Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Friday, November 16, 2007

Through The Godless Hours (1)

A dusty street in the heart of the Indonesian capital, pre-dawn. In the steamy Jakarta air, Anath stooped to rouse the sleeping vagrant. Once, twice – and then a third time – he ducked down to tug gingerly at filthy rags that adorned the skin and bone lying motionless at his feet. He had no desire to startle the man, but was keen to send him quickly on his way, so that he could begin his work. For five years, the young émigré from the country had fulfilled a mundane role as purveyor of news to the residents of this urban backyard. It was a simple service that was nonetheless relied upon – taken for granted, even – by the scores of busy commuters that filed past daily, as if in procession. Anath observed that there was rarely any sparkle in the eyes of those rushing to claim their stakes in the city’s emerging wealth. And even less etched on the faces of the tired and dispirited workforce as it returned home after another day of frustrated enterprise. “Come on, ’Bang. Let’s go,” he urged, encouraging the tramp to rise. And then, as the outcast’s eyelids began to unstick, he pointed along the road to nowhere in particular, adding: “Go. Go now, my friend.” Ever sensitive to the plight of the less fortunate, Anath’s awkward prodding at the prostrate bundle of rags signalled not a reluctance to engage the vagrant, but instead a profound sympathy for the man’s situation. For he knew himself what it was to feel the pain of society’s rejection, to be cast out. And as well as sympathy, he was also experiencing a sense of guilt: guilt that it had first been necessary to wake the beggar; guilt that he was now sending him on his way. And to where? he thought to himself. Another dusty patch of earth from which he will similarly be hounded? But as the stench of the man’s soiled garments then caught him unawares, neither of these compassionate instincts was sufficient to prevent the reflex that jerked up from the pit of his stomach and his head twisted sharply away, as if tugged by some invisible string.

Once the tramp had at last shuffled off in search of his next temporary home, Anath began the routine that had defined every morning since he came to the city. The square of dust he shared with the other roadside vendor was his from dawn till dusk. Then, stirred by the cooling evening breeze, the rustle of papers atop his newsstand would make way for the crackle and spit of nighttime’s frying gluten, as the portly Tukang Warung fired up his row of woks. For the dusty patch of city earth on which Anath now busied himself was worked almost around the clock, his dailies replaced each evening by the sweet and savoury bouquet of fried tofu that wafted up and down the street in lure of passers-by. To the rear, the shared concession was abutted by the façade of Sate Blora: a popular restaurant where families would gather at weekends to chew on skewered goat flesh, Kampung chicken and a range of local vegetable preparations, all smothered in the spicy peanut sauce that was the restaurant’s trademark. Situated just to the right of its main entrance, Anath’s newsstand was ideally placed to attract the attention of its patrons, many of whom took the time to strike up polite conversation with the personable young man from the country. As with each morning, his first task today was to sweep away last night’s refuse, discarded without care or thought by the richer – yet somehow poorer – early hours’ frequenters of the food-stall. Their nightly detours on returning home from one of the city’s famous nightclubs were now ritual, although it was evident that this ‘cultivated élite’ was still reluctant to use the trash cans. No doubt the greasy detritus that now covered the ground in this quiet, pre-dawn twilight had also lured the other, less affluent visitor. Anath smiled to himself, happy in the knowledge that the rich kids’ leftovers had at least provided the unfortunate beggar with sufficient nourishment to usher him into a temporary spell of peaceful slumber. After sweeping up the wrappings and their partial contents, he then watered his pitch in splashes, using a ladle from the small bucket of untreated water he had brought from his nearby lodgings. With the area cleaned and damped down, he then went about setting up the rudimentary newsstand that had provided his sole source of income these past five years. Dawn was the only hour of the day this simple preparation could be undertaken without an accompanying tide of sweat, and for this Anath was grateful. In a city whose sub-tropical heat had always been relentless, the West’s obsession with ‘global warming’ seemed ironic: the concept arousing little interest among even those possessing the time and inclination to pause for thought in the chaotic metropolis that Jakarta had become.

posted by Kirk at 8:58 pm  


  1. Kirk this sounds good I am sure it will grab some attention.Need to pick some chat sites to connect to your site here.This reminds me that I have not read the revised version of this your first novel and I would like to if you have a spare copy.Regards Mike.

    Comment by Mike Collins — November 18, 2007 @ 11:38 pm

  2. Start handing out free copies and you’ll be sharing the pitch next to Bung Anath.

    Comment by Furriskey — November 19, 2007 @ 2:54 am


    Comment by Furriskey — November 19, 2007 @ 4:13 am

  4. would love to read one of these books!

    Comment by sara — November 29, 2009 @ 7:16 pm

  5. Hi Sara – yes, you will… Love, Dad x

    Comment by Kirk Austin — November 30, 2009 @ 11:33 pm

  6. good! can’t wait! XXXX

    Comment by sara — December 2, 2009 @ 11:00 am

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