Mud Woman
You will not colonise my children’s names

Love, grief & the Old Man’s dilemma

SurvivorDANIEL KUMBON

Derived from the short story, ‘The Old Man, His Wife and the Young Girl’, adapted from Daniel Kumbon’s book, ‘Survivor: Alive in Mum’s Loving Arms’ available here from Amazon

FICTION - Rosemary and the Old Man had come across the girl a couple of years before when she sent a random text message to his mobile phone pleading for financial assistance.

The girl claimed to be thirteen and wanting to complete her primary education.

She said her father had died when she was only seven and she had been living on an oil palm plantation in Wopa country near Lae.

Her mother had been entirely dependent on the father’s pay packet and didn’t work. Nobody wanted to help pay the girl’s school fees.

Her mother, she said, was the lazy type who had stayed home like a young chick in the nest with its mouth wide open expecting her husband to drop something into it.

Now they survived on company royalty payments and some market sales.

The girl said her mother spent food money on buai, bingo and cigarettes. She persisted in a reckless lifestyle, saving nothing for her daughter’s education. 

She even went off with strange men to drink and play pokies at the local tavern. The girl had taken the initiative to ask for small contributions. Could anybody help a poor orphan?

The Old Man had received many random texts regularly from con artists. He ignored most of them but this one seemed genuine.

So, he showed it to Rosemary who rang the girl to find out if there was indeed a girl on the other end of the line. Sure enough, the girl said in a clear voice that her name was Delisa.

Rosemary, a kind hearted woman whose three children were now successfully pursuing their own careers in Australia, made the decision to help the poor orphan girl.

The Old Man and Rosemary added Delisa’s name to the list of other successful applicants from under privileged families who had requested assistance from the Akali Wakane Life Centre.

The couple had established the not-for-profit charity after their three children had started working.

‘Do to others what you would like done to you,’ is a piece of advice the Old Man received in the hausman, a message also in the Bible.

But he remembered another piece of advice. ‘When you feed the pigs in a pen, leave the food at a safe distance. Don’t go close. If you hand feed them, the pigs will bite your hand off. Be cautious too when you deal with people. Always keep your distance.’

Each year the couple sent a stipend to the girl and the other successful applicants to pay for clothing and other necessities. The school fees were deposited directly into school accounts.

They had been delighted when Delisa was accepted into the Lae School of Nursing after successfully completing Grade 12 at Bumayong Secondary School. She was now in her final year.

But Rosemary was not on hand to appreciate the achievement. She had been killed.

__________

The Old Man realised he’d made a mistake to express how lonely he felt after Rosemary’s death.

He had told Delisa about the funeral feast and how he had fulfilled tribal obligations by paying some form of compensation to Rosemary’s people in Enga Province.

But the young girl had taken his message the wrong way. To her, expressing his loneliness meant he was now available to accept another woman into his life.

Delisa knew him well. She had loved him for his generosity, care and advice. They had exchanged photographs but never met in person.

Delisa felt as if the Old Man belonged to her alone. No other woman must gris or seduce him.

As a thirteen year old, the girl had forwarded that initial text message to random numbers and had been happy when the couple had responded favourably to her request - total strangers who demonstrated kindness right from the start.

She asked herself, would this type of man not make a good husband irrespective of age? She convinced herself there was nothing wrong in marrying him now that Rosemary was dead.

Delisa was a child of Sepik and Morobe parentage who lived with her aunt’s family in a shack on an oil palm plantation compound near Lae. There was nobody to whom she was answerable or from whom she could seek advice or help.

Her mother encouraged her to keep writing to the Old Man; knowing he would provide the financial security her daughter needed. Such a man would not abuse her like younger men did these days. Her mother had provided key words and ideas in some of the text messages Delisa had sent.

Delisa told the Old Man he had rescued her from an uncertain future. She was now in the final year of nurse training and her fortnight pay would rightly his. She would live with him and work at one of the hospitals and clinics in Port Moresby. The future seemed set in Delisa’s mind.

It is common to see young girls getting married as the second or third wives of much older men. All that was needed was to pay bride to seal the union.

The Old Man almost gave in to the girl’s persistent requests to allow her to take Rosemary’s place in the house.

Her clear-headed approach to discuss openly an important issue revealed maturity and she showed ability in understanding sensitive matters with a tinge of genuine innocence.

