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Goodbye, my little Jena, goodbye


SHORT STORY - I was 32 when my wife died. Little Jena was only four. My bookshop - in front of my house, separated by the yard - sustained our livelihood and paid the bills.

Each day, while my assistant and I worked in the shop fulfilling orders from clients, Jena played in the yard.

In the evening I would sometimes go out for a few drinks and Julie, the woman next door, would take care of Jena.

I could cook, or so I thought. Lamb flaps, b read and coffee for breakfast. I also fried potatoes and bananas, and learnt that biscuits and Diana tuna were good for kids.

When Julie told me this was not the diet for kids, I said, “Well, why don’t you come on over and teach me how to cook”. (Not that I really meant it, just wanted to say something back at her.)

Anyway she did, teaching me how to cook chicken and veggies. But every time I cooked these things the pots and pans got burnt and it was hard work scrubbing them. And the veggies and things were expensive.

Living in the city was tough. The bookshop was doing well but not really making enough money.

I kept things neat and tidy. Jena needed to live in a clean and healthy place. I swept the floors, but not the corners, and when I cleaned windows they always seemed to be worse.

I also did the laundry. It was total torture. Each time I wished we had a washing-machine.

I bought Jena a cat, thinking she might get lonely. At night I made her say her prayers which she did, kneeling in the middle of the room and speaking like a speeding car.

If I forgot about prayers, I would wake her up or leave them until first thing in the morning. Praying is important. I prayed too.

“Lord, help me do what is right for her, even if I’m doing the wrong things.”

One time, Jena and I were walking past a toy shop and Jena wanted to go in.

I hardly had any money so tricked her into having an ice-cream at home and by the time we got there she had forgotten about it, and that was that.

There are some things in this world that poor, sad little girls can’t have. Good things.


Jane was six when I fell ill. It started with a bad cough on a Monday afternoon and then pains in my chest.

I to the hospital went to see a doctor. The walk was a slow and tiring. My mind filled with all kinds of horrible, depressing thoughts. I hated hospitals; they were depressing places to visit.

When I finally arrived home, I lay down on the old couch with torn cushions in the living room.

The late afternoon sun streamed through the windows making bright squares on the wall.

The news wasn’t good. The doctor told me the X-ray had shown an advanced cancer eating me from the inside.

He told me I maybe had only three months to live.

Then I heard Jena singing in the backyard. “My little Jena,” I thought. Hot salty tears burned down my cheeks.

That night she came to kiss me goodnight like she always did, and asked if I was feeling better now. I lied to her that I had the flu.

I held her away from me and said, “Jena’s a big girl now, she doesn’t need daddy to kiss her goodnight.”

I thought that she must learn not to miss me every night. I had to make her strong. And I had to make myself strong. The next day I went to see another doctor - to make sure. He told me the same thing. I was sure now.


I had a sister in Lae but we’d lost contact. It was 15 or 20 years since I’d spoken to her.

Fact is I didn’t really know her anyway.

My late wife, Jenifer, did have a brother here in Port Moresby - an unemployed drug-selling bum.

“I need someone who can understand a six year old, understand her fairy songs and kiddie mumblings and invented games.” For several days I couldn’t get it out of my mind.

“You know, that kid shouldn’t be living with you,” Julie told me, “with all that sickness you have.”

I was growing thin and I’d shaved my head and wore a bonnet to cover it.

So I decided to advertise in the newspaper

The first people came in a dark tinted glass Toyota five-door. They stepped out of the vehicle in shiny clothes. It was all just as I had dreamed it might be.

Their small daughter asked; “Is this my little sister?”.

Her mother turned to her, “Shut up. Mama told you to keep out of this. Or we’ll leave you here and take this darling little girl away.”

When I heard that, I knew what I must do. “It’s okay, ma’am. I have other plans. My daughter’s no longer for adoption.”

As I watched the car roll away, Julie walked over, “For Lord’s sake man”, she said, “You just denied Jena a fortune. You have no right to deny her a good, rich family like that”.

But I knew better, and each time a car came by I lied to them and made them go away.

And each time Julie boiled with anger. “This guy should be reported to the police,” she once told her husband in a loud voice.

Time was running out, I had very little time left, maybe just two weeks, when one morning a man and woman in their mid-thirties walked into my bookshop.

The man looked like a teacher. His wife had a face disturbed by grief and sorrow. I knew it was them. They had lost a child I knew. My heart bloomed with hope, and fear.

I took my bonnet off and walked towards them, my hands shaking as I held my bonnet in both hands.

I told them everything and they listened to it all. We talked for a while and then the man said, “When can we come and take Jena?”

My head dropped and then I looked into their eyes and said, “Just give me one day. I hope you will understand.” And they agreed.

That day, I did nothing but sit in the backyard and watch Jena playing.

It was a hot, sunny day and her laughter and screams of joy were music to my ears. The sky was cloudless and I thought how perfect it was.

That evening, I cooked dinner – chicken, veggies and fried lamb flaps. I didn’t care that the pots and pans got burnt and blackened.

During the meal, I just sat and watch Jena. An emptiness engulfed me. I felt hollow e. “I wish I had a million bucks, I’d make everything all right, Jena.” But it was only a thought.

And that night I did kiss her good night, even though, I didn’t want to. I told her, “You’re a big girl now, daddy’s big girl. Goodbye, my Jena”.

Jena didn’t understand or maybe she did. Her lips curled, “But daddy I’m still a little girl.”

My head sank into my hands and again I felt hot, salty tears wash down my face. My heart sank in an ocean of sadness.

The next morning I had her dressed and ready. “Jena’s gonna have some visitors,” I told her. Then they arrived and Jena ran toward me and hugged me. “You’re a big girl now, Daddy’s big girl,” I said.

I stood and watched them walk down the street with Jena.

They had bought her a small red bicycle. Jena rode, mesmerised and preoccupied with the new bicycle, looked ahead as she rode.

She forgot to turn and wave goodbye.


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Michael Dom

A good story, Job, you have real storytelling skill.

I couldn't help being amused thinking how the fiction goes so far as to think a bookshop in Port Moresby could be doing well.

I want to share your story on Ples Singsing Blog, too, with your permission.

All material in PNG Attitude can be republished so long as there are acknowledgements of author and PNG Attitude. I'll let Job know about this - KJ

Dominica Are

The reality and cruelty of life. A nice but sad story.

Job Zigu

Thank you. I have had a rough time being unemployed for three years and back living in my village. I knew I had to return to writing.

Philip Fitzpatrick

A very poignant story, Job. Well done.

It's a sad reflection of what happens in big towns in PNG removed from caring relatives in the village.

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