“My boyfriend just broke up with me at that time,” she begins the story. Her voice remains flat while her face is dull. Expression- less. She sounds unconcerned. Or at least for now. “We’ve never met in person,” she mentions before taking a quick pause, letting the statement hang clumsily in the air for a few seconds. “We’ve never had any kind of physical contact,” she pauses, “our relation- ships were entirely online, but love between us seemed real. If I can’t speak for both of us, at least to me, the love felt real.” She beams a little, or maybe more like a snicker this time. The man and San got to know each other from Yahoo Messenger, “we joined the same chat room before we finally got a chance to speak in pri- vate,” she explains.
“His name was Jorge,” she says, “a Nicaraguan young man liv- ing in Texas, America,” she adds, almost with genuine delight. “He
looked okay by my taste,” San says, “not a skinny-looking person. I could see his muscles pop from his short-sleeve T-shirt, but he didn’t own a built-up kind of body. His posture was ideal if it was not perfect, and pretty tall, too, I guess,” her eyes lit up, going deeper into the memory.
San admits that her readiness to fly to the USA to meet this Jorge in person was as solid as a rock, “I never even felt any fear,” she says, sounding serious, “never thought that he would be able to harm me,” she grins. “Though he confessed he used to work for a gangster in his country back then, that was how he ended up in the states, to run away from his boss who intended to kill him.” San keeps smiling.
It isn’t a poisonous story to tell, nor a crime, San is just honestly sharing her feelings. “He was a hardworking person,” she says, explaining that the man had been giving himself the best shot to make up for the dark path he had lived in the past. “That was what
made me so fall into him.” San repeats, “that was a kind of per- sonality I admired the most in him.”
She admits how eager she was to venture into a new chapter with someone she had only ever seen on her computer screen. Then she laughs with mock gravity. “Anyways, it never happened,” she adds, the shaky voice showing her letdown. “After thousands of affectionate chats, dreams and encouraging words,” she says, “many sleepless nights because the time difference between the USA and Indonesia was rather extreme, and of course the internet bills,” she laughs, calling it a wasteful faith, “he left me with a breakup email, sent on his birthday. Damn it.”
She keeps laughing, louder by now. Jorge wrote that the whole ‘thing’ they’ve been doing for the last few years wasn’t worthy enough to pursue any further. She laughs while her voice gets thicker, sounding uncomfortable. “He also wrote that ‘the visa process would cost him too much, in terms of time, energy and
money.” He made it clear it would be too much work to help me submit the visa and all blah-blah documents,” she says, mockingly.
“Well,” she pursues, trying her logic, “the man barely saved his own life, has been squeezing himself to deal with a fake marriage status to get the green card, ran away from a mafia gangster.” Now he’s got a steady, okay-paid job as a driver in a blood dona- tion agency, aiming for a simple life in the American dream, “away from such administration trouble. He made sure I understood that it wouldn’t work the way we’ve been talking. There’s no way he could help me to get there without trouble involved. And the email ended with news that his current boss was into him and he might try to be with her.” San’s voice sounds disapproving, but she keeps laughing. It sounds a little rowdy. Or even more like a raging roar? Maybe she tries to varnish the truth that the gravity of that very moment still appeals to her actual being, unsettles her
nerves. Or, perhaps, it just jerks her back, somehow, to her cha- grin.
Jorge was the first relationship she chanced upon since the urge to leave her country in 1998, when she was still attending high school in Jakarta, Indonesia. It was the time when life seemed too dark.
“Of course I felt offended and mad,” she admits, “but it didn’t last too long,” she grins, “cause my mind got distracted by a new internet guy right away,” she laughs. On the same day as she re- ceived the breakup email from Jorge, another guy accidentally swings into her Skype chat room, “this time he was from France,” she says, sounding thrilled. The guy accidentally wrote to San through Skype, “he put a wrong pseudo and ended up in my Skype account.” She laughs, filled with joy. His name was Oli.
“Assuming that the international credit I had on my Skype would be a waste anyway, I asked his phone number and called this Oli right away,” she says, “running through the leftover credit was my only plan.” At the time, there wasn’t any meaningful con- versation, “he kept laughing, and I kept asking him what the laugh was about,” she smiles, “and the most meaningful sentence he had said was, ‘I am surprised you really call’ and then back to his droll,” she says, blushing.
The line went dead a few minutes later as her credit met its end. Oli then wrote to her saying not to call him again. “I felt like a pushy, aggressive girl showered by doomed luck,” she chuckles before disguising her face with her two hands, showing a little embarrassment. “My online boyfriend just broke up with me, and this new French guy uninvitedly came on my Skype and told me not to call him again, such a humiliating day,” she says. “What a life. I didn’t even bother to reply to his message anymore, discon-
nected my internet right after, and went to bed that night with an uncomfortable feeling.”
She realized only a day later that she misunderstood this new guy, “he wanted to say not to call him because he would call me,” she says, explaining that through his French provider, he could call San with zero cost at the time. “That was why,” she replies, “he didn’t want me wasting money unnecessarily.” Oli called her regu- larly. If it wasn’t every night, he called San at least a few times a week.
Two weeks after the first incident, he asked San to use a camera for the video call to see each other on the screen. “But I rejected the idea,” she asserts, saying that the statements Oli had been making these last two weeks seemed a little odd for San to hear. “He had been telling me since the first days we chatted,” she says,
“that I was going to be his wife.” She longs, “but, honestly, I was scared but curious at once.” She wanted to give it a try but felt a little skeptical, too.
For a few months, San had no purpose in showing her appear- ance. “It was just me watching him on the screen during our video calls.” She adds, “I sent him a video recording that was showing the iconic places in Jakarta, recording the biggest festival during the birthday of Jakarta, or my work,” she says, “but,” she pauses, “I’ve never shown my face to him at all.” San confesses it was baf- fling to trust this new Oli, “until one day,” she says, rubbing her forehead, recalling the timeline, “it was around August, I believe,” she lingers, “he asked me to send him a picture. But he said that it was fine if I didn’t want to because it wasn’t important for him the
way I look anyways,” San says, “he said that he was already in love with my personality.” San grins, shyly.
Though the oddness was still swinging in the air, San began to sense his gentleness. “I finally decided that it was okay to show my face, but I told him I wouldn’t send the picture of me alone.” In- stead, San sent him a few pictures of her sitting together with her six other female colleagues. She explains, “but all the pictures I sent were taken on the same day during the lunch break,” she smiles, bountifully.
San asked him to guess which one was her, “somehow, he got it right on the first shot,” she says, seeming hooked. “He knew I was the one with the yellow shirt. And when I asked how he knew, he said that he already knew everything since before, that I was the one for him.” Odd, San thinks one more time, “but sweet,” she says, she can’t help herself.
Rosy, every fiber of her being lightened up at this very moment. “I wanted to eat up the crazy idea Oli had offered,” she frowns. “But,” she says, “it just didn’t feel right,” she seemed puzzled, “if Jorge took me as a dummy,” she laughs, “how could it be possi- ble that a highly educated French student, a future French notary, as he had mentioned, was so obsessed with me?” She cracks, bursting out into laughter.
The two lovebirds got along. They kept in contact for a few months before Oli surprised San with his first visit. “He sent me a plane ticket plus travel insurance at first, but I had to reject it,” San explains. She told him that there were two reasons she couldn’t take the offer, “point one is that I don’t even have a passport,” San chuckles, realizing that her dream about leaving the country
wasn’t well planned yet. “Point two, the visa would be a real issue to obtain.”
Oli didn’t believe the second point, “western people like him usually don’t understand the trouble we, citizens from third world countries, have to face to travel around the world. To him, travel- ing is as easy as affording to pay for the plane ticket.” She laughs, her eyes lighting up, “so he called the French embassy in Jakarta to verify.” San continues laughing. The person with whom he talked confirmed the statement San made.
The probability of obtaining a visa would be only about thirty percent if the invitation came only from a friend, likely to fail if she has never been anywhere in a western country. A fiancé has a higher chance, sixty percent. Marriage was the only way to be sure about getting a visa.
“Let’s just get married,” Oli said, bold and firmly.
Maybe he meant it as a marriage proposal, but it didn’t sound that way. It wasn’t a proposal, but a statement. Or, perhaps, an an- nouncement. San said nothing at this point. She started to fall into this man. She had let him lead the way.
A week after the offer incident, Oli called and said that he’d be in Jakarta the next day. He was coming to visit San for the first time. A surprise visit. San confesses how nervous she was. She never had a real boyfriend in her whole life. She decided to dress as simply as possible instead of showing her best look, “I never put on makeup, so I stayed the same.” And for the clothes, I wore blue jeans and a black shirt on top to camouflage my big boobs.” She wanted to be as casual as she usually was, she didn’t intend to impress this Oli. She aimed to be a mysterious kind of girl—the
one who looked and sounded unruffled. Calm. Not such a loud girly teen.
