FICTION – It was a few days after The Old Man returned from Japheth and Nathan’s wedding in Lae that a strange number appeared on his mobile phone.
Unknown callers worried The Old Man. Too often he had received disturbing news that left half-eaten food cold on the table.
News of an ethnic clash in the city, a relative dying in the village, a tribal war out of control or yet another case of domestic violence. To see unknown number mostly meant bad news.
On this day, he did not wish to answer until he had finished his meal. He would then read the text message and respond calmly and politely.
He never ignored people. Staying in regular contact was very important. He felt it was his duty.
Opening the phone after finishing his meal, The Old Man found two new messages, and both contained good news - the result of his prudent undertakings.
The Old Man started to scan the first text as Delisa cleared the table. It was long and it concerned her. He asked Delisa to read it aloud as he listened.
“Hi, my name is Roy Lopar. I am from Amanab in West Sepik. I am Delisa’s father. A village court magistrate from Bumbu village gave me your number. He asked me to contact you. But I can’t speak to you straight. I am too ashamed for what I did at Bunbu. I saw myself on facebook. I am ashamed seeing those things. I am hiding from the police. I am scared. I didn’t mean to hurt people. I just wanted some of the bride price. I knew they wouldn’t give me but they didn’t deserve it either.
“How could they possibly forget me, Delisa’s father? Who were they to receive it all? Just now, I hear they got bride price a second time from Japheth. Is it true one of your wantoks married her? Tell your wantok to beware of her. She is a reckless bossy woman.
“I paid every toea in my bank account to marry Japheth. But I left her. Every fortnight she got my pay packet to spend on her people as she pleased. Perhaps I had been wrong to give her all the money from the start. I thought I would trust her. I used to ask her for my buai and cigarette money as if it was her money. Her wantoks always crowded my house. There was never enough food. Sometimes I got credit from stores.
“I am from a remote area and no wantoks here. I was the only one working in Lae. I couldn’t keep this on. I was fed up with Japheth. I didn’t love her any more. Finally I ran away with another woman.
“Tell Delisa I am deeply sorry for never looking after her as a father should. I do not expect sympathy. Nor do I deserve bride price. But I did not like her mother and her people. They treated me as dirt. They didn’t respect me. They didn’t deserve to receive all the bride price. So, I threatened them. I was outnumbered. My friends and I fled before we got hurt.
“No, I won’t burn the new house down. I hope Japheth looks after her new husband. Tell your wantok to stop her relatives going to the house. They will spoil it. I am not jealous but talking as a man should to another man.
“I am glad, Delisa is married to you. I hear you are an important man too. God bless you both. Tell Delisa she has siblings from my second wife. That’s all. Thank you for giving me the chance to explain. I wish you both a happy day – Roy.”
Delisa was shocked. This was the first time she had found out anything about her biological father. Nobody had told her his name, where he was from or why he ran away.
She didn’t want to accept everything he had written but this was a a starting point. She was happy to hear that he would not threaten Japheth or her uncles. Her mother and siblings would be safe in their new home.
The man sounded genuinely remorseful – first to abandon Delisa and her small sister. Then coming many years later drunk to cause fear among Japheth’s people.
Why did he say Nathan should be wary of Japheth? She knew her mum never cared about her education. Was there truth in what he said?
Delisa couldn’t remember her dad’s face. She was a small girl when he had left and she didn’t really notice he had gone. Her mind was young and didn’t know what was happening at the time.
She could remember a man holding her in his arms, playing with her and carrying her piggyback around the house. He would throw her in the air and catch her in his arms. It seemed a dream. But before she could see a face in her mind, it disappeared. She never knew she had a father at all.
When she grew older, nobody mentioned her dad’s name or what he looked like or anything. Her mother was a carefree pleasure-seeking woman who cared little about her and her small sister.
No, she hadn’t cared about them or their education. She drank at the tavern with strange men. Then her relatives drove her away. But her sister took pity on her and the children and she had settled down a bit. Delisa knew that much. About growing up in her auntie’s house.
Delisa knew that in different ways both her parents had abused her. She would find out the whole truth in time. But for now she was just happy, if a little mystified, about what had influenced her all those years ago to write that text message to a stranger who was now her husband.
Delisa looked at The Old Man. She had tears in her eyes.
“What do you make of it?” he asked gently.
“Shockingly sad. I feel sorry for this man. He does not sound like a thug at all. But I wonder how he got your number?”
