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Mepa Taufa-Vuni

Vaini/Tongatapu, Tonga

Mepa Taufa-Vuni

My name is Mepa Taufa-Vuni. I am 28 years of age with three children—two boys and one girl. My father worked as a bus driver and my mother is a housewife, who looked after seven of us—I have four brothers and two sisters. I have done courses in creative writing at the University of the South Pacific and I see myself as a keen observer of people. I am interested in personal writing but sometimes worry about readers assuming too much about themselves in my works. I plan to continue writing in this vein as I go back home to continue my teaching career.

My poems and stories refer to legends that are related or directly pulled out from my father's village—legends like the "Sons of a Moko," a descendent of Ma‘afu Tukuia‘ulahi who is the father of the twins living next door to us. Ma‘afu is the noble of Vaini now, my father's village. The short words and incomplete sentences in my work are for emphasis of the main character's mother and how it had been repeated from time to time.

I wanted to dedicate my work to my father, Siopau-lata-ai-au Taufa, a man whose sense of humour really brightened up our little house and to my mother who believed in me.

Excerpt from Making Waves

‘Ale, a local doctor, a grandmother

Her grandmother, a healer with Tongan herbs mashed leaves that were freshly plucked from traditional trees that had been used by her ancestors for healing people. She chanted in accordance to the bashing-rhythm of the slapping stone against the green leaves. Greenish frothy bubbling juices seeped out from the leaves. Stone on leaves; leaves on stones bounded with special stone with special gifted hands. ‘Ale, her grandmother was the chosen one among her sisters and brothers. Her father, the healer with the Tongan medicines had left his power, his gift for ‘Ale. This gift was wisely used to build their little house with aluminum-tin-roof with one bedroom, bought their food and told them lifetime stories.

The kettle on the open fire cackled for attention. Steams rose from the black hot fuming kettle. ‘Ale eyes darted to the fire and shouted to her grandchild to come and tended to the kettle. The fuming kettle was like the anger inside the little eight-year-old child. To be dragged away from playing in the late afternoon with all children from the neighbourhood was a nightmare.

Faka‘anaua come here!
Take the kettle off from the fire!
Leave it on the table!
Bring me a cup of tea while you're there!
Hurry up!

Faka‘anaua-ki he-‘Eiki—the name that ‘Ale gave her to spite her mother. It means putting your hopes and trust into the Lord, the Christian's God, not to Tangaloa or Hikule‘o or Maui. Maybe ‘Ale had wanted to remind her not to step into her mother's shoes. ‘Ale was hoping that one day she would become a successful person without taking the easy way like her mother. According to ‘Ale, her mother would sleep with anyone for a loaf of bread or a drop of whiskey.

Ko e lalekini fokisi, a whore… as ‘Ale described her mother.

Hoi fakahela! She scratched her head furiously, mumbling into the evening breeze while stamping her little feet. Her lips were twisted in anger. ‘Ale was surely pissed off as she watched Naua (her nickname) stamped her little feet. She mouthed the words from ‘Ale's mouth like she had known all along what she would say, word after word, like a recipe.

Your mother had dumped you into my lap as soon as you fell out.
Then she left with another man.
She never came back to check on her child.
I am a mother yet do not understand the kind of woman like your mother… A mother without a heart like Fehuluni without a soul.

Words like these constantly reminded her of her past. It didn't hurt her anymore, she was used to it.

Her mother's heart is perhaps like the Snow Queen. A story that had been told by Lesi during one afternoon. A heart that frozen like piglet's heart in Peka's fridge. It looked almost like an ice-block… thought Naua.

If your mother appeared in the judgment day, she would be the first one to be thrown down the devil's throat. Bad people had no place in heaven but straight to hell and to be fed into the fire. Your mother had lured my son with her experiences. She had no intention to look after you…so don't go out one day and look for her… you little children are all the same. Your parents dumped you as you were useless and invalid and when you could do something, you will be running back to them… ‘Ale said with bitterness.

Naua caught a glimpse of her refection on a mud puddle beside their house. She looked closer and wondered quietly…wasn't I beautiful enough? Did I cry endlessly at night like Kenitaki? She had no idea. The night had descended over the whole of Tonga. People would be coming by this time to be healed, people with strange diseases that white medicines failed to cure.

