Ghosts of future past
I've lived here in the same house for seventeen years. I've only been Jakartass for one year, as of today. In this year, I've chronicled a lot of what it means to be at home as an alien, of what it feels like to be part of two cultures. I am regularly asked if I want to take out Indonesian citizenship. The short answer is 'no', because there is part of me that will for ever be British, a South Londoner. (I may yet take the option of securing a long-term residence permit, once the Indonesian authorities affords expats the opportunity.)
Last night, knowing that this was a special day in the life of Jakartass, I treated myself to two hours of live internet radio, an ultimately disappointing experience
which I don't intend to dwell on.
You see, a part of my past has been stirred by a eulogy
in today's Observer magazine.He was a ghost from a forgotten world, a gentleman of the road who took tea with Peter Cook and dinner with Peter Sellers. But when he passed away last Christmas, well-heeled Hampstead village in north London lost its most enigmatic star. John Hind attempts to unravel some of the mystery and myth behind Bronco John.
Apparently, he may have known Sid 'Digger' Rawle, a one time acquaintance of mine. Sid was a beneficiary of John Lennon's largesse ~ an island
off the coast of Ireland, later a London squatters 'leader'
(when I first encountered him), a tipi dweller
, a Green Party activist
, as I was too before coming here, sometime Celt
, and a media star when the Halifax Building Society used a photo of him for a billboard campaign.
But this post isn't about Sid or Bronco John.
Syarif is a fixture around our streets and has been since before I arrived. Of indeterminate age, he's always seemed to be in his mid-thirties. A short diminutive figure with long matted straggly hair and beard, one is advised not to stand downwind in his vicinity. Every so often his clothes seem to be new-ish. There are fewer holes and instead of the usual brown earthern shade, a hint of off-white might gleam through.
He has his favourite haunts; for just a few days he could be outside our gate uttering singular cries of rokok
, at which point we'll give him a cigarette or drink of water in a disposable container. At other times, perhaps when I'm going to the main road to find a taxi, he'll ask for money. I don't know what he does with the Rp.1,000 I give him. I suspect that he is given a bunkus
(wrapped package) of rice and perhaps vegetables.
There are times when we don't see him for weeks on end, but then we'll turn a corner in the warren of narrow streets around us and there he'll be having a conversation on his imaginary handphone. We're pleased to see him as we scuttle by.
Opposite where I usually stand and wait for a taxi is a large two-storeyed building; when I first came there was a bungalow set in roughly 500 square metres on the site. This was Syarif's childhood home. His parents died and the rest of the family supposedly connived to swindle him out of his inheritance. He has haunted our neighbourhood ever since. Unlike Bronco Sid, I don't imagine Syarif is ever welcomed into our houses, maybe not even for his forcible scrub and shave at Idul Fitri.
I hope he is still around this time next year when Jakartass will be two.