A FEW writers appear in PNG Attitude, publish a few pieces and then fade away never to be heard from again.
Something similar happens with the Crocodile Prize. People try their luck, fail to win an award and don’t bother entering again.
This is a shame because even if they don’t win – and with one prize for each category and sometimes a couple of hundred entries, that’s difficult - many of these writers display significant talent and with perseverance could achieve great things with their writing.
One of the best examples of a dedicated writer is Marlene Dee Gray Potoura.
Marlene has yet to win an award in the Crocodile Prize although she has been extremely close over the years. This hasn’t deterred her and she has gone on to publish several books, attend writer’s workshops overseas and be published widely.
In 2012 there were two short story writers who attracted the attention of the Crocodile Prize judges and who subsequently disappeared from our view, Charlotte Vada and Brigette Wase.
In that year it was a toss-up who should win the award. Eventually the judges decided on Charlotte’s comedic story about the extraordinary Papua New Guinean preoccupation with the annual Australian State of Origin rugby league series.
Brigette’s piece - about overcrowding in the suburbs of Port Moresby - was similarly humorous.
Both stories demonstrated how humour can be used to bring attention to serious issues. In Charlotte’s story it was the deteriorating infrastructure in Papua New Guinea’s schools and in Brigette’s it was the problems of overcrowding in Port Moresby suburbs.
In 2012 women won most of the prizes in the competition and reinforced our view that, from then on, women writers could hold their own with the men and needed no special treatment.
Unfortunately we never received another entry from either Charlotte or Brigette.
THE ceiling fan hung dangerously low, wheezing and choking on the thick wet air of period 8. Exposed wires in its mounting device made it look as if it had succumbed to the merciless tropical heat.
On the blackboard, quadratic equations rolled out from the red piece of chalk in Mr Kavivi’s hand like mishandled sausages at a drunken Christmas barbeque.
Normally, algebra would have added insult to injurious weather like this, but today was the third Wednesday of the State of Origin series, and no amount of required maths curriculum could curb the excitement of the class.
Of course no one was more excited than Mr Kavivi himself who, much to the annoyance of his students, had been using red chalk since Origin 1 as a mark of loyalty to his team (none of the multi-coloured chalk boxes he bought contained maroon chalk so he decided to go with the closest shade of red he could find).
Max anxiously pressed a random button on his mobile phone to see the time. It was 15:30. He looked over to Jerry with both hands spread out, indicating to his desk-mate that only 10 minutes remained until the study period bell would force Mr Kavivi out of their classroom and – as this was a government fortnight –probably out of the school altogether and into the nearest pub with a flat screen television.
Just then, Max felt his phone vibrate as it received a text message from the Class Captain. He opened up the message; it read: ‘K5 / Thurston / 1st try. Na upla?’
“Ah! Em lonlon ah? K5 em bigpla tumas,” remarked Jerry, who had also received the same message on his phone.
The remaining 10 minutes stretched for ages. When the siren finally sounded Mr Kavivi responded hypnotically, quietly packing his things with a hazy, frozen smile on his face that reminded Max of an illustration of little mice from the Pied Piper storybook he had read as a child.
“Oh, my goodness me! I almost forgot,” chimed the educator whilst walking backwards toward the door to let himself out, “For homework: do exercises from Chapter 11.2 and Chapter 11.3.”
Loud sighs of horror masked inaudible multilingual grumbles. The frozen smile thawed into a grin from ear to ear.
“Aiyo, Mr K, yu laik murderim ol man ah?” pleaded the class captain after a quick glance through the textbook – he was one of the few to truly appreciate the magnitude of the assignment.
“Relax kids! I’m just pulling your legs! Oh children of Papua New Guinea, what kind of man would I be if I gave you homework on the day of the big game? Especially if it’s Darren Lockyer’s last game!”
Loud cheers of joy were echoed by collective sighs of relief.
“But,” he continued, “If the Maroons lose tonight you have a topic test tomorrow!” The class erupted in earnest laughter at their predicament. “After all, what kind of teacher would I be if I didn’t push my students?”
“Ol lain o, noken wari - em nogat samtin. Maroons ba dustim Blues wan said-ya!” remarked Max.
“Yess-yah! Na why ba nogat?” And with that forced enunciation of what he understood to be the current slang phrase, Mr Kavivi dismissed himself with a military-style salute and dashed out the door. The class exercised restraint for the entire 30 seconds it took their maths teacher to strut down the steel stairs, flounce along the footpath and leap across the loose-gravel quadrangle.
