We catch our breath near the beheaded buddha at the temple’s summit. Beyond us, the crater of Mt. Merapi breaks through a ring of clouds, while among the bell-shaped stupas, the gap-toothed man snaps photos of a young couple. Sunlight rises over the central stupa’s nail, momentarily silhouetting the couple, lighting their edges in a filigree of fire. The shutter clicks. Next to me, the rasp of your breathing sounds like another language.
Before that, I imagine a stampede of wild pigs and their thundering hoofbeats, the scarlet slide of lava, the gray arc of ash. I contemplate the dust-covered facades, buddha necks cracking, cleaving, heads tumbling down the hillside like forgotten dreams and disembodied prayers.
Before that, we meet a young couple, hands clasped—him wearing a breasted suit (in this heat); her, heels and a flowing silk dress reminiscent of sun-blushed apricots. Do you think he’ll propose? I ask, and you wipe your brow. I reach for the water, but only drops remain.
Before that, you recite from the brochure that Borobudur is a mandala-shaped stone terrace, over two thousand steps, designed for clockwise ascension. The bottom sphere of the temple represents desire; the top, heavenly nirvana. Five hundred and four buddha statues once adorned the temple, representing embodied prayers. Most of them are now headless.
Before that, a man carrying camera equipment offers us a bottle of water. He smiles wide, the dark gap between his teeth looks cool and inviting in the heat. I ask about the camera, and he calls it a side job, says nirvana is a popular location for marriage proposals. He winks and asks if you’re proposing. You laugh and tell him heavenly marriage is an oxymoron.
Before that, we overhear a tour guide say that nearby Mt. Merapi is still an active volcano. When it erupted a thousand years ago, it destroyed the temple, burying everything in ash. Each year, locals come to its mouth with offerings, mostly rice and silk, to keep the volcano calm and feed the spirits. They watch for wild pigs running downhill as a sign of impending volcanic activity.
Before that we climb the stone terrace, our open palms following the facade depicting Buddha’s life. Did you know Siddhartha was married? I ask you. Three times, in fact. You tip your head to one side, like a dog, tell me how you plan to meditate at the summit with your legs folded in lotus position and your mind focused on a thousand points of light.
Before that, we make love in the hotel. You say what you always do, that I’m the one thing standing between you and enlightenment. Except this time you don’t say me, you say sex. Sex stands in the way. The starched hotel sheets are sandpaper rough. Paintings of precariously balanced rocks adorn the aero blue walls. I cleave and rock beneath you.
Before that, I buy tickets to Indonesia. It’s a surprise for your birthday. You’ve always wanted to visit the temple of Borobudur, Java—the nail of the world.
Sara Hills is the author of the flash collection The Evolution of Birds. Her work has featured in the Wigleaf Top 50, SmokeLong Quarterly, Cheap Pop, X-R-A-Y Literary, Cease Cows, Fractured Lit, Flash Frog, and elsewhere. Originally from the Sonoran Desert, Sara lives in Warwickshire, UK and tweets from @sarahillswrites.