PORT MORESBY - I had submitted this story to the Commonwealth Writers Prize for 2020. Three stories from Australia and New Zealand were on the short list. None of the Pacific islands entries made it.
Like Thomas Hukahu has said, we in Papua New Guinea tell stories but not in the same way that first language English speakers wants them told, or how they want to hear them.
I stand corrected but the Africans tell it their way and Indians tell it their way and they still make it. Maybe pitching Australia and New Zealand in the same Oceania pool makes those who are judging subject our writing to the same type of scrutiny they give to Australia and New Zealand contributors.
If that is so, they are using the same magnifying glass for two different ways of telling stories. Our Pacific way should have a place in world literature.
Maybe I’m a crying sourpuss but will not be deterred and will try again next September when the Commonwealth Writers competition opens.
In the meantime I need assistance to write up a good PNG entry.
You can be the judge and critic for the 2020 competition that I submitted in 2019. I will appreciate reviews on Hanging Balls. The full story of 8,000 words was long, so I’ve shortened it to 5,000 words. So give me your reviews. Please.
A short story by Baka Bina
THE voice broke through the quiet of the day as the birds chirped away their days in the tall yar trees around the coffee garden.
Musonimo walked through the village to go to where he was trying to go. He changed course when he saw smoke over the top of the coffee trees from a house that was set a bit to the outside of the main village. He had not seen his friend in the village for a long time and he needed to ascertain where the man was.
A few coffee trees away from the house he crouched and peered through to notice a movement in front of the house.
A small pile of rubbish was smoking away outside the meticulously kept yard when he breached the small built-up gate. The morning rays of the sun wove a pattern on the thin smoke warping up and splattered it onto the pitpit wall of the house like a big black and brown mural. The smoke meant somebody was somewhere around the house.
‘Are there people around here or not?’ He asked in a loud voice to no one in particular.
‘I have not seen the man Paito for long time. Is he there in his house or has he gone travelling?’ He continued his one man conversation as he neared the smoking trash heap.
Meiheme was tending to the assbean plot in the small garden in the front of the house. She pulled up from where she was weeding and cleared her throat.
‘Musonimo-O, good man, it is good for you to come around. Gosh, I too have not seen you or your wife in a long time. Is your wife in good health?’ She cried out in relief.
‘Ii ii, Meiheme, good woman, is that you there in the garden? I did not see you there doing weeding work. Now, I have not seen you or your husband in a long, long while and yes, my wife is in good health, more than good to spend her days at the kandis place, gambling the little she makes from the markets.’
‘I was asking about your husband amongst those gambling and generally they were saying they too have not seen him grace the kandis place in a while. That was the reason for me to come by. I was going down the main village to go to the hauspik. My missus said one the young male pigs was causing some problems. It may have being a cause it being too young to be mating. I however saw smoke trails from this house and came around.’
Meiheme left her weeding and came to join him at the smoking debris in front of the house. She shook Musonimo’s hand and sat down to tend the fire she had going with the leaves and rubbish she had swept up earlier.
‘I have not gone to the kandis place in a long while. I think it would be about three moons. I go to my garden which is at the opposite end of the kandis place and return here. So yes, they would not have seen me there.’
Musonimo took notice of her teary red eyes.
‘Oh, sure, a lot of us waste whole days there doing nothing but standing there like fence posts watching our women gamble away our money.’
Meiheme smiled to mask her tears.
She too had the tendency to go there before going to the garden and, on a good day, she would go there and then sit down with her bilum bag and spade or digging stick beside her either gambling in the kandis or watching others do the same. She surely did waste her days there.
‘Now, and my brother? Has he gone on a journey? It is quite a while that we have not seen his nose - and plenty of big events have come and gone. He surely has not got a new wife and is living at her place, is he?’
A cackle of laughter broke from the house.
Musonimo looked up as Paito’s deep throated laugh shrilled out from the house walls.
‘Ii ii, my good friend. You’re inside the house? You staying in there this good sunny morning is something. Am I missing something?’
‘Eh, your brother hardly gets around these days. He spends his days here and sleeps most times.’ Meiheme rolled her eyes.
‘Gosh, is he sick?’
‘Apo, can you get out here or what?’
‘My good friend’, the shaky voice from inside the house called out. ‘I just woke up and was trying to come out and sit in the sun. You asking if I got a new wife sounded like fun to me and that were the reason I chuckled. If you see me now, you will regret that I should have got that new wife.’
‘Like he was going to get one, the ghepili from yesterday and tomorrow too,’ Meiheme shot out sarcastically.
