No one was surprised to see Komang return to Canggu, the Bali shore neighborhood built atop once-verdant rice fields with blocks of simple Indonesian homes variegated by tall villas rented to rich foreigners, because no one now living there remembered him. His parents were among the first to sell their paddies to Jakarta developers. Had they held out a few years longer, they would have earned five or ten times the price to which they finally agreed. But cash in hand tempted them as a life-changing windfall, as good as winning the government lottery that existed in those days, before the clerics lobbied to outlaw it. Komang's parents used the fortune to buy a new Toyota Corolla and lay a down payment on one of the houses built by that same developer. They also paid outright for an adjoining lot on which they erected a simple café to insure a steady income. Unfortunately, it would be some years before there were enough residents in Canggu to support such a venture.
In fewer than ten months, Komang's parents had defaulted on their mortgage, lost the new house to the bank, and sold the Toyota to purchase a small rice field in the mountains of Ubud. Again they were fated to work the land, but their son Komang, a young man of twenty, refused such a destiny. He would cultivate a different future in Jakarta.
When, worn, wizened, and penniless, he visited his parents a quarter-century later, he could only pray in the river where their ashes had been scattered. The elder of the family now living on the rice field his parents had tilled explained to Komang that the couple living here had died within days of each other of dengue fever. The paddies with their little house had been sold by the Banjar, the district authority, to pay for the couple's cremation. "This was two years ago already," said the elder. "No one knew the couple had children." He added, "But if you are their son, show your identity card to the Banjar and claim the belongings that were salvaged from the house."
In an old rice sack handed to Komang, after an hour of searching by the Assistant Head of the Banjar, there were piles of well-worn sarongs, a bag of coins, rings of old keys, and in a yellowed envelope, the booklet that was the deed to the café in Canggu. Komang showed the booklet to the Assistant Head and asked how much it would cost to legalize the land in his name now that his parents were dead.
The Assistant Head scanned Komang's ragged clothes, his pathetic flip-flops. "What can you afford?"
Komang lifted the bag of coins from the rice sack.
"That will be enough," the Assistant Head said. After filling in details and scribbling his own name and title on a back page of the deed, he asked for Komang's signature over which he used a shiny hand embosser to impress the transfer of ownership with the official seal of the Banjar.
Komang found on his land in Canggu a family of four, migrants from Java, living in a wooden hovel which, under their squattage, was at least well-swept and water-proofed and did seem to serve as a sort of café since the Ibu and Bapak kept a kettle of boiling water on a wood stove to liquefy and serve in glasses the contents of inexpensive sachets of powdered moccachinos, lattes, cappuccinos, and white coffees. When they saw that Komang held the deed to their home, they ordered their two lanky teenaged sons to pack their belongings, but Komang offered the family the chance to stay with him in return for their service.
"What kind of service?" Ibu and Bapak Maryanto needed to know. Komang explained that he wanted to rebuild the shack and the business with a foundation as strong as the rocks and boulders they would use to reinforce and beautify these walls. "Surrounded by gardens and pools of koi." He couldn't manage all this by himself, he explained, and had no money to hire workers. But these two fellows looked strong and able.
"They are," said the parents.
"We are," said the young men in unison.
"The first thing then," Komang said, is to build two bedrooms because no one should be sleeping in the café itself. One bedroom will be for Ibu and Bapak, of course, and one for these two fellows and me.
The sons giggled, and the elder, a sturdy nineteen-year-old named Asmadi tilted his head toward Komang. "You want to sleep with us?"
Komang nodded his head. "Yes," he said. "In Jakarta I realized that I like to sleep with men. It's who I am." Komang shrugged. "I may hold you as we sleep, but I won't ask for any . . . anything else. You can scream if I break my promise."
"There's nothing unusual in Indonesia about friends sharing a bed," said Asmuni, a year younger but centimeters taller than his brother. No, everyone agreed, nothing unusual.
