We are taken to a hospital in the old part of town.
The building is tatty,
a crumpling colonial ruin.
Staff gather in the kitchen
lean against the benches,
around the wall.
Quiet chatting until the charge nurse begins.
‘All our residents have a gift.’
The staff nod and murmur.
‘They see spirits,’ she says,
‘And mostly spirits that are not safe.
In the olden times,
these people would have
talked to these spirits.
People paid them
in chickens, fruit, and vegetables
sometimes a pig –
to pass on messages.
The spirits told them stories about the ancestors.
Reminded them of ways to live.
This tradition worked well
until the missionaries came
and if they found someone with this skill
they were locked away.’
Later we wander about with the visiting families.
Watch as they share food, gifts,
show photos of children, grandchildren.
Tell stories of this one or that –
who has gone to live in Port Moresby,
Brisbane, Hong Kong.
Who is playing music,
who is studying.
The patients listen and nod.
But they keep their gaze on the forest
where they long to walk
among the trees of the ancestors
and the bird and animals.
It is a sad and beautiful place
held in quiet acceptance by the nurses.
Like time stopped and they are held in a dream.
The green paint peels from the walls
and the old cane furniture
has darkened with age.
Louvres are jammed open
the rain marks the wall
and geckoes run along the verandas.
And time slows as we become lost in
the forest language of the patients
and the kindness of nurses.