This longish short story by LEONARD FONG ROKA tells the story of a military engagement during the Bougainville civil war. It contains language that may displease some readers. The story has been slightly abbreviated and lightly edited
THE CHOPPER LANDED in the heart of the square setting off a storm of spiralling dust. A dozen metres away the elephant grass that surrounded the PNGDF camp lay flat on the ground as if in fear of the spinning rotors.
‘We had an hour of fire exchange, yesterday,’ Nukuitu, a red eyed resistance commander chatted with the new PNGDF commander. ‘They came hot for us and went away.’
‘Did they get anyone?’ the commander asked.
‘No, but it was the worst screwing ever.’
By the look of him, he was from the Highlands of Papua New Guinea. The very people who the Kietas of Bougainville refer to as ‘kau’mintung po’nanka’ or ‘legs with intestine’. This is because they have very large calves, they say. And his built was great. He was tall and built and comparing him to Nukuitu, the Bougainvillean was just a little child.
The commander stood up and took a stroll around the camp. He was amazed by the number of thatched huts across the little drop. Just a stone’s throw away was the first hut. It was walled by government supplied blue canvass.
Every dawn in these homesteads you needed to have your chats with various gods quickly. For the home guards are not concerned about your gods; they just come waking you to cut grass till midday.
In the distance, but not too safe from the bullet’s reach, is Taunu, Turiboiru’s sister camp. With the dusty airstrip alongside her, she suffers from dust storms created by army planes and choppers.
Thus everywhere there are coughing children who play around the guns, telling the world that they are victims of this situation. Because of these free children, sometimes gossip floats through the air of these care centres that a particular couple have being interrupted making love by the children engaged in the game of hide-and-seek.
The space between the camps is very great. Covered with swaying elephant grass and criss-crossed by gullies that meet the Loruru river in the westward forest.
A gravel road runs through this land. From the north comes another road that links the latter in no-man’s land and runs south to Taunu. People fear this land, as the rebels regularly set ambushes there.
The next morning the commander, christened Fatnose because of his large nose, woke with the cock at early dawn and marched into the hut of the civilian Bougainvillean cook, who was still snoring away.
‘Hey you bastard, you suppose to be cooking,’ he fired. ‘You what, a fat lady? Fuckin’ yu, go kuk.’ The cook was following old rules, though he knew the Bible passage that read: ‘The old has gone and the new has come.’ With a new person you ought to apply new rules. He got the fire crackling under the black camp teapot.
‘Thank you,’ the Commanding Officer exulted, ‘you Bougainvilleans have sweet hands, especially your black girls. You must arrange one for me.’
At the fringe of the camp perimeter a gang of teenage girls strolled pass as the sun reflected on their smooth skin.
‘E, there they go again. The sun is also romantically inclined for them,’ he told himself as he ran his tongue along the cup rim his mind full of kissing scenes.
‘Girls here are unique,’ he said to his batman, ‘they are black, soft and cunning. What word can I use to describe their pubic?’ They laughed.
As an afterthought, he added: ‘Our relatives grow wrinkled too early whilst a Buin girl is still going strong even with five children.’
The cup of coffee was endless when his mind was clouded with a dozen girls making love to him, a middle aged Eastern Highlander. Though he was father of three back in his country, he believe it was worthwhile in Bougainville tasting a black woman’s pussy, as the Americans call it.
As he drifted through his oblivion, an uproar of gunfire went off somewhere to the north. The OC spilled his coffee on his naked left thigh and it burned like fire.
‘Cover up, you bastards!’ he shouted as he dashed into the bunker.
‘Those fuckin’ waterproof rebels again,’ Jimmy the batman said as they watched a pillar of smoke rising into the air. ‘You see, another hut belonging to the people who love Papua New Guinea is down to ashes again. The bushmen attack us with kerosene.’
As the contact ceased the OC ordered his troops to inspect. They manoeuvred through the thousand eyes that were glaring at them as if saying, ‘What are you looking for amidst our innocent presence? The ones you looking for are beyond Bogisago.’
Somewhere amongst the mass of terrified people, Private Robin spotted a familiar girl flat on the ground as they moved towards the envisaged battle front, her conical breasts prominent. He stared at her thinking the gun he held in hand would command the right for his gaze, but angry eyes scared him away.
The rebels were already gone in the bush and they were laughing, ‘what are these cowards doing in the middle of us? The people often wonder.’
‘Two brave fighters are down,’ Nukuitu snarled and cursed the BRA men.
‘From where, did they shoot?’ someone asked him.
‘The elephant grass.’
