Goodbye my Jena

A short-story by Job Zigu

I was thirty-two when my wife died and little Jena was only four. My bookshop was in-front of the yard and I thought of keeping the house and bookshop instead of selling the yard with them. The bookshop would be able to sustain our livelihoods and pay the bills.

All day while I worked in the shop on orders from clients with my assistant (I had an assistant), Jena played in the backyard; and sometimes I had to go out for a few drinks, the woman next door, Julie, took care of her. I could cook, or so I thought; coffee and lamb flaps and breed being breakfast. I also fried potatoes, bananas, and I also learnt that Diana Tuna and biscuits were good for kids.

When Julie told me this was not the diet for kids, I said, “Well, why don’t you come on over and teach me how to cook”, (not that I meant every sense of it, just wanted to say something back at her), to which she did; teaching me how to cook chicken and veggies, but every time I cooked these ‘things’, the pots and pans always got burnt and it was another hard work scrubbing them, plus these ‘things’ were expensive, and living in the city was tough and the bookshop was doing well but not making enough.

I did keep things neat and tidy, being with Jena and all; she needs to live in a healthy place. I swept the floors, but only the centre, not the corners, and when I cleaned the windows, they seemed to be more blurry. I also had to do the laundry; it was total torture. I wished we had a washing-machine.

I bought Jena a cat, for she might get lonesome, and, at night I made her say her prayers kneeling in the middle of the room, and speaking like a speeding car. If I forgot about the prayer, I would wake her up or it would be the first thing in the morning. Prayer was important. And I did pray too. I prayed: “Lord, help me do what is right for her, even if I’m doing the wrong things”.

One time, Jena and I were walking past a shop and Jena wanted to go in. It was a toy shop and I knew Jena loved toys and I didn’t have any money so I tricked her about having some ice-cream and we walked home and she forgot about the ice-cream, and that was it.  There’re some things in this world that poor, sad little girls can’t have. And those are the good things.

Jane was six years old when I fell ill with pains in my chest and a bad cough on a Monday afternoon, and I went to see a doctor at the Hospital. The walk back was a slow tiring one. My mind was filled with all kinds of horrible, depressing thoughts. I always hated hospitals; they were depressing places to go to. Upon arriving home, I walked into the living room and lay on the old couch with torn cushions. The evening sun was beaming through the windows of the side wall in bright squares. The news wasn’t good. The doctor told me it was worse than he expected. And what could he do but tell me I had only twelve weeks to live. It was cancer eating me up from inside. Just then I heard Jena singing and playing in the backyard. ‘My little Jena’, I thought. Hot salty, sulphur tears burned down my cheeks.

That night when she came to kiss me goodnight, like she always did, I lied to her that I had caught the flu. I held her away from me, and said, “Jena’s a big girl now, she doesn’t need daddy to kiss her goodnight”. I knew Jena must learn not to miss me every night. I had to make her strong. But more so, I had to make myself strong. The next day I went to see another doctor- to make sure. Well, he told me the same thing. So I was sure now.

So I thought. I had a sister in Lae; but I did not have any way of contacting her, and I have never seen her or spoken to her for over ten or twenty years. Fact is: I did not know her. Jenifer (my wife) did have a brother here in Port Moresby, but he was an unemployed drug-seller, a bum. ‘I need someone who can understand a six year old, understand even her fairy songs and her kiddie mumblings and games’, I thought endlessly to myself for days.

“You know, that kid shouldn’t be living with you, with you been sick, you know”, Julie once told me, when she saw that I was growing thin and I’d shaved my head and wore a bonnet to cover it.

So after two days, and a whole night, of thinking, I advertised in the newspaper:

*A single father with a medical condition has only 12 weeks to live. He has a beautiful daughter; 6 years old, brown eyes, curly hair and cute smiles. He wants her to be adopted by a nice family. References required. Call 718634517 to enquire.*

The first people came in a dark tinted glass Toyota ‘Five-door’, just as I had wished they would. And when they stepped out of the vehicle, their clothes were shiny, just as I had dreamed. Their little daughter who was with them asked; “Is this my little sister?” Her mother turned to her and said, “Shut up. Do as Mama tells you and keep out of this. Or we’ll leave you here and take this darling little girl away.”

I heard that and I lied to her, “It’s okay Madam. I have other plans, she’s not for adoption”.

As I watched the car roll away, Julie walked over, “For Lord’s sake man”, she said, “You just denied her of a fortune. You have no right of denying her a good, rich family like that”. She meant I had no right because I was medically ill- and dying. But I knew better, and every time a car came by and I lied to them and made them go away, Julie boiled with anger. “This guy should be reported to the police”, she once told her husband.

Time was running out, I had only two weeks left to live. Then one morning, a man and a woman in their mid-thirties walked into my bookshop. The man looked like a teacher. And the woman; his wife; had a face so sad and sorrowful. I knew it was them. They had lost a child I knew. My heart bloomed with hope and in my fearful state, I took my bonnet off, walked towards them, my hands shaking as I held my bonnet in both hands before me. I told them everything. As they listened, their eyes beamed with joy, and they asked, “When can we come and take her?” I put my head down, then looked into their eyes, and said “Just give me one day with her. I hope you will understand”, and sure they did so they agreed.

That day, I did nothing but sit in the backyard and watch Jena playing. It was a hot sunny day, and her laughter and screams of joy were music to my ears. The sky was blue and how perfect it was, I thought. That evening, I cooked our dinner, chicken and veggies, and fried lamb flaps. I didn’t care if the pots and pans got burnt and black. And during dinner, I did nothing but sit there and watch her, and literally, that was all I could do; just sit there and watch her. There was an emptiness engulfing me, swallowing me, a lonesome feeling hollowing inside me. ‘I wish I had a million bucks, I’d make it (everything) all right, Jena,’ I thought.

And that night I did kiss her good night, even though, I didn’t want to, and I told her, “You’re a big girl now, daddy’s big girl. Goodbye my Jena”. She didn’t understand or maybe she did. Her lips curled up, “But daddy I’m still a little girl”.

My head sank into my hands and I felt those hot, salty, sulphur tears washing down my face. My heart sank to the bottom of the ocean, the ocean of sadness inside me, dug out by an eternal hollow burrowing in my heart.

I had her dressed up and ready the next morning. “Jena’s gonna have some visitors”, I told her. Then they arrived and Jena ran toward me and hugged me. “You’re a big girl now, Daddy’s big girl,” I reminded her.

I stood and watched the man and the woman walking down the street with Jena ahead of them. They had bought her a small red bicycle, knowing the parting might be hard. This small bicycle Jena rode and she was mesmerized and preoccupied with it, looking ahead as she rode, that she forgot to turn and wave her hand goodbye to her father.

Published by Ples Singsing

Ples Singsing is envisioned to be a new platform for Papua Niuginian expressions of creativity, ingenuity and originality in art and culture. We deliberately highlight these two very broad themes as they can encompass the diverse subjects, from technology, medicine and architecture to linguistics, music, fishing, gardening et cetera. Papua Niuginian ways of thinking, living, believing, communicating, dying and so on can cover the gamut of academic, journalistic or opinionated writing and we believe that unless we give ourselves a platform to talk about and discuss these things in an open, free and non-exclusively academic space that they may remain the fodder for academics, journalists and other types of writers alone. New social media platforms have given every individual a personal space to share their feelings and ideas openly, sometimes without immediate censure. The Ples Singsing writer’s blog would like to provide another more structured platform for Papua Niuginian expressions in written, visual and audio formats while also providing some regulation of the type and content of materials to be shared publicly.

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