Sunday, March 01, 2009


Three days after I had taken ten-year-old Oman to the Menteng Hospital in Bogor there was an early evening phone call from a nurse at the hospital. She said that Oman was making good progress, but, the medicine had run out and I must come to the hospital immediately to buy some more. I explained to the nurse that I had already given Joko, the child’s father, more than enough money to pay for a further ten days typhoid medicine. The nurse said that the family claimed they had no money left to pay for the prescription.

Having had a quick supper, I got my driver to hurry me to the hospital in Bogor. Oman’s cheerful, chunky, poorly-dressed mother, accompanied by a bubbly-nosed toddler, was waiting at the boy’s bedside. Oman looked a little less grey and cadaverous.

"A few days ago I gave Joko the cash for the next lot of medicine," I said to the mother, trying to sound as stern as possible. "What’s happened to it?"

"I don’t know," she said, looking totally unflustered. "He hasn’t given me any."

"I gave him plenty," I growled.

"It would be better not to give him money," she said, in a matter-of-fact sort of way. It seemed that the lady did not necessarily have a high regard for her husband’s honesty.

I bought the required pills and handed them over to the nurse. After a quick visit to the women’s ward to see Nurul, whose septicaemia seemed to have made her flesh worryingly dark, I set off to Joko’s house. Joko, wearing a glittery shirt, was seated by his front door; he was playing chess with a shifty-looking friend.

"What happened to the money I gave you for Oman’s medicine?" I asked, with a combination of anger and nervousness.

"I haven’t got it," he said, keeping his eyes on the chess pieces.

"You know I gave you plenty."

"I had to pay for transport to the hospital," said Joko, giving me a quick glance with his untrustworthy eyes.

"I gave you enough for food, transport and loads of pills. The bus only costs a few cents. What happened to the cash?"

"It’s finished," he said, as he made his next chess move.

"It’s your son that’s sick," I said. At least I assumed it was his son. "What would have happened if I hadn’t come to the hospital this evening?"

There was no reply. He looked unmoved.

I glanced inside Joko’s house. Was that a new suite of furniture and were these new toys lying by the door?

I was going to have to get my poor driver to visit the hospital during the following days in order to buy the next lots of medicine for Oman.

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