By PAUL MINGA
It was on a school day in June 1983.
The day gradually cleared up after last night’s heavy downpour the previous night.
What tempted me not to go to school that morning was the flood of the nearby creek after the rain. The best times for us to gofishing were usually during or soon after the flood the next day.
The reason why we go out fishing during or after the flood is because a species of fish in our creek or river system which we calledbal in our Jiwaka dialect venture out of their hiding only when the water is murky.
With the eagerness to go out fishing on a suitable day after the tide from the previous day, I had imagined all the fun and excitement that was in store if I went out fishing that day.
I quickly made up plans as I was about to leave the comfort of my cardboard and canvas bed in throwing aside my favourite rainbow blanket. Some of the villagers who were frequentas early birds were already up and either making fires or sitting by the fire before the dawn of the day and the cry of the morning creatures and birds.
With eagerness to go out fishing on an ideal day, I wasted no time. It was still around 6am and not many had come out of bed yet except the early birds. I crept quietly out of my bed and headed straight to where I have left my fishing line. It was still dark inside the house, I couldn’t see properly where I left my fishing line. A search in the darkness with the aid of my little fingers took a few minutes and at last I grasped my fishing gear. It was a schoolday but I knew exactly what to tell mum.
As I was about to dash out of the house, my conscience told me to make mum aware of my day’s movement. I stood silent, paused for a moment and then broke the morning silence. I told mum who was still in bed that our teacher would be away in town for some business and there would be no class today. But that was only a well-planned trick that I was using to go fishing instead.
Believing my statement, mum responded positively in telling me to do whatever I liked for the day. Thinking of the exciting fishing trip down at Kendu Creek after the flood the previous day, I wasted no time. With the fishing line in hand, I rushed to a usual spot of digging up worms to be used as baits. As I kept myself busy in digging worms and them putting them into an empty tin,I heard people approaching from behind the nearby bushes.
I got up and looking around saw two heads popping up from behind the bushes. It was my two playmates, John and Joshua who were fifth graders from our local school. I could figure out from the distance that the two boys were fully geared up for fishing.
They also decided not to attend classes for the day. In confirming what they were really up to, I grinned to myself as the two boys teamed up with me for the day’s activity of interest. We then all dug up worms at the spot I was on.
After we dug out enough worms, we walked down to the creek to start fishing. The desire and imaginations of what was predicted to be an ideal day for fishing had taken over we did not give a single thought of what was going on in class at school that very day. As we were by the bank of the creek, we all rushed into fixing our lines.
I concentrated on adding baits on to my hooks and tied up small stones as sinkersto each of the lines. While busy doing that, I didn’t bother in looking at what John and Joshua were doing nearby. But maybe they were doing exactly the same thing as me. As soon as baits and sinkers were done, we went straight ahead into fishing as we couldn`t hold back our desires anymore.
The atmosphere of fishing from the start was very exciting as we caught a lot of fish within a short space of time. That was as a result of the flood from the heavy downpour the previous day.
We fished and slowly moved away from the old spots and moved onto new locations. We all had agreed on fishing downstream as our desired direction. The morning part of the day into our fishing trip was just as exciting and wonderful as it was expected.
As we continued on in fishing downstream, I heard a noise that sounded like a cheering crowd of people. We were quite a distance away from each other but I don’t know whether the two boys had heard the noise or not. I couldn’t verify the nature of the sound as the noise from the splashing waterfalls and the noise of the speeding water currents hitting the rocks were of deafening.
Our attention was not focused on the noise that was ringing into our ears as we have fully concentrated in having our eyes fixed on our lines in looking out for any signs of prey consuming our bait or not. But the volume of the noise that I heard was getting louder each time. I felt uneasy and left concentration of what I was doing and tried to figure out the source of the noise.
Eventually the noise got louder and it became clearer to my ears as that of a sound of an excited crowd of people. We were not aware that the noise was from John and Joshua`s classmates and their teacher. My two playmates, being detected as absentees from the morning roll call in class by their teacher,who dispatched a search party to go after the two boys.
