| My Land, My Country
MADANG - I joined the long queue outside BSP bank in Goroka at around something to 12 to pick up my long overdue bank card.
I had lodged an application for a new bank card a month ago. About two weeks ago, thinking my card was ready, I went to pick it up.
Instead I was told they had run out of NRL themed cards so I had to pay K20 for a Kundu card and pick it up in two weeks.
So I went yesterday but was told by them to come today.
Despite the long queue and blazing heat of the scorching sun and I ignoring the coronavirus preventive measure of social distancing, I joined the long line of people outside the bank who, from the look on their faces and their continuous complaints, had been standing in the never moving, stagnant line for hours.
It was government payday, you know how it is in PNG when it’s payday.
Despite being an impatient person, I humbled myself and stood in line braving the midday sun of Goroka which is, on a good day, hotter than POM, Lae or Madang.
In front of me stood a young girl, a few centimeters shorter and about the same age. She had a bag slung across her shoulder, her hair was untidy - roughly done in what seem to be an unsuccessful attempt at braiding.
Her shirt was faded and she wore jeans roughly cut below the knee. She had somewhat fair and smooth skin. I know I’m not supposed to discuss that.
Standing behind her, I had no way of seeing her front, if you know what I mean.
She had something in her hand, and once in a while I would see her hand move as if she was flipping through something.
After 30 minutes or so, curiosity got the better of me. I wanted to see what my queue friend was doing.
So I peered over her shoulder. She being a few centimeters shorter gave me the advantage of looking over her shoulder to see what see what she was doing.
I knew it was not right but I had to, as any person bored to death waiting in a line that wasn’t moving would do.
What I saw her doing caught me by surprise. She was reading a book.
She was reading in public, not in the bank but outside beside the footpath despite hundreds of people and vehicles moving to and fro. She paid no mind to anybody; she was caught up in her book.
This is a rare sight, something you do not see often.
I looked to the front and then turned and looked to the back to see what other people were doing while waiting in line.
Most elderly people had newspapers and were reading the usual stuff you find in papers. Some would make faces and show disapproval when reading something they didn’t like.
Behind me, two guys were discussing how coronavirus was a conspiracy theory and how it was created in a lab by China to kill the people and dominate the world in its southward expansion.
And then there were young people on their phones surfing the internet on social media, updating statuses with comments like “Gosh, sun hot na line blo bank no move too, #smh #goroka”.
Other young people were listening to music as they had headphones blocking their ears and blocking out the world.
Then it dawned me, in this age of technology when all the young people are glued to their phones and their world revolves around their phones, entangled in the cyber world, there are few who still grab and read a book, turn the pages and get lost in the author’s world.
And standing in front of me is this young lady, reading. She would take out her phone occasionally to check the time and then continued reading.
I spied a page of the book and found it was a romance novel, something like Mills and Boon, so I thought this might be my chance to strike up a romance with this young ragged haired book lover.
Searching in my bilum, I pulled out my Ignatius Kilage’s semi-autobiography, ‘My mother calls me Yaltep’, and flipped the pages to chapter 8, ‘Courtship’, to get a few tips and pointers on how to woo a lady.
Kilage’s book is one of my favourites by a PNG author and I always carry it in my bilum wherever I go. I turn the pages and read a few chapters whenever I’m bored.
I started reading, in my mind hoping she would turn around and see me reading too, then we both would establish that romantic connection like the fictitious stuff we see in teenage movies.
I just wanted her to see me reading, I don’t know what my initial plan of attracting her was but after almost an hour standing in line and covering seven chapters, I forgot all about her.
When the inside of the bank was cleared, the security officer opened the door and we all went rushing into the bank in hopes of getting first in line first.
I went and stood in the withdrawal line, she went and joined the deposit line which is next to the withdrawals.
The bank teller who assisted me yesterday asked me to come so she could assist me promptly, so instead of joining the enquiries line, which is the line you join to apply for a new card or pick up a new card, I found myself in the withdrawals section.
The withdrawals and deposits section lines in the bank are close together, I looked across and, lo, she was a few feet ahead of me in her line.
I thought, well I’m never going to see her again or she is never going to see me read this book. I placed my hopes on her turning around and seeing me read.
That is stupid, I know, but luck was on my side.
The waves of destiny and the winds of romance were totally on my side because the withdrawals line moved more quickly than the deposits line, maybe because the good ladies in the withdrawals section were working fast because they knew they were about to be part of something great.
No less than 20 minutes passed and I was close to her. She was opposite.
And then she turned, looked past me, then at me, and slowly her eyes went down to my hands. And in my fingers was the orange covered book.
Still holding her book, she lifted her eyes and they met mine. My heart stopped when she smiled at me. I held my breath and puffed out my chest like a bird doing a mating dance to attract the female.
At that moment, I wanted to break a knee in front of her and propose, ‘Will you marry me?’ I didn’t have an engagement ring but I would propose with the book, ‘Will you take this book and me?’
Plus, there are only limited copies of the book in Papua New Guinea, and not everybody has the luxury of owning one. Mine is borrowed, by the way.
I was still daydreaming and picturing us on a beach watching the sunset, sipping coconut juice through straws, and enjoying our favourite novels while the waves crashed gently on the shore that I didn’t realise the line in front of me was moving.
The people in front were about two feet ahead of me, the older lady standing behind me whose fragile knees were about to give way scolded me and pushed me to move on, you know how rude and impatient they can be when they hit old age.
When I took a few steps, I was ahead of my soul mate. I couldn’t turn around and look at her even though I wanted to. I sure wished I had eyes in the back on my head, I would be all seeing.
I’m sure she wanted me to turn around too but we were in the bank and everyone was frustrated and cussing under their breath.
The poor security guard was sweating trying to maintain order. The foul atmosphere killed the romantic atmosphere and my chances of striking up a romance with the young book lover were gone.
The line moved quicker. I picked up my card and walked out and waited outside of the bank for another 15 minutes hoping she come but a small fake rainy midday shower of Goroka sent me seeking refuge in the nearby Asian shop packed with street vendors and local tourists.
In the crowded shop, I blocked out all the noise as my mind wandered. I might never see her again but, if it was fate that we saw each other, even for a brief moment, there was something in the air.
I pray and hope that we meet again in a place where people come to stand in line and complain about the sun and the bad smell of body odour wafts through to the various sections of the bank.
Duncan Gabi is from Rigo in Central Province. He is doing his final year at Divine Word University in PNG Studies and International Relations. He is a blogger and his work can be found here: www.aunamelo.wordpress.com