Barets, barter & buai on the Sepik
19th century capitalism just moved offshore

Hearts, fine food and revolution


FICTION - The Old Man said he would drop Delisa at the hospital and get her at a quarter to twelve to go for lunch at Ribito Grill and Restaurant.

“You’ll meet the remarkable young man who saved my life,” he said. “I wouldn’t be alive today if it wasn’t for him. I had passed out.”

The Old Man had taken the long route to the hospital through Sabama, Kaugere and Vabukori. He wanted to drive by Ela Motors where he had bought the twenty-five-seater Toyota Coaster for the young man to thank him for saving his life.

He was looking forward to meeting him at lunch and finding out how he had done since then.

Delisa said she would ask Sister Mercy Ultange if she could take her lunch break 15 minutes early and be a bit late getting back.

The Old Man planned to arrive at the restaurant early so they could welcome the young man and his wife.

As they sat at their table, just before the minute hand struck twelve, they saw a new five-door maroon SUV park in front of the restaurant.

Through the window, they watched a well-built young man step out of the vehicle and, from a rear seat, extract a small girl in his arms before moving to the passenger side and helping a young woman out. She was obviously in an advanced stage of pregnancy.

“Phew!” gasped Delisa. “This is a scene from colonial times.”

Delisa immediately recognised the young woman. She was one of the mothers who came for regular check-ups at the maternity clinic. They would definitely recognise each other in the restaurant. A permanent friendship was in the making.

Delisa and The Old Man stood up to greet the couple as they made their entry. They shook hands and sat down at the round table. They had met like old friends. It was like a family reunion. It was a moment to remember.

The Old Man and Simon Kerowa had last met at the Ela Motors showroom when the bus had been gifted. Simon was single then and The Old Man recently bereaved. Now they were meeting for the first time in their new lives.

“Hi bestie, what’s your name?” said The Old Man sitting the small girl on his lap. She did not panic like some small children do.

‘Wane wanakupi koo dupame imbanya mono kandenge.’It was an old Engan saying – ’Small boys and girls will sense your heart.’ The child had seen a friend of her father, a man she could trust.

“Her name is Lewa,” Simon said. Then switched to Tok Pisin so his wife could follow the conversation. She could understand English but not speak it fluently.

“Na dispela em mama bilong dispela liklik gel, Bakri Kerowa,” Simon explained. “Em bilong Baiyer River. Ol lain bilong em save stap long boda na em save liklik tokples Enga. Na mi Simon Kerowa bilong Mul stret. Tasol yupela save, Mul-Baiyer em wanpela distrik long Westen Hailens.”

[And this is the mother of the little girl, Bakri Kerowa. She is from Baiyer River. Her tribe is from the border area and speak a little of the Enga language. And I am Simon Kerowa, from Mul. You know Mul Baiyer is a district in the Western Highlands.]

As they settled down a waiter came and took their orders. The Old Man continued the introduction.

“Nem bilong mi Akali Wakane, mi bilong Aiyokos long Enga. Na em Delisa, em West Sepik Morobe kainkain. Na Simon, yu save taim namba wan meri bilong mi em dai, mi maritim em Delisa.”

[My name is Akali Wakane from Aiyokos in Enga. And this is Delisa of Sepik and Morobe parentage. Simon, as you know, my first wife died and I have married Delisa.]

Delisa added to The Old Man’s words.

“Mi amamas long bungim yutupela na liklik pikinini gel. Na Bakri, mi save bungim yu long klinik, na mitupela save tok halo tasol. Mi save ting yu narapela meri tasol nao mi bungim yu na mi amamas tru.”

[I am happy to meet you both and the small girl. And Bakri, at the clinic we only said ‘hello’, but now I am happy to meet you properly in person.]

“Yesa, mi save ting yu wanpela nambis meri bilong narapela man tasol, nao mi save gut tru long yu na mi amamas,” Bakri Kerowa replied.

[I used to think you were from the coast and the wife of somebody else but now I know you properly. I am happy.]

The two women glanced at each other’s bellies and nodded. Their warm smiles confirmed their friendship.

“Mi klostu nine mun, na mi bai kam long haus sik liklik taim,” Bakri said.

[I am nearly nine months pregnant and it’s not long before I’ll be in hospital.]

Em mi bai stap na helvim yu, yu noken wari,” Delisa assured her. “Mi stap bel sevenpela mun tasol. Mi bai wok stap iet long helvim yu.”

[I’ll be there to help you, don’t worry. I’m only into my seventh month.]

The Old Man and Simon Kerowa listened, delighted to hear their wives reassure each other that everything would be fine.

Mi bin wari tumas taim mi karim liklik Lewa tasol ol gupela sista long haus sik helpim mi na mi karim em isi,” Bakri said. “Yu iet yu sista na planti ol wanwok bilong yu bai helpim yu so yu noken wari.”

