Chapter 10: Land of the scared, home of the trapped
We knew we’d reached Port Moresby when the subtle vibration of the ship’s engines stopped humming through the container. We knew the customs officials had finally finished their song and dance when a loud metallic thump hit the roof of our box and plucked us off the stack of containers.
We’d wisely put away all of our knives, forks, the gas burner and anything else remotely dangerous when the engines stopped. But still I had to dive for the floor and hold onto the table-leg for support as the crane operator swung the container around like a kid playing with toy nunchucks.
We were lowered just slowly enough to minimise damage to the container. I got the feeling the guy in the crane wasn’t happy at the boss today and was taking it out on the cargo.
We came to a halt on what I hoped was the back of the truck that was supposed to pick us up. I relaxed when a new, smaller vibration started up and the sensation of sideways movement resumed.
Kitty ran straight for the chemical toilet, which annoyed me, but only because she beat me too it.
A good half an hour later the truck carrying us pulled up to a stop and a forklift put us down on the ground.
The next moment the container’s doors were opened and we had our first exposure to sunlight in almost a week. The wave of humidity that hit me in the face immediately made me miss the container.
At first glance it was hard to tell if the guys who let us out were proper paid workers or members of the Raskol gang my smuggler mate was in with. One guy wore a pair of heavy working shorts and a flannel shirt with no buttons, his mate sported a wife-beater and the bottom half of a set of coveralls tied around at the waste with an occy-strap. The mystery solved itself when they pushed right passed me and went straight for our leftover food.
We trundled outside into the yard, or more accurately, the cheapest-looking shipping container residence I’d ever seen. When the idea was first floated to build residential properties out of shipping containers, the short-sighted people who tuned their noses up at the idea were thinking of this.
Containers were stacked four-high around us, some with slapped together wooden staircases leading up to open doors, others with ladders stolen straight from a hardware store either leaning against the crates or welded to the side of the wall. Some people had even bridged gaps between upper levels with a couple of timber planks. A few had stretched sheets of corrugated iron across some gaps to make roofs. A sheet lying between two stacks that was bent right up the middle suggested some idiot had mistaken one for the other.
Kitty stared ashen-faced at the whole scene. Seeing as how laughing at other people was still something she and I could bond over I nudged her elbow. “How many accidents do you reckon they have a year?”
Kitty did not take her eyes off the scene. “With or without the aid of alcohol?”
That was when I noticed the abundance of long-neck bottles strewn around the place.
Tachi pointed out a shipping container with a large window cut out of the front, suggesting it was the head office. “If you are quite done pointing out the shortcomings of others I believe we need to ask there for transportation.”
We approached the office and Tachi politely rapped his knuckles on the doorway before sticking his head inside.
“Excuse me gentlemen. Our mutual friend the Mister Lionhead of Singapore tells me that my companions and I would be able to trouble you for assistance with transportation to the airport?”
The half-dozen figures in the ramshackle office/arsenal all turned at once, cigarettes dangling precariously on the edge of lips.
The state of dress from our two dock workers were a good warm-up for these blokes. Flannel, torn cargo pants, faded camouflage fatigues, plastic sunglasses and corn rolls predominated the fashionable Raskol these days. A catholic collection of Kalashnikovs were everywhere within reach and each man visibly displayed a handgun as well. In ages passed the handguns would be home-made zip guns, little better than muskets. While some of them may have been wrapped in gaff tape the outlines of first-generation Glocks were hard to miss.
“What fuck you here do?” The one seated behind the desk asked. He leaned back in his seat and flashed us an aggressive smile with betel-nut stained teeth.
Tachi flicked his eyes towards me. [Eloquent.]
Tachi tried again. “We’re friends of Lionhead. We want to go to the airport. We can pay.”
“Yah?” The man said as he stood up. “How much?”
Tachi shrugged. “Fifty nuyen.”
“Get dah truck.” The man said, snapping his fingers at the nearest of his goons.
I got the impression these guys could stretch a steep cab-fare pretty far.
Kitty and I went back outside while Tachi got their bank details.
One of the Raskols brought an ancient Unimog around and we all climbed in the back. From the amount of gear the boys brought with them you’d think we were launching an offensive. Every seat that wasn’t holding myself, Tachi or Kitty had a Raskol’s arse parked in it and all of them had a Kalashnikov in their hands. As soon as we were ready the leader pulled up the canvas flap separating the driver’s cabin from the tray and barked to get going.
The brief, worried thought of what exactly we were going to do if they turned on us shot through my mind. The leery sideways looks the boys kept giving Kitty did not make me feel better and were clearly making Kitty feel worse. She crossed her arms in front of her and tried to make herself less noticeable between Tachi and I.
Even with both arms I wouldn’t give two nuyen for my chances against the lot of them, I’d want Tachi to be whole to at least make a go of it.
I turned to look out the back of the truck so as not to provoke the Raskols any further. What always surprises me about many developing nations is how much they look a lot like a rural community from a developed country back in the 1970’s. Roads are more likely to be dirt, cars are more likely to be rusty in places and clothes are more worn out (and garish).
According to my Neupro’s GPS we started up north in the suburb of Gerehu, we passed ageing suburban homes with corrugated iron roofs. Despite being 3 in the arvo on a Wednesday almost every house we passed had a bloke sitting out the front in the shade, he was either chewing betel-nut or sucking down a cold one. Most of them were on their own, though a few of the younger ones had their mates over for a chat. Presumably the womenfolk were out the back, doing all the actual work.
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