Sunday, March 01, 2009

Hamid from Pasar Mayestic

Jakarta’s Pasar Mayestic market sells fabrics, animal intestines, coconut milk drinks, goat soup, sweet potatoes, lemon grass, elixirs to improve sexual performance, cheap stationery, and just about everything else. It has a cinema showing lurid films, a games arcade, beggar women carrying fat babies, shoe shine boys, massage parlours, street cafes and the strongest smell of rotting garbage in our entire galactic system. Slimy decomposing things, wormy bloated objects, frothy scummy stuff, and lots of other kinds of fly-covered ordure all get dumped in a great steaming midden on one side of the main street. Nobody ever seems to remove any of this putrefaction, apart from the pretty children who rummage through it looking for bits of plastic to sell.

I was standing near the dump, savouring the stench, when I was approached by a seller of newspapers, aged about thirteen. He was small for his age, slim, dark-eyed and dark haired.

"Newspaper?" he whispered, frowning deeply. His shoes and jeans looked expensive.

"I can’t read Indonesian. Sorry," I said.

"Where are you from?" the newspaper boy asked.

"England. Where’re are you from?"

"I sleep in the market."

"You don’t have a home?"

"I’ve run away from home." The frown grew deeper and the eyes more moist. I was deeply curious.

"Why did you run away?"

"My father was shot dead." He looked down at the ground, perhaps to hide tears.

"Why? What happened?" I said, taken aback by his news. I reckoned he wanted to unburden himself by telling his tale.

"Some people shot my father. They stole his land. In Sumatra."

What could I say? "They shot your father? Then you moved here?" I said.

"We moved to Jakarta. My mother remarried. I had to stay with my grandmother. That’s out just beyond Ciputat."

"Why did you run away?"

"I don’t get on with my grandmother."

"I’m sorry," I said. "Couldn’t you get your land back?"

"No. These people are powerful. Soldiers support them."

The story had a ring of truth. I had read constantly in The Jakarta Post of land disputes, often involving the use of hired ‘muscle’ from the military.

"Do you have any friends?" I asked.

"There’s about six boys sleep in the market. There’s a man gives us food."

"Listen," I said. "If you want to go back home, my driver will take you. It’s only half an hour from here to Ciputat."

"No. My grandmother doesn’t like me. She thinks I’m stupid." He sounded very determined not to return.

"It would be better at home. You could go to school."

"I’m no good at school." His angry frown grew deeper.

"What’s your name?" I asked.


"Your grandmother will be worried about you, Hamid. How about my driver giving you a lift home?"


He wasn’t going to be persuaded, even after a further five minutes of chat. And I was aware that if I stood talking to the boy too long we might attract a crowd of nosy onlookers. The locals often like to listen-in on conversations between foreigners and Indonesians. Perhaps they might suspect illegal goings-on.

"Well, Hamid," I said, before leaving, "here’s my card with my phone number. Let me know if you want to go home." We shook hands on that.


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