Sunday, March 01, 2009


Chong, the malnourished young man I had found lying in the street and taken to the mental hospital at Babakan in Bogor, hadn’t been visited by me for some time; so to assuage my guilt I went to see him.

I strode through the hospital’s sunny gardens, admiring the white Gardenia, the red and yellow Rangoon Creeper, and the handsome, modern two storey block containing the director’s office; finally, some distance from the hospital entrance, I reached the warehouse-like ward housing Chong.

"I’ve come to take Chong for a walk," I said to the young male nurse who opened the locked door of the mildewed building.

"Chong?" The nurse, casually dressed in T-shirt and jeans, looked as if he had never heard the name before.

"Yes, please."

He went inside to check.

"Nobody here called Chong," said the nurse on his return.

"There must be. I brought him to this hospital and he was in this ward last time I visited."

"He’s not here."

"Are you absolutely sure?"

"Yes. I know all the patients."

"Do you remember Chong?"

"No," he said, with a sort of vacant grin.

"I’ll go to the Director’s office and ask there." I felt ready to lash my tail.

I explained the situation to the director’s secretary, who informed me that the director was away in Jakarta, but that I could speak to a deputy. I was eventually introduced to a round-faced doctor with thinning hair and a sharp looking man wearing an expensive suit and tinted glasses.

"We’ve sent someone to collect Chong," said the doctor, sitting back on the expensive black leather settee.

"Would you like some tea?" asked the man with the smart suit.

"No thanks," I answered politely.

A nurse entered with a young male patient who had broad shoulders and a grinning Javanese face.

"Here’s Chong," said the doctor.

"This is not Chong," I said. "Chong looks Chinese and he’s slim."

"This is Chong," said the smiling nurse.

"It’s not the person I brought to the hospital."

There was a period of silence.

"Have you tried the mental hospital on Jalan Dr Semeru?" volunteered the nurse.

"That’s not where I took Chong," I said.

"I’m sorry we can’t help you," said the doctor.

"Have you checked the records?" I asked.

"We have," said the unruffled doctor.

"What do you think has happened to Chong?"

"The only Chong we have is this man the nurse brought here."

"But he is not Chong," I said.

"Mr Kent, I’m sorry we can’t help you," said the man with the tinted glasses.

I supposed there was nothing I could do. It was possible that Chong had been allowed out of his ward and had wandered through the gardens and subsequently through the hospital’s open gates. There was no great incentive to keep a careful eye on a patient like Chong; I had not visited Chong for some time and his family had no interest in him. Perhaps he had got sick and died; perhaps he was wandering through the streets of Bogor.

No comments: