I watched the skinny, grey coloured dog trotting down the main street of Candi Dasa. It had obviously at some point been in a fight and the wounds that were splayed like red paint across his body suggested it was a fight that he had, if not lost, had probably not won either.
The nape of his neck had a hole the size of a golf ball, from which muscle and flesh were protruding, exposed to the sultry Balinese air. One ear was hanging in shreds, the blood beginning to cake.
The animal didn’t seem at all perturbed by his own condition. He had a purpose and even if I as his sympathetic observer didn’t know what his aim was, I could see that beneath his scars he was happy. In fact his mouth supported a definite grin.
I had been here on the island for only a few days and already I had seen so many of the famous dogs of Bali, that this one, no matter what his condition was, would be just one of hundreds, distinguishable only by his raw meaty wounds.
On an early morning stroll, I had seen several lying by the roadside, all in various stages of rigor mortis. One animal looked as if he was dozing under the shade of a coconut tree but it was only when I was walking back I reaslised he was dead.
It was obvious that in Bali dogs were nothing but four legged animals that slept, fought, bred and barked continuously. The western idea of a dog being mans best friend was total nonsense. In the bar the locals had all laughed at me when I had told them that at home ,“Dogs are our friends, they live in our houses with us”.
Now cats I had deduced were different. They seemed to have higher social standing then dogs. So much higher in fact that, Mali, the man at the Losman, where I was staying had told me that if I decided to hire a motorbike, to avoid at all costs running down a cat. “It’s extremely unlucky Miss, to kill a cat, if you are unfortunate enough to kill one, bring it back here and we will bury it where the bike is parked.”
“Why is that? What is so special about cats?” I asked.
At this point Mali had taken a deep breath and then hissed the word, “Niskala – black magic.”
I was none the wiser. Just another superstition to add to the already long list. The Balinese were very superstitious people and I was already struggling with the do’s and don’ts. Some were really funny, like the not walking under someone else’s laundry line when there was washing on it. Mind you it hadn’t stopped someone taking off with my underwear when I had hung them out to dry!
“What about dogs?” I asked, “They are everywhere. How can I possibly avoid them?”
“Oh bang the dogs of Bali. Dogs are not a problem, they cook up very tender.” If the smile belied a joke it was lost on me. Although I wasn’t a vegetarian I had already shuddered at the unidentifiable meat content in some of the dishes served in restaurants.
I looked though to the kitchen of the Losman, where I could see a saucepan of simmering Balinese soup. Just what was he cooking? I mused.
It had been a strange choice of words to use I thought later, “Bang the dogs of Bali.” Wasn’t it Tennyson who had said? “Bang these dogs of Seville, the children of the devil”
I decided to go to a festival at a temple in the mountain town of Bangli. One of the many festivals that Bali celebrated. I was sure that by the number of flags and bamboo decorations in the villages, that everyday was a festival to the Balinese.
I took up the offer of the hire of the motorbike along with the advice about the cats. I had no intention of going off fast and anyway the condition of the roads was an effective speed reducer.
As I rode along towards the town of Amlapura I was hesitant and unsure. I bumped up roughly from out of the seat on several occasions, but gradually I found my confidence and began to gracefully swerve the holes.
I continued for an hour or so and after passing through Amlapura the road began to ascend into hills and the temperature dropped slightly.
From the homes hidden between bamboo and banana trees, children came running, waving and shouting, “Hello, Hello”, some ran alongside enthusiastically for a few hundred yards laughing and smiling.
The dogs, chickens, pigs and various other livestock moved albeit reluctantly from the path of the bike.
Suddenly without any warning a black animal shot out with astonishing speed from the trees and seemed to literally to throw itself under the front wheel of the bike. I felt a sickening thud and then I careered into the grass bank, toppling off the bike and landing with a hard thump on my bottom.
I sat stunned for a few moments and when it was apparent that no bones were broken, I eased myself up slowly on my feet. I looked at the bike, it too fortunately appeared undamaged. There was though, a dark stain on the wheel arch. And I knew straightaway that it was blood.
I looked across guiltily to the animal that I had hit. It was a cat and quite clearly it was dead. I walked gingerly over to it. As I peered down at the animal I saw the glassy stare of the now lifeless green eyes. Its tongue hung loosely down from between its teeth.
I immediately felt really guilty; I had killed it even though it was unintentional.
I hated to see animals in pain and was relieved that this cat had probably died almost instantly with no suffering.
Then I felt an impending doom, not because I was particularly superstitious because I wasn’t but because I knew the Balinese were. What would happen? Would they fine me? What should I do? I looked around, not a soul in sight.
