Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (74)

Whilst unable to get hold of his most influential acquaintance – the old oil palm industrialist – the Lurah had decided, in any event, to press ahead with his plan to hold a meeting among some of the more senior figures within the community. The earlier visit had left him with a notable sense of disquiet and he wanted to ensure he would have their support should his intransigence over the matter of the injured boy backfire. Nibbling on some kueh lapisan in the same, well appointed room as that in which Ketu had pleaded with him, he now addressed the gathering:

“OK, look. To get straight to the point, I had a visit today from one of the local people. A bit of a troublemaker, I fear. Came on to me quite strongly. He wanted access to the community’s money, to bail out some boy who was accidentally shot this afternoon.” Around the room, a few eyebrows were raised. “I heard about the incident,” someone piped up. “Shouldn’t we–” “Best keep out of it,” someone else cut him off. “Apparently, it involved a military man.” “That’s exactly my point,” said the Lurah, grateful for the man’s cue. “If we get involved in this, we might end up in trouble with ABRI, and who knows what the backlash might be if that happens?” There were several in the room who swallowed hard at the thought. “I told the fellow who came here earlier – Ketu Pramoedya’s his name – that the boy should be seeking compensation from whoever it was who shot him. That it would be unwise for the Kelurahan to become involved, on an official basis.” There were nods of consent from almost all present. “Right – that’s it, then. I take it you agree with my approach and that I’ll be able to count on your support, should any more pressure be applied on me to fund the boy’s treatment. We’re taking this position because of the danger of being seen to interfere in ABRI’s affairs. All agreed?” One of the men wanted to say something but he desisted, as the rest, sheeplike, murmured their consent.

Summoning the maid, the Lurah offered the men more tea, as they now prepared to switch their attention to a session of dominoes. The serious business of the day concluded, their casual banter returned, erasing with it any notion of sympathy they might have harboured for the boy’s plight…

Staring intently at their de facto leader, they sat in a circle around a low, makeshift table, the wafts of savoury oil rising up from the fried tofu piled high on the plates that rested on its surface. “Firstly, I’d like to thank you all for coming,” Ketu addressed them. “It’s been a difficult day already, and I appreciate the extra effort you’ve made in coming out again tonight. Come on, dig in,” he continued, offering the plate around. “They’re on me: a token of my thanks.” Just to one side, the portly tukang warung was preparing to lower some more bean curd chunks into the boiling fat. Ketu, meanwhile, paused for a moment to gather himself.

“There is a gross miscarriage of justice about to happen, here,” he said, breathing out heavily. “If we allow it, that is.” It was the start of his rallying call, his attempt to rouse the rag-tag war council that seemed content, instead, to while away the evening quietly dipping the cubes of their free supper into the hot chili sauce provided. “As you all know, there is a boy – an innocent boy, mind – lying in hospital right now. Gunned down while minding his own business, he is one of us, my friends. And do you know what that means?” There were blank looks all around. “It means that any of us might have taken that bullet. Just for being in the wrong place, at the wrong time.” Ketu pointed to the spot where Anath had fallen. “What if you had been stood there, chatting to the kid, or you?” he continued, singling out one or two of the less enthusiastic among the group. “We know that it was some sort of accident – that he was not the intended victim. And we also know that whoever it was who fired the gun was wearing an army uniform – so there is no point in trying to track him down in order to seek compensation. But I ask you. All of you: if it were you lying in that hospital right now, wouldn’t you be hoping that your community would come to your aid? Would offer their help when you most needed it? And I tell you something else: the kid is going to need money – lots of it – the sort of money I doubt he has.”

Ketu’s impassioned speech had by now gained the attention of even the least enthused among those present, and a silence fell. It was so quiet that the friction between one cube of deep fried tofu and another could be heard, as the tukang warung tipped more of the snacks on to their plates. “And another thing,” Ketu went on. “Some of us have already made a financial contribution to the boy’s treatment that we could scarcely afford, and which must be reimbursed, from the kampung kitty.” This aspect struck a particular chord with most of those gathered. It seemed that Ketu’s war cry was beginning to gain momentum. “And that, my friends,” he continued, “is why I was so disappointed at the reaction I got earlier this afternoon from our so-called leader, ’Pak Lurah.” His voice was now beginning to rise in pitch. “Listen. We all pay our monthly dues into his coffers, no? Well, that money is supposed to be used for the benefit of the whole community, not just him and his cronies. I kid you not: his house like the istana. Porcelain cups, fine tableware, not to mention the oil paintings! All told, it must be worth millions of Rupiah. Millions. And when I suggested we put some of the money – our money… the community’s money – to good use in supporting the boy, who, by the way, has made the same contributions as all of us these past few years, he virtually accused him of being an outsider – “someone just passing through”, he said, who might walk away from his debt, from us, the very people that came to his rescue.” “He’d never do that!” shouted the big tukang, eavesdropping in on the conversation. “I agree. He’s a good kid. Jujur.” Honest. “There’s no way he’d walk away from debt,” added another.

“OK. So here’s what I say we do. If the Lurah wants to play hardball, we’ll play that game too. And I think I know which of us is going to win.” There was a general consensus around the low table. Let’s do it…Terima kasih.” Thank you. “I knew I could count on your support. Now look: I have a few ideas as to how we can bring this thing to the boil; embarrass the old man into coughing up the necessary funds – and reimburse us in the process. But we’re going to need a number of volunteers. How many men d’you think we can put together, between us?”

From their responses, Ketu was able to estimate that, all told, they could muster forty-five, possibly fifty volunteers for the action he planned. Allowing for a few no-shows, he then reduced his overall expectation to forty, which would still be more than the required minimum. Cukup! That’ll be enough! he thought. Alhamdulillah!

“OK. The next thing I need is two volunteers to go to Rumah Sakit Medika. To replace the others.” Several hands shot up, from which he made a selection. “Thanks again. Right: everyone else go home, get some rest and come back here at ten o’clock tonight. Oh, and don’t forget to bring as many more volunteers as you can find along with you. We’re going to need all the support we can get. It’s going to be a long night, I expect…”

posted by Kirk at 12:40 am  


  1. I recently came accross your blog and have been reading along. I thought I would leave my first comment. I dont know what to say except that I have enjoyed reading. Nice blog.

    Tim Ramsey

    Comment by Tim Ramsey — October 7, 2008 @ 1:15 am

  2. Thanks, Tim. It’s always nice to hear that someone’s out there… and enjoying it. If you don’t mind, could you let me know which aspects of the novels have interested you most, or which characters make the most impression. That would be very much appreciated. Cheers, The Kaptain

    Comment by Kirk — October 7, 2008 @ 1:27 am

  3. Kaptain, I also have been enjoying the blog and reading along but one question about the story. Would such a powerful industrialist really care about the boy? I know that it would be a much shorter story if he didnt care but does guilt really drive us to redeem ourselves? Is guilt the driver for the others as well? Opps that is two questions. Craig

    Comment by Craig — October 8, 2008 @ 12:01 am

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