A note on the integrity of what we write
Leaving Covid behind with brush strokes

The Old Man ponders his lonely life

As the sun set over the low hills of Port Moresby, the Old Man would go to the veranda to read

| Edited extracts

FICTION - While the Old Man embraced the notion that he was like the Albatross, committed to one partner for life, he was finding it hard to cope with the agony of acute depression.

He had been so dependent on Rosemary. She had provided him with all the love a man could ever need. He felt her loss immensely. It was a burden too heavy to bear on his own. Perhaps he shouldn’t have loved her too much.

But gradually, the burden lifted and the memory of Rosemary faded to some deep recess of his mind. His wantoks had effectively talked him out of depression, an action that probably saved his life. Some encouraged him to remarry.

“A wife will die, your first child will die, your house will get burnt down, you will have a toothache but the pain doesn’t last,” wantoks told him. “Man has always faced these problems. You can rebuild your house, you can pull out the tooth and it’s okay to remarry.”

His children took turns to visit him from down south. He also received calls and text messages from Delisa, the young woman in Lae who had been a protégé of the Old Man and Rosemary.

Although he did not like her pestering him, neither did he ignore her. He began looking forward to her next text message. It kept his heart pumping.

As the Old Man regained his health and learned to do some household chores, he felt good to have wantoks around who provided advice. And the young woman roused his feelings to have an intimate relationship.

But yet, the Old Man still doubted if this girl or any other woman could match Rosemary, his wife of 45 years. He had never cheated on her, nor had any girlfriends. Rosemary was the only one he ever loved. She was always by his side and raised their three children.

Whenever his children visited him from Australia to keep him company, they prepared the same dishes Rosemary knew he liked.

Perfection was a meal of fresh meat, or fish, cooked in coconut oil with sweet potatoes, tapioca, taro or bananas and green vegetables. His children would place a hot, steaming plate before him and watch him devour its contents.

From their travels, Rosemary and the Old Man had occasionally brought string bags, paintings, tapa cloth, carvings and artefacts to decorate the house. The children now brought Aboriginal paintings and boomerangs from Australia and exotic rugs from the Middle East.

There was a particular watercolour from China showing a pair of swans swimming alone on the wide expanses of the Yangtze River. It depicted how the Old Man and Rosemary had worked hard to be successful in the real world. How thoughtful the gesture was from one of his children.

The children knew that their dad had loved their mum dearly and how much it hurt him that she was gone. Their childhood memories were vivid and the transparent, generous lives of their parents were qualities they emulated to enhance their own lives.

The Old Man was delighted to be the proud father of such understanding and meticulous children. Tears often blinded him as he walked through the empty house to view the elegant works of art.

‘Rosemary should be here with me to appreciate all this,’ he often said to himself.

On the living room wall, a place had been reserved for family photographs. Two pictures had been taken in front of the church altar after Rosemary and the Old Man exchanged rings and recited their marriage vows. The other was taken during their ruby anniversary celebrations. Their happy smiles seemed to encompass the whole house.

Every morning, just before he went to the veranda to read the newspapers with a cup of Kongo coffee, he would glance at the pictures and other displays– including the framed love letter he had written to Rosemary. And the picture of the young woman across the mountains in Wopa country.

The Old Man remembered the time he had written the love letter to Rosemary when they were at university. And he remembered that first text message from the young woman.

‘Hi, my name is Delisa. I am an orphan and live at Bumbu Oil Palm Plantation in Morobe province. My father died when I was seven years old. I stopped going to school because nobody could pay for my fees. I am now thirteen years of age. I live with my mother here on the plantation. Please help me.’

The Old Man had felt that first text was genuine and showed it to Rosemary. They had discussed Delisa’s predicament. They knew many children were deprived of an education and they were already helping many children. They decided to help this girl too.

The Old Man was a retired senior vice president of a major mining company. He owned a law firm, a charity and other businesses.  A former diplomat, he and his wife had enough of everything a man could ever need to see him through in retirement. 

Such a person of integrity and high standing cannot possibly deceive young girls.

And true to their word, Rosemary and the Old Man helped to pay the girl’s school fees. They contacted the school headmaster and confirmed that Delisa Ingirum had indeed left school. They paid her school fees directly into the school account.

