Monday, January 05, 2004

Nilam & Sukma

Nilam & Sukma

There are beggars everywhere in Jakarta but I am familiar with two particular ones who normally beg along Jalan Wahid Hasyim. These two middle-aged ladies know me by sight and would always call me Om (uncle), everytime I pass by. Actually I am fond of their kids, Nilam and Sukma--both girls, around two to three years old, who are always either sleeping or fiddling with pieces of junk food beside them.

Nilam and Sukma are sweet-faced cherubs who shouldn't belong to the streets. But their mothers are professional beggars: having their children there scrounging by their side, elicits greater sympathy from passers-by. One can never be sure if the beggars are really their mothers--I just take their word for it.

The beggars seem to have some kind of duty roster: Sometimes one of the pairs would be stationed at an overhead bridge, the other outside the Robinson departmental store along Jalan Sabang. Sometimes you would see both Nilam and Sukma together with their mothers along the Jalan Wahid Hasyim sidewalk--like one big happy family having a picnic by the roadside. If I happen to meet only one of them, I'll usually ask where the other is.

Because I am such a regular passerby, they are not pushy towards me. I'll drop some coins into their cups every now and then, but not always. They know that I am fond of taking pictures of Nilam and Sukma. Sometimes out of nowhere I'd hear someone calling me (Om, foto, foto!) and I would turn to see Sukma's mother sitting there on the pedestrian bridge, beaming, with Sukma sleeping soundly beside her.

Lately I haven't been seeing them that much along my usual walking route. Maybe they have stationed themselves elsewhere.

I know, years from now, I'll think back of my days in Jakarta, and recall the smudged faces of Nilam and Sukma. They probably won't be begging like their mothers; but I'm quite sure they will still be out there in the streets, perhaps plying a different trade, along Jalan Hayam Wuruk at night.

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