An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
EVERY time I phoned and asked to speak to my cousin brother Ian I was told he was not home. I wondered if he just didn’t want to talk to me.
‘Ian’s at the buai market’ or ‘he’s gone to see his friends’ was always the reply.
As we pulled into the driveway, I felt a sixth sense tinkling.
I wondered where he was; Ian, forever in his blue shorts with a cigarette in his hand.
He was always the first sight that greeted me on the veranda whenever I visited. This was followed by a loud welcome.
But not today.
Earlier, on the drive home from the airport, I had asked my aunt about Ian, but she said nothing.
She changed the topic, asking about life in Port Moresby. So, after a shower and quick change of clothes, I went in search of him.
The answers to my questions only caused whispers amongst other family members. My instinct told me I was treading on ice. It seemed as though Ian did not exist.
Finally I sought out the hausmeri Rita. The much loved old Menyamya woman we all grew up would tell me the truth.
I rounded the back of the huge house and walked past the mango and guava trees to where Rita lived in the hausboi to be met by a smiling stranger.
“Hey idiot, when did you come? I heard them saying you’d come but didn’t think you’d make it,” he said with a grin.
It was Ian. A hesitant Ian, sizing me up, trying to see how I would react.
I couldn’t believe my eyes. I thought I was seeing someone else.
This was not my cousin Ian. Here was someone very skinny, kind of wrinkled, sick looking, with black spots here and there on his skin. He looked like an old man.
I paused momentarily. Then he punched me on my arm and I saw a flicker of the Ian I knew.
“I arrived this morning, Frog. What are you doing sleeping here? I’ve been looking for you,” I replied, grabbing him in a bear hug.
“How long are you staying this time?” he asked.
“About a month. And we’re going to break every rule in the book again”, I replied, laughing.
Two years ago we came home drunk to find ourselves locked out of the house. So we slept in a mango tree full of red ants.
The fiery insects got into Ian’s pants and, boy; it had been one hell of a night.
We reminisced some more and, as the day wore on, I convinced him to follow me to the main house.
He was reluctant at first but eventually agreed.
It turned out he didn’t live in the house now. He was fed with separate utensils and there were endless complaints about his upkeep.
“Come inside and eat!” My aunt’s piercing voice broke the flow of our conversation.
Ian turned away and beckoned for me to do as told. My thoughts clouded with hurt.
“I’m hot, aunty”, I called. “If you don’t mind I’d like to have dinner outside.”
“You forced me to come here,” Ian looked at me angrily.
I couldn’t say anything. Words choked me and my heart bled.
“This is your home. What the hell are you talking about?” I said when I could find my voice.
He didn’t say anything. He knew I understood and there was no need for explanations.
For the rest of my break Ian and I carried on as before, although it was not quite the same.
And two weeks after I returned to Port Moresby, Ian died.
The last words he spoke to me were to thank me.
It’s almost ten years now and I can never go back there again.
I can’t pretend. It cuts deep to think that a family can turn its back on its own.