A ray of sunshine. We bump into Putu and rent a scooter. IRP 7.5m for the month. £43. Less than £1.50 per day. We ask about first, we know what we should pay and we aren’t ready to be ripped off. He wants more but we’re clued up.
Fast forward a month and three days. The scooter has been nicked. We’d left it by the steps outside and it’s gone. Bastard. We’ve got to face the music with Putu. Sorry mate. There’s an excess to pay and we’re gutted.
“Putu. I’m very sorry but the scooter has been stolen.”
“Yes, I took it back. It’s late.”
Fifteen minutes later, Putu arrives back at the steps. He’s nothing but lovely about it. We pay for the overdue days and extend the hire. Again, sorry mate.
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.
Finally, and this time promptly, I return the bike again today. Putu and I make time for breakfast together. Mushroom and tempeh on rice-toast for me, the fad-man. Putu takes nasi goreng: a 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. Uncle Putu! Un-married, Putu shares their house. Together, Putu and his brother not only rent scooters to tourists, they also maintain push-bikes and rent them as part of tour-packages to visit landmarks, like Mount Agung. It’s still not blown btw.
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 around this sibling, so I leave it.
He moved from the North to Ubud in 2001, initially selling tickets for volcano visits and waterfall outings. Saving his IRP, he manages 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 Bali. He can’t afford a holiday. I immediately feel guilty for screwing him down to £1.50 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 fucked off to Java on it. The bell-end left it there and exited Java by 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?
In 2005, Putu is racing back to base on a scooter.
A car pulls out on him.
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 cost IRP 25million. £1400. Without payment 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