I have a friend whose name isn’t Darren, and because it isn’t that’s what I’ll call him here.
And Darren had a friend whose name I really can’t remember, which is a pity cause she was definitely cool. Part Malaysian, well-travelled, smart and fun to hang out with. For the sake of this story I’ll call her Trish.
Darren and I ran into Trish in Bali. We’d been chasing waves around Indonesia for a couple of months and she was stopping through on her way home from Europe. Darren and Trish were happy to have stumbled across each other, I was happy for any excuse to party, and so we went out and got drunk in the bars of Jalan Legian.
Sometime towards the end of the night we ended up in the Sari Club (which a few years later was destroyed in the Bali bombings). I’m not exactly sure where Darren was but Trish and I were dancing. Or, more exactly, we were silly dancing. Sadly, I’m one of those men who when they try and dance seriously end up statuesque, anchored to the floor by self-conscious feet, and so if we wanted to dance it had to be the silly dance.
As we flapped and wiggled on the dance floor, Trish attracted the attention of a local guy. Someone who – judging by the way his long, well-groomed hair swum in gentle waves over his shoulders and the size of the muscles that tugged at his just-too-tight shirt – must have devoted plenty of time and self-worth into winning with the ladies. On another night, or in another place he might have been attractive. But that night, as he tried to triangulate the dance floor so it was him not me dancing with Trish he just seemed creepy.
Trish certainly wasn’t interested and I was going to run out of dance floor if he kept it up.
And so, following the advice of the Lonely Planet, I told him we were married.
“Sorry mate – kita karwin”
There was no need for me to use Indonesian, he spoke English just fine, and my slurring probably rendered what I had to say incomprehensible anyway. Which probably explains why my attempt at steering him away didn’t work. So next up Trish, who had the unfair advantage of speaking Malay (Malay and Indonesian are mutually intelligible) had a go.
Unfortunately, she hadn’t read the guide book.
“Not interested: I like girls and he likes boys.”
That was a mistake. Not because he actually believed her, I think. But more because he could now tell that we really, really didn’t take him seriously.
Puffed up in anger he turned away from Trish and shoved me. And then – whap! – punched me in the throat. It was hardly a hay-maker but, aimed as it was, it was enough to press the front of my windpipe against the back. I can still clearly remember, woven amongst my shock at what was happening, the distressing momentary choke.
Now I went to high school in the Hutt Valley which, at least back then, was a pretty rough place. Parties usually ended in fights and schoolyard legend was full of tales of the ‘morning-break when such and such broke so and so’s nose’. The consequence of this was not, however, any urge to be violent myself. Instead, I grew up to be a runner not a fighter or, if I was cornered, like I was this night, a real fast talker.
And that was a good thing. As anyone versed in surfing law will tell you, a bar fight in Bali, with a Balinese, will only end in disaster. Right up there with publishing a map of the last secret surf spot in Oregon (you’ll get shot), or stealing waves off large Hawaiian blokes (any number of things might happen – they all hurt). Locals always have more friends around than you and in Bali the locals, quite understandably, back each other.
But I can talk and Darren came over and helped too, and eventually, if slightly improbably, things were smoothed over.
And that’s the end of that story. Or at least it would be if it weren’t for the the life of tales.
Maybe 5 or 6 years later Darren and I, who hadn’t seen much of each other in the intervening years, were at a barbecue. As surfers do when drinking together we ended up telling travel tales. And Darren retold the story of the bar fight that night. Except that in his telling he was the one dancing with her and he was the one who got punched.
I didn’t say anything at the time; I didn’t know what to say. But I’ve wondered about this ever since.
I was there when Darren retold the tale. He knew I was there. He even started the story by turning to me and saying, “remember that time in the Sari Club”.
So I’m pretty sure that he must have told it believing he was telling the truth. Beer and travel have produced plenty of embellished tales over the years, as well as outright falsehoods. But if he was actively making this up would he really do so when the one person who could call bullshit on him was right there in the room with him?
So why then? My best guess is that, in the years we were apart, he retold the tale plenty of times – on the road, around camp fires, in bars… When you get it right it’s a pretty good story. The trouble is, to tell it well, you really need to be the centre of it. Stories where the other bloke got punched aren’t half as interesting as those where you did. So I suppose he tweaked the narrative to improve its telling, swapping my and his roles.
And eventually, over the years as he did this the tale became more tangible than his actual memories, and shifted them aside. By the time we were at the barbecue, his telling of the story had become the truth in his head.
There is, of course, an alternative explanation. That he was the one who got punched and I’m the one guilty of telling tales until they they become more tangible than actual events. As you may have noticed from this blog I do like telling stories.
But I don’t know though, that punch still feels awfully real…could I actually have woven it together with words?