A SMUGGLER’S TALE

The morning sun blinded Peter as he squinted his eyes to observe this particular traveler from a distance, he appeared to be in his mid-forties, he had a few grew hairs on his unruly shaved beard. The soles of his boots were worn out, just like the man himself. Both must have traveled far and wide. Peter thought as his eyes followed the traveler who went and stood next to the drain near the Lae-Madang bus stop in Goroka. He had a backpack resting on his chest. The traveler stood scanning not only buses but also the passengers in them. Peter whistled to one of his five Kina bus crews and signaled him with his eyes to check out the traveler, as he was a potential passenger.

Peter had been a bus crew for quite a long time working on several buses from Goroka traveling to Madang. His job was made easy when he was in Goroka because he didn’t have to run around looking for passengers or calling out ‘Madang Madang!’ until he exhausted his larynx. He had five-kina bus crews for that, while five-kina bus crews were running out dragging travelers and their luggage’s into the bus, Peter would chill at the buai table chewing and cracking jokes with friends or try his luck at the dart section.

In Goroka, there are five-kina bus crews and drivers. The five-kina bus crews go around looking for passengers while the five-kina drivers’ circles the bus around the bus stop. At times when there are no buses, this sees a rise in five-kina passengers. The five-kina passengers will secure a seat in the bus and sell it to those wanting to travel for K5 or K10. Bunch of opportunists but everyone got to find ways to earn money, Peter thought as he chewed his Madang stuck meat buai.

Peter watched as the five-kina bus crews who being skilled at sweet talking and convincing travelers to board their buses, tried their best at luring this traveler to board Peter’s bus. Peter watched as the traveler got on the bus and made his way to the last seat at the back and settle down near the window with his hands clasping tight his backpack, he thought the five-kina bus crews must have promised the traveler he would only pay K50, even though the bus fare from Goroka to Madang is K60.

Peter, working, as a bus crew traveling up and down the Highlands highway had met different people from different walks of life. He had developed a few skills having to do with studying human behavior and body language and having observed the traveler, he thought something was definitely odd and off about this human, he was acting weird when he stood next to the drain scanning buses. His eyes were everywhere as if he was running away from someone or looking out for someone.

Peter being observant, after a few minutes of studying the traveler’s body language came to a conclusion that this man must have had something in his possession, something he wasn’t supposed to be holding onto, something illegal perhaps, he having come across many people traveling from Eastern Highlands down to Madang, he knew he had to be prepared.

He quickly got on a bus at Goroka market and went to Seigu. At Seigu, he dropped into a second hand and filled up an empty 10kg rice bag with women’s clothing; women’s underwear’s, bras and tops. The second hand shop assistants gave Peter the awkward glance when he placed all the women’s clothing on the counter; this also drew the attention of many people second-hand. What would a man want to do with women’s clothing? Peter sensing the atmosphere and seeing the curios faces of the on-lookers, just said “Blo sales lo street oh”. Of course, he knew the people didn’t buy that but he didn’t care what they thought, he had a job to do and so he was off again, to the bus stop.

At around 11 am, Peter was back at the bus stop and by now, the bus was packed. Peter jump on the bus as the real driver of the PMV replaced the five Kina driver. Peter made payments to his casual workers; the five-kina bus crews and five kina driver and then called on the driver to pull out of the bus stop and drive to Faniufa service station to refuel the thirsty bus of some gas.

When the bus stopped at Faniufa service station, Peter stood up, looked at the passengers, cleared his throat and made a few jokes to lighten the mood of the passengers before giving a few toksaves to the traveling passengers. After his short toksave, he collected the bus fares and gave them 30 minutes to get whatever they wanted at the hauskai while the driver pulled the bus and parked it next to the vacant fuel pump to refuel. When the bus was refueling, all the passengers came out of the bus except for at least five people who remained seated in the bus. Two young kids, and three adults. Peter did a head count and started counting the bus fares collected from the passengers beside the bus to make sure very passenger paid.

One of the adults who remain seated in the bus was the traveler. He could be from Madang or Morobe, Peter was unsure. His old faded backpack was something big like the mountaineer’s backpack. He would open the bag’s zipper a little bit, spy into the bag, check the contents as if to see if it was still there and then zip it shut again before sitting it down between in his legs. Peter was still beside the bus counting the earnings from the trip, and once every minute, he would turn and throw a quick glance to see what the traveler was doing.

After counting his takings for the trip, he circled the bus to the other side of the bus to where the traveler sat. The traveler seeing Peter approaching, quickly put his hand into his string bilum, got out a buai, removed the buai skin and was now crushing the buai flesh in his mouth while opening the lid of the lime bottle, which was a pispis bottle doctors use in the hospital.

Peter being a talkative and a person with a great sense of humor tapped the window and motioned the passenger to slide the bus window open, which the man did hesitantly. When the glass slid open, Peter in his Goroka accent said “Apo nais wan eh, plis mi use’m kambang blo you pastem. Kambang blo mi, driver gim lo ol fokofi lo Lopi” which the man found hilarious and laughed, Peter was an expert in holding conversations, no sooner had they introduced each other, they were laughing and sharing smoke. Peter knew it was too early for him to ask the man about backpack and its contents, he would ask when the time was right, that is of course before they arrive at Kainantu.

