An entry in The Crocodile Prize
EVEN A SERENE NIGHT, softly illuminated by the glowing moon, gently caressed by the cool breeze with cicada serenades, could not draw Eware out of his house; night time was a prison for Eware, until the first light of dawn.
Even then, the light of day had its own restrictions on Eware’s life. He was very careful with his habits - his food scraps, he put away carefully, his rubbish thrown away immediately into the sea. He ensured he got his betel nut and mustard himself. His lime he shared with no one.
When he chewed betel nut, he would spray the spittle into fine droplets that got blown away with the wind. Spitting was just too dangerous. In his waking hours, his bilum would hang around his neck; at night his bilum became his pillow in case someone sneaked something into it or removed anything from it. Eware trusted no one.
Eware had all the reasons to be very careful. The quality of his life had deteriorated since he got rid of Sapa, his first wife and married Dona his second wife. The downward spiraling did not stop after Dona died and he acquired a third woman. Moe, his third wife deserted him at the same time that the village people disowned him. Even his sons turned their backs on him.
Eware had an idea about the source of all his problems. At the time when Dona was pregnant with his fifth child, he had caught Sapa lurking in his back yard. When confronted, Eware was sure he saw a sly smirk on Sapa’s face when she responded that she was only checking out some betel nut palms she had planted previously.
Eware had shamed Sapa’s family when he sent Sapa back to her father’s house. But he had only practiced his rights because Sapa had failed to give him any children. It seemed that Sapa was out to make him pay for his action. He believed she had put a curse on him.
Dona was a spinster, a distant cousin from his father’s side – such a marriage arrangement was possible within Eware’s matrilineal customs. Despite her homeliness, Dona had the virtues of a prized wife; she made big gardens and tended Eware’s pigs and, most importantly, she bore Eware children. The children had come as a flood as if to compensate Eware for the childless years gone by.
At the same time, the floodgate of misfortune was unleashed on Eware’s life. Dona died after the bloody and painful ordeal of birthing his fifth offspring – a breech birth. Eware lost the person who could make gardens to feed his brood and his pigs. Dona had not even borne him a girl child. The value of daughters was in the dowry from their marriage - a good marriage would also bring Eware status and rights to new garden land. A daughter would look after him in his old age.
Eware’s third marriage ended when Johnny, Eware’s first son, staggered home and died in his arms from respiratory complications.
Johnny was the first born, he ran away from home because he was stifled by his father’s obsession with the notion that his family was cursed. Johnny and his brothers were forbidden by their father from mingling with the villagers for fear of bad things happening to them.
Johnny ran away from his restricted life to freedom in town. Eventually he got employment at the town forestry nursery - sieving soil all day long. He built himself a cardboard shack at the edge of the nursery and that was where he got acquainted with Julie.
Julie and her friends were always available whenever Johnny and the other nursery boys had money to pay for some frolicking. Apart from sharing their bodies, the girls freely shared the dreaded human immuno-deficiency virus. The virus rapidly reduced Johnny’s immune system, which was already stressed from the chronic bronchitis that he had developed since he started work in the nursery.
When Johnny returned home, as scrawny as a chicken, the village people turned their backs on Eware; so did his third wife. Eware dreaded and loathed what his son had become but still he could not escape the tender feelings he had for his first born. Johnny died in Eware’s arms alone and was buried in a shallow grave next to Dona.
After the passing of his son Eware sank into depression. The feeling of loneliness, hopelessness and worthlessness overwhelmed him. All his family and friends had deserted him - he had nothing to live for. He had no freedom for it was tiring to be constantly on guard for his life. He decided at that point that he would end his tormented life, but not before making Sapa and her family pay for his damned life. So he planned his payback.
That fateful night, Eware could not sleep, so he kept watch until the early hours of the morning. It was the time of the morning that even dogs fall into deep sleep. While humans and dogs slept Eware collected the dried coconut frond torch he had made and silently braved the darkness down to Sapa’s hamlet.
Standing next to the first house in the hamlet he lit the coconut frond and lifted the burning torch to the thatched roof. The flickering flames encouraged by the morning breeze eagerly fed on the dry sago thatch and instantly grew into a hungry, devouring monster.
Within seconds, burning pieces of thatch alighted on a second house and then the next. The whole village awoke to a jumble of confusion as three burning houses became one big inferno.
Meanwhile, Eware had become a possessed man – silhouetted by the light of the burning houses, he danced and celebrated his revenge. He was in his own world, oblivious to the pandemonium he had caused and he did not see the barbed spear hurtling toward him.
The spear made contact with his chest; the force of impact lifted him off his feet and slammed him to the ground. The spear hit him just above his heart, severing a big vein.
The village was in chaos as the sun peeked over the horizon; women loudly mourning the two people taken in the blaze, children howling after their mothers, dogs yowling at the bedlam while men stood around the smoldering houses, shaking their heads and wondering why a recluse like Eware could inflict such violence on his ex-wife’s family.
Nobody paid any attention to Eware’s gurgled mutterings as he choked on his own blood, but nothing really mattered to Eware – he had avenged the death of his loved ones and he was free, free at last from the curse.
Tanya Zeriga-Alone (34) was born in Kainantu in the Eastern Highlands. Her grandparents were missionaries with links to Morobe Province. She currently lives in Goroka working as an environmental scientist and planner/researcher for a non-government organisation. She is interested in photography, music, reading, politics and sewing