Monday, September 26, 2005
The slums of Teluk Gong were hot and dusty and the morning sky was grey.
"Can I take Min for a walk?" I asked Wardi.
"Is all of this area safe?" I asked. "I’m going to explore the area to the south, for a change."
"It’s all safe," said Wardi, sounding positive.
Min and I set off along alleyways sided by wooden shacks outside which sat overweight women with underweight toddlers and babies. One baby had a lump on its head but its mother refused my offer of help.
We turned a corner. A boy with a Chinese face and a mincing walk stuck out his tongue at us. A man mending a bicycle gave us a cold stare. The omens were not good. Min took my hand and we turned another corner.
Two drunken toughs barred our way. They were unsteady on their feet and had the sinister, smirking look of characters from a nightmarish movie. One took hold of Min’s arm and I immediately feared a kidnapping. With some force, I tugged Min free and dragged him into the shack on our right.
"Nice house," I said to the bemused owner of the shack. "This is my friend Min. We’re out for a walk. Is this your house?"
"Yes," said the man, staring at me.
I continued talking. The two thugs waited just beyond the door. "Min lives near here," I said. "Do you know his brother Wardi?"
The man shook his head.
"I have friends in the army," I lied. "I know lots of people around here."
After a few minutes the two drunks were no longer in view.
"Well, I must be going," I said, and gingerly made my exit.
No sign of the bad guys. I pulled Min along at speed back to his little house.
"Mardi, " I said. "We had a problem." I told him the tale.
"Yes, Mr Kent," said Mardi. "You have to be careful. Maybe some people think you are very rich and want to get hold of Min. To get a ransom."
"You said this area was safe," I complained.
"It’s better to walk in the area towards our old house on stilts," said Wardi. "We know all the people there. Lots of relatives."
"Will you come with us?"
We walked down the main road with its goats and potholes. Min held on tight to Wardi’s hand. We passed a tiny mosque and came to a collection of grey-brown hovels with sagging roofs. Standing beside a dog with sticking-out ribs was a small boy with a sad face and a swollen tummy.
"What’s your name?" I asked the boy, who looked about ten.
"Are you ill?" I asked. He had bags under his eyes and the strained look of someone who did not sleep well.
"Yes," he said shyly.
"Is your mum around?" I said.
"His mother’s dead," whispered Mardi. "He has a step mother."
A man with a slight paunch, and the face of a happy publican, came out of a wooden shack and introduced himself as Saib’s father.
"Saib’s got a stone in his bladder," said the dad. "There’s blood when he urinates."
"How long has he been ill?"
"Seven years," said dad. "Since he was about five. It’s very painful."
"Has he had treatment?"
"The hospital says he needs an operation, but we’ve got no money."
"I’ll pay if you want him to go to the Teluk Gong Hospital," I explained.
It was agreed and we drove to the local hospital to consult a Dr Benny, a friendly young man in a clean white coat. He arranged some x-rays and blood tests.
"Saib has an enormous stone in the bladder," said the doctor, as we sat in his white-walled surgery. "He also has TB. Shall we have him admitted?"
"Yes please, " I said. "Who’ll keep an eye on Saib while he’s in hospital?"
"He’s got relations who’ll come in," said dad.
Saib gave a wan smile.