I was staying in a hotel in Tangerang, Jakarta for a few weeks to write.
Stayed in my favourite hotel. It is conveniently near the airport and in a quiet neighbourhood, yet not too far from the hustle and bustle of Jakarta.
I stay there whenever I am in the area. Nice staff and pleasant surroundings, with beautiful gardens at the back – a haven for relaxing. The guests staying there are to a large extent Indonesians but there are also quite a few from other parts of Asia and then some from Europe and North America. The staff is service minded and friendly, and the whole atmosphere is very welcoming and relaxing. Perfect for doing concentrated work and for inspiration.
I recall the very first time I stayed there. As with my experience from other Asian countries the service and courtesies were fantastic. And I can never forget the day I was leaving after having stayed there on and off for a month. I enjoyed the place all due to the people I met and not the least the hotel staff, and I spent many a time talking with them about what they do and think and listen to them telling me about their lives. So by the time I was leaving I had gotten to know the staff quite well. Then as I was standing at the checkout desk I noticed there were people assembling behind me, and when I turned around I saw to my astonishment that a large number of staff stood lined up next to the reception to wish me goodbye. I was touched. I never forgot this gesture as I know it was genuine.
So now I had returned after a couple of years. This time many of the staff were new to me but the atmosphere was the same. I felt so much at home there.
One evening I walked into the dining area looking for a vacant table, but the tables were all full. A gentleman sat alone at one of them and he looked like an agreeable person so I walked over and asked if I might join him.
He told me in an Upper RP accent that that was fine, and stood up to shake hands with me. Tall and slender, a man in his mid-thirties was my guess, with a handsome, well-groomed face. Clear, brown eyes that looked at you with confidence. His mannerisms and the way he spoke clearly showed he had grown up in an upper class home.
Clean shaven, an air of authority yet with an expression that at any time could break into a warm smile. A silk cravat around his neck, a smart blazer and impeccable blue jeans.
We sat down and started talking.
His name was Hugh Baker. He was a lawyer that followed up agreements between the English company group he worked for and its Indonesian suppliers. He had been travelling back and forth for that purpose every couple of months over the last 2 years and seemed quite at ease with it. Hugh did not stay in the hotel but was there once a week to play bridge with fellow Englishmen.
We hit it off and met regularly for a drink, also outside of his bridge nights.
When we met we would talk about british companies starting up after the 1997 Asian financial crisis and how they slowly built business back up in Indonesia. In spite of his young age he had taken part in a lot of it.
“And where do you stay when you are here?” I asked him.
I noticed that he hesitated for a moment before answering, then he said “I have made some friends here and stay with them. It makes it more comfortable when here.”
During our third get together we had just been talking about our family, when he suddenly said: “My situation is not quite as simple as that.” I looked at him. He continued: “This is well into my second year travelling back and forth here. A couple of months after I started this long-distance commute I met a local girl during a company dinner.” He paused and looked at me, then continued. “We spent the evening talking and quickly found that we had a lot of the same interests. There was chemistry there. We met several times over my next visits and we fell in love.”
Her name was Dwi. She had been introduced to him by a colleague during the dinner party. Amazingly, in spite of coming from two totally different cultures, they had hit it off immediately.
Dwi came from a well-to-do family in Jakarta. She was outgoing, confident and had a great sense of humour just like him. It seemed like the perfect match. They thoroughly enjoyed each others company. So it turned out that each time he was in Jakarta he did stay with Dwi, and that had been going on for most of these 2 years.
“What about your wife?” I asked.
His face got a troubled look. “She is not aware of this. I have not yet been able to muster the courage to tell her and I feel like a traitor.” He said it was difficult for him to return to England then after each of his business visits, but that was after all where he had his home and his wife.
When back with his wife Margaret he became increasingly distant as his extramarital affair continued. They had never had a very close relationship like the one he now enjoyed with Dwi. Margaret and Hugh had known each other since the schooldays and it became just a natural progression of their long relationship to get married. So they did. They lived in the very neighbourhood where they had grown up and so they had a well established circle of good friends. I understand the value of that myself, having moved around so much that I ended up losing contact with many of my early friends.
With this background they had settled into a very stable and emotionally safe environment with no challenges to their way of life, daily life and relationship. This is the way it is with many of us – the question then is if that makes us become more vulnerable to external temptations like other relationships.
