Wednesday, May 7, 2014


Chapter 8

    “Miss Caswell. Miss Caswell please! Wake up!”

    It was the boy rousing her up. She sat up from the couch with a start. She must have been so tired the previous evening she went to sleep in the living room with the lights still on. The clock on the wall read 4.30am.

    “You was dreaming, Miss Caswell,” the boy said, cautiously taking a step back.

    “No, child,” she corrected the boy. “I was having a nightmare.”

    “I – I sorry to wake you up,” stammered the boy. “But you was screaming and screaming…”

    “I know…”

    “I wake you two times already but you was screaming so I was afraid…’


    “Yes, one time at one o’clock. Another time at three o’clock. And still you screaming and say go away so I go back to my room…”

    “Oh, my goodness.”

     The boy walked over to her. He took off the over-sized dressing gown he was wearing and wrapped it around her. She felt warm and comfortable.

    “And you hit me again,” he said in a slight whisper.

    Caswell was shocked.

    “I hit you?” she said. “Again?”

    The boy nodded.

    She was fully awake now.

    “Oh my God, oh my God, I hit you again?”

    “Yes, but not hard like before, like near the school…”

    “My God! Where, child? Show me.”

    “Here, on the shoulder. But never mind.”

    He sat down beside her on the couch. Then gently, “What you was nightmaring about, Neina?”

    At this she laughed.

    “Neina?” she then said, looking puzzled.

     “It means ‘mother’ in my language,” said the boy. “Remember? My mother tell you about it yesterday.”

     Then it all came back to her: the previous day’s happenings – when the district court gave her custody of the boy and Sergeant Mata Hanai herding them into his police van to drive them to the boy’s parents’ home.

    The mother, the large woman and informal trader, looked cheerful then as they drove to Hohola, Tokarara and thence to the settlement. Caswell was wondering why the large woman was in good spirits instead of hating her because the magistrate looked serious when issuing the order that she should be the boy’s temporary guardian or alternative parent. Though she herself felt reasonably prepared in the way of the courts this particular hearing went so fast that she had barely time nor sense to respond to the ruling that she, at twenty-four, having barely worked her way comfortably to the Bar, would become, formally speaking, a mother or parent to an eleven year-old boy. Only the plodding from Kedu Sarah made her nod in agreement before the magistrate. Now she was not sure and Kedu Sarah was not there with them for her to ask questions about her role as a mother. When she leaned over to the large woman for some guidance they’d already arrived at the tin shack where they met the boy’s father. The father looked dusty, skinny and somewhat menacing and that, thought Caswell, explained why the large woman might have wanted her son to be given away to someone else’s care. He now confronted them as they disembarked. He looked quite agitated. The crowd of men who had accompanied him earlier that very morning to storm the gate of the Writer’s Villa was not there with him. They must have realized that their leader’s cause was a lost one and had subsequently abandoned him to visit their gardens upon the ridges that surrounded the settlement, or simply stole away to the heart of the city to beg, borrow, gamble excessively and get drunk. He was now fuming and eyeing Caswell from head to toe. Sergeant Mata Hanai gave him the lareva greeting and that calmed him down.

    A crowd of mothers and scruffy looking children gathered at the tin shack. They began chanting “Big Mama Dee!” as the large woman took the boy and Miss Caswell by the hand and led them to the front of the shack. A couple of boys brought empty four gallon kerosene drums for Caswell and Sergeant Mata Hanai to use as seats. The boy’s father stood momentarily undecided then began gathering wood to place them over a smoldering fire. He ordered those standing around to fill up a kettle and bring it over. Caswell noticing the poor man’s troubles brought out a ten kina note and gave it to the large woman who in turn gave it to a tubercular looking boy and ordered him to run down to the settlement shops for sugar, tea and biscuits. The boy shot off running, followed by several cackling little boys and girls.

    Two girls began clearing a patapata full of pots and dishes until they found a kettle and this they took over to the taps to fill in. The patapata was constructed right next to the doorway of the tin shack, perhaps conveniently placed there so food could be served from there to those in the hut during rainy seasons. There were no other patapata around the tin shack which made Caswell and Sergeant Mata Hanai conclude that this family was very poor. The girls returned with the kettle and placed it over the fire which the man built. He stood back, looked at the kettle and smiled with satisfaction. At least he made himself look useful that day. He walked over now and shook hands with Sergeant Mata Hanai. He extended the same hand to Caswell, hesitated, then said, “What the heck,” and shook her hand vigorously.

