Sunday, December 11, 2005


After school finished I was driven straight to the hospital, nerves shivering. I looked at my watch. Thirteen minutes past the hour. I wondered how the family would react towards me if anything had gone wrong. I remembered again that it was me who had helped persuade Aldi to move to the new house.

We reached the gates at the front of the hospital. Wardi was standing there. He signaled to us to stop and approached the car.

"Aldi is dead. He’s left this world. It’s all right Mr Kent." Wardi was speaking calmly and with no anger in his voice.

My brain felt numb, as if someone had given it a violent blow. I went with Wardi to find a doctor and was shown into a room where a middle aged woman sat at a desk. She looked sober minded and sympathetic. Judging by the room’s comfortable furniture, she was a senior doctor.

"What happened?" I asked.

"The child had a serious case of tetanus. He had had the disease many days before he came to us. I don’t think he had been immunised."

"He had an injection from a doctor at a clinic when he got the red lump," I pointed out.

"Yes but there are two different kinds of injection, those you get before an injury and those you get after an injury. It is the first kind that is vital."

"Did Wati get the children immunised?" I said, turning to Wardi. "After I gave her the money a few weeks ago."

"She went to the clinic," said Wardi, "but they said they didn’t do vaccinations."

"It is very important," continued the doctor, speaking softly, "that they get immunisation before any accident."

"What treatment did Aldi get here at the hospital?" I asked.

"I was in charge of his treatment," she said. "We gave him penicillin and diazepam. The penicillin is for the bacteria, but it does not deal with the toxin already produced by the bacteria. The toxin causes the spasms. The diazepam is to try to relax the muscles. There is a danger with the diazepam that the heart may stop which is why he was moved to intensive care. Unfortunately his heart gave out."

"Was there a doctor in intensive care to help him?" I said.

I must have sounded too angry because Wardi took my arm and said, "It’s all right Mr Kent."

"We did what we could," said the doctor.

There were forms to be filled in at the hospital, and bills to be paid. When we eventually reached Min’s house, Aldi’s small body, covered by a cloth, was already lying in the middle of the living room floor. Relations and neighbours were seated on the floor in a circle around the corpse, and I thought that I should join them. A smiling neighbour came in and read some Moslem prayers. This neighbour did not seem to be at all upset by events but I found tears flooding from my eyes. I hoped that, Lazarus-like, the little body might get up, but it didn’t. Min looked confused, unsure of what was going on.

Wati beckoned to me to come upstairs. There she sat close beside me, pressed against me in fact, and prepared herself to speak.

"Mr Kent, we need money. We have to pay for the burial."

"I’ll pay. Don’t worry."

"We need to go to Lamaya for the burial. It’s the small town where we used to live. It’s a long way."

"Yes, I know. A journey of four hours."

She was naturally in a disturbed state of mind. At one point she picked up a photo of her dead son, ripped it into pieces and then flung the pieces onto the floor.

I wanted to get some fresh air and took Min outside to the communal bench half way along the street, next to where the mobile food carts usually park. It was already dark and insects danced in the light of kerosene lamps. Min became quite jolly, obviously unaware of the true nature of events. Two or three of Aldi’s former school friends came and sat down beside us. They showed no signs of sorrow or unhappiness.

"Mr Kent," said Wardi, who had come to join us, "we need your driver to take the family to Lamaya."

"It’s nearly midnight," I said.

"It’s the Moslem custom that the body must be buried quickly."

"I understand that, but my driver has to get home to his family. What other form of transport is there?"

"An ambulance will be very expensive."

"I know. But it’ll have to be an ambulance."

I returned to my home and lay on my bed. "It’s all right Mr Kent," was what Wardi had said. To some Moslems, it was a simple matter of God’s will; one had to accept these sometimes mysterious events. But how could a good and all powerful God allow such things to happen? I remembered that when Budi had died, I had wondered why angels had not intervened. Buddhist Rahayu, whom I had met during the Idul Fitri holiday, might have seen all this suffering as something inevitable for beings who had not yet reached enlightenment. There would be continual reincarnations until attachments and illusions were got rid of. He did not apparently believe in a God in the Moslem or Christian sense of the word. I remembered what Tom had said: "They die of tetanus every week in the kampungs." What worried me most was memories of Aldi’s painful spasms and the thought that they might not have occurred if I had done things differently. I tried to comfort myself by thinking that my actions, such as moving Min’s family to their new home in South Jakarta, had seemed right at the time. Eventually I drifted off to some kind of sleep.