Authors: Jocelyn Kates
By Jocelyn Kates
2015 Jocelyn Kates
All Rights Reserved.
For SMN and ASW. May all you see be taken with as many grains of salt as there are in the vast ocean.
If you cannot put the ego on the side, you cannot succeed in love, period. Therefore, love must defeat it.
Table of Contents
It wasn’t until the plane began its descent that Adele realized it had never occurred to her to imagine her destination. She knew where she was going, obviously, and the name—Bali—drew up vague connotations in her mind: warm breezes, rolling waves, palm trees, thatched roofs. But she hadn’t actually imagined it fully, had no mental image of what she would see when she stepped off of the plane and into the place that would be her home for the next six weeks.
So it wasn’t a reversal of expectations as much as a vague surprise when she first saw the billowing exhaust, the messy construction, the falling-apart buildings and ramshackle slums extending around the airport. That moment was the first time that she’d thought to remember that Indonesia was, indeed, a developing country.
The plane taxied to a stop, and Adele grabbed her backpack and slung it over one shoulder.
Here I am
, she thought, decisively snapping on her sunglasses and striding toward the exit.
Moving from the tinny, artificial chill of the airplane into the humid embrace of the hot island air sent a thrill down her back as the reality of her whereabouts sunk in further. Fifteen feet across the tarmac toward the airport and she was already perspiring. She shrugged the emerald green cardigan down her arms, revealing her winter-paled skin to the sunlight, but she was uncomfortably hot even in just her thin camisole. Sweat dampened the fabric underneath her breasts, and she could feel beads of moisture forming on her brow, her upper lip.
Good thing yoga clothes are pretty minimalist
, she mused.
Her next surprise came when she stepped inside the airport—not only were the doors not automatic, but the building wasn’t air-conditioned.
, she reminded herself again,
Passport control and customs were chaos. She’d been warned about this part by people who had traveled in Southeast Asia: that the process took forever, that you needed to race from your plane to the front of the line to avoid being stuck at the airport for hours, that you should always have extra (American) cash on hand in case the officer you encountered wasn’t feeling agreeable, that you should not book flights that arrived late at night and should never—
—follow any officials to a separate room.
Still, those warnings and advice had been effective only in terrifying Adele and filling her flight with anxiety, rather than giving her a leg up on the whole operation. By the time she’d moved out of her dumbfounded daze and made her way to the line, there was a queue of at least eighteen people ahead of her, all of whom looked like they had a better idea of what they were doing than she did.
After who knows how long—she’d stupidly let her phone die on the plane and she wasn’t wearing a watch—she found herself standing in front of a broad-faced, mostly bald official, who looked unsmiling at her from the other side of a pane of bulletproof glass.
,” Adele attempted, carefully pronouncing one of the Bahasa phrases she’d written down on a tiny slip of paper in her wallet. She beamed at the officer. He stared back implacably and tapped the counter with an open palm, universal language for “Hand ‘em over.”
Her smile fading slowly, she dug in her back pocket for her passport and slid it through the slot in the glass and toward the officer. He looked at the document, looked at her, looked back at the passport, back at her. She was suddenly very glad that she had $100 US in her wallet. He gave her one last penetrating glare, and then abruptly turned away and walked out of his vestibule, carrying her passport.
Adele whirled around, panicked, looking for some sort of authority, some witness who would come undo this injustice, but realized, as she watched the officer disappear behind a door to a restricted zone, that he was the authority, and that justice wasn’t a very powerful concept in this moment.
Her eyes danced from person to person, looking for anyone who might offer some sort of help, or at least acknowledgment. At last her gaze alit upon a lanky, beaming Indonesian man, a cigarette perched jauntily in his mouth (
You can smoke in an airport?
she thought with distracted surprise), and one hand gripping a small poster. Blessedly, the poster’s hand-written magic marker scrawl said “Ahimsa Yoga.”
She waved her hand frantically at him, the frenzied grin back on her face, pointing toward his sign and then toward herself.
