The Old Man begins a new life
04 May 2021
FICTION – As soon as Delisa returned from the college with her belongings she went straight to Japheth’s new house to pack properly.
She decided to leave most of her possessions behind and pack just her clothes, a few personal items and educational certificates.
As she did this, The Old Man supervised his wantoks as they lined up the pigs, largest to smallest, in the backyard.
When she finished packing, Delisa came down from the house and stood with her mother and her relatives.
In another area, The Old man stood with the wantoks who had travelled down the highway with him.
Other wantoks who lived in Lae city stood elsewhere among the many spectators who had come to witness the bride price payment.
This was a big event in the history of the Bumbu village and the news had spread that an important man from the highlands was here to pay bride price for a local girl.
The Old Man stepped into the space between the groups and delivered a short speech. He said although he was much older than Delisa, marrying a second or younger wife was an age-old practice in the Highlands.
As was custom, there would be a bride price. After that, he and Delisa would depart that afternoon for Port Moresby.
But if Delisa, her mother or any relative objected to the idea, he said, this was the time to say so. He would accept their decision and take his pigs back to the highlands.
“Husait bai tok nogat? Mi mama bilong Delisa nogat wanpela tok. Em bai kam wantaim yu long Mosbi,” Japheth was the first to speak out. [Who will object. I, Delisa’s mother, am speechless. I have nothing to say. She will come with you to Port Moresby.]
Japheth was showing a new strength and assurance after the events of the last two days. She told the gathering she was confident The Old Man would look after Delisa well and she didn’t mind her going with him to Port Moresby.
In fact, Japheth revealed, she had always wanted Delisa to be with The Old Man ever since she had heard how Rosemary had tragically lost her life.
“Delisa mas kam wantaim yu. Mi no ting olsem yu bai wokim haus. Mi no ting olsem yu bai wokim bikpela mumu. Mi no ting yu bai gipim pei na mekim olgeta samting long sem taim.
“Yu wanpela gutpela man. Mi laikim yu stret. Igat samplea man em ol stap longlong. Ol pipia man save lusim meri pikinini na ronawei wantaim yanpela meri. Nogat sem bilong ol.
“Ol man mas save olsem olgeta meri em wankain. Ol gutpela man save lukautim ol meri pikinini gut. Mi wanbel long yu soim gutpela pasin. Tenk yu tru long olgeta samting.”
[Delisa must come with you. I never expected a new house. I did not expect any big party. I did not expect any bride price payment all at the same time.
[You have demonstrated goodness. I admire you. There are other men who are foolish. They abandon their wives and children at the sight of new woman. Shame on them.
[Every man must understand that all woman are of the same anatomy. Real men look after their wives and children well. I admire you for everything you’ve done. All men who abuse and mistreat their wives must learn from you. Thank you for everything.]
The new house, Japheth said, would really belong to Delisa. If Delisa ever gave birth, Japheth’s grandchildren would live there. This would be their permanent home in the village. She would look after the property for Delisa.
One of Japheth’s brothers expressed similar sentiments. He had never seen anything like it in his life. Giving an education to a strange girl, building a house for her mother and paying bride price for the hand of a girl was amazing.
He thought society had changed completely but The Old Man was a real gentleman who observed and practiced the age-old customs and traditions. It was good to know the cornerstones of communal living had been passed on from generations before.
“Wanaku naim diu lelyamin ongo, kinde maipoko,” one of The Old Man’s wantoks called out in their Enga dialect. [They are giving us the girl. Go ahead and pay the bride price.]
The Old Man nodded his head and looked around to see if anybody else from Delisa’s people wanted to say something. Nobody did. They were ready to give Delisa to The Old Man.
The Old Man continued his speech. He said he had paid much for Delisa’s education and building the new home. Now, he wanted to complete the joining together by giving Delisa’s people fifteen and a little cash he had on hand.
He would continue to help the family, he said, to ensure Deisa’s two younger siblings received an education. He encouraged those present to send their children to school.
Parents must work hard to send their children to school. He told them about his charity that helped needy children. If there were any very poor people in the village, they could ask for help by writing to him.