    “You love my boy, don’t you?” he said in Motu, not letting her hand go, swinging it from side to side all the while. “Enhh? Girl, you know my son’s handsome, you didn’t want to lose him to another…”

    This brought laughter from the crowd around them. Parts of Caswell’s face turned visibly red but she managed a smile nevertheless. She felt comfortable, however, when the man turned to Sergeant Mata Hanai and told the old policeman to stop eyeing his poor wife as she was too old to court any more. The sergeant smiled, began fanning himself with the court papers and that made the crowd know that they had to leave, make room for the family to reach some kind of resolution with the young woman they had heard so much about on EMTV news as Miss Caswell. The large woman looked reprovingly at her skinny husband and he sat down on a coconut scraper beside them. Their son sat next to Caswell, his head bowed. Sergeant Mata Hanai then explained to the parents the nature of the court proceedings and where their son would be placed, adding that if the young girl, Caswell, was at fault then this would be a fairer way for her to make peace with the family. The boy’s parents nodded and said they had nothing to say against Magistrate Dickson’s rulings, adding that they knew the “judge” very well and that his words were always wise.

    The tubercular looking boy sent to the shops returned with the sugar, tea and biscuits and the girls minding the kettle at the fireplace quickly prepared the tea in tin cups and passed them around. The large woman took a packet of biscuits and gave it to Caswell and the old policeman to share. She gave one to the boy and his father. She distributed the rest among the two girls at the fireplace and the scruffy looking ones sitting nearby. She herself settled for just the tea and then began speaking to her son so softly that Caswell and the old sergeant remained still for quite some time. She is young, they heard her tell her son; yes, the Samarai woman is young but she will be your Neina from now on. You hear what I’m saying? The boy nodded. And so had they all, those sitting around her, in a circle, sitting around a large woman; they heard her speak softly to her son; those sitting around her, they heard her, the large woman, the woman they called Mama Dee, but whose real name they knew was Divasire. And they heard Mama Divasire speak softly to her son, her eleven year-old son called Vani Garuga; and they heard her speak also of her husband, the funny and skinny looking old man called Gere. Her voice was like the pulse of the earth, the heartbeat of the earth, on which they sat, on which they all sat around in a circle and listened, and listened, but heard a voice so soft they could barely hear. You hear what I’m saying? The boy nodded. She is your Neina from now on, for her house is a gift, her house is full of wisdom, full of all those good things that we seek but find hard to reach and have. She herself will tell you the secrets of her house. She will tell you who you are for her house is full of knowledge. She will tell you of your mother and your father, of your bubus and those before them; she will tell you your own secrets, deep as the ocean itself that hits the land, gentle as the sea sighs along the coastline. She is your Neina, she will hold you by the hand and lead you to many places; you will meet many people; many tribes and clans and say they are your own, like the Rearea, like the Isu, like the Idumava, like the Mavara Vamaga, like the Mavara Laurina, like the Botai, like the Korina; and she will show you all those that are your people; and she will tell you about them in so gentle a voice that you will find it hard to hear; a gentle voice; a soft song; a very, very quiet Efona…

    “That’s it!” she said suddenly, flicking a finger, rising from the couch, letting the dressing gown fall in a way a mythical cassowary sloughs her skin. “Efona. The quiet voice. The very, very soft song of the voice. The gentle voice.”

    “It’s a old, old song that old people in the village they sing it,” said the boy quietly, looking at her and smiling. “It’s a sad song. Sometimes when you hear it you will cry. They sing it for very long time. They start at sunset and they sing and sing it until the sun come up again.”  

    “Efona,” said Caswell, testing the word in her mouth, clicking her tongue and smiling.

    “Efona,” said the boy.

    The clock on the wall read 4.53am.

    “Goodness me,” exclaimed Caswell, “aren’t we late!”

    They both rushed over to the louvers and opened the curtains to check if Kedu Sarah was awake. She was indeed. Her lights were on. Lady Gaesasara would be out on the porch, jogging and checking her timer while waiting for Caswell.

    “Come on then, Vani Garuga,” she told the boy, quickly getting into a track suit. “Into the bathroom. Now. Make sure you are helping Kedu Sarah with the breakfast when we get back.”

     She was out of the bungalow, running up the cement blocks serving as stairs to the Writer’s Villa where she noticed Lady Gaesasara waiting for her. Jogging in the early mornings would now become a routine for Caswell. Both women ran down to the gates. The security opened one side of the gates and they were off, Lady Gaesasara reminding Caswell that they had less than twenty minutes of running to do.  

    “I heard you screaming last night,” she said to the younger woman. “Mightn’t we talk about it?”

    “I can’t see why not.”

    “Go on, then.”

