Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (72)

They alighted from the provincial bus into drizzle, as dusk began to fall on the capital. Darkness was threatening to arrive much earlier than usual, owing to the heavy cloud cover. Glancing up, the sight of the oppressive sky caused Ramani to shiver, suddenly. “Shall we take a mikrolet?” she suggested to the old man, while covering her head with her scarf. “What about a taxi, ’Bu?” he replied. “It’ll be more comfortable, and we can share the cost.” Obligingly, Ramani followed him as he trotted off with surprising agility, in pursuit of a cab.

Before long, a Blue Bird drew to a shuddering halt at the kerbside in front of them. The muddy water that splashed over their shoes resembled chocolate milk. But the old man was still pleased, for he knew that this particular taxi firm, rare in Jakarta, employed drivers who could be trusted to take their passengers along the most direct of routes, and without trying to swindle them via the levying of unnecessary extras. “Ke mana, ’Pak?Where do you want to go? asked the driver, as the old man settled himself beside Ramani in the back seat. “Just drive,” he replied, somewhat mysteriously.

Turning her head sharply in his direction, Ramani was about to challenge the old man’s instruction when, anticipating this, he cut her off. “My dear, you must forgive me. Ma’af, ya – you must think it strange. But I have to confess that there’s something I’ve been withholding from you. You see it was no coincidence that I sat next to you on the bus, and also no accident that we now sit here together, in this taxi.” There was a sharp intake of breath from the woman beside him. “Please… Please…, my dear,” he soothed, patting her arm. “I pose no threat to you; you are in no danger. On the contrary, I’m here to help. See, I know who you are, Ibu Ramani, and why you’re making this journey today.” A thousand questions were now flashing through her mind. What’s going on? Who is this person? And how does he know who I am?

Reading her thoughts, the old man continued: “Do you remember what I told you, back there on the bus? About the fact that I had only ever worked for one company, all my life?” Ramani simply stared at him, suspiciously. What’s that got to do with anything? “That my boss, a generous man,” he went on, “had seen to it that I – and all the other workers, too – were always well provided for, to the extent, even, that we were allowed, over time, to accrue stakes in the company?” She nodded now, recalling the story that had ushered her into a spell of peaceful slumber. “Well that man was – is’Pak Bambang, and the company I have worked for all these years is PT Bambang–” “Edible Oil,” she completed his sentence, as the penny began to drop. My God, what is this? she asked herself again. Why is someone from the plantation tailing me?

“Tell me what’s going on,” Ramani insisted. “Please.” Detecting the rising note of anxiety in the woman’s voice, the old man once again attempted to soothe her. But what he next said served only to send her into a tailspin of alarm, instead. “My dear, like I said: try not to worry. Your boy is stable, but weak. All he needs is–” Stable…? Weak…? What does that mean? Your boy? What does he know about Anath? What’s happened? “What’s happened? Please ,’Pak. Tell me,” she begged him, becoming hysterical now. “What’s happened…? Tell me!” And now it was the old man’s turn to experience surprise. Could it be that she genuinely doesn’t know…? he asked himself. But why, then, did she take the first available bus to Jakarta…? No. Impossible.

He paused for a moment to think, before issuing fresh instructions to the driver: “’Pak: Rumah Sakit Medika!” Absorbing everything, and captivated by the drama that appeared to be unfolding, the driver responded by nodding into his rear view mirror. Stable…? Weak…? thought Ramani, again. Rumah Sakit Medika? “What d’you mean? Please!” “But surely you know? If not, why were you on that bus, so soon after it happened?” “What happened? Please! I don’t understand! What’s happened…?

“OK, OK… I can’t really believe… But look, if you are truly unaware of today’s events, then I can tell you. There was a fight, Bu. Outside Sate Blora, where your son’s newsstand is. One of the men involved pulled a gun. Fired a few rounds…” But this was now far too much for poor Ramani to bear, the old man’s partial revelation producing an anguished shriek, as she buried her face in her hands. “Nooooo…!” she wailed. “Shh… come on, now. It’s all right, Bu. Like I said, your boy is stable. He was just a bystander. Took a bullet in the shoulder, that’s all. He’s going to be all right.”

By now, the old man was gripping her arm firmly, by way of reassurance. “The wound’s not a problem, but he’s lost a lot of blood. He’s very weak, according to the Doctors.” Summoning all the composure she could, Ramani lowered her hands from her tear-streaked face and stared at him, her eyes still brimming. “He’s got a very rare blood type. B negative,” she suddenly blurted. “Just like me.”

Bingo, thought the old man.

posted by Kirk at 10:59 pm  

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