An entry in the Crocodile Prize
Steamships Short Story Award
In loving memory of my late father, Nehemiah Potoura. Rest in peace, beloved. God is our only judge
WE WERE all fugitives, hiding in the bushes and jungles, fleeing from both the rebels and the government soldiers.
We crawled through the jungle like bush beings, not domesticated creatures. I was totally fed up with this kind of ‘forced and at your own will’ banishment. I was restless and dreamt of fish and chips, hamburgers and ice-cream.
I dreamt of civilization, where there were shopping malls, theatres and I wanted to watch television and see who was who on the red carpet.
I wished I was with my dad in Rabaul where he went to sort out logging royalties for the landowners. But, because of the blockade, we were separated from him. I was at my wits end and couldn’t stand being exiled in the jungles any more. That night, I had a big argument with my mother.
Very early in the morning, I left our hiding place and went back to the village. I slept in my room the whole day right into the night. I did not make any noise. I was more like an animal, a prey hiding camouflaged in a dangerous zone.
I awoke at 4 am and just lay in bed listening to the sounds that were familiar to my village ears. At 5, I dozed off and then, a few minutes later, suddenly woke to the sound of my father’s voice.
Now, I knew I was truly missing my father, or were there enemies who saw me entered the village? Again I heard noises downstairs. Yes, someone was walking and moving about. I pricked up my ears, like a wild dog, petrified but ready to pounce.
“Hey, are you people still sleeping?” It was clearly my father’s voice. But I felt hesitant to move. He was in Rabaul and there was this blockade. All this hiding in the jungle must be making me lose my sanity.
“Marlene, Linda, anybody home?” It was clearly my father’s voice. Without a second thought, I jumped out of bed and ran down the stairs into my father’s arms. He was drenched by the heavy rain. I held him and cried for a while. I heard him sniffing too.
“Marlene, where is everybody?” he asked after a while, as he realised our house and the village were strangely quiet.
“Papa, all our people are in hiding,” I said quietly.
“Papa how did you come?” I asked. He was tired and wanted to rest but told me to go to our hiding place and tell our family to come home
“I came through the Solomon Islands. A boat left me on the beach and I walked.”
He sat on my bed and started opening his backpack. I realised he had put on a lot of weight. No wonder his knees were all swollen from the long walk.
“Papa, you must hide. There are rumours that you are a suspect and that the rebels are waiting for you,” I said.
“A month ago they came before dawn and searched our house, looking for a wireless or something. Then the next day they got your sons to show them where you buried the guns that were shipped by the soldiers some years back.”
Father bellowed with laughter. “Wireless and guns! Don’t they have a war to fight with the soldiers instead of suspecting their own? Don’t worry, Lene, everything is going to be all right!”
“No, Papa, you are on the hot list. You must leave and go back to Rabaul until everything cools down. People have changed, they are not like when you left. Everyday, our own kind are suspected and taken away, never to return and see their families again.”
What father said to me then has always rung in my ears. Even today, I still cannot understand that atrocious war.
“Lene, no one will do anything to me. I am the Chief here. This is my fatherland, these are my people, my own colour.
“The war is not with me, it is with the soldiers. I have returned at last to my home.” His confidence in these words was beyond explanation. I believed him.
But my belief was shattered. Three days later my father was arrested by his own kind, falsely accused and was made to stand in the middle of a bridge just a few metres away from his two sons.
He was then shot through his ever-caring heart.
Then he was pushed over the bridge and into the crocodile infested river.
As if to prove his innocence, the crocodiles and other water creatures did not touch his body. He was found downstream by kind people who sent word to my uncles to bring his body to our village for a decent burial.
Today there is a tombstone that marks where my father is resting in our village cemetery.
Fatherland! He believed in his own people. What tragedy!