The garish, silent taunt drove deeper to calcify Margaret's soul. She was alone with the demon who hurled the truth at her. She had to get away from the constant teasing that possessed her in it's sickening tirade, so she got up awkwardly from under the thatched shelter, and brushed the dirt off her dress. No one would miss her if she walked away from this place. She tried to smooth her black hair that had been unevenly hacked close to her scalp, and looked at the shelter which faced the yellow sand and turquoise water. She begged for a release from the mocking demon. At night time the water's ripple let her dream. She travelled on it's immutable whisperings into other people's territories in Port Moresby, and watched the people who wore patterned skirts and coloured shoes. The dreaming always ended with more jeering.
There was a line of green fern and sago palm that separated her shelter from the village. She turned in her blue and white dress, and walked haughtily into the village where she had been born, but no longer belonged. No one had told her where she belonged, or if she belonged. It was a childish question that she would continue to ask. They roasted yams in the ground when she entered the village and walked into Oki's hut. She was glad that they had not seen her.
'Margaret?' Her father looked up. 'What are you doing here?'
She did not deserve the contempt in Oki's voice. She deserved a life, a husband, and a home. She deserved everything he had not given her.
Margaret dismissed his tone. She had been abandoned, and he must make it up to her. She moved to touch the wall hanging behind Oki. It was a treasured reminder of the village's place in the world. She stood close enough to compare the tiny lines of the skin of her finger to the textual lines of the wooden water bird. If she was in a different place, she would be beautiful and valuable like the wall hanging. She had to get out.
'I want to talk, father. You blame me for everything - you plead with dead people, maybe you should go back to Jesus god. Maybe you pray to him. He might bring abundance to the village again – if you do it right.' She played on her father's worry for the village, he must pay for isolating her, and give her what she wanted. She looked at him from behind, and watched his silver white head rise from his hands as he stood slowly.
Oki turned and boomed with grit, 'you wicked girl. Wicked. You the reason we run out of food, and no one come to give electricity to our community.'
He always blamed her for the village's poverty, 'you know why there's no electricity and food.'
He didn't answer. People left the village to live in well serviced towns, and the village had been left behind. The Orokaiva needed prosperity, and so did Margaret. Oki had put her alone under the shelter, and it had become her motivation to leave it. While she continued to sit on the border of the village, she hung from the precipice of her world screaming.
'Yes, I know why. I will send someone to Port Moresby to work for us to bring money,' Oki said finally. 'He take the school learning and materials, and bring it back to us.'
Oki spoke of his son, her brother, Walter. He was the obvious choice. He had negotiated the village's bore water pump last year. His authority in the village had grown, while the dislike for Margaret had festered. She hurried to ensure that her brother didn't get this opportunity too. 'Did you know about Walter, father?'
'What about him, Margaret.'
'He is in love. I saw him. He asked me about the beauty magic from other tribes.' She turned back to the wall hanging. 'She is Umo-ke, and now she will bulge at her tummy. Didn't he tell you?' She needed her father's attention. She didn't know how to ask for love. Manipulation was her only weapon.
Oki paused, 'Walter can have her if he wants, but there is no bride price. He must exchange.'
'Yes, he'll want to bring the child here, and he'll be busy with his new family. I can go to Port Moresby, and find work, and bring back learning.'
'You bring only shame, and hardship.'
Her shame began when she got married. Oki said that her husband liked her because of her distinctive blue eyes against her black skin, and that she could go to school in Port Moresby afterwards. When she left her husband and returned to Oki, the village paid back all her bride price. They suffered because of Margaret; all the livestock went back to her husband, and three months crops were sold to pay him back. No one thought her blue eyes were a gift any more, and no one was glad to see her. Oki built her a shelter on the outskirts of the village because they hated her. The same feelings about them swirled in her heart too.
'Walter does not want to serve,' she wiped away the foul concoction of tears and sweat that hung on her face, 'he wants to be here with the girl he has chosen. He is too busy in family to serve it fully.'
