J P RICHARD
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Cleland Family Heritage Literature Award
ONCE UPON a time, in the cold misty mountains of Masi village in Goroka, Eastern Highlands province lived a 13 year old albino boy named Megusa. Megusa lived with his dear old lapun (old) mama in their old kunai raunhaus.
Nobody liked to hang-out with Megusa because of his genetic condition. In the village people thought albinism brought bad luck from the gods; little did they know that albino people could see things that normal people couldn’t.
Lapun mama always prepared Megusa’s goive (kaukau) and masi (taro) with sweet carrots, cabbage, cauli flowers and, if available, a smoked piece of iza (pork) every morning and sent him off to labour in their coffee garden close by the hill.
Megusa would leave his kunai raunhaus and scuttle across the village, head bowed in shame, eyes averted from the whispering villagers, and hurry down the winding bush track, across the crystal creek then up the savannah slope to his coffee garden.
Alas, every morning, Megusa would be greeted with broken coffee branches, spilled coffee cherries and strange single footprints. The footprint was neither from left leg nor right; it looked like...well, it looked like an undecided footprint. The only one-legged person in the village was Geisi and he was a righty.
Why did this bloody rascal pick on my coffee garden, thought Megusa. Can’t he see I’m just a poor kid living with my lapun mama with nobody to care for us? Papa was not around because he died in a tribal fight over land with nearby neighbours, the Kefamo people. Mama had gone years ago, sick of papa and his habits.
Megusa had no siblings because his mama was afraid she would give birth again to a genetically faulty child. Lapun papa died long before he was born and uncles and aunties keep their distance. So lapun mama took Megusa in when nobody dared to look after a bad-luck child and he received love, care and protection from lapun mama and repercussion, rejection and a cold-shoulder from the villagers.
Lapun mama practiced a little bit of voodoo so people knew better than to mess with her. She never harmed anybody, just a little spiritual insurance over her raunhaus, gardens and pigs and harmless herbal medicine for herself and Megusa.
Megusa couldn’t understand how this one-legged rascal was able to avoid lapun mama’s protection and keep stealing their coffee cherries. He never told lapun mama because she would think him silly. There’s no such thing as a one-legged rascal who’s neither a lefty nor a righty.
One day his curiosity got the better of him and Megusa decided to catch the rascal in the act. He got up before the sunrise, grabbed his belongings and crept out of the raunhaus. Outside, it was dark and the cold fog hung down.
His bare feet absorbed the cold ground as he hurried across the village and followed the path to the garden. He approached along a different track noiselessly and almost without breathing. His camouflaged body streaked with clay, coffee twigs and leaves hid alongside the biggest tree trunk at the very edge of the coffee garden.
Megusa squinted through the coffee branches and the fog and waited for what seemed like forever, his stomach rambling, heart pounding, his breath condensing in front of his chubby nose. Maybe the one-legged rascal had seen him coming and decided to hide, maybe he ….
Suddenly his back stiffened as he heard faint noises approaching - chik-chik-crik-crik- pop-pop-hop-hop; chik-chik, rustling the coffee leaves, crik-crik, cracking the broken twigs, pop-pop went the coffee cherries, hop-hop came the one-legged rascal.
Megusa stared in amazement as this one-legged figure materialised out of the fog unsuspectingly picking coffee cherries and busily breaking twigs as he approached. Megusa wasn’t afraid, rather he was awestruck. What on earth was that creature! Was it another genetically-deformed human hiding away from unloving people?
His heart saddened with empathy. A few more chik-chik-crik-crik- pop-pop-hop-hop later and the one-legged rascal appeared. Megusa was further surprised because not only did the rascal have just one leg but also only one hand, one eye and one ear.
It mumbled and grunted as it chewed the coffee cherries, its mouth filled with juicy coffee beans as it happily munched away. Being an albino, Megusa had thought himself to be fearless as he roamed the forest and worked all alone in his coffee garden.
