Looking to spice up his stagnant sex life in Brisbane, self-professed player Adrian takes a week-long vacation in Bali, anticipating sun, surf, and plenty of no-strings-attached hookups. He doesn’t expect his attraction to the tour guide, Ketut, to become an obsession. As he travels around the beautiful Island of the Gods, Adrian is startled that he might be falling in love after swearing off relationships for good.
When Ketut opens a window of opportunity for a real relationship in Queensland after the vacation ends, Adrian retreats into his life of commitment-free fun. Unable to forget about Ketut, though, Adrian strikes out to the rural Queensland town of Rockhampton to find the man of his desires—hoping he hasn’t lost the chance for true love.
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Adrian shrugged. “Okay, let’s check out the market.”
“Maybe you can find souvenirs here? They will be more expensive at the other places you visit today.”
Adrian had little interest in souvenir shopping, but he did appreciate that Ketut was looking out for him and thinking ahead. The market itself was open-air and spread across two levels on the corner of the main street across from what looked like a palace. As Adrian stepped inside beneath the sarongs hanging over the entrance, he was impressed with the maze-like structure clogged with sunburned tourists and busy locals going about their business.
They walked around for a few minutes, browsing the thousands of sarongs on display, key chains dangling by the tens of thousands, and the wood-carved dildo bottle openers at every other stall. Who would use that— either end? Adrian enjoyed seeing what was on display but was growing bored quickly. He hated shopping.
Adrian felt uncomfortable in large crowds. It was more a feeling of annoyance, though, rather than claustrophobia. He lost his patience quickly with people walking in front of him who stopped and blocked the path for seemingly no reason. That happened a lot at this market. He inhaled deeply while lifting his face, as if struggling to breathe in the last of the fresh air in the narrow aisles. A flapping string of colored flags above gave Adrian an idea.
“C’mon,” he said while grabbing the sleeve of Ketut’s shirt and tugging him forward through the gridlock of tourists and souvenir vendors.
Ketut followed closely behind even after Adrian lost his grip on Ketut’s sleeve. They climbed the stairs to the second level of the market, where tailors and cobblers and the less successful souvenir vendors set up their shops. This second level was practically deserted compared to the ground floor.
Adrian stopped at the edge of the railing overlooking the activity below. The woman who operated the shop closest to where Adrian had stopped approached and invited him to come over and look at her tourist trinkets. Ketut politely waved her off and joined Adrian as he glanced across the market from above.
“Now I know.”
“Know what?” Ketut asked quizzically.
“What it feels like to be an ant. Look at them,” he motioned to the frenzy of activity below. “It’s like an ant farm. The vendors are mostly selling the same things. The tourists are all buying the same things. And there’s so much energy buzzing around. I mean, what if this was just a single store filled with tourist knickknacks and nobody had to fuss about moving around and haggling over the price? Wouldn’t that make life easier for everyone here?
Ketut considered the question before speaking. “Then why bother to come at all? This is the way we do it here. If you want to go to one store to buy everything you need without much human interaction, you might as well do it back home.” He paused. “I think it’s beautiful. I’ve never come up here just to stare at everyone in the market. It’s like a dance drama with too many dancers on stage at the same time.”
Adrian nodded. He still liked his idea for the sake of convenience, but Ketut made a valid point too. He also appreciated the sights and smells. He couldn’t see where in the crowd it came from, but someone was deep-frying something below. And the colors of the fruits and vegetables, the sarongs and beach towels, the hollering in broken English to negotiate the best price, the masks of various shapes, sizes, and colors hanging on walls—this wasn’t something he could imagine back in Australia.
Erik Swill is a professional editor and a cheeky storyteller. He has spent half of his life living abroad and half of that time trying to convince friends that he is not an international fugitive or secret agent. He isn’t. Really. But it probably doesn’t help that he writes under several pseudonyms, moves house frequently, and rarely posts anything on his social media accounts. He has published short fiction in Gay Flash Fiction and erotica in the Nifty Archives. With his longtime partner, Swann O’Hara, he coauthored the novella Wild Goose. Erik likes to write contemporary fiction but will try any genre once. Because why not?