Some days I feel people treat my whiteness like they’d treat a mangled leg, politely pretending that such an affliction doesn’t exist, like I blend in nicely with the crowd around me. “You’re a truly Bali woman!” they’ll say. “Don’t call yourself that!” they’ll comfort when I refer to myself as Whiteman.
I’m well aware that, majority of the time, all eyes are on me. Could I blame anyone? Never. Now I, too, catch myself staring, should I happen upon some white people I’ve never met before. We’re outstanding, in the most literal of ways. In a crowd of inky black Northerners and chocolate brown Southerners and, occasionally, the honeyed tan of the mountain Bedouins who have given up the cows and settled in the city, the paleness of a Westerner is the only thing that reflects light. The crowded car I caught back to my apartment last night testified: eight people managed to fit in such a small space, but on the unlit road to Bali the only things you could make out inside were my skin and the broken dials on the dash. I glowed.
A baby cried when it saw me yesterday. It’s not uncommon. Some are brave enough to reach out and grab whatever bit of me they can, hair or arm or shirt. Most, though, simply sit in silence and turn back to their parents, retreating, forehead to their chest like any moment it’ll all pass and everything will be normal again. A dapper man adorned with a bowtie gave me a pep-talk on how I should properly greet babies, employing the age-old Cameroonian strategy of tell a girl she’s an idiot first, then ask to sleep with her second. Though he tried to convince me otherwise in overly-flowery English, we both knew why the baby didn’t want to be near me. I’m the closest thing it has ever seen to a ghost. Wouldn’t you be a little worried, too?