Komang had come to know many Westerners in Jakarta. He knew where they congregated, and he knew what they liked. Of course, they would always desire the familiar pleasures of Starbucks, KFC, and McD, Komang explained to his new family, but they wouldn't be in Indonesia if they didn't also appreciate the simple, the authentic, the rustic charms of local hospitality. "That's why I myself was a Jakarta favorite for many years," he said, "until I was worn out and in need of repairs. Like this place." He poked a finger through the rot of the table at which he sat. "But even an old café like this," he continued, "can be reborn."
Komang told Ibu Maryanto to maintain her coffee business while the shack was being rebuilt and, indeed, he encouraged her to expand the menu to include fried rice and fried noodles mixed with fresh vegetables, sausage, and hard-boiled eggs. "But we'll need bowls and spoons and--" Ibu cried. Komang was well aware of what they needed and explained that he would raise money over the next weeks to buy café supplies and building equipment. In the meantime, he needed Asmadi, Asmuni and their father to collect rocks and sand from the river because, he said, "the river won't charge you."
Komang did charge as much as he could haggle from the men eager for an hour's massage amidst the dunes and tall grasses of the beach. Although he waited till he was fifty minutes into the treatment to tell his clients of the premium required to make the ending happy, he knew how to satisfy a man, and he never failed or robbed his clients as did so many of the beach boys in Bali. Over the weeks he toiled on the beach--"If I had saved all the sand that collected in my flip-flops today," he told Asmuni upon his return to their new bedroom, "we could build a castle instead of a mere café"--he had many repeat customers. But Asmuni was more interested in the rest of Komang's costume.
"Why do you dress like a woman when you go out?" he wanted to know. "You even wear a head scarf, and, he added as he touched Komang's lips, "you paint your face."
"Most of the men on the beach want a woman's touch," Komang explained, "and so I become a woman. It's better for business." Asmuni scrunched his face. "But," Komang went on, "it is a role I was born to play." He spun, letting his flimsy sarong billow with the fouette. Asmuni had to catch Komang before he lost his balance, and he held him tightly until he was sure Komang had steadied himself. Komang cupped the boy's face in his hands. "You are lovely," he said.
Asmuni blushed and sat on the bed watching Komang undress and wrap himself in a towel for his afternoon bath. "Don't they ever realize that you are a man?"
"Then what happens?"
"Sometimes, they push me away and throw some money at me. Sometimes they just throw sand. Or a beer bottle." Komang rubbed a scar on his forehead. "But sometimes, they ask to touch me."
"What? Why?" Asmuni asked.
"Because they prefer men."
"Do you let them touch you?"
"If I really like them or if they are willing to pay a little something extra," Komang answered, "I give them a little something extra." He laughed.
"I want to become a masseur--a masseuse--like you," Asmuni said.
"Why? Because you want a man to touch you there?" Komang pointed at the erection tenting Asmuni's sarong.
The young man turned away, complaining that Komang never touched him there even though he held him as they slept. Even when he hardened in the night. Even when he came spontaneously in his dreams.
"No," Komang said, "ours is not that kind of friendship."
"So teach me to massage!"
"This massage business is only temporary, Muni. A way to earn money for our café."
"But the café is only half done. We still need money, don't we? Let me help."
Komang said he had to think about this.
The café was well on its way to fulfill the plan Komang had sketched in his imagination. Including the two bedrooms, each with a bath, as well as two large rest rooms off the café, the building was the size and shape of a railroad car. Komang had been inspired by the diners he had seen in American movies. At the end opposite from the bedrooms was a kitchen, and each of the long walls had several hinged wood panels that could be opened to afford a sea view on the east and on the west what would become, again, a rice field. Counters and stools were to be affixed just beneath those glassless windows, and chairs and tables would be placed elsewhere in the café.
Asmuni had been laboring with his brother and his father to construct Komang's dream. Why should he allow the youngster to desert them now, especially for an activity their parents would abhor. Ibu and Bapak Maryanto had not objected to Komang's sleeping with their sons. They had seen Komang in women's clothing each day, but had said nothing even when Ibu stopped Komang to adjust his makeup. Dependent as they were on Komang for economic survival, the parents were unlikely to protest Asmuni's following in the footsteps and the attire of their cross-dressing landlord. But Komang was reluctant to exploit their neediness. On the other hand, since the construction project had forced the existing café, such as it was, to close temporarily, Ibu Maryanto was assisting her husband and sons with the building as best she could. Her pair of hands could suffice, Komang reckoned, if Asmuni's hands found employment and revenue elsewhere.