‘Look at him now, he thought he was a Slim Dusty reincarnate and was strutting it out there wanting to get a new wife and in his endeavour, got more than what he bargained for. He cannot walk, so ask him what is wrong with him. He’s got it all in an old ten kilo rice bag.’ She smiled to tone down her sarcasm.
Paito broached the low door slowly in a crouching position. He was weighed down heavily and his steps were measured.
Musonimo was taken aback. ‘Ii ii, Apo, good one ya! This woman, don’t make fun of him. He is not a ghepili because he got you as his wife. What will you do if his balls were hanging loose?’
Meiheme broke out laughing. ‘Haii-e aga-e hii.’ The tenseness of the last couple of months made her cry in her laughter.
‘Apo, he was long into his bachelorhood when I carried over my legs to him in marriage. He did not go out wooing me nor did he pay bride price for me. I came by to fill in a void. So by that account he was a ghepili. A ghepili is one who cannot get a wife the proper way. But right now that is not our problem. I dared not even mention what was wrong with this buccaneering Slim Dusty. You turn up here with the sun and sunshine. Oh, my goodness.’ She wiped off the tears running down her chin - much to the chagrin of Paito.
Musonimo gave his friend a bear hug, and then helped him straighten up and get his bearings.
Paito adjusted his eyes to the bright sunlit area and looked around for the dilapidated plastic chair that was always left outside. He undid the laplap that he had wound around him and retightened the knot. He then tried to scamper to the plastic chair a few feet away. He crouched low and had one hand down between his thighs to hold up a rope sewn onto the old empty rice bag.
Meiheme scrambled around the chair for him and he sat down into it gingerly. He then positioned the rice bag slowly between his legs. He grimaced as he tried to fit the bag onto the chair. Meiheme noticed that the bag shot out over the edge of the chair and she hastened into the house to bring out a twenty litre plastic water container. She placed it below the chair and the bag settled over onto it.
‘Whee!’ Paito cursed his blessing for having a woman nearby. He found it a relief to lie back and was pleased that the bag was not in the way.
Musonimo was taken aback. His friend had aged considerably and he was sporting a big beard that was going grey. What he wasn’t expecting was the taut rice bag.
Musonimo’s wide eyes and the chagrin on his face sought an explanation. He was totally fazed, watching his friend break into a sweat. The sun’s rays through the top of the yar trees were becoming warmer. Paito was uncomfortable trying to explain what was afflicting him.
Meiheme fidgeted around the fireplace, adding more rubbish and creating more smoke. After what seemed to be an eternity, she spoke for him.
‘Yesterday we had the medicine man, Goheno come do his speciality. We bought a little bit of protein for him to make his bamboo lusowaso to cut the bad ropes. We have been having these visits by the medicine men and they have done so many lusowasos and puripuris. But all these rituals bring no relief. We don’t know what it is and he has lost the will to live,’ Meiheme related.
‘Now, now, what is it that you are suffering from?’
‘Apo, nobody told you of his ailment?’ She again interjected, not giving her husband a chance to answer to Musonimo.
The blank look on Musonimo’s face was all she needed. She looked at her husband’s terse face and fidgeted to say explain more. But she struggled to find the right words.
Paito looked up into the morning sun wishing the heat into his body. The silence crept into the yard.
In as much of a whisper, Meiheme spoke again. ‘Apo, we are so ashamed of what we are going through that we cannot step outside of the yard. Even our children have abandoned us. They bear the shame more because they are the ones that go out into the village.’
‘It was after he came back from Madang. He must have slept with some outside women there. The result of that is he now has to carry his balls in that old ten kilo rice bag you see.’
‘My good Apo, I had no idea that you were having this problem. Now, do I understand that your balls have swollen up?’ he said in a lowered voice.
‘Apo, not only have they swollen, they have doubled in size, so that they are now like two mango fruits down there hanging from my crotch. I am beginning to think that they will grow into….you know, those long water melons. They’d be like that.’ Paito spoke in a squeaky voice as he pulled up his laplap to show his balls inside the discoloured rice bag. The old bag was straining at the strands which emphasized the oversized state of his scrotum.
It was an embarrassing display and the sweat on Paito glistened like morning dew.
‘Apo, good man, when did all of this start?’
‘One day I was urinating and there was a small boil at the top of one of my balls. It started itching around the pimple and I furiously started scratching where I had busted the pimple. I thought it was a simple pimple. But now I am not so sure. Soon after I felt the skin starting to grown strong and fill out. Then a week later, I realised that the balls were becoming heavier. Then they started growing. Some days, it is very irritating and some days nothing, just peace and calm. But the swelling does not go down.’