Naua lifted the kettle from the dying fire then placed it on the table. Within twenty to thirty minutes; it would be cooling down and would be waiting for ‘Ale's clients and patients for the night. People had come from all around the island. Some came with strange diseases. Some couldn't sleep for days, even weeks. Every patient came with different story. According to ‘Ale, these stories reflected the illness that one possessed. To tell these stories would enable ‘Ale to cure them. Stories needed to be told to free oneself from the curser of that disease. Those who failed to be cured like Mele from the neighbouring village had failed to reveal her darkest secret. ‘Ale had suspected that she might be ashamed to admit whatever had been hidden inside her chest. Mele had cancer. ‘Ale was the last hope of her family. White doctors had consequently failed to make Mele well with their medicines. They had been to hospitals in Australia for the last seven months, shifted from doctor to doctor, from painkiller to morphine but there was no improvement in Mele's health. Her beautiful hair fell out not one by one but lot by lot like leaves in autumn. Somehow, the cancer had clung to Mele becoming permanent part of her body, just as a nose or ears; sucking all little bit of fats and moistures in her body leaving an eighty-year-old skin on bones of a young unmarried thirty-year-old woman. Her smiling lips turned into an agony twisted of pain as she tried to smile. Her eyes darted around the house like a lost child, looking high and stoned like Paea when he finished several joints of his marijuana. Sometimes she would laugh in the middle of her mother's sobbing sad stories. Mele died after three weeks from her first visit to ‘Ale — the Tongan doctor. Her virginity, the only sister of seven brothers died and buried in a grave, with white sands and pebbles on top with empty beer bottles that had been cleaned and turned upside down circling the oval grave. Behind her grave, a ngatu had been nailed to two strong posts spelled her name and right below her name was an extract from the Bible in the Tongan version. Children of the mourners tried to show to their parents that they could read by saying out loud the inscribed verse… He na‘e ‘ofa pehe ‘a e ‘Otua ki mamani… It was John 3:16—for God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…

Everyone was saying that Mele would be now having lu and suckling pig with the rest of the relatives and maybe Mele would be exhausted from Sole's endless questions about his young wife. Sole, Mele's neighbor whose right arm had been bitten by the shark and died from severe blood loss, leaving behind a young wife with three kids. Sole was cursed by his own father for the missing of the ‘elelo‘o e fafangu, the bell's tongue of their church as a sinker for his fishing-line. His own father, the minister, had cursed the thief during church one morning. From the pulpit, he shouted Whoever< took the tongue of the bell should step forward or something terrible would happen to him/her not knowing that he had laid the curse on his own flesh and blood.

‘Ale's chicken did not fly out of Mele's bathroom's windows. ‘Ale's final hope for Mele was letting her favourite chicken determined whether she would be cured or not. According to ‘Ale's prediction and her expertise in her healing profession; Mele would live if Pele—her favorite chicken would be escaping from Mele's bathroom. In desperation, Mele's brothers thought that ‘Ale was the savior. They had allowed her to perform her magic. The brothers who had Bachelors and Masters from universities in Australia and New Zealand still believed that ‘Ale would do miracle. The chicken was locked inside the bathroom. For the chicken to escape would mean Mele would be cured. The chicken was let go in a well-secured bathroom. The louvers were too small and were tightly shut together with mosquito's net securely nailed into wooden frames from outside. Mele died within two weeks after the chicken incident, after her brothers gave ‘Ale hundred dollars as a token of their appreciations. ‘Ale tearfully accepted (with lot of resentments) the money sealed in a little while envelope with blue frames around it like the tightly secured mosquito's net at Mele's bathroom. Mele's life was trapped inside the cancer's jail like the chicken inside the bathroom.

‘Ale called Naua to go and take a bath. Their tiny bathroom had no roof; it was made up of four soggy walls of old damp timbers. These walls of the bathroom were once a box full of groceries; flours with pictures of wheat on bluish brown cover, corn flakes, rice bubbles that had been wrapped with New Zealand's second hand clothes. Even though, they were called second-hand clothes; they still smelled nice and the smell of these clothes lingered in their little house in the next four days. It was from Nale, ‘Ale's eldest son. Nale had gone to New Zealand in the last sixteen years. He had never returned since then. Married a palangi and had six children. One of their many pictures that was sent down to Vaini had turned yellow as it hung on the walls from days to days, weeks to weeks and from humid to humid. Like Mele in her grave, couldn't go anywhere even if she wanted to. The children looked very palangi with brown hairs, pointed noses and clean fingernails. There were the main characters in ‘Ale's stories especially when she tried to entertain her clients. She had dreamed that one day; her son would pay her visit with his palangi wife and his kids with skins that looked like bellies of lizards on their roof at night. Smooth and white bellies, you could see the eggs inside the transparent skins like the bluish and reddish veins of those children.

