An entry in The Crocodile Prize
People’s Award for Short Stories
IT all happened on the evening of 9 November 2007 at the remote village of Bombir in the Kerowagi District of Simbu Province.
Around four on a fine Friday afternoon, I packed some food for my mother who was teaching at Nokar Primary School, an out-of-the-way school located right at the foot of the cloud covered mountain range that separates Kerowagi from Gembogl.
I left the family house 500 meters from Okuk Highland near the main Mingende market and started walking up the mountain – a journey that would take six hours.
I kept walking without rest towards the first range as the sun rolled down behind the mountains. I felt sweat rolling down my back and the hot air from my lungs forced its way through my mouth and nose but the cold evening breeze kept pushing me forward.
I hardly realised that the sun had disappeared behind the mountains and that evening had fallen.
The narrow bush track became invisible so I switched on my torch to keep me going. After four hours I left the first range and came close to Bombir Primary School. There I helped myself to some fresh water from a bush stream that poured from a bamboo pipe beside the track.
It was already eight in the night as I sat beside the stream for a rest. I felt my toes and fingers getting very tight and pain crept up my feet through my veins.
After a rest and having satisfied my thirst with the cold mountain water, I continued to a small village. I arrived at a house and saw many people, especially young men, sitting around three fireplaces under the shelter of a large blue canvas tarpaulin.
A kerosene lamp hanging from the roof of the shelter was their only source of light. Their voices lowered to silence as they turned around to stare at me as I approached from the darkness. An elderly man slowly stood up and greeted me.
I quickly begged him if I could be accommodated for the night as I was very tired after walking the long distance from my village.
After a brief discussion amongst themselves, the elderly man led me to a large kunai hut which I figured out was their village chief’s house. He handed me an old blanket and advised me to sleep in a small space next to someone who was already fast asleep covered in a blanket from head to toe on a double mattress.
Desperate to rest I placed my bag on the floor and got down on the bed and closed my eyes.
A questions nagged at my mind as to why only one person was left alone to sleep in the large house but I quickly dozed off and into a deep sleep.
The high pitched cry of cicadas shrill and the cacophony of birds and insects welcomed the dawn of a new day and woke me early the next morning. I grabbed my bag and left the house with the other person next to me still under the blanket.
After two hours of continuous walking, I reached my mother’s school at Nokar. Mom was busy weeding her vegetable garden when I arrived and she paused while I told her the story of my journey.
As I spoke and mentioned my night at the chief’s house at Bombir, she became very quiet, her eyes opened wide and her palm pressed to her mouth.
I asked what it was. To my horror I was told that the daughter of the village chief of Bombir village died during the early hours of Friday morning and her body was placed inside the chief’s meeting house.
The tribesmen were guarding her dead body from sorcery. I realised the silent figure I had slept alongside was the corpse of the chief’s daughter.
Joseph Ambane John is a Labour Officer with the Simbu Provincial Government in Kundiawa