BY LEONARD FONG ROKA
SIKANAI REMOVED HIS UNDERWEAR and hung it on the clothes hook attached to the wall; he slipped into the shower cubicle and turned on the tap.
Cold water poured over his plump body as he gazed admiringly at himself covered with fine droplets of water.
He envisaged making love in the bath and wanted to call his wife but he abruptly saved the thought because he must be in the office early for his appointments. “Anyway, water can be an aphrodisiac, sometimes,” he told himself and laughed.
The morning sun was glaring fiercely, but he strode on past the Arawa Heath Centre. Sick people and visitors alike marched reluctantly in and out of the main gate.
On the main street, leading to the town centre—the market, the fast mushrooming shopping centre and the administration offices—only a few strolled deep in thought over their worries.
There were also a few cars speeding up and down the town roads; their cargoes—those few passengers—looking dull like first-time-in-towns. The air that Sikanai breathed was also empty; absolutely lifeless and somewhat intimidating.
Arriving at his destination—a residential house; renovated and extended into an office building, housing the Kieta District Administration, the public library and so on—he walked intently up the flight of steps and was lost at the main entrance as if sucked in by an invisible whirlpool.
Bureaucrat Sikanai sauntered through the dimly lit corridor, his brown eyes sweeping the wall of notices. Nothing interested him much. But his ears absorbed something whose boldness suddenly angered him. He controlled the urge to pummel the speakers to the floor.
Two clients with their backs to him were skimming through a pile of papers indulging in some heavy gossip. “These officers sit in this fine room and grow themselves pot-bellies, bani pininangka,” The other laughing over the first comment snapped, “Yes, barau, these crooks—” He was – to his dismay – interrupted by the clang of Sikanai’s keys as he turned the door knob to his office.
“Eh, mata’ne, Sikanai,” one of them greeted him. There was guilt and uncertainty in his tone, he expecting Sikanai’s obvious reaction.
“Tampara. Same to you,” was all Sikanai, with his humble heart could manage as the door closed behind him.
In preparation for meeting the gossiping pair outside he cleared the folders he had left the day before on the table. Then he opened a drawer and pulled out a neat pile of papers to work on and a writing pad to note matters of significance.
He quietly reopened the door. Bending, he placed an empty carton against the door to keep it ajar.
The pair smiled. “Areke e’anangka? Come inside,” Sikanai called lazily letting his gaze drift over their movements and dress before opening the conversation.
Sikanai was Deputy District Manager. In the absence of his seniors any decisions he was to make must be based on merit and within the content of the public policy management frame work he thought. He was there to serve Bougainville and not his kinsmen.
When the pair were seated the elder of the two began, “Yes we came with these papers,” he said, carefully selecting his words, “for you to give us some ideas and further assistance,” He laid the file mechanically on the table.
Sikanai dragged the papers towards him. “What’s this for a’nangka?” he asked, patiently looking at the cover of the typed work.
“Era, it’s a proposal for a planned reconciliation between the Mearu’ra and Kokore villagers who fought during the crisis. They have been in regular conflict since then.” The youngest began his discourse. “So the elder mediators have come up with that and are now in search of government assistance to effect reconciliation.”
The lecturing man— with a few grey hairs to indicate his age—sounded very much like a professional negotiator. He semed the type with enough profound ability to win any endeavour and impose drastic changes in his trouble-torn Bougainville.
“You know Sikanai; reconciliation is a must for us Bougainvilleans,” he sighed, then, “if we are to advance further— ” The shuffling sound of feet outside distracted him.
He quickly collected his thoughts since bureaucratic Sikanai was still occupied, browsing with interest, “Yes we have signed a Peace Agreement but to me, it’s an external covering. What’s important is the small—as we might think—problems we have among ourselves; between families, between brothers, between clans and so on,” he concluded abruptly seeing that Sikanai had completed his reading and was for some reason sighing.
Sikanai eyed them meditatively. He was a hunting eagle waiting for his prey. Then his gaze was diverted to a trapped bee in the window screen. It was struggling to get through the fly wire but its attempts were futile. The scene forced him to consider nipping the insect.
“Anyway, a’nangka, how many Kokores and Mea’ruras have we in Panguna?” Sikanai asked; his voice became sterner as he pulled open a drawer and took out a folder.
“Umau’deaa, sing’naing. You know them; your forefathers’ places,” the younger fellow answered hesitantly. Was guilt creeping up his spine?
Sikanai skimmed through his papers, picked what he wanted and stapled four pages together and handed them to the pair.
“Kokore namono’e. Mearu’ra na’rii… but, you people keep coming up with proposal after proposal on the same issue,” Sikanai said as a peal of thunder echoed somewhere towards the east.
Oh, he—bureaucratic Sikanai—hated to be like that thunder which strikes and engages rudely with people but he had been continuously frustrated by so many opportunists trying to use the Bougainville crisis to built fortunes.
“Sorry men” he consoled,” that paper passed through this office last year and now you come in with this.” His eyes were fixed on the new proposal; as were the two clients on the old proposal.
Nobody uttered a word for a few minutes.
Pushing aside his fury and as calm as before Sikanai asked. “Who are the chiefs Karoro of Kokore and Tane’avi of Mearu’ra?”
