PORT MORESBY - Darned if I know how you make humour of a situation after your head is bashed in.
Soluhoto had washed my head and said the wound was minor.
She cut a young banana leave and collected the sap and used this to put a stop to the bleeding.
She mixed the rest of the banana sap with Aloe Vera to make a paste, smearing it over the cut to the head before checking the secondary bump where I had landed on the cement path.
It was superficial but bruised and swollen. Soluhoto liberally applied the rest of the paste to it. More than I thought was necessary but it was the TLC by the acting nurse to her father that mattered and I accepted it gladly.
There was no talk about dlollies or ass nating meri or sospen. There was even no suggestion on how the sospen got there in the first place.
Soluhoto kept close by, she was concerned I might let one of my occasional rages get the better of me and make me run amok.
Agnes or Ma or whatever she called herself now had retreated into the house where there was a lot of to-ing and fro-ing that boomed through the floor.
Sometimes when things went wrong for her she would move to her sister’s place, and it sounded like preparations were underway.
I could see that Soluhoto was going to be the go-in-between, the pacifier, if World War Three broke out.
She was feverish – her hands were shaky and she nervously walked in small circles around the small spot where we were huddled.
I got up gingerly. The stars were still there and were so furious I sat down quickly.
That hit must have been with all the pent up energy kept especially for this occasion.
I had been evasive with the phone since the time I went active on Facebook and had been secretive, at times answering the phone in whispers or a low voice or going out of the house to the trees.
She had always looked up when I started walking away from her to answer the phone, which had never happened before.
I now realised she must have taken offence that I had excluded her, especially when I passworded the phone.
I picked up the mangled phone, removed the SIM and SD cards. There were several old one band phones around the house which I could use temporarily.
I was not going to cut off my contacts. I needed to be in touch. The boss had expressed we be constantly available in these uncertain times.
When she saw I was not going to collapse, Soluhoto raced into the house and brought food but I did not touch it. She then made coffee and stayed with me for a while.
She yawned. It looked like there was a truce in the impending war. I decided to make an attempt to get to the house.
I did a dodgy walk up the stairs but there were no more stars. Soluhoto followed clumsily with my food in her hands and the dogs at her feet, making sure I did not stagger back.
“Give my food to the dogs.” I could barely speak the words.
I looked at my couch bed and moved straight to it and settled into it gingerly. I must have passed out because I don’t remember anything after that.
When I came through in the wee hours of the morning, I realised Soluhoto had her mattress next to my couch bed and Ma was sleeping on the far side next to her on a mat.
There was a bucket of water nearby and a wet cloth over my head. I was running a slight fever, one ear was tender, my eyes were puffy, the top of my forehead pained and there were ants all over my thinning hair.
“Da-ah, thank goodness you are awake. You were sleep talking for a long time. I heard you from the room and came out. I tried to calm you but couldn’t. I had to wake mum and both of us attended to you.”
“Who is Dini? Is she one of your FB friends?”
“No stupid. That is my mother’s name.”
“Well, you were talking to her about some wooden pot.”
“Oh my gosh, the yar motona, her favourite wooden cooking oven. This is serious. I was walking amongst the dead.”
My mother Dini had died whilst I was doing Grade 9, some thirty or so years ago.
“You say I was talking with my mother?”
“Yeah, you two had a very long conversation. You kept calling her Ma Dini and kept asking her about the miso recipe.”
Shucks, the miso recipe was a herbal meal that women prepared for new widows - given to them to eat before one of their fingers was cut off as a sign of mourning for their dead husband.
The meal sort of took away most of the pain. Why the hell would I be asking my dead mother about it?
“How I am thinking and talking ghoulish things in my sleep?
“And why do I have ants all over me?”
Ma looked up to say something. She too must have been up because her eyes were redshot.
“Apo, I was thinking that the sospen might have made a hole in your skull for your brains to have seeped out to make you do the sleep talking,” she said.
“When people die out in the bush, it is the ghitunoso ants that get to them first and they are said to start with the brains first. They go up through the nose passage to get to the brains.’
I shot up straight. “What!”
I raced through the dream. Yes all those village persons I had encountered were dead, even my big brother who turned his back on me. Ma Dini had her gossip friends – all dead.
I put my fingers up my nostrils nose and tried fervently to see if I could find any ants.
There were none but I had a feeling these small ghitunoso ants, and there were plenty, might be in there in amongst the nooks and crevices. There were plenty enough in my hair and around my ears.
I moved my hands over my body making sure no part of me was dead. I’ve been in the presence of a few dead people and know what the dead feel like. Cold, not freezer cold but cold – chilly. Well, no part of my body was that cold.
“Solo, get this bandage off and see if any of my brains have spilled out for the ants to cart away.”’
“Da-ah, I am scared. Ask Ma to do it.”
“What and you want her to kill me again. I am dead man now and you want her to dead-me-good the second time.
“You giving her the chance to kill me again. She’ll probably pull out whatever brains left in there.”
I looked seriously at Soluhoto.
“She will try to kill me and it may be for good this time around.” I forced myself to repeat those words.
“At least I can still talk to you with whatever brain is left. And Ma’s gone somewhere now. Quickly, I can feel the ants getting double loads.”
Soluhoto scrambled all over the head to undo her mangled bandage, never mind that it hurt.
The wound was all muddy black with small ghitu ants busy around the paste and all over my hair.
“Da-ah, the paste is all black.” She prodded and moved hair here and there. I grimaced.
“What does a brain look like?”
“I dunno, they say it is a grey matter. Is there anything that looks grey - something towards whitish?”
I rubbed my hands up my forehead and looked at them. Black!
“Apae, what else did you put with the banana sap and aloe?”
“Da, you always told us to use honey whenever we were ill. You said it has a soothing effect.”
“You mixed honey in your paste?”
The use of banana sap was Ma’s idea from her mum. It was effective as a clotting agent on a new wound. But the sap oxidises to black and leaves a black sooty trail.
Ooh, pleeaase - the rivers of me fools.
Well, maybe Ma was clever to braindead me, especially when Ma Dini visited.
apae – variant of apo used for special people by Eastern Highlanders (Tokano/Alekano and the greater Goroka languages)
apo - a word of endearment used by Eastern Highlanders
ass nating meri - naked woman (Tok Pisin)
Dlolly - A combination of the words dolly and lolly (a neologism for this story)
ghitunoso/ghitu - tiny whitish ants that work around decayed material
miso – traditional concoction that new widows eat before the cutting off of a finger as a sign of mourning for their deceased husband (Eastern Highlands). Miso names two things: the widow’s beads and the plant from whose bark bilum strings and purrpurr [grass skirts] are crafted
Soluhoto - girl’s name (Tokano, Eastern Highlands)
sospen - saucepan, a pot with a handle sticking out the side, domestic fighting weapon (Tok Pisin)
TLC - tender loving care
yar motona – wooden oven, usually a hollowed out tree trunk where stone is heated and put in with food to cook - a miniature mumu