We begin now serializing the novel, FINAL ISLANDS IN THE SUN, by Russell Soaba.
I will not come to you in anger.
Tomwaya leaned over the driver’s window to adjust the side mirror, so that traffic from behind him would be visible enough for him to determine safe driving ahead. He was always conscious of his fellow right-hand-drive motorists who had the habit of overtaking him on the left, along the dirt track, an unconventional method observed by those in too much of a hurry. Overtaking on the right would mean collisions with on-coming traffic, especially at dangerously nonnegotiable bends and steep recessions that rush up without warning at unwary drivers. In situations such as this, the driver observing correct traffic rules would be the one in trouble.
It was a long dirt road, this outback highway, carved out, it seemed, of a rough terrain of hard abira rocks, crags and abysmal precipices that could easily cause nausea even for well-experienced motorists and travelers alike. It spanned thus, somewhat relentlessly and in snaky twists and turns along the ridges of the Owen Stanley Ranges, from the township of Alotau to Dogura, and further on to Cape Vogel. Tomwaya’s passenger, traveling home to these parts of the Milne Bay Province from Port Moresby City, asked how long it would take them to reach Awaiama. He assured the passenger they would get there in a couple of hours.
“Would that be as far as you would want me take you, sir?” Tomwaya then asked, carefully, as if weighing out possibilities for further financial transactions with his client from the cities.
“Yes,” said the other, “if you can’t make it as far as Dogura.”
“Parts of the road up that way are bad,” warned Tomwaya, and changed the gears to ease the four-wheel drive down the steepest slope his passenger had ever seen.
“I’ve seen the road from Goroka to Kainantu,” said his passenger, “even those from Kundiawa to Hagen, and from Goroka to Lae, but I have never seen anything as dangerously steep as this one.”
“We get used to our highway, sir.”
“So, would that mean you would take me as far as Wedau and Dogura?”
“You know,” said Tomwaya with a pleasant sigh of feigned despair, “money these days speaks safely louder than dangerous terrains like this one.”
“I have the money to cover the fare, if that’s what you are saying.”
Tomwaya turned and eyed his passenger questioningly.
“I do have the money,” said the passenger finally, looking somewhat annoyed.
“All right, I’ll take you there,” said Tomwaya, and they were down to level ground with the road dust free and stretching far before them.
Tomwaya could feel better now, knowing that the financial constraints on his business would be alleviated a little, as that trip from Alotau to the outskirts of Dogura would mean his earning more than five hundred kina that week. His fellow highway drivers along this route were doing equally well, he was glad to see. But the number of clientele from the cities was growing smaller each year as most travelers preferred dinghies and chartered coastal vessels, which were cheaper. These city travelers traveled in groups, or families of clans and tribes, and all thus shared boat fares at the lowest that each could afford. Tomwaya, however, grew so excited about the prospect of making good money that day that he drove on without any thought of asking who his passenger really was.
When they reached Awaiama there was nothing else to see except the bush and the long stretch of the highway. Occasionally a few vendors appeared visible along the highway, but these were mere villagers anxious to sell kulau, mangoes, pineapples, wild berries and assorted greens and fruit nuts. They drove on without much conversation and when Tomwaya cast a glance at his passenger the latter seemed too tired to concentrate on what lay before them. He, the passenger, was busy nestling himself against the comfort of a luxurious looking four-wheel drive, perhaps for a brief nap. It wasn’t until they had driven out of Awaiama district and were making their way towards Dogura that Tomwaya realized he needed more information on his client. But when he turned from the wheel again to ask the necessary questions the latter was fast asleep.