My grandmother Geyamlamuo Poaluawe Baim (Geyam) was born on 4/4/1919. She died in 2008 while I was away in Vietnam on a university field trip. Like many others she raised, I called her Tinang which means mother. I miss her so much even though I know, she is always with me.
A Rope Ambush – Short Story (JLeahy Memoirs ©)
Dew glistened on blades and seed pockets as we walked through the thick wet grass. My sun-tanned legs were studded in pale green grass seeds. I wore my brown shorts and an old white T-shirt, ripped on the shoulders with pin holes all over. It was cooler and easier to work in. I was turning eight and tall.
“Jesus loves me this I know, for the bible tells me so”, I sang quietly as grandma and I headed for our garden. Tinang sang with me and then stopped. The morning was cool and the humidity took its time to arrive. I tried pushing the grass apart with a stick before stepping into the track so I would not step on toads, snakes or get wet. My feet were covered in mud. If we did not go to the main market in Lae town, Papua New Guinea on Saturdays, I would be out fishing or gardening with Tinang. I was glad Tinang’s elephantiasis leg did not swell up today and I knew even if her foot bothered her, she would have never mentioned it.
We had left the main road to Wagang village and were crossing the wet over-grown track to our old garden. The old and new gardens were side by side. We needed to pick up some young banana shoots, tapioca sticks and kaukau (sweet potato) leaves for the new garden. It was almost 8am. I knew the time because the ambulance had come to pick up my uncle for work at 7am and we had walked an hour from the village. We stopped to visit my aunt; otherwise it would have taken us half hour to 45 minutes. Our garden was further away than other gardens.
“Ampom Mamang!” grandma whispered suddenly.
That was a very quiet order, telling me to stop singing.
Over the birds’ songs and the wind rustling the leaves, I could hear voices and wood chopping.
“They are close” grandma said.
“Who were they?” “What were they chopping on our land?” I needed clarity but grandma’s eyes indicated – now was not the time.
We both stood still and listened. We could not see anyone yet. I knew the noisemakers were not our villagers. They spoke a different language and sometimes in conversation, they would speak pidgin. This meant, “they” were outsiders, most likely the squatter settlers. We called them Kaii. This word means foreigners. Tinang and I had no idea how many they were.
Tinang signed that we would take a short cut through the trees and hide in the bushes near our coconut trees. The trees were planted as a landmark close to the boundary of the Martin Luther Seminary. This spot had some vines and thick undergrowth. Beyond the seminary, our tribal land was occupied by hundreds of illegal squatter settlers. They came from Morobe Province and the highlands of Papua New Guinea. Many settlers had lived there for up to three generations and claimed the land as theirs. Often, there were fights between villagers and the settlers.
As grandma and I got closer, the sound of chopping became distinct. People were talking and laughing. They joked and laughed as they went about their business.
Through the thick undergrowth and heavily entwined creepers, we counted seven adult male. Three had ‘weapons’ – two knives and one axe. Grandma and I only had one bush knife. I looked at her and then I watched the others break the dry firewood and stacked them on bush vines – prepared to be tied into a bundle.
Tinang made eyes to be quiet and move quickly. She was almost sixty, but she could move quickly even with her bad leg. She cut a long creeper and removed all the leaves. It was strong and several metres long. Then grandma cut the second one and did the same thing.
Two of the men started playing and chased each other and one jumped almost into our secret hiding place under the vines. I froze. The man fell two metres away, got up and ran and playfully pushed his friend over.
His friend tripped over some Hessian bags and fell. It was the first time I noticed the old brown bags were filled with food. We called these bags “copra bags” because our people sold their copra in the bags. I counted seven bags and four bundles of bananas. They could not get anymore bananas because I knew from last week, only four were ready to harvest. They did take a lot of sweet potatoes and tapioca. They also had taros that I could see from the open bags. They men harvested our gardens for themselves and now to top it off, they helped themselves to our firewood. They must have begun this thieving trip very early this morning I thought and I felt very angry.
I looked at grandma and she was very busy tying ropes in different parts of the bush – it was like, she was setting up a rope trap. I wondered how we would catch these grown men in our rope traps. I was afraid.
I lifted my chin in a question to grandma and made eyes at the ropes. She signalled me to wait and see. Once she tied the two creepers on all the small Aducbo trees, she brought their ends to one spot and told me to stand there and get ready to pull. I grabbed the robes and took my position. She worked under the vines and tied all the trunks of small trees in a semicircle.
Tinang cut two more strong thick vines and quietly under the cover of the vines, she creeped around to the opposite of the spot where I was. She winked at me and smiled. I knew she was up to something and although I was afraid of the men, I was confident she had a good plan.
After she tied the ropes at her side, grandma returned to me and asked.
“Are you afraid?”
“No Tinang” I said and smiled at her.
She hugged me. Then she whispered in my ear that she will give me a queue when she starts yelling abuses – I must, in my loudest and scariest voice scream and be very abusive as well and pull the two ropes at the same time.
The words I was to scream out were; ”What are you doing? What are you doing on my land?” “We will kill you, we will get you! We are coming for you!”
Grandma returned to her position and she stared hard at me and nodded, I nodded back and she started pulling the trees and screaming abuses. All the trees became alive in a semi-circle. I was surprised.
Caught off guard too, the men ran in my direction and I started doing the same thing. The ropes yanked the small trees – making noise and in an ambush, leaving only two escape routes. One gap led back to the garden and one led to the opening facing the Martin Luther seminary. Fleeing back in the direction to the garden, the men realised their mistake, turned and ran to the seminary. Tinang and I kept screaming and shaking pulling the trees and bushes until we were sure the thieves were gone. Then we hugged and laughed until we cried.
We inspected and confirmed the bags of food were harvested from our gardens. The thieves also left their two bush-knives and an axe. There were some dirty ripped smelly shirts, which we threw into the trees to hang as flags to celebrate our successful ambush.
Together, grandma and I carried the bags to new hiding places. Then we took the axe and bush knives and went to get my uncles to help carry our harvest home.