FICTION - Delisa was convinced the Old Man would accept her into his now empty life if he knew the real story behind her father.
Her father was not dead, as had been her original invention. She felt it was time to tell the whole truth.
She wanted to avoid disharmony and embarrassment later when they lived together. For Delisa it was ‘when’, not ‘if’.
She had claimed in that first text message all those years ago that she was an orphan. But her father had in fact abandoned her mother in favour of a second wife when Delisa was about five years old.
The rest of her story had been true. She had nobody to pay her school fees. She had to withdraw from studies. She and her mother were living with her auntie in a small, crowded shack on a plantation.
Thanks to The Old Man and his equally generous wife, she was now about to graduate from nursing college. She felt ashamed for lying about but felt it was one a necessary lie people fabricate to achieve a good result.
To make up for that and to express her gratitude, she intended to commit her life to him if they married. She vowed to look after this generous man in his old age.
But first she had to apologise.
If The Old Man did not accept her contrition, she planned to fly to Port Moresby to find him immediately after she graduated. She would surprise him. That was her contingency plan.
“I asked you to ring me so I can apologise for lying to you,” Delisa told The Old Man on the phone. “My dad did not die. He is still alive somewhere with his second wife.
“I am ashamed to reveal the truth now but please accept my apologies. I will ask my mum Japheth to explain everything.”
The Old Man listened quietly, intently.
He was not impressed but understood the situation. He had guessed that Delisa was lying to him on a number of other occasions. He had kept quiet. But now he had to tell her that lying and deceiving people was a bad habit.
“Delisa, don’t do it. It is a bad habit. I will pull your ears if I ever see you.”
“I’m sorry. But pulling my ears… well that’s okay. The owner can do anything he pleases.”
The Old Man found her soft voice soothing. He liked that gentle, playful voice. She may have lied but the main thing was she had the guts to confess. He could forgive her.
She viewed him as any guy out there from among whom she could claim a soulmate. Many young girls were now marrying older men.
“I understand you were in an unfortunate situation,” he said. “Yes, do let your mum explain how your father abandoned you. This is an opportunity to speak to her too after all these years. It would be a pleasure to hear her voice.”
The Old Man didn’t like people who lied, but then Delisa was a child he had rescued from possible abuse. She could easily have ended up on the streets of Lae city. Most exploited girls ended up on the streets in the night. She was now attempting to clean up her past to face the future with a clean slate.
The Old Man asked Delisa to hand her phone to Japheth if her mum was available. Indeed, she was standing right there listening happily to everything that had been discussed.
Japheth had been hoping for some time to talk with this generous man. She knew Delisa was his. The salary she earned would be his, everything she owned would be his. Delisa owed him her success.
“It is brave of Delisa to reveal the truth about her father” he Old Man began. “I always thought he died in his sleep.”
“Sori tru pikinini gal ya em giamanim yu stret. Mi no save blo wanem em mekim olsem. Tasol yu hatwok pinis. Klostu em bai pinis skul na wok. Mi tok tenk yu long yu.” [I am very sorry the girl told lies. I don’t know why she did that. But you have done the hard work. She will soon work. I only have to thank you for that.]
“It’s OK. My late wife and I were planning to attend Delisa’s graduation until Rosemary was killed in the traffic accident.”
“Mi bin sorry long harim em dai olsem. Delisa tokim mi dispela stori na mi bin sori tru.” [I was sorry to hear your wife died in a nasty accident. Delisa told me about it.]
“Thank you for your concern and sharing the pain. But such is life. One must accept challenges and learn to cope.”
“Plis yu mas save olsem mipela ol meri nogat wanpela strong. Mipela olsem Eva, isi long miplea wokim sin. Plis lus tingting rong blo Delisa. Mi ting, yu wanpela man blo God. Na yu bin salim Delisa igo sku. Klostu em bai pinis.” [Please know that we women do not possess a lot of strength. We are like Eve, easy to succumb to temptation. Please forgive Delisa. But I know you are a man of God. You have helped me a lot by putting Delisa through school. Now she is about to graduate from college.]
Japheth had attended school up to Grade 5 and married a Sepik in 2003, the father of her two children. His had run off with a new wife who had fooled him into abandoning the children.
Japheth said her family, especially her sister, looked after her children when she was frequenting the tavern. Her dad had abandoned them when Delisa was doing Grade 6. They lived on royalties from Bumbu Oil Palm and sales from the market.
“Nambawan pikinini bilong mi em Delisa. Em wokim grade 6 na papa em ronawei long mipela. Namba tu pikini em stap long primary skul nao. Mi laik tok tu olsem mi gat wanpela moa pikinini em stap long haus. Tenkyu tru long harim na God bless yu.” [My first born is of course Delisa and she was in Grade 6 when my husband abandoned us. The second born is in primary school now. To be honest, I have one more child who is still at home. Thanks always for listening. God bless you.]
And there the conversation ended.
The Old Man told Delisa his real name was Akali Wakane, thus the name of his and Rosemary’s charity. He had never told Delisa his real name in all the years he paid her fees.
But today was a special day. He had to tell them his name. He felt he would be part of this family permanently and they had to know his name.