His only thought was to catch the rascal. He would pounce on it and wrestle it to the ground. With one leg and one hand the rascal couldn’t possibly win. So Megusa set his stance like a prowling tiger, his back ached, his bare feet dug into the soft earth, a long strong bush-rope gripped in his right hand, eyes squinting, heart pounding, blood rushing.
The one-legged rascal came within striking distance, breaking twigs and munching coffee beans. Suddenly Megusa sprung and dashed toward the one-legged rascal, leaping on it and wrestling it to the ground. The one-legged rascal screamed so shrilly Megusa’s ear-drum almost burst.
The rascal was surprisingly strong but Megusa was skilled in tackling pigs and inserting loop in their hooves and that was exactly what he did. In a rough encounter he was able to knot its leg. Megusa pulled the rope and fastened it to a nearby coffee tree then grabbed a fallen branch and threatened to smash the one-legged rascal’s head. Eventually the one-legged rascal settled.
"What are you?” demanded Megusa. “Why are you stealing, eating and destroying my coffee garden?”
“Because I have to eat just like you, I eat coffee beans and green coffee leaves, it’s my food!” shot back the one-legged rascal, “and I’m not a what, I’m a who,” it cried.
“What is your name?” Megusa slowly relaxing but still suspicious.
“My name is Nokondi and I lived in the mountain caves. I can make you very wealthy by nourishing your coffee trees if you let me go.”
“Oh yeah, nourishing like what you are doing now? That’s what you call nourishing?” Megusa turning even redder than his own pink complexion.
“No it’s not like that. I cannot plant the coffee tree, my hand is cursed but I can fertilise the trees with my special portion and make them grow faster and healthier. In fact, I can make as many as 50 coffee trees to grow and bear fruit every full moon (every month).”
“Wow! Slow it down Mr Nokondi.” Megusa’s mind was doing a quick calculation; 50 coffee trees every full moon, 600 coffee trees by the next season (a year). “Are you sure about that? If that’s your sleazy trick for me to release you, it’s not working. Why should I believe you?”
“Because I speak only the truth, if I lie, I will die the moment the lie escapes my lips; that is part of my curse.”
“Mmm, prove it,” Megusa scoffed.
“My blood is green and if smeared on any part of the coffee tree, it cures all coffee diseases and makes the plant healthier right after you applied the blood.”
So Megusa pinched its arm and certainly the blood was green. He drew a pint size and smeared it on the leaf of the nearby coffee tree. To Megusa’s amazement, the tree healed on prompt as promised, the shriveled bug eaten leaves transformed into smooth glossy full green leaves, the stem stiffened and fruits healthier and juicier.
“Wow! This is amazing!” Megusa was flabbergasted starring with eyes about to pop. After much probing and consideration, Megusa finally decided to release his captive.
“If I release you, would you run away?”
So Megusa released Nokondi slowly and sure enough Nokondi let out a heavy sigh and relaxed with no intention of fleeing.
The two of them sat down and talked. Megusa told Nokondi about his sad story and Nokondi promised to be his friend and helped him through life. When the sun was about to come up, Nokondi stood up and announced that it had to live because its skin would sizzle in the sunlight. Nokondi promised to bring back its special portion when the sun set low and Megusa agreed to wait.
Sure enough, Nokondi returned in the twilight and handed Megusa a bamboo tube full of portion. Megusa let Nokondi eat as much coffee cherries as its stomach could contain then left. Megusa returned in the morning, planted the first 50 coffee trees and applied the portion fertilizer. After a month, he had 50 full grown healthy coffee trees that bore thousands of ripened juicy red fruits that forced the skinny branches to hang down.
And so Nokondi and Megusa remained good friends. Megusa became very wealthy having a very large coffee plantation. His secret mystical friend remained concealed from the people. Around the time when Sir Danny Leahy arrived in Goroka, Megusa was already prosperous and everybody looked up to him.
Megusa forgave them all and built a local clinic and a school at his village. Afraid that western civilisation would ruin Nokondi’s home, he bought a very large land north of Masi village and dedicated it to biological conservation. Today, the park is known as the Mount Gahavisuka Provincial Park.
Megusa lived happily ever after.