Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Monday, June 9, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (54)

Ketu Pramoedya had always commanded a fair amount of respect in the kampung, his reputation that of a decent, hard-working man who made up for what he lacked in terms of an academic education with his natural pragmatism. So when he had taken control of the situation outside Sate Blora, it was of little surprise to many of the locals. Back at the scene of the incident, people were now gathered in their hundreds – all milling around in excited conversation, swapping second and third hand anecdotes. They would be talking about what they had seen long into the night, and likely for days to come – embellishing what they knew to be true with every piece of tittle-tattle they happened to chance upon.

The minibus, meanwhile, was weaving a frenzied route through the afternoon traffic, veering from outside lane back across to the kerbside and even, when there was no other way of making progress, up and on to the cracked pavements, scattering pedestrians in all directions. Already notorious for the aggressive paths they carved through the city, the driver of this particular bus was seemingly intent on raising the bar in recklessness. Inside, the group from the kampung were being flung left and right, forced to grab at anything that might keep them from sliding off the bench seats and on to the prostrate boy. “Masya’allah! Slow down! Didn’t you hear what I said?” yelled Ketu, reminding the driver of his earlier instructions. “You’ll damn well kill him!” “Ya, tolol! You might as well drive straight to the mortuary – no need to pay any doctor!” quipped another, his throwaway comment producing an angry stare from Ketu. “Ma’af, ’Pak,” the man, shame faced, then corrected himself. Sorry. “Sorry, ’Pak,” piped up the driver, almost simultaneously. “It’s a long time since I’ve driven anything, let alone a clapped out mikrolet like this!”

By now, the stench of blood throughout the passenger compartment was overpowering and the group had virtually given up trying to hold the boy still, or attend to his wound. The bleeding seemed to have slowed in any event, had perhaps stopped altogether – something that was more to do with Anath’s dangerously low blood pressure than any sign that his condition was improving. And there was further bad news on the way. Rounding a bend in the road, the driver then hit the brakes hard as they came up behind a wall of traffic, sending Anath sliding forward along the tinny footwell towards the front of the compartment, his limp body halting only as his feet concertinaed against the wall of the driver’s cabin.

…and now he was lying in an open canoe… drifting along the river… the sound of water sloshing, trickling… his hand dangling over the side, feeling its warmth run through his fingers…

Anath gained consciousness momentarily, lifting up a hand from the pool of blood in which it had been resting. As he inspected it, his expression was one of curiosity – this was an unexpected twist in the dream and, now that he began to gain focus, was not something he found particularly tasteful. The red fluid that dripped from his fingers had a horrible, metallic smell and there seemed to be an awful lot of it, all around him. With a groan, he then fell mercifully back into the void from which he had emerged, just moments earlier. Outside, the rain was falling heavier; the sky black with thunderclouds. It was as if nighttime had fallen. And inside the bus these were dark moments, too. A nightmare, in fact. “You’ve got to do something!” yelled one of the group, while pointing to the boy. “We’ll – no, he’ll – run out of time if we just sit here!” The driver leant on the horn, an action that served only to encourage other drivers to do the same. Despite the cacophony, they still remained stationary. “Come on, ’Mas – do something!” shouted another.

Glancing in his rear view mirror, the driver saw that nothing had yet come up behind them. Crunching the gearbox into reverse, he then accelerated backwards entirely without warning, a manoeuvre that sent at least one of his passengers sliding up the bench seat to clatter into the back of his cabin. “Steady, bodoh!” shouted Ketu. But the driver appeared to have entered a kind of trance, saying nothing in return as he spun the mikrolet around and sped off in the direction they had come. At considerable speed, the group was now travelling the wrong way down the main thoroughfare, with no possibility of mounting the large concrete median separating the carriageways. The incredulous occupants of a succession of oncoming cars were soon passing either side of them, honking and flashing their lights, while throwing drive-by gesticulations. Showing considerable dexterity for once, the mikrolet’s driver managed to avoid them all – each one seeming to add to some invisible score, as if they were locked inside a computer game. Tilt! “I’ll get us off at the next slip road!” he barked, his excitement showing. Soon enough, they were being launched up the next spur, against the flow of traffic. Narrowly avoiding a similar minibus, whose driver was forced to stand on his brakes in order to avoid a head-on collision, the sheer relief among the group was almost physical as they finally arrived at the trunk road that ran above the highway. Turning on to it – now in the right direction – Ketu cleared his throat: “You’ll, er… have to use the… er, back roads,” he stuttered. “Ambil jalan tikus… We’ll have to… pray this jam hasn’t… spread there yet.”

Continuing on, the group then picked their way along the twists and turns of the narrow lanes that criss-crossed the city’s kampungs, passing wall after wall of graffiti as they slowly weaved their laboured route towards the hospital. None of them saw the words


that flashed past at one point, nor could have guessed their significance had they done so.

posted by Kirk at 5:59 am  

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