Oki stood and took a fist of her dress. He raised her up, and held her close to his face. 'We have no use for woman who is not faithful to her husband. You lied when you said he mistreated you, he treated you well. You left him, and told lies, and then came back, here.' He paused, thinking, 'go to Port Moresby. Maybe daughter, you might be willing to work for honest wages.'
She'd heard his accusations before, but this conclusion brought an inward smile. She grated her teeth in glee. Port Moresby. As she crouched under her shelter for many years, she hung painfully with a weak hold from a tree root that stuck out from the cliff face. She was hopeful that her father had thrown her a rope, made of his blessings, that she could use to lower herself safely to the ground.
She rushed outside to her shelter, and used an old dirty sports bag to pack a dress and her food. She looked back towards the village. Maybe they were happy for her. Maybe they would wave goodbye as she walked to Port Moresby.
Her father hadn't followed, and everyone else had more important things to do. She waited a little, but no one came. She didn't wait any longer for Oki's rope. She walked along the road away from her village, and didn't look back.
* * *
Margaret stopped several times before she got to Port Moresby. She'd cut her feet on some gravel, and they bled a little. She wasn't worried, not very much. She was glad when she got to Port Moresby. The city anonymously consumed her, as if she were it's own. It took her in like it took in everyone else, but it didn't offer anywhere to stay. The woman she asked about a room said that she needed to pay money, and Margaret quickly remembered the safety of her shelter.
A man stood on a wharf close to the city, and looked out over the water. Margaret saw him, and walked closer. She took short glimpses of his crisp business suit. He was about forty years old, and he looked very rich. Her eyes traced a straight line from his neck to his shoulders, and she looked at the pure white shirt against his black skin. He looked strong and respectable. He looked like the kind of man who might need someone to work in his house. He stood with his back to her, but passively turned for a moment in Margaret's direction. He had a gracious, flattened nose, and Margaret watched the unconscious movements of his black knuckles at his side. Perhaps he would be kind, but without Oki's rope, it was unlikely. He would either growl at her to return to her father, or worse, take advantage of her. Perhaps people in Port Moresby were different.
'Sir,' she called from behind him, 'I do housekeeping.'
The tall man turned on his shiny heals to look at Margaret in the ill fitting dress.
'What is your name? Are you asking for employment?' he replied in a low voice.
'Margaret,' she made sure she didn't meet his eyes, 'I am looking for city work.'
'Where is your husband, dead?'
The demon laughed, she shifted her weight, and pursed her thick lips, 'yes.'
'Where is your father?' He looked back to the water.
'He is back at the village. I need money and materials.'
'My dear girl,' he turned back as she stood straight. Her short black hair with tiny, intricate curls framed a confused face, and begging eyes. 'I don't employ women who come with no reference. Why hasn't your father made application himself?'
Margaret was silent.
'Go back to your village. Tell your father that I do need a housekeeper. Ask him if he will talk with me.'
'Please,' she needed to fix this situation, 'my father is dead, just seven days ago. I must find food and money for my village. Please, I'll be faithful.'
'You just told me he was back at your village, but now you say that he is dead.'
He looked at her, and she looked at him. She had hung on the edge of the cliff with her bare feet dangling in the air. Her voice had echoed across the range. After a while Margaret's lungs languished, and the terror of dangling from the cliff arrested her cries until they became breathy squeaks. Her brown, slim fingers gripped the tree root which stuck out from the vertical decline. The tears slithered down her face as the fibres of the root stung the flesh of her hands. Her shoulders and arms burned with exertion, and the dirt on her dress mingled with blood from the wound on her chin. She cried out silently. The brittle root creaked with her weight, and she was consumed by the helplessness sired by the knowledge that no one would help. Margaret thought about whether to let go and fall. There was no rope for her, and instead of climbing up and off the cliff, she needed to let go. It was hard to accept what might have come next. Her father considered her to be deceitful, and there was no note from him. There was no message with his blessings. This man had set in front of Margaret her lies to cover up her father's disappointment. She cried while she looked at her hands, and hysterically brushed the dirt away.