One morning, Komang stayed away from the beach to shop at the morning market. In the afternoon, he prepared a great pot of oxtail soup, an expensive and beloved dish all around Indonesia. He invited Ibu and Bapak, Asmuni and Asmadi to join him for dinner. After the group had satiated themselves with the marvelous stew, Komang said they all needed to talk. He asked Ibu to serve cappuccinos at the new counter overlooking the beach. Komang went outside to face them, especially Ibu and Bapak, with the sea breezes at his back. "I love these boys, both of them," Komang began. Ibu shifted uncomfortably and reddened. Bapak fiddled with his cup. "Not as you might think. Or fear," Komang continued. "Not intimately." He looked at Ibu and Bapak. "Not," he paused, "not sexually. I love them like brothers or maybe even, given my age, which is as advanced as your own, as sons. I want them, as you do, to be happy and to be themselves. Tell your family what you propose, Muni."
Asmuni shook his head. "Then our meeting is finished," Komang said, "as is your suggestion, Muni. How will you dress yourself in the glare of the sun if you are afraid to have your own family see who you are in the moonlight?"
Slowly, Asmuni stood away from the counter and left the café.
He reappeared outside next to Komang, cleared his throat, and told his parents that he was a lot like Komang. He wanted to touch other young men. He thought it would make sense if he too dressed up like a woman and made money giving massages on the beach. Komang put his arm around the boy and said he was proud of him.
Bapak Maryanto turned to his elder son to ask, "And what about you?"
"I would like to touch a real woman . . . in a woman's dress . . . at least when we first meet." Asmudi's joke broke the tension, and the family, all of them, laughed.
"You are a strange man, Komang," Ibu said. "Not just because of your desires, your habits. But because of your kindness and your respect and your . . . your discipline." She looked at her husband as she tousled Asmuni's hair. "We are afraid for Muni. Afraid of the rest of the world. Not of him, though. And not of you."
When the morning sun fell on Komang's face, he shook awake the two brothers. Asmadi arose to shower, dress, and get to work on the café. "No," said Komang, "stay here in bed."
"Why then did you get me up for work?"
"You are going to work . . . but no construction today. Erection maybe. I need your body as the slate on which I can diagram for Asmuni the techniques of a good massage."
"Beats heavy lifting," Asmadi said, and turned face down into the mattress.
Komang led his apprentice in the ministrations of the profession from the soles of Asmadi's feet up his calves and thighs and thence to his back and shoulders. Komang let his thumbs spread apart Asmadi's buttocks and work their way down between his legs. "Can you do that just so," he asked Asmuni, and the younger brother imitated the master. "Just so. Turn over now, Madi," Komang ordered, but Asmadi shook his head.
"No, I can't. I'm embarrassed."
"Not with us," Komang said and moved Asmadi on his side unleashing his hard penis, which the young man quickly covered with his hands.
"This is what you need to understand," Komang addressed Asmuni. "Even straight men can get excited from a sensual massage. If they cover themselves like this, avoid the genitals as you continue the treatment.
"But if they make no effort to hide their pleasure, gently graze their balls with your fingers and then hold the penis with your oiled hands. If there is no further objection, you can move them to--"
"A happy ending!" exploded Asmadi.
"Yes," Komang said. "I don't think I have to teach you how to manage that. I have seen both of you practice many times on yourselves." Asmuni laughed. Asmadi exhaled deeply, sat up from the bed, wrapped a towel around his waist and made for the toilet.
Asmuni yelled after him, "Practice well, brother!" To Komang, Asmuni said, "I think I will enjoy this work."
"No!" Komang replied sharply. His voice softened to say, "No. You must resist enjoyment. Remember this is a business, a job, and you are playing a role: a masseuse, a woman. If your customers discover that you have a cock, yours will not be a happy ending. Believe me, I have the scars and bumps to prove it."
