The scent of cloves fills the air and, combined with the cool dusk breeze, it serves as a “caffeine high” that makes the sleek horses giddy. The black mare rears up on her hind legs and the brown one trots around, her hooves clop loudly against the stone cliff on the mountain. The black one neighs and then the two of them stop—as if on cue—and look out over the precipice, across the green jungle, the rice paddies below, and in the distance, the crystal blue of the Sempor Lake.
There is actually no such thing as giant sleek horses tromping across the rock facing and we aren’t really looking over a cliff toward the lake, though there is one about a mile away. But for a few minutes, my sister and I are horses. We gallop and neigh and reach out to snag a leaf from one of the nearby clove trees as we dash by. When we fold the leaves, cracking them in half, the strong scent of cloves fill our nostrils making us giddy so that we close our eyes and neigh and run even faster. The only noise up in the hills of Sempor is the rustling of the leaves and the crunch of dirt under our flip-flopped feet. It’s a welcomed break from our house in town with the chattering of neighbors next door, the bells of becaks (pedicabs) passing on the street, and the splashes of families taking their afternoon baths in the river out back.
Our house in the little town of Gombong doesn’t allow for much running. There is a small gang (pronounced “gong”), the narrow passageway between one side of our house and the cement privacy wall that runs the length of the house. It is damp and muddy back there. Even so, we grab fronds from the coconut tree and crack them like whips to ride our imaginary horses up and down the gang. Those poor horses got whipped a lot.
But up here in the mountains, we can run as fast and as long as we want. Dad brings us here sometimes, away from the scrutiny of our village neighbors. Their children don’t play giant imagination games like we do. They are at home playing jacks, or jump rope, or marbles, or helping take care of their younger siblings. We like to play those games too. But sometimes we just need some space to run, to be a horse, to look out over the green jungle, the rice paddies, and in the distance, the crystal blue of the lake.
And when we have had our fill, we clip clop back to Dad, hop in the Volkswagen van, and head back down the mountain to town. We’ll pick up nasi rames on the way home. It’s Mom’s favorite Javanese rice meal. We’ll probably pull out the TV trays and pop in an old episode of “Laverne and Shirley” for dinner.
The neighbors will chatter and the becaks ring, but it will be OK because for a few minutes we were wild horses with wind in our manes and the scent of cloves in our nostrils.