FICTION – It had been a hectic early morning but now Delisa was safely seated in an Air Niugini Boeing 737 cruising over the Bismarck Sea towards Brisbane.
Delisa could not enjoy the flight. Nor could she take the refreshments served by the cabin crew. She did not feel like food while there was trouble at home.
She was anxious to go alone to a strange place. She felt she would rather die with Akali Wakane, rather than leave him behind.
She had agreed to go only for the sake of the child she carried in her tummy. If anything happened to The Old Man, the child would be born and raised among its siblings in Australia.
Delisa hoped and believed everything would be brought under control. She trusted the plan put in place the night before by The Old Man, Simon Kerowa and their compatriots who came in large numbers to her house.
They had vowed not to sit and watch the city pillaged. Nor would they allow their fellow citizens to suffer after their land was fraudulently taken from them.
She was pleased that The Old Man’s law firm would represent the Old Dairy Farm settlers in their appeal to the Supreme Court. Akali Wakane Law had taken on the case without charge.
The Old Man was so busy. Delisa was anxious about his health and his safety. He had stated he would confront the protesters in front of Parliament and talk to them if nobody from the government came.
As she looked around the full cabin, Delisa noticed many well-clothed men and their families in business class, which had been greatly extended for this flight.
There were also expatriate families, most of them Asian. It seemed that some politicians and Port Moresby residents were escaping what they thought might be carnage to the safe haven of Australia.
Delisa could only see the backs of the heads of the big men in business class. Their heads were bowed low over their mobile phones, reading or writing text messages. If they were politicians, they would return home after the rebellion was averted – or over.
Meanwhile, parts of Port Moresby were under siege. The intermittent rattle of automatic rifle fire came from the direction of the Gordons industrial area. Police were firing warning shots over the heads of looters in Boroko and Hohola. There was a heavy police and army presence around government offices in Waigani and in the CBD.
People stayed at home. There were few cars on the streets. Koki market offered only a few brave sellers; but not many brave buyers. Police vehicles hurried back and forth, their lights flashing.
The head office of the company that had been given the Old Dairy Farm title deeds had been torched and black smoke billowed into the sky. Rebels controlled the surrounding area and had warned police not to come close or they would open fire.
“We’re not on any special allowance,” a police officer told his squad. “Keep your distance and don’t provoke them into shooting.”
“Mipela bai ino inap go long China sapos kantri bilong mipela igo bagarap. Yumi noken bagarapim pipol bilong yumi. Mipela bai igat sem bihain. Wol bai lap long mipela,” a constable replied.
[We can’t go to China if PNG disintegrates. Let’s not crush our people. It would be shameful. The world will mock us.]
The police were nervous but The Old Man had done his job. His urgent calls to the political and other leaders he trusted, and a long conversation with the army commander, the son of a close friend, had ensured the loyalty and support of the disciplinary forces.
They were prepared for serious rebellion. They understood the changes that might follow. It had been decided that the police would protect key buildings and installations. The army would go after the bad guys.
The Old Man knew the looting and destruction would continue as long as the insurgents kept coming into the city. They would target Parliament House, government buildings and Asian shops. Then, if undeterred, they would target other property.
For too long the government had been neglecting the urban poor and the rural masses. They had been watching the wealthier parts of Port Moresby prosper while their settlements and villages lacked even the most basic services. For many people, this felt like the time to equalise the disparity.
It was an emotional response. A response that would not help them. These honest, hardworking people wanted to live peaceful lives, they were happy to sweat if they were given jobs and they wanted to see the benefits of their rich country go to its people. They hated the politicians and public servants who stole the people’s money.
The City Governor and a number of urban politicians had tried to reason with the people but had been driven away. After that no cabinet minister wanted to face the demonstrators, who now numbered several thousands.
In his air conditioned building surrounded by riot squad units, the chief minister was surrounded by a throng of cronies shouting advice. He had just approved one million kina of extra funds for police operations to arrest the ringleaders of the rebellion.
Some senior police officers were happy to get the money but did not know how they could do this. The rebels came from many different groups – Papuan separatists, Milne Bay criminals, defrauded landowners, jobless youths, evicted settlers. The police had no idea where to start.
Previous governments had spent millions to capture bank robber, William Kapris. More recently it allocated over K2million to capture Tommy Baker. But he had evaded capture and was headed towards Port Moresby with vengeance in his heart.
