Sunday, November 27, 2005

John and Martha

On the Monday afternoon I made another visit to Jakarta’s Teluk Gong Hospital. John was alive and well and looking positively chubby. His mother, wearing sandals and a simple white dress, was smiling happily.

"He can go home now," said the doctor whose expensive suit suggested high status and middle-aged spread.

"What was wrong with John?" I asked.

"Simply dysentery," said the beaming doctor. "Sometimes it goes undetected because there are no obvious symptoms. We did a series of stool tests. It was easy to clear up. Then we gave John a good diet. His mother must be careful in future with hygiene because John is very retarded and gets his hands dirty."

"He had marks all over his skin," said John’s mother. "Looked like cigarette burns."

"Well I hope he doesn’t go back to the mental hospital in Babakan," I said. "Have you found a place to stay?"

"Yes, in Teluk Gong. Want to have a look?"

"Yes please."

I accompanied John and his mum to their new home. The furniture had already arrived. The house was like a large garage divided into three rooms, but, with its white painted walls, fridge, TV, beds and settee, it looked bright and homely. I handed over the money for the rent. I had some niggling doubts about whether or not John would survive into a comfortable old age. But for the moment everything seemed fine.

"Where did the furniture come from?" I asked.

"Relations," said mum. She was seated on the settee and a smiling John had his arms around her.

John’s sister arrived, again dressed in cord jeans. She had the pale skin and curvaceous lips that I associated with some Sumatrans.

"Hi. I’m Martha," she said. "Thank you for helping John."

"You’ll have new neighbours now," I said to Martha. "Do you think they’ll be friendly?"

"We’ve got three lots of relations in the neighbourhood," said Martha. "We’re not far from our church and my school."

"Christian school?" I asked.


"Has it got any Moslem students?" I asked.

"Most of them are Moslem," said Martha, suddenly cold-eyed and unsmiling. "The rich Moslems want their children to go to Christian schools."

"Have you got a Moslem boyfriend?"

"I don’t like Indonesian boys," said Martha, making a sour face.

"None of them?"

"None. I’ve got a pen friend." She took a photo from a pocket in her tight blouse and handed it to me.

"Where’s he from?" I said, as I studied the picture of a handsome Semitic-looking youth in his twenties.

"The Middle East. He’s Jewish."

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