Jack Metta reflects on what happens when you're not at home
GOD has put a brain in your head and a heart in your chest; use them well.
That is a phrase that had been reverberating in your mind countless times since last Sunday's church service.
It made a lot of sense because these two parts of the body play vital roles in one's personality. Hence, it stuck to your mind like a leech, readily available for the juggling when your emotions overwhelmed you in any given situation.
Initially, it was meant to remind you of your responsibilities to the society that you are a part of and to adjust accordingly should you err or fall by the wayside on the path of life.
But most of all, it was to ensure you follow the norms of society and adhere to the rules that guard them.
Once in a while, exceptional circumstances would emerge calling for the rules to be stretched and bent to suit the circumstances, but the phrase would come to the fore urging good sense and reasoning. Most times, good sense wins out.
So when the phrase kept springing to mind in conditions one does not deem exceptional, alarm bells start to ring and you start to question whether you're not in a madhouse.
The madhouse in this context refers to the settlement you are thrown into, not by design but by circumstances.
Rising rents, power and utility bills, expanded responsibilities in almost all facets of everyday life including the dreaded wantok system, literally throw you into the confines of a squatter settlement to set up house.
And more wantok system woes are invited but that is part of the deal, you know. It is inevitable to interact with your own people because one has to be among his or her own kind to be able to scratch a new life in a complete new setting. You would think twice about settling into a new setting if you didn't have any wantoks around, would you? This is a fact of life in most urban centres around the country.
But as time passes, you wonder if the so-called 'new life' is worth it all or should you kick yourself in the shins and say 'serves you right'.
All these had come to pass because your arithmatic, scratchy as it is (one of your worst subjects in school), dictated that you move while you had the chance.
You calculated that paying rent a week multiplied by the year, times the number of years you've rented the place, came to several thousands of kina - money that could have been better put into the construction of a reasonable permanent home in the settlement. There would have been enough to settle the bills and tip the wantok some toea for his or her bus fare on occasions.
You rue the day you left the confines of your childhood home to start a new life. That new life appeared glamorous from the outset but as the days and years wore on and nature took its course, your life was now sinking down to the doldrums.
Lately, things have really hit rock bottom. The home that you had started to build had become a source of bitter dispute ... you not being a part of it.
Since your work takes you out of the city from time to time, it was prudent that you appoint a caretaker to look after the place while you're away.
The head on your shoulders juggle a few names from the settlement and the heart points to the appropriate characters.
Having done that, you are disrupted by a telephone call from a neighbour three weeks later that the person you had appointed had been chased away by your cousin, who has since moved in with his clan.
"Oh," she had said in passing, "the cousin's wife's clan are also holed up at your place..." The latter remarks sounded more sarcastic than advisory, but you didn't linger on the thought because the reminder came gurgling out from the confines of your mind like air from a burst balloon.
The cousin's mother and family had sold their house after their father died and now they've marched into your home without any authorisation whatsoever. And to think that he had taken it upon himself to kick the person you authorised to be the caretaker without so much as the courtesy of seeking permission from the owner.
You start seething when you latch onto the fact that they had sold their house without so much as a thought of their own accommodation in the city.
Complaints came then, like a tap opening. Nary had a day gone by when complaints came via telephone, letters, even visitors to the town of your temporary transfer.
The former caretaker, the closest neighbours and other relatives in the neighbourhood had something to say about the occupants, their pastime and advise as to what you should do about it.
By and by, you just became ears ... you know, let the words pass through one ear and out the other and that was that.
"There are no more coconuts on your palms; drunken youths have taken a bush knife to your trees, young palms, bananas and hedges just to show how tough they are; the trees in front of the house have been chopped down because too many youths are gathering there to drink home brew and smoke marijuana; your place has become a gambling den of sorts with every Tom, Dick, drunken Harry and his dog are making a habit of being there every day and night..."
Oh, the list went on and the reminder kept popping up.
Above the rage in your core, there were bitter tears over memories associated with the trees and coconuts in particular. They were planted for a purpose - to prevent erosion, act as wind breakers, and provide a shade for leisure and the children boasting in later years of having planted the trees as young toddlers.
The windbreakers in fact, were cut down because a neighbour reasoned that his action would prevent drug bodies from using the shade. No thought was spared for the years of growth, nurturing and trimming.
If this guy had a head on his shoulders and a heart in his chest, should he be respecting the property of its rightful owner?
You'd have thought he would have had enough sense to distinguish right from wrong and not entertain or discourage totally activities that brought the place into disrepute?
Disputes erupted over these activities between the 'cousin' and concerned parties in the neighbourhood culminating in boisterous exchanges of heated words and ultimately violence on a couple of occasions.
The activities and disputes were fodder for the settlement's gossips and, woe of woes, ammunition for further reports to your end.
The reminder never did have time to rest in the confines of your mind for the entire period you were away.
Messages were returned to get the present tenants out of the place and install the authorised person, but this fell on deaf years. Another message was sent that you were on your way back and that the place should be vacated.
They called your bluff and when you did arrive, they were still occupying the place.
But they did the fastest disappearing act you've ever seen in your entire life. One moment there is a hive of activity, the next, the place was quiet and deserted like it was never inhabited.
You feel sorry for yourself as you appraise you home and yard. No doubt, it was totally abused.
You had a head and a heart and you had used these to develop a cordial relationship with the locals including your cousin. And how do they return the courtesy. Abusing your place?
You tore the house down thereafter and the materials have since gone walkabout, once again courtesy of the very people you know. And once again, there hasn't been any permission sought from the owner.
It is said that home is where the heart is but in your case, the heart has shifted because the heads on the shoulders of those you believe you could trust, had torn it out and thrown it away.
If Louis Armstrong was to enter and blurt out in his croaky voice 'What a wonderful world'' perhaps he could be invited to be a caretaker for a while.
For now, the head's thinking about the future, the heart's pumping and the words of the Wise Counsellor: 'Forgiveness is a lovely idea until one has something to forgive' is resonating in your ears.