Wednesday, January 21, 2004


When School was over next day, I hurried to my van.

"Doctor Bahari’s clinic, fast!" I instructed the driver. We moved at a reasonable pace until we hit the rush hour traffic and began to crawl down Sudirman Boulevard and past Le Meridien hotel. One hundred thousand families in Jakarta are five-car families. Mum, dad and three of the kids each have their own car. And then there are all the four-car families and three-car families and two-car families. Now you know where some of the World Bank’s money goes.

How would Ujang be faring among the mentally disturbed adults? Would he know I was coming back to his locked ward?

After a journey of at least an hour, we passed a Hero’s supermarket and drove up to the clinic. I jumped out of the vehicle and hurried in, looking carefully at people’s faces. All smiles. The heavy door was unlocked and there stood Ujang. He was alive and well; his skinny little body was dressed in new shirt and shorts. He wasn’t exactly smiling; more hesitant and worried. I took his hand and he gripped it strongly.

"How’s Ujang?" I asked a nurse.

"He’s fine," she said. "He’s eating well, and this morning, when he woke, he gave a whoop of joy!"

"Great." I felt like giving a whoop of joy.

"Come to the doctor’s office with Ujang," said the nurse, "Doctor Joseph would like to meet you."

Dr Joseph, round faced, middle aged and Chinese, sat in his comfortable leather chair looking totally relaxed. It was the child psychiatrist from the Dipo hospital, the doctor who had been attending to Bangbang before he got lost.

"We’ve met before," said Dr Joseph, smiling warmly. "You know Bangbang’s been found? He turned up at his parent’s house."

"Yes, I know," I said.

"We’ve an open door policy for those children at the Dipo hospital," said Dr Joseph, "but here there’s a locked door for some of the patients."

I thought it better not to comment on this.

Dr Joseph continued: "My colleague told me the story of your finding Ujang in the street. It’s very kind of you to help this poor child. Ujang still doesn’t speak. It may be depression. He may have been lost for some time."

"How’s his health? Do you think he might have TB or anything like that?" I looked at Ujang who was still looking rather frail and heartsick.

"No," said the doctor. "We’ve done some tests this morning. Apart from worms, he’s fine."

"Should I try to visit him every day, or is there a danger he may become too dependent on me?" I suspected that Ujang and I might well become dependent on each other.

"I think you should visit him because it’ll help him to come out of his depression. He hasn’t got anyone else to visit him," said the doctor, giving me the answer I had hoped for.

"Is he safe here with all these strange adults?" I asked.

"They’re all heavily sedated. There’s no problem." Dr Joseph smiled broadly.

"What treatment will Ujang get?" I said.

"We’re giving him some drugs to deal with the depression. We could try electric convulsion therapy."

"I don’t want that for Ujang!" I said, gulping, "It’s too controversial and Ujang’s only a child."

"But it can be very successful."

"Well, I’d prefer not to try it. Definitely not."

"OK. We’ll continue with the drug treatment."

"He seems to shake a little bit. Is that the drugs?" I asked.

"It could be."

"Can you please reduce the dosage, so he doesn’t shake?"

"We could do." Dr Joseph was politely indicating disagreement with me.

"Can I take Ujang for a short walk or for trips in my vehicle?" I hoped I could play uncle.

"Certainly. It’ll do him good."

"I’ll take him to the supermarket now," I said.

When Ujang and I arrived at Golden Truly supermarket, Ujang was swaying slightly and looking heavily doped. I took a trolley, persuaded Ujang to sit inside it, and wheeled him around. Great fun for me, and there just the hint of happiness on Ujang’s face. We picked up some milk and some papaya. What was upstairs? We came to the escalator.

Ujang stepped on and I followed, clutching two plastic bags with my right hand and the escalator rail with my left hand. We moved up rather fast. Ujang, who had not been holding on to the rail, began to fall backwards.

I let go of the rail and tried to support Ujang’s back which was moving swiftly towards my nose. I began to fall backwards and imagined collision with the spiky metal bits of the escalator and a nasty swift descent head first.

The woman behind me involuntarily provided temporary support for both me and Ujang. She was a big strong woman. Balance was restored, my heart thumped, and I fastened Ujang’s cold little hand on to the rubber rail. Crisis over. I had discovered that the kid was new to escalators.

I needed a drink and that meant a trip to a fast food restaurant. In a place selling fried chicken, Ujang and I sat on bright yellow chairs, next to green and red plastic flowers, and I ordered two colas.

Ujang gulped his down and then, deciding to have a pee, stood up abruptly, and moved over to a plastic tree, beside which he squatted down . As he was about to begin, a waiter gently took him by the arm and guided him to the gents.

