Life at Jalan Benawang nomor tujuh evolves into a gentle rhythm of day and night.
We wake every morning to warm omelettes, a jar of fresh krupuk and a small bowl of chilli which we hesitate to touch.
After breakfast, the dining room becomes a classroom.
Dad puts us all to work for our first lessons.
We suggest some words for Johnny to learn – from Apple, Banana, Cow to Yacht, Xylophone and Zebra. I draw examples of each letter on large pieces of paper which Dad sticks up to decorate the walls.
There are lists for us to learn in Indonesian. All the numbers up to twenty, the days of the week, the months of the year.
Tony has his own special books for Grade 6. I have an old school reader of Australian stories and a fresh new notebook.
Matt takes to the equations in his maths book with a deep frown and a tight grip of the pencil.
Johnny draws pictures of new words with great wide eyes and a sure sweep of his little fist.
Dad settles into a high-back chair at the large table in the lounge room once we have our little projects in process.
With Bart down for his morning sleep Mum collects her books and makes a space to study on the other side of the table.
Atang and Kiah weave in and out softly through the momentary calm.
Dad first works on his small book of accounts and every now and then remarks to Mum how much we have spent in Australian dollars.
“All those veggies from the market,” he announces, “Not even five dollars…” He shakes his head in amazement.
With the calculations done and the balance made, Dad writes his diary, makes some lists of ‘things to do’ for tomorrow and then pulls his stack of dictionaries and phrase books around him to start his notes.
Mum reads from a thick book on the History of India, which I think she has must have brought with her by mistake since we’re clearly not in India. Nevertheless she reads in earnest and writes her essays in her lovely curly writing.
Sticky and dull headed after our lessons, we put our bathers on and head out the back, past the cookhouse, to wash in the mundi. The mundi is a high deep bath full of constantly running cool, clear water.
Dad orders Matt to “get out of the mundi” when he finds him sitting in it the first day. Matt’s surprise turns to delight when Dad gives him a basin and says, “Just stand on the floor and tip the water straight over your head.”
The high concrete walls around the mundi form a tiny squash court especially built for water fights. Laughter, squeals and shouts echo around the back of the house as we splash and drench ourselves.
Dad calls us in as the morning comes to close.
In the close heat of the day our skin dries almost as soon as we soak ourselves in the delicious water – there is no need for towels and fresh clothes – the water flattens our unruly hair onto our skulls and makes our skin shine.
With the school books put away, a new cloth is laid and small bowls of rice with a sprinkling of crispy dried fish do for lunch. We rest on our cool beds through the warm of the day.
We wake to the sound of Simon and Garfunkel playing on the tape player and Dad is back at the table writing in his blue bound book. His hair is wet and combed down and his face smooth and smiling.
Dinner arrives with nightfall. Soy soaked noodles and mounds of nutty rice. Separate dishes of yellow chicken or spicy red beef. We sleep like kings with full round bellies.
After a week or so we agitate to return to the outside world. Bart is calm and easy and Atang reassures mum that now he is eating a little rice cereal Kiah can care for him for a couple of hours.
Dad has letters to post and Mum resolves to end her confinement and venture with us into Bandung.