Writing short fiction

I have been telling students for the last couple of weeks to write a 1000 word short fiction in our PNG Literature class. We studied two short stories by Clive Hawigen titled ‘Keeping the cold chain’ and ‘Revenge is such a bitch’ and used it as inspiration to keep short stories to a particular activity rather than a series of activities due to the limited word count.
So this week I decided to bite the bullet and write the my own short story to use as an example for the students. The theme of the short story is ‘interconnectedness’ which basically means people are connected in some way through their action or non-action. The message of the short fiction is that ‘people grieve differently’.

Here is my short fiction:

As Janet entered the student mess, her mind was still on that assignment she had submitted. It was 6.30am but the mess was abuzz with student voices and sounds of laughter filled the corners of the large room with its tiled floor and wooden tables. As she scanned her student ID card at the entrance, she wondered how she was so late in handing the major paper to her lecturer. She had done it again. She promised herself that she would never hand in her assignment late again. But that was last year. She just couldn’t repeat the unit one more year. She was 27. She was too old to be in Year 3 again. Her cohort had all completed four years in the Bachelor of Communication Arts program. That was four years ago. This was her second time she was repeating this ‘Mass Media Theory’ unit. Maybe learning at university was not her cup of tea.

The worker behind the mess counter didn’t even look as he gave her four slices of bread. Everyone knew him as ‘Tino’ but none of the students knew his real name. He was too busy sorting out the thin slices of bread for the next student behind Janet in the student line. The white bread didn’t look appetizing. Her stomach growled as if to confirm its dislike for the dry bread. But she knew she had to eat this and drown it down with a cup of black tea. This mess was her only place to eat. Her dad had paid for her school fees while working the coffee gardens back in the cool Erap mountains in Nawaeb District. He was as strong as a bull on the Markham plains, worked hard during the coffee season and his financial support for his daughter was unwavering. Janet knew this and never asked more of her father than what was required. Once she arrived at Divine Word University campus in Madang from Morobe, she ate all her meals at the mess and saved the money her father had given her, for toiletries.

Janet placed her porcelain cup of tea on the table and then pulled the green plastic but sturdy chair away the blue table. She slumped down. She had sat close to the wired window of the mess and away from the rest of the students. She didn’t want the bright and chirpy students to invade her moment. As Janet took the first bite of the bread and swallowed, she wondered why Mrs. Kisanumbuki had allowed her to submit the assignment late. She was a good teacher – cheerful and bright in her class presentations but she was as tough as nails and took great importance in making sure every student submitted on time. She had been teaching at the university for 18 years and never accepted late work. But she had just accepted Janet’s late work. Did she care about Janet? Did she feel sorry for Janet?

The next mouthful of bread was too dry to swallow. Janet dipped the white bread slice into her tea cup. If Mrs. Kisanumbuki accepted her assignment, then maybe she had felt sorry for Janet. When Janet handed in the handwritten paper assignment a day later after the due date, Mrs. Kisanumbuki didn’t say a word. She just accepted the assignment as if Janet had not submitted late. Janet remembered that earlier on in the semester, Tony and Palek had handed in their assignment late by just 30 minutes but Mrs. Kisanumbuki came into class the next day and made a big fuss about students submitting late. But this had not happened when Janet handed in the assignment. The bread was already soggy and Janet used her spoon to scoop the bread and swallowed it on one gulp. She didn’t like it one bit.

Janet lifted her head and saw that she was alone on the table that could seat 10 students. She was lonely as a single cloud in the sky. She didn’t care about being alone. Even though she was in a class of 30 other students, she never really connected with anyone. Did the other students in class look down on her as a repeating student? Was that why Mrs. Kisanumbuki did not scold her for being late? Did Mrs. Kisanumbuki look down on her as well? She took another sip of tea. Looking around the mess, the students began to line up to get breakfast. The line didn’t move quickly. Tino was arguing with a student at the counter. Janet didn’t bother to hear what the argument was about. She sipped her tea again. She was like this. She didn’t bother with those who had no impact or influence on her life. She just got on with what she was tasked to do. This was the quality that Hornibrooks PNG Limited saw in her when they first recruited her two years ago when she dropped out at Uni. They loved her no nonsense leadership over the two years she worked at the Lae office. She did find a purpose in her work. They told her that if she completed her Bachelors Degree they would place her as the Area Manager for Momase Region. This was before COVID came and they had to let her go. She had found the motivation to come back to complete her studies.

