The Extraction

Short story written by 2019 Ziarah Utara/Pilgrimage To The Coast participant Alex Head during the walk.





A young foreigner had gotten into a fix. They were beginning to explore the capital city of Jakarta and with it numerous others. Discontentment with any singular narrative had motivated the city to adopt the clothing, style and even the skyline of other cities around the globe. The young foreigner made their way around the bustling streets deciphering maps and newspaper print as best they could.

Today they imagined themselves as a fish, tomorrow they would be a raindrop. But one thought caught in their mind and stayed there relentlessly. It surfaced at the forefront of their thoughts (or was it slightly to one side?), and simply would not budge. The young foreigner had faith in a form of God but it was not this idea that had drawn and so focused their attention. They believed in the universal value of all people, and they believed in free will. But these concepts did not drive the growing monomania lodged between their knotted eyebrows. The singular idea tormented them still.

As the days bore them forward they dispensed with the printed press and took  instead to watching. Only the most brave buildings would do. They sought out posh hotels with sharply tailored security guards holding their weapons in a firm grip.

They sat for hours tearing scraps of paper, depositing them slowly into an upturned umbrella. At the end of each days sitting they stood, umbrella tightly closed and made their way home. If it began to rain they activated its opening mechanism and as it shot open hundreds of newspaper scraps poured down on passers-by to whom they would declare, ‘The Show is About to Begin!’.

In the midst of this organised downpour that same singular vision shone through like a beacon across the dark night. The singular idea tormented them still. Transfixed the young foreigner wept with frustration. Small chunks of pink newspaper sticking to their face and clothes. About this there could be no ambivalence: the city of Jakarta had triggered a new
mental state that was practically becoming a condition. It had planted this terrible idea in their heart and simply had to go. No alternative could be countenanced.

Having decided to rid themselves of the rotten notion they began listening out for healers among their daily interactions with the city’s many faiths, cultures and medical
practitioners. With so much potential for miscommunication it confused them that any single idea could be absorbed from the city so clearly. Yet this only served to reinforce its apparent power over their actions.

One evening it was suggested to them over a bowl of steaming hot noodles that the kind of treatment they sought lay further than the circle of investigations they had set for themselves. Further perhaps than the city walls.

What did it all mean? Their minds eye scoured the horizons, performing sweep searches across an ocean of possibilities, settling upon the shore.

Keeping to their usual routine of observation and mental note making the young foreigner nevertheless began to gravitate, as though drawn magnetically by the moon, toward the broad waterfront of Jakarta’s north sea coast.

It wasn’t long after the first inquires had been made that they arrived one evening at a softly lit, lively village. Unsure of how to begin the young foreigner began at what they believed to be the periphery of the village, working their way toward the perceived center in concentric circles. Dialogue with those they encountered seemed naturally to follow a similar, circuitous path. They made sure to reveal only aspects of their condition in conversation.

As the day drew long a sense of deliverance began to mount. The villages were somewhat ambivalent about their presence but the common wisdom seemed to direct them to the home of a prominent village spokeswoman.

Finally, among the glow of boats and fishermen they were finally introduced. She stood at the threshold of her home sizing up the young foreigner for what seemed like an excruciatingly long time. Their eyebrow twitched. Her hand made a short beckoning motion which they took to as a command to enter. Following the woman into her home they were shorty asked to sit and answer three questions. The first concerned their expectations, the
second sought to reveal their motivations but the third question was truly absurd; what, she asked, where their intentions?

Dumbfounded the young foreigner peered inwards as if in a trance. They barely noticed as the woman gently lay a broad cushion on the floor and coerced their body to one side, knees already resting on the floor until they were lying on their side with the broad cushion under their head.

All of a sudden the woman leant in and placed a hand across the young foreigners head, fingers open revealing their open ear. The woman produced a short metal instrument and deftly plucked the stupid bloody idea clean out of their head. They had hardly noticed two assistants enter the room while all this was in play and now the three of them, the woman and her two assistants all stood smiling at the young foreigner from across the room.

And lo, as the errant idea whistled out of their brain they mused at its own ridiculousness. They heard clearly for the first time in weeks, maybe years. If only, they thought, I could demonstrate this procedure to all the other young foreigners around the world!

But before long, somewhere deep in the recesses of their mind they began to hypothesise as to how, precisely, this could be achieved.