Thursday, December 08, 2005

Wisma Utara


Next evening I was sitting with Joan in the lounge at Wisma Utara. Children of various shapes and sizes were seated on the floor watching the black and white TV. Some of the children looked less than normal. One or two were rocking back and forward. It was very humid and there was a smell of urine.

"You remember Santo?" said Joan, before I had a chance to ask about Dadang’s x-rays.

"Santo?" I said. I had a picture in my mind of a boy with wide apart eyes.

"He died," she said softly.

"Goodness. What of?"

"TB," said Joan.

"Was he getting treatment?"

"No, Mr Kent."

"Why not?" My voice was rising.

"His family is poor, Mr Kent." Joan, dressed as usual in cheap T-shirt, slacks and sandals, emphasised the word poor.

"But they’re rich enough to pay for him to stay at Wisma Utara. Anyway, I could have paid."

"Mr Kent is always very busy. He doesn’t come to see us often."

"But Santo must have been ill for years. Had he seen the doctor?"

"No, Mr Kent. We didn’t know he was ill."

"The doctor comes here once a week. Didn’t he examine Santo?"

"No, Mr Kent."

"I don’t understand," I said, my voice becoming high-pitched. "Santo had a family rich enough to put him into this place, but they didn’t check up to see if their child was ill. There’s a doctor comes here once a week but he didn’t check up to see if the child was ill. Nobody told me the child was ill."

To be fair, I had never noticed anything seriously amiss with Santo; so why should the doctor notice. Santo had always looked rotund and smiling. I wondered if it really was TB.

"Diah’s also ill," said Joan.

It seemed that Joan had suddenly decided to offload all of Wisma Utara’s unhappy secrets. Perhaps she thought that, as I had now taken an interest in undernourished Dadang, I might as well know about all the rest. Probably she felt better for telling the truth.

"Where is Diah?" I asked, remembering the pretty teenage girl and her happy smile.

"She’s gone home to stay with her family."

"What’s wrong?"

"A tumour on the brain."
"Can I help?" I asked. My brain was feeling dizzy as a result of all the bad news.

"No, Mr Kent. Her family are rich. They can pay for treatment."

"What about Madan? He looks very thin." I was looking at a boy with a morose but handsome face.

"His father’s a doctor at the Kota Hospital," said Joan.

"Heavens," I said, wondering why a doctor might dump his son in a home and then let him grow so thin. "What about a checkup for Madan?"

"His father knows you come here," said Joan. "He says Madan must not be taken to any doctor or clinic."

I decided not to pursue the matter. There was something in Joan’s tone of voice suggesting it could be dangerous to oppose the wishes of Madan’s father.

"Any results from Dadang’s x-ray?" I asked. I couldn’t see Dadang, who was normally seated in his corner with his finger in his ear.

"The doctor says it’s TB," said Joan. "We got the x-rays."

"Not good. Has he got medicine?"

"Dadang’s family have taken him home," explained Joan.

"Would they like me to help pay for the treatment?"

"No, Mr Kent. They’re rich."

"Do you think anyone else here has got TB?"

"Wira’s father has TB. Wira’s one of our staff."

"Is the father getting treatment?"

"No Mr Kent. Wira gets paid very little."

"OK. I’ll give Wira money if she gets me a hospital receipt each month. And Wira better have an x-ray too."

"Thanks Mr Kent."

"And where’s Gus who used to help look after Min?"

"He’s got cancer."

"You’re joking." I was beginning to wonder if there was anyone at Wisma Utara who was not sick.

"No," said Joan.

"Has he got x-rays or anything? Has he been to a hospital?"

"Not yet."

"Well how does he know he’s got cancer?"

"The doctor told him."

"Tell him to go to the hospital and get a proper check up."

It occurred to me that Fergus was right. Making decisions led to guilt. If I had left Min living in the North Jakarta slums, I would have felt guilty. But having moved him to the house near Wisma Utara, I now felt guilty. Wisma Utara seemed to be an institution lacking proper supervision, at least as far as health was concerned.

Leaving Wisma Utara, I walked down the narrow little lane leading to Min’s house. I found Min’s mum brushing her front doorstep with a homemade broom.

"Wati," I said, "I think Min should stop going to Wisma Utara. Tomorrow he should stay at home. I’ll give you the money I was going to pay them for the schooling."

"Right, Mr Kent," said Wati, looking supremely happy for a change. I got the feeling she didn’t have a totally high regard for the staff at Wisma Utara.

"Any ill effects from the injections?"

"No," said Wati, grinning widely, "but my arm was sore for a while."

"My doctor says your x-rays are all OK. No TB."

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