His spirits lifted and he looked forward to her text messages. He also began to eat.

And an unexpected urge to again feel the closeness and the soft touch of a woman tugged at him. The thought stimulated him like breathing fresh air after being in a smoke-filled kunai house.

He realised how easy it was to just ask the girl to fly from Lae to live with him. He had the resources to do as he pleased. But the Old Man struggled to remove these thoughts from taking root in his distressed mind.

He was an eminent lawyer, diplomat and entrepreneur. He had established a well-known charity. He had used his position to advantage and accumulated wealth through property, law and investments.

Just as he and his wife, Rosemary were beginning to enjoy the benefits of their work, she had been killed before his very eyes.

Many women made passes at him after Rosemary’s death. The story was carried in the daily newspapers and on radio and TV.

As if on cue, one of his wife’s best friends, an attractive young divorcee, made passes immediately Rosemary’s burial. And there were others: a typist at another law firm; a shop assistant; a single mother; work acquaintances. But he had ignored them all.

He was perplexed at how cruel people were to take advantage of one’s loss – especially when he was in mourning. Did they know how much he had loved Rosemary?

He decided to disappear from the public domain and to live in isolation. He wanted very much to avoid such predatory women.

He was content living alone in his comfortable home on Paga Hill, an affluent suburb overlooking Port Moresby. Sometimes his children and with their families visited but most times he was alone.

The Old Man doubted that Delisa or any other woman would fill the empty space in his heart. A lifetime of dedicated love could not so easily be replaced. It was just not possible.

It had been Rosemary’s idea to acquire the land on which was built the family home. She had selected the site and designed the house to take in an unimpeded view of the sea.

They had gone on a pilgrimage to Israel and Jordan with a local church congregation and had seen the similarities of Holy Land hills and their own brown hills of Port Moresby in the dry season.

They had decided their home on Paga Hill should be based on middle-eastern architecture.

When it was completed, the white house with a shallow sloping roof was a distinctive landmark. It looked like the mansions they had seen along the Mediterranean coast. Or like properties they had seen on the hills at the Whitsundays on a trip to Australia.

The roof had a wide overhang that provided ample shade on the hottest of days. There were courtyards, arches and wide windows that allowed cool winds to flow freely throughout the house.

There was a barbecue area and swimming pool that glistened among lush bougainvillea, hibiscus, palms, cactus and shrubs that adding colour and freshness to the landscape.

In the dry season, the house and its gardens looked like an oasis in the desert, especially when the hooligans burned the grass on the low hills surrounding the property.

The Old Man and Rosemary had enjoyed this place so much together: the pink sunrises; seabirds floating on the waves; ocean liners from distant lands crawling through the narrow Basilisk Passage to berth in the Fairfax Harbor; fishing lakatois lazily tossing about in the afternoon breeze.

At other times they watched as tropical thunderstorms rolled down the harbour and past their windows, stirring up the ocean and the sky. They loved their abode. And in this home, the Old Man and Rosemary had raised their three children.

These thoughts flooded back as the Old Man sat holding a framed letter in his hands. Oblivious to time, he reminisced about life’s fruitful journey with Rosemary by his side.

The reverie was broken by the persistent cooing of a kolakau owl, reminding him to retire for the night.

The dark starless night outside belonged to ghouls, spirits of dead relatives, sangumas and sorcerers, who possessed dark powers which could eat the hearts of unsuspecting victims as they slept. People found dead in their beds next morning. People who had not been ill.

The Old Man shivered at the thought. Who would sound the alarm if something unexpected happened to him?

He felt too old to cry but the temptation to remarry overwhelmed him.

Yet, he could not imagine a strange woman lying beside him on the same old oak bed on which he had made love with Rosemary.

It seemed he was like the Flying Albatross, destined to mate with a single life partner. He wished he knew how the bird coped when its partner did not come home.

Education Minister Muki Taranupi congratulating Daniel after his first book
Then Education Minister Muki Taranupi congratulating Daniel after launching his first book in 1998

The Old Man carefully placed the framed letter in its place on the living room wall, changed into his night clothes and cried himself to sleep.

In the darkness outside, the kolakau continued to coo as if reciting the words on the framed love letter which the Old Man himself had penned. Words that promised Rosemary he would love her forever.

The echoes of the Old Man’s sobs reverberated gently through the rooms of the empty mansion.

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