The travel schedule that Hugh was into meant he would be away for 2-3 weeks with about two months intervals. It has been the experience of many that such frequent absence creates a stress on the relationship as it takes time for the couple to readjust after each return. I remember myself when I had been away from my wife for weeks sometimes when travelling that after returning home it took time to get used to each other again. Upon the return there was a certain amount of stress and easy to get into arguments with each other – whenever I returned I essentially messed up the routines she had developed while I was away and it made her annoyed and made me frustrated. So this was essentially the situation between Margaret and Hugh also.
This travel schedule did not go well with Margaret, and he felt that she did pick up something in his behaviour that made her uneasy. He said that she became increasingly insecure and started to behave more needy and dependent on him than she had till then. This helped him look even more forward to the Jakarta trips and thus it created a downward spiral in their relationship.
It became clear to me from how Hugh described the relationship that this had to be genuine. Their common interests were many and he said it was a happy and fun union with little impact by their different cultural backgrounds.
A couple of weeks passed. Hugh and I met regularly for a drink and chat but the story of the affair was not brought up by him again. I wondered how it would develop but did not ask.
Then suddenly a couple of days after our last get together he called me. “I need to talk with you” he said. “Can I come over?”
He arrived and I could se in his face a very different Hugh from our earlier meetings. “Dwi is pregnant” he said, clearly very distressed.
“She just found out , and I really do not know what to do.”
This was not the calm and confident Hugh I was used to.
He said that he was shocked and flabbergasted. He said that he did not want to tell Margaret right now – she was still in the unknown about his affair all together.
“What are you planning to do now that you will become a father here in Indonesia?” I asked him.
Despair radiated from his face. “Somehow I never considered that this would happen” he said. “I have to sit down and consider the situation, and I have to talk with Dwi. As for Margaret it is only fair – and also very necessary – that I now come out in the open about this relationship. She is not a very strong person and it will likely hit her hard. I do not look forward to it.”
Hugh left. The following day he came by and said: “I want to go clean with Margaret and so I will tell her when I now travel back to England. Dwi wants to have the baby and I support her in that decision. What I will do after this I do not know yet – I have messed things up in a big way.”
An so he returned to England and his wife.
I do not know how he had presented the fact that he had a relationship in Jakarta and if he indeed had told Margaret about the baby that was on its way. What was a fact, however, was that she became totally devastated. Who would not after being told such cruel news. I could not possibly fathom how he could have gone on like this without any apparent consideration for the consequences for his wife. But it was not my role nor appropriate to pass judgement. It was just so heartbreaking to know this pain encompass both Margaret and Hugh himself and Dwi also, I expect.
So what was the outcome of his admission to his wife?
Margaret told him to get lost, straight and simply. Not sure what Hugh was prepared for but my suspicion was that he really did not have any clear idea of how he himself would proceed. There is no way he could not have understood the reaction from his wife after finally admitting to her he had been unfaithful and for such a long time. What was there to do to try to heal this wound? Damage had been done that could not be undone, and even more so he had through making Dwi pregnant created a situation for all involved that literally had lasting consequences.
Dwi did indeed want to keep the baby, and Hugh realized it was time for him to accept the responsibility for the situation. But what did that mean exactly?
If he left Margaret, which is what she appeared to want based on what she said, then she would essentially be abandoned by Hugh. How would she tackle such a situation? On the other hand, if he stayed with Margaret he would abandon Dwi and his own child.
In the end he made the decision to leave his wife, and to move to Indonesia permanently to live with Dwi and the child.
Hugh had given me the impression of being a balanced, well-reflected person. Even so I could not help wondering why he would make such a drastic change in his life, moving to the other side of the world to a culture very different from the one he came from and to live with a person that he possibly could not know all that well.
I asked him this, and his answer was that he felt that through a number of visits to Jakarta and Dwi through the years simply knew that this would be the right move for him. He did admit that having fathered Dwi´s child finally did sink in and became the factor that made him decide the move.
So sort of in a trance he packed up his things in England and left for Jakarta to live with Dwi. Margaret went into a deep depression and shut herself off all outside contact other than a couple of their closest friends. She was off work with sick leave for only to sit at home with her darkest thoughts.
In the meantime Hugh moved in with Dwi. He was able to continue his job in Jakarta and he was awaiting the birth of their baby with anticipation. At the same time he did travel back and forth to England for his job as before and could somehow monitor Margaret´s situation.
Then lightning struck - Margaret committed suicide. Was it a surprise to him? Maybe it should not have been? Dwi now blamed Hugh for not considering how this affair had affected Margaret. And so this may or may not be the end of the relationship between Dwi and Hugh, but this is where this story ends…