An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
KEWA quit school when in Grade 6 because of a terrible misunderstanding.
Until the 1970s, harsh corporal punishment, especially the stick, was used in schools as a method of discipline.
During 10 o’clock recess two of Kewa’s classmates stole a cooked taro belonging to another student. It was a big one and they shared it with Kewa.
Kewa didn’t know his friends had stolen the taro. He gave a piece to a girl he admired and would share lunch with.
When the girl saw the taro she was shocked and ran to the classroom to check her bilum.
As she suspected, her taro for lunch had gone. She cried and reported what had happened to the head teacher.
During assembly, the head teacher stood with a big stick and called Kewa to the front of the school.
“Did you eat Ambi’s taro?” he asked.
“Yes sir, but I …” and before Kewa completed his answer, the stick landed hard on his buttock.
“I ate but I didn’t steal it. Chauka and Tanda stole it and gave me a piece,” Kewa cried but it was too late. The stick had already landed a second time on exactly the same spot.
Kewa fell to the ground and cried in pain.
“Repeat what you have just said” the head teacher demanded.
“I didn’t steal it. Chauka and Tanda stole it and gave it to me,” Kewa cried loudly as he felt something warm flowing down his thigh. He wiped it with his palm and realised the slender wet casuarina tree branch had torn his flesh.
Struggling to his feet he directed a mouthful of obnoxious language at the head teacher and walked home.
When the head teacher called Chauka and Tanda for questioning, they followed Kewa and walked home. They were too scared to face the flesh tearing weapon of wet wood.
The trio never returned to school. They quit altogether.
In a review of the incident in a staff meeting, the deputy pointed out that the question the head teacher asked was erroneous. Kewa should have been asked whether he stole the taro not whether he ate it.
Kewa had answered the question truthfully that he ate the taro, which didn’t mean that he stole it. So he had been unjustifiably punished. The other teachers agreed. The head teacher felt guilty but felt it was too late for him to make amends.
Ambi, the owner of the taro, did well and continued to high school.
Some years later, Kewa encountered her at the village market place. He shook hands and saw a tear drop from her eye. He felt the tear was enough for him to make a move. He asked her to marry him and she willingly agreed. He brought her to his home that evening and they got married.
Ambi had her own version of the story. She would tell her sons, Kaupa, Rocky and Stan, that she had never forgotten the blood Kewa shed for a crime he had not committed.
She felt very bad and guilt had long tormented her. She blamed herself for what had happened to Kewa. So when Kewa approached her for marriage, she willingly gave herself to him.
“We were already in love before that and as soon as we got married it was only a matter of cementing that love,” she told them.
Ambi would talk proudly, with a look on her face that spoke of sincerity and happiness, and Kewa would beam and chuckle like a 16 year old boy who had just fallen in love.