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Chasing Dubois's Ghost

Pat Shipman

"Anna Abortus"

The last, probably hopeless task on my agenda was to find the old European graveyard in Tulungagung so I could follow up on an enigmatic entry in Dubois's daily diary on August 30, 1893. "Anna abortus," he wrote in pencil, and then crossed the words out with thick, dark lines that nearly tore the page. Later, gently, he rewrote "Anna abortus." Anna was his wife, and they returned home to Holland with three children, Eugenie, Jean and Victor. This fourth child is mentioned neither in colonial archives nor in the remaining family letters. I wanted very much to find the grave.

Cemeteries in Java are not orderly, with neat rows of graves separated by grassy pathways. Graves are arranged helter-skelter, new ones squeezed in between the old at every sort of angle. Nearly all the graves in this cemetery appeared to be Javanese, among them many small children's graves.

Nevertheless, I finally saw what I was looking for, a tiny patch of ground surrounded by the old, crumbling double row of bricks. Such a small space, less than a foot square, to contain someone's heartache: a little headstone, no capstone, no inscription. There was no real proof that this was her grave, but I knew with a startling certainty that little Anna Jeanette Dubois was buried here. I had not considered her name—Anna after her mother, Jeanette after her grandfather—or sex before, but I knew them now, intuitively. Here, her mother had railed and wept at the cruelty of the tropics; here, her father had laid his fourth child to rest. Here, they left her behind, all alone, when they returned to Europe. It broke my heart.

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