The following day, in Kem Chiks little supermarket in South Jakarta, a place where foreigners can buy everything from imported avocados to imported zit cream, I bumped into an amiable expat acquaintance called Tom. In appearance, Tom looked a little like Groucho Marks. We decided to have coffees and Danish pastries in the upstairs cafe.
I told Tom about the skinny children I had seen in Cengkareng.
"Probably got worms," said Tom, with a trace of a Manchester accent. "Almost everyone’s got them."
"Not very healthy," I said, while noting bachelor Tom’s pallid complexion and bald patch.
"You know places like Malaysia and the Philippines spend about five times as much on health as Indonesia does," said Tom, who had trained as an accountant and had a head for figures.
"But I have to say the people in Cengkareng looked a happy bunch."
"It’s the communal thing," said Tom. "They’ve all got lots of friends. Not like in Britain."
"You still like the life here?" I asked.
"In my next reincarnation I wouldn’t mind being in Bali."
"You believe in reincarnation?"
"Well it’s one of the more logical explanations of things," said Tom. "I want to find out a bit more about Islam."
"Your Moslem girl friend? What age is she?" I had first met Tom while having a drink with Fergus at the Hyatt Aryaduta Hotel. It was there that Tom had told his friend Fergus about this girl moving into his house.
"She’s now sixteen," said Tom very calmly. "She was a little younger when I first met her, but I didn’t sleep with her until her sixteenth birthday. She wants to marry me."
I was startled, but tried not to show it; I wanted to appear as an experienced man of the world.
"You’re forty something?" I asked. I looked again at Tom’s thinning hair.
"Yup. I don’t want marriage. It’s her idea. I thought about marriage but I don’t want all the complications, like becoming a Moslem and being married to her entire extended family."
"You look worried," I said.
"I am. She’s very determined about the marriage thing."
"What are her parents like?"
"Nice enough, but not exactly sophisticated. It’s her friends I don’t like. She used to work in a bar and I don’t like some of the people she worked with. Really tough people."