Forever waiting

21 Nov

By Charley Piringi

I vividly remember this day, October 2, 20 years ago.

Our childhood days were always cherished; the only time we were seen and treated like princes and princesses.

Our only responsibilities then were to eat, play, and sleep with our ever-caring parents joyfully watching over us in our violence-free homes.

But for some of us, this beautiful experience was prematurely aborted. It never flourished.

I remember the evening before that day. As usual, my younger brother and sisters were begging mum for lullabies. Our elder sister was chatting with her friends.

Instead of lullabies, mum asked us to bed early. Father was arriving the next day. He had been away for his monthly training in town.

That was good news. We were all anticipating dad’s arrival with a hope of having some chocolate or sweet biscuits and soft drinks from town.

The news was so sweet that it quickly drowned my siblings into the fantasy world. But for me, my mind was dancing. Excitement was overwhelming as I was hoping for a new pair of shoes and school uniforms.

I sensed that the moon had been monitoring my ecstasy and was almost talking to me. It shone so brightly that my spirit was wide awake. From time to time, I ventured out to mum and our visiting friends who were chatting and laughing with betel nut painted lips.

It was past 6am and the excitement woke me up.

I can still recall that dull Wednesday morning; awakened only to be greeted with a radio message. A death message jingle was sounded, followed by a heavy male voice that cracked across the air, lively in that silence of the morning.

My elder sister was doing the dishes whilst mum was preparing our breakfast.

But something else got mum’s attention. She was listened attentively to the radio message. She was staring without blinking; motionless, a kitchen knife wedged between her fingers. I could tell that something was not right.

Tears were already flooding down her cheeks. She tried to hold her emotions under control. But that was not forth coming. I know for sure something else had happened.

At the kitchen, my elder sister slumped to the ground. A tense atmosphere filled the air.

I forced myself not to believe the aired death message. For a brief moment, mum and I were left staring at each other shocked in disbelief.

The message was repeated and mother fell on the floor crying at the top of her voice.

My elder sister was regaining her breath with the help of our relatives by then. There was an emotional commotion. Everyone was weeping, embracing and sympathizing with us. Our home was packed with weeping relatives and friends.

Shocked and confused, I was neither weeping nor talking. My hopes were gone. The  imaginations I had shared with the moon, gone. There was nothing but hopelessness.

I kept recounting that this was the day dad had promised to arrive, hoping to have some chocolate from Honiara. My little brother and sisters were also hoping to see him too.

A chattered flight for that day passed by our home, and dad’s body was expected to arrive by boat that afternoon.

Gentle showers were falling. On the horizon, three outboard motor boats were slowly splashing their way into shore, welcomed with loud cries and teary faces, reddened and swollen. Mum and my elder sister, were lamenting helplessly in the sand, as women  comforted them.

The first boat throttled ashore. As the second one inched her way in, that was the most heartbreaking moment I ever felt in my life. It was the familiar boat with its skipper and crew; it was the boat dad used to board every time. I looked over to where he used to sit. It was empty, only few people aboard.

Craning my neck over the crowded shoreline, I was greeted by a long box-like object wrapped in white with a wreath atop.

He was not there. I felt my heart throbbing and bumping faster; a swollen lump blocked my throat, swallowing hard as tears streamed down my cheeks like water fall.

The boat landed. I looked to my helpless mother, my elder sister, my little brother and sisters and to that white box. That was when the sense of missing someone overwhelmed me. Nothing but emptiness filled the air. Talking or seeing each other was the most painful thing to do. It only brought forth tears. Our whole world was crushed.

The coffin was lifted out, and escorted. I felt warm drops on my shoulder, and as I gazed up, it was my aunt. She led me to join the slow moving crowed as dad’s body was escorted to his uncle’s house.

It was getting darker, and we have to spend a night here. Home was some kilometers inland.

Dad’s coffin vanished in the sea of grieving relatives like swarm of bees on a hive.

I looked around for my little brother and sisters; they were taken care of. Our elder sister was among the crowd embracing the head of dad’s coffin, crying in hopelessness with her hands grasping tightly to the lifeless body in the coffin.

I kept craning my neck to locate my mother. She was nowhere to be seen.

I eventually saw her on the ground outside; she could not make her way in. They were cooling her body with fresh water and fans. She had fainted! She simply couldn’t open her eyes to make her way in.

I did not understand how she felt then, but I now realise this. From where she fainted to where the coffin was could have been the longest journey in her life. She simply didn’t want to see a lifeless body of her soul mate – the man she loved.

The next day was another despairing moment; the journey to the grave. A journey I know my mum refused to accept. I could tell from her pale face; she had not rested, or spoken. She lost her voice from intense weeping.

A group of men carrying the coffin left early.

Back home was the darkest moment for all of us. Our house and everything was in place except dad was not around as expected.

It was sorrowful to see my elderly grandparents lamenting their eldest son whom they loved most. They asked numerous questions that could never be answered.

“Why did you leave so early instead of us?”

As we entered our house, a dull glimpse of the lifeless body sleeping inside the shiny box at the centre of the house spoke volumes; mum gasped and dropped. She fainted again.

Dad was on the journey to his final resting place the next day.

That was the last day I saw, and used the word ‘father’. I knew then that he was gone forever. All I knew was sadness.

A burial place was prepared next to our house and funeral service was conducted. As his body was escorted out for burial, it was loudest mourning cries throughout the entire funeral. We knew he was going forever.

For us children, though heart broken, we stood by his grave and bade him farewell. But mum could not make it to the grave. She was lying few meters away from the grave, unable to inch her way forward.

I cast my farewell flower on top dad’s coffin and watched as the earth swallowed him up.

His death is still a mystery to me; and I am still searching for answers. I can’t see or remember his face because he left too early. Not even his photographs remain.

The same month we fare-welled dad to eternity, we were blessed with our beautiful youngest sister who is named after dad.

Today marks the day he left us 20 years ago; he went and promised to come home this day. We are still waiting … waiting forever.

 

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