The pair eyed each other. The older one had his head lowered as if in search of something. Then he took a deep breath and said, “Te Karoro ning and this is Tane’avi.” He pointed at himself and then the younger man as he sighed. He looked relieved, why?
“But we or I personally, weren’t involved in writing this,” Tane’avi pleaded like a child to a father. “Someone falsely signed my signature,” He got a biro from his shirt pocket and signed a blank sheet of paper on the table and showed it to Sikanai. “Some idiots did this,” he concluded with a frown.
Sikanai was now a detective investigating a crime as well as a bureaucrat in public office. He kept silent and listened attentively to the pair. He guessed that Karoro was involved in the old proposal. He stared and smiled at him, intermittently asking, “What do you, Karoro, think, about this?” The man just smiled guiltily, showing off his black teeth partitioned by a purple tongue - the impact of smoking and chewing areca nut for years.
“You know, my two brothers,” Sikanai gently preached, trying to efface the tense feeling in the room, “we are turning Bougainville into an ameai country’. We go from office to office, pestering; give me this and give me that, instead of making things possible ourselves.”
“I really admire the words of that American leader, John F Kennedy; he said that, ‘it is not much what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’. If Bougainville could live along those lines we would have been a better-off place long ago.” He paused as a sudden gust of wind blew the curtain towards the ceiling.
“The first proposal was paid for, I am sure,” Sikanai said, after a pause. “What do you think, Karoro? You are so quiet.” He chuckled and stared at the window waiting for Karoro to speak.
Sikanai knew that Karoro had been involved in the original proposal and that funding was released but that no reconciliation took place. Instead Dua’mei—Tane’avi’s own cousin; his favourite in their family—bought himself luxuries worth ten thousand kina.
He also knew that for a while, Karoro ceased frequenting Buka as before because a treasury officer was trying to catch him for the acquittals not done. They were waiting for him out there.
“You know,” Karoro began, carefully, “that Duamei misused all that money. The officers in Buka are still waiting for acquittals.
“You two bastards,” Tane’avi interrupted. “That’s why you never talk to each other, lately.” He was chuckling.
“We had an argument at Panguna,” Karoro continued “but I was no match for him. Du’amei is just like his father, a talking puissant. I decided to befriend Tane’avi, you know, because of the seriousness of the matter.” He paused.
“So you two forged my signature?” Tane’avi asked.
“Yes, that Dua’mei,” answered Karoro.
Tane’avi quietly mumbled: “Bastard; kongto piaara’baing.”
“This problem,” Karoro said, “must not get out of control, dear God.”
Bureaucratic Sikanai was listening, lazily. Once he thought about interrupting and telling them what they had been saying about crooks and pot bellies when he arrived; that was actually what they were themselves, but he decided not to for his own reasons. He stared at his watch, it was ten o’clock. Then, he looked at them and smiled.
“You will not secure more funding,” he explained, “unless proper acquittals are handed in for the last grant.” Karoro looked lost. How could he track the culprit?
Sikanai thought for a moment and then told them, "I knew a lot of that Dua'mei; during the elections—the ABG elections—he was a very problematic person. He made claim after claim and complaint after complaint to me—he is a great opportunist."
"Bastard," Tane'avi puffed.
"Beside," Sikanai said, clearing his voice, “your attempt to secure new funding for the same thing is stealing. Stealing from whom you may wonder? It is from those very Bougainvilleans you claim to serve."
"Okay, te-a-te, tampara," Tane'avi said, standing to leave, "we’ll just try sorting out these issues at home and see if we can come to terms with Dua'mei."
"E, tampara bere’aing," Sikanai farewelled them and they both walked out through the door wondering what to do next.
"Oh, to hell with independence Bougainville; we fought for it but now we are not sweating our guts out for it," Sikanai said to himself resting his head on the table with his eyes closed. He felt feverish. “How can we make it, dear God, by pestering ourselves?"
He knew the Bougainville way; the situation he had gone through today with these two fellows was disastrous for the Bougainville government. Feeling left out people turn to violence. That Tane'avi could, by chance, come back and drive away with an administration car or burn down one of the offices. Who would bring him to justice then?
The police wouldn’t be able to arrest him because of the barricades and guns. The would-be culprit would escape the law like anybody else. This was post-war Bougainville; an island with freedom fighters like dirty Dua'mei. Was he—Dua'mei—a fighter for freedom or a fighter for corruption?
His telephone rang, but he ignored it; quite fed up he left for an early lunch.
He was relieved. Outside the day was fine. The sky was azure, the breeze so cool and the mountains absolutely green. “What a beautiful and innocent island?” he murmured with a laugh, “but full of foolish and irresponsible islanders that I help protect.”
He went off in the direction of the shopping centre, pacing slowly and taciturn.
1. bani pininangka -penis sucker
2. mata’ne -good morning
3. tampara -good day
4. areke e anangka - how are you (to more than two persons)
5. anangka - hey (to more than one person)
6. era - hey ( to one person)
7. umau’deaa - not many
8. sing’naing - remains the same
9. namono’e - only one
10. na’rii - same
11. te Karoro ning - I am Karoro
12. ameai - give it to me
13. kongto piaara’baing - ought to masturbate his penis
14. te-a-te - okay
15. bere’aing - you can go (dismissal)