An entry in the Crocodile Prize
PNG Government Award for Short Stories
“COME on Maoro Turana, you can do this, take us home safely,” ToElias whispered as he shifted to second gear and slid up the muddy hill that once been a perfectly sealed road.
It was a few kilometres past Society and the Toyota Landcruiser 10-seater jumped slightly as it shifted gear. More powerful , it worked up what little courage it had to tackle the hill.
The journey had been a long one for Maoro Turana. Three weeks out of rugged terrain without rest. Now they were finally heading home, half way through the final leg of the journey.
The bushings on the four shock absorbers were gone, and the stabilisers. ToElias felt the pain as metal scraped on metal. The brakes felt weak and the clutch was squishy. All four tyres were worn out and the spare had gone missing.
Although the seriously ill engine provided traction, it would take hours for it to get out of this mud.
Maoro Turana gritted his gears to stop himself screaming in agony, begging for mercy, pleading to stop, praying to be taken to hospital.
ToElias cringed, muttered under his breath, “Aleai!” as metal crashed on metal again as the vehicle hit a deep pothole. “Sorry mate. Be a good boy. Don’t you dare die out on us.”
ToElias spoke gently, gripping the steering wheel but not so hard as to cause more pain, shifting to second then pushing on the accelerator, urging Moaro on, testing the limits.
Somehow Maoro sensed it, became human, pressed on, the engine slowly driving them forward. Although wounded, Maoro Turana was obedient, he listened.
ToElias, with over 20 years of driving experience, knew Maoro would get them home. In the driver’s seat, he felt it. There was courage in the heart of the machine; it was still capable. But he had doubts. God willing, all the other vitals of Maoro Turana would hold on a bit longer. Five more hours to be precise. He brushed the thought aside.
“Think positive, Maoro will take us home. Think positive,” he thought as he shifted to first, releasing his right foot from the accelerator, clutching down with a slight tap on the brake to avoid a pothole and starting a descent through a dense canopy of pine trees.
The trees meant they had reached PNG Forest Product territory, which meant Bulolo, this part of the journey almost over.
For three weeks they had trekked the rugged roads of outback Wau and Bulolo. Maoro had a mission and, with ToElias as captain, they were responsible for safely transporting the team of doctors, medicines and vaccines stored in their cool boxes, food rations and camping gear.
Dr Jill Waka was team leader. A lanky Kainantu woman, she specialised in public health and headed the team of nurses and community health workers on this patrol.
Jill knew she could count on them to get the job done. Unlike the lazy health workers often found in urban hospitals, her team was dedicated to the cause. They would follow her to hell and back if it meant helping the sick and needy.
They were hardened veterans who had patrolled every village and hamlet in the region no matter how remote and the stories they told bore a testament to that. They rarely complained and they never sought recognitio . They were the doers, the ones who got the job done and were good at it.
Jill was proud to lead this team.
She was happy not be walking this time, she thought. After the previous patrol, she had been confined to bed, her legs were swollen with infection, muscles and tendons pulled and aching. Even the painkillers hardly helped.
As a highlander, she knew she was born to walk up mountains but nothing had prepared her for the Sarowaged Range. That was a year ago and something she would never forget.
ToElias tapped Jill on her shoulder, rousing her up from her slumber.
“We’re at Bulolo. Do you want to stop to get anything?”
Jill looked in the rear view mirror to check if she resembled neatness. A strand of loose hair was neatly tucked behind an ear. She dabbed little water on her hand and spread it on her dusty face to freshen up.
“Sure ToElias, let’s stop and grab some lunch. Good boy Maoro Turana, we’re almost home,” she patted Maoro on the dashboard.
A 15 minute stop at Namba Wan Stoa for lunch and they continued the journey.
Now on the bitumen, Maoro was cruising. They passed through the notorious Kumalu and almost two hours later crossed the Markham Bridge. They were home.
“Thank you Maoro Turana,” ToElias smiled. His weary hands patted Moaro’s steering wheel.
Maoro responded, keener this time, and pressed on as dusk crept along the Markham River.