Sunday, March 01, 2009

House search

We were into June and Iwan was looking better, having got rid of his fever. He appeared to be taking his leprosy pills.

I had been taking Min more or less every afternoon to see his family in North Jakarta; but with the arrival of summer it seemed time to move Min’s family out of the slums of Kapuk and into the leafy kampung next to Wisma Utara, where housing was of a higher standard. I was due to get my summer bonus from my school and that could pay for a home for Min and family. There was talk of Min’s dad making his living by selling vegetables from a mobile cart.

One sunny Saturday morning I collected Min’s mum and dad and his brother Wardi from Kapuk and we drove to Wisma Utara to look at houses. Wardi was wearing a smart dark shirt. Wati, dressed in a new ensemble of long purple skirt and traditional brown batik waist band, was looking almost regal. Dad wore his usual humble working clothes. Min, looking a little shy, had been dressed by Joan in checked shirt and blue shorts. I was in a happy mood, but Min’s family seemed a little sombre.

The staff at Wisma Utara, including Joan, reckoned it should be possible to find a small simple house for around twenty million rupiahs, which was less than six thousand pounds sterling.

"Mr Kent," said Joan, who was standing with Min at the gate of the children’s home, "there are two houses for sale near here. I’ll take you to them."

The first of the houses was situated immediately opposite Wisma Utara. It was a small, two storey, brick and concrete house, squashed between its neighbours. Wati, Min’s mum, liked it a lot. But it only had windows at the front, which made it seem gloomy and unhealthy inside, and, at thirty million rupiahs or nine thousand pounds, it was well above my price range. Like all the houses in the area it had a home made feel about it and the rooms were tiny, with low ceilings. The toilet was like a broom cupboard with a tiny hole in the floor.

"Would you accept twenty million?" I asked the pleasant-faced, middle aged man who owned the house.

"No," he said, smiling. "Nothing below thirty million."

I tried bargaining but he wouldn’t budge even a million rupiahs; he reminded me of an easy going but sharp Neapolitan. I decided to move on.

The next house was a cheap wooden affair with lots of windows, but it seemed a bit ramshackle and there was no water supply. The cost was only fourteen million rupiahs. Wati quite liked it. Perhaps it reminded her of her house in Kapuk.

"Joan, are there any other houses?" I asked. My happy mood had gone.

"Not today. It’s not always easy to find houses for sale. Too many people."

"What do you think, Wardi?" I said.

"The first house was nice, but it’s too expensive." His eyes had a deeply pained look.

"And the second house doesn’t have water or a toilet," I pointed out. "I want you to have a house with a toilet."

There was a period of silence. Should I buy them the second-rate wooden house? Or should I wait for something better to come along?

Joan broke the silence. "The woman who owns the corner shop says she has a house she can show us next week. It’s got a toilet and it’s about twenty million rupiahs."

Should I eat into my savings to buy the thirty million house, a house I didn’t particularly like, or wait another week? Thirty million was too expensive; the house was overpriced.

"Joan, do you think the thirty million price will come down?" I asked.

"No," she said. "He told me he won’t reduce the price."

I decided I would wait until the following week, which would mean disappointing everyone concerned and delaying Min’s return to his family. I gave my explanations to Wati and company. I think we all felt like children who had woken up on Christmas morning only to find that Santa had left us absolutely nothing.


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