Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (62)

From the moment ’Pak Bambang learned of the dire events outside Sate Blora, he knew that Ramani would be making the journey from her village to the dust bowl that was Jakarta. For the beating drums of the city’s kampungs would convey their news with urgency, from Bekasi to Tanggerang and then out into the countryside beyond. It would not be long, then, before their hypnotic lure would reach the desa. But it had taken the old man by surprise to learn from his loyal servant there that the mother of his grandson was boarding the two o’clock bus to the capital. Two o’clock? How had she heard so quickly? Even the raging winds of gossip were not enough to explain. ’Pak Bambang found himself marvelling at what was either Ramani’s extensive network of connections, or else her powerful intuition. Whichever, hers was a startlingly fast reaction to the situation that had arisen.

Reflecting now upon how much water had flowed under the bridge since the indiscretion that had reshaped so many lives, he let out a long sigh. My poor boy, he mulled. Denied the pleasure of watching his only son grow up. Forcibly separated from the love of his life. Slowly, a sense of guilt was beginning to creep up on the old man. His thoughts now turned to his grandson, lying in hospital. Denied the right to a father. A kid who, despite the absence of the man who would have been his role model, had grown into someone of whom they could all justifiably be proud. And now the innocent victim of a stray bullet. Everything that had happened of late seemed to ’Pak Bambang like a form of divine retribution – punishment, perhaps, for his stubborn insistence all those years ago that his son should be sent away. Suddenly hacking up a cough, he winced at the accompanying pain. And it was in that moment that it crystallised, and he saw with uncommon clarity that he had been wrong. Wrong to intervene in something that nature, and hence God, had ordained. Spitting the bloody phlegm into a handkerchief, he accepted his guilt with doleful resignation, vowing in the same instant to make amends, to do whatever he could to reverse the suffering he had caused, while he still had time…

Back inside the hospital, matters were becoming critical. It was apparent to the doctor that Anath was now barely clinging to the last threads of his life. The guy from the kampung was right, he reflected. In order to establish the boy’s blood type, he had been forced to take even more from his weak and ashen body. But the result that a helpful porter had subsequently sprinted back from the lab had only added to his problems. Type B negative. Masy’allah! he had cursed in disbelief, his eyes raised skyward. For the doctor knew that less than one percent of the local population had this type of blood coursing through their veins. It was so rare, in fact, that he was certain they did not have a supply in the hospital blood bank. Moving fast, he now began to prove his mettle. Stabilising his patient in a last-ditch attempt to save his life, he began by giving the boy a transfusion of type O negative uncross-matched blood. And although he knew this procedure would likely cause an adverse reaction, he had no choice but to gamble. Now fully committed to the cause, the doctor prayed that his patient would suffer only the mildest form – a short, if severe, fever. Paging the receptionist, he next instructed her to broadcast an urgent message over the hospital tannoy system. It was only moments before he gratefully overheard her announcement echoing around the corridors:

“Bapak-Bapak dan Ibu-Ibu yang terhormat. Respected ladies and gentlemen. Your attention, please. We have a serious trauma case in the Casualty Department that requires the transfusion of type B negative blood. Repeat, type B negative. Would anyone who has this blood type kindly make themselves known to the nearest Casualty Department staff member. Terima kasih. Thank you. Bapak-Bapak dan…”

But although the message was repeated two or three times over the course of the next few minutes there were, as expected, no volunteers. In the meantime, however, the doctor was able to record the return of a modest amount of pressure within his patient’s circulatory system, lifting his expectations. He’s going to pull through after all, he encouraged himself. But there was still the need to locate a supply of the right blood type, and the clock was ticking. Knowing that one or other – perhaps both – of the young man’s parents must also be carrying B negative, the doctor then studied the admission form. No surname, and no contact details for either parent, he thought to himself, angrily. Why not? With the boy now regaining some stability, he called over a nurse, barking a series of instructions before hurrying back to the room behind the reception area. Shuddering momentarily at the recollection of his recent roughing-up, he grabbed the telephone on his desk to dial around to his contacts at other, nearby hospitals. Surely someone’s got B negative?

