In the dark, at roadside in the urban sprawl to the east of Banjarmasin, I was transferred from one vehicle to the next in order to get me to Batulicin. I hopped in, shook my new driver’s hand and made a mental calculation that I’d arrive in the port city at roughly 10pm. That was alright with me, I thought, and leaned back in the reclining front passenger seat. But I was wrong.
Not being able to speak to him at all, I waited and waited. He seemed in no hurry to leave. Eventually he jumped back into his seat and lazily accelerated to a gentle cruise in the slow lane. He stopped. I waited. He disappeared. I waited. He shuffled back at long last, fumbled around the driver’s seat and walked off into the darkness again. I waited.
Finally, I thought we were on our way when he turned the key and twisted the steering wheel into the traffic. But he stopped soon after, jumped out and walked off. I was getting frustrated. It had been over two hours. His slight frame emerged from the blackness a while later and we began driving, but only for a few minutes before he pulled over yet again.
Using my best Bahasa – fewer than 20 words, I tried to impress upon the driver that I was due at my host’s house in Batulicin at 10pm – just half an hour ahead.
“Saya jalan-jalan ke Batulicin. Saya (digging my index finger into his chest) dan saya (pointing at my own chest) vroom-vroom ke Batulicin, Batulicin, Batulicin! Saya (again, pointing at his chest) tidak awas ke Batulicin. Batulicin, Batulicin! Saya (while making a snoring noise) di Batulicin. Saya (pointing at my own chest again) tidak (making a snoring noise) ini. Batulicin! Batulicin! Vroom-vroom! Batulicin, vroom-vroom (while gesturing at the road ahead)!”
I realise the driver would’ve thought I was either mentally retarded or simply couldn’t speak his language. The latter being the case, I knew he understood that I was frustrated at his snail-like meandering driving where we were, which seemed pointless. But he continued to edge forward at idling speed, down road after road, going absolutely nowhere. I pursed my lips, trying not to burst out with more forceful pidgin phrases.
Without saying anything, he sped up and held his speed for the first 5 minutes, the next 5 and the next. The building density lessened, fields appeared one by one and hazy off-street lighting became less frequent. We’d finally departed!
I glanced over at the speedometer, wondering if I could re-calculate my estimated arrival time so I could tell my host. That’d have been good manners, but I had no idea what time to give. That’s when I saw we were travelling at the record-breaking speed of 30 km/h. I urged the driver on and he responded: he increased our travel speed to 45 km/h. Every approaching vehicle glided by effortlessly, but my driver stuck to his upper and lower speed limits of 30-45 km/h. I wanted to glue his pants to the passenger seat and take over the steering wheel!
Frustrated and not being able to reply to my host’s question of what time I’d arrive, I forced myself to lie across the back seat and forget the situation. Somewhere in the darkness, at a time I didn’t know, I emerged from my to-and-fro rocking state on the seat to find a young chap standing over me at the car door, asking “Are you Al?”