Sunday, March 01, 2009


Some days after our meeting in the supermarket at Kem Chiks, Tom invited me for an evening drink at the Houghmagandy Hotel in South Jakarta’s Blok M. The Houghmagandy, a modest concrete tower on a street full of noisy buses and traffic fumes, is frequented by the sort of businessmen who cannot afford Five Star establishments, or who do not mind being hassled by the multitude of young women in the extremely dark and crowded bar on the top floor.

"Kent, I need your advice," Tom whispered, as we sat down with our beers in the almost empty lower-floor restaurant. Tom was looking peaky, slightly unshaven and a trifle dishevelled in old T-shirt and baggy grey trousers.

"The sixteen-year-old girlfriend?" I said.

"Her name’s Kuntil," said Tom, his voice sounding a little more confident. "I’m in trouble."

"What’s happened?"

"She came to the office and asked to see the boss."

"You’re still working in Sudirman?"

"Yes. Anyway, the receptionist told her the boss was away. Our receptionist’s sweet. Kuntil said she’d be back and she was going to write a letter to the press. Can you imagine the story?"

" I can," I said. "'British expatriate, aged 43, working for the well known British firm of whatever, has broken his promise to marry Moslem girl, aged 16.' How would your boss react?"

"He’s a man of the world," said Tom, "but the firm doesn’t want that kind of publicity. My contract would probably be ended."

"Do you think she would write to the newspapers? I mean, what would she gain if you had to leave the country?"


"Seems to be important in this part of the world."

"I’ve gone off her," said Tom, now speaking quite loudly. "She wants eighty million rupiahs because she says I’ve broken my promise to marry. I think it’s her friends from the karaoke bar who’ve put her up to it."

"Criminals, I reckon. Tell me, what age was she when you first met?"

"Fifteen. But, I didn’t get involved deeply until she was sixteen. I was careful."

"Have you negotiated with her?"

"I went to see her parents. They’re quite nice really. I explained that I had promised to marry her, but that I’d changed my mind."

"How did they take it?"

"They were polite and friendly. But Kuntil is sticking to her demands."

"She’s no doubt disappointed she’s not going to escape from the kampung into a life of luxury with maids and drivers and your retirement home in Madeira. My advice is to talk to her, kindly. Give her a way out that won’t involve loss of face."

"It’s not that I’m hard up, but I’ve saved my money so I can retire early."

"Is your money in shares?"

"It’s all in an Indonesian bank that’s giving a huge rate of interest."

"Is that safe?"

"The manager told me he’d let me know if there were ever any problems."

"If his bank was in difficulty, is it likely he’d let you know?"

"He’s a very decent guy," said Tom, stretching himself and beginning to look less tense. "What are you doing at the weekend? Bogor again?"

"Yes, Bogor again," I said.

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