FICTION - Delisa woke with a start. It was The Old Man calling. “Good morning, Delisa, how was last night?” he teased.
“It was really good until you spoilt it for me.”
“How?” The Old Man feigned surprise.
“By not dancing with me a second or third time, that’s how. But I do thank you for everything. Everything.”
“You keep thanking me.”
“I do appreciate everything. But I still want to know why you just took off when I was beginning to enjoy every moment with you.”
“Yes, I could see you were enjoying yourself.”
“Why couldn’t you allow more time for us to be together, this was the first time we met?”
“I had business to attend to today. And I needed to rest.”
“You wanted to do business when I was longing to be with you?”
“What are you wearing on your finger?”
“Oh, sorry.” It was the engagement ring. Now Delisa felt ungrateful.
“Anyway, I’m coming over now. We have to leave for Port Moresby in the afternoon. And there’s the bride price this morning. It’s going to be a busy day. You need to pack and be ready.”
“Oh? Are we taking off today, this afternoon?”
“Don’t you want to come with me?”
“I always want to be with you. You should let me know your plans. All my clothes, books and things are still at the college.”
“Then take one of the cars and pick them up.”
“OK, I’ll wait here.”
“Don’t wait for me. Ask one of the drivers and go. Also, tell your mother I’m coming. She must start rounding up her people for the payment.”
When The Old Man arrived he was a little irritated that everybody who needed to attend the bride price ceremony was not present.
And Delisa hadn’t left to collect her belongings. She had been too embarrassed to ask one of the drivers.
The Old Man intervened and now, with time to ponder the day’s activities, settled at the coffee table in Japheth’s new home.
Japheth was busy in the kitchen and felt privileged to serve The Old Man. She placed some toast and boiled eggs before him and a steaming cup of Kongo coffee as well as some coconut cookies.
”Are your people ready for the bride price?”
Japheth assured him they were.
There was a knock on the door. It was The Old Man’s wantok, the one who worked at Bumbu Oil Palm Plantation. Japheth welcomed him and served him breakfast.
The Old Man’s wantok thanked her with a suggestive smile as she placed the cup on the table. Japheth moved away quickly to avoid eye contact, seeming to recognise who he was but saying nothing.
The Old Man reflected that single mums always seemed to know who was the father of the child.
They would also tell their parents and relatives so children would know their biological father even if he did not claim them.
Perhaps Japheth hadn’t worked out who may have been responsible. The Old Man had noticed yesterday that her son resembled his wantok. He mulled over what he knew.
Japheth had stopped going to the tavern during her pregnancy. The wantok had also stopped drinking when his own wife had run away from him. He was full of fear.
He feared somebody may have reported he had taken a new woman. He feared his wife might come to the plantation and make a scene. Even bring her relatives. He feared he might lose his job.
But the estranged wife never came. She had remarried.
The Old Man pretended he hadn’t noticed the body language and continued his breakfast. After a while he asked his wantok to give him his mobile number and email address.
“I’ll leave my number with you so you can watch this house. If anything happens, you must ring me immediately.”
Japheth darted from the kitchen.
“No, mi iet, mi bai ringim yu sapos wanpela rong i kamap,”she interrupted. [No, I’ll call you if anything happens.]
“Yes, certainly you will,” The Old Man replied kindly. “But I will be far away in Port Moresby. I have wantoks here who can help you on my behalf. You never know, a time may come when you require help.”
Japheth did not respond. Nothing will happen, she thought. I won’t need his wantok. But she did not want to argue.
Then, as if on cue, her small boy called from the bedroom for Japheth to come. Perhaps he was afraid to wake up in a strange bedroom and find his mother not sleeping beside him as usual.
Japheth went to fetch her son. As they came into the sitting room, The boy approached The Old Man and sat down beside him. The Old Man gave him two cookies.
Nobody had told him to go to the coffee table where the two men sat. They were strangers he had never seen before. It seemed to The Old Man that the boy could sense they were somehow connected to him.
“Kaime, embame kanda. Wane dake embane lao panelyam kanda,” The Old Man whispered in the Enga language. [Brother, can you see that this small boy is really yours. Can you not see?]
Japheth could not understand what they were saying. She just watched them talk as her son, hardly believing his luck, devoured the biscuits. She just stood and looked.
Surely, the facial features of both her son and The Old Man’s wantok were the same.
“Hi son, have more cookies,” said The Old Man’s wantok. The small boy accepted them gleefully.
The Old Man knew that a new chapter was being written right here in this new home. A relationship was being rekindled.
The young boy’s blood seemed to be identifying his own kind. There was no need to discuss it, not just yet. This was not the time. They were all here for a different union.
Although nobody had talked, Japheth, The Old Man and his wantok knew the secret would not stay hidden in their minds. Nature had its own timing.
The Old Man and his wantok went outside while Japheth cleaned up. The pigs from the highlands were there, restlessly looking for a place to dig and burrow. Soon they would have new owners.
In the highlands, pigs are highly prized and domesticated with care. They have their own names. Children cry when their favourite animal is slaughtered. Arguments over who should get which pig during compensation payments can trigger fights among brothers.
Compensation without pigs or bride price payment without pigs is never complete. It is unthinkable. Pigs are integral in every aspect of life in the highlands. That’s why these pigs were brought down the Highlands Highway to claim the hands of a young girl from the coast.
The Old Man could have easily bought pigs from the Yalu Piggery in the Markham Valley on the way down, but that wouldn’t have seemed right.
They had to come directly from his relatives, for this was his cultural heritage.
The Old Man knew everybody had expected him to spend the night in the new house at Bumbu village.
Japheth had slept in one of the two smaller bedrooms with her children. Her sister, her husband and their children had slept in the other. Delisa had slept alone in the master bedroom. Everybody had anticipated that he would sleep there with Delisa.
But his intention was to pay the bride price first. He did not wish to repeat that same mistake he made when he met Rosemary at university, even though that situation was different.
They had been young, far from home and needing each other’s support. And he didn’t want delay in case someone else might claim her.
His people had paid the bride price for Rosemary and it had been accepted but he and Rosemary had lost their dignity.
They made up for it by living a good life, committed to each other, raising their children in a stable family and helping the needy.
But now, at this stage of his life, he was well established and respected as a prominent citizen. He had to do things correctly in the eyes of the public and his and Delisa’s people.
Everybody was watching his example. He had to lead with dignity and command respect. He had to value Delisa’s mother and her relatives. He knew it would be wrong to take advantage of his position and their poverty.
The Old Man understood that teachings from the Bible articulate the exact same principles traditional societies applied. Do not steal, do not covet another man’s wife, respect the elderly, be honest and many other such instructions were taught in the hausman. People recognised as leaders by ordinary people had to demonstrate fairness.
The Old Man also knew traditional beliefs and values were dying out fast. This dismayed and saddened him. He was deeply concerned at how this was affecting his country and strongly believed that people like him – successful people - had to somehow maintain these values and show how important they were.
And now he had to pay bride price before he took Delisa to Port Moresby.
He didn’t know how the Bumbu people had paid bride price in traditional times but he was ready to provide them the opportunity to see how it was done among his own Enga people.
And now, his Engan wantoks and Delisa’s Bumbu people waited together for Delisa to return from the college with all her belongings.
She would distribute all bridal wealth to her people and go with The Old Man to Port Moresby.