This story is set in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in the 1970's.
A Short Story
The living room floor glowed amber brown catching the light filtering through the fly wire mesh . The house was quiet except for the steady hum of the ceiling fan rotating overhead. Outside children shouted and a dog barked. Where had everyone disappeared to? An hour ago the house was abuzz with activity as his family prepared to leave and now they were gone, leaving the drama without a climax.
His toes felt the wooden surface of the coffee table carved in the shape of a crocodile which his father had bought at Smugglers Inn, in Madang, with its seahorse shaped pool and restaurant looking out over the Arifuan Sea.
The fan moved air causing the pages of a magazine on the coffee table to flutter.
Then his mind turned, as he knew it would, to the events of the previous afternoon. The memory was there and always would be. It would form a cornerstone in the structure of his mind and already he found it difficult to remember what it was like before he had it.
The weather on the previous afternoon had been much the same as every other day in the dry season - hot and bright, the sky a deep, cloudless blue. He and his mother drove to Koki Market to purchase fruit and vegetables for the coming week. At the top of Three Mile Hill he looked across the grey, green landscape, dotted with rooftops, then across to the blue, ever changing, white tipped ocean. The horizon was a sharp dividing line between the sky and sea, and it reminded him of peeling the label off a bottle. He imagined peeling the sky from the surface of the sea. Would the sky tear and everything fall apart? The air from the floor vent touched his bare leg.
At the bottom of the hill the view of the sea disappeared to be replaced by auto repair shops and car dealerships. Soon they were driving into Koki Market, a series of open structures with cement slab floors and corrugated iron roofs, beneath which women sat, their produce arranged in front of them - mangoes, paw paws, bananas, sweet potatoes, tomatoes, cucumbers, taro, as well as handicrafts- necklaces, bilums, woven baskets, clay pots.
The car park, which in the wet season was a series of large puddles, was today a dusty expanse. He left his mother and walked towards the Chinese trade store across the main road. Betel nut stained the cement stairs up to the stores broad entrance, which at night was secured by a metal grid.
On entering the store, once his eyes had adjusted to the dimness of the light, he was struck, as always, by the space in which he found himself. Every inch of the ceiling and walls were covered with household items, each more exotic or mundane than the next. What wasn’t on shelves, or locked away in glass cabinets, was hanging from the ceiling or stacked on tables crowding the room. Pots jostled with paraffin lamps, T shirts with trinkets, fabrics with firecrackers. The brightly colored Chinese letterings on the labels of foodstuffs glowed through the haze. In the corner, at the end of the shop, barely visible, was a counter and here he purchased a coke and some salty plums. When he stepped back out in the brightness he was surprised by how close the ocean felt, its scent carried on a sea breeze.
In the car park he saw a group of people milling around some central drama. He heard shouts and laughter. As he approached the group he saw his mother standing in the middle, crying. She shouted at a man holding a large stick. At their feet, motionless, lay a skinny dark haired dog. His mother turned and saw him. She spoke one last time to the man, then turned and walked through the crowd.
They didn't speak on the drive home.
The fan beat overhead and his heart was filled to overflowing with love for his mother.
Clinton De Vere