"But some of them might actually like to touch my cock," Asmuni countered.
"Then why are they being jerked off by a man dressed like a woman?" Komang asked. "Some of them are playing roles as well, and if their pretense is exposed, they will turn angry--and more brutal than genuinely straight men."
Asmuni picked lint from the bed sheet as he grasped at straws in Komang's analysis. "But isn't it true that some men want boys in ladies' clothes? What if a customer is like that? You, yourself, told me that sometimes you give your cock to your customers."
"Yes." Komang paused. Asmuni heard no response until his mentor said, "Yes, I did. I do. And, yes some men are on the beach just for that. But, Muni my boy, I have developed a sense of who is who and what is what from years of experience and many, many mistakes." He noted the smirk on Asmuni's face. "Maybe I'm a hypocrite, saying and doing different things, but you are young and you are beautiful and I cannot let anything bad happen. You must hold yourself back from taking any chances. This is work. If you are not going to approach it that way--if you are looking for fun--I shall not guide you any further in this business." Komang waited for Asmuni's reaction. "Agree?"
Asmuni nodded his head, but he was proud to have punched several holes in Komang's arguments. He knocked on the toilet door and yelled for his brother to hurry up and come because he wanted to shower.
For his part, Komang was pleased that Asmuni seemed not to know of the gay beach some five kilometers to the south where Westerners were eager for boys dressed as boys--barely dressed, that is--and would pay handsomely for a massage, for a happy ending, and for much more. Komang had plans for taking advantage of their presence on the island, but not by exposing Asmuni to any danger.
For two days, Asmuni, clad in a woman's sarong and headscarf, tagged along behind Komang as they trekked the beach hawking their services. When a customer signaled interest, and they settled on a price, Asmuni set up their portable tent in which Komang provided the helping hands. On the third day, they reversed chores, and in the second week, after watching Komang jerryrig from sarongs looped over bamboo poles a second tent that could be rolled up and carried, Komang and Asmuni patrolled the beach in different directions, Komang always taking the south. Some days, Komang walked far enough to survey the gay beach. He knew he was far too old to expose himself as a male masseur in front of these potential customers, especially when he saw, as expected, the frequent pairings of tourists, from teenagers on school holiday to bald and paunchy retirees, with lithe brown twinks.
Each evening, Komang and Asmuni pooled the money they had earned with whatever Ibu had taken in at the café, reopened now that the construction had ascended to an upper floor. Their treasury was so substantial that each member of the family received a daily allowance.
"This job with its camouflage," Asmuni told Komang once over their evening cups of coffee in the café, "is a lot more difficult than I thought it would be." He took a deep breath. "What if I tried walking the beach like a boy, I mean, like myself, to find men who like men masseurs?"
"With what goal?" Komang asked.
Asmuni spread his arms and laughed. "That I can come too!" he yelled loud enough for Asmadi, drinking his chai in another corner of the café, to point to the toilet. Asmuni, shook his head and said more quietly, since there were a few customers in the café, "No, in someone else's hands. Or elsewhere," he giggled.
"So you are ready to be a whore?" Komang, frowning, asked.
"Not unless I let them fuck me," Asmuni shrugged to say.
Asmuni's mother approached her son and Komang to say that this was not a fit conversation for the café. Or for her ears either. The boy blanched and agreed; Komang apologized. They walked to the beach and sat on a trunk of a fallen coconut palm.
"So you consider your ass the portal between being a masseur and being a prostitute?" Komang asked.
"I don't know, Mang. I don't know. I don't know. I jerk off strangers on the beach and take their money. I'm not a whore already? Where is the line, Mang? Where is the line? I'm gay, Mang. I handle a half-dozen cocks every day . . . and I'm horny. Frustrated."
Komang was silent for several minutes. Asmuni sat on his hands and waited. The moon's fullness obscured the stars in its vicinity, but elsewhere in the cloudless sky, Komang saw millions sparkle as they never did above Jakarta. He turned to his apprentice and held him firmly by the shoulders. "Muni, what you need--what every person needs--is love."