“Me!” She said stupidly, tapping her chest and then, idiotically, attempting to do tree pose, as if her message weren’t clear enough. The lanky man smiled largely at her, nodded, and gave her the thumbs up. But as he stood in place, looking happily back at her, her relief faded. He couldn’t do anything. Of course he couldn’t do anything—what did she expect? That he would cross out of the arrivals zone and into customs and demand her passport be handed over?
The heat and the fear and the foreignness hit her then all at once. Noticing for the first time her hunger, thirst, and exhaustion, she felt the sting of tears in her eyes, and squeezed them shut to make them go away. This was not a time to show weakness.
But as she slowly opened them up, through the blur of her own tears, she saw that the officer had returned to his place behind the glass, and that he was stamping her passport. With the same impassive face, he placed it on the counter and slid it through.
“Thank you,” she said, too loudly, her gratitude explosive. “Thank you! Thank you!”
She swept up her passport and danced over to the lanky man.
“You are Adele?” He said, extending a hand.
“That’s me!” She replied, reaching her hand towards his, then realizing that he wasn’t trying to shake her hand, but to take her backpack. Barely touching her, he swept it off her shoulder, and she realized for the first time that she’d been slouching under its weight.
“I’m Yande,” the man said. “You have more bags?”
“Yes,” she said, and they walked toward baggage claim together. “Thank you.”
Maybe things really would be okay.
With the airport receding into the distance and the construction noises growing fainter, the scene outside of the van window adhered more to what Adele had vaguely anticipated: palm trees, lush greenery, strange birds, barefoot locals wearing long, loose pants and often shirtless, and, yes, huts with thatched roofs. Adele was apparently the only pickup Yande had at the Denpasar airport that day, and so, after snapping her embarrassingly heavy suitcase off of the baggage carousel, he’d guided her leisurely over to a van in the hot parking lot. In other circumstances this would have sketched her out—strange man, unmarked van—but she felt perfectly safe with Yande, and easily clambered into the passenger seat.
Yande had the radio tuned to a frequency between stations, and a soft static streamed steadily from the speakers. He hummed to himself, smiling and seemingly unaware of the fuzzy noise accompanying him.
On any day of her life leading up to this one, this ambient noise would have irritated the hell out of her. She would have grated at the rambling, formless, clashing tunes, gritting her teeth as hot anger rustled in her belly. But today, it didn’t bother her at all. It was almost calming.
As the van trundled on through the countryside, the gorgeously repetitive scenery began to lull Adele into a sort of tranquil half-waking. She was hypnotized by the rows of palm trees after palm trees, the undulating green hills, the rice paddies glistening in the twilight, and the vast and sparkling ocean that appeared then disappeared, appeared, then disappeared. It was a sort of lullaby, putting to sleep the jittering anxiety that she always felt when traveling, especially to a new place. Her mind began to wander.
She was back in the offices of GreenGrub. Office, singular, was a more apt label, since their entire company had taken up just one large room. Still, homey touches—succulents on every desk and an organic tea station by a table-sized Japanese Zen garden—made it feel special, valuable. On the day her memory pulled up, a flurry of paper had covered her desk, some stapled, some loose, some yellow, some white, all covered top to bottom in miniscule type. Underlined and bolded phrases screamed up at her as she shuffled through the sheets, looking for the keywords that would prove her point. Capitalized acronyms—FDA, GMO, USDA—silently declared their importance. The air conditioning had been up a smidge too high for her liking; she’d wrapped her gray scarf more tightly around her shoulders, drawing it close over her chest.
Just as her eyes alit upon the paragraph she needed, a firm tap on her desk had caused the relevant paper to flutter away. Mildly annoyed, she’d looked up, and had been startled—no, unnerved—by what she saw.
Kelly, the genial, bald-headed and barrel-chested Irishman who served as founder and CEO of GreenGrub, stood on the other side of the desk. His perpetual smile was gone, his rosy cheeks ashen, his smiling eyes red with the residue of crying.
“Kelly?” The sound of her own voice had been almost as unnerving as the sight of Kelly—she sounded like a small child. A small, scared child.
