Batubulan, Bali
Dennis James Sweeney

And then there's the kid on the public bus with 10,000 rupiah rolled like a cigarette behind his ear, his first attempt at cool, having seen other kids do it and being possessed by the whim to do it himself as he fingered the bill in his pocket left over from the fare, as a result of which he is holding his head unnaturally still for fear of losing it, staring straight through the smeared windshield at the road passing underneath, so concentrated that he's unengaged in conversation with the other boys and looks oddly purposeful in his motionlessness, which none of the boys in any case notices, but maybe that's what being cool is, not caring whether you're noticed, to the point that you eventually are, because you don't care, but the bus stops crinkle by in the boy's peripheral sight and his friends get off and no one says goodbye to him, removed from the prattle and thereby nonexistent as he is, and he is the last left on the bus but for two speechless girls at the back when his stop comes, and he gets off and toddles down the gravel side street to his family compound weaving and kicking the big stones, trying to figure himself out for the eleventh consecutive day, a number he is unaware of, and then he mounts the threshold to his compound like the prow of a boat and falls forward into his home as into water, stuttering his steps on the dust to catch himself up with his hands still in his pockets and listening to the first notes of his mother's voice arrive unusual and discordant, it'll be one of those days then, notifying him that he is an irresponsible boy and he must not be stupid, why is that money in your ear, we are not rich you know, and the first thought that occurs to the boy is that he had forgotten that it was there, he had achieved cool as he wove down his street, unseen and that was the point, until the onslaught of his mother's voice invaded the space in his head and he had to say something, so he told his mother to calm down, which only infuriated her more, to the point that her manner went from angry to severe and disappointed, from the mistake is bad to the boy is bad, showing such disrespect as he did for the money she and his father work so hard to earn so that he can have a good life, and for her, his own mother, as if she didn't know when to calm down and when to not, so for the gods' sake stop being a stupid, silly boy and take that money out of your ear and give it to me right now, she said, snatching it before he even had a chance to hand it over himself, in other words rendering the situation finished without even allowing his contribution, so that all he could do was go to his bed and lay in it face down and ask himself why he, a twelve year-old boy, still ever wanted to cry, until the muscles in his face relaxed little by little and he fell from stopped-up sadness to sleep, and that was the time he learned he could never in fact be cool, and that he could only ever imitate cool, and do what cool people were doing, knowing the whole time that he was a fraud and if he got away with it he was fooling everyone and at some point, inevitably, they would discover who he really was, which bothered him itchingly at first but which he gradually, during the course of his long life, came to accept, then treasured, and in the end forgot.