Then he asked one of his wantoks to count the pigs as he announced that K40,000 in cash would be added as part of the bride price payment
At this point, the wantok who had come to the house that morning, announced he was paying K1,000 as his contribution. He said he was happy to see a young woman from the coast marry a man from his highlands tribe. He asked Delisa to take the money from him.
As she walked towards him, other people from Lae’s Enga community offered contributions of cash. Delisa went from person to person and the little bilum she carried soon filled with notes. Her mother and relatives just stood and watched in awe. They had been shocked into silence.
One of The Old Man’s wantoks from Lae then made a speech. He was happy that an influential Engan leader and statesman would be amongst them in Lae. The block on which the new house stood now belonged to Engans.
When the contributions were counted, they totalled more than K20,000. With The Old Man’s own cash payment, the bride price total stood at K60,000 and fifteen pigs.
The Old Man said he didn’t expect any help from anybody living in Lae but he was pleased and surprised by the generosity of the Lae Engans. He thanked them for welcoming him to the city. He felt proud that the rich Engan cultural heritage of sharing and giving was still alive.
Then he asked Delisa, a wantok from Lae and two others from his highlands home to join him in deciding how the cash and pigs would be distributed.
They decided that K20,000 and three pigs would go to Japheth and her children while Japheth’s sister and her husband would get K15,000 cash and two pigs.
Ten pigs and K20,000 would be distributed among Japheth’s people from Bumbu village. The remaining K5,000 would be deposited in a long-term savings account for Japheth’s two youngest children.
Everybody seemed happy with the distribution. Indeed, there was no reason for anybody to complain. They had never expected such a generous payment after he had built a house costing many, many thousands of kina.
Besides, who expected hat a fatherless child who grew up in a plantation compound would bring such pride to her mother and relatives?
The Old Man gathered his wantoks who had come with him from the highlands. He explained that this girl he had married was a member of their tribe from now onwards. He would now give them some money, enough for fuel and expenses on the road home.
He also gave extra cash to his dead wife’s younger brother and three others who had come with him on the trip. It was customary to give them something. Apart from the fuel money, he gave them an extra K5,000.
Custom was important. Fairness had to be maintained, even though Rosemary was dead. She had left behind children. She was represented in life. Her presence was unavoidable.
There were many thanks from his highlands wantoks. They were all in this together. They would only accept the fuel money because the vehicles needed fuel. They felt Delisa would look after The Old Man well. She would take Rosemary’s place and be fair to her children.
Everything was drawing to a close. The Old Man’s relatives packed two sides of pork in two big eskies as well as some vegetables he would take to Port Moresby. They would drive The Old Man and Delisa to Nadzab Airport.
After the aircraft disappeared to the south, they would take to the vehicles and start the long drive back to the highlands and home.
Finally, The Old Man bade the people of Bumbu farewell.
Delisa hugged her mum, aunt, siblings and uncles then followed The Old Man to one of the vehicles. The Old Man would drive and Delisa now sat beside him. There was little spoken on the short trip to the airport. Each person was alone with their thoughts and hopes.
The Old Man and Delisa sat together for the hour-long flight to Port Moresby, Delisa at the window. Soon after take-off she spotted Bumbu Oil Palm Plantation, then the village. She could see where the new house might be and visualised Japheth and her siblings sitting inside.
She thought she saw the roof shining among the towering palm trees but it could have been an illusion. Her life was now moving fast, as if she was on a conveyor belt. Delisa didn’t think she would really miss anybody.
She was safe in the air with The Old Man sitting right beside her. She had been dreaming so much of this man and wanted just to touch him, speak to him and be close to him.
She wondered that his character was so different. He had displayed love, care and respect for her and her people. He had shown that both of them could bridge different cultures. Such had to be respected. He was a special person. She was a special person. Every human was.
But something kept disturbing her young mind like a mist that kept returning. Why hadn’t The Old Man make advances when he could have? When most men would have. He had a car. He was booked in a hotel room all to himself. Why didn’t he take advantage of her vulnerability?
Would he avoid her in Port Moresby too?
She hated the nagging thought and leaned closer to The Old Man and fell asleep on his shoulder.
She dreamed that tonight her doubts would be cleared when a young woman stood alone before him in his mansion.
The moon would float past slowly casting its faint light through the window. It would know her fate.
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