The two resistance fighters were on the ground, dead. Flies orbited around them as the women folk wailed over the lost children.
‘Our brother will every day slaughter us,’ cried old Kebau, in own language to keep the Ivitul in the dark, ‘since we have built a shield for these pests. Damn dastards! A country’s army for nothing; they are a personal security guards deployed here on a mission beyond their knowledge.’
Someone added: ‘You see them; they are here while our children track the killers into the bush. Better for them to be in the bush where the BRA will skin them alive instead of acting like commandos in front of our girls.’
Later in the afternoon, the tracking resistance fighters returned with casualties.
‘Two men have being lost and three wounded. Three issued rifles gone to the bushmen,’ a PNGDF soldier reported to the OC.
‘These idiots must have given those guns to their brothers and are telling lies around the place,’ Fatnose said, ordering a bystanding soldier to call Loloho for a chopper.
An enormous colony of nimbus piled in the north-east as the buzzing sound of the flying machine made it for the camp. Eyes skimmed the clouds competing to see who would be the first to see the helicopter.
‘Now you see those clouds there, the rebels are forcing their wives onto beds for sex,’ Fatnose said to Minsipi as he stood looking for the chopper. What the OC didn’t know was that Minsipi was a BRA insider.
‘Yes, they are,’ the rebel Minsipi snapped, and walked away.
The chopper, picked up the cargo and left for Buka as the people stood watching her fading towards Siwai.
The evening was fine. The sun was on the western horizon tired and sleepy. Far inland the Deu’ro range was wet but clear. Birds were high; warming up and hunting for the last meal of wild fruits and insects.
But the care centre was silent, she was in mourning and fear. Why do Bougainvilleans kill each other? The Kietas who started it should tell us. But they too are killing each other.
‘Tomorrow, they’ll bury the men,’ said Major Mosi, who oversaw the care centre, ‘so please take part in the funeral rituals. Many girls will be there.’
This did not interest Fatnose very much. ‘Funerals are where boys and girls screw most of the time,’ he said, sounding a tired man. ‘These Bougainvilleans are too nasty for me. So many things are now in my head. Who are we fighting?’
‘Why you say this chief?’ the batman asked.
‘Go back home and fuck your Sepik cunt, my partner,’ the OC said and laid down for sleep.
Major Mosi was listening from his bed to the conversation. ‘In the night there is high probability a bullet can give you a kissogram. Our government’s divide and conquer is not working out.’
The night was cold and clear with the moon high in the sky. Fatnose could not sleep, and went outside.
Seated on a stool he stared into the dark, wondering what tomorrow could bring. Fireflies wandered here and there in the dark without bothering him. He sneezed, stood up and strolled into the open as a bat relieved its grip from a coconut frond and left.
Somewhere in the dark a stereo was playing local songs. Fatnose thought it was the sentry people, but it wasn’t, it was the Mekeo Private Robin’s bunk corner.
‘Big ball, didn’t you heard about the funerals,’ the OC shouted, ‘what will the people say to me and you? They won’t tell us anything, but just pick up your gun, shoot you and off into the jungle they go.’
The music went off without hesitation followed by a weak echo of gunfire somewhere in the northern jungle. The rebels were celebrating their successes of the day just gone by. Was killing a human being worth jubilation? For Bougainvilleans it could be so because they are striving for their rights. And for PNG? Fatnose was lost to his questions.
A cool breeze consumed Fatnose as a straying firefly orbited him. ‘What do you want?’ he asked the insect as he approached the sentry. The distant chorus of traditional funeral songs was sweeping through the camp loudly enough to keep every one awake.
‘What do think of those songs?’ a sentry asked, as he welcomed him.
‘They are best. Bougainville is best just like her sister islands in the Solomons.’
Nobody talked but kept silent as if consuming the OC’s statement word by word.
Major Mosi was interrupted at dawn by the take-off blasts of the mortar cells. In his dirtiest dream since arriving in Bougainville he had been making love to a Buin girl. He eagerly rummaged his bed but nowhere was the girl.
‘Fuckin’ cells, kiss your operator’s grubby arse,’ he cursed after the reality got on him.
As the burial went on the mortar platoon was kept busy shelling the northern belt that was infested by BRA elements. This was in preparation for the operation to eliminate the regular attacks and infiltrations of the care centre. Fatnose had doubts: this is their home, with ‘elimination’ what do we meant?
Far inland, the resultant explosions were tremendous. A myriad of echoes swept across the plains. Scared were those innocent hearts; even nature wept in the sky. Is pain shared in nature?
It was a busy day for the occupying forces. A company just flown in from Kieta was preparing alongside their friends, the pro-PNG resistance groups.
