BY MATHISAH TURI
Don’t whistle at night, they say, for you never know who might respond. Especially at night when darkness rules and silence is at it’s greatest.
Ten year old Irai had not learned of this superstition. But she knew of the existence of the world beyond ours, where no humans dwell.
She saw apparitions of extraordinary creatures that nature had not recorded. They could be as tall as a building or as large as a car. They could have ten arms or no arms at all, three eyes and no lips or nose. And they could be all the colours of the rainbow – bright or dull. Some were quiet while others were loud and unpleasant to the ear. They never spoke, with the exception of the human-like forms that always showed up after someone’s death.
Mostly, these creatures lived on trees or bushes, in caves or on a rock near rivers and other sacred water bodies and grounds. But there were times when they’d crowd near homes and people, such as the day Irai’s mother had left.
They swarmed her home and crowded around her father as he downed one too many bottles of alcohol and cussed to himself. Unbeknownst to the drunken man the congregation of strange creatures sat beside him pouring and offering the poor man more poison. Irai could only watch, in tears, her father’s ordeal.
However, they were quite fearful of the churches and the presence of a cross. They avoided such places and returned to their homes.
They weren’t seen by her father, her neighbours or her classmates. No one could see them, no one except Irai.
She’d told her father once or twice, several times even. But he never spared his daughter a second thought, thinking she had an overactive imagination which both scared and amused him. With her mother gone, she turned to the next best persons, her teachers. But their reactions weren’t much different. They simply patted her on the head and said that she was a bright child.
Irai didn’t have many friends growing up either because the few who were soon left, once they’d heard her tales that she swore were true, accusing her of lying.
The rumours spread through her small village. “Tevel pikinini,” (demonic child) they’d whisper to each other.
“Mama belong em save makim witchcraft,” (Her mother knows how to make witchcraft) the mothers would say.
“Noken pilai wantaim em. Em bai bagarapim you,” (Don’t play with her. She will hurt you) the parents would tell their children.
“Mama blo em cursim tupla,” (Her mother cursed them both) the old villagers would mumble to each other.
Irai never spoke too long and never smiled too long at people, to avoid risking the outrageous opinions of others about her and her father.
Irai’s father knew what people said and tried his best to make sure they kept what they thought to themselves. He had already had to deal with people’s stares when his daughter was born when he was still at university. None of that mattered to him though. This was his kid and he swore to protect her at all cost – not knowing that the real enemies weren’t of this world.
The perplexing creatures were odd, yes, but most weren’t violent. They rarely interacted and intervened with humans.
Only a few opportunists found it appetizing to feed human’s distasteful behaviour and thoughts, at times even accepting the calling of the mundane, and even rarer, to take hold of a body to do its immoral business. Only then did their actions become apparent to the sceptics.
However, those few creatures that did interact with people made sure Irai’s days were torture.
They’d pinch her, scratch her skin and pull at her hair, whisper unpleasant things to her before she went to bed and make sure everyone around her hated her.
One day Irai decided that she had enough.
When Irai walked home from school that day the devilish forms were trailing behind her. No matter how much they pestered and poked she kept her attention on her journey. Practising her whistling, she walked down the dirt road blowing furiously.
Though they tripped her, pushed her off balance and held her back, she got back to her feet and went on her way, chanting in her mind, “They’ll go away. Don’t focus on them.”
When Irai arrived at her home, she was surprised to see her father sitting out on the porch.
Grinning happily, she raced up the stairs and wrapped her little arms around him. He laughed and held her back by the arm.
“Yu hamamas long wanem?” he asked her. For once, his daughter was happy, which made him happy too.
But his delight died the second his eyes landed on his daughter’s arms and legs and bruised cheek. He jolted to his feet, fuming. “Husait paitim you!?” (Who fought with you?)
Irai flinched at her father’s tone even if it weren’t directed at her. “Nogat…. man paitim me,” (No… man fought me) she mumbled, scared to meet his eyes.
“Don’t lie to me Irai. That isn’t how I raised you. Tell me!”
Her little fists shook and her lips quivered, her chest rising and falling rapidly as the frustration got to the best of her. “Mi no giaman, mi tok tru” (I’m not lying. I’m telling the truth).
The sight of his daughter in that state made the man want to smash something, anything, to bits. But when the first tear slipped past her cheek the burning rage within him was extinguished. He held his daughter in his arms still itching to pulverize whoever had hurt his baby girl. He made a mental note to visit the school the next day to do so.
Irai spent that evening in her little tree house, in the mango tree in their backyard. While it wasn’t that big or attractive, it was enough for her: a platform with rails and a tiny table at its center. She loved her little home, even if she had no friends to play with on it. She switched on her battery-operated lamp and did her homework, waiting for her father to call her down for dinner. For some odd reason no one bothered her up there. It was the only place she could take refuge, apart from church which was all right too, but filled with hypocrites.
When her homework was done and packed in her bag, she propped her bag against the tree and leaned against it, staring up at the mango flowers. Again she began to blow, attempting to whistle. She cleared her throat and sat forward, blowing till she was red-faced. Sighing, she leaned back and calmed her rapidly beating heart. All the kids her age had already begun whistling and Irai didn’t want to be even more of an outcast. So she practised and practised until, finally, she could whistle. When she first blew a flat tune she hopped to her feet squealing in excitement. She tried a second time and a third time. Hooray! She knew how to whistle.
