FICTION - The Old Man had never imagined his life would end up like this when he and Rosemary agreed to help Delisa.
But now he had decided to marry this young woman, just a girl to him, late in life when the sun was setting.
He had always been faithful to Rosemary. After her death he lived in seclusion, away from women and away from intimacy. He had no desire for gambling joints, bars or hotels. He wanted solitude.
The truth is he felt guilty, soiled and immoral, even to consider marrying the young woman whom he had helped to attain an education.
The Old Man knew Delisa was in a family riddled with problems. But as he got to know more about the family he felt his heart was with them. They struggled with their troubles staunchly and with little complaint.
So he had adopted a new position. He wanted to use his experience, his skills and his wealth to assist them overcome their problems and succeed.
“The rich man’s daughter will marry a poor man’s son. A rich man’s son will marry a poor man’s daughter,” the elders had said in the hausman.
“Never complain or demand more bride price,” they had said. “Accept what is given with an open heart.”
The wisdom he had learned in the village when becoming a man had remained with him for life.
To The Old Man, Delisa was like the precious gold that men had searched for in the muddy squalor of Mt Kare or as they drove the huge machines that ripped apart Mt Waruwari to reach the treasure of Porgera.
To The Old Man, all people were cherished. He respected people, he cared about them, he helped those in need. He also knew that you had to get to know people to find their real qualities.
The elders had told him a man could transform a bog into bountiful kaukau patches. And that if transplanted in fertile soil, even a bush trampled on the wayside will yield good fruit, emanate an aromatic fragrance and provide shade on a hot day.
So The Old Man was determined to bring happiness to this poor family. He had already put Delisa through school and soon she would graduate from nursing college.
Now they would form a partnership to safeguard her family and ensure her younger siblings went to school and built a foundation to succeed in life.
He knew the importance of education. It had helped him every step of the way.
The Old Man decided to build a permanent house for Delisa’s mother on her block of land at the plantation near Lae. He intended that Delisa should have her graduation party at that same house among her mother’s people.
He wanted that to be the occasion at which he would make the announcement to marry Delisa. Then they would go together to Port Moresby.
He also decided to build two other houses – one for Rosemary’s relatives and the other for his own.
It was a cultural obligation to be fair to all relatives, especially at a crucial time like this – when he wanted to remarry.
If he failed to perform these customary duties, he would be ridiculed as a silly old man abandoning everybody else in favour of an unknown woman young enough to be his grand-daughter.
The Old Man had status in his community, and in his country for which he had been an ambassador and was still an eminent man. He had to maintain his respect, integrity and fairmindedness as well as his standing.
He knew how detrimental it would be to disregard traditional practices that had been established down the centuries to exhibit authority and to unite people.
Early one morning in July, five months before Delisa graduated, The Old Man received a phone call. Delisa sounded full of life and freely expressed love.
“Daddy, you slept well, ah? I was really cold last night.”
“Of course, I did, what is it?”
He was irritated that Delisa had brought back to his mind how, all those years ago at university, he had written to Rosemary to win her heart.
Rosemary had been young too, and expressed similar sentiments. He couldn’t erase the painful thought of betrayal that he was now talking with Delisa.
He shook his head as if to remove the thought. After all Delisa was a different young woman with feelings of her own and voicing a love that was hers.
“Daddy, my love, I hear your voice and I am excited. I send you all of me to you. I love you, I really do.”
“I have told you that I’m an old man. I love you as any man would – a child under his care. But you appear seriously eager for love.”
“I know, I know. I think old men look after their young wives with compassion. I don’t mind being with you. I have made the decision. Who is there to stop me loving you? And daddy, where are you from? Before where you are now?”
“From the Highlands. Didn’t you guess by my name? Akali Wakane, common enough in the Highlands.
“Oh, Daddy, you Highlanders marry a lot of women.”
“Not every Highlander. A few do. For instance, I don’t want to remarry but you’re so tempting, so sweet and attractive. But it’s shameful to me, though.”
“Shameful to who? Daddy, I love you. You and I must be together. Only a few months now before I graduate.”
“It might happen as you wish and hope. But keep your thoughts to yourself and study hard. I won’t be happy if you fail your exams after all the hard work.”
“My eyes are full of tears when I think of everything you have done for me. I will not fail you. You are like my father. It’s indeed shameful. But who cares? I have decided to be with you.”
“Point taken, but do not ring or send any more text messages. It will disturb your mind. You might fail your exams. I alone will contact you if need be.”
“OK. Goodbye daddy. I am satisfied with everything you told me. I am full. I will not call. But remember, your number is locked in my head. It will never be forgotten.”
“I am only concerned about the successful completion of your studies.”
“Daddy, I hear your voice but will I ever see your face. Will I ever?”
“The successful completion of your studies is the path to follow if you wish to see me. Put my name and number under your pillow, lock it in your head or anywhere safe, and study hard.”
The Old Man immediately phoned Delisa’s mother Japheth. He told her to restrain Delisa from calling him further to ensure she would devote full attention to successfully completing her studies.
