There I was, on the dusty balcony of a diving store in Bali with my foot perched on an empty Coca-Cola crate ready to get another tattoo. I’ve had brighter moments.
Like the time I got one in South Korea and had to gesture my way around needles and ink with an interpreter on the phone while being at the mercy of a buzzing machine. I’ve had brighter moments, but it’s Bali! You have to do something impulsively crazy in Bali and thanks to Eat, Pray, Love the whole “love” part was a bit overrated so I opted for a tattoo in the middle of my two month Indonesian bicycle adventure. I just had to make the moment last forever.Well, forever was the idea.The balcony of the diving store was not a tattoo parlour, it was a storage room. The tattoo guy worked on a rent-an-artist basis and the whole process had five easy steps.Step one, make the call.
Step two, explain what you want.
Step three, find a location.
Step four, put your limb on a table, chair or crate.
Step five, get a tattoo.
Getting the number to complete step one was as easy as going up a petrol station and asking for petrol. Once you mention the word “tattoo” to a Balinese, they’ll get a tattoo artist on a phone immediately because when you get a tattoo, they get commission (which is understandable because you know, making a call nowadays is really a difficult job, bless their island souls).
The majority of my tattoo consisted of letters and I imagined a guy, a laptop and a portable printer. Instead, I got a guy, a notebook and a pen who arrived on a scooter spewing smoke. I stayed put, and told the guy what I wanted; a tiny bicycle with the words: Life is not about the destination, but the journey.
Freehand he wrote in pencil on a sketchpad. Every letter the same size as the next, every ‘e’ matching the curve of the other ‘e’; the height, the width, the spaces, all spot on in cursive on a piece of paper.
Talented, but every now and then I had to help him.
“No, we are not talking about live now, it is life.”
Eraser. It is okay, it is a common mistake.
“Destination only has one s”.
Eraser. Please don’t spell but with more than one t.
“Journey, starts with a j and ends with a y, just turn the two letters around”.
Eraser. Is this a good idea?
As each letter hit my skin in black ink blotches I had to make sure it was the right letter; 9 words, 40 letters, 48 spaces and 96 checks. The Bali traffic raged in hooters and laughter below as scooters whizzed by. Every now and then a voice from downstairs tried to make sale to a foreigner.“Snorkeling? Diving? Good price! Excuse me madam, do you want to go diving? We have the best price in Bali!”I held my breath at the halfway mark of the tattoo. Sure, it is painful, sure those little bones in my foot are not fond of the tickle, but I was more concerned about the word, “but”. “Remember, but has one t”, I told the guy as his machine buzzed away.Across the street another voice shouted at someone, “Lady, you want Sarong? Good price for you lady!”.I could have opted for a sarong or a pair of flip flops but no, I chose a tattoo. With a bicycle in a box, a tiny one on my foot and a few new words to my skin I arrived back in South Africa.“Look mom, look dad, another tattoo!”, I said and pointed to the one on my foot.They enjoy art; on walls, on canvases or sculptures. Not on skin. And especially not on my skin.“And that one on your wrist?”, they asked simultaneously. I haven’t seen them in two years. I forgot about the dream-explore-discover-bird-out-of-a-birdcage one I got via an interpreter in South Korea pre-Indonesia-journey.“Look mom, look dad, two tattoos!”
I wanted the moment to last forever; instead I got a tattoo on a dry part of my foot that started to make disappearing acts after the first few months and now it reads: “destination, but the journey”. The journey also got in on that disappearing act and faded to a light grey; 50 shades to be exact, with Pantone 402 C taking the lead.
Tattoos don’t last forever.
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