Edited for the Blog and Anthology from an entry for the 2017 Crocodile Prize Kumul Petroleum Holdings Limited, Short Story Category by JIMMY AWAGL. Jimmy is from Simbu. He is a teacher. He has been writing since 2014. He has published 4 books. He is working on his 5th book.
Kundiawa, usually known as Four Corner Town, baked under the hot sun is usual at this time of the year. Accept for the odd rain here or there, the streets are dry and dusty and the air is hot most days. I covered my naturally blonde hair and fair skin beneath an old rainbow umbrella as I strode towards the post office. People say the Highlands region is cold but it seems unusual that Simbu gets to be hotter and the chance of being sun burnt is higher.
I walked past several shops, many people and off course the street sellers who align the street neatly, sometime on the foot path. The street sellers are usually very scrutinising in their regard of the passerby’s as they sit and wait to make a sale. I had my head bowed, concentrated on the track and walked as swiftly as I could. I felt eyes scorching into my back, my bilum and my neck. Many eyes but one in particular was piercing. I glanced back to register the one with the piercing look. He was from a tribe called Dom who populates the mountains just behind the green from the Mount Wilhelm Hotel. This guy had an unassuming look, his beard covered his face but his eyes were like a baby horse’s but with a laser like look. I noticed a brutish kind of beauty in his demeanour. He was not ugly or handsome, just had an unusual presence. He continued his stare, more at my behind. I continued my walk with a smile, thinking about his eyes, those piercing eyes.
I put my hand into my bilum, pulled out my cell phone and rang a number. ‘Hello, how are you?’ said my dad. ‘Hey cute eyes, how long are you going to stare at me’, I replied with a giggle. ‘Hey! it’s me, who do you think you are talking to’, screamed my dad. ‘Daddy, Oh God no, I am so sorry dad, someone was staring at me, I’m on my way to the education office’, I replied, blushing and embarrassed. ‘Are you alone? For what?’ asked dad sharply with uneasiness. ‘My classmates told me the selection lists for Grade 11s intake for this year were posted on the notice board. I was in a rush and so I didn’t arrange for someone to accompany me.’ I am sorry too, I know you always remind me to be safe, I said’. ‘Oh, you’re on a mission, a good one, I see. Do let me know the outcome,’ he replied. ‘And please try finding someone in town, a relative to walk with’, he said as softly as he could. He was embarrassed about my earlier response and I was too. It was an awkward moment! I reached the corner of Wara Market, a famous spot for lovers to hang out in the heart of the Four Corner Town, before making a left turn to the education office.
There were students, parents, friends and relatives flooding the street leading to the education office. The crowd made me anxious but excited. There was another larger crowd encircling the notice board in which the lists showing the Grade 11 students who have been selected was posted. I noticed beads of sweat on my forehead and noticed that I was nervous and excited. I did not even realise I was pushing through the crowd to get a closer look at the listed names.
I struggled and directed my focus through the bobbed heads to read the list for Yauwe Moses Secondary School. I read through the list more than 3 times and still could not see my name. I then realised that my heart beat a little faster than normal and my feet were a bit afraid to move. I pushed myself and my body to move to the list for Mt Wilhelm Secondary School. This list did not contain my name. I was almost reduced to tears. I fought back the tears and looked on yearning to the other lists.
For the first time I noticed other people around me. I looked into their faces hoping to share my urgent feeling of anxiety and apprehension. Some of the students whose names appeared on the list were excited and their faces glowed. These faces did not help me deal with my feelings. The other lot who were unsuccessful were upset and their faces dull as ashes that have been washed away from the fireplace. I found common ground with this lot but still the intensity of my fear was gripping my throat.
I went through a list on the other side of the wall. ‘Muaina Secondary School.’ As I scanned, I saw the names of my classmates. I felt a sudden drop in the intensity of fear in my throat, my heart and my belly. I felt just a tiny bit easy and was at ease and thought that soon my eyes would catch my name. And and and and ……………………………..then………….. there it was, neatly and boldly written down. Just like I thought it should be. I imagined that my name was in golden letters and there was no name as beautiful as my name. I had my eyes fixed on that name for a while. It was not a penetrating or piercing look like the one I got from that beautiful street seller guy. My eyes loved the letters that made that name on the list. I wanted to tear the list down, take it home and put it near all my other things I have collected over the years. All these collections made an interesting shrine. I see that list as a centre piece of my shrine.
There it was my name together with my dad’s name. For a moment I had another anxiety attack. ‘Was it really my name? Was it spelt correctly? Was that really my father’s name?’ I rubbed my eyes as if I had miserable eye sight or just woke up and cleared my eye wax to see the sunlight of the day. For the one hundredth time I directed my eyes to the list again. It was my name, not someone else’s. It was my name on that list on this day, today.
My emotions had taken such a toll on me that I forgot to be happy: to do a little dance or to squeal or jump. I had a pounding heart, which was the only thing that reminded me of my happiness.
I walked away from the crowd almost a bit too fast, pulled out my cell phone and dialled my dad. I screamed into the phone, in tears, happy tears saying things I do not remember. I must have told him that I loved him, I must have thanked him for his love a million times over and informed him between sobs that I was selected to do Grade 11 at Muaina.
“You made me proud. You have been my super girl and now a superwoman. We will celebrate at home. Take a ride home now,” he sang. He literally sang to me.
I walked to Wara Market and bought a betelnut. I have never chewed betelnut before. I do not know how to chew, but I bought it anyway, and set about the task. I chewed the buai without the proper calculation of the amount of mustard and lime. I was instantly hit by sweat running like a stream all over my body. My eyes turned blurry and I walked like a drunkard towards a stone wall. I vomited the stuff near a public rubbish bin and leaned against the wall for some time. I regained my consciousness but soon realised that all my feelings were gone. I just felt really tired. I boarded a JM Back bus and rode home with the great news.