Just then, the receptionist entered the room. Irritated, the doctor gestured to her with the admission form. “There’s no information here. What am I expected to do?” His tone was overly harsh – it seemed for a moment that hostilities were about to be resumed. But the weary look on her face made him soften his approach. “Look, I know you were under pressure when the boy was brought in, but it’s vital that we find his parents. He’s of a rare blood type, and one of them must be, too. I really need them to get here as quick as they can, so they can give me some blood,” he explained. “OK, ’Pak Doctor,” replied the woman, showing him an appropriate amount of respect. “But as far as I know, the people who brought him here don’t even know his family name. Anyway, I’ll see what I can do.” Taking the form she pushed through the swinging door to return to her station where, standing on tiptoe, she peered around the room to see if any of the group remained. Suddenly spotting two of them among the throng that was milling about the busy lobby, she moved quickly across to ascertain what they knew of the young man’s background.

“He’s a pleasant kid,” said one. “Came to the city from out of town what – three or four years back? Been running the newspaper stand ever since.” “I heard he’s an orphan,” said the other. “No Mum or Dad,” he added, a little dimly. “How is he, anyway? Is he gonna… you know… make it, like?” “I see. Thank you,” replied the receptionist, ignoring the man’s last comment. “Thanks for your help.” She walked off, once more clutching the admission form to her chest, a look of consternation on her face as she wondered whether there was anything more she could be doing for the young man.

posted by Kirk at 11:58 pm  

Friday, August 1, 2008

The Number One Under Heaven (42)

Blake stood in line before the Kowloon Airways check-in desk, fiddling anxiously with his passport and the ticket he had purchased moments earlier from the airline service counter. The tinny resonance that rattled about inside Chek Lap Kok’s huge, hangar-like structure was temporarily blotted from his mind, so focused was he on the task at hand. For since learning of the events that had transpired in Guilin, Blake’s thoughts had been dominated by a single objective. Find Sophie. After a few more minutes’ frustration, the snaking queue delivered him at last to the economy class desk, where he gruffly completed check-in formalities. Then, moving quickly through immigration courtesy of smart-ID and his right thumbprint, Blake found himself airside in a matter of just a few minutes. With plenty of time to kill before his flight, he opted to ride the travellator that ran the length of the passenger terminal’s extended hall, rather than take the underground train. Although the journey to gate sixty-four would take significantly longer by this route, subconsciously he determined to remain in light. It was as if any contact he made with the darkness of the tunnel below might cause the most precious thing in his life to remain trapped, hidden forever.

On reaching his destination some five minutes later, Blake slumped gloomily into one of the gate’s bench chairs, feeling drained. There was nothing he could do now but wait for the flight to be called. Suddenly, it occurred to him that Elle was also flying that day, to Paris. Almost unbelievably, it was the first time he had thought about her since pushing open the door to his Caperidge apartment earlier that morning. Taking out his cell-phone, with which he had now been reunited, he slowly dialled her number. “Hi!” she answered, cheerily. “How are you?” But Blake now found it impossible to speak – no words would come out. His silence instantly alarmed her. “Adam, what’s wrong? What’s wrong, baby?” she enquired, urgently. “Where… where are y-you?” he managed to stutter. Although the line was clear, to Elle his voice sounded distant, almost frail. “At the airport, I–” “I know…” he cut in. “But wh-whereabouts?” “What, whereabouts in the airport?” “Yeah.” “I’m in the Air France lounge, why?” “Where’s that?” “Where are you, baby? Are you… here… too?” Elle enquired, standing. Instinctively, she began looking all around her. “Yeah. Where’s the lounge?” Blake was beginning to regain some of his composure. “Near gate sixty, upstairs. How come you’re here, lover?” “I need to talk. M-meet me outside the lounge. In five, please.” “Sure, but–” But Blake had already snapped shut his cell-phone, without hearing. Perplexed, Elle rose from her seat, leaving her carry-on baggage behind as she made briskly for the exit. What’s he doing here?

