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."