By DANIEL KUMBON
In the first segment of my short story – ‘The Old Man, his Departed Wife and The Young Girl’- we read how the old man’s wife, Rosemary was tragically killed. Now we will find out how the couple had met and how the young girl tries to take Rosemary’s place..…
THE Old Man’s name is Akali Wakane thus the initials AK in the love letter he had written in 1976. But he shall continue to be referred to as the Old Man because tragedy struck late in life when his wife was plucked away from him so suddenly.
He had met Rosemary at the university – he a law student and she an arts student majoring in social work. He claimed her as his own soulmate soon after writing this framed letter which was now in his hands.
At the time, they were both into their second year of study at the University of Papua New Guinea and did not seek prior approval from their parents and relatives before they decided to live together.
When the news reached their villages, it spread far and wide on both sides of their families. They were the subject of ridicule, accused of seeking the pleasures of their skin instead of concentrating more on their studies. Some relatives even predicted the young couple would drop out in the first semester. They felt school fees had been wasted on them.
People were entitled to express their views because, to them, the school fees they paid seemed very important. But nobody could deny or separate them from the unconditional love they had for each other. Something like a powerful magnet had bonded them permanently and they were determined to face challenges together.
It was all about their own personal lives. How they managed was up to them. They ignored gossip and false rumors spread by other people. They knew they had to complete their studies too, because their future was in their own hands.
And they did not want to jeopardise the future of somebody so important and dear to them – the baby that was growing in Rosemary’s womb.
True, he decided to live with Rosemary because he loved her. But how does one perceive beauty in a woman? For some it could be her smile, white teeth, bright eyes, shapely legs, straight perfect nose, and rings in her ears or her make up.
For others it could be her shapely body and firm jutting breasts. Rosemary possessed some of these attributes too, but The Old Man was drawn more by an air of openness that surrounded her like a halo. He felt certain she was the robust hardworking type able to accomplish many tasks at ease without much complaint. And the fruit was that which was developing within her.
“You will be comfortable with a woman who works hard. Such women are humble. They will stand by your side in times of great need,” elders told him in the hausman. “And look after the first child she bears. Allow your children to grow strong before another is conceived, for he or she will look after the younger siblings.”
The Old Man felt proud to have made the right decision to claim Rosemary as his life-long partner when they were still students. They remained true to each other in the 45 years they lived together.
They raised their first child, a boy, under trying conditions – with their meagre fortnightly pocket allowance of K13 paid to each of them under the government’s free tuition fee education programme supplemented by occasional cash assistance given by generous friends and relatives.
They lived in a one-bedroom unit at the married quarters on campus and ate in the student mess. Book allowances were provided under the Government’s free education scholarship scheme so there wasn’t much else they needed. They utilised scarce resources to maximum use, a habit that saw them succeed in their adult working life.
He loved the way Rosemary respected him, washed their laundry and managed to nurse their first child. Never did she ask him to baby sit which would undermine his manly character unless of course he himself picked up his own son to give him a hug. Her resilience and willingness to face tough challenges paid off when she graduated together with him in 1978.
During semester breaks, when she had enough funds Rosemary liked going to the village to get herself acquainted with her in-laws. Before they graduated, relatives were notified to prepare bride price payment. The relatives did not hesitate because she was an educated girl, a degree holder who would become their own tambu for life – their bridal wealth consisting of cash and pigs meant next to nothing. The whole tribe liked Rosemary for her selfless, open sharing nature.
In April, their graduation party commenced and culminated with the bride price payment and the usual feasts and celebrations that follow a traditional marriage among the Enga people in the central Highlands region of Papua New Guinea. People like to contribute more to the payment when the bride is somebody they like. The day Rosemary was paid her due, there was much wealth on display. Her people gratefully accepted it without a single noise from her parents and relatives. There was enough for everyone.
Over the years, Rosemary proved to be a loving mother to three gorgeous children – two boys and one girl. She was not only a mother but a close friend and supporter of her husband.
She was a strong influence in her children’s education, the type of woman men pay attention with special care and high esteem. She was everything a man could ever wish in a woman – a towering pillar of love and influence in the household.
In traditional times, Rosemary was the type of woman that a man could easily sever his finger or ear lobe over her dead body. They would roll on the ground, kick dust clouds and wail with such force that it would seem as if the world would end, the mountains would shake at the foundations or the rivers would dry up. They would rub white clay all over their bodies and mourn for days.
The Old Man however, confined himself to his mansion as if it were a cocoon.
Five years previously, Rosemary and The Old Man had renewed their wedding vows at the St Mary’s Cathedral in Port Moresby and celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary on the 20th floor of the Grand Papua Hotel.
It was a ruby anniversary and the room was filled with red. All the decorations were in red. Every close friend and relative was dressed in red, and red wine flowed freely. The glittering city lights outside seen through all the glass windows added more spectacle and it seemed as if the couple were renewing their vows among the stars in the heavens.
Tonight, The Old Man had to cry harder and a little longer because he could not believe that he had actually considered for a moment remarrying a distant girl who pestered him with constant text messages. A request came every now and then almost convincing him to accept her into his life.
“Don’t you need a woman in your house right now?” the girl said in a text message. “Look at all your dirty linen, dirty utensils and dirty floor. And look outside the window. Who is tending the flower gardens and raking up dead leaves that are piling up?
“Don’t write to me like that. You must complete your nurse training, find a job and start your own family. I have treated you like my own daughter. You must listen to my advice. Besides, I am a very old man for you to drag me along.”
“I really appreciate your advice and what you have done for me and mum. I have always loved you like my own father. But take me into your life right now. I will look after you and repay your kindness,” she replied.
“I know what you mean. But listen to me. I can’t indulge in such thoughts. No, I can’t allow myself to go against my conscience. You are like my own child.”
‘But you are not my father, nor are you my cousin, uncle or whatever. I am not a small girl any more. I know you enough to love you a notch higher. Don’t you know that many young girls marry much older men these days? Don’t be a silly old man. You must accept me into your life right now. Surely you need a woman, don’t you?”
“But I am an old man of a different kind. I can’t discuss this issue with you anymore. Please stop texting me on this matter. Cheers.”
‘You don’t know what you are talking about. You don’t know what you are missing. I tell you – you need a woman in your house. I cannot allow anybody else to come live with you. I am already filled with your love. Think about me before you go to sleep tonight.”
What bothered The Old Man was that she was no stranger but someone he and his late wife were acquainted with. They had helped her the last couple of years and treated her as one of their own children. And a close family friend like many other disadvantaged children right throughout the country. They all referred to them as their ‘daddy’ or ‘mummy.’
But the girl was right in one sense. If he were like other men who had never been deeply committed to their wives, he would definitely have remarried as soon as Rosemary was buried. But he had special regard for Rosemary and had mourned for one whole year up until now.
But to take this girl he and Rosemary had groomed into a beautiful young woman didn’t seem right. The girl’s happy smiling picture was hanging right there on the living room wall in his house among other family photos. He and Rosemary were responsible for putting that very smile on her face.
But how was it now possible for the girl to insist on marrying him and express herself as she would to a young man of her own age group?
‘Daddy, my heart. It is hard to forget you. You are not close by to see and understand my situation. The word ‘cheers’ – it breaks my heart and my thoughts too. Oh please.’
This last message stunned him – a young girl after a man fit to be her father.
But was she wrong?
- Daniel Kumbon is a freelance writer.