Hanabeth Luke, 32, had visited Bali many times before she went there with her English boyfriend, Marc Gajardo, in 2002. In this extract from her new book, the Byron Bay resident recalls how on Saturday, October 12, they decided at the last minute to leave their idyllic, isolated beach hotel to party with friends in Kuta’s chaotic Sari Club.
We did all we set out to do, singing the evening into the night. Marc played all his old favourites, sitting on the terrace with the green guitar on his lap, the mozzie coil winding a wisp of smoke around his ankles. He was wearing the orange shorts (again) and one of his favourite T-shirts, sipping on a Bintang.
Bobby cackled as he wandered up to join us, reading Marc’s shirt out loud: ” ‘Your village called, they want their idiot back’ … Nice.” He nodded his head with a smile, swigging on his own Bintang.
Originally I wasn’t going out. Bobby and the boys had decided they were getting up at five for a surf at Canggu, and I committed to the early start, but Mel and Marc were so keen to party, being Saturday night ‘n’ all.
Mel wanted to go to Paddy’s but it was dead so we ended up at Sari, of course. It was about 10.30 and I decided I’d be out of there by 11 and tucked up in bed. We wound our way past the bouncers, and hung by the bar until a song came on that I had to dance to and I dragged everybody onto the floor.
Cher’s Believe started to play – ”Do you believe in life after love”. It was a song Marc hated, as he couldn’t stand Cher’s electronic voice. He raised his eyebrows at me as it came on, shaking the bottle to indicate his jungle juice was getting low.
”Sorry guys, I have some pride,” he laughed as he walked off, disappearing into the crowd.
”See you in a bit,” I chirped. It was my Bali song, but of course Marc didn’t know that. When that song came out I was 18 and out at Paddy’s on my first solo trip. I’d recently experienced my first break-up back in Australia, so I’d danced harder than ever to that tune when it came on. Whenever it played, in whatever country I happened to be in, it took me straight back to that filthy, steamy dance floor in Bali.
Without Me came on. As we watched Eminem on the big screens there was a loud bang over the music. It was not a familiar sound, but no one paid much attention until the electricity flashed off. I tried to place the sound. Was it a shotgun? Surely not, in Bali. A party banger? A car back-firing? A chill rippled up my spine. The air in the club shifted as if a wave had passed through. The lights flashed on and off. Something wasn’t right, but despite the uneasy feeling in my gut I decided to wait until the song was finished to check it out. If anything was wrong there was no point in running straight into it.
That split-second decision was to save my life. Unbeknown to me, the inquisitive Marc had wandered towards the door, jungle juice in hand.
The music started playing again, the screens flicked back on. On the chorus the beat was thick and Mel and I were getting low, bending our knees, wiggling our hips as we grinned at each other.
The noise that came next is one I will never forget. It was an empty sound that did not resonate. It was a thud, like the slam of a car door but multiplied to a volume I cannot describe.
The sound is all around, blasting through my ears, my body, my soul.
It feels like someone has burst a hot air balloon on my face. My hair is streaming and my ears are screaming.
All the air in the club is sucked out, replaced with a gust of hot pressure, which picks up the dancers and the whole club like a dumping wave.
In slow motion I see the club around me explode, ribbons of fire tearing through poles and people flying through the air. As time slows I am picked up and suspended in mid-air, twisting to face down as I slam to the ground.
As everything hits the floor I find myself in eerie blackness. After the impact comes the silence, as the music of the Sari Club stops for ever.
Mel and I are on our hands and knees with several others crawling under the collapsed roof, away from the amber glow growing at the front of the club. A putrid stench burns at my mouth and nostrils and thick smoke is gathering all around. I notice the ground is soft, and in horror realise there are people under my feet, alive or dead I do not know, but I can’t stop. I kick off my sandals … every split second counts. I know I’m far from safety, and every sense is in overdrive as I feel my way through. We find a hole in the collapsed roof through which we can see the stars, and people start to surge upwards onto the roof. I stretch my hands up the rubble to pull myself through, pushed from behind. Everything is hot to touch, like the stones of a fireplace.
”Marc!” I scream out loud but no answer comes. I can hear Mel’s sweet reassuring tone: ”Don’t panic, keep calm.” But the girl behind her screams: ”Run! RUN!” I think that is a more appropriate approach right now.
