JOYCELIN KAUC LEAHY
An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
I felt his eyes piercing into my back as I struggled over the grassy hill. The air was tight and chilly so early in the morning.
I needed my three-month-old Boni’s softness and the laughter of his older siblings. I was exhausted and wished I could stop. A sudden breeze brushed over the tall grass. I shivered.
Usually when we returned from the garden, Bomoga walked proudly ahead, carrying his prized spear with a small bilum strapped across his bare chest. The children and I fumbled behind him.
One child sat on my shoulder, another in the bilum on my back together with our second bilum of food. I would also be pulling our eldest by the hand.
Today I was in front. I wore my favourite red meri blouse. In haste, I had worn it inside out – its flimsy seams waved loosely.
We reached the top of Kasu Hill. I gasped for air.
My heart pumped. From the only hill in Domogu Village in the wallaby plains of the Western Province, pale yellow-green lowland laid before me. The grass had been burnt in patches to entrap wild game. The lowland was also known for Papuan black, a deadly snake.
I marched down the ridge, as ordered. Cold mud numbed my sore foot. We reached the place where Ok Tedi had caused hundreds of fish and plants to die along the riverbank. Usually, there were people here. But it was still early – no one was about.
My milk dripped down my blouse. Without bra, my breasts swung full and uncomfortable. It was feeding time for Boni. The rising sun cast faint shadows and the warm air caressed my face.
We had crossed Domogu tribal land. Bomoga's ancestors, nomads like mine, had decided to settle in this fertile land.
My eyes scanned the mountains that Ok Tedi had exploited. To the south, there was an airstrip where planes flew in weekly. Our village looked like a jewel, deep jade opal, festooned with glassy lakes of many sizes.
I stumbled forward.
We entered a forest. Strangely, the birds here were silent. I heard sorcerers came here for bush medicine and magic making. I searched for sunlight through the tree openings.
“Keep walking,” he hissed.
I had not looked once in Bomoga’s eyes. When his sweaty hands had touched me that morning, I thought he wanted sex, but instead he shook me roughly and ordered me out of the house.
His shadow had loomed over me as I took Boni off my breast and put on my meri blouse and my rubber skirt. Boni nestled into his blanket, eyes still shut. He didn’t cry for more milk, thank God.
My other children, Eka and Maria were asleep. I heard Bomoga pick up something in the house before closing the door behind us. He was quiet and cagey, which was not like him.
He was never a warm person, not even to his family members, though he was loud to his male friends. He liked sex that was rough and on demand. In any argument, a sudden punch to my face or stomach was a possibility. If the children screamed, he yelled at them. The beatings only worsened if he thought I challenged him.
“No one will help you, because you are my wife,” he said. I felt he was right and did not seek help, not even from his family or other villagers. Recently his best friend Tommy had returned from Port Moresby.
I heard Bomogu now liked Tommy’s sister who was younger and prettier than me. He wanted her, I heard.
I stepped on a stump with my sore foot. The pain almost made me cry out. Two of my toes had broken when I fell in the last fight. We continued through the gloomy undergrowth into a flat area.
Through an opening I saw sunlight sprinkling light of various colours onto leaves and moss. I saw a beautiful butterfly on a fern. Its brilliant blue wings and black outline set against the leafy greens. I felt a flash of hope.
We walked on and soon I could hear rapids and the forest thinned out as we reached a Y junction. At my feet a Papuan black, unaware, slithered quickly across my path.
“Turn to the river,” Bomoga commanded.
I turned towards the rapids. My throbbing foot distracted me and I was afraid to fall. The river frothed, full from recent rain. Watching water as it rushed away, a thought stirred my mind. Was he going to toss me into the river?
I imagined where my body would lie after death; my treasured red meri blouse, still inside out, clinging to my slim frame. Dragged ashore with a paddle shafted under the hem of my blouse, a trail would be imprinted on the sand on the silky Suki River banks.
Villagers rushed to screaming children who discovered me. A woman bellowed my name, “Sulita! Sulita!” But after hours in the muddy river, half dressed and impaled by a black palm spear, I would no longer be Sulita.
“Stop!” he yelled.
The ground looked easy to dig in places. I kept my face down. My feet were covered in mud and grass.
“Turn around. Look at me!”
I turned and raised my eyes to the point of his most prized black palm spear.
With this spear Bomoga had speared the biggest pig, the fastest wallaby and driven the largest cull of deer. Many feared Bomoga because of his mastery with the weapon.
My eyes shifted from the spear to my husband’s eyes for the first time that day. They were bulging and blood-rimmed. His nose flared and his sweat drenched eyebrows twitched. Ten long years and we still stared at each other like strangers.
He raised and pointed with the spear. “Where would you like to be buried?” he asked.
I dropped to my knees, closed my eyes and prayed.