An entry in the 2015 Rivers Award
for Writing on Peace & Harmony
SOME people cross our lives briefly but their influence impacts us forever. Others remain in our lives like forever, but we won’t remember a single thing they said.
The former are in our hearts beyond their grave; the latter forgotten as soon as they are out of sight.
“Never Quit” became my mantra long after I had forgotten the poem Don’t Quit, which I will forever associate with my friend Doris.
Our paths crossed when I transferred to a remote school on the north-east coast of Nakanai, West New Britain Province, to complete Grade 7. Ms Gela paused as I entered the classroom one Monday morning and I slid into a back seat just in time for the first lesson.
“Class, this is Mary Boto our new student. Please make her feel welcome,” Ms Gela announced. I smiled shyly and sank lower into my seat as the class strained for a glimpse of me.
Doris was sitting way up front. She answered questions and led discussions with such confidence it intimidated me. She was clearly a top student.
She towered above the other girls and her hair was cut short like a police recruit. She was broad shouldered and had a wide, flat chest. She was huge for a girl and her smile was never out of season; a permanent fixture on her face.
“Hi, my name’s Doris,” she said, extending her hand.
By the end of the year we were close friends. I hung out at her family home and met her relatives. The year ended well, despite that I was often very sick.
When 1994 came, Doris and I were excited and nervous. We were in Grade 8 and would be sitting for the national exams. It wasn’t easy. The top students were driven almost to breaking point.
And some of us would have broken if it wasn’t for our supportive friends. I had no one except Doris.
“Only a handful of you will make it to high school,” our new teacher, Mr Solo, said. “Statistics show that eventually only one of you will get into university.”
We stared speechless at him. The room was silent As his eyes searched each face in the room, I cowered in my seat; embarrassed and close to tears.
The man was unbelievable. He ran the class like an army camp and he was going to drill home the statistics.
“If you want to be one of the top five students who make it to college, your chance begins today. Sit your ass down and study!”
He paused long enough for the words to sink in.
“Or do us all a favour and quit coming to school.”
He angrily flicked the chalk to the floor and left.
“Hey Mary, cheer up, it’s okay,” said Doris. “‘Come on, let’s go get lunch.”
After grabbing something from Doris’s house, we ran down to the beach, passing a group of boys climbing coconut trees.
We sat on a fallen tree and ate lunch. The boys offered us coconuts, which we gratefully accepted and washed our food down with the fresh juice.
A few days after the incident, Doris shoved a piece of paper into my hand.
“My father gave me this poem when I was little. Whatever happens to you, don’t ever quit on your dreams.”
I unfolded the paper and read for the first time the poem Don’t Quit, the author unknown. The first stanza immediately caught my attention.
When things go wrong, as they sometimes will,
When the road you’re trudging seems all uphill,
When the funds are low and the debts are high,
And you want to smile, but you have to sigh,
When care is pressing you down a bit,
Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.
For the next few months we worked feverishly. Doris and I spearheaded group study for interested students. We went to the beach and revised on the sand, the wind snatching words out of our mouths and crushing them on the waves.
We both did well, and continued to do well.
Fate knocked the breath out of Doris a few years ago but I live forever with her memories and her philosophy.