Wednesday, September 21, 2005


It was late afternoon and my door bell was ringing.

Thin, gangling Fajar had arrived with the two little street musicians Ali and Dikin.

As they sat themselves down on the tiled floor of my spacious lounge, the door bell rang again. The maid announced the arrival of an old man, an itinerant musician with a harp-like instrument. Seeing that the old man had the appearance of a happy little elf, I welcomed him in.

Another ring of the bell and this time it was young friends of Fajar. There was permanently smiling twelve-year-old Andri, who was curious to see the inside of my house, handsome eleven-year-old Hermanto, who sometimes accompanied Ali and Dikin on the banjo, and Hermanto’s comely teenage neighbours Sinta and Farah, who claimed to be learning English at school but who couldn’t say more than ‘Hello’. Acting as chaperones were my maid and her husband.

"Fajar," I said, "how long have you been taking the TB medicine?"

"Four weeks." He still looked tired.

"So, you’re not going to infect anyone," I said. "Is your father now taking his TB medicine?"

"Yes," said Fajar quietly.

"How’s your brother in Sumatra?"

"He was vomiting blood. He’s gone to hospital."

"Maybe he should come to a hospital in Jakarta."

"He’s got lots of relations in Sumatra."

"Your family is from Sumatra?"

"Yes, from Lampung."

I turned to smiling Andri. "Where are you from Andri?"

"Jakarta," said Andri. "I’m a local, a Betawi." I noticed his threadbare clothes.

"Andri’s Chinese," said Hermanto, smirking.

"Half," said Andri, blushing. "My mum’s not Chinese."

"Are you Moslem?" I asked Andri.

"Yes," said Andri, looking pleased.

The maid brought in plates of rice and vegetables every morsel of which was pressed into hungry mouths. The music began with a high wailing song from the old man. This was followed by street songs, from Ali and Dikin, which everyone joined in. Next came dangdut music, prompting Andri and Hermanto to get up and dance. You can never be lonely in Java.

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