‘When it is irritating, that is when they are swelling more. I then want to scratch, scratch and snap them off. I hardly sleep. There are no body aches, just this irritating desire to scratch the balls.’
‘On the days it does not irritate, I can sleep for hours on end.’
‘When I walk, I feel like I am one of those bulmakaus over at the mission station. These bulmakaus carry those milk bags between their legs. That’s when I smile to myself at the ridiculousness of it all. Other times, like I said, when I hear the noise and laughter in the village, I feel like just ripping them out and joining you all there.’
‘Apo, my good friend, it is no fun staying on your own, isolated like this in your own house. And the village is just there. I dare myself to go there but I fear the village children will have the fun of their lives seeing me walk like a bulmakau with these hanging balls.’
‘But we think it is the sangumas doing their work causing the balls to swell. We don’t eat anything good like proteins here. We have our regular kaukau every day. If we are doing good and the sangumas want to get to us, that is okay but I am your regular poor neighbour. For good measure we got the other medicine man, Vanopahi to get his ginger sticks and he stuck them into ginger tubers that we planted around the house. We even put them in the kunai roof of the house. That good puripuri has put a stop, we hope, to the sangumas coming to our house.’
‘Now, talking about sangumas, Apo, it is scary visiting sick people nowadays. If the sick person dies, the immediate persons who visited him or her are often accused of being a sanguma. It is alleged that the visitor must have gone about doing the dastardly things of taking the life of the sick person. It is this type of reasoning that stops people from visiting the sick.’
‘Apo, I know I am one of those who speaks out about these and takes part in these blame games, but, right now, I can tell you I miss all you people and I could do with a stream of visitors. My good friend! When you are ostracised - and I tell you right now, I am very hungry for people to come around and talk to me; even the known sangumas are welcome.’
‘I sleep and watch the door most days hoping for people to come by. I sit here in the sun everyday looking towards that track among the coffee trees hoping just one person’s shadow can breach the shade. I hear voices down in the village and I want to yell into the village to get them around to the house. But I always hesitate; I remain silent.’
‘I yearn to talk to someone, for goodness sake. If dogs could talk, I would gladly sit up and talk all day with any of the skinny, scabies-ridden dogs that roam the village. One turns up here regularly. I talk to it and feed it most of my kaukau. The stupid dog just eats the kaukau, looks at me with its blank eyes while I’m trying to have a conversation with it and it thanks me by scratching its backside before it moves on. If I did not have that woman, I would have become mad. I am already fed up with seeing that same person day in and day out. I need to talk to someone else, other than my wife. I want to talk politics, talk about the village and all the manly things that men talk and do. Right now, I am a social outcast and I hate it.’
‘You’ve got to be grateful for that woman. She is sticking by you.’ Musonimo gave his approval for Meiheme.
‘I don’t dispute that. There are no other better words than Apo in our language to heap on a woman to show our appreciation. She is my biggest Apo.’
Musonimo smiled. ‘Now you see what we are doing when we start talking sangumas. We are already killing ourselves when we throw around the sanguma word unnecessarily. We are dead before we actually die.’
‘You are in the village and you see - nobody is willing to visit with you because you have been vocal on all things sanguma before. If all the people in the village have the same belief, the village is doomed.’
‘Did you hear last week that Sahiseho from village up the road died and they are blaming the wife as a sanguma woman? For goodness sake, the wife was the carer - like your poor wife, Meiheme here. The brothers of the man blamed the wife even though they had abandoned the sick man in the first place. For six months their brother was crying out for them; none of them visited. Then he dies, they were quick to blame the wife.’
‘It was the brothers’ cause for revenge against her because when Sahiseho was sick, she made a statement that the village were full of sangumas and they were the ones making her husband sick. She planted sanguma ginger around the house and that stopped them from coming to her house. People did not visit and were scared silly that they might be blamed as doing sanguma. I see the same situation here.’
‘Apo, I am scared for myself.’ Meiheme intoned from where she was sitting by the fire. ‘What you are saying is true because people have not been coming around and visiting. When people visit they usually come around with food and sugar and coffee. Now I have to stretch myself to providing the food for the house. I have to make the garden and still tend to your friend here. I sometimes cry that the village doesn’t care anymore and his blood relatives, I don’t see them here.’
‘Apo, I feel for your feeling bad. If the Sahiseho saga relates to how we people are seeing things here; seriously, I am afraid for you.’