"That's what I'm saying."
"No, you're not." He paused. "Well, maybe you are . . . but I'm not sure you know what you mean or where to find what you're looking for. So here's what I've been thinking . . . for a while. Once the café is ready, we are going to queerify it."
"Decorate it with rainbows and those big wooden penises they sell in the craft shops. Word will spread that gays and lesbians are welcome. Transvestites. Transgenders. We will welcome them for real . . . as long as they are for real. Word will spread."
"I like that. But--"
"It will be a place, a safe place, to meet new people. People like us. People like you. Understand?"
"A place to find love."
"That's the dream," Komang said as he removed his hands from Asmuni's shoulders to bump his chest with his right fist and pat his own with his left. "So, we're going out of the massage business. Now."
"But I like the massage business."
"Just not the frustrations."
"Muni, a sex massage is always frustrating. Even for the customers. They may come. They may smile. But a minute later, they feel sandy and stupid and dirty."
"I don't think you can force me to stop."
"I won't force you to do anything, Asmuni. But I'm the boss around here, and I'm telling you to stop. We are all going to turn our full attention to the café. Okay?" Asmuni was silent. "I need you trust me." Asmuni was silent. "You know I want what's best for you." Asmuni was silent. "Muni?'
"Let's head back to the café then."
The next morning, Asmadi and his father were surprised to see Komang in jeans and a tee shirt climbing the skeleton of the staircase to the deck they had been installing on the second floor. Komang walked to its seaside edge and stretched his arms. "This is a glorious view." He turned to Asmadi and showed him a paper on which he had sketched a diagram. "We need a simple roof, a traditional thatched roof, to protect our customers from the rain. Here's how we shall buttress it."
"You are not working the beach today?" Bapak Maryanto, hunkered to sand a section of the deck, looked up to ask.
"No more. Downstairs, the café is finished and flourishing. We have funds enough to complete things up here. I am eager to see it all done, so I'll be massaging real wood from now on." He rubbed the still-unvarnished horizontal beam of the railing where he stood. "Ouch. A splinter!" He picked at his finger. "This lumber does need an oil massage."
"And my brother?" asked Asmadi.
"He'll be working downstairs with your mother. He's a charmer. Once it gets around that he's serving in the café, customers will come just to be in his presence."
"So . . . no more beach?" asked Bapak Maryanto.
"No more massages?" asked Asmadi.
"No. No more." Komang pounded the railing. "We are in a different hospitality business now. And, Madi, once we are finished with the construction, you will charm our patrons up here." Komang's smile was contagious among the men. They got to work.
Komang had Asmadi and Asmuni recruit a half-dozen friends to speed the project, so that at the end of three weeks, the café and its furnishings needed only a final polishing before the grand opening. Asmuni directed his friends on their last chore: to hang the national flags of the most common visitors to Bali on the high perimeter of the upper deck and six rainbow flags on each side of the main floor.
Asmadi repeated what Komang had told him about the iconic meaning of the rainbow symbol to his parents and to his friends, in effect coming out to them. "But everyone is welcome. Even you guys! And anyway, the flags fit the name. This is the Rainbow Café."
"The sign is on order." Komang said. "It should be here in a week along with enough beer and snacks to keep the grand opening party going for a while."
Three days later, Bapak, Asmadi, and Komang were up early hanging from the upper deck the LED rainbow sign, which had arrived by truck the night before when they heard Ibu calling from below for Asmuni.
"He's not up here, Ibu," Asmadi called back.
She climbed the stairs just enough to poke her head above the deck. "Then where?"
"He went walking on the beach after they delivered the sign. He said he was too excited to sleep," Asmadi replied. "His bed was made when I awoke. I figured he was already up, helping you."
"So he never came home? He didn't call?" Komang's voice tensed.
"His phone is in our room. He almost never takes it to the beach. He's afraid to lose it."
"We need to look for him," Komang said. "We'll all go in different directions. And please do take your phones. I bought them so we could always be in touch. Better to lose phones than each other."