“Okay boys and girls, I think you all know what time it is,” the class captain said, ‘I declare the betting shop open”
Before another word was uttered, Jerry stood up on his feet and declared, “Minichello!” before proceeding to stick up posters of the two teams on the blackboard.
The class of 47 with the exception of about 14 students who did not take part (by virtue of being either virtuous, broke or absent), spent the rest of the study period placing their K5 bets for the first try, with a few of them placing bets jointly.
Max recorded all the information on a sheet of paper, which was then sighted by everyone and signed by the class captain. At the final siren, the students hurriedly made their way home.
That night Jerry walked down along the deserted street over to Max’s house to watch the game. In a similar fashion during the previous games, their neighbourhood had split itself into two and each respective group had huddled itself around the biggest television set available a safe distance away from one another. As tempting as it was to participate in the revelry, Jerry preferred to watch the final game quietly at Max’s house.
Over his and Max’s years of friendship, they had established their own ‘Origin’ tradition. Every year the pair would watch the third game from either of their houses. This year it was Max’s turn to play host.
“Goodnight family!” said Jerry as he let himself through the door and into Max’s living room. Max’s mother and sisters, twins Vavine and Viola, greeted their visitor with a bowl full of betel nut and mustard. Jerry said thank you and grabbed a handful. He looked at the couch and noticed Max sitting alone in front of the television. “Na Papz ol?”
“Papz and Tau are watching the game at Uncle Max’s place,” replied his friend, “They’re about to play the national anthem – you’re just in time, bro!”
Jerry sat next to Max on the couch grinning, and as they had done each year since they were old enough to speak, both boys started singing along to ‘Advance Australia Fair’, making up the words as they went along.
Max’s mother rolled her eyes and shouted, “Nogat sem blo yupla – em wanem?”
“Greatest hits’ blon tumbuna blo yupla, ah!” The twins giggled.
As the Maroons kicked off, Viola set dinner (pizza and hot chips) on the coffee table. Jerry’s eyes widened with happiness. It didn’t get any better than this – watching rugby while eating junk food; now if only the Blues would rise to the occasion.
His smug contentment lasted 16 minutes into the game, when Greg Inglis scored the first try, dashing any hopes of collecting the cash winnings in class the next day. To add insult to injury, Max, his mother and the Maroons faction gathered two houses away exploded in applause, jumping and screaming like they were in the grand stand of Suncorp Stadium.
When they had calmed down, Jerry was quick to ask, “Husait putim K5 lo Inglis?”
“Angela,” replied Max looking at the sheet of paper he had used to record the betting information.
“Angie? Ah, em sista ya... tumoro mi ba go grisim em lo baim lunch blo mi.”
The Maroons then continued to dominate the first half of the game scoring three more times, each successive try making Jerry more miserable and seeking comfort in an extra slice of Hawaiian pizza, while Max in contrast became more animated with excitement and left his share of Meat Lover’s largely untouched.
Then, in a display of athleticism similar to that which had won them the second game of the series, the Blues scored two tries in five minutes, bringing the score to 24-10 at the 40-minute whistle.
Jerry shot to his feet and started dancing like a Rastafarian. The twins cheered him on. Max cleared his throat and reminded them what the score line was. “Let’s not get too carried away... you guys are three tries behind.”
During half time, Max sent his sisters to buy betel nut and mustard supplies, which were now running low. “Girls baim wanpla Spear blo mi tu,” demanded Max’s mother as the twins made their way out of the house.
When they returned, the second half of the game was underway. Max asked them why they had taken such a long time and Vavine pointed out that the market had been very busy.
“Undasten, ol man wachim game tu kisim haf taim blon ol,” remarked Jerry.
“Em nau, way blo em,” added Max’s mother, puffing on her fresh stick of tobacco.
In the second half of the game the Maroons scored two tries. With a little less than eight minutes of play left the Blues scored again but Jerry had conceded defeat. Max stood in front of the TV where he proceeded to imitate the Rastafarian dance that Jerry had performed earlier and his mother and sisters were in stitches.
Max carried on like this for a while and Jerry started to get annoyed. He picked up the wooden bowl and began pelting Max with the betel nut and mustard it contained. This only encouraged Max and when the betel nut and mustard ran out, Jerry threw the bowl.
He missed Max and got the TV instead, which slipped off the wall unit and smashed on to the ceramic tiled floor. Max switched it off quickly and looked up at Jerry with his mouth agape. Not knowing what to say or do, Jerry bolted for the door and disappeared into the night, leaving Max and his family to pick up the pieces of their father and husband’s beloved TV.
