Kaptain's Blog

The writings and musings of The Kaptain

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Through The Godless Hours (28)

’Pak Bambang had patiently built up his oil palm business over more than three decades. Ever the benevolent employer, he had even developed a scheme whereby his workers were progressively allowed to own shares in the company, based upon the length of their individual service and the firm’s overall financial performance. For them, this was an extremely generous proposition – one almost unheard of in a country that had become obsessed with money; where corporate greed was now the norm. In consequence, PT Bambang Edible Oil was a business well looked after by its loyal employees, many of who had remained at the firm since the old man first acquired it.

The loyalty of his most senior managers extended on a personal level to near devotion: there was nothing of which he might ask that they would not willingly undertake, provided it was within their means. And so it had been that on the sticky evening four years earlier when Anath had set out for Jakarta on the overnight bus, he was unaware of being shadowed by one of the company’s most trusted servants. And when the stranger had then roused him from his slumber as they arrived at the city’s bus terminus early the next morning, the conversation he struck up as they alighted was by no means idle. It was no coincidence that this man knew of a place offering clean and cheap accommodation, to which he promptly escorted the grateful young man, who had yet to form any real plans of his own. It was also no accident that these digs were within a stone’s throw of the large house that ’Pak Bambang had built for the family, located in an unusually leafy suburb within this predominantly dusty metropolis.

Patiently, but with considerable frustration, the old man watched from a distance as his grandson scoured the streets for work – labouring, road sweeping, anything, so long as he could make enough to support his frugal existence and have something left over to send back to the Kampung for his mother each month. ’Pak Bambang knew that it would be unwise for him to intervene, despite his overwhelming urge to confess all to the boy and offer him a job at the family firm. Sagely he resisted, so that when – finally – Anath stumbled across the portly Tukang Warung and negotiated a sub-lease of the small patch of earth in front of Sate Blora, it was not through the unseen intervention of his grandfather, but of his own doing.

’Pak Bambang had felt a certain pride at the vigour with which Anath subsequently went about his work. For although the boy knew nothing of it, his grandfather was a frequent early morning patron of the newsstand. And whilst selling newspapers was not a vocation the old man would have wanted for a grandson, it was nevertheless a start. Moreover, it was something the boy had brought about himself, that he could chalk up as the first milestone along the journey of his newly created independence. Recalling his own humble beginnings, ’Pak Bambang had also comforted himself in the knowledge that the struggle to make ends meet would provide strong foundations for the boy: something that in future he could use as a reference point, from which he would be able to build his own set of values, while earning the right to move on to something better.

Silently, and through whatever means possible, Bambang would do his best to assist Anath’s development, partly in compensation for the suffering the boy had been forced to endure, back in the Kampung. For the old man continued to carry a burden of guilt for his grandson’s compromised happiness, occasioned by his forced acceptance of the set of demands the elders had placed before him, now so long ago. He had always known that, despite the favourable settlement they negotiated, the begrudging villagers had deployed a further form of spiteful retribution against a child who knew nothing of his prehistory. It angered him to think that they had taken pleasure in taunting the boy, ostracising him wherever possible from participation in every form of village activity. Bambang was painfully aware of the wretched loneliness the boy had suffered – not just the empty hurt of the abandoned, but the injury endured throughout years of pitiless bullying. The cruel gibes that were a result of his being different: fatherless. A bastard, no less. Somehow, Anath had emerged from his ordeal unscathed and unblaming, seeking not to point a finger of accusation – to take his revenge – but rather to simply move on. For he was made of sterner stuff, as he was later destined to prove.

posted by Kirk at 12:42 am  

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