“I asked Jephath to give it to one of the village court magistrates to pass onto your father. It seems I made the right decision.”
The Old Man took his mobile from Delisa and found the video he downloaded from Facebook. It showed a dark-brown man of medium build awkwardly swinging a bush knife while uttering all sorts of threats. On reflection, he looked more comical than intimidating.
But he, Roy, should have addressed his concerns properly without filling himself with beer. He should have taken his complaint to the village court magistrates at Bumbu. They knew him well. They knew Japheth. They would have made a fair decision
In the video, as the Bumbu villagers rushed the mob they fled towards the vehicle like a bunch of cowards. Nobody seemed to want to get hurt.
The Old Man felt some compassion for Delisa’s father. Perhaps it was true Japheth had taken advantage of his weaknesses. But that was not the whole story. Roy Lopar had caught his reckless wife off-guard. He took off with a young woman from a nearby village. Japheth had gone berserk
“What do you think we should do now?” The Old Man asked Delisa.
“Let’s keep exchanging text messages and find out more about him. Perhaps we can send him some money. After all he is my father. I’ve still got some bride price money.”
Delisa had about K1,000 left. The Old Man said he’d add K2,000 to that. Roy was about to get a share of the bride price.
Over the next few days, they established that Roy Lopar had worked as a mechanic at the Bumbu Oil Palm Plantation. He had run away with a girl from a village some distance away. They now had three children and Roy was working on another plantation near Nadzab International Airport.
Some of the men with him on the day of the fight were not thugs at all. They were friends and work mates from Nadzab who had accompanied him thinking he would get some bride price. The beer had spoilt everything. The car they had travelled in belonged to Roy. He was not using it now in fear police might impound it and arrest him.
The Old Man said he would ask Japheth to ask the village court magistrate to go to the police station and withdraw the charge and tell police the matter had been resolved amicably.
When Delisa finally spoke to her dad on the phone, all she could hear was his sobbing. When he did say a few words how satisfying it felt for father and child to hear each other’s voices after so long.
“Let me know when you come to Lae next time, I will wait for you at the airport,” Roy said.
“Of course I will.”
When Delisa talked to Japheth about making contact with her ex-husband, she said it was good Roy had contacted them.
“Yu mas toktok wantaim em moa na save gut long em. Em papa bilong yu,” Japheth said.
[You should start to talk with him more and know him. He is your father.]
Japheth said she had confessed her wrongdoings in church before she married Nathan, The Old Man’s wantok. She had discarded her hate about Roy. She was a changed woman. She had been wrong to disrespect Roy. And her relatives had indeed contributed to the problem.
“Em ino save toktok planti. Em bin poret long mi olgeta taim. Tasol mi lus tingting olsem, em igat het, na tupela lek tu.”
[He never talked much. He was fearful of me most of the time. But I forgot he had a mind and two legs too.]
“Mi no ting ibin igat plen bilong en olsem mi na papa bilong yu mas stap wantaim. Nogat. Amamas ino stap namel long mitupela. Na em ronawei igo. Nao mi tingting long lukautim gut nupela man bilong mi.”
[Perhaps I was never meant to be with your dad. There probably was never any plan for our relationship. I hope to respect my new husband this time and treat him like any woman should.]
Exactly what Delisa wanted to hear from her mother. Now she was free to talk with her father as she wished. She called Roy and asked him to send his bank account number so they could deposit K3,000 for him.
She told him it wasn’t much, but he must not hesitate if he ever needed their help in the future. Delisa asked him to send the pictures of his three children, her siblings, on WhatsApp.
“I will, Delisa, I will definitely do that,” said Roy Lopar
Shortly after that The Old Man received another text message. It was as surprising as the one from Roy.
“Do you remember me?” it began. “I am the young man who rescued you when you were lying in the middle of the road near your wife’s body. You gave me a new coaster bus, remember? Can I come and talk to you properly tomorrow? My name is Simon Kerowa. I am from Mul-Baiyer.”
The Old Man replied, “My God, what a surprise. I am very happy to hear from you. Join my wife and I for lunch at Ribito Grill & Restaurant. Bring your wife too. 12 sharp.”
The Old Man liked Ribito, ideally situated for business dealings at Waigani Central. Some former Manus refugees worked there. The food was excellent with a variety of dishes to choose from.
Simon’s reply soon arrived. “OK, Ribito. 12 sharp. My wife will join us.”