[I was worried when Lewa was born but trained sisters at the hospital really made things easy. And you’re a nurse and you have many colleagues to help so you’ll be fine.]

The Old Man explained to Delisa and Bakri how, after the accident that killed Rosemary, Simon had picked him up off the road and rushed him to hospital.

He said he had mourned for Rosemary for a long time but had remarried Delisa nearly a year ago. He turned to Simon.

“You surprised me yesterday, Simon. How have you been doing? A beautiful wife, a cute little child, a new car. Impressive. I see success written all over you.”

“I owe it to you, sir. In fact you surprised me at Ela Motors that day. Remember? You transformed my life. I’d been struggling on the street hawking merchandise from China. Sometimes I sold buai and drinks for extra cash. I happened to be in downtown Moresby when the accident occurred.

“There was nothing anybody could do to save your wife. I saw you run blindly towards her, but she was already dead. It was terrible. You collapsed where she lay.” Simon paused as the memory returned.

“I picked you up, put you in the back of my old car and rushed you to emergency. The doctors and nurses revived you. Those were the circumstances in which we met.”

The Old Man’s head was bowed.

“I visited you several times but when I saw you would recover, I did not come anymore. If I missed a day selling, I would not eat that night. Then you rang me. Then … that brand new bus.”

Simon Kerowa stopped. His voice broke. Tears formed in his eyes. He excused himself and went to the rest room. By the time he returned food was being served.

“Let us eat first,” The Old Man said. “Then continue with your story. Nogut liklik Lewa hangre na mipela toktok tasol igo.” [Otherwise, little Lewa might be hungry if we don’t stop.]

They laughed and attacked the steaming food.

“I cannot adequately describe how I felt to own a bus,” Simon continued after they’d eaten. “My wantoks spoke so highly of you. Some of them knew you as a generous man, with your charity and head of a well-known law firm.”

He had registered the bus as a city PMV and requested the Boroko–Town Konedobu route. It reminded him every day of the precious life that was taken and how he was rewarded for being a Good Samaritan.

Simon’s life in the city had been a struggle. He had been accepted into a program at university after he completed Mul Secondary School and stayed with wantoks to attend lectures.

In the mornings and evening and at weekends, he’d sell on the street. In his second year, he had saved The Old Man.

At first, he hired a driver and crewman to run his new bus. After two months he suspected the crew was stealing some of the takings. So, he sacked him and collected the money himself. His income escalated.

It was then abandoned his studies and decided he would forego a degree for life as a full-time entrepreneur.

He worked hard and soon added two more buses. And then another two. Five buses running on his favourite route.

His relatives in the village asked him to come home to get married. He knew who to marry, Bakri Kerowa, who had been in Grade 9 when he was in Grade 12.

Bakri had completed Grade 12 but was one of the many who could not get a scholarship. That’s when he married her. Now they had a girl and soon to have a second child.

The years had been good to him. He was firmly established in the transport sector and planned to soon venture into real estate.

The Old Man sat listening to this impressive young man. That was a fine story of achievement.

Simon produced a small bag and handed K50,000 for The Old Man. He presented a smaller envelope containing K6,000 for Delisa.

“This is a lot of money, Simon,” exclaimed The Old Man. “I did not expect anything in return. The bus I gave you was nothing. You gave me back my precious life. But I cannot refuse a generous gift. I also thank you for giving to my wife.

“But Simon, I want to receive this publicly. I’ll invite a few journalists here right now.”

He said the money would be donated to the Akali Wakane charity. And Simon would present the money to him in front of the media. Then he ordered food for the journalists who were on their way.

That evening, The Old Man and Simon say in their own homes to watch their story on EMTV News. It was covered nicely with some great pictures, as it was in the newspapers the next day, down paper a bit but still quite prominent.

But it was what was on the front page under glaring headlines that shocked both men.

Settlers were threatening to attack Parliament House because the government had been evicting them so it could give the land to foreign developers.

“Where are we from? Who owns these politicians?” one settler shouted at a rally at Onagi Oval. The situation across the city was tense.

Raskol elements and hundreds of disgruntled youths from Samarai, Popendetta, Kerema, Daru and Central provinces were said to be mobilising to travel down the Magi and Hiritano highways to join forces with angry city dwellers.

The government had made too many enemies. The people had had enough. They did not trust their elected leaders anymore.

The under-resourced security forces would be hard-pressed to control the multitudes of people ready to descend on the city to destroy Parliament House and topple the government. Too many wrong decisions. Too many enemies.

This was damning news. The Old Man felt the situation would get out of control if the government took it lightly. This could be the beginning of a serious uprising.

He worried for his country and his people. Is this was how it was going to end?


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