‘I think I should leave the village and go back to my village. That type of talking forebodes ill for me - even though I am the only one caring for this useless bastard now. I have not seen the backsides of his brothers and family. Should he die, they will blame me. Now, for what? I say what is afflicting him is what he gets for chasing after women. He thought he got a good one in Madang. It was an outside woman and the results are he got both his balls hanging inside old rice bags.’
‘What is wrong with you men? You want to blame everything on women with anything regarding sangumas and making poison and afflictions by bad spirits. You all think that we women folk are purveyors of these evil forces and you men continue to blame us women and children for it. Look at you men. You do nothing all day and then there is no food because you refuse to work the garden; you think you are hungry because the sangumas ate all your innards. The truth is that you are having kaukau that has worms. These have got you so you don’t eat well and then you accuse the women folk of being possessed by sangumas causing or bringing your ill fortunes.’
‘Apo, listen, don’t worry about the sangumas. They can eat out my innards but what I really want them to do is to eat out these two balls of mine so that I don’t have to put up with the embarrassing thing of wearing the handles to the ten kilo rice bag around my neck. It’s even not funny walking while trying to make sure the balls are safe down there.’
‘Apo, with all this sanguma blaming that our people throw around, it does not pay to visit the sick. A sick person’s condition worsens after a particular person visited; this visiting person must be a sanguma. That is some crazy reasoning.’
‘I don’t blame you for trying to pull out those irritating balls when you want to go out to enjoy the life in the village. I would do the same. It is the blaming thing that is making us not visit the sick.’
‘Apo, I think we are into the thick of it - this blame game. Meiheme and I have sat long into the night, especially when I have that darned scratching ichimitis, trying to see who might be responsible. We have named a lot people but gave up when the whole village became our suspects. We were thinking that everyone in the village was capable of being sangumas. Every now and then Meiheme meets these people on the way to the garden and she has the fright of her life.’
‘But these are my people and that scares the shit out of me.’
‘Musonimo, good man, let me say this: this sanguma thing is making us very poor.’ Meiheme spoke with a strain in her voice. ‘This is not only in money, but in relationships as well. None of our neighbours want to come see us. You see that house in front. I have not seen any of them here for the last three months since Paito started staying around the house. One of them used to come here regularly for his smoke and buai. But I have not seen him for a long while now.’
‘Sseh, let’s talk something else. It’s really depressing.’
‘Okay, let me tell you this story. The other day I was sitting squat over the pit latrine behind there. You remember that deluge of rain? The following morning when, you know, the soil over the pit had not sort of dried out yet.’
‘Apo-yo, that morning I really wanted the sangumas to eat these balls out. You know, they were now about five or six kilos heavy.’
‘I was there squatting comfortably over the hole trying to do my morning ablutions. After adjusting my squat and making sure the rice bag was secured with me, holding them up by the rope to the bag in front of me here, I tried to exert my first force.’
‘Don’t you laugh yet!’
‘You must remember that the soil in the latrine was a bit wet from water seeping through the kunai thatches. Of course the smell there is not what you want. Now I was in that squat and was trying that first force to my pekpek when something dastardly happened.’
‘Boy oh boy, you should have seen me. I did not know what to do. I was either going to excrete or look after my balls.’
‘I could just feel my first pekpek at the mouth of anus when pop, the darned swollen balls slipped out. They fell, no, plonked out of the bag over the hole in the pit and I had this nasty feeling that the balls were going to continue into the abyss of the toilet hole. I thought I was going to follow suit, ball and all.’
‘Apo, I was doing all things at the same time: trying to stop my balls from dropping into the hole while trying to stop my pekpek from coming out and at the same time trying to catch my balance and still not face plant plump onto the soggy soil. You know the soil in there, that is where we pispis and pekpek and no good place to be sitting down in nor doing face plants.’
Musonimo and Meiheme finally broke out in smirking guffaws.
‘Apo, I had this fleeting feeling that my balls were falling down into that dark hole full of pekpek. I sort of had this awful thought that they had broken out from their sheaths, - Iike the yolk of an egg – yeah I had that picture in my mind, the gory eggy like fluids and the biggest turkey size cocktails – the two kidney gonads following after.’
‘Well, I wasn’t waiting to find out. I just somehow kamikazied into the pitpit blind wall in front of me. I drove head first into it so that my backside was hurled up into the sky. I tried to do a tumble roll in the small space in there. Seriously, no dark abyss was going to swallow these two balls.’
Musonimo rolled about in the dust holding his bust. Meiheme laughed along with Musonimo. Paito wore chagrin on his face. Laughing was relieving. They had not laughed in a long while and it felt good.