Private Robin was refitting his M16 at the same time telling Minsipi tales.
‘This brat once jammed as I was about to shoot down a BRA man upstream along the Bovo river,’ he said. ‘The beast got a lucky escape after sending a private from the Delta Company to heaven.’
‘Why didn’t the others get him?’ Minsipi asked.
‘The pricks were shocked; and stood there watching like boles. But thank heaven the bullets missed their big heads.’
Minsipi chuckled helping himself to more bullets. ‘Years of the training and still you get shocked by terror.’ Both men laughed at that.
Though prepared for the operation, Jimmy the batman kept his distance the whole day. Hardly, was he seen on the outside but remained in bed thinking about home. Only once in a while was he popping up to respond to orders from the OC.
Mosi watched him enter the dining area and took a seat next to him. ‘Good afternoon, brother. Are you prepared?’
‘Yes brother, going to put my best foot forward. And what about you, soldier?’ The batman turned to face his mate who seems to be occupied with something bad.
‘I am thinking about my wife?’ Mosi said, swallowing a spoon of steaming rice.
‘Well, decide whether you’ll be—dead or alive.’ Mosi’s voice began trembling.
Tears rolled freely down Mosi’s cheeks. Jimmy was surprised because this fellow always preached loyalty and bravery in the army. Anyway, people do change when faced with contrasting circumstances. So he just sat there for his friend.
‘Brother, we’ll be alright,’ Jimmy said. ‘You are not alone; we are all suffering that same pain.’
The night was very long for Jimmy. His mind was on the pendulum, moving back and forth. He was visiting his family in Kerema—chatting with them—and then back on Bougainville facing the BRA man who is rushing at him to have him dead.
‘Wake up, men,’ some sentry shouted. ‘Take-off hour and where is that OC, still sleeping like a fat lady?’ The voice of the sentry was more of a duty teacher in a high school down history lane.
The OC jumped out of his bed, shouting, ‘Get moving. Move it!’ without realising he was the last to disengage from his mattress.
‘Fuckin’ you!’ someone scolded him out.
Realising that he was the last to leave the ‘cool lady’ he kept silent for he knew he had failed in his duty and if kept talking he would make it worse.
Major Mosi glanced at his wrist watch. It was 2am as the troops forced their way through to the main road. A wandering insect crashed into his neck and shocked him. ‘Lucky not a human being we can sort out with our fists,’ he told himself with a chuckle.
Some hours later the warmth of the sun poured on them in the thick undergrowth, off the north road.
‘What is this river?’ the OC asked Nukuitu.
‘Loruru,’ the resistance fighter said as he slowed his pace to decode the scout’s gestures. Has he spotted something?
The wilderness was so sweet. High in the trees, birds sang morning songs. Somewhere nearby a hornbill, startled by the presence of human beings, left with a very heavy flapping of its wings followed by load cackling of crows. All this made the OC frustrated.
‘Shit, you bastards!’ Fatnose, warned nature, ‘get lost, you panty-less lunatics.’
Far across a fallowed area—the length of a soccer pitch—a young hunter aimed his catapult at a noisy party of parrots. To Fatnose, he was no ordinary man but a hardcore guerrilla fighter. He was alone and vulnerable to 120 men. But was he actually alone?
‘Company split,’ Fatnose instructed, ‘one gets the rear and strike if he comes running into us.’
The orders were passed through the lines as the bushes behind the lone, bare-chested hunter came to life. Men were talking and smoke from a fire was visible as it crept under the shade of the canopy.
The scouts of the rear strike force led their men through a dense tangle, clearing their way with gun muzzles. They manoeuvred cautiously as insects shrilled in their ears, mosquitoes feasting on them in millions. But all they concentrated on was that they must get there and kill that problem to PNG.
A falling dried leaf spun and brushed the point scout’s helmet, passed down his belly, recessed for a few seconds on the gun barrel and went on to the ground to rest. He eyed it suspiciously, but then forced himself to forget it.
Suddenly, a flapping sound intersected his route and off into the air it went—a megapod. After it came an exhausted mongrel, in fruitless desire to slaughter its prey. Here beside him were smells he never came across. He halted and scanned the odours—they were new. To the death of the scout’s consciousness, the dog watched him furiously.
‘What is that?’ the second scout asked through the tangle.
‘That dog had me dead.’
It was still there watching the scouts. But, slowly it secured its tail to its abdomen and, to the men’s heartache, it gave an angry bark and dashed into the tangle.