The demon would follow where ever she went. Her husband didn't beat his seven year old wife. He was too busy with his other wives. It's just that Margaret pined for her mother and her father, and she punished the village when they didn't accept her. Her mother had died before she returned, and Oki rejected her when she got back. She was angry that they treated her as though she was dead too. The truth was that she had brought financial disaster upon the village when they paid back all the bride price. Her blue eyes had drawn wealth into the village, only for it to be returned within a year. Margaret looked up at the man, and knew that she had one chance at getting work with him.
'May I know your name,' she said.
'It's Chester Greyson.'
'Mr Greyson, I want to start again. There is too much to tell you,' she hesitated, 'my father has disowned me because I returned from a house with many wives. They paid back everything to my husband,' she did not dare look at him, 'there is no one to give me a reference.'
Mr Greyson listened, and looked carefully at her dress and bare feet.
'I am alone, but I can surely sweep your floors and make food for you.'
'Margaret, how old are you?'
'Fifteen years, Mr Greyson.'
When he looked at her standing in her dirty blue and white dress, she thought that she saw something kind in him.
'I have business in Port Moresby. Wait here until I have finished. When I return, we will go back to your village. I will discuss an employment contract with your father, and gain his approval. You are an honest girl, and your father will forgive you, if you ask him to. Then, you shall work for me. I will send two thirds of your wages back to him in compensation of the village's losses, the other third will be yours.'
Mr Greyson offered her a new start, and a chance to be forgiven. He offered a steady stream of money to the village. She didn't know what to do, so she cried. She was weak, and looked for a place to sit. She found a bench near the wharf, and Mr Greyson bought her a drink.
She waited for him. Margaret didn't know whether she was naïve to expect Mr Greyson to come back, but she spent a long time watching the boats as they docked at the wharf. She walked about the bench a few times, and then sat back down. If Mr Greyson didn't come back, she might have to find a place to build another shelter. Margaret tried not to think of it. He surely meant to be kind. The sounds of the motors on the boats, and the smell of dead fish in the air made her wish that she was safe under her shelter again. The people at the wharf spoke in pigeon, but some of them spoke with other words. She understood parts of their speech, but she couldn't understand some of the words. She found herself thinking that this was no place for her. Pictures of the village, and of Oki raced into and out of her mind. When she thought of Oki, her hands held their opposite shoulder, and something surprised her. She had openly rejected Oki, because he sent her away to be married. Though he had given her a place to stay and food to eat, she had been the one to reject him. She wanted him to be sorry, and she wanted his love. She told herself that Oki had been wrong to send her away, and that he could not be forgiven for rejecting her when she returned home. He hadn't really abandon his daughter. He had made sure she had what she needed to survive. She looked down at her legs and feet as she sat on the bench near the wharf, and thought that she had deceived herself for believing that Oki hadn't thrown her a rope. Oki had been holding onto the rope all the time. He had only let go when he allowed her to go to Port Moresby, and she saw that she had manipulated her father.
When it was nearly dark, Margaret saw Mr Greyson walk down to the wharf. She was relieved to see him. Her deceit had led to pain, while her truthfulness had led to happiness and place. They drove to the village, and Mr Greyson talked to Oki.
Margaret worked for Mr Greyson, and she served him faithfully. He was a very good man, and she was happy. She worked for many years as his housekeeper until he was very old, and she found that she didn't need a husband to be respectable. Margaret had found her peace, and when Mr Greyson passed away, she decided to go home. Her village held a feast when she arrived, and she cried with tears of happiness. When they had all eaten and groaned with too much food, Walter gave her something.
'What is it?' She said.
'Before he died, father said that he wanted you to have this, even though you don't need it now. He said that I should say it like that.' Walter took out a small wooden box from his pocket, and placed it into his sister's hands. She opened it carefully, and saw a section of rope sitting inside the box. Walter hugged her as she looked at it. The gift wasn't the rope itself, but that Oki had faith that she no longer needed rescuing. Oki was right.