Sunday, March 01, 2009


The following Saturday I motored as usual to Bogor. Ciah had made good progress in recovering from her hepatitis, and had been able to go home to her cobwebby hut. Her sad looking little son Agosto, who had been guarding her in the hospital for ten days, was looking even more frail than his mother. I hoped their neighbours would keep an eye on them.

In the mental hospital at Babakan there was a new child patient, a muscular boy of about twelve called Saepul. He was sitting sullen faced at the entrance to the Pertama Ward. His chin, his forehead and his cheeks had large swollen bruises.

"Has someone been in a fight with Saepul?" I asked the female nurse, a motherly, round faced woman.

"Saepul punches himself in the face. That’s why his hands are tied behind his back."

"Surely he doesn’t punch himself!" I said, thinking the nurse was covering up some act of brutality by staff or other patients.

"Self inflicted wounds. It’s stress."

"Can he speak?"

"No. He’s retarded."

"You’re sure someone hasn’t hit him?"

As I spoke, Saepul rammed his bruised chin against his right knee with considerable force. Crunch. Blood began to ooze from the wound.

"You see. He hurts himself," said the nurse.

"That’s awful," I said. I could hardly believe it.

"Maybe he’d be better if he wasn’t tied up. Can I try taking him for a walk within the grounds, along with John and Daud?"

"If you like," said the nurse, rather to my amazement.

"Can you come with me?"

"OK. I’ll get the other two children."

John and Daud were untied from their beds and Saepul’s hands were unbound. As we walked through the gardens to the hospital’s shop, John and Daud tended to stagger. Saepul galloped along ahead of the rest of us, resisting the temptation to punch his own face. At the hut which served as the shop, I asked for biscuits and milk for the children and chocolate for the nurse. As I took possession of the food, there was a thump. Saepul had started to punch his cheek bone, making it more red and raw. I didn’t wait for my change. I took Saepul’s hand and hurried him out of the shop. I was relieved to find that Saepul stopped hurting himself once we were on the move back to the ward.

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