“I went to the airport to pick him up as promised,” she says, “but I didn’t come alone.” Her father tagged along the whole time. “My heart beats fast when I see him appear in the gate with his cute leather jacket on. My father shouted, ‘San, look at him, very good looking. He looks like Ronan Keating. My grandchildren will look cute.’ He was silly as always,” San says, laughing.
She really was curious to see if his face really looked like his idol, “but I couldn’t get myself to look at him. I felt a high tension inside me; panic and nervousness were covering my body.” While her father welcomed him with such an excited hug, “I walked ahead, avoided any necessary gesture. I couldn’t say anything at all,” San cackles with glee, “not even a hi.”
She remained silent during the airport trip until they arrived at the house. “Or, when I said something, it was more to play the role
of a translator between my father and him, to explain what my fa- ther meant. He tried hard to communicate in his bad English.” San shakes her head, laughing, the recollection jerks her soul. She looks happy to go back down this path where love between them started to flourish.
Right when they got out of the car, Oli stared at San and asked, “do you have Indonesian money?” They stood in front of the car by the parking garage. San replied with a single nod then asked why. She was still nervous, still avoided looking at him. Instead, her eyes followed her father’s movement. He was going to close and lock the gate.
“I just like to collect foreign money.” San then handed him five- hundred Indonesian Rupiah while Oli gave her twenty Euros as exchange. Now, she ought to look at him, he seemed to observe
her face gradually. San could feel it. Though, for her, it all hap- pened only in one breath. But she finally got to see his face.
Her heart was beating fast. Her father was right, this Oli was cute. His hair was dark brown, quite long, extended to cover his forehead and both his ears. He had a small and pointy nose. His chin was not sharp, making his smile look benign. He was only a little taller than San. He had a petit kind of posture, the French stereotype.
“What can I buy with this five hundred?” He seemed curious. Though this chat obviously aimed to get her attention, San tried to look around again to find her father, who was not in sight any- more.
“You can buy some gorengan,” San tried to loosen up, but her face was still tight. She was nervous, but she gave Oli a side look, trying to peek at his face one more time.
“What are you saying?” Oli gave a confused, funny look. He smiled.
“Gorengan,” San replied, making it sound like it was a common word he should have recognized it already.
“Gro-re-gan? What is that?”
“You don’t know?” Of course, he doesn’t know, San told her- self, laughing silently. “It is some sort of fried food you can buy along the street, they are normally vegan food, though,” now her smile was lighting. She even chuckled a little. She couldn’t help herself, this man was soothing.
“And what can you buy with twenty Euros?” Oli continues.
“A lot, actually,” the tension lower by now. Her smile was be- coming. “You can go to the cinema, buy popcorn and cokes, then eat street food,” she beamed.
“Well, that is not an equal exchange.” She was able to eye him directly, and their eyes met one more time. It was longer than the first gaze. They nourished it with laughter. Now, the tension finally started to disappear.
“How long do you plan to stay here?” San asked. She had no idea what had this Oli planned. “I’ll fly back on Sunday,” he replied, “because I have an exam on Tuesday. I need to be back in Landerneau then go straight to Rennes.” It takes over twenty-four hours one-way to fly from his little town in north-west France to Jakarta, and he came only for a few days. San snickered. It didn’t make much sense for him to come for such a short period. But he came anyway to complete their first mission, to gather for the first time.
Oli stayed the whole time with San and her family, “but because he was jet-lagged the entire three days of his visit, the two of us got some time to snuggle.” She laughs, with pure delight in her voice. The next morning, Hanhan, San’s brother who shared the room with Oli, reported, “Cici, your boyfriend woke me up at four in the morning, freaked out, and asked what the noise was.” Oli was scared because of the call to prayer coming from the mosque. Hanhan said, “he thought there was a war.” The siblings laughed.
The mosque was close to their house, and it was the month of Ramadhan where many religious activities started earlier than usual for the Muslim community. The mosque also had an ex- tended prayer. The sound was unusual to Oli, who had never ex- perienced it. San explained, “nothing to be worried about Oli, you’ll hear the call to prayer here all the time. There are many Muslims here, it is a usual, everyday event. There is no war.” Oli
was not that convinced, but he nodded. Nothing to be worried about, he might have told himself.