When the passengers came back and boarded the bus, Peter gave laid down a few rules for the passengers to follow when traveling in the bus, rules like no smoking in the bus, chewers must have plastics or empty cans to spit their buai in and to not stop the driver every few miles to relieve themselves. Once the message was clear, the driver started the engine and by 12 sharp, they were at Korofegu bridge near the DPI station. There, the driver stopped the bus and everybody was asked to go relieve themselves, Peter still had his eyes on the man with the backpack. He assumed the man would never leave his backpack but then he saw someone jumping out the window at the back with a backpack, it was the traveler, Peter quickly circle around and waited for him, he had gone into the nearby bush and was relieving himself.

When he came out the bushes, Peter called him over and asked “Apo, mi lukim bag blo yu ya luk osem yu karim sampla hevi ya”, the man looked at Peter and rebuking his assumptions said ‘Nogat samting ya Apo’. Peter knew he was lying between his teeth so he said ‘Listen mate, help me help you. I’m trying to keep you out of trouble but I won’t help if you don’t tell me what you’re carrying’. The traveler looked around to see if anybody was nearby who could hear their conversation and putting his lips to Peter’s ear, he whispered ‘Boss mahn, mi karim hevi ya, 6kg drug mi pulapim lo bag’.

Peter looked at him searchingly and asked if he had done this before because how he conducted his business told Peter that this man was an amateur. He nodded his head and said no. Peter cleared his throat, and said ‘Listen to everything I am going to tell you to do, and you will go home to Madang safe with your illegal goods, do you understand?’, the traveler nodded his head still looking around. Peter slapped his head and told him not to act suspicious or weird or his actions might attract the attention of the passengers and most importantly the police who do road checks at Kainantu and Yonki.

Peter then told him to go in to the bus and get the 10kg trukai rice bag, which placed under the seat behind the offside seat of the bus and bring it. The traveler swiftly did what he was told to do, and was back in no time with the trukai rice bag, Peter then instructed him to go down to Korofeigu bridge and soak the contents of the bag in water, remove the price tags and bring the bag and its contents back.

The traveler did not check the contents of the 10kg trukai rice bag, he just ran off down to the creek to do what he was told to do in a hurry. The bag contained the second clothes, which Peter bought at the second hand shop in Goroka, but he did not tell the traveler what the content of the bag was.
When the traveler poured out the contents of the bag into the flowing water, what he saw caught him off guard. They were women’s clothing, they smelled of second hand clothing, and indeed, they were second hand clothes for they had price tags on them. The traveler thought why would the bus crew want me to wet all the women’s clothes and remembering Peter’s advice, he removed all the price tags.

When the traveler returned with the soaked clothing, Peter asked the traveler to empty the contents onto a dry grass and asked him to remove all the marijuana from his backpack. When the traveler started pulling out his goods, what Peter saw made his jaw drop. The drugs were, packed tightly and were wrapped with aluminum foils. He had never seen drugs being packed like this before. The drugs were packed in the shape of bricks, like how Mexicans packed their cocaine, seven bricks, Peter counted.

‘Now put them into the rice bag’ he ordered the traveler, the traveler quickly packed the bricks into the bag while scanning around to make sure they were not spotted by other passengers. After the drugs were loaded into the bag, Peter had the wet women’s clothing packed on top of the bricks, pants, bras and all. When the bus pulled out of Korofeigu, Peter just hoped the police would not do road checks today. He placed the bag under the seat, which was behind the offside seat.

When they arrived at Kainantu, Peter saw another bus coming up from Lae so he shouted to the bus crew of the other bus asking if there were road blocks ahead. The other crew shouting back from his bus said ‘only one road check just a few meters down the hill from the township of Kainantu’. The traveler sitting at the back felt a lump on his throat, his heartbeat tripled as he looked at Peter in fear, Peter motioned him to stay calm while putting a brave face so the traveler won’t have to panic and appear suspicious to the police at the road block.

When they arrived at the checkpoint, a traffic officer on the road called the driver to pull the bus over. The driver pulled over beside the road where the officer inspected his license and registration before calling out all the passengers out from the bus so they could search the bus. As soon as the passengers were out of the bus, a tall police officer who appeared to be from Sepik, from the look of his carving and dry face entered the bus and searched through the passengers luggage. Peter held his breath when the police officer pulled the 10kg bag out from under the seat, the traveler’s heart was beating fast and was ready to make a run for the nearby bushes if when the officer disccovered the illegal drugs.

The officer opened the bag and put his hand in; he felt something wet, felt like wet clothes. When he pulled the clothes out, in his hand were females bra and pants, ‘Yekereh!’, he exclaimed as he threw the wet clothes into the bag, ‘Bloody hell!’ he swore as he kicked the bag back under the seat where he pulled it out from. ‘Samting blo ol meri ya!’, wiping his wet hand on the seat covers of the bus and left the bus, Peter laughed so hard and said ‘Pasin blo sekim sekim ya, ba yu kisim klos blo ol meri’.

The angry officer yelled on the passengers and told them to board the bus and be off. Peter stood beside the bus door smiling as the passengers got into the bus one by one. Before the traveler stepped into the bus, he held Peter’s arm and whispered under his breath ‘Thank you boss mahn, mi gat dinau wantaim you’ and got in.
Peter just smiled, another successful operation!

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