Somehow, when it comes to food, it was not the lunches or the dinners that I remember most from my trip. It was the breakfasts. Lunch was always hectic because I was always running around. And dinner, well, most of the time I was just too exhausted to even enjoy anything.
But breakfasts were always magical.
And no, I did not mean the hotel's freebie breakfast. I am not an early person and hotel's breakfast is always a turn-off when you are late. I always went out to the street to find my breakfast. The more traditional the better. It's part of the 'immersing myself' thing.
It was great. Even now, after I got back for a while, I can still remember the nice smell of fresh cooking emanating from the food stalls'. Just the image makes me hungry.
In one of those days during the trip, my daily search of breakfast led me to Ibu Sutini's food stall. Well, ok, I confess: I don't really know her name because I never asked. I just put Sutini because it sounds better than calling her 'Mrs. X' or something. And yes, because I want it to rhyme with the title of Audrey Hepburn's movie.
Ibu Sutini's stall was one among a few along the street near a market. It was small, with three benches forming a U shape surrounding a counter with food behind a small glass shelf. When I got there two men were already eating on the other side.
I sat and Ibu Sutini automatically served me hot tea. She then prepared the food I ordered silently.
Then when she brought the plate she asked: "So, where are you from?"
I got that a lot. I don't understand why because I thought I did not dress that different from the rest of the population. Maybe it's the bulging backpack. Or the language. Obviously I don't speak the local language.
Since I was frequently asked the same question over and over everywhere, I did not really take it seriously. I just said I came from Jakarta and wanted to go to Surabaya. This would save me from answering the usual next question of "where are you going?"
"You're not working?" she asked. I was struggling to drink the hot tea (when this folks boil water, they really BOIL it. It was almost always insanely hot), so I just shook my head.
Nope. Not at the moment.
And then as I was eating, there was some distant yelling from the back, not sure from where. I could not see. Something about a thing that would not turn on. Ibu Sutini yelled back and turned around.
"I'll be right back," she said to me and to the two other guys.
"No, wait," said one of the two men. "We're pretty much done. Can we just pay so we can go?" He stood up to reach his wallet. "We're in a rush and we can't wait until you..."
But Ibu Sutini was already halfway visible. "Give the money to him." she said pointing at me and then took off.
I choked.´ "Whoa, no, no, no, no. Wait.."
But by then she was gone. I could hear her voice yelling "Yes, I am comiiiing..." fading away.
"Don't worry," said one of the men calmly. "Just give this to her when she gets back." They put some money next to my plate and left.
This is crazy, I thought. Ibu Sutini is out of her mind. I could just walk off right now and got myself some free money and a free breakfast. What was she going to do? Chase me? Either she is a really good judge of character (that she somehow knew that I would not run with her money), or she is just careless (and someday someone will rob her blind because of it). I would think the latter is more likely.
A while later Ibu Sutini came back. I was glad nobody came when she was gone. What was I supposed to do then? Start serving food?
I gave her the money that the two men gave me. I did not know what the amount was, but Ibu Sutini did not seem to care. She just said thank you, took the cash and put them in a tin without counting. My God. I could have run away with that tin too. She would have lost even more money.
So I told her: "You souldn't do that, you know. I could have run away with your money."
She looked at me puzzled.
"But you didn't. I know you won't. So what's the problem?"
Whatever. If she said so. I took that as a compliment.
When I was done, I paid for my meal and got up to leave. As I was stepping out from her stall, I heard her say to me:
"Mudah-mudahan cepat dapat kerja ya!" ( I hope you find a job soon!
What? So all those time she thought I was unemployed? Oh well. Whatever. After all, she asked whether I was working or not, and I shook my head. It's not her fault if she made the conclusion.
I just said thank you nicely and left.
While walking, I looked down to see myself. Well of course. My clothes were not exactly clean, my shoes were dirty from the dust of hot dry days on the road. Top it up with a bulging disheveled backback, it is no wonder if she thought I was a poor unemployed bum.
And yet she still trusted me with her stall? and her money? What's all that about? If it were me, I wouldn't keep my eyes off this stinky bum.
I did not think much about it until later, at night when I was about to go to sleep.
Up to that day, I had been absent from the office for almost two weeks. Someone else was doing my job while I was gone. And that someone probably would do the job just as good, if not better. I could just disappear right now and everything at the office will go business as usual.
They don't need me.
My job does not need me.
It's me who needs my job. I need it to define who I am.
When I see myself in the mirror, I do not see ME. I see a job description. I see a person working at bla, with a bla title and a bla position with a bla salary. Bla bla bla. When I ask myself who I am, I cannot answer without invoking something related to my job.
Without all that, who AM I? I can't say.
In the meantime, here in this city, Ibu Sutini, a lady I have never met before in my life, see a poor unemployed bum, went way past that and managed to see ME. She did not let my bum-look affect the way she thinks about me.
I let my job define who I am. Oh, what a big mistake it was.
My girlfriend -- well, ex girlfriend -- dumped me. And she dumped me because she said I never got my priorities straight. Her classic example was this:
One day, she was at work, rushing in the hallway when someone opened a door really fast from the other side and somehow hit her face and broke her nose. At the time I was busy in the middle of something "important" and did not go to see her until she was released from the hospital.
Looking back, that was just insensitive and stupid.
That work-thing that I said was important? The one that kept me from going to the hospital? I honestly cannot even remember what it was. (If it was really THAT important, I would have remembered. So clearly, whatever it was, I could just drop everything and go).
I was a jerk.
And aparrently, there were many other occassions where I just failed to be with her, because I had something 'more important' at work.
I was a frequent-flyer jerk.
"It's just a job!" she said always when she was angry. And she was right. No wonder she dumped me. It's the logical thing to do. After all, what can she expect would happen in the future? Anniversaries forgotten, kid's birthday missed, sick families ignored? What kind of life would that be?
I can't believe it took me a breakfast hundreds of miles from home just to open my eyes.
I felt really really stupid.
(If there is anything, I surely hope she reads this. Did I mention I called myself 'jerk' twice in this post? That should count for something, right?)
note: my apology to the rest of my IA colleagues, for turning this blog into a sad attempt to apologize to a girl. But hey. You guys did told me I can write anything I want. So there.