In days gone by, the traditional leaders and elders of clans and tribes had talked together to discuss issues and solve problems. They talked and talked until consensus was reached. Then they would explain matter to the village people, who would listen and understand and follow what had been agreed.
In this modern era, the people did not understand why the government made the decisions it did, why the courts confused things, why the police mistreated people and why there was such unhappiness.
As police and army personnel established road blocks and cordons and moved carefully to confront the demonstrators, people called on them not to shoot, declaring that the government was using them to protect its own interests.
“Yupela noken kam klostu na traim holim passim mipela o traim long kilim mipela. Em ol gavaman na kampani usim yupela tasol. Ol laikim bai mipela pait na dai. Na ol iet ol bai amamas slip long ol gutpela hotel. Na kaikai gutpela kaikai. Na mipela bai dai nating olsem dok.”
[Don’t come too close. Don’t try to arrest or shoot at us. Can’t you see the government wants to see us kill each other. They eat good food sleep in expensive hotels. We will die like dogs, for nothing.]
“Sapos yupela ting mipela tok pilai, orait traim mipela. Sapos nogat go kisim ol bikpela man ikam na mipela toktok wantaim ol.”
[If you think we are joking, have a go at us. If not, go back and bring the important people to talk to us.]
This was not going to happen. The disciplined forces, whatever they though personally, had a job to do. Ringleaders had to be arrested. The situation had to be brought under control.
But they saw the mobs, coming from all directions now, getting bigger and angrier. It would soon be impossible to stabilise the uprising.
An angry mass of people, many armed, now filled the area from Waigani to Gaire and Hanuabada villages, across to Morata around to Gordons and Six Mile to the western perimeter of Jacksons International Airport.
There were people everywhere. And the mob edged closer to Parliament House and the Waigani government offices.
The police and soldiers began to fall back, unable to penetrate the human wall, unwilling to fire upon their country people. They were well outnumbered. And they knew that some of the rebels were better armed than they were.
It was too late for reinforcements to come from Lae, Wewak, Rabaul, Mt Hagen or Goroka. Those cities and towns had troubles of their own. And, anyway, there was no love for the politicians and their cronies holed up in Port Moresby. The politicians who, after winning election, made the capital their permanent home and rarely returned home.
The Old Man sat on his verandah at home, together with half a dozen associates. They overlooked the splendid buildings and beautiful harbour of Port Moresby, still looking calm and peaceful. All of them holding cellphones, close by a transceiver tuned into the police band radio, a radio broadcasting a continuous news service from the NBC, which sounded like it had been taken over by rebels.
The Old Man knew that if a semblance of order was not imposed soon it might not be possible to establish it at all.
The city was in grave danger of falling to mob violence. A dreadful showdown was just hours away. Residents and vehicles from Waigani, Gordons, Boroko, Korobosea and other suburbs, loaded with possessions, were already crowding the arc from Downtown Port Moresby to Konedobu. For the moment, they were well protected and safe.
It was too late to leave the city, and anyway, where could they go?
The Old Man decided this was the moment to execute the plan he had agreed with the trusted leaders.
The group assembled in his home began making calls and sending text messages to scores of people who had planted themselves among the rioting crowds. The officers commanding army and police units were contacted.
The Old Man and a highly respected provincial governor who for the moment wanted to remain anonymous were on their way to Waigani. They would face the mobs. The people planted amongst the crowds were told to spread the word. Independence Hill, adjacent to Parliament House – the people’s house, the Haus Tambaran - was to be Ground Zero.
The Old Man and the governor were driven in an old Landrover, its canvas canopy removed. Two other cars accompanied them: one an open backed Toyota Landcruiser with a speaker system mounted on the roof; the other a minibus full of journalists and camera crews. Each of the three vehicles had a number of white flags prominently displayed.
The convoy took headed up Two Mile Hill towards Waigani. It turned right on Sir John Guise drive, and left past the central government offices and along Independence Drive. As the mob parted to let them through, The Old Man allowed himself to feel some hope.
Would he and the governor be allowed to talk? Would they be listened to? Would what they had to say convince thousands of angry people to avoid the looming chaos?
The nation and the world would watch it all unfold on their television sets.
The Old Man wondered what was the story they would hear