As soon as the last tune left her lips her lamp began to fade until it went out completely. Irai wasn’t scared. Rather, she was confused because she had changed the batteries just the other day. Stuffing the lamp in her bag she climbed down the ladder of her tree house. Stepping onto the earth she soon noticed her dark surroundings. The lights to their house and the houses down the neighbourhood, as far as she could see, were out. Gulping, just she turned to peer into the woods beyond their backyard, the sound of a snapping twig resounded in the silence of the moment.
“Daddy?” she called to the tall figure standing only a few metres away amidst the darkness.
The figure stepped forward, revealing blood-red eyes and long dreadlocks that reached down to his elbows. His skin was dark and scaly. He smelt like earth and new leaves. Irai only slightly recognized his traditional attire. Although she’d seen men dress like that in magazines and at festivals, she had never seen anyone like this. The aura he gave off felt ancient and enchanting even if it was frightening to ordinary men.
Then, all at once, the wind blew and with it came the imitation of Irai’s first whistles. But this whistle was low pitched and hypnotizing.
Irai was, nevertheless, indifferent to the eerie atmosphere. She found it somehow calming to be in the presence of this ancient being, nothing like with the ghouls that haunted her. She offered an innocent smile to the tall fellow, receiving no response in return.
He stood so still that you’d think he was a statue. He said nothing. His gaze would cause even the toughest human to screech and run for cover. If he ever spoke, it would be heard as whistles—whistles that stole souls.
But no one saw the dread within him for they were too busy being frightened by him. The thousand year old being had grown tired of his role. He wished that no more would he take what wasn’t his. And his wish might have just come true because of this little girl.
Because he had failed, he turned to return. Filled with curiosity, Irai followed after him. Although it was dark and quiet, although the chilly wind whistled past, and the strange other-worldly being seemed to walk with no destination in mind, Irai pressed forward, not bothered in the slightest. The deeper they went into the wood, the closer oblivion became to the young girl.
Where was she going? And who was this man? Was she ever coming back? What about her father? But the questions she should’ve asked herself slipped away and faded.
“Where are you going?” she whispered.
He made no reply. Nor did he acknowledge her at all. The atmosphere still and serene, an agreement of silence passed between the two. The rustle of leaves and the crackle of twigs accompanied their steps. And the occasional murmurs of the wind filled the air.
Time ceased to exist. Light was no more. Sound was lost. They were somewhere that should’ve been nowhere. Life… Had no place in this space. And yet, here was little Irai.
Her bizarre rust-coloured eyes widened at the curious creatures in this new world she had wandered upon. Here they were. They go by many names and are associated with folktales and fear-inflicting fables across the globe. But she knew them – as spirits. This strange place was their home. And they didn’t like visitors.
All at once they pounced on her, beating her black and blue. She cried out for mercy and help. The pain shot throughout her body like lightning and the thought of death lingered in the little girl’s mind.
Children shouldn’t have to worry about such things. They should care about sports and homework and other trivial matters – not death, especially not death.
Then, her unexpected hero saved her soul. He needed not to lift a fist or even a finger. His powerful presence disintegrated the herd of spirits and freed Irai from her anguish. He lifted her unconscious body and brought her back to where she belonged.
When she woke he was gone and she was in her tree house with a string tied around her wrist.
“Irai! Dinner!” her father called.
She was on her feet and down the tree in seconds, expecting to find her saviour. But he was nowhere in sight. And he wouldn’t be for the next few weeks. After that night, no spirit dared to harm her.
Unfortunately for her, the children of her village still held on to their mischievous behaviour. Initially it had just been pointing and gossip. Then, little by little, it manifested into mocking, tripping and then physical attacks. They seemed to mimic the spirits who had once had enough courage to hurt her. However, these children were under no one’s command and Irai of all people knew that.
One day it had become too much for her when the children stole her belongings and knocked her off her feet.
“Pikinini blo Satan!”(Child of Satan) they called her, “Demon!”
A crowd had gathered to watch of course. Standing around, they cringed at every kick she took and every insult that was thrown her way. Irai realized something in that moment: you didn’t need to be under the influence of anything to be inhumane.
It had felt like forever before they decided to stop. But when they did, it was so sudden. Irai pried her eyes open to find her attackers on their behinds, hanging their heads as if they were asleep. It was obvious that they weren’t because their eyes were wide open.
Bewildered she definitely was. But it soon all made sense when the tall dark figure of a familiar someone passed into the shadows.
Sure, others still found her creepy and her father was still mad at everyone. But something had changed. She had found a friend – funky and freaky, maybe, but a friend nonetheless.
Mathisah is 15 and was born in Victoria, Australia, of East Sepik and New Ireland heritage but grew up in Port Moresby and likes to say she’s from Gerehu. Mathisah is currently in Grade 9 at Kopkop College. “I’m that kid in class who talks about books just as excitedly as anyone would talk about their favourite rugby player,” Mathisah says. But she has never read a PNG-authored book.
Mathisah’s essay Why the PNG government should buy PNG authored books won second place in our inaugural Tingting Bilong Mi Essay awards in February.