In the distance, the irate dog never ceased howling. The echo travelled and shook the entire jungle. The locale they were to attack was now where the dog sat and was calling to the gods that the ivitu are here with us, trying to kill us in our own land.
‘My god, that dog,’ Nukuitu cried.
Minsipi, who was not disturbed by all this, stood relaxed watching Nukuitu. ‘Don’t be bothered by a naked puppy, man.’
Someone in the midst of the targeted area gave a shout for withdrawal; the dog was also pacified.
‘Thanks, Jesus,’ the point scout relieved himself of the enveloping fear. He was an inmate walking to freedom.
The other troopers led by Fatnose crossed the cold Loruru and positioned themselves on the edges of the fallow area. For it was here that the enemy would come running when attacked from the rear.
They waited silently in anticipation for the moment to squeeze the trigger. Every soldier longed to kill one Bougainvillean rebel for the country. They have caused Port Moresby so much trouble.
They waited as the rear strike force struggled through a vast bamboo cluster. Evident was human activity. Ahead the land was getting higher so the soldiers edged forward more carefully so as not to be spotted.
To the left of the creeping government men, and amidst impenetrable undergrowth, were their enemies.
Nande, the point scout of Sepik origin who was renowned for his tales of training with Australian soldiers, sprang over a huge rotting log with deepening heartbeats after catching something with his sharp ears. He brushed pass a spiky pile of pandanus leaves that were hanging loose on their mother palm to get a clear view of the rebel position.
With sweat dripping down his face and blood veins clear on his nose, he halted and gestured his second man forward.
A soft conversation was audible some 50 metres away under the thick undergrowth. A bluish fire smoke was also visible and smelling.
‘They are here,’ the scouts concluded and ordered the rest into position.
Overhead, a lone crow flapped its way through the shade of the canopy as Nukuitu took a few steps forward escorted by Minsipi, the wolf in sheep’s clothing.
A light wind swept the jungle to life. Mosquitoes swarmed. In the distance, a branch cracked.
‘The wind must be mad,’ thought Nukuitu.
Cautiously, the soldiers moved forward in barricade formation for attack. With his heart pounding, Nukuitu didn’t know who was minding the back, what he wanted was the blood that was in front of him. There they were talking without knowing that death crept in silently.
The wind allowed the shrubs to sway in a leisurely manner. Manu, a Morobean soldier serving his fifth year in the Defence Force, was hard hit by mosquitoes. The blood suckers were trying their best to attack his neck. Then he saw it—who? The rebel! He moved in a jerk to his right.
‘There, he pointed! Shoot… shoot!’ he ordered as he landed on the moist earth chasing away an army of moths. The troops fired heavily. Bullets had the leaves and tree branches fall like rain to the mother earth. To boost their bravery, not a response came.
Firing, the troops moved forward. Reloading and firing they went to see who the beast was there that cost them so much energy to get him down.
Minsipi, the end-man on the far left of the barricade and the first in front of the talking enemy, halted fire after hearing a radio playing. It was a broadcast on environmental issues from Australia.
Heart pounding to identify a gap for him to escape and meet his kinsmen, he swore at the radio loudly, ‘Fuck you,’ and switched it off. It belongs to his cousin—a resistance fighter turned rebel by the PNGDF.
On the other side, Fatnose and the men were firing into the fallow area. Yet it was clear that through this zone no being could cross without been spotted. Nothing but fear was taking a toll on this Australian-trained army. Good for nothing pricks!
‘Keep shooting,’ Fatnose ordered. ‘These men are like ghosts, they can cross this way without you seeing them, boys.’
Under the deafening blast of guns and grenades, Minsipi stood still watching his mates. They without restrain kept wasting Australian ammunition on the innocent plants. While the bush boys had only one formula which was: ‘One shot equals one kill’ and then they were gone into the jungle.
As he stood lost in thought, a soldier kneeling before him was hit. He heard the piercing ‘thud’ of a bullet breaking through the human flesh and was shocked. What if they—my very relatives—took me down with their supply of ammunition still with me? My gracious God, don’t you ever be so rude to me.
The ivitu landed on the ground; gave a struggle thinking he could still retain precious life but didn’t make it. Minsipi just stared at the man hopelessly.
‘Heaven; or hell, my friend’ Minsipi prayed for him, ‘is up to you and God, at least if He knows who you are, you bastard.’
This casualty, it was obvious to Minsipi and his uncle Kepa, was taken from the rear and to his, joy, no one minded the back except hi. He was the one controlling the backyard.
Minsipi eye-signalled Kepa to come forward to him as he fired their agreed pattern of shots to indicate to the rebels their presence in this operation and the exact position they were in.
