Monday, April 20, 2009


Having left Melati’s house I visited Budi’s little windowless home to see how the sick five-year-old was getting on. His hollow-cheeked mother was seated by the door with a host of little children, including a pale fragile looking Budi.

"How is he?" I began

"Fine," she responded automatically.

"Did you get the last lot of money for the hospital visit?"


"Have you got receipts from the hospital?"

"Not yet."

"Have you been back to the hospital for the twice weekly check up?"

"Not yet."

"Have you still got the money?"


I noticed she was wearing new shoes and a thin gold chain.

"Has Budi been getting the medicine the hospital gave him?"

"It’s finished."

"It can’t be. Have you still got the bottles?"

"I threw them out."

I was boiling with indignation. She looked relaxed and unfazed; perhaps empty-headed rather than aggressive. I wondered if she had ever been to school. I wondered if hunger had robbed her of brain cells.

"Look, we must go to the hospital now for a check up," I said.

"I’m busy. Maybe tomorrow."

"Budi must get his medicine, and on the way back we can stop at the shops and buy some food for your family."

"OK." She seemed to like the idea of shopping for food.

"Have you got Budi’s medical card?"

"I’ve lost it."

"You are unbelievable," I said, unable to control my tongue. "You’ve not got Budi’s money, nor his medicine, nor his medical card, and you’ve bought yourself new shoes."

There was no reaction on her face.

And, when I repeated this information to the doctor at the hospital, he also didn’t blink. He simply wrote out another prescription

"Doctor," I said, "how can I get this woman to bring her child to the hospital twice a week?"

"Maybe it’s better not to give her money. Maybe someone else can handle the cash. Can you come with her each time?"

"I work in Jakarta," I explained, "but I’ll send my driver here twice a week. He’ll bring her to the hospital."

On the way back from the hospital we stopped off at the modern supermarket at Internusa. I handed some money to Budi’s mother and left her to get on with the shopping. She bought several varieties of crisps.

"That’s no good," I said. "Give me the money you have left and I’ll buy some fruit, vegetables, fish and tinned milk."


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