    “The boy was grown into a man. I can’t remember where we were. But the swimming part was the cause of the screams you heard.”

    “Oh dear. Were you drowning?”

    “Drowning, no. But I really was struggling as if I didn’t know how to swim.”

    “And the boy?”

    “The man.”

     “The man. Where was he?”

     “Somewhere on what looked like a jetty or wharf. He was standing there, looking down at me struggling.”

     “Did you call up to him for help?”

    “That I am not sure.”

    Lady Gaesasara slowed down to a jog.

     “The boy needs you,” she said.

     “I think that’s what his mother was trying to tell me yesterday.”

    Both women stopped jogging. They started now walking back to the Writer’s Villa.

    "It is an island, is it not?" asked Lady Gaesasara.

    Caswell stopped walking. She looked at the other curiously.

    "An island?" she then asked. "I'm afraid I don't understand."

    Lady Gaesasara, too, stopped walking.

    "Where the boy comes from, I mean," she then said.

    "I should think so," said Caswell. "I shall have to ask Mama Divasire that."

    "It is an island," said Lady Gaesasara finally. "Come on, then. I'll race you back to the villa."

Sunday, April 27, 2014


Chapter 7

It was dusk when Tomwaya eased down his four-wheel drive to a halt. He turned on the high beam for a closer look and saw what appeared to be a road block.

   “Probably a fallen tree,” said his passenger. “We can drive around it, can’t we?”

   “I’m not sure,” said Tomwaya and revved the engine to drive up closer.

   It wasn’t a fallen tree, they realized. Someone cut down several trees to make the road block look complete. They couldn’t drive around it. Tomwaya cut the engine and the lights went dead. Darkness was fast approaching. The cicadas let out their shrill chirping and both men wondered who could have devised a plan such as this and for what. All else around them was silent.

    “You can turn and drive back to town,” said the old passenger from the cities. “I’ll walk the rest of the way from here.”

    Tomwaya was annoyed. He felt he was being dismissed sooner than business required. He still needed to collect the rest of his fees.

   “Will you be all right then?” he asked the passenger instead.

   “Yes, I’ll be fine.”

    “I believe you will be,” said Tomwaya, disliking the idea of driving back to Alotau at night. “Anyway, this is Milne Bay, peaceful country…”

   The passenger placed the pack, his only luggage, over a shoulder and began walking towards the pile of wood and branches that formed the road block. Barely had he taken five steps when they heard an engine and what sounded like a chorus of war chants. A light from the oncoming vehicle lit up the pile of wood and branches then drove around it, swerving up fast to Tomwaya and his passenger. About ten youth jumped down from the vehicle and surrounded them. They were carrying high powered rifles such as Tomwaya and his passenger had never seen before. One walked over swiftly with a tramontina and paced the blade next to the old traveller’s neck. Tomwaya screamed in protest. The leader of the youth jumped down from the vehicle and ordered the boy to withdraw the knife. He asked for a flash light and was given one. He shone the light on the faces of the two elderly men.

    “Not the material they want,” said the leader, walking away to inspect Tomwaya’s four wheel drive.

    There wasn’t much cargo or luggage in the vehicle. But the leader seemed to like the vehicle. It looked new, powerful, like the ones he used to drive up the highway from Lae to Goroka to Hagen and Kundiawa. He walked back to the elderly men. He demanded to see what was inside the bag the old passenger was carrying. One of the boys snatched it from the old man and ripped it open on the ground. Books. Nothing but books and stationery. The leader held out a book to the light. Ten Thousand Years in a Lifetime. He took out another. Wanpis. And then several more, examining each carefully and with a look of amusement by the flash light. The Crocodile.  Maiba. My Mother Calls Me Yaltep. He burst out laughing when he took out a booklet titled Naked Thoughts.

    “What’s the big deal?” he then said, more or less talking to himself or, rather, thinking aloud. Then, turning to look over the old passenger from head to toe, said, “I majored in political science. No big deal there either.”

    “Who are you people?” Tomwaya spoke suddenly, causing the others to lift rifle butts menacingly at him.

    “We are soldiers, hasol,” chorused the youth, surrounding him fast.

    “His name is Mr. Tomwaya,” put in the old passenger, stepping forward.

    A boy threw a backhander at the old passenger which Tomwaya caught in time.

    “All right, all right, take it easy,” said their leader. “The two old men are harmless – you can bloody well see that. Think of them as your grandfather, your father or your uncle. Be good to them. We are taking them in, though. Area command might want to interview them.”

    He led Tomwaya and the old passenger back to the four wheel drive.