He also established the exact location where Japheth and her children lived, and the name of her sister and her husband.
He asked her to get ready to pack up and resettle on her own block of land. Two of his relatives who worked at Bumbu oil palm plantation would help move her belongings.
The Old Man was about to engage contractors to build Japheth a new home. He would also do the same to build houses in Rosemary’s village, Kumdi in Jiwaka, and in his own village, Aiyokos in Enga.
“Mista Wakane, wanem nem bilong tupela man wok hia long Bumbu? Mipela gipim giraon igo long samplea Hailens man na ol stap wantaim mipela. Nogut tupela wantok stap hia tu.”
[Mr Wakane, what are the names of the two men from your place working here at Bumbu. We have given some blocks of land to some people from the Highlands and they live among us. Maybe your two wantoks live here.]
“I’ll find out and let you know. But please expect them anyway because I will be telling them to come over.”
“OK, bai mi weit na bungim tupela. Tasol yu mas tokim moa ol wantok bilong yu long kam daon long Bumbu. Planti giraon em stap o liken baim. Na mi bai painim wanpela poroman bilong mi namel long ol. Mi tok tasol.”
[OK I look forward to meeting them. You can ask more of your relatives to come down here to Bubu, my village. There is vacant land on sale. They can buy some land and develop it. I will look for a yukupae, a divorcee, among them.”
“That may be possible. But to find a partner, it might not work out in your favour.”
“OK gipim mi nem na namba bilong tupela wantok bai kam lukim mi.”
[OK. Then just give me the names and numbers of your two wantoks who will come to see me.”
“No, I don’t wish to give their numbers because I might cause problems in their families.”
“Yesa, yu tok stret. Planti hevi I wok long kamap insait long ol famili. Mi tu mi painim dispel kain hevi na stap. Yu gipim namba bilong mi igo long ol bai tupelo toksave long mi taim tupelo laik kam.
[Yes you are right, these sort of problems happen and we must avoid such situations. I am a victim of such a problem. But you give my phone number to them anyway to alert me when they are coming.]
“Mi nogat planti hevi. Tasol wanpela tasol stap. Sista bilong mi laikim mi marit bai wanpela man iken helpim mi long lukautim ol pikinini bilong mi. Tasol taim mi tok nogat em save krosim mi. Em tasol em hevi bilong mi.”
[I have no real problems except one. My sister wants me to get married so a man can help me look after my children and work my block of land. But when I refuse, she gets upset with me. This is the only problem I have in the house.]
“It may be that she wants you to move back to your own land. Her two bedroom house is full. Half the people in her house are you and your children.”
“Tenk yu. Mi bai mi muv igo long haus na blok bilong mi yet olsem mi tokim yu las taim.”
[Thanks, I will move immediately like I mentioned last time we talked.]
The Old Man contacted Neno Construction Company which had its head office in Lae and branches in Mt Hagen and Wabag. He had known Neno’s owner for many years and knew him to be efficient and honest.
He paid a large deposit and signed contracts that would have Neno complete the houses within four months at Bumbu in Lae, Kumdi in Jiwaka and Aiyokos in Wabag.
Only when the project management team was driving to Bumbu did he call Japheth.
He told her a team was coming to build a new family home on her land. He explained this was part of his plan for Delisa.
“When Delisa graduates, I would like her to go and live in a new home. So when the construction company come, show them where to build it.”
“Mi nogat toktok yah. Mi nogat toktok yah [I can’t speak, I can’t speak],” was all Japheth could manage. This was too much. A new house for Delisa.
“I’ll explain everything later when the house is finished. Just advise me about the progress of the project. And don’t tell Delisa. She will find out when she graduates. Will you keep the secret?”
“Mi bai mekim olsem na bihainim toktok bilong yu tasol. Yu trupela man yah. Mi nogat toktok.”
[I will follow your instructions. I will do that. You are a real man. I have nothing to say.]
A month later, relaxing on the verandah, The Old Man received a call from Delisa. He did not answer and kept reading the newspaper.
On the fifth attempt, he picked up the phone. There was silence at the other end before Delisa spoke.
“Good morning, daddy my love. I rang you many times and you didn’t answer. Why? Are you upset with me for some reason?”
“No, of course not. But I said I would call you.”
“I know, daddy, but I had to tell you. I am already on the peninsula.”
“Where, what peninsula? What happened?”
“Three of us from nursing school have just landed here on a speedboat for our practical attachment at Salamaua health centre. We’ll be here for three months. We’re being supervised by a young doctor who came to pick us up just now. Then we move to Angau hospital for a month’s practical there.”
“Good. How was the trip?”
“We got on the boat at Lae Yacht Club. Going through the waves was the most exciting part. I saw some big ships out to sea. Now I’m safe walking along the seashore and chasing seagulls.”
“OK, enjoy yourself. Stay away from the doctor.”
“Are you jealous?”
“How will I know?”
“Don’t worry, paps. I am yours.”