Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (38)

When Anath first arrived in the capital, he quickly realised that he had effectively swapped one village for another. For throughout the vast, sprawling metropolis that Jakarta was, a patchwork of small communities made up the fabric of this great but distressed city, providing mutual support, sharing responsibilities and, to the best of their ability, seeing to it that everyone was suitably provided for. In this way, the humble people of the Kampungs took care of their own, within the confines of their allotted sub-districts. And unlike those he had left behind in the rural place of his birth, these Kampung folk looked out for one another unhesitatingly – for history had taught them that it paid to care. The harsh realities of city life had, over generations, convinced them that a system of mutual support was the most effective way of perpetuating their existence and this principle was continually being handed down from grandfather to father to son, and over again.

Because of his acceptance into their community, Anath had been fortunate to strike up immediate friendships with a variety of neighbours from many different walks of life. He was quite naturally a likeable young man who, in return for their kindness and impartiality, returned whatever favours he could, whenever his strictly disciplined work regime would permit. And so each afternoon he would remember to sprint a free copy of The Jakarta Post to the infirm old woman who lived three blocks South of his newsstand. The round trip would take a little over fifteen minutes – unless she insisted he stayed for a glass of hot tea – during which time one of the obliging waiters from the restaurant would be on hand to watch over his stall, perhaps taking the opportunity to flick through a magazine whilst casually smoking a cigarette.

Maybe it was this camaraderie – a sense of belonging he was experiencing for the first time in his life – that had kept Anath at the same location he had first arrived at in the big city, diligently working his newsstand while carrying out the same uninspiring daily routines. For sure, there could be no other reason. Because from his pre-dawn preparations throughout the hot, sticky and pollution-filled roadside days, Anath would be counting the minutes: alone with his thoughts, biding his time. To an active mind like his, Anath’s life was a dreary soap opera in which he played a part far beneath his calling. He was the prodigy cast as a bit-part extra, an overlooked virtuoso forced to eke out a living on the sidelines.

The only real satisfaction he experienced was when, on returning each evening to his rented digs, he would hungrily gulp down his main meal of the day – something he often garnered from Sate Blora. But after this mundane ritual, his remaining energy would permit him only to collapse in a heap on to his bed, exhausted. The question in his mind, then – one that had been festering for some considerable time – was when would he have the courage to break free of these circumstances and proactively seek out a greater challenge?

From the large family home in the same suburb, ’Pak Bambang was meanwhile becoming concerned that his grandson’s progress appeared stymied – that the boy was suffering from a form of paralysis, brought on by indecision. The old industrialist’s direct observations were sporadic and of necessity never involved open discussion, but he knew from the lack of talk about Anath around the Kampung that nothing ever changed, that life instead went on in its unexciting way for the solitary young man. Frustrated, ’Pak Bambang felt an increasing urge to intervene: indeed, if it were possible, he would opt to walk straight up to the boy, look him squarely in the eye and shake him from this stasis – tell him to move on up; seek out a better life and career.

For although he was proud of the way Anath pushed himself through each uneventful day; knew that this was still building a solid platform upon which his grandson would later mould his ideals, he was also keenly aware that the ticking of the clock was slowly turning this fresh young boy into a world-weary, down-trodden man. Moreover, he understood that the passage of time was making it ever less likely that he would see the day when this gifted child could be announced and formally accepted into the family: something that was his ultimate dream. Because he knew that his own time was short. Had known it, in fact, for a while.

Ever since his early forties, when he had stopped smoking for good, ’Pak Bambang had counted the passing of each birthday as a blessing to be treasured, a gift from God that reinforced his faith and, in turn, contributed to his benevolence. “All I want for my birthday… is another birthday,” he would quip, when his children asked him each year what gift they could offer their beloved patriarch – a man who already had almost everything one could wish for. But behind the veneer of his smile there had always lurked concern, a fear that to his great dismay had ultimately been confirmed when, on a routine visit to his trusted doctor he had been sat down in the surgery and given the bad news. Cancer. Throughout his lungs. Inoperable. Twelve months – perhaps more if he were lucky.

Oh, how he wished he could have turned back the clock and refused that first cigarette that had set him along this path, a path that was now about to end – abruptly. But this journey was along a conveyor belt that was about to disappear from under his feet – and there was no other way of getting off, except at the end.

posted by Kirk at 6:55 am  

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