Orang halus – the subtle people and the ring – #17

July 11

1. I lost the ring, that Julian made for me, in the yard after taking a bath.

2. I carried my jewelry with me from the bath house and set it all on the table.

3. I put my leather collar on (always first), earrings, necklace, rings, but was missing the one for the right ring finger. I retraced my steps across the yard searching for it. When Agus arrived he searched too.

4. We went out without the ring. I said, it will turn up. Once we were in the car on the way to the wax worker Agus asked me about the silver master for our new jewelry design. I didn’t have it, though I knew he had handed it to me two days before. After that I couldn’t remember. He couldn’t remember. He called his wife at home. She couldn’t find it.

We went to the wax worker and described the absence of the master and were all philosophical about making it again with the modifications we had discussed two days ago. I mentioned my lost ring and said I thought the orang halus took it.

We had a long conversation about them and their behavior.

The orang halus – refined/subtle people – are unseen beings, something like fairies. They live in a parallel world on a different plane that intersects with ours when they want it to. We have less agency in how the intersection works and when. They like shiny things, like silver masters and silver rings, nice knives, coins, now cell phones, keys, and sometimes people. The orang halus ‘borrow’ the things they like and when this happens we ‘lose’ them and search in the same places over and over without success.

I lost a ring once when I lived in Karangasem in East Bali. The ring was silver with brass rivets and a tiny brass cabochon spiral set like a stone. It went missing from the pouch of jewelry I kept amongst in my clothes. I had searched for it, dumped everything out of the drawer where I knew I had put it. It wasn’t there. I said – the orang halus must have taken it, thinking the brass was gold. When they figured out it was just brass they would bring it back.

I searched the drawer periodically over the next weeks, each time without finding it until the day it reappeared right on top, in the most obvious place.

Our wax worker, Wayan, said we can coax the orang halus to return the lost thing by putting a sweet somewhere in the house or yard. He said they particularly like lollipops and added – you can even use your language, it doesn’t matter. You politely ask them to return the lost thing in exchange for this sweety-gift. And then you will find your lost thing.

He explained that sometimes orang halus take the form of someone you know, a doppelganger, who can lure you into that other world that appears like the one you don’t realize you just left.

When I lived in Karangasem, I heard stories of men or women walking away from home and disappearing, then, years later reappearing, confused about where they were and where they had been.

We left the wax worker and went to the smith to pick up the carving toolset we ordered for Julian. We were discussing how to sharpen them, what each shape chisel was for, when Agus suddenly pointed to my ear and said – there it is! There is your ring! As I felt for it my eyes got big and I took my earring out and there it was, hooked over the ornament. He asked – how did we not see it? Did you feel it? I had felt nothing, heard nothing, no jingling.

I said – the orang halus just gave it back! I added that they must have looked around the smith’s shop and decided that, with all the shiny knives and metal around, it held more exciting possibilities than my ring. Agus related the story of the lost ring to the smith. We laughed. I took my ring off my earring and put it on my finger, put my earring back in my ear.

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