She followed Kelly to the “conference room,” a converted closet where they held any meetings that needed to be in a more private setting than the open office. Even now, a month later and some 8,000 miles away, she involuntarily squeezed her eyes shut remembering how slumped his shoulders had looked from behind, how small he suddenly seemed, how his once-cheerful stride looked, in a word, defeated. She hoped this memory would be one of the ones that blurred and faded and then, eventually, disappeared.
He had barely held the door for her, a small detail that had stuck in her mind because of all that it signified: Kelly, the protector of women, the yes-sometimes-patronizing-but-always-sweet indulger of the fair sex, the bulwark against chivalry’s demise, hadn’t had the strength of spirit to keep his grip on the door long enough to usher Adele safely inside. The wounded animal form of his nobler, principled self manifested in the grasping fingers that curved around the door’s edge at the last second, slowing its trajectory vaguely; but that sad vestige of his spirit only filled Adele with a deeper pity and fear.
“Sit,” Kelly had started, though the sound came out as a squawk, hoarse and dry, and he cleared his throat and began again. “Take a seat, Addie.”
He was the only person she’d ever let call her Addie. Somehow, it had never annoyed her coming from him.
Watching him slowly lower himself to the black leather rolling chair they’d bought just weeks before—GreenGrub’s first “fancy” office purchase—proved too much for Adele to bear. She needed to fill the space with something other than wretched despair and suspense.
“Kelly,” she’d said, and leaned across the desk, reaching for his hand, grasping it away from him as he tried to hold it back. He’d given it, reluctantly, but she saw a subtle wave of gratitude sweep across his face as she held his hand in hers—the softening of the corners of his eyes, the hard swallow in his throat, the relaxing of his lips. “Kelly, what’s up? Just tell me. I’m sure, whatever it is, it’s nothing we can’t figure out.”
“Addie,” he’d said, looking straight back at her, his eyes unwavering and his voice solid for the first time. “You know I have more faith in you than I do in damn near anyone else, and that’ll be including all five o’ my sons. But Lord smite me if I’m wrong—this cannot be figured out.”
She’d stared back at him, a bit hurt—he’d never been full of anything but praise and encouragement for her—but mostly just confused.
“Doesn’t matter how smart you are, Addie. We’re damn well screwed.”
Before Adele could begin her meaningless protests—after all, she did have no idea what he was talking about—Kelly had started in on the explanation of what had happened. The details became blurry as the stark reality made itself clear. The upshot was this: GreenGrub was dead. GreenGrub, their baby, the company they’d begun building together two years ago, that they’d nurtured from a kernel of an idea into a profit-generating organization with a staff of 25, dead.
And the way it happened seemed so cheap, so simple, so unfair, that Adele couldn’t believe there wasn’t a way to undo it, to argue their way out of it. It was so simple it could be summed up in three words, three words that a six-year-old on the playground could just as easily sputter: They copied us. But it turned out that a simple explanation did not mean a simple solution. GreenGrub was, in the eternal words of Kelly, damn well screwed.
Perhaps the most painful part about it (among many, many painful parts) was that the initial mission of GreenGrub was so philanthropic, so hopeful, and now this final blow seemed to be the world underscoring that the bad guys win.
GreenGrub had been the brainchild of Kelly McConnell, a farm boy from rural Ireland with a technical genius and an entrepreneurial flair. Since moving to the United States for college some forty years ago, he’d started and sold five different companies. But GreenGrub was his baby, it was the culmination of all of his professional experience in conjunction with the farm days of his youth and his lifelong passion for the environment. It was
In fact, he’d come up with the idea almost a decade earlier, but the technology hadn’t existed to implement it until recently. In a nutshell, GreenGrub was a mobile application that used extremely sophisticated technology to read stickers on produce and select other products at the grocery store. Within seconds of scanning, the app would deliver information on the specific item, from how far away it was produced, to whether pesticides or hormones were used in its cultivation, to nutritional information. Its purpose was a noble one: to connect people more closely with their food and the environment, while also raising their awareness of nutrition. GreenGrub, in Kelly’s vision, would support farmers, help heal the wounded environment, and perhaps even battle the obesity epidemic. And just last year, they’d secured the funding and developed the technology to make it a reality.