Bali’s particular version of litter on the beach is the young men who hang about in the shade trying to sell chicken--and I am not talking about the sort that is commonly fried, baked, or barbecued.
No, this chicken is of the human variety, most generally of the female gender--those local young girls, daughters of men, who find themselves without money, a home, a job, a guardian; quite without pity or choice, continually up for bargain like cheaply made baubles and trinkets in the market. They receive no pay, even for their price, but the opportunity only to eat, to be clothed, and to continue through one day to the next according to the magnanimity of the pimp.
The going price, more or or less, is 500,000 rupiah, about 50 US dollars. This includes the room (so-called), the beer, a massage, a bath, a condom, as many hours as are required, and pretty much anything else within the limits of human depravity.
Five hundred thousand rupiah, as I have said, is asked; but of course it is only the rare man who will end up paying this price. It is a point from which to begin--the very highest point at that. Everything here is got by bargain--shirts, hats, sunglasses, paintings, watches, women, men. The pimp starts high, forever hoping for the jackpot--a callow Westerner--and the customer starts out very low indeed. And I say it again, very low indeed.
In broken English the pimp paints his paradisaical fresco--a cliché, a joke, a lie, a dream--while the customer, already containing at least two or three drinks--continually checks his wallet, careful to show that he is a man to be reckoned with, and no fool.
One hundred thousand rupiah sounds like a lot of money, but of course it is all relative. It is nothing to the John, much to the pimp, and without pertinence to the prostitute herself. It is, in exchange, about 11 US dollars.
I am told that one is taken by taxi or motor bike up the road a piece and onto the winding back lanes. Where light is dim, where wild dogs wander, where children cry and squalor thrives, the man is let out to a large open room. The driver winks, money is exchanged, and the nervous yet anticipating purchaser finds himself facing perhaps thirty, perhaps fifty, perhaps seventy women--young, old, thin, fat, pretty, homely--the well endowed and the unendowed--the experienced, the jaded, the fearful, the hopeless--all the little girls now trapped within the value of their flesh.
What bargain has been worked this night, what price, what deal, what swindle made for this father’s daughter, for this mother’s treasure, for this young woman’s heart and soul?
The next day another man will visit the beach. There he will find the same trash--unbothered, irremovable, as permanent as the sea itself--and despite the whiteness of the sand, the long sighing of the breakers, the majestic rise of the inland hills, the play of a child’s laughter on the breeze, he will do his business, make his killing, and reap the life of another human being--never seeing, never hearing, never imagining that paradise, rightly judged, had been available all along and quite without cost--free for the asking, albeit with this one caveat attached: He must seek in truth, ask with honor, and embrace with the sort of thankful compassion that should be the common currency of all men.