Some of the mates of the two boys from the search party who were from the same locality as us knew exactly where the two were likely to be on that day, so they have direct the search party to the suspected location.
It wasa good guess as they led the search party to the right location. The noise from the search party grew louderas they were a short distance away from us but we were distracted by the deafening sound of the uneven flow of water current and waterfalls.
The search party may have conducted their search from downstream and have moved upstream in pursuit of the two boys. All of a sudden, some members of the search party popped out into the clearing from the sharp bend of the water course. They took us all by surprise. Some of the boys who were acting as team leaders – I could still remember their names -Batre, Je, Bulye, and Kap yelled out with laughter, making us confused and panicked as they spotted us. The distance from the bend of the water course to where we stood, was a mere 30 meters or so away. Batre, a sixth grader who was acting as one of the commanding officers, pointed his finger at me and these were his words of command to us in our Jiwaka dialect:“Nimangnimtalbulkenapuyakinemoya,” which can be interpreted as “you and your two brothers remain where you are and do not try to run away!” In realising what was about to eventuate, my heart was pounding rapidly and I was shaken with fear.
That very instant my fishing line automatically dropped from my fingers. My two playmates who were the target of the search party knew what was about to befall them, so they fled into the nearby bushes with the hope of escaping.
In panicI fled upstream. My tiny legs were just as helpful in aiding me a swift escape. I jumped from one rock to another, from the sand into pools of water – avoiding obstacles and dangerous spots. But at times I fell off track and went crashing into the water or got myself hurt.
I was thinking to myself that I had to escape at all cost to avoid the embarrassment of being caught and brought out into school together with the two senior absent students. That is what I had thought to myself.
Laughter and cheering could be heard from the search party as they pursued my two play mates. I heard boys from the search party call out saying, ‘there he goes, catch him, follow him.”
They may have referred to one of the two boys. From what I have learnt later over the day, John who was thin and flexible had managed to escape to freedom. Joshua who was fat and bulky couldn’t get away from his captors and was caught and brought into the school.
From the story I confirmed in the evening of that day, Joshua was brought into the classroom by his mates and teacher where he had attended class for the remaining part of the day.
By the way, Philip, a classmate of the two absent students who had been present on that schooling day and who was a member to the search party had a promising career after school.
He and John had passed the Grade six exam and went on to Fatima High School together in 1984. After the successful completion of their high school studies, both were selected to Kerevat National High School in East New Britain for Grade 11 and 12.
Philip went on to take up electrical engineering studies at the Papua New Guinea University of Technology in Lae after Grade 12 while his classmate John entered the Civil Aviation Training College in Port Moresby. After the completion of their respective studies, Philip became an electrical engineer while his classmate, John made it as an air traffic controller.
However, their mate Joshua who dropped out at Grade 6 didn’t give up hope easily. He had persisted and eventually graduated with a certificate in agriculture from a church-run vocational school at Yauna near Kainantu, Eastern Highlands.
The trio whom I had known as fifth graders at our local school back in 1983 have done well. Joshua resigned from his job as a sales supervisor at the New Zealand-run Christian Leaders Training College farm near Banzin his home province of Jiwaka.
He later ventured into business and is now a small businessman. John in his profession as an air traffic controller at the Port Moresby`s Jacksons Airport, got promoted and became senior officer at the PNG Air Services Division of the then Department of Civil Aviation.
Philip with his brilliance as an electrical engineer proved his worth and has made his way up to become the mine superintendent at the Barrick-operated Porgera Gold Mine in the Enga.
A student or a person’s achievement, success or an accomplishment can be attributed to advice from a mentor, father, teacher or true friend. Therefore I acknowledge and salute the class teacher of the three boys, who I still recall as Mr Ben from West New Britain.
I thank him for the concern he had shown for his two absent students on a wrong fishing day years ago.
By PAUL MINGA