An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
A noisy cricket, hiding somewhere in the mango tree he had just passed, was screeching as if angry with him and the night.
On his way from the end of the street, he had passed a number of people. The settlement came alive at night when people walked around or stood idle in the now cool puddle-riddled street. Absorbed in their conversations.
During the day you hardly saw much activity. Everyone had left for town in pursuit of money. Activities both legitimate and not so.
The settlement was made up of the employed, the unemployed and those between – students, children, women, the old.
In front of him was the table market of his neighbour, a long-time friend of his mother. A throng of night customers stood around.
Their nightly gossip, jokes and giggles was fuelled by the stimulating effects of buai, daka, kambang na simuk (betel nut, mustard, lime and cigarettes).
“Good night, mother Gertrude, wantem ol kastoma blo yu.” He greeted her and came to a stop.
“Hey, good night son. Yu go lo haus nau,” mother Gertrude replied. The customers too exchanged greetings and went back to checking items on the market table.
“Yeah, mi go lukim ol pilai kas lo kona blo Kange Eddie na kam,” he continued.
“Mi harim liklik nois lo haus lo avinun. Poro lo haus mas koros liklik yah.” Mother Gertrude probed in a motherly way.
Without waiting for a reply she released him from their conversation.
“Okay, son, plis nogut mi holim yu stap ken, yu ken go.”
“Okay mother, gud nait nau.”
He walked to his side of the allotment, put his hand over the gate and unlatched the lock, pushed open the small crudely made structure and stepped into his yard.
His ears picked up the ripples of familiar nocturnal sounds – crickets, cicadas, frogs, barking dogs, crying babies, the murmur of human voices, the distant throb of car engines.
His eyes were fixed on the house as he moved closer, making sure he did not disturb anything in his path.
The house dog on the steps sensing his coming, upped its head, stretched with a light snarl and went back to sleep.
Despite the silence and the dim light from the house, he could sense she was still awake and awaiting his return. His thoughts flashed back to the events that had unfolded earlier.
He had come home late because his supervisor instructed him and the yard hands to unload the new consignment of building materials for the hardware store.
They had spent the whole afternoon unloading, shifting and stacking the materials at their coded locations. The task was back breaking and excruciating.
But a job is a job and it has to be done.
It was the only job he had held after completing Grade 10. And, as someone who was brought up in the settlement, he valued it.
It was the only reliable source of income for him and his young family. He had no complaint because he was paid some kina above the minimum wage.
But he always came home tired and hungry. He was not even in the house when she would come at him firing verbal bullets and accusing him of so and so and such and such.
She would be still screaming at him when he took off down the street to observe the nightly 700 Bomb card game at Kange Eddie’s place.
A first generation settlement boi. After his father abandoned the family, his mum brought him up on her own.
It was just the two of them until his mother passed on to be with the Lord, bless her soul.
His mother had died from a respiratory condition after working for some years in a cooking flour packing factory. The doctor had said something about refined flour dust messing up her lungs.
“Son, it’s always been you and me,” his mother had told him. “Your father returned to his province, got married again and decided not to come back.
“Actually, he wanted me to take you and follow him but, when I heard there was another woman, I decided not to go. I’m not the kind of woman who would want to compete for affection.
“Don’t hold any grudges against your father. It was my choice.
“Son, when I’m gone, live a good and honest life. Occupy yourself with activities that will benefit you. Join a church, play sport.
“Respect and engage with the people in the community. We are in the settlement, do not look for an easy way out, you’ll get killed by the police.
“And son, when you like a girl and she becomes pregnant, do not abandon her and run away. I did not bring you up to be like your father.
“When I’m gone, our small house and the land it stands on is yours as long as there is no eviction by authorities.
“Look after it, that’s the only possession I leave to you.”
She had died two days later and was buried in the public cemetery.
And he quietly walked up the steps, without disturbing the dog, and stepped on to the small veranda. He removed his work boots and socks.
He could still hear the muffled laughter coming from mother Gertrude’s table market.
The door was open and he stepped into the house. There she was. Sitting at the table with folded arms.
“Koros blo yu pinis?”
She moved a plate of food to him.
He picked up the bowl and sat on the matted floor.
“I’ll tell you what my day was like today and why I came late,” he said, taking the lid off the bowl.