pain in my bladder, but still I tried to hold it. I knocked again on the cab, a little bit more frantically this time. No reply. We turned down a slightly quieter street. “This is my chance”, I announced to myself, with a steely determination that surprised me. I unscrewed the lid and arranged the bottle. Nothing happened.
I closed my eyes to relax, trying to ignore the pedestrians milling about, going about their errands around me. I thought of running water, I thought of waterfalls. As my eyes were closed, I felt the car come to a stop and, success! The sound of liquid hitting plastic was met with the sheer relief that anyone who’s really, really, really had to go can relate to.
I heard the doors of the cab open and shut and I snapped open my eyes. We had pulled up outside a grand looking house with elegant white pillars set against smooth, pale pink walls as if the place had come straight out of The Great Gatsby.
Before I had time to react, I realised that Fatty must have phoned ahead because a family had rushed out of the house with beaming smiles and were seconds away from greeting me. Mike and Fatty circled around from the cab to the back, where I was still sitting. Panic stricken, I moved the bottle away from my crotch and tried to covertly tuck everything back into my shorts without looking like I was molesting myself.
Of course, I dropped the bottle and spilled the contents over the floor and myself. For the record, having my clothes freshly damp with urine, with my penis hanging pathetically out of my shorts, is not my favoured method of introducing myself to a new group of people. But this was what happened.
Once inside, I retreated into the bathroom with my tail as much between my legs as I could manage. I stood in front of a pristine mirror and gave myself a hard look. I sighed as I remembered the mother’s face when she pretended not to notice that my hand was wet when she shook it. I shuddered at the image of Fatty, having picked up the bottle from the floor of his wagon, had to empty the last few drops of what was clearly urine onto the grass.
I closed my eyes and repressed the memory deep into my vast bank of embarrassing episodes. I then shook my head and tried to get on with my life.