LAE - With the clock displaying all zeros representing midnight in digital time, the buai buyers were anticipating the arrival of three 75-horsepower dinghies carrying 200 plus bags of buai at the shore next to Voco Point.
It was the third day of the coronavirus state of emergency lockdown and police officers were patrolling the four corners of Lae city looking for buai sellers and crowds of people they could disperse.
Midnight on the beach offered a cold which penetrated the pores of the buai buyers’ skin.
Nocturnal marine creatures made unusual sounds as waves formed and crashed on the shore.
This was a mission that risked health, prison, business and possibly life.
But if the buai buyers overcame those obstacles, their reward was the profit, since buai prices had sky- rocketed after the announcement of the lockdown.
Among the buyers were Petrus and Margret, a couple. They had left their sons Kaupa, six, and Titus, three, at home, while they came for this buai trade.
A hired truck had picked them up at ten and taken them the hour’s drive to the beach.
Although it was late at night, Petrus and Margret were not feeling sleepy. They had brought themselves leftover betel nut from the previous day’s sales and the chewing was enjoyable and kept their eyes open.
Sure it was risky, but it was also fun. There were 15 or 20 people on the shore including Susan, one of the traders, who had just received a phone call that the buai would soon arrive.
The pull of buai was powerful. Despite the news of coronavirus on all media platforms and the government’s declaration of lockdown, these 15 to 20 people were reluctant to obey the laws inked by legislation.
After all, they were business-minded people who had decided to take risks and carry out their betel nut trade while the rest of the world slept and snored away.
“Mono Margret eh!” Petrus called. “Yu save olsem tripla dinki boat ya bai kam?” [“Are you sure the three dinghies are coming?”]
“Ayo, my besti, em Susan wokim phone call na yumi kam ya, askim em na ol narapla sanap ya” [“Ayo my friend, it’s Susan that made the phone call and we all came. Ask her.”].
Petrus stood up and walked along the beach, the waves’ white bubbles visible on the black sand. Margret followed him. He looked out to the sea. He could see lights of huge ships. And the sky was clear with plenty of stars.
Petrus turned to a group of people nearby. They too were full of anticipation and looked towards the sea.
“Where is Susan, anyone seen her?” asked Petrus
Martin turned and saw Petrus.
“Oh, Petrus, I did not known you were here,” Martin smiled in the dark.
“Have, you seen Susan? When are the dinghies arriving?” Petrus asked.
Martin looked at Petrus. His face was exposed by the dim light from the Lae main wharf.
“Susan is here, I think the boats are close now. Not far from us,” Martin replied.
Margret fished in her bilum to find a flashlight.
“Meh, Margret oh mi harem yu kolim name blo mi na me kam. Olsem wanem?”[“Meh, Margret, I overheard you called my name and I came. What is it?”]
It was Susan.
“Ayo, meri mi na Petrus lusim tupla liklik man long haus na kam. Dinki bai kam o nogat?” [“Ayo woman, Petrus and I left the two small boys at home and came. Are the dinghies coming or not?]
“Tripla buai dinki ya em bai kam….” [“Three betel nut dinghies will be coming….”] Susan answered, and turned to the ocean.
Almost immediately the white hulls of the boats could be seen, their motors gently idling.
“Um, I think they’re here,” Susan said with a sigh of relief.
Margret gave her torch to Petrus, who flashed it on and off signalling the boats to the shore. The skippers on the boats flashed their lights on and off in response.
The buai buyers were now optimistic and gathered along the shore.
“OK olgeta tripla boat kam sua pinis na holim moni long han. Mipla bai givim buai wantaim taim yu baim.” [“OK, everyone, three boats had just arrived and hold up your cash. We will deliver your bags of buai upon receiving your money. It’s K300 for a 30kg chemical bag.”]
“Hamas long wanpla bag buai?” [“How much does one betel nut bag cost?”] asked Petrus as he checked his wallet for cash.
“Mipla salim lo tri hundret kina long wanpla bag buai,” [“We are selling at three hundred kina a bag”] one of the skipper’s replied.
Petrus pulled a nut out of one of the bags, peeled off the skin and pressed the inner seed against his thumb.
Satisfied, he removed the rest of the skin and chewed. The nut seemed good as he munched it with lime and daka.
“Givim mi tripla plis” [“Give me three bags please”] Petrus said.
The skipper took the money and counted the K900 and signalled to the crew to hand over three bags.
Petrus and Margret loaded their bags on to the hired vehicle. Other buyers had also completed their trade. The clock had reached four.
As the dawn broke the birds sang energetically, the waves formed and washed on the shore, eradicating the buai buyers’ footprints, betel nut husks, cigarette butts and Coca-Cola cans.
As the sun rose police officers resumed their duties to continue the state of emergency lockdown.
Some betel nut vendors on the street were busted but the trade would go on.
The buai never failed to reach Lae city in the state of emergency lockdown.
This is a work of fiction, names, places, characters and incidents are product of the author’s imagination. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, business establishments, events or locales is entirely coincidental