Friday, November 11, 2005

Agosto and Ciah

Having left the Bogor Botanic Garden, I drove to Bogor Baru. As my vehicle approached the hamlet where Ciah lived, I spotted Agosto, Ciah's young son, standing by the side of the dark tree-lined road. Agosto could have been described as handsome if he had not been looking so dreadfully faded, grey and heartsick. I got out of my vehicle feeling nervous.

"How's your mum?" I asked.

"She's dead," said Agosto, sounding quietly angry, and staring at me.

"Dead? Ciah?" I felt like a doctor who has made a fatal error, or driver who has been involved in an accident which has led to someone's death. I could remember the encounter with Ciah the previous week and picture her lined little face and faint smile. I could recall her asking for money to go into hospital. I could hear myself saying I was giving her only enough to visit the doctor. "Did she see a doctor?"

"Yes. At the local clinic," said Agosto.

"Did the doctor say it was TB or Dengue Fever or Hepatitis or something?" I was looking for something or someone to blame. I wanted to think that it was something beyond our control.

"I don't know what the illness was," said Agosto. "The doctor gave her some pills." Agosto's dull eyes suggested deep depression. All he had left was his married sister.

"The pills didn't work?"

"Blood came up when she vomited." His voice sounded shaky.

"I'm sorry," I said. "I didn't realise she was so ill."

"Mister, can I come to Jakarta and work for you?" The voice sounded pleading.

"I've got staff at the moment, but I'll let you know if there's any change." At the back of my mind was the thought that I did not want someone living in my house who seemed so deeply unhealthy. I gave him a little money and crept guiltily away.