'Cool' is a short story set in Port Moresby, Papua New Guinea in the 1970's.
A. picked up a small smooth stone from the ground and by way of testing it tossed it into the air and caught it. He aimed and in one graceful movement threw it in the direction of a gum tree a few metres away. The stone hit the trunk with a thud.
From down below at the bottom of the hill beneath the canopy of trees we heard children's laughter.
A. chuckled to himself, as he often did, as though a private joke would be lost if he told it. I felt the hard dusty surface as my toe pushed at a pile of loose soil. I lean back and close my eyes. The sun is warm on my face.
'Nice shot,' I say.
After a time we proceed on our expedition. Clearly the day was not waiting for us and indeed the sun was already high in the cloudless blue sky. We follow the track up the ridge through clumps of kunai grass. Fumes from the eucalyptus trees fill the late morning air which is abuzz with barely visible activity. It feels as though A. and I are stars in a big Hollywood production.
The hill is patchy with burnt off areas and the blue of the dry season sky promises adventure and possibility. In the distance, to our left, we can see the profile of the Owen Stanley Ranges reminding us of our day's purpose.
'Look,' shouts Ant, pointing into the sky. I look up and see a Kitty Hawke circling, carried on a stream of warm air.
We soon reach the peak of this line of hill just above the old Show Grounds. Down the hill, along the road, was 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 trickle of sweat ran down the left side of my body. 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 taking care to avoid the burnt off areas where soft grey ash hid sharp stones, pointy sticks and broken glass.
Once on Waigani Drive we begin walking towards Boroko, our index fingers out. We pass the Volkswagen dealership, then the stationary supply shop and the bakery and just when it seems hardly worth it a ute pulls up and we jump in. From the back of the ute the scene is transformed, as the black bitumen road rolls out from beneath the ute like a conveyor belt.
Our friends are waiting for us with two truck inner tubes. They seem incongruous among the shoppers. Near us a group of women sit with fruit and vegetables, as well as handicrafts, in front of them. Behind them is the Chinese trade store, with its dark interior and betel nut stained walls. Cars pull in and back out with operatic grace and over everything is an air of cheerful gaiety.
The PMV is empty except for two other people and once we begin moving the cabin fills with a rush of wind. We pass the airport and to our right the runway. If a plane landed now we could look up and see its undercarriage, close enough to touch.
The road followed the topography of the landscape, and soon the air changes as we begin climbing to the foothills of the Ranges.
Then we are standing in front of the pig farm fence. We leave the gumis on the ground and climb over the fence. After a quick search we find some gold tops and climb back over the fence. Neither pig nor person is seen.
At the river we eat the mushrooms washed down with lemonade the throw the inner tubes into the fast flowing current and leap in after them. My skin tingles and goosebumps on contact with the cool river water and y thoughts and vision become clearer. Once on the tubes we lay back and let the river carry us.
Suddenly the light refracts and what had been clumpy bits of kunai grass and trees on the river's edge becomes a vast, roiling tangle of tropical jungle with multiple layers and shades of green. The river is 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 is all one.
And that is where the memories of that day ends, as though the film in the projector broke or an energy surge had erased the rest of the day. 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), and over rapids and around bends, and at one point I turn my head and look behind me, and see the vast silhoette of the Sogeri Plateau calling us home.
Clinton De Vere