At school the next day an awkward silence gripped the two desk-mates. During the double period of English Max made one attempt to speak to Jerry but the latter didn’t utter a single word.
Afterwards, at the chemistry lab Jerry avoided speaking altogether, even when Max politely asked to use his bottle of potassium permanganate. All he did was nod mechanically while staring sternly like a lunatic at the bunsen burner in front of him.
When recess was over, Mr Kavivi, in spite of the intense heat and humidity, showed up in the classroom wearing a red long-sleeved dress shirt with a matching silk neck tie. As he entered the room he switched on the ceiling fan which clicked and hissed.
“Well class, my team has spared you a topic test today, so you should all stand up and give the Maroons a big round of app …”
Before he could finish his sentence, the ceiling fan started to screech loudly, shaking from side to side.
Students shrieked in horror as the screeching got louder and louder and the entire fan completely fell off its mounting device and hung by its wires. Mr Kavivi ran toward the switch to turn it off but it was too late.
The weight and momentum of the fan pulled the wires down causing the edge of the ceiling’s old Masonite sheets to crack. The fan came plunging down, blades still in motion. They were just about to crash on top of Max when Jerry suddenly leaned forward to cover him. The fan blades hit Jerry in the head and knocked him out cold.
When Jerry woke up he found himself in the emergency room of a private hospital, surrounded by four fuzzy, familiar faces belonging to Mr Kavivi, the class captain, Max and Max’s father, Dr Loi.
“You were in an accident,” answered Mr Kavivi, “But you’re okay now. You just need to rest until you feel better.”
Suddenly remembering what happened, Jerry sat upright and looked straight at Dr Loi.
“I’m sorry Dr Loi - I didn’t mean to smash your TV. It was an accident.”
“Son, it’s okay. I couldn’t hold anything against you after what you did today. You are very brave. Stupid, but brave. You suffered a nasty head injury and if Mr Kavivi hadn’t switched off the fan when he did, it could have been much worse.”
“That’s right, you could have been hit in the head and had your brain fried as well,” jabbed Max. They all laughed. Jerry felt relieved that the tension between them had dissolved.
After the two men had left, the class captain handed over an envelope to Jerry.
“It’s the money from the bets. After you were... evacuated, we had a meeting and the class thought you should have this, olsem lon givim liklik halivim lo said blo baim marasin na disla kain.”
The class captain explained that the gesture had been Angie’s idea before wishing him a speedy recovery and heading home.
“Max, you have this,” Jerry said holding out the envelope.
“No!” Max refused to take the envelope. Jerry persisted in trying to convince him, saying that he could use the money to buy a new TV, to which Max laughed, pointing out that TVs were quite expensive.
“Besides, Papz tok pinis ya – nogat samtin.”
“Well I guess there’s only one thing left to do with this money then.”
“I’ll just have to buy a new fan for the classroom!”
"KNOCK, knock, knock" "Knock, knock."
It sounded again, more insistent this time. "Oi, nau tasol mi kam insait. Yu laikim wanem na pairap lo doa stap?"
My cousin Annie gave an exasperated sigh, "Please let me in, I need to use the loo!"
That's what they always say, every time they want to come into the only toilet that caters for us.
I had just walked into the bathroom/toilet to have a shower. A minute had not even passed. In fact, I had not removed my clothes yet!
Why is it that people do not heed the call of nature when it actually starts calling and wait until their bladder is about to burst, before they make a move? In our house, you cannot have a shower or use the toilet in peace. There is always bound to be someone at the door, knocking.
"Plis, nau tasol mi kam insait lo waswas, ino wanpela minit igo pas pinit na yu kam pairap lo doa stap."
"Please, I really, really need to use the loo. Otherwise, it's going to be another story," she cried out. Annie whimpered as if she was in pain, She probably was, I thought wickedly. But now the neighbours have probably heard her.
The toilet and shower room are located under the house in one room. For some unknown reason, sounds from this room are amplified, so our neighbours actually can hear everything. It takes a lot of effort to do things quietly.
I had no choice; I didn't want to be held responsible for her peeing all over the cement floor. I came out. She rushed in, not bothering to lock the door and I could hear her sigh of relief.
"Idiot," I muttered darkly.
A queue was quickly forming outside the door. It was all part of the chaotic morning ritual, termed the rush-hour. Besides those of us who were working and the school kids, we had the unemployed who had nothing better to do but clog up the queue.
