Sometimes, you don’t need words to tell a story. Every day, nature tells us colourful and interesting stories that if you look closely – these stories reflect us (humans), and the way we are.
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.
Princess celebrated motherhood yesterday when her eight babies learnt to fly for the first time on our lawn in Bellbowrie, Queensland (Australia). She is a wild wood duck who grew up in our family home. I have written three stories about her on this blog, see the links below to bring you up to date with her life story.
You could say – after all she has been through, she deserved one happiness, and that she has. She literally grew up inside the house – in my son Nathan’s bedroom – she lived in a crate at night and during the day, we watched her wander around the yard, and making friends with other adult wild ducks and our laying chickens. She would always come back upstairs when it got dark.
I had rescued Princess in 2013 just after Christmas with five other ducklings in our back-yard. During the course of raising the ducklings my sons and I became parents as well as students, learning how we could help the ducklings grow and then release them back into the wild. Goodness knows what was going on in the communication from duck to human language, but soon, the ducklings fell into a pattern of eating, playing, swimming and just following each other and anyone of the three of us, in a line when we walked around the property. When we decided to name the ducklings, she stood out because she was the smallest and had a nervous twitch – everything had to be done for her. She would just wait to be served.
Princess’ four siblings died in the process of growing – the vet said, it could be anything – the stress, cold, fright, and drowning. There were two ducklings left. Princess and her sister. They continued to live with us inside the house in one of the spare bathrooms at night and much to the disgust of our visiting friends and family who sometimes accidentally stepped on duck poop. As they got older and stronger, we let the two sisters swim in a small water tank which was deeper than the bath. Later they took to our swimming pool and we could see them really enjoying themselves. When they became taller and their wings got bigger we knew they were ready to fly; my son trained them to fly off our balcony into the pool (15 metres away) and also fly onto the lawn from the two story house.
With her nervous twitch, we noticed, her big sister became protective of Princess any time she found things difficult. She would nuzzled Princess and peck her gently to settle her. I became very attached to the confident big sister. She was a very smart and a caring big sister, She always tried new things and places before involving Princess. The two ducks bonded closely and were almost ready to be trained back into the wild together. Early one evening while we were having dinner with the two ducks tucked into their large box on our verandah, a python came up, unexpectedly, slipped into the box and coiled around one duck – the confident sister.
From that day onwards, Princess remained in the house with us, less confident to fly and became very attached. A few weeks later she started to regain her confidence. Then she tried to fly so Nathan took her to the window and she flew into the pool – about 30 metres away. She was natural. Swimming, diving and fluttering her wings. She loved it and started there all day – we had to bring her food to her, like a true Princess. She also flew a complete circle around our neighbours yard and took a swim in their brand new swimming pool. I jokingly told Princess, it was okay as long as she did not poop in their pool or get caught.
Then, one day a bunch of young male ducks that were hanging around our pool flew off and we saw her go. We followed her through a few neighbour’s property and decided, she was ready to go.
She returned to our property regularly and pretended she did not know us when we called her name. Sometimes, her twitch would become obvious – perhaps from worrying, we were trying to get her back. Amongst other wild ducks, when her name was called, Princess would be the only duck turning to look at us. It was funny. She had many suitors who often fought over her in the front lawn and the pool.
It was only a short time before Princess established herself with a pack of wild ducks that frequented our yard. Then Princess fell in love. Earlier this year, I posted a story about Princess and her first ducklings.
On their first day, she brought her babies out for a walk and played in our yard and then a swim in the pool. Within a few days, she decided to leave our property and cross the main road into a vacant block which led into the wild, a creek and then Brisbane River. I followed them to the edge of the bush concerned she had made a grave decision. There was a big storm, the next day. The mother, partner and babies – did not show up for two days.
Click here to read Nothing Came with the Rain story
Seven weeks ago, my son Nathan was very excited about new ducklings in our yard. Ducks don’t always have babies in winter so we were surprised. We rushed out and counted eight baby ducks. Sure enough, someone had been busy, it was Princess and her partner with their ducklings. She had also lost the nervous twitch. The ducklings were not newborn. They were at least two-three weeks old. She had hid her babies until they grew up. It was clearly a clever plan by Princess. We could not work out where they were before they came home.
Attentive and followed by her partner and their babies, Princess headed for the chicken’s feed. Even the chickens let the ducks eat. We were all overjoyed.
I decided to buy some duck food from our local produce store. I did not post a story about the new arrivals earlier, just to let Princess have the quiet life she wanted and raise her eight daughters. Our family tried to keep our distance and no paparazzi were allowed. It has been almost five weeks since they arrived and adding the first few weeks in hiding, they have grown rapidly and are now ready to fly. Usually the babies grow their strong feathers by six weeks and fly at eight weeks.
The mother got them started in the pool – flapping wings and lifting off – then falling on the water. The training also takes place in the water and on our lawn – just as we tried to teach her. It is quite funny and heart-warming to watch. Ten days ago, wild foxes got into our chicken coop and took Lady Stella. (That’s another story). After the midnight drama and the shock of losing the toughest hen – we raced about our property trying to find Princess and her family. We discovered, after all this time, she had cleverly nested her family in the thick layers of my flowers just on the water’s edge in our fenced swimming pool where no large animal can get in. She family planned well in the sense that being winter, even the snakes would be hibernating. So…they are safe for now and it is only days before the new girls will fly. Then, they will all be in the wild together.
I feel that Princess has truly achieved motherhood and as her mother, I am very proud of her.