Sunday, March 01, 2009

19 FAMILY


It is difficult when you want to be with two sets of people at the same time, but know that the sets are separated by oceans and continents. I wanted to be with my parents, but, during my ten days in chilly, grey Britain I worried all the time about Min, back in Jakarta. Was Min fully recovered from his sickness? Was he eating? Was he getting any exercise? If only he could have understood the idea of me being away for a ten day holiday, exploring the Lake District, with my mum and dad. How do you explain such things to someone with the vocabulary of a two-year-old? He would be thinking he had been abandoned.

During the five months I had known Min, he seemed to have made such a lot of progress. He had grown taller and stronger; he had started to speak again, even if it was only simple words or phrases like ‘hungry’ or ‘how are you?’; he could eat with a knife and fork; he could kick a ball.

On the flight back to Jakarta there was big dipper turbulence and a flashing thunderstorm over Kuala Lumpur. Big dippers can be scary. The lady sitting next to me vomited into her sick-bag, and I held on tight to the arm rests, trying to hold the plane up. On my headphones I listened to Clair de Lune, thought of Min, and prayed.

We touched down safely in Jakarta. It was wonderfully warm outside the terminal and my driver was waiting for me; I asked him to take me straight to Wisma Utara, an hour and a half journey through the dark. As always the traffic was heavy and I was tired and nervous.

We parked in our usual spot and I hurried down the poorly lit lane to the children’s home.

Min was alive. He must have been eating! He was sitting up straight on a bench looking worried and upset. He avoided eye contact. I sat beside him and took his hand. He withdrew it. I supposed he was angry and sulking because, in not visiting him, I had caused him days of heartbreak. But at least he was alive.

And there was eight-year-old Tedi, back from the hospital, and looking healthy. He had survived his bout of typhoid.

"Mr Kent, nice to have you back," said a very happy looking Joan, coming to sit beside me.

"How’s Min been?" I asked.

"He missed you Mr Kent," said Joan. "He kept on saying ‘long time’, ‘long time’."

I put my arm around Min’s shoulder and he sort of smiled.

"Mr Kent," said Joan "I have great news. You remember the photo in the newspaper? Min’s older brother came here!"

Min’s older brother had come to Wisma Utara! Min had a family! I felt a surge of joy. But it was joy mixed with anxiety and jet lag. "Fantastic," I said, "Are his family going to take him home?"

Various thoughts raced through my mind. I wondered why his family had not already taken him home. That was strange. And if they had taken him home before I had got back, would I ever have seen him again? And if they had taken him home, would he have been at risk of going missing again?

"The brother’s name is Wardi," explained Joan. "Wardi said he’d wait until you returned before doing anything. He wants to meet you."

"Where do they live?" I asked.

"Near Teluk Gong, down near the sea and the road to the airport."

"That’s miles from where I found Min. Right the other side of Jakarta!"

"A very long way," agreed Joan.

"Has Min got parents?" I inquired anxiously.

"Yes, a father and a mother and two sisters and three brothers. They’re very poor people, Mr Kent, very poor."

"How did Min get lost?" I asked.

"Wardi said that Min just wandered off. Just disappeared. He said they looked for him for days and his mother cried."

"How long has he been missing?"

"Some months," said Joan. "They’re not sure about the exact dates. The parents are uneducated people."

"Do they know what’s wrong with Min?"

"Wardi said Min was a normal child until about the age of seven, when he got an extremely high fever. He was desperately ill for weeks. After that, he wasn’t right in the head. Several times, he wandered off and got temporarily lost."

"When are they coming back to Wisma Utara?" I asked.

"Min’s older sister is coming here tomorrow morning. You can meet her then."

"Yes, that’s good," I said. "She can take us to see Min’s family in Teluk Gong."

"Can I come with you, Mr Kent?" asked Joan.

"Yes, that would be helpful," I said. There was so much to think about.

I took Min for a short walk around the dimly lit block of streets and tried to sort things out in my mind. How strange this all was. Strange, but wonderful that his family had found him. If he had been my child, I would have taken him home to Teluk Gong straight away. I wondered what Min must be thinking? I hoped his family wanted him back. The fact that they had responded to the photo in the newspaper presumably meant that they did want him back. Maybe there was a case to be made for Min staying a little longer at Wisma Utara where he could get regular schooling and food, and where he might be less likely to go missing. His behaviour could still be a bit wild at times. On the other hand, maybe Min was desperate to get home. Oh dear! What was best for Min?

The main things were that he should have a permanent family home and that he shouldn’t get lost again.

I thought of all the people who had said originally that I should have left Min on the street. They had said we would never find his parents. Well, we had found them and now we had to make sure that his return to his family was a success.

I looked at Min, who was now happy to take my hand, but whose face still suggested worry and stress. With his limited verbal ability, he couldn’t answer any questions I might ask. He could not tell me what sort of people his parents were. I thought of poor, deceased Budi whose parents were sickly, not very bright, and more keen to spend money on earrings rather than doctors. I thought of little Abdul whom I had found on a bridge in Bandung, after he had run away from his granny who had beaten him. I thought of Bangbang who seemed to find it so easy to run away, either from his family or from the Dipo Hospital. I thought of Hamid who did not seem to be wanted by his alcoholic parents or by his granny in the big house. I thought of Chong, rejected by his family, and ending up in the street. I prayed that Min’s family would be better than all of those.

I returned Min to Wisma Utara and walked back to my van.

"Back home now. I’m exhausted," I said to the driver. "How is Iwan, the leper kid? Has he come back yet for his leprosy medicine?"

"Not yet," said Mo.


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