They then sent some money through the post office for her stationery and other essentials. That’s how they’d been supporting the girl until she completed Grade 12 and started at the Lae School of Nursing to be a nursing sister.

They planned to attend Delisa’s graduation ceremony at the end of the year. But poor Rosemary was killed on the street. How could a generous woman like Rosemary lose her life in a most gruesome way?

Rosemary and The Old Man had just retired and beginning to enjoy the fruits of their work when she was snatched away.

Police were hot on the heels of a vehicle after a bank robbery in the Boroko area. The vehicle was headed down Two-Mile Hill on the Sir Hubert Murry Highway.

Rosemary and the Old Man were shopping in town as usual. The Old Man remained in their car reading a book of poems by the prominent Papua New Guinean poet, Michael Dom.

Rosemary was returning to the car, her arms full of grocery bags, when in the middle of the street the speeding vehicle knocked her into the other lane where a fully laden cargo truck smashed her to a pulp. Rosemary was gone in a lightening flash.

The Old Man ran across the street in an attempt to save his wife and fainted at the blood strained body, collapsing beside his beloved wife.

A young man picked up the Old Man, placed him in his car and rushed him to hospital. An ambulance showed up later and took Rosemary’s remains to the same hospital.

The Old Man never fully recovered. Even now, he could not erase the ugly scene from his mind.

The judge had sent the driver of the car to one year’s imprisonment for speeding causing accidental death having been unable to establish that he was a suspect in the robbery.

In the yard directly opposite the veranda, the Old Man planted a single rose plant on the day his dear wife was laid to rest in the public cemetery outside the city.

When the rose bloomed, the lustrous red petals reminded him of the deep love he had for Rosemary and of all the things they had done together.

Just as the rose grew stronger, the Old Man began to recover his health. He exercised regularly, telling himself he must live life and accept that Rosemary was gone.

One of the first things he did was use his contacts to track down the young man who had saved his life after the accident. It turned out he was a hawker and the Old Man meant to surprise him one day if he ever recovered properly.

On the auspicious day, the Old Man rang him from Ela Motors and when the young man arrived in his battered second-hand car, the Old Man handed him a key and pointed to the new Toyota Ten-Seater parked nearby.

“That’s yours. Drive it carefully. This is for saving my life,” said the Old Man.

The young man stood there in total surprise. He didn’t know what to say. He felt he did not deserve it. He had done what any person would have done. But he accepted the vehicle with gratitude and admiration.

Here was a good man who valued his life more than wealth and, after all, nobody took their worldly possessions with them to the grave.

The young man asked the Old Man if it was okay if he traded-in the 10-seater for a Coaster 25-seater bus?

“Of, course you can. I’ll do that for you now, if it’s a bus you want.”

The young man was to establish a PMV bus service. It flourished into a large fleet which traversed Route 11, the route on which Rosemary had died.

And so the days and months passed. Often, as the sun set over the low hills of Port Moresby, the Old Man would go to the veranda chair read.

Occasionally, he observed his neighbours in a nearby apartment - some men of his age, members of parliament he knew, had partners who at first he had thought were their daughters.

Sometimes he would hear the sound of utensils and window louvers breaking, accompanied by shrill cries. Every so often these unevenly matched couples fought and the fights would spill on to the street.

The Old Man was 60 now. He had married Rosemary when he was 20 and Rosemary 19. What he saw here in this rich neighbourhood confused him. Some of these feuding neighbourhood men were about the same age he was. He wondered how they met their young partners.

Maybe it was possible to ask Delisa to come and live with him. Why not, it was tradition to have multiple wives. Besides, he needed a woman in the house. He had shown his respect for Rosemary for a long time.

He had just walked inside to make himself another cup of coffee when a message buzzed on his mobile phone. ‘Dady, yu kolim mi nao. Mi laik harem yu ya!! Noken txt plis, kolim mi stret, Mi gat wanpela samting long tokim yu.’ [‘Daddy, call me now. Don’t write a text message. Just call me. I want to hear your voice right now. I have something to tell you.’]

It was Delisa.


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