There is a round man, and every day he drinks three long-necks of Bintang from the same white sun lounge on the black sands of Echo Beach. I monitor him from a subtle five lounges down the row because the taste of Bintang is abhorrent. Yet every day, he manages three.
He wears floral-patterned board-shorts that bleach beneath the passing suns, and wears floral-patterned flip-flops that attenuate as days go by, and wears onyx-lensed Oakleys that emphasise his impassivity. And that is all: shorts, sunnies, shoes. No shirt, no underpants — I’ve seen all there is to see of him. This man has become my retreat.
His hair is wispy and papaya-coloured. His stomach is hemispherical. He has cinnamon-orange skin. He drinks his beers and stares forward at the breaking waves and when each successive bottle is empty, he sticks its neck into the sand to sculpt a line of three frightened glass ostriches. Then he leaves, and I wait for tomorrow to witness the feat again. Is it worth me trying Bintang once more?
Today is overly hot and dense. The sun is closer and angrier. I wonder if the man will baste himself in the salt water for once, or snack on his own self-produced crackling. But he just drinks his beers at the regular rate, the caesura between swallows consistent enough to keep time. I scrawl down the number of sips per beer in my notebook: 55, 61, 54. Then, back at my villa, I cancel my flight home, not bothering to email the office or call the boss — we’re through.
And today the wind tears down the beach. It lofts shards of volcanic sand to sting tourists’ ankles and clog tourists’ eyes. The man drinks. Sand chinks off the armour of his Oakleys. And by the end of the first long-neck there is a swathe of glittering black particles stuck to the side of his pregnant-man mound. He completes his daily ritual thirty-five seconds sooner than average, then departs. And today, after six months of silence, my sister has the nerve to call. My phone buzzes. It chimes. So I hurl the darn thing into the waves. Bintang isn’t all that bad.
And today the rain comes relentless and torrential, and our lounges sink into the moisture-softened ground. My notebook disintegrates to mush. The man needs wipers on his glasses and umbrellas in his beers — I have a pink parasol in mine. We’re drenched, but the man keeps composure and completes his task, and I linger to watch his top-heavy bottles domino over in the rain. I take the parasol from my beer and sip.
And now, another has discovered him, someone skinny who monitors from a further five chairs down the row. I have not detailed them because I’ve been busy with my own surveillance: the round man drains the last drop of his third Bintang four minutes before I finish mine — I will catch him one day. He rolls onto his feet and waddles up the beach and leaves deep thong-prints in the sticky black sand. He is out of sight, but the new person remains. What are they doing? I glance at them. They are not fascinated by Three Bintangs like I am; their stare is fixed on me.
From my reclined position on the sun lounge, I tuck my chin and look down the length of my body, oceanward. I see the peaks of waves. I see the crest of my recently inflated stomach. I cannot see my toes. Then I stick my beer’s neck into the sand.
J. H. Brauer works as a geotechnical engineer in Sydney, Australia, but grew up in a coastal town with stranger people and better surf. He hopes to have his debut novel published soon.