Suspecting that Asmadi was indeed excited last night and may well have learned by now about the gay beach, Komang headed there. Although the scattering of empty beer bottles and filled condoms revealed where last night's crowds had settled in, the area was unpopulated by morning except for a few near-naked beach boys who, failing to win a night in a hotel room, slept in the sand. Komang woke each of them, described Asmuni, and asked if they had seen him. Most of them shrugged and coiled back into themselves on the sand, but one young man made to run away. Komang grabbed his shoulders. "No! Please. NO!" the youngster cried.
"I'm not going to hurt you, son." Komang saw that the boy's face was badly bruised, the right eye swollen shut, his chest pockmarked with burns.
"Yes, so many." The boy sank to his knees and held on to Komang's.
"Come with me, son. I'll get you to the hospital. But tell me who did this to you."
"The vigilantes. They hate gays. They say we are bad for Bali. Bad for tourism."
"So they come to the gay tourist spots to find locals to beat up."
"If they make trouble for tourists, the police get involved."
"I know. I know. Where did they attack you? Right here?"
"No, several of us were cruising in the dunes by the trees. I ran away until I couldn't move any more."
"Take me there. I need to find my friend. Then we'll go to the hospital."
The boy led Komang more than the length of a football field into the dunes. Komang found Asmuni, his face battered brutally, cowering in the roots of a banyan tree. His left arm hung unnaturally; the back of his sarong was soaked in blood.
"I think they raped him," the boy said.
Komang took out his phone and called BIMC hospital for an ambulance. Next he called Asmuni and told him to get to BIMC as soon as possible.
"Is my brother sick?"
"He's not well," said Komang who directed the boy and Asmuni to wait under the tree while he went to the road to look for the ambulance. He knew that with emergency medical teams and even at the hospital where doctors were underpaid, money talked, and so with his open wallet he insured that the two young men were transported with care to the emergency room and that Asmuni was quickly seen by a surgeon who understood that anal fissures this bad required surgery as soon as possible. By the time, Asmadi and his parents arrived, Komang was able to tell them that their younger son was hurt badly, but that he was already being prepped for an operation that would heal him.
"And who is this guy?" Asmadi angrily pointed at the boy lying on a gurney next to Komang. A nurse was applying unguents to the burns on his chest. "Is he the one who put my brother in the hospital?"
"No, no!" said Komang. "I never would have found Asmuni without his help." He looked at the clipboard at the foot of the gurney. "Putu." He turned to the boy. "Genuine Balinese, then. I'll check on you later, Putu, okay? I need to talk with these people."
Komang led Asmadi and his parents to a booth in the hospital canteen. "I need a coffee," Komang said. "What would you like?"
"Komang, we would like to know about our son," Ibu Maryanto cried.
"We would like to know what happened!" Bapak Maryanto slammed his fist on the table.
Komang told the family as much as he knew and as much as he inferred, concluding, "He was looking for love, I think. And he found hate. I take responsibility for this. If I had never involved you in my dreams, your son would be whole. This is my fault."
No one at the table disagreed.
"Let me check with the doctor," Komang said sadly and rose from the table. "Please wait here."
Komang didn't find Putu in the emergency room. "Your young friend," said the desk nurse, "asked me to tell you that he wanted to go home. He said you would take care of the bill."
"Yes, give it to me. Is my other friend still in surgery?"
"Let me check," said the nurse. "You can pay this bill in the meantime."
After settling Putu's bill and opening an account, connected to the bank holding all the remaining funds for the café, for Asmuni's medical expenses, Komang learned from the nurse that Asmuni's surgery had just finished and that the doctor would meet him in the canteen.
"We stanched the bleeding," explained the doctor to Asmuni's family when he arrived, "and performed a--well the fancy name is a lateral internal sphincterotomy. Simply, we rebuilt his anus. It's going to take a lot of time to heal. And sometimes, it doesn't take. But that just means we'll have to do it again."
"He's not going to die," Ibu Maryanto pleaded.
