A ray of sunshine on the street in Ubud, Bali; we bump into Putu and rent a scooter. 750 thousand Indonesian rupees for the month. That’s £38 – less than £1.30 per day. We’ve asked around the place first, we know what we should pay for a scooter and we aren’t ready to be ripped off. Putu wants more than that but we’re clued up.
ONE MONTH AND THREE DAYS LATER
The scooter has been nicked. We’d left it by the steps outside our apartment and it’s gone. Vanished. Lost. Had it. What a bastard. We’ve got to face the music with Putu. A total nightmare. There’s bound to be a huge excess to pay and we’re gutted.
Putu, I’m very sorry, my friend but the scooter has been stolen.
Yes, I took it back. It’s late.
Oh my, thank Krishna!
ANOTHER FIFTEEN MINUTES LATER
Putu arrives back at the steps. He’s nothing but lovely about everything. We pay for the overdue days and extend the scooter hire.
‘I’m so sorry, Putu.’
‘No problem, boss.’
Just breaking five feet, selectively-toothed and pony-tailed, he’s easily recognisable. Burdened with a crippling shuffle, Putu smiles, hugs, high-fives and works hard through obvious discomfort. At 45 he’s no chicken but there’s a wonky spring in his step. A softness in his eyes; gateways to his humanity. He’s easy to connect with. Generous. Forgiving. Kind.
ANOTHER MONTH LATER
Finally, and this time punctually, I return the bike again today. Putu and I make time for breakfast together. Mushroom and tempeh on rice-toast for me, the foody fad-man. Putu takes nasi goreng; an Indonesian traditionalist.
“I just eat bread and rice.” He says.
Over breakfast, Putu speaks. He lives with his brother and his sister-in-law. His brother has two daughters and a son which means he’s Uncle Putu. Un-married, Putu shares their house. Together, Putu and his brother not only rent scooters to tourists, but they also maintain push-bikes and rent them as part of tour-packages to visit landmarks, like the towering volcano, Mount Agung and Tegenungen waterfall.
Putu’s parents are in their seventies and live in the North of Bali, close to his sister. He also has another brother somewhere else. There’s some unease as he talks about this sibling, so I don’t ask more.
He moved from the North of Bali to Ubud in 2001, initially selling tickets for volcano visits and waterfall outings. Saving his rupees, he managed to lease his first scooter-for-hire in 2005. Twelve years later he now sub-lets five scooters. The credit arrangement means he’ll never own the scooters.
He’s not been off the island Bali. He can’t afford a holiday. I immediately feel guilty for screwing him down to £1.30 per day for the scooter. I feel worse for not turning up on time to return the scooter in the first place. Here’s a man fearing for 20% of his livelihood and I was just being lapse. I’d made a selfish assumption that this man had loads of scooters and this sort of stuff happens all the time. I’m shamed.
Recently, a tourist rented a scooter from Putu and just pissed off to Java on it on a ferry. The bell-end left it there and exited Java on another boat. Putu was forced to arrange for the scooter to be collected from Java and delivered back to him. At his own cost. The tourist wouldn’t cough up a dime. I wonder how many scooters Putu had to rent-out to cover that?
BACK IN 2005
Putu is racing back to base on a scooter.
A car pulls out on him at a junction.
His parents wait at his hospital bed.
He won’t survive, they say.
A split head. Unconscious. Compound fractures of both legs and one arm snapped. On waking, the hospital has stemmed the bleeding but the bones haven’t been re-set. The operations will cost 25million Indonesian rupees – that’s £1400. Without payment up front, the hospital are unwilling to repair him. There’s no money. Putu’s parents take him home with mangled bones. “They are happy I’m alive.”
For six months, Putu is massaged by a family friend. It’s the best they can do. Over the course of his home-therapy, his bones are excruciatingly worked to form. Six months later, and with no feeling in his legs, Putu begins to re-train himself to walk on crutches. The long road to recovery.
“When it’s cold I have some pain.” He says. No complaint. “I’ve told my parents not to work. They are old. I look after them now.” He visits them once a month with money from his scooters and pricks like me and that Java-bell-end mess him around. But still he smiles. A true inspiration.
Travelling Asia puts us in contact with people who shame our ignorance and sense of entitlement. Putu doesn’t expect anything but to look after his parents and help his brother. When I come back to Bali in January, Putu can have the price he asks for the scooter.
Thanks for reading