COCK-a-doodle-doo! Damn kokorou (chicken)! I could strangle it with my bare hands, Abia thought.
She wanted to sleep in but she knew that when the sun came up it’ll be a scorcher so she may as well get up now and have breakfast in the cool of the morning.
Her back ached from the thin mattress against the bamboo slats. She sat up, rubbing her sore back. It’s always like this during the first few couple of days. Just yesterday she had awoken from a comfortable spring mattress in town; this morning she awoke from a foam mattress three times less the thickness of that.
She stretched before exiting her tainamo (mosquito net). Every morning for the next six days she would wake up, tie up her tainamo, and fold her sheets. She had come from Moku (Port Moresby) to spend time with her bubus (grandparents).
The first year of university had ended just two weeks ago. Bereina was her escape from the hustle and bustle of the city. Although she hated the pit toilet - and the mosquitoes drove her in insane, especially when they buzzed near her ears and brushed across her face at night - she loved this place and its slow pace and vast open space.
Abia sat on the edge of the itara (sheltered platform made from bamboo, wood, coconut fronds and corrugated iron), her short tanned legs dangled just above the first bamboo rung of the itara’s wide ladder like steps.
Her bubumeri (grandmother) was already up as usual. She was a petite, slim and physically fit woman; her skin the colour of milk chocolate from all the years working under the harsh Bereina sun.
Bubumeri could shoulder bananas like a bodybuilder lifts weights. She was one of the most hard-working women Abia knew. Bubuman (grandfather) had back problems; old age had crept up to him much more quickly than Bubumeri. The joints of his fingers pained and he took medication. He helped his wife in any way he could.
Abia moved off the itara, climbing down the wide two-rung bamboo ladder, and walked over to the cooking area. ‘Morning, bubuman,’ Abia said. Bubuman was sitted on the multi-purpose itara, leaning against one of the wooden posts – his favourite spot – busy sharpening a bushknife with a lit kuku (smoke) in his mouth.
‘Morning, Abia.’ Bubumeri was crouched near the fire, busy placing a wood in while fanning the embers with a fan made from woven coconut leaves. ‘Morning bubumeri’, Abia said as she touched her grandmother’s back. ‘Morning, Abia,’ replied her grandmother still facing the fire, busy fanning in short rapid motions.
Smoke filled the fireplace for a while before flames appeared. The blackened kettle with its makeshift wire handle was placed atop the orange flame via two iron bars that were raised and balanced by thick heavy pieces of wood on either side.
Abia lifted herself onto the edge of the itara and sat adjacent to her bubuman. She watched the flames dance around the edges of the kettle covered in black soot. It wasn’t long before its spout started producing steam.
Four tin cups awaited the boiling kettle; each one housed a Nambawan teabag and some sugar. Each cup was filled with hot water by bubumeri and distributed to its recipient by Abia.
Abia’s uncle returned from his walk in perfect time for his tea. She said good morning to him and placed his tea beside where he would sit. He touched her on the shoulder and said good morning and thanked her.
Last night’s leftovers of banana and stewed magani (wallaby) were brought off a suspended wire shelf, along with plates and spoons, and were placed in the centre by bubumeri and Abia. The four of them formed a circle around the food and had breakfast.
Breakfast ended and Abia set off into the gardens with her bubumeri. Bubuman remained in the dwellings and her uncle went to visit his friends. Despite her grandmother’s tireless efforts for Abia not to go to the gardens because she feared the sun would be too hot for her, Abia insisted.
And so the two women ventured into the gardens with a bushknife, a makeshift modified trowel made from an old iron pipe and two putes (a pute is an empty 20kg flour bag) in hand. The hot sun beat down on Abia’s head but she happily pulled out weeds around the aibikas (greens) while bubumeri hacked away at the kunai (type of grass)creeping towards her garden.
