(A short story set in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea, in the 1970's.)
A. took a small smooth stone from the ground, tossed it into the air and caught it. He then aimed at the gum tree a distance away, and in one graceful movement threw it so it hit the tree's trunk with a thud. Below us, at the bottom of the hill we heard the sound of children's laughter.
A. chuckled to himself, as he often did, as though a private joke would be lost if he told it. The ground's dusty surface felt warm on the soles of my feet. With my toe I pushed the loose soil into a small pile. The day was warming up.
'Nice shot,' I said.
After a time we proceeded with our expedition. The day was not waiting for us and indeed the sun was already high in the cloudless blue sky. We followed the track up along the ridge through clumps of kunai grass. Fumes from the eucalyptus trees filled the late morning air which was abuzz with barely visible activity. It felt as though A. and I were stars in a big Hollywood production.
The hill was patchy with burnt off areas and the blue, dry season sky promised adventures and possibilities. In the distance, to our left, the profile of the Owen Stanley Ranges reminded us of our day's purpose.
'Look,' shouted Ant, pointing into the sky. I looked up and saw a Kitty Hawke circling, carried on a stream of warm air.
We soon reached the peak of the line of hills just above the old Show Grounds. Below us, across Waigani Drive, sat the glowing white structure of the Drive Inn screen. It felt out of place in the afternoon light, as though someone had forgotten to put it away; an inexplicable cultural artifact, a suburban Easter Island statue.
A steady stream of Saturday traffic flowed along Waigani Drive. From up here it felt like another world, almost another time. We started down the hill carefully avoiding burnt off areas where soft grey ash hid sharp stones, pointy sticks and broken glass.
Once on Waigani Drive we began walking towards Boroko, our index fingers out. We passed the Volkswagen dealership, then the stationary supply shop and the bakery and just when it seemed hardly worth it a ute pulled up and we jumped in. From the back of the ute the scene was transformed, as the black bitumen road rolled out from beneath the ute like a conveyor belt.
Our friends looked incongruous among the Saturday shoppers. This was due in part to the two giant inflated truck inner tubes (gumis)that stood in front of them and by which they were dwarfed. Behind us a group of women sat on the footpath their produce laid out in neat piles in front of them, their backs against the wall of the Chinese trade store. Cars pulled in and out with operatic grace and over everything was an air of cheerful gaiety.
The PMV (Public Motor Vehicle) was empty except for two other people and once it began moving the cabin filled with a rush of wind. We passed the airport and if a plane had landed at that moment we could have looked up and seen its undercarriage, close enough to touch.
After the turn off to the Plateau the road began its windy ascent to the foothills and to our destination: the pig farm. Then we are standing in front of the pig farm fence and looking into the main paddock with its hard mud surface dotted with clumps of pig shit. We climbed the fence, headed for the clumps and began searching for gold top mushrooms. After finding what we hoped were enough spindly specimens with which to get high we scampered back over the fence. We saw neither pig nor person.
At the river we divided up our harvest, put them in our mouths and washed them down with warm, sugary lemonade. We then threw the inner tubes into the fast flowing river and leaped in after them. My skin tingled and goosebumped on contact with the cool water and my thoughts and vision became clearer. Once on the tubes we lay back and let the river carry us.
Suddenly the light refracted and what had been clumpy bits of kunai grass and trees on the river's edge became a vast, roiling tangle of tropical jungle with multiple layers and shades of green. The river was now a knotted mass of brown and green, untangling and reshaping and, radiating upwards and outwards, the jungle and the river and the sky all one, and us, we, in the thing and it in us. The sun, the light, the reflection of light on the water, the heat, the cold, it was all one.
And that is where the memories of that day ends, as though the film in the projector broke or an energy surge erased the rest. In my final memory I am reclining on the smooth, cool black surface of the tube, feeling its soft solid rubber and air, my feet in the water, and the cool, cold mass of the fast flowing river is carrying us under the canopy of green vines and branches (and above that the sky), over rapids and around bends, and at one point I turn my head and look behind me, and see the vast silhouette of the Sogeri Plateau calling us home.
I am an Australian artist living in Düsseldorf, Germany.