MARLENE DEE GRAY POTOURA
An entry in The Crocodile Prize
Buk bilong Pikini Award for Children’s Writing
“Do not judge others. God is our only judge”
WHEN Nehemiah’s parents died, uncle Billy and aunty Kaulasi adopted him. It was sad that they were barren and it was just unfair indeed that uncle Billy was blind and aunty Kaulasi had a deformed right hand. They were very poor, but were kind, wise and humble people.
Nehemiah’s clothes were ‘thrown away garbs’, that he collected stuck between the stones in the river Pauhu, where he went goggle fishing .He dried them on the rocks and wore them for weeks, until the clothes rot and fell away.
The village boys snickered past him when he held his uncle’s hand and guided him down to the river. When he carried firewood with his aunty, the boys rudely imitated ‘how his aunty walked,’ and laughed rudely. They wrinkled their noses when he went to school in his tattered trousers. Henry and Joel always kicked his skinny legs, instead of the soccer ball. No matter, how badly everyone treated him; Nehemiah was always good natured, friendly, kind and honest.
One bright and beautiful morning, Nehemiah, Henry, Joel and all the other village boys were going fishing at river Pirasi. On their way they went past a watermelon garden with big juicy watermelons on every side. The boys mouth watered and they swallowed hard.
“Wish I could eat one of those juicy melons!” Nehemiah, good natured as usual said and laughed.
“You are thinking of stealing one, because you are always eating kaukaus (sweet potatoes) and your stomach is hard like a stone!” Henry laughed sarcastically, followed by loud yodelling from all the boys.
They went to the river Pirasi and enjoyed themselves. Nehemiah speared many fish and had to share them with Henry and Joel. When Nehemiah got home he helped his aunty to cook the fish and the three of them had a hearty meal. His uncle ate the fish and drank the hot creamy soup. He said to Nehemiah.
“My nephew, I am a blind man without children. You are a child of blessing that any parents would want. I am poor and handicap, but I swear that your good heart will lead you to be a great man in the future.” His uncle’s glassy eyes looked up at the ceiling as he spoke and Nehemiah swore in his heart that he would care for this man and nothing would ever make him leave. He loved his uncle and aunty dearly.
Early the next morning the garamut (traditional drum) sound woke everyone. The village soothsayer called out for the villagers to gather at the football field.
“I will ask Masiu to proceed”, the old chief said kindly in his usual soft voice.
Masiu came forward looking very angry. His hands were shaking and his eyes were wild.
“Two priced watermelons are missing from my garden. My nephew Henry told me that he went fishing with some village boys yesterday. I want all those boys to come to the front,” Masiu yelled.
Uncle Billy smiled and let go of Nehemiah’s hand.
Masiu went around and asked the boys.
“Ambi, did you steal the watermelons from my garden?”
“No, I didn’t!” Ambi whispered fearfully.
“Makui, did you steal the watermelons?”
“No, I did not!” Makui said softly.
“Sania, did you steal the watermelons?”
“No, Masiu!” Sania answered.
“Joel, did you steal the watermelons?”
“Masiu, Nehemiah stole your watermelons!” Joel turned to the village people as he spoke.
“Yesterday, Nehemiah said he wanted to eat the watermelons, as we went past the garden. He said his stomach was hard like a stone from eating too many kaukaus and he wanted to eat watermelons to soften it,” Joel continued as everyone laughed.
“No, I didn’t take any watermelon!” Nehemiah said softly.
“Yes, you did, you good for nothing orphan!” Masiu screamed uncontrollably.
“Watermelon thief!” a voice called from the crowd.
“Motherless vigrant!” a woman’s voice yelled.
“Go eat your kaukaus, you good for nothing waif!”
“Useless fatherless penniless......”
Nehemiah bowed his head and the tears flowed from his eyes and dropped onto his mud caked feet. His ears rang and buzzed and made him dizzy, as the accusations, hateful words and just overall unkindness flowed from all the men and women. He felt a tightening in his chest and he curled his fingers into a fist and closed his eyes tightly and sobbed.
As he cried, he felt a hand on his arm and he turned around and saw his aunty Kaulasi. She kindly pulled his hand and led him to his uncle Billy, who was waving his walking stick in the air and challenging Masiu and Henry’s parents. The village chief stood between them, as he tried to calm everyone down.
“Pay for the watermelons, you skinny orphan”, Masiu’s wife came forward and yelled at Nehemiah, as he was led away by his aunty.
“We will pay for your watermelon. Please, keep calm!” aunty Kaulasi said softly and turned away from Masiu’s wife.
When they reached their old broken down house, uncle Billy took out his most treasured possession. The old metal box, with the rusted lock, that was given to him by an American Bible Translator many years back.
He waved his walking stick about and fished from under the hearth, a weird looking piece of metal, as long as a one inch nail. He pushed it into the little hollow on the metal box and the box clicked open. Then he pulled out one kina coins threaded onto a twine. He counted them up to twenty kina and gave them to Kaulasi.
“Wife, go and give these to Masiu.”
Nehemiah thought he saw tears in his uncle’s sad eyes and he felt an overwhelming love for him.
The next day there was a different kind of commotion. A woman was wailing and moaning in jeer madness. The village women started running to comfort the woman. Kaulasi and Nehemiah ran outside to see, what was happening.
“Goodness, it is Henry’s mother,” she said as she ran and joined the other women.
Nehemiah and his uncle waited for her in their house until she returned with the news.
“Billy,” she said in fear. “Henry’s stomach has tripled in size overnight and it is still swelling. Something is wrong with that boy.”
When the kind old Chief saw Henry, he said that the boy had done a great wrong, which he should confess, or else he would die.
Henry started crying and then he said, “I ate the two watermelons and I am sorry.”
There was complete silence.
Then the old kind chief spoke again.
“I would like to ask all those who have accused Nehemiah of theft to come forward and say sorry to him, before this boy dies”.
Nehemiah was called and everyone said sorry to him. Nehemiah just stood there and looked kind and honest as ever, not even showing signs of anger or pride.
Nehemiah went home to his uncle and aunty and the village people slowly dispersed to their homes. Later in the afternoon a miracle happened, that no one had the courage to open their mouth and explained or even discuss.
Henry started heaving and his stomach tightened like a tidal wave about to surge. He opened his mouth and screamed as he spurred nothing but crimson watery remains of what he had stolen and eaten. As he vomited and vomited, his stomach went back to its normal size and he sat up for the first time, after laying down the whole day with a swollen, balloon like belly.
Then Henry ran to Nehemiah’s house and said sorry for all that he had caused. Nehemiah good natured as ever, accepted and shook his friend’s outstretched hands.