"No," the doctor smiled. "No, not at all. He did lose a lot of blood. That was the real danger. But he's in no danger of dying."
"Alhamdulillah" Pak Maryanto said, his hands and eyes raised to heaven. "I thought . . . I thought God had decided to punish him for what he is."
"God," the doctor said, "was on our side this morning. Oh, and his arm. It was pretty badly broken, but we set it. It's in a cast now."
"Can we see him, Doctor?" Asmadi asked.
"He's not a pretty sight. And he'll be sleeping. But, yes, of course. Come with me."
Komang remained seated. "You're not coming? You don't want to see him?" Asmadi asked.
"Not now. You go ahead." When the elevator doors closed on the family and the doctor, Komang paid the canteen bill and left the hospital.
Asmadi and his parents stayed overnight at the hospital, curling themselves into the canteen booth after visiting hours had ended. Only when they were able to talk with a weak but smiling Asmuni at midday did Asmadi leave his parents with his brother and make his way home.
The café was closed, its doors locked. Asmadi called for Komang to let him in, but he heard no answer, no noise at all from inside. Asmadi grabbed the ceramic treasure chest from the bottom of the goldfish pool his father had built near the entrance to the café. In the chest was a spare key for the door. Once inside, Asmadi called again for Komang. He looked for him upstairs and back down in their bedroom. Komang was nowhere, but on their bed was an envelope addressed to him and Asmuni. Asmadi perched on edge of the bed and opened the envelope. Inside he found a great pile of cash and the deed for the land where he sat. It had been notarized and signed over to the brothers.
Komang made the rounds of the gay saunas in Jakarta begging to be added to their rosters. He knew it wouldn't be easy, at his age, to gain a spot. A patron of the sauna got to choose his therapist from a line-up of half-naked masseurs, most of them the age and the build of Asmadi and Asmuni. It was a rare customer who had a taste for a man like Komang.
"But you have nothing to lose," Komang told the sauna madams. "It's not as if you have to give me a salary; masseurs live on tips. I know that." But the madams feared, Komang knew, that his very presence would turn their patrons off.
Not until he found an old colleague from the streets working as a madam at the Triple M Club, was he able to land a gig. He watched younger masseurs win four or five tricks a day. He was lucky if he had that many in a fortnight, but because he had learned from long experience how to provide pleasure to his johns without demanding exorbitant fees for his extra services, Komang developed a coterie of repeat customers. In two years, he had saved enough to buy a motorbike rigged with a stand displaying sachets of coffee mixes and holding thermoses of hot water and plastic cups. Back in the café business, Komang quit the sauna although he remained available for calls from his most favored patrons.
One of those clients, a wealthy Indonesian Chinese whose wife could afford, now that she was a great-grandmother, to wink at her husband's peccadilloes, invited Komang to join him on a two-day trip to Bali where he was a panelist at a motivational seminar.
After settling in to their suite in a five-star hotel near the seaside temple of Tanah Lot, Komang's host headed for his afternoon meeting, and Komang hailed a taxi to Canggu.
He had the driver drop him and wait at the main entrance to the beach, so he could stroll along the shore and see what had become of his project. Before he saw the café, he heard loud music and roars of laughter and shouting. The café was bustling. On the deck, couples of every stripe--men, women, even men with women--were dancing to a live band. Komang saw four or five bare-chested men picking up trays from Asmadi at a bar and maneuvering among the dancers to deliver drinks and food to tables built into the railings. His eyes followed one of the waiters carrying two bottles of beer to Asmuni, clad only in a bikini, leaning at the corner of the deck in the arms of a handsome young man.
Komang smiled and headed back along the beach to his taxi. Halfway there, he turned for another glimpse and saw, on a structure rising high above the deck, an LED sign declaring this spot to be Komang's Rainbow Café.
A native New Yorker, James Penha has lived for the past quarter-century in Indonesia. He has been nominated for Pushcart Prizes in fiction and in poetry. His essay "It's Been a Long Time Coming" was featured in The New York Times "Modern Love" column in April 2016. Penha edits TheNewVerse.News, an online journal of current-events poetry. @JamesPenha