Sunday, September 25, 2005

Saib; Ibu Tien

1967 photo of Ibu Tien, young Tommy Suharto and Suharto. © Time Inc. Photographer: Larry Burrows.

About ten days later I went to visit Saib and his father at their home in Teluk Gong. The boy had had his operation.

"How’s Saib," I asked. The child did not look happy.

"Fine," said his dad.

"How are the stitches?" I asked.

Saib lifted up his shirt. "Liquid comes out from the stitches," said Saib. Sure enough, there were traces of light yellow liquid.

We returned to the hospital and consulted Dr Benny. I was worried and angry that the hospital did not seem to have got things right.

"It’s nothing to be anxious about," said the doctor. "There’s a little infection. The main thing is to keep his wound clean."

"Does he need to be readmitted?"

"No need," said the doctor.

A few weeks later, much to my relief, Saib was back to normal. I started paying for him to go to school, and made sure he made regular visits to the hospital for his TB medicine.

I was on my way to Bogor for a Saturday morning jaunt and couldn’t help noticing that the road out of Jakarta was lined with people.

"What’s going on?" I asked Mo, who was driving more slowly than normal.

"Ibu Tien, the president’s wife, has died," said Mo speaking softly and politely. "She’ll probably be buried in Central Java. The cars will come this way on the trip to the airport."

"Everyone looks very subdued," I commented.

"Ibu Tien was very important," said Mo. "She was related to the royal family in Surakarta."

"Was she powerful?"

"The Javanese say that when a wife dies, a person loses half his soul. Some of the dukuns say that Suharto is losing his special power."

When I reached the home of Dede and Rama, in Bogor, I found the family and neighbours were watching events on TV. Ibu Tien’s body was being moved from the Cendana residence, in Jakarta’s Menteng area, to a local airport. Dede and friends were not giving anything away. Their faces were impassive.

Around this time I was told that I had to vacate the house that I was occupying. The owners wanted to move back in. I began the search for a new home and eventually found a handsome two storey detached villa not too far from the old neighbourhood. The air-conditioning worked and the bathroom and kitchen were of the modern variety.