A Brief Meeting of Two Souls – By Duncan Gabi
I joined the long queue outside BSP bank in Goroka at around something to 12 to pick up my long overdue bank card. I had lodged an application for a new bank card a month ago, about two weeks ago, thinking my card was ready, I went to pick it up but was instead told they had run out of NRL themed cards so I had to pay for a Kundu card for K20 and pick it up after 2 weeks. I went yesterday but was told by the to come today so despite the long queue, blazing heat of the scorching sun, I ignored the coronavirus preventive measures of social distancing and joined the long line of people outside who from the look on their faces and their continuous complaints have been standing in the never moving, stagnant line for hours. This was government payday, you know how it is in PNG when it’s payday.
Despite being an impatient person, I humbled myself and stood in line braving the midday sun of Goroka which is on a good day, hotter than Pom, Lae or Madang’s. In front of me stood a young girl, a few centimeters shorter and about the same age as me, I assumed. She had a bag slung across her shoulder, her hair was untidy and roughly done in what seem to be an unsuccessful attempt at braiding. Her shirt was faded and she wore a jean roughly cut below the knee. She had a somewhat fair and smooth skin, I know I’m not supposed to discuss that.
Standing behind her, I had no way of seeing her front, you know what I mean. She had something in her hand, and once in a while I would see her hand move as if she was flipping through something. After 30 minutes or so, curiosity go the best of me, I wanted to see what my queue friend was doing so I peered over her shoulder, she being a few centimeters shorter than me gave the advantage to look over her shoulder to see what see what doing. I know it was not right but I had to, as any person bored to death waiting in a line that wasn’t seem to be moving would do.
What I saw her doing caught me by surprise, she was reading a book. She was reading in public, not in the bank but outside beside the footpath despite hundreds of people and vehicles moving to and fro, she paid no mind to anybody, she was caught up in her book. This is a rare sight, something you do not see often.
I looked to the front and then turned and looked to the back to see what other people were doing while waiting in line. Most elderly people had newspapers opened, they were reading about the usual stuff you find in papers, some would make faces and show disapproval when reading something they didn’t like.
Behind me, two other guys were discussing how Coronavirus was a conspiracy theory or how it was created in a lab by China to kill the people and dominate the world in their southward expansion.
And then, there were the younger people who were on their phones, surfing the internet on Social Media; Facebook, Instagram and what not, updating statuses like “Gosh, sun hot na line blo bank no move too, #smh #goroka”. Other young people were listening to music as they had headphones blocking their ears and blocking out the world.
Then it dawned me, in this age of technology where all the young people are glued to their phones and their world revolves around their phones, and entangled in the cyber world, there are few who still grab and read a book wherever they are, they turn the pages and get lost in the author’s world and standing in front of me is this young lady, reading, she would take out her phone occasionally to check the time and then continue her reading. I spied a page on the book she was reading and found it to be a romance novel, something like Mills and Boon, so I thought this might be actually my chance to strike up a romance with this young rugged haired book lover. Searching in my bilum, I pulled out my Ignatius Kilage’s semi-autobiography “My mother calls me Yaltep” and flipped the pages to chapter 8 titled “Courtship” to get a few tips and pointers on how to woo a lady. Kilage’s book is one of my favorite books by a PNG author so I always carry it in my bilum wherever I go, I turn the pages and read a few chapters whenever I’m bored.
And so I started reading, and in my mind hoping she would turn around and me reading too, then we both would establish that romantic connection like the fictitious stuff we see in romantic teenage movies. I would like to think my reading wasn’t genuine and out of genuine respect for books at that moment. I just wanted her to see me reading, I don’t know what my initial plan of attracting her was but after almost an hour standing in line and covering 7 chapters, I forgot all about her. When the inside of the bank was cleared, the security officer opened the bank door and we all went rushing into the bank in hopes of getting in line first in the different sections. I went and stood in the withdrawal line, she went and joined the deposit line which is next to the withdrawals. The bank teller who assisted me yesterday asked me to come see her so she could assist me promptly so instead of joining the Enquiries line, which is the line you join to apply for a new card or pick up a new card, I found myself in the withdrawals section.
The withdrawals and deposits section lines in the bank are close together, I looked and lo, she was a few feet ahead of me in her own line. I thought, well I’m never going to see her again or she is never going to see me read this book. I placed my hopes on her turning around and seeing me read, that is stupid I know. But luck was on my side, the waves of destiny and the winds of romance were totally on my side for the withdrawals line moved quickly than the deposits line, maybe because the good ladies in the withdrawals section were working fast because they knew they were about to be part of something great, I would call them my matchmakers lol, no not even.
No less than 20 minutes passed, I was close to her, she was in the opposite line, and then she turned, looked past me, then at me and slowly her eyes went down to my hands, and in my fingers was the orange cover book. She was still holding her book, she then lifted her eyes and met mine. My heart stopped when she smiled at me, I held my breath and puffed out my chest like a bird doing a mating dance to attract the female. At that moment, I wanted to break a knee in front of her and propose to her, ‘will you marry me?’, I didn’t have an engagement ring but I would propose with the book, ‘will you take this book and me?’. Plus, there are only limited copies of the book in PNG, and not everybody has the luxury of owning one, mine is borrowed by the way.
I was still daydreaming and picturing us on a beach watching the sunset, sipping coconut juice with straws, and enjoying our favorite novels while the waves crash that I didn’t realize that the line in front of me was moving. The people in front of me were about two feet ahead of me, the older lady standing behind me whose fragile knees were about to give way scolded me and pushed me to move on, you know how rude and impatient they can be when they hit old age. When I took a few steps, I was ahead of my soul mate. I couldn’t turn around and look at her even though I wanted to, I sure wished I had eyes on the back on my head, I would be all seeing. I’m sure she wanted me to turn around too but we were in the bank and everyone was frustrated and cussing under their breath. Poor security guard was sweating trying to maintain order in the chaotic bank. The foul atmosphere killed the romantic atmosphere and my chances of striking up a romance with the young book lover was gone.
The line moved quicker, when I picked up my card, I walked out and waited outside of the bank for her for another 15 minutes hoping she come out quick but the small fake rainy midday showers of Goroka sent me seeking refuge in the nearby Asian shop packed with street vendors and local tourists. In the crowded Asian shop, I blocked out all the noise as my mind wandered, I might never see her again but if it is fate that we saw each other even for a brief moment, there was something in the air. I pray and hope that we meet again in a place where people come to stand in line and complain about the sun and the bad smells of body odor all through to the various sections of the bank.
Duncan Gabi is from Rigo in Central Province. He is doing his final year at DWU in PNG Studies and International Relations. He is a blogger. His work can be found here: www.aunamelo.wordpress.com