FICTION - Japheth remembered that morning when The Old Man and his wantok from Bumbu Oil Palm Plantation breakfasted in her new house.
Japheth had welcomed the wantok and served him breakfast, seeming to recognise him but avoiding eye contact.
She knew her young son belonged to this man, he resembled him, but she did not want to talk about it at the time.
And now here he was, stepping out of the company car. The Old Man had told him to make sure that Japheth and her new home were protected from her former husband.
It seemed right to welcome him. After all, he was The Old man’s wantok and he had contributed K1,000 as bride price to Delisa. The wantok was now her tambu too and needed to feel secure.
The wantok spoke as if he read her mind.
“Japheth, yu tingim mi o nogat?”
[Japheth, do you remember me or not?]
“Nogat yah. Mi lus tingting, yu husait ken?” she lied.
[No, I don’t, who are you again?]
But the provocative smile gave her away.
And with nobody around, they began to talk freely.
“Dispela man em mi yah. Mi kisim yu go long haus blo mi last taim, yu tingim o nogat?” [I am he, the same person who took you to his house last time. Remember?])
“Oh OK, nao mi tingim. Delisa em marit long wantok bilong yu na yu tambu blo mi nao. Em stret ah?”
[Oh OK, I remember. Delisa married your wantok and now you’re my in-law. That’s right, isn’t it?]
“Tasol mi bilong narapela vilis. Mipela bilong wanpela lain tasol mipela save marit igo kam.”
[I’m from another village. We are from the same tribe but our people inter-marry.]
“Tasol yu peim bikpela monii long Delisa. Bilong wanem yu mekim olsem?”
[You paid a lot of money towards Delisa’s bride price. Why did you do that?]
“Em pasin bilong mipela ol Enga ya. Mipela save mekim olsem. Taim mipela stap longwei long ples, mipela save kamap brata tru.”
[It’s our way of life, Engans are like that. Once we are far from our province, we assist one another as blood brothers do.]
Japheth was mesmerised. This man had paid K1,000 towards Delisa’s bride price and other Engans who lived in Lae had also contributed. He was a wantok of The Old Man who had been sent to make sure she was safe.
The past didn’t matter. She had to show him respect. And she needed to feel safe with her ex-husband prowling around the neighbourhood.
The Old Man’s wantok gazed at Japheth as she stood deep in thought.
“Japheth, fren bilong mi, yu na ol pikinini stap orait?”
[Japheth, my friend, are you and the children OK?]
“Mi stap orait tasol mi poret tu yah.”
[I’m OK but afraid.]
“Wanem samting mekim yu poret?”
[What do you fear?]
“Kam insait long haus na bai mi tokim yu.”
[Come into the house and I’ll explain.]
Japheth took a 500ml Coke from the refrigerator and placed it and a glass on the coffee table.
The wantok filled the glass and took a sip.
“Tenkyu, em gutpela kol dring tru yu gipim mi.”
[Thanks, this is a nice cold drink you’ve served.]
The wantok already knew about the incident involving her former husband. Everything was there on Facebook. His wantoks in Lae knew about it too, and they were upset.
“Dispela longlong man lusim mi go yah, em kam krosim ol lain bilong mi na mipela poret stap.”
[This idiot who left me came and harassed my relatives. We’re worried.]
“Bilong wanem, na em laikim wanem?”
[What for, what did he want?]
“Em bin askim long sampela pei bilong Delisa mipela kisim yah. Em tok olsem Delisa em pikinini blo em na em mas kisim sampela pei tu. Tasol em lusim miplea long taim. Na nogat sem bilong em long kam askim.”
[He was asking for his share of the bride price because Delisa was his daughter. But he left us a long time ago. He should have been ashamed even to ask.]
“Na ol lain bilong yu ol ronim em?”
[Did your relatives do anything?]
“Em paitim em na raumim ol igo. Em mi kros tu. Em nogat sem long kam hia na askim long pei. Em ino laik kam taim yupela peim Delisa. Tasol nao mi poret iet.”
[They fought them and chased them away. I’m upset with him for demanding to get some of bride price payment. But he didn’t come on the day you guys actually paid the bride price for Delisa. But I’m still afraid.”]
The wantok told her to stay indoors for the next few days and to ring him immediately if her former husband came around. He was the oil palm company’s public relations officer and knew the local police. He would ask them to make regular patrols.
Japheth thanked him for offering to protect them and said she did not want any violence. She wanted the matter to be left with the police. A report had already been lodged.
The small boy wandered into the room looking for a cookie and sat beside the wantok, looking relaxed as he had the last time.
Before he left, the wantok placed a K100 note in the small boy’s hand. Japheth encouraged the boy to say ‘thank you.’
“Olsem na dispela boi em bilong mi. Lukim nus, pes bilong mitupela.”
[So, this boy is mine. Just look at us.]
From that day the wantok visited often and every fortnight gave Japheth money.
He explained that he had left his newly married wife at home in the highlands when he first came to work with the oil palm company.
He had intended to get a decent house before asking her to join him. But he had gone to the tavern and met Japheth.
When his new wife heard he had a new wife who had children from a village near the plantation, she had gone back to her village and later remarried. All the bride price had been lost.
“Dispela nupela meri ol tok mi maritim em yu Japheth. Tasol mitupela ino tru tru marit.”
[The new wife they accused me of being with was you Japheth. But we were never really married.]
“Nogat, mitupela ino marit. Tasol bia i mekim.”
[No, we weren’t. But beer united us.)
“Yesa, mi dring planti na bungim yu. Wanpela kranki man mas tokim meri bilong mi olsem mi marittim nupela meri.”
[We drank a lot and then some idiot told my wife I was with another partner.]
“Em bia tasol mekim na bagarapim mitupela wantaim.”
[It was the beer, yes, it wrecked us both.]
He told Japheth he had stopped drinking. He had learned his lesson. After his wife ran away, nobody in the village was interested to pay for a second wife. So he had remained single.
“Em mitupela wantaim mekim rong. Tasol mi stap yet,” Japheth said.
[Both of us made a mistake. And I’m still here.]
“Yes ya tasol mi sem ken taim mi lukim pikinini blo yu maritime bigpela wantok blo mi. Tasol olsem mi tok pinis, lain bilong mitupela save marit igo kam. Nogat samting wrong long mitupela stap wantaim.”
[Yes, but I felt shame and embarrassment especially when my wantok, The Old Man, came and married your daughter. But like I said, our people inter-marry back home. So there shouldn’t be any problem us being together.]
The wantok, like so many highlanders, was a straight talking man.
The more he frequented the house, the more secure Japheth felt. Sometimes she asked him to accompany her into town or to the market place.
This gave the outward impression she had married him and signalled to her former husband and his associates that they had better be careful.
Eventually, Japheth returned to the market and once again began selling peanuts, cigarettes and buai. The Old Man’s wantoks were among her best customers.
She felt secure. It seemed her life had turned around. The Old Man had once again made things better.