‘Hey, that one is shot,’ Kepa said to Nukuitu and two other soldiers, who were so surprised and halted fire in perplexity.
The rest were, also shocked that one of their men was down without them even knowing from where the killer took this shot. Out of anger or sympathy, some of the men began shooting everywhere. On the other side, Fatnose, after a short radio briefing, kept shooting the trees.
Men gathered around the dead soldier. Some were weeping for the comrade; others kept shooting, just to drive the fear out of their spine.
‘It won’t be long,’ Minsipi instructed Kepa on the steps they ought to be taking.
A sudden heavy round of gunfire came sweeping through the sad jungle. Missiles smashed rotting boles, tore through leaves and knocked down branches. Government men ran in all directions to save their lives and not the nation.
Amidst the muzzle smoke, a dreadlocked rebel stood up behind the line and shouted angrily at the redskins to return to PNG and fuck their mothers.
A dozen soldiers were lost in thought. Others sprinted off like wild pigs, crashing into giant boles, landing hard and then getting up and crashing off again. Not a soldier thought of the weapon in his hand when the rebels—so determined for a kill—jumped forward firing.
Some of the men were heard screaming ‘mama’ as they headed into the fallow ground.
‘Where are they shooting from?’ a soldier with blood bubbling out of one of his eye sockets, shouted as he landed on the ground before a resistance fighter who just laughed, ‘Mate, you’ve been fucked.’
Minsipi and Kepa jerked away from the troop body under the cover of the bullets.
‘Fire the pattern, again,’ Minsipi ordered his teen uncle as he unveiled an ammo box of bullets for his jungle relatives. ‘One shotgun round and two M16 shots. And please do repeat.’
As they waited for a response from the jungle men, they heard another death-scream from the men they had come with.
Seconds later it came, two dreadlocked men came running towards them whilst the rest kept pushing the government puppets towards the Loruru.
Minsipi admired them as they fought their way through the tangle. ‘If only you were not my partners, you would be my catches of the day,’ he thought to himself and laughed.
‘Hey, you fuckers!’ Minsipi’s exhausted cousin almost shouted. ‘So, it’s you that my female dog nearly stripped.’
‘Yes,’ Kepa said laughing. ‘Where is it so that I’ll kick his arse.’
‘No, not that way,’ another rebel cried happily, ‘that’s my bodyguard.’
The rebels ceased firing but the government forces were so occupied with rage and carelessly attacked the bush.
Regularly the rebels ducked to the ground to avoid stray bullets from the Loruru.
‘Brothers, you know we didn’t come looking for you,’ Ivini, the BRA commander said, nursing a captured rifle in hand. ‘But as we were shooting, someone lost his senses and darted towards us; I got this rifle.’
‘We need to disengage for the good of you brothers,’ Ivini directed. ‘We will fire shots over your heads and you run towards the Loruru.’
‘That’s it,’ Kepa agreed, ‘otherwise, Nukuitu beheads Minsipi.’
‘Whether peace dawns or not, that’s the man I want to kill,’ Ivini hissed like a serpent. ‘Okay, go men!’
Minsipi and Kepa sprinted like thieves. Overhead bullets smashed into the trees and wild bananas. Both fired into the air as they ran for the safety of the Loruru.
They crashed into the Loruru, speechless and exhausted; dragging with them shrubs and creepers.
‘Boys, there are hundreds of rebels!’ Kepa shouted at the positioned men. ‘They are coming this way probably.
The great resistance commander, Nukuitu, lay cold on the bank.
‘Just answer confidently at the junction of heaven and hell,’ Minsipi told Nukuitu’s dead body, surrounded by buzzing flies and hungry ants. ‘Never beat around the bush.’
The place was quiet. Only a few cicadas shrilled the bush as sat dreaming in wonder of the things unfolding before their eyes.
‘See you sometime,’ a rebel shouted from a hillock above them. The soldiers responded with fire and swear words.
‘Are we fighting humans or ghosts?’ the wounded Fatnose murmured in agony. ‘Let’s go, men.’
The company lay four dead resistance fighters and a soldier on stretchers and carefully tracked down the Loruru’s sandy banks headed for the road further downstream.
Defeated and hopeless, Fatnose and his men—the good and the bad—staggered along the thick undergrowths of the river bank avoiding the road.
Far inland, shouts of jubilations and gun shots were audible answering the mortar explosions and concussion that rumbled the hideouts.
In camp, Minsipi sat quietly looking towards the Deuro ranges.
‘This is my country, Bougainville, bomb her but you shall never get to her heart,’ he said to himself and wiped tears from his eyes.