Thursday, November 17, 2005

Dr Joseph

It was the wet season. When I returned to Min's house a few evenings later, the ground floor had been flooded by rainwater to a depth of half a metre. My shoes were full of slimy water, some of which I deposited on the upstairs floor. Min was in a happy, excitable mood.

Min's dad took Min by the arm, possibly to calm him down, but Min shook himself free and made a face suggesting a mixture of anger and fear. Min's dad was looking scraggy and tired.

"How's Min?" I asked.

"Naughty," said Wati, screwing up her face. "Very naughty. Mustapha complains that Min hits him. Sometimes Min won't come back into the house after he's been for a walk with Mustapha."

I turned to Min's dad. "Are you feeling all right?" I asked.

"I'm fine," he said. His words sounded slurred; and that worried me.

"Been enjoying a beer at the end of the day?" I asked, like some court prosecutor, pretending to sound friendly but in fact being very rude.

"We're Moslems, Mr Kent," said Wardi softly. "We don't drink."

"Sorry," I said, realising I had been much too blunt. "Would you like Min to see Dr Joseph? He's the child psychiatrist in Dr Bahari's clinic, the one who treated Min when I first found him. Maybe he can give Min something to control his moods."

"Yes," said Wati, sounding pleased.

"And Min's dad looks a bit thin," I said. "Would you like a check-up from Dr Joseph? He's got his own surgery at his house. And Wardi can come too."

"OK," said Min's dad.

Dr Joseph's grey little maid ushered us all into the large front room of his comfortable old bungalow. On one side of the room was an enormous, brightly lit statue of the Virgin Mary and on the other side some sort of red and gold Chinese shrine beside which some scraps of food had been placed.

"How are you?" said the smiling, balding, round-faced doctor, emerging from his bedroom. "Come on into the surgery."

"Min has his up days and down days," I explained, once we were seated in the little green walled room. "We wondered if you had any medicine he could take to even things out."

"It's day about," said Wardi. "One day happy. One day sad."

"I remember," said Dr Joseph, looking terribly relaxed. "He used to be on medication."

"When we spent a week with the grandparents in Lamaya ," said Wati, "Min cried every day. He kept on saying 'Mr Kent, Mr Kent.'"

"Maybe I shouldn't have been visiting him so often," I said, feeling uncomfortable. "Maybe he's got too dependent on me."

"But we don't want Min to become a recluse," said Dr Joseph, comfortingly. "It's good for him to have friends."

"He's now got a teenage friend called Mustapha," I explained, "but sometimes Mustapha finds Min difficult to control. Min's brother, Wardi, is the only person who can get Min to come back into the house when he's been dancing about out in the street."

"All children can be naughty at times," said Dr Joseph. "He'll be easier to deal with when he's older. I'll give you some pills to help control his behaviour."

"When he was living in Dr Bahari's clinic," I reminded the doctor, "Min's medicine made him shake and made him seem totally doped. Can you give him a less strong dosage?"

"Don't worry," said the doctor, who seemed to be slurring his words, just like Min's dad. Was I imagining things? Probably.

"Can you examine Min's father? He seems a bit pale and thin," I said.

Dr Joseph gave Min's dad a fairly quick check-over before declaring him to be fit and well.

"I just wondered if the dad had been consuming something," I said to Dr Joseph in English, so the family wouldn't cotton on. "I thought he was behaving strangely."

"No, there's no problem," said Dr Joseph, smiling. The pupils of the doctor's eyes looked strangely small.

When we got back to Min's house I sighted a banci wading down the dark flooded street. He was a big muscular chap and had on too much make-up and a much too short skirt. I wondered if there was a full moon.