“What’s up, babe?” she asked, as Blake reached the top of the escalator. He looked awful. Haggard. Nervous. A complete stranger to the man she had so far known, who had kissed her passionately when leaving her apartment earlier that morning. He ran his fingers through unusually lank hair. It was at this point that she also noticed he was wearing the same clothes. And now, now that he had seen her, the tears began to stream down his cheeks. Elle moved forward, embracing him tightly with a hug that he would never forget, so much was it what he needed at that moment. “What’s wrong, Adam? Please. Whatever it is, please tell me, baby.” “I’m… so afraid…” he sobbed. “And so very… sorry, Elle.” “Why? What’s happened? Tell me – please, Adam. “I haven’t told you before… because I didn’t know how.” “Told me what?” A thousand thoughts flashed through her mind. He’s a murderer… He’s got AIDS… He’s married… “Adam, whatever it is, I can take it. I’m not a little gir–” “I’m married,” he stated, abruptly. “I guessed that already.” “With a child.” “Oh.” Her expression changed. “D-daughter. Seven-year-old.” Elle was silent now. She imagined that his next words would be something like: I can’t go on seeing you. But what he actually said made her shiver, as if a cold blade had been run down the length of her spine. “She’s m-missing. Missing. My little girl… M-missing. They fucking lost her. In Ch-china.” For a moment, Elle was speechless. Her mouth hung open as she processed his words into meaning, then emotion. “Oh, my God, Adam. You poor thing,” she suddenly blurted. “I’m so… so sorry…” Looking into his, her eyes flashed left and right, seeking contact with his soul. “What are you going to–” “I’m on my… my way… Going there now,” continued Blake. “Oh God, Elle, what am I going to do? Where do I start?”

Blake was now beginning to blubber, the tears he had wanted to cry flooding his eyes, running in rivers down his face. It was like the breaking of a dam and it left him feeling weak at the knees, as if he might collapse. Gently, Elle led him to a nearby bench where they sat down, her arm around him. Blake’s hands were clasped together, his eyes staring down at his feet. “Come on, babe. You’ve got to be strong,” his lover urged. “You can’t fall down at a time like this. Come on.” “But I feel so helpless, Elle. So alone. If it weren’t for you…” he sobbed. “And I feel guilty, as well. I’ve been so neglectful, Elle. Been living my own life… without even thinking about my little girl. Been so selfish. Never given it a thought that she might miss her Daddy when she doesn’t see me for days on end because of… ’cause of work or… or because I don’t always bother coming home any more.” “You’re being too hard on yourself, Adam,” Elle soothed, now stroking a hand across his back. “And now she’s… she’s gone, for fuck’s sake… I’ve lost her,” he concluded, tearfully.

Blake’s nose was running. He moved to cuff it, but Elle had already pulled out a tissue from her blazer pocket. “Come on, don’t beat yourself up,” she encouraged him, dabbing at his top lip. “You haven’t lost her. She’s missing, that’s all. You’ll find her – I know you will.” “Miss So?” came a voice from behind her, suddenly. “Yes?” she enquired, turning. “Your gate is closing, Ma’am. You have to board right away,” said the man, a uniformed airline staffer. Nodding briefly, she turned back to Blake and cupped her hand under his chin, looking directly into his eyes. “Adam, I feel awful. But I’ve got to go now. This is such an important trip for me, but I’ll try and cut it short. I’ll get back as soon as I can. Probably a couple of days at most.” Blake sucked in air. He knew it was time to pull himself together, to regain his focus. “Go. Go, Elle,” he said, breathing out. “And thanks. Thanks for your support. You make me feel strong, you know. I hope it goes well for you, over there. Take care.” Reluctantly, Elle stood and withdrew, her throat constricting with emotion. She could barely manage a feeble wave as Blake then turned to walk a lonely return to gate sixty-four…

Elle stood in front of the Air France gate, tapping her travel documents against a hand. Her expression was rigid, fixed in thought. Her eyes stared at the machine that would consume her boarding pass and then spew out the stub, before she took the short walk across the airbridge and through the aircraft door. “Miss So?” said the woman standing beside the machine, impatiently. “Miss So, you must board now. You’re holding up the flight.” There was a further pause before Elle then looked up at her. For a fleeting moment, she thought she heard herself say: Take my bags off the plane, I can’t go… But instead she handed over the boarding pass, trancelike, before walking slowly down the ramp and on to the waiting plane.

posted by Kirk at 10:21 pm  
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