Back at the clinic the problem was parting. Ujang looked at me wistfully and help on tight to my arm. We walked around the courtyard, warding off the poor demented girl and a tough looking skinhead who wanted a cigarette. Then we walked around again. And again. At last one of the nurses took hold of Ujang while I squeezed past the metal door to make my exit.

I couldn’t get Ujang out of my mind. Travelling into work next morning I wondered what would happen if I had to leave Indonesia? Would I always be able to pay the clinic for his keep? If I left Indonesia he wouldn’t have any visitors. Would he shrivel up and die of loneliness? I could imagine him in later years, sitting alone in a corner, staring into space, wondering what had happened, and why he had been deserted.

Over a cup of grotty coffee in the staff room, I spoke to Ian, who already knew the basics about Ujang. "Do you think Ujang will ever find his family?" I asked.

"Not a chance," said Ian, a keep-fit fanatic, bachelor and lover of nightclubs. He was the sort who would never give money to beggars, although I have to say he did have a soft spot for dogs.

"I felt so sorry for Ujang when I found him in the street," I said.

"He’d be better off in the street," said Ian.

"Some kids would be, but this one was different," I pointed out. "He wasn’t coping."

"Sometimes these people get violent when they’re older. You’ll need to watch out," continued Ian, frowning.

"Amanda, what do you think?" I asked.

"You’re taking an awful risk, taking a child off the streets," she said. "You could be in trouble with the police, the immigration authorities and goodness knows who else." Plainly dressed, unmarried, middle aged Amanda, a born administrator, was not the sort to mix with the locals or do anything unorthodox.

"Rubbish," said Fergus, looking up from his book, "The police couldn’t care less. If he’s a mentally backward street child, then officially he doesn’t exist. He’s better off in the private clinic. He wouldn’t make many friends on the streets of this city!"

"I don’t know about that," said Carmen. "I came across a mentally backward woman living on the street. Her hair was neatly cut, her clothes were clean and she was not malnourished. Some of the kampung people must have been helping her."

"Now that I come to think about," I said "Ujang’s hair was quite short and must have been cut quite recently."

"Watch he doesn’t get dependent on you," said Carmen. "He’d be awfully upset if you had to leave Jakarta. Another thing to watch: if you show favouritism to a child in an institution, the staff may take it out on the child when your back’s turned. They can be jealous."

"Surely not," I said. "Would professional staff do that?"

"Yes," said Carmen, emphatically.

"Talking of primitive emotions," said Fergus, "I heard that that massacre in the Dili churchyard was planned in advance."

"East Timor?" asked Ian.

"Yes," said Fergus. "They say the burial trenches were dug by the army before the massacre."

"That’s only a rumour," said Ian.

"Don’t forget the Amritsar Massacre," said Carmen. "And Bloody Sunday, and the Australians hunting down Aborigines like wild animals."

"Amritsar?" said Fergus.

"Well," explained Carmen, "that was unarmed Indians being mown down by a British general."

"I wonder if the Dili massacre will affect arms sales from Britain," said Ian.

"No chance," said Carmen, guffawing and almost spilling her coffee.

That evening brought another visit to Ujang and a chance to talk to Dr. Joseph.

"How’s he getting on?" I asked.

"We’ve discovered his name," the doctor replied, in his usual mellow, relaxed way. "Ujang whispered it to me this morning. He’s called Min. It rhymes with lean or seen."

Min was also feeling mellow, as he had his feet up on the doctor’s desk; obviously Dr Joseph had the knack of putting his patients at their ease.

I was feeling tense, but very happy that Min had broken his silence. We now knew he could speak!

"What else has he said?" I asked.

"Very little. Min seems to have extremely limited speech," continued the doctor. "That could be because of mental backwardness."

"Has he said anything about his family? His address?" I asked.

"Not yet. I don’t think he has the mental ability to understand a concept like ‘address’. He hasn’t mentioned any family."

"Do you think we’ll find his family?"

"Very unlikely."

"He still seems a bit dazed or even drunk," I said. "He shakes a lot. Could you reduce the strength of the drugs you’re giving him?"

"Yes, later we’ll reduce the strength. The drugs are to keep him peaceful and bring him out of his depression."

"Can I take Min out for a trip to the shops?"

"Of course."

We returned to the fast food restaurant and bought great big ice cream cones. Min grinned wickedly, licked his vanilla ice, and then swiftly jabbed it against my face. He shrieked like a happy two year old. Well, it was progress of a sort. I wiped my face clean, paid the bill to a bemused girl, and returned to the clinic. I didn’t mind getting a little taste of his food as long as he was happy. In earlier days I would never have imagined that an apparently mentally backward child could play an important role in my life; Min had filled a gap.


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