Monday, April 20, 2009

13. THE BOY FROM SUMATRA


It was late afternoon when I arrived at Dr. Agung’s clinic which was housed in a small villa in the upmarket district of Menteng. It was the day of the operation to remove the lump from the face of Daus, the boy with elephantiasis. An elderly receptionist pointed me in the direction of the ward where patients recovered from their operations.

The ward had only two patients. A hollow-cheeked little girl, who had had a hair lip operation, was sitting up in bed, reading a comic. Daus was lying half-asleep on his bed. Next to him sat his smiling aunt. As I approached the boy, he began to stir. His right hand moved up to his face and he began trying to remove his bandage. Then he sat up groggily, moaned, and made an attempt to get out of bed.

"Daus, stay in bed," I said, panicking ever so slightly. "Nurse! Daus is waking up."

But there was no nurse in sight. I searched along the corridor and eventually found a thin, little nurse in an office. "Come to the ward. Daus is waking up." The middle-aged nurse got up slowly from her seat and strolled along to the ward where we found Daus’s aunt holding her nephew down.

"The sedation can’t be very strong," I pointed out. "He seems to be trying to rip out his stitches." I used a mixture of Indonesian and sign language to try to make my point.

"Get back to sleep, Daus," said the nurse calmly, as she gently pushed him back under the covers. Daus obediently closed his eyes. It was fortunate Daus had his aunt to guard him. From time to time she would hold down his arms to stop him interfering with his wounds.

"How was the operation?" I asked the aunt.

"The doctor says it was fine."

"Daus has no parents? He’s always lived with you?"

"He has no father, as far as he knows," said the aunt, with a relaxed smile. "He was born in Sumatra. His mother died when he was aged two. He used to run away to the cemetery to sit by her grave."

"Very sad."

"His relatives stole the small piece of land he inherited from his mother."

"Could he do anything about that?"

"Nothing. No one paid him much attention."

"He’s been unlucky."

"The next thing was that he got hit by a vehicle."

"A serious accident?"

"He survived. And then he decided to come to Jakarta to visit us, his uncle and aunt. And he decided to stay. He enjoys working at our cold drinks stall in the market."

The nurse appeared with a bill. The neatly typed document showed that the operation was free, but that the clinic was rather expensive. I needed another weekend trip to Bogor to calm my nerves.

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