Thursday, December 01, 2005

Irfan; John

Irfan, my young house guard, was sitting in the garden having a smoke.

"Have you paid the school for last month’s tuition?" I inquired.

"Not yet." He was looking down at the grass.

"Are you still going to school?" I said, trying to sound sympathetic.

"I haven’t been recently. I’ve had a cold."

Ah well, I suppose it must be difficult for a teenager to sit in a class alongside little children. Irfan did not return to school.

It was September 1993. Another new academic year had arrived and I was thinking how good it was to be in Indonesia, with its sunshine and smiling faces. And what of all the waifs and strays? Min was in good health and I continued to see him regularly; Bangbang, the boy who liked to poke people in the stomach, was at home with his family, except on those occasions when he ran away; sad-faced Agosto in Bogor was as thin as ever; Iwan was in the leprosy hospital; John was probably not too well. It was ages since I had seen John, the less than good-looking, very mentally backward boy who had been losing weight last time I had seen him.

I made an evening visit to the mental hospital at Babakan in Bogor and found John curled up on a bed like a dying animal, naked, almost fleshless, eyes strangely milky.

"Is John getting medicine?" I asked the young male nurse, who had been watching a music programme on the TV in the office next the dormitory.

"Yes," he said smiling in an amiable way.

"May I have a look at the medicine?"

"I think maybe it’s finished," he said, looking vaguely in the direction of an empty shelf.

"Do John’s parents know he’s like this?"

"He’s got a widowed mother. A Christian. I don’t know when she was last here."

"Would you like some cigarettes?" I said, trying to apply some charm. "I’ll get some from the shop."

"Thank you, mister."

"Can you get me the address of John’s family? The office couldn’t give it to me last time."

"I’ll write it down for you," said the nurse, grinning.