It was totally impractical to pick the cat up and take it with me on the bike to Bangli. And I had no intention of heading back to Candi Dasa with the poor thing, just to bury it.
Again I looked around guiltily. I grimaced and shuddered as I picked up the limp lifeless body. And holding it as far away from myself as possible I walked towards the fields on the side of the road.
Closing my eyes I threw the animal into the air. When I reopened my eyes I could see that it had landed in a rice field and with a sinking feeling realised it would contaminate the farmers’ rice. A vision of a distressed farmer finding the body in his field flashed through my mind.
I knew I should go and retrieve the cat, but I just couldn’t bear to touch it again. But just what was I supposed to do? It had been an accident, I hadn’t meant to kill the cat and I hadn’t meant to throw it in the rice field. Not really, its was just a random throw. The farmer would spot it before it did any real damage I persuaded myself.
Looking furtively around, I climbed back on the bike. I would continue to Bangli and try and forget about the cat. It was an accident, why should I feel so bad?
But when I arrived in Bangli, I still felt guilty about it and had decided that on the way back if I could find the field, I would retrieve the cat and take it back to Candi Dasa and bury it and with the animal bury my own guilt.
I followed the crowds of friendly, gaily clothed worshippers up to the temple, terraced into the hillside.
I left the bike with a collection of push bikes and scooters by the bottom of a long flight of steps, which lead up to the temple. Moving with the mass of people up the steps, I stopped at the top to tie the sash around my waist that was handed to me. They wouldn’t let me enter the temple without one.
I walked into the first courtyard, where a huge banyan tree dominated over the multitudes of worshippers.
A blaze of colour and a cacophony of noise entwined to pay homage. Men dressed in yellow sarongs and women in lace and silk with flowers in their black hair, danced and ululated.
I leant against the wall of the courtyard and felt the coolness of porcelain. I looked around and saw tiles, most of which were damaged, but on many the designs could still be seen. One stared out at me with angry eyes – a cat.
For a moment I felt a cold chill. I averted my gaze back to the throng of smiling happy people and the feeling passed. I walked across the courtyard and stepped into another square.
There were three thrones where people were making offerings. Pyramids of apples, bananas, dried ducklings and flowers were piled every where.
In one corner a cockfight was being held. Two brightly dyed cockerels, one pink the other yellow, fought with such ferocity that I had to avert my gaze in disgust.
One of the onlookers noticed me and spoke to me in slow broken English. “It is very good for us, the birds to spill so much blood. The Gods will be pleased.”
Not wanting to offend I nodded and smiled politely. I glanced at the feet of the two birds; the glint of silver betrayed the weapons. Razor blades! Within a few moments both birds were glistening with warm red blood. I turned away. Auspicious for the Gods or not the sight sickened me.
The festival continued all day and it was dusk before I made my way back down the steps to the bike.
The darkness fell suddenly on the road back to Amlapura and my progress was slow. Insects flew towards the light of the headlamp mesmerised by the glare, continually fluttering in the rays. Not having a helmet, I quickly realized I needed to keep lips pursed together as moths and night insects flew towards me.
So intent was I in getting back safely that the morning’s accident with the cat had all but slipped my memory.
Arriving safely back in Candi Dasa. I never mentioned the cat to Mali. When he asked me ,“Any accidents?” I just shook my head and disappeared rather rapidly into my room.
A few days later I travelled down towards Goa Lawah, the bat cave. Legend had it that a huge snake lived in the deeper recess’s of the cave feeding off the bats. It wasn’t the snake that interested me, it was the bats. I like bats, they are funny, hanging upside down like unused umbrella’s.
I weaved round the holes in the roads with the same balletic dexterity that I had mastered on my first trip.
A bus load of locals came roaring down the road behind me, the exhaust churning its black poison into the air. The driver hooted at me to move over, so that he could overtake.
I veered over to the verge, without slowing down, confident that I could move back before reaching the three pedestrians further along. But for some reason the bus driver hesitated and drove along side of me for longer than he needed to.
A dog lay sleeping far too close to the road. As I crashed into the dog all I could see were the green listless eyes of the cat. I hit the dog, who probably never woke up to know what had happened. I continued, totally out of control through a wooden fence into the compound of the local police station. I felt myself flung forward over the top of the bike and then lost consciousness.
I awoke to find a somewhat concerned policeman looking down at me. Around him were a crowd of curious spectators.
“Miss, are you alright?” he asked.
I felt a pain in my right leg and grimaced, “No”, I groaned “I think I’ve broken my leg.”
Later in the small local hospital adjacent to the police station, the policeman laughed at my concern for the dog.
“Oh bang the dogs of Bali. It’s the cats you must be careful of. If you had killed a cat, now that would have been very unfortunate for you.”