My aunt Irene walked down the stairs at the same time as my other aunt. Rose came to stand next to me. The audible sniffs weren't hard to miss. Uh-oh, here's trouble brewing, I thought as I edged away from Aunty Rose.
Contempt was visible as both glared at each other. The moment, Annie came out. I slipped in before anyone could cut the line.
"And where are you trying to go this morning," Aunty Rose taunted Aunty Irene, "Are you are an office lady, do you have a job?" She was spoiling for a fight, and she succeeded.
Aunty Irene promptly burst into tears. "I'm going to my brother. He'll buy my new plates. You think you're the only one who has family working, huh?" she said between tears.
"Ha-hae!" Aunty Rose laughed contemptuously. In the bathroom, I continued with my morning rituals and listened at the same time.
They suddenly began shouting in tokples. Unfortunately for me, I couldn't understand a word because I didn't know how to speak tokples. A real city slicker I was. But I knew when bad words were being spoken, that was not hard to translate. I grinned stupidly.
They had fought last night, not physically but verbally. Whoever, came up with the saying, sticks and stones may break my bones but words will never hurt me, hadn't met my aunts. The argument had half the household in tears. And it started over plates!
Unfortunately, both aunts had the same sets of plates. Some of the plates got broken and one aunt started accusing the other of doing it. Pretty stupid, if you ask me. So it went on with hidden secrets being revealed, complaints of bride price and customary land and so forth. Marriage, it seems didn't just involve a man and a woman, it involved everyone and everything.
My aunt Irene is married to my uncle, Aunty Rose's brother. The house belongs to him. ‘House’ is not really an accurate description. It’s more like three houses in one yard that houses 44 individuals from 11 different families that are related one way or another. We had every relation you can think of except great-grandchildren! My uncle was a kind man to allow all of us to live there. I was the niece, daughter of their second cousin.
The moment I turned on the water, they got physical. I could hear them spitting and scratching and clumsily swinging their fists in a semblance of knock-out punches. Kids were crying, teenagers were complaining of the embarrassment and the older people trying to prise them apart.
"Wwwssshhh, go nambaut, nambaut yah, yupela maski pait lo hia," I contributed my share. Loud thuds emanated from the wall as bodies connected with it. I could already imagine the curious neighbours craning their necks over the flowers or worse, gathered in our yard that had no fence.
I washed as quickly as I could and moved to where my towel hung. I was rushing to get ready for work but wanted to see a bit of the fight as well. Apparently I wasn't quick enough.
Those next moments will be forever etched in my memory. Without warning, the door burst open and Aunty Irene fell flat on her back followed by Aunty Rose on top of her. My uncles and cousin brothers rushed in and stopped in shocked silence. The only sounds coming were from the two struggling women.
I had never been as horrified in my life because I was standing there with nothing but quickly and strategically placed hands. Venus, eat your heart out, I thought ironically. A second or two passed before my male relations sprang into action, I ran to where my towel hung and covered myself. I couldn't even raise my head. My aunts were still oblivious to what had transpired when they burst through the door.
They managed to drag the kicking and screaming women apart and didn't even look in my direction and one of them closed the door. I slowly walked to the door and locked it again as best as I could and just stood there.
I thought of going and standing under the full blast of the shower to cool the heat of the embarrassment but decided to forego it. The screaming and cursing continued until I heard a sharp slap and the start of a wail. One of my uncles had decided to shut his wife's mouth,
When I could trust myself to walk and a quiet of sort had descended outside I slowly opened the door. Only to come face to face with the one person in the street I didn't want to see just then. It was Eric, my colleague and the person I secretly admired.
Neighbours had gathered outside sure enough which included the man of my dreams. I was in a complete state of mortification. He gave me a pitying smile then asked unnecessarily, "Are you alright?"
Before I squeaked an unintelligible sound his face lit up in the direction somewhere above my head. I turned, and saw my cousin Annie give a million watts smile back at him.
If the earth had opened up that moment, I would have gladly jumped in. Coupled with my sheer embarrassment was anger and jealousy. I felt like slugging Annie and wiping that smile off Eric's face.
It was because of her, I got caught out, I thought bitterly. If only she hadn’t wanted to use the loo the moment I had gone in. If only I hadn’t heeded her knocks. I rushed up the stairs to my room.
There would be a family mediation. I couldn't care less. I wanted to make myself scarce as soon as possible. That's it, when I go to the office, I will start enquiring about a place to rent I thought furiously. Living with my extended family was driving me crazy.
But only if the rental prices were a bit low, I continued my train of thought. The crowd was dispersing. I walked out of the yard eagerly looking forward to work as I had never done before.