Beads of sweat dripped down Abia’s face; she wiped her forehead every now and then on the sleeve of her t-shirt. After thirty minutes of non-stop work, Abia joined bubumeri who was having a break under a guava tree. The pair sat in silence, the shade relieving their exhaustion for a while.
‘Bubu, inap mi traim katim gras?’ Abia asked. ‘Yu mas lukaut - bushknife ya em sharp na bai katim yu,’ bubumeri warned her.
When bubumeri had enough rest she grabbed her makeshift trowel and headed for the yams to add more dirt to the mounds. Abia took this as an indication of the end of the break. The young woman picked up the bushknife and made her way to the kunai at the edge of the garden.
Abia swung the bushknife to and fro, cutting the tall sharp blades of grass swiftly. Man, bubuman did a pretty good job sharpening this baby, she thought. Swish, swish, swish – grass fell to the ground with each mighty but effortless swing.
The sharpness of the knife and the precision of her cutting made her excited. I’m actually great at this, she mused. She thought she heard movement among the kunai. It must’ve been the passing breeze.
Before Abia knew it, a sharp pain registered on her right leg. As she sat to nurse her wounded foot, a black snake slithered away from her and into the kunai. Freaked out Abia called out, ‘Bubu!’ Bubumeri dropped her trowel and raced over to her side as quickly as she could. ‘Lek blo mi,’ she cried. ‘Snake kaikaim.’
Bubumeri ripped the bottom of her baggy tee-shirt with the help of the bushknife and immediately wrapped the wound, her hands frantically shaking. She steadily and carefully dragged her grand-daughter a safe distance away from the kunai; and told her to keep still and be calm.
‘Hano!’ bubumeri repeatedly called out to Abia’s grandfather for help, the terror in her voice evident. Abia was still in shock - outstretched on the ground - fearful of what had just happened moments ago.
The thought of death began to cloud her mind. Bubumeri laid Abia’s head on her lap. ‘Ologeta samting bai orait. Yu i noken wari.’ bubumeri said half-heartedly. The look in her grandmother’s eyes gave away the great fear she felt inside.
The venom surged through Abia’s body like an electric current. Her muscles seized. Her body lay on the ground limp like a raw slice of meat. Her head spun. Eyes became heavy. Everything slowed down. She was like a log with eyes; unable to move and struggling to keep her eyes open.
Bubuman rushed over. Abia could hear the panic in his voice and see the fear on his face but his speech was muffled. The two faces, the green tree leaves and the brown branches swirled into each other. She blinked one last time. Then pitch black.
Gasp! Her eyes shot open in the dark. She sat up – panting, her head spinning. Drenched in sweat, beads of sweat all over her face, she shivered fiercely. She was delirious. The snake! Where is the black snake?
She felt in the dark for a bandage, a wound, a swollen right foot, something. But there was nothing. Her right foot was fine. Her joints ached so badly and she was cold but warm. How could that be?
Bubumeri awoke to the sight of her grand-daughter beside her hunched with arms wrapped around her legs, shivering and rocking back and forth in the dark. Grandmother removed her grand-daughter’s soaked clothes and gave her a sponge bath; then dressed her before tucking her in bed.
In the still of the night, bubumeri spoke softly while rubbing Abia’s back; her granddaughter’s ill body hot and trembling under the layers of blankets, ‘Mo notsi. Mara kata iau Moku.’
Outside the tainamo the mosquitoes buzzed on - looking for openings, itching to get inside; thirsty for more blood.
Bubu, inap mi traim katim gras? – Grandma, can I have a go at cutting the grass?
Yu mas lukaut - bushknife ya em sharp na bai katim yu. – You have to be careful – that machete is sharp and can cut you.
Lek blo mi. Snake kaikaim. – My foot. A snake bit it.
Ologeta samting bai orait. Yu i noken wari. – Everything will be alright. Don’t worry.
Mo notsi. Mara kata iau Moku. – Go to sleep. Tomorrow we’ll go to Port Moresby.