‘Apo, at that point in time, I forgot that those two balls were humongous but there was no self preservation on my part. That dark hole in the ground scared me shitty. For my efforts, I must have got knocked out by them balls flying about my thighs during the kamikaze time because, when I woke up, the sun was a different colour and I was smelling like the shithouse that I woke up in.’
‘Now when I think about it, I should have really ripped the balls off then there and then.’
‘Well, Apo, Paito, my good man, it is good that you still have them balls on you.’ Musonimo enjoyed the story.
‘Aghai e ii haii-e hii.’ Meiheme burst out laughing again.
‘Apo, you should have seen him; his rice bag around his thighs, one end of the rope handle to the bag holding up his balls and him crawling on his knees coming out from the toilet. I had my heart up in my mouth but when he told me how he tried to stop his balls falling into the pit toilet, I coloured myself laughing blue.’
‘Well, that day we let go of the three months stress with our laughter! Thankfully I can still chuckle over it now. However our real concern now is that we are getting no visits from anyone in the village.’
Paito put on a stern face - but with a bit of a grin showing through.
‘Apo, I think that this woman has a point. We need to do something about that. We are becoming a friendless community.’ Musonimo grinned.
‘But we have to get you better and get those two balls back into their original smaller size. You are telling this story but I have not heard you saying anything about getting waitmahn’s medicine. The hausik is just there besides the school. I am sure the Doktaboi there would have been glad to see you with your illness.’
Meiheme cut in. ‘Apo, we have not gone to the hausik.’
‘Apo, you remember that young woman Alma, the one with the one big leg and is called the Big Foot.’
‘Yeah, Huka’s daughter, the one that would stand on the one big leg and drinks like a man.’
‘Yes, that Huka’s daughter, Alma, she had malaria but then developed that one huge leg that is as big as a tree trunk. Would it not be possible that you might be having the same type of sick?’
Paito sat in deep thought.
‘Well, that one, the same type of sickness affected her leg from the ankle right up to ...and not her other thing,’ Musonimo said with a silly smile while pointing with his fingers to his crotch.
‘That hanging part is something I do not wish upon any female.’
‘Ii ii, you are trying to be funny with us women. The only thing we have hanging are our susus and you are not going to be descriptive over those too, ha-ha!’
‘You know, I was given malaria tablets. I did not take them because I did not like their bitter taste.’
‘Apo, this man likes the coasts and the coastal women and goes to their place to be bitten by all their bugs and more. He comes back and prefers not to take these good medicines. Instead it’s all talk; blame sangumas; do lusowasos and puripuris to try cure it. We leave in a crazy world!’
‘Good man, Musonimo, one time he was bedridden from a heavy malaria bout and the Doktaboi came to give him medicine. I sought out the Doktaboi because your dying friend was too heavy to haul across to his hausik. The Doktaboi gave him some medicine and water and told him to drink it while he was watching. He then came around for three days to make sure that your friend completed taking all the medicines and he recovered. I had some cooking bananas that I was going to harvest for the Doktaboi to say thank you to him. But then without me knowing, this idiot harvests the banana.’
‘I have not gone to this Doktaboi this time because I sold him on a false promise previously and felt ashamed to go back again to ask for his assistance.’
‘Eh, I did not finish my story about Alma.’ Musonimo cut in. ‘As I was saying before, she had this big, big foot trunk for a leg. She was still happily able to continue doing her things with the big foot. Now if you have the same sickness, you can continue to live happily with no problems.’
‘You mean I could get treated at the hausik. It might be some sick that the waitmahn know about and I am thinking that our ples lusowaso and puripuri is better than the waitmahn’s medicine.’
Meiheme looked cross-eyed at her husband. ‘I told you so! But you were scared of that little needle prick to your ass. I think you should find a bigger bag to house your ever growing balls.’
‘We could do something else though.’
Musonimo rummaged through his bilum to pull out a small coca cola bottle. It had some blue kerosine liquid in it. He pulled out a second coke bottle that had some white creamy liquid. Then he pulled another small plastic wrapping from the bilum. He opened it up to look at it while Paito peered down to it.
Paito’s face drew a frown. He took the message. He could feel his breath suddenly become very hot. There was a rising anger in him towards Musonimo.
‘What? You are on a mission to visit with pigs that are on heat and you take this opportune time to visit with me with your kerosine and gohuno cream and... and... and your stupid small blade.’
He struggled to get off the chair and then looking around him, he slowly duck-walked himself into the house. Meiheme looked on stunned. He was walking out on his flabbergasted friend. As he breached the door, he spoke over his back.
‘Ha! Goodbye, I am going to sleep and whatever their sizes, I had better wake up in one piece with these two balls still hanging down there.’