Waiting for the tap to fill up her bucket was frustrating enough. Naua had spent the last twenty minutes waiting. Water would be running for thirty seconds then off for another two minutes. Air would be blowing out of the tap like mufflers of ‘Ale's clients' transports indicating that water would be coming in the next twenty seconds. Water oozed out slowly at first…tip…tap… on the bucket then died. Not again, Naua whispered into the approaching darkness. One thing she hated was having a bath in the night. Centipedes had bitten her more than five times. Since there was no light in the bathroom, centipedes had more chance to bite her than for her to kill them. It was better for Paea to peep through little holes on the wall than to feel the centipedes' stings. Paea, the man with the biggest guava tree in their neighbourhood who had just came out from Tolitoli — the prison at the end of the village. He had grown marijuana and smoked a lot and now he acted funny and had taken advantages of bathrooms like theirs. Water had filled her bucket halfway. Cockroaches were crawling outside and inside the bathroom but she brushed them aside. At least they would not bite, she thought. Tomorrow, she had to go to school. She hated her teacher like she hated the centipedes. Her teacher could be more capable of inflicting hurtful bites into her mind; much worse than bites from centipedes. Every little fault in class was totally blamed on her like

Who stole Pepe's pencil?
Who ate Ti's lunch?
Who took the coins from my table?

Fingers would somehow, find themselves pointing at her. Maybe it was her tattered uniform—the red skirt that had faded into very light red with ‘Ale's white stitches on holes and tears looking very much like a pauper's quilt.

She reached out for the soap that had been placed on a piece of wood that had been nailed to the wall and it was a little higher than her head. Hairs were sticking on it; she removed them and soaped herself. At least it still smelled good, just like the advertisement on the neighbour's TV. Soaping herself like the beautiful woman who had soaped herself with

the same brand of soap that she used, the Lux on the TV. She would have fair skin afterward like Sose and her fair and lovely face cream and all men's eyes stared at the screen unblinking while their wives scolded them for being lazy bastards. Her aunty Sose was preparing the evening meal. The small radio (with two AA batteries) that Nale sent for ‘Ale's mother's day was fully blasted. It was the Family Planning's program. A man was singing emphasizing the need to consider the number of children in a family…

Taha pe ua kuo te pehe kuo fe‘unga
(One or two children then it is enough)

Tolu fa nima ‘a e kavenga kuo faka‘ulia
(Three Four Five too many things to do)

Ka ke manatu ko e fanau tuku ia ma‘au…
(But remember they had to be nourished)

Drying herself she walked inside their little house with her little flip-flop making squealing sound like a piglet that had been slaughtered for a special occasion. She was too tall for her towel; it merely covered her bottom. ‘Ale used to scold her when she wanted a new towel, the reminder of her mother would be brought up again. Asking for a new pencil or food for shared lunch were never among ‘Ale's favourite subjects. As a result, she would be forever sitting at the corner of the classroom, tortured with endless imperative remarks from her teacher like—

Put your left thumb into your mouth!
Both hands on your head!
One leg lifted up into the air!

Sitting quietly at the corner of the classroom alongside the ones who failed to bring their share lunches or pencils into the class. They couldn't help but to stare with running mouths toward the rest of the kids whose parents brought their lunches and take-away from the Country Fried Chicken. Chips tipped into tomato sauce, the careless ripping of chicken's fried meats from bones watered their mouths and made funny noises in their stomachs. Parents of these fortunate children waltzed inside with little perspiration on their foreheads; clean dresses matched their tupenu with high heels that click… clack as they walked in on the cement floor of their classroom, smiling cleanly and then thanking Lesi—the teacher for about ten times. Lesi in an angelic manner smiled exposing nearly all the molars in her mouth.

On her way to their little house toward her room with no bedroom's door, she saw a couple standing outside their house. The woman seemed reluctant to go inside but the man encouraged her to knock on the door. She ran inside the little Tongan house where, ‘Ale was beating her tutu, making her ngatu and Sose was cooking their dinner.

‘Ale, there is a man and woman outside the house, Naua said while holding on to the towel. ‘Ale stood up very quickly, dashed into the little house at the front. The little house with aluminum-tin-roof that welcomed people with faded photos on its wall and tattered sofa whose springs would bit into your bums as you sat on them. A single bedroom that had no bedroom's door, a bed-sheet partitioned the bedroom from the living room. A living room during day and a bedroom at night.