Tuesday, December 06, 2005


At the end of the day, and after consuming the maid’s undercooked but re-heated chicken, I developed a headache. The maid called in young Irfan, the house guard, and suggested that he massage my feet. So I sat on the settee while he squeezed each toe in turn.

"Wahdoo! That’s too much," I protested. The pain in my toe was worse than the pain in my head.

"This will help your head," he explained.

I noticed Irfan’s dirty fingernails and I suspected that he didn’t wash his slightly tattered clothes or himself too frequently. He was quite a good-looking kid but he wore a worried expression.

"Irfan, where’s your family from?" I wanted to distract myself from my pain by thinking about something else.

"Central Java. My father died when I was very small My mother remarried after my dad died. I was left with my father’s first wife."

"Your stepmother? How did you get on?" I asked.

"I had to sleep in the mosque. My stepmother had no room in her house. It’s full of lodgers."

"Do you ever see your real mother?"

"Hardly ever. She lives in the middle of Java with her new children. It’s many hours by bus."

"And her new husband? What does he do?"

"He lives in Jakarta. He got a job here as a driver. He works for an Indonesian and gets paid very little."

I was beginning to feel really sorry for poor Irfan. "Have you been to school?" I asked.

"I reached Primary Three."

"What happened when you left school? What did you do all day?"

"I made money from guarding parked cars outside Hero’s supermarket. Mister, can I go back to school? It would only be in the mornings. I’d work the rest of the day." Irfan gave me his big-eyed, child-beggar look.

"Would you want extra money from me?"

"I haven’t enough money to pay for school. I have to give some of what I earn here to my sister. She’s unemployed."

"OK. Go and visit the school and see if they’ll take you. You may be too old now."

"Thanks mister."

"I think my head is a little better now," I said. My problems seemed slight compared to those of Irfan.

I few days later I spoke to Irfan while he was cutting the grass in the front garden.

"Irfan, how was school? What class have they put you in?"

"I’m in Primary Four," said Irfan. He was blushing.

Poor kid, I thought. He must be twice the size of all the other students. But at least he’s getting some kind of education.

The weeks and months went by; there was lots of tiring exam marking and report writing; Iwan made good progress in the hospital; Min stayed at home rather than going to his school; my bags were packed ready for a trip to Borobudur.