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.