From that day on, the messages and telephone calls he received from Delisa were regular, intense and full of explanation.
‘Hello Daddy,’ Delisa began her next message to The Old Man. ‘My mum’s husband married a new wife and took her to his village in East Sepik Province. My mum waited for him for many years before she decided to forget all about him. She was frustrated and took to drinking and staying all night at the local tavern, striking up conversation and stuff like that with strange men. She nearly ruined all our lives. She should have considered remarrying instead of running loose.’
‘Sad times but you managed to live through.’
‘When my mother left us alone in the night I started writing random texts to get help from anybody out there. Only when she saw me going to school with the fees paid for by a strange man did she begin to settle down to look after me and my siblings.’
‘It’s good she settled down again.’
‘Daddy, she got pregnant, felt ashamed and stayed in the house. I cannot pretend anymore and tell lies to you. I felt strongly that you are a respected man. You are generous. I had to admit that my father left us when I was doing Grade 7. I also have two other siblings. One is in school and the other is a small boy who is too young to attend school. My mum works very hard to look after us. I am lucky I found you. I am entirely yours. I ask you again to come to my graduation.’
‘My story was a bit like your mum’s. But I was ably assisted by Rosemary to give our children an education. We have helped many other needy children too. I do not promise, but I will try to attend your graduation ceremony. I hope your dad attends it too. He should be proud. After all he brought you into this world. And did you say you have one other sibling?’
‘Please don’t talk about bringing my dad into my life. He nearly ruined me. Daddy, I am telling you, when I pray, I cry uncontrollably. You tell me things as if you are my real father. When you came into my life, you took my father’s place. I don’t need him now. You are everything in my life. And yes I have one other sibling, a boy. He is from another man my mum got hooked up with in the tavern. She didn’t know who was responsible. I am embarrassed. Her extra child was the reason she settled down to sell peanuts and buai at the market. If not, my auntie would have chased all of us out of the house.’
The Old Man began to understand the real poverty Delisa was accustomed to. He felt he had definitely saved her life by enrolling her in school.
‘Now I see the conditions you have lived in. I am sorry. But you will make it. Your life will never be the same. I will be right beside you.’
The following weekend when Delisa visited her mum and siblings at the plantation compound, The Old Man got into conversation with Japheth.
He discovered she was indeed an original landowner on which the oil palm plantation. She had met her former husband who was a mechanic when he was recruited to work in the workshop to fix farm machinery.
Japheth’s father gave them some land to settle on. They had built a semi-permanent house and planted vegetable gardens in the back yard. They lived a simple but good life until the husband ran away.
Unknown to her, he had been unfaithful. He got a village girl pregnant. And when the relatives became aware, he escaped with her to his village in the Sepik.
Japheth didn’t know where he was now. In her frustration she had frequented the tavern and ended up with another child.
Her sister took pity on Delisa and her siblings. She took them to her small shack on the company compound. It was always full. But she didn’t mind. That was where Delisa grew up.
Japheth also lived there. Her relatives had expelled her from her block when she continued to drink at the tavern and took men home or went off with them. She ended up with an illegitimate child which brought shame to her relatives.
Her sister also threatened to expel her with her children if she did not settle down to look after them. She had taken pity on her children because she didn’t like to see the innocent children suffer.
Japheth finally came to her senses and settled down. She was able to look after her children from market sales and royalty payments from the oil palm company. The Old Man had rescued them, especially Delisa.
“Sapos Delisa marit ol pei bai yu kisim. Na fotnait pei, em tu bai yu kisim. Yu helpim em moa na Delisa em blo yu tasol.”’ [If Delisa marries, you will receive the bride price. Her fortnightly pay too will be yours. Delisa is yours alone.]
“I am sorry to hear all this. Many women suffer terribly in the hands of abusive husbands. Be strong and derive strength from the fact that you are in your own village. Go back to your block of land and live there. Your sister’s house is crowded. Look after your children on your own block of land. They will make you happy one day.”
“Bai mi go bek long blok bilong mi iet olsem yu tok. Na mi tu ibin tingting long go bek tu. Mi bai tok sori long ol lain bilong mi na go bek.” [I will go back to live on my block of land as you say, in fact I have been contemplating returning there lately. I will apologise to my relatives and go back there.]
“Yes go back. Do not stay in the crowded house. Leave your sister alone. Give her breathing space.”
“Bai mi go bek. Mi bin dring planti. Olsem na ol lain bilong mi rausim mi. Sista bilong mi sori long ol pikinini na kisim ol igo long haus bilong em.” [I will go back in a couple of days. I was drinking too much. When my relatives expelled me, she felt sorry for the children and took us in.]
“I applaud your sister.”
“Man bilong em tu em wanpela gutpela man. Na tupela ibin gutpela lang mi na ol pikinini bilong mi.” ‘Her husband is also good. They have been kind to me and my children.]
“Of course, you are indeed right. Delisa has been my sole responsibility, now and for always.”
Those last few words. Did Japheth hear them right? Would The Old Man marry Delisa? She wanted to believe so and felt like going to the tavern to celebrate.
Only the sound of her gently snoring children in that small crowded room brought her back to her senses.