    “Tommy, Figah,” he continued barking out orders, “come with me. You, too, Gabby. Now the rest of you mind the utility. Drive after us. Tommy and Gabby, jumped on the back. Figah, stick with me, na boskru lo mi. I’m driving. Tupela lapun ba sindaun lo baksaid. Now you hear me, men?”

    “Yoohh!” came the war cry.

    “All right, let’s go!”

    They drove away quickly, letting out wild yelps of war cries. A firefly flew in, did a few winks around Tomwaya and the old passenger and flew out gain. Tomwaya nudged his old companion and said all would be well. The other looked out at the coastal villages they were speeding past, each house lit up by Tilley and hurricane lamps, but appearing abandoned somewhat. He saw a little village with two or three hamlets lit up by solar powered tubes and guessed that would have been Topura. Dogura would be about sixteen miles ahead of them and where he was hoping to catch a dinghy to Cape Vogel, once upon a time known as the great Baniara District.   

     “So you boys are not raskols from around here after all?” said Tomwaya, addressing the leader of the youth who had now taken over his double cab four wheel drive.

     “You are very observant, old man,” said the leader. “And yes, if we were your so-called raskols you’d both be dead by now.”

    “I can see that,” said Tomwaya. “You sound intelligent, though, highly educated. And some of your boys are carrying some high powered weapons, too, the sort that neither the army nor police force can afford nowadays. So do tell us, young man, who are you people – what are you, really?”

     “We are the caretakers spilled over from Collingwood Bay,” came the prompt reply. “And don’t tell us you two old men, wise looking as you are, never heard of that place before…”

     “I see,” said Tomwaya and the old passenger at once.    

     “So can this mean we’ve stumbled into some kind of civil unrest like Bougainville and right here in the Milne Bay Province?” asked Tomwaya, somewhat testily. “A large scale civil war in the making… er, that is, judging from the type of uniform you’re all wearing…?”

      “Look, if you have any more questions reserve them for the area command at Dogura,” said the youth leader. “But for your information Tufi and Collingwood Bay have now become our stronghold, our headquarters. We believe our country has had enough of corrupt leaders. It needs a complete overhaul. We are here to ensure that happens…”

    “Then you must be salvation for PNG then…?”

    “Again, you reserve that opinion for the area command at Dogura. But I’ll tell you both now that if it wasn’t for that witch lawyer they call Lady Gaesasara nothing of what you see now and what you will see throughout the country tomorrow onwards would have happened.”

     Tomwaya was alarmed.

     “How on earth has this come about? She’s a great lawyer. She is all for Papua New Guinea!”

    “Not any more. At least not until she sacked the biggest multi-billion benefactor company there ever was operating in Papua New Guinea.”

    “What company?” Tomwaya demanded to know, sounding more alarmed than ever.

    “That,” said the leader with impatience, “is what you ask the area command at Dogura. Now, do you want me to pull over, get out and give you a lecture on this – or, should we be driving on?”

    “Drive on,” said the old passenger.  

