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CHIEF TOM

He shouted for his nephews to come over, waited impatiently as they stumbled from their various huts, a motley crew of testosterone, trapped out here in the bush. They were lazy and fat, preferred a sedentary life of lying round, drinking kava, being fed and adored. Their wives, they thought, should do the work, and they did, and were quite content to do so.

The first of the five lumbered over, a cheerful earthy fellow, a strong young man of about twenty; torn yellow T-shirt barely covering the bulk of him, already a gut hanging over his belt, a piece of twine that held baggy trousers around what once were his hips. He stood there, panting, while his brothers ambled over. They all looked much the same; a diet of pure starch had ballooned them into Michelin men. They were solid, big men, a rugby scrum dressed in a motley of shorts and flapping shirts, a beanie, a fraying baseball cap incongruously topping off one of them, the eldest, a strapping lad gone quite to seed. He was only thirty, at the most, but a lifetime of inactivity and a diet of sweet potatoes made him look older, heavier than he should. Only his plump, baby face was at odds with the rest of him. It sat there on his chin with an innocence that belied the murderous thug that owned it. The fierce tattoos on his neck and chest lent a side-show air to a man who clearly deserved to own them. His name was Bad Peter and he was spoiling for a fight.

All five stood uneasily in a row, squinting into the dying sun. They had grown to hate this wiry old uncle, loathe his endless demands. This ceremony, that one, an endless litany of tasks none of them understood; a routine to a day that needed none. It was inexplicable, but it was custom, that was all they knew. None of them had anything remotely resembling imagination – just a brute force that gave them a certain power. The chief relied on this in the past, flanked the boys behind him as he spoke unpopular words. But it was just going to be the ceremony, they knew, it was the time again. They looked at each other and rolled their eyes, shifted warily from foot to foot, lined up there at attention.

‘Tomorrow is the day,’ he said to them. One yawned and sat down. Big Peter let out a low groan. ‘Tomorrow is the anniversary. You know what to do.’

Five bored heads looked at each other in turn, a neck ballet of sullen flesh, then turned as one to their uncle. Ten dead eyes stared back at him. Fat fools, the Chief said to himself and renewed his efforts,

‘Get up, go on!’ he said, shooing them out of his sight. ‘Make the preparations! Bring out the flags! You know what to do!’

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