Tuesday, October 25, 2005


Sometime in December, there was an evening phone call from Juriah, the mother of Nur, the boy from Teluk Gong who had had an abscess on the brain and who had died at the Dipo Hospital.

"Nur's younger brother, Didi, has toothache," she said. "Can Didi go with your driver tomorrow to the Teluk Gong Hospital?" Juriah's voice was pleading, like that of one of these persistent beggars in the market. Pleading and annoying.

"Toothache!" I said. "He doesn't need to go to the hospital just for toothache."

"It's very bad toothache," she said.

"The hospital is for things like TB and typhoid," I said.


"How old is he?"


"Well, you can meet my driver outside Min's house about nine in the morning. The driver's meeting about half a dozen kids. See what the doctor says. But the hospital's meant to be for serious illnesses."

At the end of the next school day, Mo, my driver, told me how he had got on that morning at the Hospital.

"Do you remember Nur's mother?" said Mo, as we drove sedately in a homeward direction.

"Yes. Her son's got toothache."

"The doctor says Didi's got tetanus."

"Tetanus! Has he been admitted to the hospital?" My heart began to pound as I remembered what had happened to Aldi, Min's brother.


"Why not?" I sounded more than irate.

"I thought I'd better ask your permission first."

"Of course I'd give permission. Where's Didi now?" My driver seemed to lack basic common sense.

"Back home in Teluk Gong."

"Did the doctor want him admitted?"


"Well he should have been admitted." I wanted to hit someone.

"Yes, Mr Kent."

"OK. Let's go to Didi's house at full speed. Every second counts with tetanus."

Mo put his foot down extra hard on the accelerator and we overtook everything we could. On the long narrow road called Srengseng the traffic was hardly moving. When the lights turned in our favour at the intersection with Pos Pengumben they were green for only a few seconds. Yet there was only a trickle of traffic on the other road. We chugged along and at last reached a wider thoroughfare.

"Faster!" I called to Mo. Normally I tell drivers to slow down but now I was feeling reckless. Mo certainly could drive fast when he had to. We reached Didi's house and sped with the little boy and his mum to the Teluk Gong Hospital.

Didi was admitted to a first class ward, not third class as had been the case with Min's brother at the Pertama Hospital. Six-year-old Didi had a funny little face and seemed to be not over-bright. He didn't look as ill as Aldi had done.

"How is Didi?" I asked the young doctor. My voice was as shaky as my hands.

"He's got tetanus, TB and pneumonia."

Mo drove me slowly back towards the centre of town. I needed to take my mind off things and so had supper at the Hilton. I thought it was nice to be in the same hotel as President Clinton.


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