On one of my last days in Yogyakarta in March, 2020, I was at a gelato shop with some friends. We were a mixed bag of Australian and Indonesian nationals, enjoying ice cream together, all secretly wishing the ice-cream would stop melting and the time would stop passing; each drip of the ice-cream and every tick of the clock meant Marcus, Joe, and I were seconds closer to and a creamy avalanche away from flashing our passports and boarding passes bound for Sydney, Perth and Brisbane respectively.
At the counter, we all perused the flavours behind the glass.
‘What’s your favourite, Mas?’ I said to Boby. He glanced over the glass for a moment longer.
‘Oreo. But tidak ada, Mbak,’ he said.
‘Gapapa,’ I say with a shrug. ‘Jadi, yang mana instead?’
Due to my enthusiasm to learn Bahasa Indonesia, and want for more experience and knowledge, Boby and I got into this fun habit of mixing English and Indonesian in every day speaking. I didn’t have the words for lots of things, but for the most part I had the basic grammar at my disposal, and I substituted the Indonesian words I didn’t know with their English counterparts.
‘Excellent choice,’ I said. I smiled down into the glass. I was thinking of Tiramisu for myself as well.
Boby grinned. ‘Sangat bagus,’ he sing-songed, referencing Marcus’ catchphrase. Marcus caught wind of the quip and belted it to the high ceiling of the brick art-deco shop.
We each ordered our ice-creams and took a seat one by one at a small table that was not designed for six people.
We sat for a few moments, just chatting. Marcus stood at the counter alone while the cashier scooped up his ice-cream. It’s not in Marcus’ nature to stay still, and tonight was no different; he bounced along silently to whatever song he had in his head as he waited.
With his ice-cream, he sat down on the couch next to Dhona under the big neon GELATO mounted on the wall.
Marcus took advantage of sitting next to her and plucked her glasses off her face. I already knew that he was in a funky mood. He’d been dancing by himself at the restaurant before our quest for gelato, while everyone else was paying their share of the bill. He’s an energetic bloke, but tonight was different.
He slipped the glasses over his long nose, narrowed his eyes at Boby sitting next to me, and launched into an onslaught of Indonesian.
‘Ketika kami ada kelas, hari, setiap hari, kalian harus membawa buku! Berapa kali saya sudah berkata buku, Mbak?’
‘Ini adalah sama,’ Dhona began.
‘Salah.’ Marcus retorted.
‘Aku ada pertanyaan,’ Boby this time, sticking his neck out.
Marcus, with flair, flung his body to face Boby. Leaning forward, he said, ‘Apa, Mbak Boby?’
Boby’s mouth dropped open from being addressed as Mbak, the Javanese honorific for a young woman. ‘Aku bukan Mbak, Pak,’ he objected.
Marcus pushed Dhona’s glasses back up the bridge of his nose. ‘Oke oke, maaf ya, maaf. Kamu bertanya apa, Mbak?’
Boby laughed in indignation, but let it slide. ‘Besok, belajar apa, ya?’ he said.
Marcus leaned back with his mouth wide in shock. ‘Saya sudah berkata, Mbak! Kamu harus ingat ini.’
‘Pak…Aku…Bukan…Mbak…Aku…Mas…’ Boby couldn’t control his laughter and each word came out in a new breath.
Like everyone else, I was dying of laughter. Marcus’ high-pitched, teacher-like voice bestowed on him an even stranger Indonesian accent than what he already had. In the middle of my laughter, I looked around at the others. Joe’s laugh came from his shoulders, which bobbed up and down as he held tight to his right knee. Bernadette’s shaking head seemed to show exasperation, but a hidden half-smile revealed her amusement. Boby’s big bellow of a laugh exploded out of him like Merapi gurgling away in the north. Dhona’s chuckle was a soft peeling, like the prayers that would flood the streets in the evening trickling out of the Masjid speakers. All the while, Marcus somehow maintained the silly-looking stern face of a school teacher, a caricature of sorts.
His face still stretched ear to ear, Boby and I made eye contact. I winked, and he laughed again. As I put my empty ice-cream cup on the table, I turned to face Marcus, sitting diagonally to my left.
Somewhere in the caucus of us laughing along to his dramatic display, he had sunk back into the couch, his guru glasses back in Dhona’s possession. His brow looked relaxed, but his shoulders sat high, like a string was slung under each arm and tugging them towards the ceiling. His eyes had the out-of-focus quality of someone who is trying to understand the abstract tale that their internal monologue is yabbering on about. Sensing my attention turned to him, he met my eyes and I saw the glass sheen over his corneas, the subtle downturn of the corners of his mouth, and a zipper of emotion waiting to burst.
I put my hand on his knee. His Adam’s apple bobbed.
‘I don’t want to forget this,’ he managed.
My voice came from somewhere that I couldn’t locate straight away, ‘You won’t.’
He nodded, swallowing again. He rubbed his hands against his thighs, ‘Yeah. Of course. Just scared, I guess. Not ready for it to end.’
‘Me too.’ I slid my untouched glass of water in front of him.
He hunched forward and wrapped his fingers around the small glass, lifting it to his mouth. He took a laboured sip and then sighed a sigh that had the heaviness of an anchor being dropped over the side of a ship. I felt the same way. It seemed like it had been just yesterday that us Australian exchange students had arrived. It had barely been two months. None of us were ready for it to end.
Mocking his squeaky teacher voice, I said to Marcus, ‘Kamu harus ingat, Mas!’
Marcus grinned into the water glass. ‘Sangat bagus!’ he shouted, full of life again. Boby screeched out in laughter, repeating the phrase back.
We laughed and chattered among ourselves. We talked about deep things and mundane things. We talked about the news, going home, the rainy season – everything.
At about five past midnight, we started wriggling in our chairs, all affected by an invisible electric current telling us to wrap the night up. We all wanted to hold on, but the night was done.
Joe and I hopped up and made room for everyone to shuffle out. We all made our way out to the carpark. The gravel crunched under our feet as we approached the line of parked motorcycles.
We said our goodbyes and we knew it would be alright. We had enjoyed the night with each other and the stars whispered to us that goodbyes are never forever.
An employee locking the doors to the gelato shop watched us all hugging and laughing. Had she stopped and listened, she might have heard the buckles of helmets clicking shut; the unintelligible whispers of the tandem passenger into the ear of their driver; the clunking of gears shifting into place; and the indistinct yells of ‘Goodbye!’ and ‘Hati hati!’ to each other as we all sped off in our separate directions.
But it was a normal night for Ciao Gelato. We were strangers to her so the girl flicked the locks quickly, cleaned our table, and went home while the gravel, disturbed but unperturbed, settled back into place.
Ashton is a Brisbane/Meanjin based writer studying Law and Fine Arts at QUT. She likes to settle down with a coffee and read literary fiction that pushes structural boundaries (bonus points if it takes place in Brisbane). She has read her work at the QUT Literary Salon, and has had work published in Glass Magazine, and Torts Illustrated, with forthcoming work in Urinal Mag.