Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Through The Godless Hours (5)

Once the slowing screech of brakes had halted the train with a mild jolt, Daman rose from his seat and alighted on to the platform. His monthly visit to the plantation required a series of connections by road, rail and – of his own choosing – a final stretch of dirt track. Although his elevated status at the family firm granted him use of the company car he shunned this benefit; opting instead to arrive at the rural headquarters on an antiquated bicycle, by way of a circuitous countryside route from the station. He usually found this last leg of his journey therapeutic, following as it did the chaotic scrum of the capital’s busiest railway station and the discomfort endured throughout a tortuous train ride – for most of which he would be forced to stand, pressed up against a wall of equally hot bodies. His head slightly bowed, Daman surveyed the wooden planks along the platform as he walked. By the gate at the other end, a deceptively frail looking old man stood guard over the well-maintained machine that had faithfully conveyed the heir-apparent to the family business on countless previous rides.

The old man greeted him with a toothless smile, when he silently laid an affectionate palm upon his stooped back. His expression today lacking any hint of its usual cheer, Daman nonetheless politely returned the warm acknowledgement of this loyal company servant of many years. “Thanks for coming to meet me, old friend,” he said. “And how is she?” He gestured to the bicycle. “Good as new, ’Pak. Fine. Just fine. Everything in perfect working order, just as always.” The old man stroked his hand along its shiny crossbar, fondly. “And how’s Bapak these days?” he then enquired, looking up. “My father? Well, he’s getting on a bit, as you know,” replied Daman. “But aren’t we all?” They shared a forced chuckle as Daman then searched in his briefcase for the bicycle clips he had put there before departing his Jakarta home. “He’s got a bit of a cough, but basically he seems to be doing pretty well for his age. I think he’d like to get out here more often than he does, though,” he added, now bending down to affix the clamps to his trousers.

Like his father, Daman was highly respected – adored, even – by a workforce that had consistently benefited from their employer’s uncommon generosity. And from the time his father had acquired the oil palm business, he could scarcely recall any of the staff voluntarily leaving the firm. That Daman also knew most of them by name was further testament to the caring culture that was a trademark of this respected family concern. Closing his briefcase he then passed it to the old man, who slipped away to slide into the waiting car. Then, with his mind still lost in some distant time and place, Daman pushed off through the exit gate to begin his quiet ride past the village and further, to the plantation beyond.

The journey of about an hour through sparsely populated arable land provided ample opportunity for him to collect his thoughts before the monthly production review began in the company’s boardroom. But his mood today was such that he struggled to focus on his work agenda and after a while he instead squeezed on the brake, slowing the bike to a juddering halt. Dismounting to confront the anxiety that had occupied him all morning, he squatted to sit on lush grass of an unnaturally vivid green. Although turned fifty, Daman had been fortunate to retain an essence of his youthful good looks and, somewhat absently, he now ran his fingers through thick, dark hair. But the appearance of this sensitive man betrayed a mind that was aging fast with worry. A mind insistent, it seemed, upon conjuring up recollections that once more filled the deep wells of his eyes with some hidden, unbearable sadness. As he sat in teary contemplation beside the roughly hewn track, his overwhelming feeling was one of guilt: guilt that he had not fulfilled his father’s ambition for him; guilt that he did not love his wife – a loyal, caring companion who had always been so supportive. And another, supreme guilt from a past he had tried to leave behind – from which he thought he could simply walk away, but that had continued to visit him ever since, just as it had today.

It was during one of his early trips to the plantation, when his father was still active in the running of the business and he, fresh out of university, was still cutting his teeth, that Daman first rode his bicycle into the village, in exploration…

posted by Kirk at 11:19 pm  

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