Driving Kakek by Christopher James

Christopher James lives, works and writes in Jakarta, minutes from the heart of the '98 riots. He has a Facebook page (which can be found via sutcliffe_chris@yahoo.com) and a sporadically updated blog .

We couldn't afford a real wheelchair, so I took a car seat from the dump, drilled holes into the base for axles, and geared the whole thing up with some killer-looking cogs I found by the railways.

"Kilo cogs?" said my Kakek.

"No, grandpa! Killer. It means that they're cool. Everybody says it."

"Ha! I like the sound of that. Me and my killer cogs! Watch out!"

Half the wheelchairs in Jakarta are made like this. I built a working engine, with bits and pieces from here and there, so Kakek could drive himself places. I think he loved it, though he complained that I only wanted to get out of pushing him everywhere.

Everyday, before we woke up, he dragged himself out of bed, across the floor, and into the motor-chair. And then he'd go. Where, we didn't know. Anak said he raced the motor-bikers on Jalan Soekarno. Dearest Ibu said he took tourists for rides around Kota Tua. Ha! Fun to imagine him happy-go-lucky.

Of course, he wasn't. Anyone who's lived in Jakarta for as long as he has with as little money as he had can tell sad stories. Kakek's wife, my grandmother, was killed in the '98 Riots. She was old, even then. Indonesian, through and through, but she looked Chinese, so they raped her and then they killed her.

"Stop it," he had shouted at them. He was crying. He heard them, heard her. They kept him in the shop and they dragged her into the street. He tried to fight past, and they pushed him down. He pulled out his knife, from the till, and they shot him in the knee. Even with the bullet he kept fighting. They let him pass them just so he could see the last of them wiping his dick clean. And then they held him back. It took four of them, and he watched one of them shoot her through the heart.

Soldiers. Even with his kneecap shattered, he had run after them with the knife. They shot him in the other leg. He still tried to run, but couldn't. So he crawled to her. It took a dozen men to drag him away. They took him to a hospital that wouldn't help him, because he had no insurance. His legs rotted, and then they healed themselves into something new.

That was then. Many left. Chinese went back to China. Indonesians with the wrong colour skin went to Malaysia, where the language was similar and the people didn't try to kill you. Except Kakek. Kakek made all of us stay. With the shop gone, we were moved to a new home. Over time, we stopped thinking about that day. After we built the wheel chair, even Kakek began to laugh and smile again. And every morning, he left before the rest of us woke up so he could race bikers and taxi tourists.

Except that wasn't what he was doing, of course. I followed him, one day. I stayed awake all night until I heard him sliding across the floor. He pushed the chair out the door without the engine on. I guess he didn't want to wake us up. It must have weighed a ton. He unlocked the door, so quietly, and when he was outside he closed it slowly, without even a click, on the floor the whole time.

After I heard the engine jump to life, I went out the door after him. The wheelchair was fast, but not so fast I couldn't keep up. I stayed fifty yards behind, but I don't think I needed to be so careful. He didn't look behind himself, and the engine was loud enough to hide noise. He went down a road I'd not been down since I was a child. He swerved to avoid the potholes. It was dark, but he knew where they all were. He kept going for twenty minutes. I followed the whole way.

He stopped, and I knew where we were. Grandmother had died here. They'd buried her body back in her parents' village, but this was where her soul had spilled. An hour we spent there. I stayed out of sight, and watched Kakek. He took himself out the chair and lay down on the ground. Was this the spot she'd died on? He closed his eyes. He could've been sleeping, but I knew he wasn't. Most of the early morning traffic passed him by without beeping their horns. I guess they'd seen him before.

After an hour, he climbed back into the chair and started the engine up again. I thought we'd go home now, but we weren't finished yet. He took me this time to a gravestone. He pulled himself out of the chair. He lay down on the grave, and again he closed his eyes.

I went to him this time, to a photo by the grave of a dark man. Forty years old. His face partly hidden by a scarf, but not so much that you couldn't like his smile. He had a good head of hair. He reminded me of my old math teacher from junior high. Mister Maradu. Mister Maradu always let me stay late at school if I wanted to, and he'd sit with me and teach me algebra and calculus and the mechanics of toy engines.

"Who is he?" I asked.

Kakek kept his eyes closed. "It's him," he said.

I thought of my grandmother, and of Kakek's legs, and I knew who the man was.

"I'm glad he's dead," I said. But mostly I felt nothing.

Kakek nodded, pushing his head into the dirt.

"I killed him," he said. "With the chair."

"With the chair?"

"Uh-huh. Like you said I should."

I left him then. When Adak and Ibu asked me where he went to every morning I told them they were right. Just racing up Sukarno and collecting fares in Kota. Happy-go-lucky.

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