On the trail of a man known as The Coastwatcher
Just a few words to ruin a loving relationship

The black angel

New Guinea jungle (Vijay Kolinjivadi)MARLENE DEE GRAY POTOURA

An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories

WORLD War II came to the Pacific Islands when Moini was working as a policeboy in the highlands of Papua New Guinea,

Moini was physically able, a tall and muscular man, and the Australian Army recruited him along with many other fit Papua New Guineans. They were given shotguns and sent out on patrol with the Australian soldiers in the rugged terrain of the highlands.

One morning, Moini’s platoon came under Japanese fire as it crossed a one log bridge over a fast flowing river.

Some men died before they even hit the water and others who jumped met a terrible death against the sharp stones of the river.

Moini felt the log slipping and rode it down to the water. Holding on to the log he allowed the river to sweep him downstream.

After struggling against the torrent, he grabbed a root that had grown into the river and hauled himself to safety. Luckily his shotgun was still belted to his back. Moini rested for a while then sat up and scanned the river and the bank for his mates.

He realised he was alone, and decided to move on as the thick mountain fog was beginning to creep through the trees.

Moini trudged on although tired, cold and hungry. The jungle sounds were unfamiliar and he felt there were Japanese lurking everywhere.

As the night passed and dawn neared, he paused to stand under some trees. He thought of home. He had heard the Australians say that Bougainville and the Solomons were infested by the Japanese.

He wondered how his people were. These thoughts preoccupied him until the darkness thinned and the sounds of morning birds and insects started to come alive.

Moini began walking again. The terrain was still rugged but the trees were shorter. Then, as the new day dawned; the bush gave away to a small village.

He crept silently forward, hidden by some banana trees. There were four round houses. But no was one around. The village was deserted. The people had fled. They’d even left some firewood in one of the houses.

He pulled down a bunch of ripe bananas and slung two more over the barrel of his gun and kept walking. He needed to get back to camp and tell the CO about what had happened to his comrades.

In the distance he could hear a rumble. Another rapid mountain river, he thought. The jungle thickened overhead. The trees were ancient and tall but the floor of the forest was unbelievably clean. The stillness sent goose bumps down his spine.

Then Moini saw a man. He was walking ahead of him and naked. He hadn’t seen Moini.

Moini sneaked up silently behind the man, who kept walking very slowly, trying carefully not to fall. Moini pointed the shotgun at him and shouted, “Yu husat?” (Who are you?).

The man fell to the ground. Realising the man had fainted, Moini lifted him and saw his face. A foreigner. Japanese? No, he was tall and had fair hair. Must be Australian. Moini stood in confusion, not sure what to do.

He decided to carry the man back to the deserted village. The man was now conscious but too weak to open his eyes.

Moini was hit with the smell of rotting flesh. The poor foreigner had sores all over his body. Big ulcers with white wobbly worms.

Moini struggled to the deserted village and lay the man on some leaves in the round house with the firewood. He lit a fire, rubbing two dry sticks together and ran to a nearby creek to fetch water in a bamboo tube.

He splashed water on the foreigner’s face. The man sat up and drank. Then he ate a banana. He was starving, Moini observed silently.

Moini then dried some banana leaves over the fire and pulled the worms from the man’s sores.

The hut was now warm and the foreigner watched as Moini moved about blowing the fire and cooking some kaukau (sweet potatoes) he’d found.

The foreigner felt safe and thanked God for this unbelievable twist of fate.

He felt an unusual pull towards this man. A black giant, but so gentle with his touch. Who was he?

A sweet thought came into the foreigner’s head. He remembered stories from Sunday school. He cleared his throat and Moini looked at him and smiled.

“Are you a black angel?” the foreigner asked, surprised at the sound of his own voice.

“Yes, sir, Lieutenant Carter, sir!” the black man said.

Lieutenant Carter touched his dog tag.

“Can you read, black angel?” Lieutenant Carter asked.

“Yes, sir, I went to a mission school. Taught by white missionaries, sir!”

“Is this your village?”

“No sir, I am from Bougainville, sir!”

“How did you find me?”

“I was with Australian soldiers on patrol, ambushed by the Japs and swept away by the river, sir!”

“Are you the only survivor?”

“I think so, Lieutenant sir!”

There was silence.

“Brother, thank you for saving my life.”

“No worries, sir!”

The Lieutenant was sure God had sent this giant black man to save him. He closed his eyes and said a prayer his grandmother taught him.

Truly, this man was an angel in disguise.


Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

Mathias Kin

Great story!

Robin Lillicrapp

Good read. Thanks, Marlene.

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