Saturday, October 08, 2005

Raj and Oya

Houses near Bogor

I took a magnificent toy car, big as a desk, to Panti Bambu. I had been given it by a colleague whose children had grown out of it.

"This is for Wisnu and any other kids to play with," I said to the director, as my driver and I deposited the car on the floor of the office. "Can you make sure it’s not stolen?"

"Nice car," he said.

"It’s only for the kids here."

"I’ll lock it in my office."

"But make sure the children get to play with it," I said, remembering toys I had taken to Wisma Utara which had been locked away and never used.

"How’s Raj?" I asked.

"His parents collected him," said the director.

"Thank goodness. Were they pleased to see him?"

"They cried."

Thank God for that.

The following afternoon I accompanied Min and his mum on a walk through the crowded slums that bordered their home. We were on our way to see a little girl called Oya, whom I had been told had some illness which had given her a head that was too large.

Min was hyper. He squealed with joy and darted about, looking into people’s houses through their open doors. Sometimes he would stride into a house, uninvited, sit down on the floor in front of a TV set, and then have to be pulled out when I got bored hanging around. He would try talking to small children. Charmed by his childish ways, these little people would grin, take his hand, and dance with him down the street, making lots of noise. People seemed tolerant of Min. At least, they were tolerant while I was around.

"Haven’t seen much of Wardi recently," I said to Wati, as we led Min along a particularly narrow lane between wooden shacks, like rabbit hutches. "He was looking stressed last time I saw him. Is he OK?"

"Wardi’s wife’s gone back to her kampung. Six hours by bus," said Wati, sounding like someone describing a troublesome incident in a soap opera.

I wondered if Wardi’s wife was fed up with Min. I was worried because Min spent so much of his time with big brother Wardi, who seemed the best in the family at looking after him.

"How long has she been away?" I asked.

"She’s been gone several weeks," said Wati.

"When’s she coming back?"

"Don’t know."

"Why’s she gone?"

"Wanted to see her parents."

I supposed it was natural for a young girl to miss her mum and dad. I hoped she was coming back.

Looking to my left I glimpsed, through the open doorway of a one-room wooden house, a toddler lying on a bed.

"This is Oya," said Wati.

Oya had an enormous head, much too big for her skinny body. Her very young mother, who wore a miniskirt, tight blouse and lots of make-up, was busy sorting clothes. The room was too small for us all to enter. I poked my head into the room and introduced myself.

"Has the child been to a hospital?" I asked the mum.

"Not recently," she said, with an expression which seemed friendly and very relaxed.

"Would you like her to see a doctor?" I asked.

Oya’s mum agreed to accompany her child and my driver to the St Francis Hospital the following morning.