I find myself on the thatch of the roof. Patches of flame in the straw light up silhouettes of those coming out behind me … I can’t see Marc so I can only hope that he is close behind.
I use both hands and feet to scramble up the roof like a monkey. The flames are creating a dull roar as they advance across and under the roof. I try to push through what seems like a window but a man and I jam shoulders and as we both pull back to surge forwards, it happens again. We pause: ”After you,” I say. ”No, after you,” he pushes me through and follows.
We jump to the ground, safe and free. On second thoughts, no, we are not. In front of me rises a towering wall; we are still in the club. I don’t remember this wall. Where am I? No steps, no way forward, no way out. The only light is the flickering wall of flame behind me. Thick power lines that had hung along the front of the club are severed and hanging down the wall. Could they be live? Without hesitating I grab the rubber casing and run up the wall, hauling myself about four metres in seconds.
On the other side I am met by a drop as big as the one I’ve just climbed. I can see piles of debris; broken tiles, wood, shrapnel and glass littering the ground. People are staring up at us as we appear over the rooftop. One man yells: ”I’ll catch you, you can jump!” I can only pray as I release my grip, dropping like a stone.
The gravity of what is occurring hits me as I see the body of a young man being dragged away, only skin where a skull used to be. I take in the orange shorts he is wearing; the blood rushes to my head and my heart thumps in my chest. But these are plain shorts and the body is that of a teenager. I see the pale skin and freckles, maybe European. They are orange boardshorts: not Marc’s, not Marc, yet that image burns in my brain.
As I run forwards I can see several blood-splattered bodies on the pavement. There is someone moving in the orange glow of the flames. I crouch down to see a young male, alive, and grab his hand. ”Can you move?” I shout.
”No, I can’t,” he replies in an Aussie accent. He can’t be more than 18. I try to haul him up, but he is much bigger than me. Thank God, he is trying to get to his feet. It’s all I need, so I use his own momentum to pull him up, holding on to his left hand and locking it over my left shoulder. It’s wet, and as I look down I notice it is completely red, sodden with blood. I feel sick – I’m not good with blood at the best of times. I put my right arm round his waist, taking on as much of his weight as I can. When we are clear of the flames two men approach us to help, freeing me from the young man’s weight.
I keep on running and searching. Finally I find Mel standing wide-eyed on the corner of the alleyway. We embrace and Mel speaks first: ”I’m so glad you’re OK. Where’s Marc?”
”I don’t know, Mel, I didn’t see him come out. I can’t find him.” I can hear the fear in my voice.
”It was a car bomb,” Mel says. ”They f—ing bombed us.”
RED and orange flames stretch high above the roofs, eating into the blackness. Suddenly it dawns on me.
”Oh my God, there’s people still in there. No one’s coming out!”
I start to run back towards the club, but Mel pulls me back: ”Hanabeth, NO! There are still petrol tanks and gas bottles … You will get yourself killed. Marc will be fine. He’ll be looking for you on the other side. It’s not as bad as it seems.”
As much as I want to, I just can’t believe her. Something in my heart turns cold and still. I have a feeling deep down that is difficult to ignore. How can you love someone that much and be that close to them and not know the moment they leave this planet?
Suddenly there is renewed panic – everyone around us starts to scream, running up the street, sprinting away from the flames. They are yelling something about another bomb. Maybe another petrol tank has exploded. Before I know it I too am running, sprinting up the street until eventually I come to a halt. I must be running around in circles because I keep finding the same young man lying on a stretcher made from a large shop sign.
His jet black hair is sticky with blood. How many times have I stopped to stare at his face? I stroke his head and tell him he is just fine, although I doubt it.
”I don’t want to die here. Please don’t let me die,” he begs.
My heart breaks a thousand times tonight. I want to stay with him, but I must find Marc. I climb up on a jeep, standing on tiptoes trying to see past the flames to the south side of the Sari Club. There lies my hope that Marc is alive, and I hear myself screaming his name.
Time is passing, so surreal and twisted that I have no idea of the speed or the sequence. We have helped to move some injured people into taxis. After an agonising wait, fire engines and ambulances start to turn up. I’m guessing it must be more than 40 minutes since the explosion. This is too little too late. I’ve been running in circles for such a long time.
This is an edited extract from Shock Waves – Finding peace after the Bali bomb, by
Hanabeth Luke, available on Amazon and
selected book stores (paperback, $25).
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.