Saturday, April 26, 2014


Chapter 6 

    Mimi lifted the long bamboo steering pole high in the air and was about to whack it across Diko’s back when Foroga burst out laughing.
    “That Labiadogha again,” Foroga kept laughing. “The hunchback got us fooled yet again.”
    “Who is Labiadoga?” said Amy, rousing herself up from a slight snooze.
    “Labiadogha, that old spastic from town,” said Diko.
    “You are the long long,” said Mimi, lifting the bamboo pole again. “If it wasn’t for your stupidity we wouldn’t be having this.”
    Diko cringed, leapt over the luggage and dived for cover between Dan and Amy.
    Mimi was muttering curses.
    “That retard got you outwitted again, Diko,” she said. “And he knows he’s had you. He’s laughing at us right this minute. When will you ever wake up to that?”
   “I was in a hurry,” said Diko. “I didn’t know, I didn’t know.”
  Mimi dropped the bamboo pole and threw up her arms in despair.
    Foroga explained to the guests that Labiadogha was a colorful personality in Alotau town. He had a way of drawing large crowds with his old homemade guitar and singing suggestive songs that brought laughter from all. Though a comic he had a way with women especially when they could sense his talents in making a lot of money. His exploits, further explained Foroga, included loading cartons of lager beer on a truck then selling these as wholesale items to unwary trade store owners. When rural beer drinkers bought these cartons, travelled to their villages and opened them up they found bottles filled with fresh water. His version of a four gallon zoom was one such pastime of deceit which Diko failed to remember or realize. Instead of petrol he used salt water and mixed that with thick oil to produce his version of the zoom. Now they had run of zoom and the only plastic container they were relying on to take them back to Alotau was what Labiadogha sold to Diko for fifty-nine kina.
    The southerlies were picking up rapidly and the surface of water all around them began breaking into swirls. Mimi brought out a long paddle and maneuvered the vessel to point shoreward which they realized was too far off. Foroga upon leaving Samarai Island decided to take the dinghy out into the open so that the flight into the bay and Alotau town from there would be swift. Little did she know that she would be denied just one plastic of zoom to complete that impressive turn in her talents of seafaring. To many of her contemporaries around Alotau town she was the best of the best, the “smoothest of smooth operators”. She’d surf the rough seas, they’d boast about her, and let her dinghy glide when the waves got roughest. Her passengers never felt safer when she was in charge. Now she could only stand at her post and laugh at the trick Labiadogha played on her and her crew.
   “Clever old bugger,” she kept shaking her head.
    Then they all realized they were floating in silence.
    It was the sudden whistle of a dying engine minutes earlier that woke those who were dozing off. Dan stood up to look around, stretched and yawned. Doboro Fjords, too, stood up to stretch himself and then jokingly asked for a fishing line to cast over the sea. It was at this point that Mimi lifted the bamboo pole to go after Diko when also Foroga tilted the plastic of zoom to let the salt water out, shaking her head in dismay. She stood up now and began assuring the guests that they would be fine and that help would be along the way as there were many dinghies sailing to and from Samarai. There were left over salmon sandwiches in the cooler so they need not worry about food, she said.
   “Those in need of visiting the loo may jump overboard and come up again when done,” offered Diko.
   “Oh, shut up,” said Mimi, reaching for the bamboo pole again.
    Foroga ordered the two to stop fooling around and hoist a canvas to serve as a sail. They found one that covered the luggage and using the bamboo pole fashioned a sail and stood it up. There was a slight breeze coming from the outer ocean and the canvas billowed a bit. They waited but it seemed a strong wind would be needed to get them closer to the shores. The southerlies that rose earlier seemed to have gone further northward with their ripples and swirls.
    Diko went through the luggage compartment of the dinghy and came out with a couple of sheets. These he tied to the bamboo pole and two of the dinghy’s paddles, after which had them suspended forming a shade for the guests. The sun was fast travelling towards the western horizon but the heat at this time of the day could become unbearable for the tourists, both he and the two girls were mindful of that. Anything that went amiss with the guests would be their responsibility, warned numwaya Nathalie.
    Foroga scooped up some sea water in her palms and tasted it. She told the others the weather would be kind to them but only for so long.
    “How long?” asked Amy, assisting Diko with the shade.
    “There’s a southerly swell heading this way,” said Foroga. “It should get us to the shores by nightfall.”
    “Will there be rain?” asked Doboro Fjords. “Might there be a storm?”
    “What do the clouds say?” asked Foroga.
    “I can’t see any,” said Doboro Fjords. “But the sky’s clear as the blue of the sea.”
    He didn’t appear enthusiastic about that remark. Weather around Alotau area, he knew as much as his fellow dinghy travellers, wasn’t at all predictable. He looked at Foroga and noticed a slight trace of smile. He was being tested. There was going to be a storm late that afternoon, while they were out floating in the open sea. Dan and Mimi rummaged through the luggage compartment for anything they could find. There was a first aid kit in one of the boxes, along with diving equipment which they could probably need later. A small tool box was found together with flash lights and emergency flares. The sail they hoisted looked humbly set. The shade looked fantastic, accommodating enough. The sea all around them looked exceptionally calm all of a sudden and this worried them a bit. So they all turned to Foroga, as if awaiting further advice or instructions from her.
     She moved about the dinghy from head to tail, probably wondering how it was that Labiadogha got them screwed up like this. The sun was setting behind the western horizon and she knew that wouldn’t be much comfort for all aboard. She didn’t want to blame Diko or Mimi, her little cousins, for that.  She knew she was responsible for all of them there and then. Numwaya Nathalie had told them so. And numwaya’s word was her word. But most of all she loved her dinghy. A 22 footer running on a 40 horse power engine: and she wondered, wondered: could this have been that popular product from Samarai Plastics known all over the world as the “Banana Boat” and carefully crafted and modeled by those old missionaries and local tradesmen of long ago to be entirely seaworthy come what may and which might have traveled as far across the seas as possible under the British flag to unknown lands and islands such as the West Indies? Who could tell, who could tell? Who could tell how far abroad little vessels such her’s might have traveled in time and history. It was the vessel that made her become known as the smooth operator, the queen of Milne Bay rough waters.