Sitting here at my desk at the Global Headquarters of Borborigmus in Bali, my attention drifts – as it frequently does – away from the computer screen, across the shimmering blue of the pool and comes to rest on one of my favourite girls. She is standing amongst the bushes, completely naked except for a sarong trailing from her left hand and concealing only her left calf . She stands unselfconsciously facing me; the weight of the urn balanced on her right shoulder resulting in a shapely cocking of her right hip. Despite the serenity and confidence of her pose, she keeps her eyes averted from mine and stands as still as a statue.
That’s because she is a statue. My very own Venus de Milo - a life-sized girl of white stone, standing proudly in her arbour of contrasting dark-green tropical vegetation. Except she is far more attractive, is in much better shape and she actually has arms, which provide a pleasing balance to her form. In fact, she’s more the way I imagine an Aphrodite to be, rather than a Venus. The only thing is, she has developed a bit of a patina. Her once-white flawless surface is becoming marked with irregular blotches of algae and mould, which has begun to detract somewhat from the purity of her compound curves.
My pembantu, Delfi, a demure and highly moral woman who bustles industriously around my villa, scrubbing and polishing every hidden nook (and most of the crannies), has long become accustomed to Aphrodite’s nakedness. She even recently, in her inimitable patois, referred to Aphrodite as “this girlfriend you, ya? Hee-hee!” But never once has she offered to give my ‘girlfriend’ a good scrubbing. I suspect that has been far less to do with her state of dishabille than Delfi’s absolute certainty that she will slip, fall into the pool and drown if she tries.
As I gaze across the pool at my tarnished stone maiden, I decide that it is time to restore her to the pristine condition of yesteryear. Wire brushes and other tools in hand, I enthusiastically commence the job. Delfi looks on approvingly as I scrub the carved stone tresses, the shoulders, the urn, the arms, the face and the throat. Encouraged by the newly-emerging, sparkling upper regions, I continue my ministrations downwards. But then, as I am about to start on the breasts, I become strongly aware of being watched. My pembantu has become very still and is just … staring. I look at the brush in my hand, then at Aphrodite’s torso, then back at Delfi. I give one stained stone breast a tentative swipe and watch Delfi’s body language to see whether I am breaking some local taboo here, but while her look is just a teeny bit shocked, it is not censorious. Not yet, anyway.
A little more relaxed now, I finish up in the bust department with excellent results. But I notice that Delfi is becoming progressively more, ah, concerned as I move downward to hips, belly and below. Then I see the problem. My Aphrodite’s groin area is sporting a light, but noticeable algal bloom. My cleaning job is just about to become the statuary equivalent of a Brazilian wax job. To complete the task properly, I am going to have to become a tad intimate with Aphrodite’s anatomy – and this while being watched like a hawk.
I tell myself that I am a mature man, that I am doing nothing unseemly, and that if outside observers choose to judge me on the basis of their own taboos and social mores, then that has nothing to do with me. I will not interrupt my labours to satisfy the mere concerns of others. I am rarely embarrassed, and I am not embarrassed now. I tell myself all this, but of course I don’t listen. So I tell Delfi that I am taking a break and will finish later. She seems inordinately relieved, and seems even more relieved when she finishes her shift and goes home at lunchtime.
Now freed from moral supervision, at least in my own mind, I tackle the job with renewed gusto. Hips, stomach and thighs yield their overgrowths easily to the brush, but the complexities of below-the-belly curvatures pose more of a problem. I try using an old toothbrush, but it still can’t get the stone crevices clean. Finally, I hit on the solution – an emery board, intended for manicures, is of the right size and shape, and has the appropriate abrasive qualities. It’s bright pink, but, hey, you can’t have everything.
So as I stand there, engrossed, head lowered to better see what I am doing, scrabbling away with my arm gently around Aphrodite’s waist to prevent me from falling in the pool, I suddenly hear a woman’s voice: “Mister, I have some anti-nyamuk for…” Damn, I left the villa gate open. She stops dead, dropping some of those confounded sachets of useless anti-mosquito powder the locals keep bringing round to sell. She stares at me, with my left arm embracing a naked statue, my right hand holding a pink thing which, I realise instantly, is in a somewhat compromising position. I spontaneously utter a word with religious connotations, which on reflection, is probably unwise. She mutters something like “ah, lain kali, ya?”, which I gather means something like ‘some other time, pervert’, and rapidly flees to her motorbike where she performs a flawless Le Mans start.
Oh well. On the negative side, I’m waiting for a visit from the anti-pornography squad, and maybe, if she understood my startled exclamation, from the blasphemy police as well. On the positive side, I now have a clean statue, and even better, I doubt that anyone will be trying to sell me those sachets any time soon, if ever.