Monday, November 14, 2005


I was being driven homewards along a narrow country road, relatively near to the mental hospital in Bogor's Babakan. Through the vehicle window I glimpsed a child standing by the roadside, a child who looked both solitary and disturbed. In Indonesia, children are seldom on their own. I asked the driver to stop and went to investigate. In front of me stood a barefoot boy of about eleven with a cheerful and handsome face. He looked well fed but unwashed; he repeatedly put his hand up to his mouth as if to eat and chew nonexistent food; and he repeatedly moved his head to one side in jerky movements.

"Hello. What's your name?" I asked.

He looked at me quizzically but seemed unable to speak. After several more unanswered questions I took his hand and led him down the street to a little shop. The shopkeeper helped us find the local community official or R.T. to whom I explained the situation.

"Do you know where the boy comes from?" I asked. "Does he belong to this area?"

"No," said the R.T., a large man with a bristly chin. He looked as if he might have been a retired sergeant-major.

"Can you keep an eye on him? I'll give you some money to buy soap and things."

"Certainly," said the R.T.

"I'll come back in a week's time and see how he is. I'll take a photo of him to show to the police and hospitals and Pos Kota newspaper."

"Good," said the R.T.

Things seemed to be suddenly organised. Already the boy was being hosed down in front of the mosque and he didn't seem to mind all the attention. His head had stopped jerking.

"How has he been getting food?" I asked the R.T.

"There's an old widow who gives him scraps," he replied.

"Does he have a name?"

"We'll call him Wisnu."


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