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.