Tag Archives: non-fiction short story

A Rope Ambush


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Tinang and I in 2006, Wagang Village, PNG.

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.

Tinang 2006
Tinang at her home in Lae 2006.

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.

Short Story: Swamped


Final part of  SWAMPED

(JLeahy on Creative Writing with Isabel De Avila Winter ) ©

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Public Domain image.

I remained standing at the T-junction and my attention shifted to where the two waterways met. I wondered where the birds were today. By now, the sun rays would have come through the leaves and woken the birds, causing an eruption of an electrifying orchestra. There was not a single bird-song. That part of the equatorial rainforest norm was missing.

My arms hung loose and lifeless, I could not feel them. I tried to, but I could not lift my arms nor move my legs. I was not terrified; I only felt stuck and this alarmed me a little because the mud was not deep. When I drew breath, it was slow, restrictive, and my chest was constricted. Something large of several layers like a heavy coil of thick, soft, rubber hung around my neck and shoulders. It weighed me down. I was tall for a teenager, but my thin, weak and small shoulders were crushed by this weight. I thought it was a heavy towel as we often hung towel around our necks to keep warm while fishing. I shut my eyes.

And then it moved, so suddenly. I realised this was not a towel. It was a large snake, a python! A different set of knots, the horrid kind, started tightening inside me. On me, I saw the coils move and could feel it tightened.

My eyes re-focused. The snake’s colour reflected that of the greyish mud, faint yellow like a banana skin, and the brown mangrove tree bark. I could see the diamond-shaped outline of each scale. It was detailed vividly in intricate patterns on its centre spine above my breasts and just beneath my chin. The scale patterns, beautiful and seamless, disappeared under the next coil. I became more aware, alarmed and numbed by the weight, closeness and firmness of its grip. I shifted my eyes ahead beyond the mangrove. It did not make sense to scream and it seemed too hard to remember how to scream. I refused to imagine where the snake’s head would be, I did not want to meet it nor look into its eyes. Now I remember how that poor pig must have felt when the python took it behind our house. Was this the same snake?

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Timor Python: Public Domain image

I waited for a few more minutes and I sensed the snake was not trying to kill me. That was strange. It seemed comfortable the way it restricted and detained me, and I was afraid to move and disturb it. The dank smell re-appeared and honed the swamp stink. I could not feel the mosquitos. I wondered if that stink was the snake. Its weight became too much and I wondered how long I would be standing there in the mud, carrying the snake.

Then, a single call of a Sock-ngkwing bird, the spirit bird, pierced the silence and my eardrums. I moved to the bird’s cry. The python tightened its grip, and squeezing .. and I screamed just like the bird, feeling my body become alive. I moved my arms and legs. I flipped over and woke up with my bed sheet tight around my neck. It was THAT dream. Before I went to high school, in my early teens, I had this dream so many times. It was always the same dream. I shuddered. Still tense and terrified, I went to see grandma.

I re-told the dream to my grandmother; she looked at me for a long time.  Her eyes searched, speaking to my face, without words.

“There is a decision you have to make, a path you have to choose. What is stopping you from choosing, is your fear”, she said.

I looked at Tinang, afraid.

“Don’t be afraid” she said and hugged me. I shut my eyes and fell against her soft, tattered, spun rayon dress. Grandma’s scent of Chinese White Flower lotion, mixed with mustard and chewed betel-nut soon erased the swamp stink. I had thought about this dream interpretation often when I was growing up, and it always frightened me because I knew what it was, but it was not a single thing; it was many…

Short story: Swamped


SWAMPED     (Copyright JLeahy on Creative Writing Wk 3)

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Mangrove stumps – Public Domain

The river emptied rapidly as the new day reluctantly begun. The sun had not yet arrived for warmth was lacking. I stood facing the river, able to see the creek. A war that was not ours took many of my family’s lives here, on this customary landmark. The small creek had reduced to a thin flow of a silver running snake. It slithered along a dark swampy path, often picking up flashes of light from the sun on its scales. The flashes only came when the mangrove trees allowed the sunlight trickle through its dense, green-yellow leaves. In contrast to the creek, the river was fuller, darker and moved in a quiet menacing meander. I was the tallest, standing amongst the mangrove stumps. Around me was hazy with un-condensed dew and I could not find my way, even though I had been here many times. I could almost smell the dank, which hung in a strange and familiar blanket.

This is the opening of a short-story (non-fiction) for our exercise in the Creative Writing Workshop – Kenmore. I wanted to share the opening with you. I may post more depending on how the story ends up. It may become a chapter in the JL memoir. I hope you like it.

A Wash In The Bush – Short Story


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Google Images – Fireflies

It was pitch black. The day had gone. Heat and humidity parted swiftly and everything was swallowed by the early evening darkness. By touch, I placed my towel on a nearby tree branch and stripped for my bush wash. My skin woke to the cool breeze. My right foot carefully searched on the large, rough and wet stones to the small piece of plywood. I stepped up, trying to keep it balanced under my weight. The ‘ply’ was held up by other stones. The underneath was muddy water. I stared into darkness and caught very faint glimpses of trees.

Already pulled out of the well with a rope and bucket, I reached it. The water felt cold. Today was an especially hot day. My mind went over how sticky it was. As I filled the saucepan, the steel cooled to the temperature of the water. I raised the saucepan and saw them coming. The ‘light’ visitors. They came in a fanfare of glows seemingly in rhythm, yet, their presence was soundless. I realised I had missed the fireflies in Port Moresby’s city life.

The fireflies came closer as if curious. They scribbled bright disappearing lines in the ‘black’ all around me. Their light made the darkness even darker. 

I poured quickly. The water was cold.
“Ohhh nice!” half-shivering, I yelled out to my family, wanting to connect us through the depth of darkness between us. The chattering of my mother, my sons and, nieces and nephews were a few metres away.
This well water must have come from the centre of the earth. Untouched by the 36 degrees heat of Lae, Morobe Province. It was so cold.
After pouring three saucepans of water on myself I looked up again. By now the fireflies gathered just above me. They synchronised in an orbit-like dance. I looked up at the fireflies, entrenched, and the soft mushy Lux bathing soap slipped out of my hand. The soap’s creamy white oval-shape slithered away under the old plywood with a soft plonk in the muddy water.
“Shit!”
I am not about to put my hands in there I thought. I stared at the ‘nothing’. It was still pitch black. I bent my knees but half-way, I decided, it was not a good idea. I am not going to find that soap unless I am prepared to feel through snakes, centipede, spiders, worms, and God knows what else is in there.
An owl startled me back to reality. I listened to the owl speak to another softly. I was dripping, half-soaped and cooling down fast. The fireflies lost their rhythm and separated. They flew away. I reached for another saucepan of the cool rinse and grabbed my towel.
“I’m finished!” I called and picked up my clothes.
Through the bush, I could hear my mother bringing my sons towards me to wash them. They were nine and six. She had the lamp and the boys had their torches. Suddenly, everything looked different.
In the background, my nieces and nephews were waiting their turn to the waterhole. My cousin Sam Newton dug this well before he even built his house. The water feeds and quenches the thirst of hundreds in our community. Because of where Sam had dug the well, the water remained cool all day and night. We used the water for cooking, drinking and washing.
“Where is the soap?” I heard my mother ask.
“Forget the soap Ma, just wash them in the water”.
I smiled and dried myself.