FICTION - The Old Man was glad, the nursing college graduation was only two weeks away and the three new houses had been completed in record time.
The house built for Japheth had three bedrooms, and was fully furnished. It had power and water connected complete with Tuffa storage tanks.
A portable power generator had been installed and was on standby in case the main power supply from Yonki failed, as happened regularly.
The other two buildings, one for Rosemary’s people and the other for his own village, were different in design. They were built on steel posts so the ground floor could be used as a shop. But they also had standby power generators and Tuffa tanks.
The Old Man flew to the highlands to hand over the keys to Rosemary’s people at Kumdi and his own relatives at Aiyokos.
He told his in-laws at Kumdi that he would leave the keys of the new shop with Rosemary’s last-born brother. He would stock the shop and a business group would be registered to run it as a cooperative entity involving the whole family. Everybody was satisfied and accepted this arrangement.
He then drove to Aiyokos and told his own relatives to look after the shop, which he would also stock. He said they must run the shop and his children would use the upstairs accommodation when they came on holidays from Australia.
He warned that if there was no proper house in the village, his children would never visit. If his relatives wanted to maintain a close relationship with the children, they had to take good care of the property with care.
He also warned them to refrain from involvement in tribal warfare. The keys were left with his own last-born brother.
At that point, The Old Man broke the news that he would marry a second wife who would soon graduate as a nurse. The bride price would be small as he had built a similar house for the bride’s mother on her block of land. Only food contributions would be required.
His relatives welcomed the news. They felt he must get married so someone would keep him company, cook for him, wash his clothes and look after him in his old age.
A few relatives advised him not to remarry. They were fearful the new woman might not be like Rosemary and might destroy everything he had established. Perhaps he should go to church, seek comfort in its sanctuary and end his days in peace.
But all agreed the decision was entirely up to him. If he had already decided to remarry, they hoped he had chosen the right girl. They had all loved Rosemary for her goodness. They hoped the new bride would be like her. Anyway, he was no ordinary man to seek advice from them.
“When you were small, you grew up in the hausman. We told you everything you needed to know. Now you are a bigman. We look up to you now. You decide what is best for you,” they said.
“Meri blo nambis, yupela noken wari,’ The Old Man said. “Em blo Lae, klostu ya. Bai yupela draiv igo daun, painim pis o buai na kam antap”
[“Don’t worry, the lady is from the coast. She’s from Lae, very close. You can drive down for fish or buai. And drive back again.”]
But yes, they thought he had selected a good girl from Morobe Province. Women from Wopa country were humble and respected their man. And since betel nut was a good money spinner, they could easily go down, establish trade relations and bring the buai to sell.
After such talk was exchanged, it was time for action. Highlands people never actively engage in talk if they have nothing to contribute. They were certain Akali Wakane had made the right decision. Now they would act.
A contribution of ten large pigs was determined. His in-laws at Kumdi had also contributed ten large pigs. Then The Old Man said he would hire two Dyna trucks. These would transport pigs, bananas, sweet potatoes, chickens, banana leaves, vegetables, taro and every other ingredient for a mumu feast down on the coast at Lae.
He selected a few of his relatives to travel with him down the Highlands Highway to prepare the feast and welcome the new bride to their tribe. Her graduation was to take place the day after tomorrow.
The Old Man rang Delisa and told her he would attend her graduation and host a feast at Bumbu village. He said he had sent money to her mother to prepare the party. But he did not tell Delisa the time of his arrival.
He said he hoped she had already received the money he had sent through the post office to hire the graduation gown, buy new clothes and for other expenses. Delisa thanked him and said everything was ready.
The Old Man then rang Delisa’s mother and asked her to decorate the house with curtains and flowers and to organise the landscaping with money he was sending her. He told her not to reveal any detail to Delisa about the new house. It would be a surprise for her during the graduation feast.
Just before he and his relatives set off for the coast, The Old Man sent an urgent message to Delisa.
‘I will be travelling down the Highlands Highway to attend your graduation as I promised. We will hold your graduation party in your village at Bumbu. Ring your mum to find out more details if you wish. Tell her the party will be a big one. And everybody who needs to be there must be notified now.’
In front of the college dining hall, Delisa stared at the screen in disbelief. This was the moment she had been waiting for. The Old Man was coming to her graduation after all.
Students hurried past her with curious glances as they rushed to their evening meal
Delisa read the message again and again.
‘I am doing all this because, you have always appeared genuine to me. You have not been like other girls who try to con people on the phone with fake messages. You never tried to hide your feelings. You never asked me for units or for cash. You have been honest and trustworthy.
‘As you know, I am a widower many years your senior. I have three children who are all working in Australia. I have to come to your graduation as this is the fruit of my efforts and your own commitment to your studies.
‘I am sure Rosemary, if she was still alive, would attend your graduation too. I know if she is watching from somewhere up there she won’t mind me coming to your graduation. So here I am, preparing to travel down the Highlands Highway.
‘Rosemary and I felt you had to go back to school. That was the best option there was for you. You listened to us – two total strangers. And this here is the result - I am travelling down the Highlands Highway to reap the fruits with you.’