Janet decided it was time to leave the table.
“May I sit here with you?” Janet’s train of thoughts were abruptly broken by a voice of someone familiar. It was Sevese! Of all people, it had to be Sevese. Janet really liked this guy but never had the courage to speak to him. Even in the classroom, she always avoided looking at his direction because if their eyes ever met, her heart would jump out of her chest! Janet couldn’t even muster a sentence and meekly said: “Yes em orait.”
Sevese sat across from her. How could this lanky guy from Kerema just sit at her table? Janet’s heart raced a thousand beats in a minute!
He dipped the slice of bread into his cup of tea. Before Janet could say anything, Sevese looked up from his tea cup, looked at her and in a quiet but stern voice he said: “Did you know that Mrs. Kisanumbuki’s daughter, looks so much like you? The one that passed away so suddenly at the beginning of this year?”
Janet sat still. She understood everything.

Cement Roads improve the Eriku look

I remember when I started working in Lae in the mid 2000s, Eriku had huge potholes, street drunks, people charging you for sitting down, people crossing the road between cars, litter everywhere, etc. The biggest improvement in Eriku is the road – main roads and roads behind the shops.

Standing at the Eriku overhead bridge looking eastwards

I also see regular police foot patrols, community groups engaged to clean the streets, orderly conduct of buses, etc. Effective leadership is in place and the people of Lae Open know who their leader is. I mean the guy didn’t even campaign during the 2022 national general elections na em win yah! Wok ba tok!

Standing at the Eriku Overhead Bridge looking westwards

You can find more on the Lae City Authority website: https://lca.gov.pg/

Enjoying the process in the work

Life in the village, especially those in rural and remote settings, can be a fun place to visit especially for tourists or for people who just come for the holidays. But for people who live there, it can be a struggle at times. Apart from poor access issues to good social services like heath, education and communication, villagers in Manus still have to struggle to get by. Most often, you have to physically exert yourself so that the basic needs of life can be satisfied.

Take for example, having fish to eat to supplement your diet of mostly carbohydrates such as cassava, sago, sweet potato, bananas, yams, taro and a little bit of greens . The process starts with making a canoe and goes through many stages before a canoe is finished and ready for sailing over the sea to the place where you can catch fish. It can take days, weeks or months to even select, carve, tighten, fix, pull and put together a decent canoe fit enough to pass over water.

Carving a canoe in the inland of Manus Island
My brother uses a hacking tool to chip away at the hull of the canoe

But to say that going through the process of making a canoe is tiring and difficult in order to catch a fish, even true? I guess it depends on the way you look at it. Some people enjoy the life that comes with the process of doing things. It may take several days or months but it may not be the work at all that is important when making the canoe. It is family connections, the tea drinking, the long stories in between, the learning that takes place, etc. All these things happen as the process of work i.e. making a canoe takes place.

Shaping a canoe at the beginning in the bushes of Kurti language group area in Manus Province.
Its a work in progress but something he enjoys doing

My small brother has been shaping a canoe from a tree he felled behind the house. This tree is very light but durable. Its easy to carve but it is taking time to develop. I sit beside him and talk to him while he works – asking questions about why he is doing this, how he intends to bring it down to the seaside since we are up on the mountains. He chats while his mind is on the work. He stops, looks at the angles, then continues chipping away. He uses an axe and then uses a hacking tool like a chisel but circular. Both are metal tools but represent what our people in the past have used to carve the canoe. We are both near a creek as he continues doing his work. He will shape the canoe and then after a few weeks, he will, with a group of his friends or family carry this down to the beach. It is around two hours walk down to the coast. Once there he will continue further shaping it, put the outrigger and carve the paddles.

Kingston Namun on Manus Island
Why not a selfie while at work!

Life is in the process. We work but we also have to find enjoyment in the work that we do. Otherwise what is the point of grinding away at work while we loose ourselves in the process?