Crocodile Prize winning entry – Short Story Award

A song for camels

Jeffrey Febi

 

 

There was an abrupt scream. And Mihi stopped in his track. He turned slowly with his heavy load and there was no one in sight.

 

His heart jumped! And beat faster. Then his body started shaking in panic. The sudden rush of blood forced out sweat and compelled him to do something.

 

He quickly but carefully lowered his sun-dried coffee beans in a tightly packed, used white 20kg flour bag on the ground and ran downhill calling loudly.

 

“Somolieeeeee! Somolieeeee!” He didn’t hear his quivered voice echoed across the jungle yonder.

 

Somolie, a short and thin but tough guy with really strong arms hanging from broad shoulders that defined his physique, could easily be hidden from his view by tall grasses; but he was not certain.

 

He stopped at a spot where some Kunai grasses have been bent under the weight of something. He stepped forward, carefully, and called out.

 

A desperate voice responded and he moved closer to the edge of a cliff. Then peered over and saw Somolie hanging desperately onto some vines and small branches.

 

Mihi breathed a deep sigh. And for the first time ever saw Somolie’s bald head. It was smooth and shiny, even under the cliff’s shadow. Mihi called down and asked if Somolie was alright. The response was positive.

 

Somolie’s cap was missing and he dreaded the thought of losing it. He looked down and spotted his coffee bag. Fortunately, it had landed on a cluster of wild tiny species of bamboo that were growing there. And realised it was safe where it had landed than himself.

 

Somolie carefully climbed down, then retrieved his coffee bag. He managed to drag his bag back up to where a vine which Mihi threw down had landed.

 

When Somolie and his coffee bag were safely up on the track, they sat down to rest.

 

It wasn’t the first time for such to have occurred. Many others have lost stuff including store goods such as cartons of SP Brown beer to the fast flowing river below. Men, women and children have all had their share of experiences on this steep stretch of Kuipi track; a shortcut over the Kuipi Mountain which constitute one half of a rather unforgiving gorge.

 

It is a major track and its users call it their highway. Upon it tones of garden food, coffee beans, store goods, building materials, and even coffins with corpses have been transported for years – after their only road became impassable to vehicles due to continuing neglect.

 

Mihi broke the silence. “You’re lucky!” And pointed to a spot further down and remarked. “If it had been there; it’s a plummet to certain death”.

 

Somolie agreed with a weary nod as a vivid recollection of a recent fatal fall he had witnessed flashed across his mind.

 

Then he slowly stood up and caressed his bottom. “It hurts”, he groaned. “Something had scratched my bottom”, he continued, then jokingly checked his private parts to ensure their wellbeing. “All intact!” he declared with a grin, and ensured his cap sat well on his head.

 

Mihi let out a stifled laugh. He didn’t want to offend Somolie, but he really wanted to laugh. The sight of Somolie hanging like a bald cuscus was funny. He bowed his head to conceal his beaming face.

 

Then Somolie started laughing. Mihi burst into laughter and they laughed. Somolie managed to explain between laughs that he stepped aside to urinate and lost his balance. Then he threw his coffee bag and jumped after it.

 

After a good long laugh, Somolie shouldered his bag and followed Mihi up the track. They have to reach the top which seem further still before the sun gathers all its strength.

 

As he was slowly climbing, Somolie began to sing a song; with a voice that seemed devoid of shock.

 

They call us camels. They call us white horses.

They call us semi-trailers. They call us many names.

Names of things we don’t know much of.

 

We’re they who walk with the strength of our fathers.

Those bygone men who had tamed angry rivers,

Appeased bellowing clouds and walked with mists.

 

Our coffee beans shall not go to waste!

Our coffee beans shall not go to waste!

O no – no – no; shall not go to waste!

 

Mihi joined and they sang with a certain pride that sent the song speeding downhill on the wings of a determined breeze.

 

Far below, an army of white bags in a long and winding line resembling a herd of camels on a journey came into view. When the song reached them, hearts were touched and moved. Many repeated the chorus and the gorge reverberated with their inspiration.

 

It is their song and they loved it. It inspires strength which they need in order to climb Kuipi; and confidence to walk shamelessly with their loads through villages (whose inhabitants ridicule and call them names) along the road.

 

And they continued singing their hearts out – husbands, wives and their children.

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About febijefwhispers
I love reading and writing poetry!

8 Responses to Crocodile Prize winning entry – Short Story Award

  1. Inox Haguna says:

    Best ever short story written by an upcoming generation of Papua New Guinean writers.

    Inox

  2. Charlie Yane says:

    Excellent piece of writting beautifully written. It ingenuosly describes the governments lack of provision of basic infrastructure like roads and bridges, the versatility of our people to fend for themselves without much help from the government or any body else and a resignation to their fate, a reflection of the unenviable situation they find themselves in. It also reminds one of the struggles that 80% plus of PNGeans go through daily.. Nicely written

  3. Maivo L says:

    Well written short story and vividly remainds me of my home village. Were the only cash crop is coffee and people have to struggle for four to five hours walking from the rugged mountain ranges to the mainroad to sell coffee because there aint any road connections to ma village. If the road is closed or detoriorates it is even heart breaking to see my relatives tracking the highest mountain in Eastern Highlands, Mt Michael from my “hanpaus” village for 10 to 12 hours or even more depending on the whether conditions before reaching the main road at Hila/ Hairo near lufa station. I have walked the track many times and from experience carrying a sleeping bag alone is heavy. So for a coffe bag, u need a tracktor. That is why names such as tractor, whitehorse and koffee kar are given to us by those who leave along or near the road side. Many have lost their lives on the track or developed long term diseases that led to their death because of the heavy mass weight twice or three times there size being carried over a period of time. Many a times this has been blamed on soccery without them realizing it.
    There are many rural areas experiencing far worse situation than this but this has become a norm of their society.
    How long will this continue??? for another 36 years or should the government do something about it……

    Congratulations Mr. Febi winning the award for the story and i know if im not wrong that was our story . Characters name + the discriptive words sounds familiar.

    Maivo Lafanama (upisa ala)

    • FEBIJEF says:

      Yes Maivo, thank yu tru. Mi tok long ples blong mitla…yupla katsot go long Hila/Hairo na mipla ol Unavi save go long Gouno na salim coffee nogat em Komaipas stret or sampla taim Hata Market.

  4. Martin Maden says:

    Thank you Bro.
    A beautiful and inspiring story.
    You have a gift for feeling and describing the moment.
    Best Wishes,
    Martin

  5. Fitalo Pyaso says:

    I can vividly recall a similar experience I had along the Whagi Gorge between Dom and Wara Maril. The victim was my lecturer, thankfully saved by my brother M. Yomba in a split second, from falling straight into the fast flowing Whagi……….Descriptively written.

  6. bougainville fan says:

    memories of days in bougaiville climbing mountains in the Kieta area..and walking under cocoa plantations harvesting cocoa beans are reflected in the hardships encountered by the main charater in the story..naispela story long png laikim tumas..

  7. Ben Ruli says:

    This is a great story and well expressed from the insight of the actors themselves. I have heard those names being called several times while walking home for holidays and returning back to school from home.

    I just don’t know when the names will be erased from the peoples mind and when they will stop carrying the coffee bags. So far two people (elderly men) have died from carrying coffee bags to sell them in town from climbing those mountains. So sad to see the trend becoming a norm and people dying like those animals they are named after.

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