Saturday, December 10, 2005


I needed a new house guard. Rachmat, my previous guard, had decided he did not want to move to the new neighbourhood, away from all his friends. My maid found me a skinny replacement, a youth called Irfan.

Various sounds would waken me in the night. It was amazing just how many of my Indonesian neighbours kept dogs that went to bed very late and cockerels that woke very early. Part of the noise problem was due to the thinness of the walls. I suspected that when my alarm clock went off, the old man across the road would leap rather suddenly out of bed. Of course the main reason I was ill at ease was Aldi’s death. I was nervous about going back to see Min.

Min’s family had not been sleeping well. There were new lines under their eyes.

"Mr Kent," said a dispirited sounding Wati, who was sitting in her front room with her youngest child on her lap, "how much do you pay Wisma Utara for Min’s schooling?"

"Quite a lot," I said, wondering what Wati was leading up to.

"I don’t think Min needs to go to school," she said, in an unusually outspoken way.

"How do you mean?"

"I don’t think Wisma Utara is doing him much good."

"You may be right," I said. "I’ll have a word with Joan. If I’m not paying fees to Wisma Utara, I can give you the money instead."

Wati’s face seemed to relax.

"How’s the vegetable stall?" I asked.

"It’s not good. There are too many other people selling vegetables."

I guessed that Wati might be in real need of a boost to her income.

"Before I forget," I said, "We must all go to my doctor to get you immunised. Would tonight be suitable?"

"Tomorrow," said Wati, sounding hesitant.

"She’s frightened of needles," said Gani, Min’s brother-in-law, who had been hovering at the door.

"It’s no problem. I’ve had lots of injections," I said.

"My children," said Gani. "Can they come too?"

"Yes, of course," I said. "So tomorrow it is."

Min and I walked up the road to see Joan at Wisma Utara. We were invited to have a seat on a rather stained sofa in the lounge.

"How’s Min getting on with his schooling?" I asked.

"Just fine, Mr Kent, just fine," said Joan.

At this point I was distracted by a pair of mournful eyes belonging to a skinny boy seated on the floor.

"Who’s that very thin child with his finger in his ear?" I asked.

"Dadang. Sweet looking boy," said Joan.

"He looks poorly," I said. "There are bubbles coming out his nose." In fact he didn’t look as if he was long for this world.

"He’s fine. Everyone’s fine," said Joan, sounding tired and depressed.

"Can we take him to the doctor?" I knew Joan liked to get out of the home for a change of air.

"Yes, if you like."

I sat down beside Dadang, took his damp hand and asked him how he was feeling. He looked at me with his big sad eyes but said nothing. It was like looking into the eyes of a baby seal separated from its mother. When he coughed, cupfuls of phlegm exploded from his mouth and nose.

Having returned Min to his house, I took Dadang and Joan to a nearby clinic that did x-rays.

"Can you check for TB?" I said to the doctor. I didn’t want to think of Min sitting in school alongside a child with a serious infection.

"We’ll do all the tests. You’ll know by tomorrow," said the doctor. "Dadang is underweight."

After returning Dadang and Joan to Wisma Utara, I walked down to the rubbish tip to visit Iwan, the boy with leprosy. He was not at home.

"Where’s Iwan?" I asked one of the locals, a teenage girl with eyes that were a mixture of the sulky and the sultry.

"At his kampung. He’s still in Karawang."

As I eckoned that Iwan’s medicine must have run out yet again, I asked the girl if she would fetch Iwan’s uncle. She walked, slim hips swinging, to a nearby hut and returned with the thin little man.

"Can you go to Karawang and persuade Iwan to return?" I asked the uncle, "He must get his pills."

"I’ll go now," he said eagerly, as I handed him more than enough money for the bus.