FICTION – When Delisa read the text message from The Old Man, she was stunned.
‘I have to come to your graduation as this is the fruit of my efforts and your own commitment to your studies,’ the crucial line had said. The Old Man would be there. He would come to her graduation.
Delisa no longer felt like eating. She hurried back to her room and read the message again. She was excited beyond belief and wept so much her tissues ran out.
She always had known this man was a gentleman. The tears continued as she read again the words illuminated on her phone screen.
‘Thank you,’ she texted back between sobs. ‘I always wanted to see you. It will be possible now.’
The Old Man was still working to prepare for his trip from the highlands to Bumbu.
He rang Delisa’s mum, Japheth, and asked her to meet him and his group at Airiku in Lae City, so she could lead them to the Bumbu block – and the new house.
They would arrive between 5 and 7pm the next day. He asked her not to tell Delisa of his arrival time. He did not wish to mess up her program. She had to stay at the college. He wished to meet her after she had graduated.
The group’s trip down the Highlands Highway in its five vehicle convoy was eventless except for a road block at a village near Warabung. Youths were demanding fees of K50 from each motorist at the site where a landslide had partially blocked the road.
They reached Lae about 6pm. A young woman with a young boy waved them down near Klinki Lodge on Boundary Road. A few men were with her. The trucks came to a halt. The woman with the child broke into tears and lurched towards the first vehicle where she guessed The Old Man sat.
The Old Man stepped out of the car and held Japheth and the child in his arms. She wept uncontrollably. He placed his hands on her shoulders and comforted her. They remained like that for a while.
“It’s OK, I am here to help you,” he said softly.
“Tasol mi no ting yu bai mekim olsem. Mi no ting yu bai kam olsem. Mi no wanpela gutpela meri na bai mi mekim wanem yah. Yu wokim nupela haus tu na plis. Mi no save bai mi mekim wanem.”
[“I didn’t think you would come like this. I didn’t think you would come at all. I’m a poor woman. What will I do? You have built a new house too. I just don’t know what to do.”
Japheth choked back her tears.
It was all too much to comprehend. Five vehicles loaded with people, pigs, chickens and all the food. She wasn’t used to this sort of support for her daughter. She didn’t deserve this sort of treatment.
The Old Man’s relatives had quickly guessed the identity of the woman. Passers-by cast curious glances at this strange spectacle – a coastal woman crying and an important looking Highlands man comforting her. They did not know this was Japheth, Delisa’s mum, meeting The Old Man for the first time.
Finally, Japheth calmed down and looked up at The Old Man. Both had tears in their eyes. His arms were still on her shoulders as the tears continued to flow.
Japheth was young, maybe 40, tall and with an athletic build. Perhaps she was a former soccer player. Or perhaps she worked a lot in the gardens. It didn’t appear as if she was the mother of three children. Why had her husband left her for another woman if it was beauty he had been after?
After a while, Japheth shook hands and hugged everybody who had driven down from the Highlands. Then she guided them towards Malahang Road past the teachers college, veering right along the coast towards Sipaia. They passed past mile after mile of large oil palm plantations where healthy cattle lay under the palm trees in the cool of the evening chewing grass.
Japheth then led them to Bumbu, her village, and to her block where a handsome new building stood. The Old Man liked the location instantly and was impressed with the house and how it was decorated.
And he liked the people too. They were friendly and did not look aggressive like his highlands people. There only noise was the muffled sound of the ocean rolling on to the coastline. The bubu villagers stood and watched from their buai and food stalls. The highlanders stared back at them from the trucks.
The Old Man shook hands with Japheth’s children and her many other relatives. Brief introductions were made all around, the visitors shown their accommodation and, after the pigs and food were unloaded from the vehicles, a meal was served. The new house would not be used until it was officially opened after Delisa’s graduation followed by a big feast the next day.
The people of Bumbu had prepared well in anticipation of this moment. They highlanders were made to feel welcome and shown much respect. This was a meeting between two different cultures. There was a hope the friendship would last.
Everybody sat around talking and getting to know each other late into the night. The Old Man excused himself and drove to the Lae International Hotel to retire. He rang Delisa before he went to sleep. He told her he had arrived safely and was resting at the hotel and that he would be at her graduation ceremony next day.
“You didn’t tell me the exact time you would arrive here,” Delisa sounded disappointed.
“My apologies. But your mother met us. All went well and my relatives are staying with your people at Bumbu village.”
“But you came for me didn’t you? I should have been there to meet you and your people. I have been longing to see you.”
“Absolutely right, but I didn’t want to disturb your program. There is time for us to meet tomorrow.”
“Come now and pick me up. I want to see you now.”
“You have an important day tomorrow and must rest. Our meeting can wait.”
“Aiyo plis, yu wanem kain man yah?” Delisa sighed. “What kind of man are you?”
“Be patient. We have all the time in the world. Good night,” The Old Man said, switching off his phone.
The Old Man had noticed that for the first time Delisa had dropped the word ‘Daddy’ when talking with him. But her voice was soothing and as sweet as ever even though she was a little emotional about not meeting him that night.
He rolled the bedcovers over and slipped between the sheets and was quickly asleep anticipating a fresh start tomorrow.
But Delisa did not sleep. She lay wondering what life would be like with this extraordinary old man who had travelled from Port Moresby to the Highlands and then down the Highlands Highway to attend her graduation.