The Hillside Find is a short story I wrote when I first started blogging over a year ago. It is based on my life as a young journalist working in my first job in Papua New Guinea’s leading daily, The Post Courier.
I have entered this story in the PNG’s annual literature competition which closes on June 30th. If you are interested, please visit also the two links below to see other entries from PNG writers. I will post my second entry tomorrow. The word limit is 1000 words.
The Hillside Find
Joycelin Kauc Leahy© for Crocodile Prize Short Story
We climbed together, side by side. Chief Superintendent Roy Tiden and I stepped through the tall kunai grass and up the rocky Ranuguri hillside. The mid afternoon sun fought with its last strength, throwing an orangey tinge on the grass and on vibrant houses on the hillside. Ranuguri is in Konedobu. Below, the sound of traffic in Kone died down as we moved further up. It was a Tuesday in February 1985; the year Papua New Guinea would celebrate its ten years of independence from Australia. It was also the year the country recorded the highest crime rate in Port Moresby. Solving crimes excited me. At nineteen, and reporting for PNG’s leading daily, life was never dull.
My mother had called the night before from Lae, asking me to bring my little brother to Port Moresby and care for him. I was the eldest of four and Rivona was turning eleven. Port Moresby crime figures were escalating and living here was hardly safe enough for me. I wondered how a historical government post such as Kone boasting the best harbour and a bustling business centre could also be afflicted with such a high crime rate. In the newsroom the talk was that a state of emergency would be declared for Port Moresby. I stopped briefly to wait for Supt Tiden. As he got closer, I continued climbing.
I wanted to care for my brother, knowing how hard it was for my mother with three young children. But I was afraid journalism work would keep me away for long hours. This was my first job, and I wanted to do well. Maybe I could also bring my grandmother, so she could help me with my brother. With my mind absorbed, I didn’t realise I’d left the superintendent behind. Glancing down at him for directions, Supt Tiden pointed to the top of the hill. I headed there with my bag and notebook, stepping carefully over the loose gravel and scattered boulders.
Down the hillside, Mr Tiden’s blue uniform showed through the green swaying Kunai grass. Further past him I could see some of the old colonial buildings. Colourful clothes danced on makeshift lines and smoke escaped from open fires. Next to the police headquarters other old buildings had been converted into the mining department offices. Several dozen vehicles were parked there. I brushed the sweat off my forehead and wiped it on my skirt.
When I got the call, Mr Tiden had mentioned a rise in death amongst gang members, especially young boys. He said he’d been called out a week ago to a crime scene where the body had already decomposed. While moving the remains onto a stretcher, the rotting arm dropped onto the superintendent, and as it brushed him the fingernails came off. Thinking of that story and what we might discover today, I felt nauseous. I wanted to get it over and done with and return to the comforts of the Post Courier newsroom. My workmates there have become my second family, away from my hometown Lae.
I neared the hilltop. Supt Tiden was several meters downhill. His large body restricted his speed up the hillside. He’d started puffing at the foot of Ranuguri and joked about racing me to the top, making light our reason for being there. By then he was already an astute detective with over 20 years of police work.
With the incident report descriptions of the crime location, I figured I would see a crime scene near where I stood. I expected the obvious: signs of damage to the land surface, a scrap of bloody clothing, and any kind of evidence. “Maybe, I am ON the scene,” I whispered to myself. The hairs on my skin stood. At my feet the ground was bare and uneven with rough limestone.
I called out, “Mr Tiden!’ Mr Tiden!” Out of respect I always referred to the superintendent as Mr Tiden. I could hear the wind blowing my voice down the valley. No response. My throat dried up as I hugged myself.
I looked around and across the hilltop trying to see where the sound of buzzing flies came from. I didn’t want to step on anything or anyone. I could not even see those damn flies, but I heard them very close. A crow soared and two others joined the circle, just metres above me. I held my notepad tight. I pulled my bag up to my chest and smelt the leather. Inside it were my no-brand cinnamon lipstick, an extra pen, a bunch of keys and the police issue can of chemical mace. Mr Tiden said I might need it one day.
“The mace!” I almost said out loud. But what help would it be? Apart from spurts of kunai, there was nothing else here. Whatever there was would not be too hard to find, but my legs refused to take me further. I waited. The flies buzzed and the grass shooed. I wished the police helicopter would blast up the hillside and break the silence.
I was about to call Mr Tiden again when I heard muffled cursing and knew he had arrived. “There you are, Joycelin.”
“Am I in the right place?”
“You are! That is great detective work,” he answered cheerfully.
I pretended to smile.
“Come this way.” He started turning down the opposite side of the hill then halted suddenly.
I walked up to him and looked down. Stretched out before us was a boy’s body. He had three large rocks weighing him down – on the neck, the abdomen and the legs. The head had a massive dent and the rock on his neck was covered in blood. “He can’t be more than 11 or 12 years old,” said Supt Tiden after a complete circuit around the body. I had not moved yet.
Supt Tiden looked up at me, waiting for a reaction. The only thing running through my head was my brother, Rivona.
It could have been him, I thought.
Thank you Isabel for all your help. This story is a tribute to Chief Supt Roy Tiden and also my brother, Rivona who are both no longer with us. Roy died years later and Rivona lived to be a young man in Port Moresby. Almost 20 years later and two weeks before his 32nd birthday, Rivona died suddenly.