Sam Bell, trader extraordinaire

December 17, 2007 at 4:21 am (Fiction) ()

As the evening progressed and the drink flowed, the group freely expressed its feelings and concerns. Sam Bell, who hailed from Edinburgh, had a pronounced Scottish brogue and was going on about his pet hate: government officers using government benzene and time on the river buying artifacts: “It’s not fair on private enterprise trying to make a living on the river.” It was a good thing that Dr Jan Speer had left sometime before, as Sam considered him the main offender in this respect: “That German doctor is building up his own museum and selling artifacts in Europe, all at government expense. Bloody Payne should do something about it.” John Barnes piped up with the comment: “At least everything he buys is documented from the anthropological point of view and I’ll bet you don’t do that, Sam.” “I’m spending good money on the river,” said Sam, “and it’s up to you government officers to protect private enterprise and not compete unfairly with it.” 

 “The less I see of kiaps in this part of town the better.” Sam Bell told James Ward. He made exceptions to this in the case of some officers but as he said:  “I don’t want Payne poking his nose into too much around here. As far as I’m concerned, there are no nefarious activities going on, just a few private enterprise people trying to make an honest bob. German doctors buying artifacts should concern Payne more than the people around here, and if I need medical treatment, I won’t be going to that German doctor.”  This was uppermost in Sam’s mind, as some weeks before he had gone to Wewak to consult a doctor about a bad dose of gonorrhea. He told James: “You pay these girls good money and what do they leave you with?” “No need to go to Wewak, Sam. I can always give you a course of penicillin,” said James, thinking that Sam was amazing, considering his age and still “cutting off a slice”. Venereal disease was a perennial problem among the more sexually active expatriates with a liking for the locals. Dr Jan Speer had done a lot to combat the spread of disease and discreetly counsel those involved on prevention. Not in a moralistic way: he even told Bill Clayton that he would be just as active himself if he were not a married man. Des Murray, the European Medical Assistant, was ever ready to offer confidential medical treatment and, for those who wanted it, a fatherly shoulder to cry on. Perhaps Sam found it hard to see Des as a father figure.        

 Near the end of the year, James Ward received a letter from Sam Bell, who had returned to Sydney: 

GPO PO Box 158 Sydney NSW

20th December 1969

 Dear Jamie,

As you can see, I’m back in Sydney and I’m very pleased with the way the property prices are going. You and Bill should invest in houses in Sydney. I heard that you both had a great time in Japan. I’m not too sure about Bill getting tied up with a Japanese woman.My love life is on hold. You know I was thinking of taking the plunge with Elaine. It would have been worthwhile to combine our two investments.But I really couldn’t come at it. We went to bed as a bit of a prenuptial experience, but I just couldn’t rise to the occasion. It was like going to bed with your grandmother. The experience has given me nightmares ever since. I know Davie needs a mother, but not at that cost.Remember me to the girls around the town, especially Namba. 

Your friend,


James couldn’t help thinking that some of the girls that Sam got off with around Angoram could have almost passed as his grandchildren, and poor Elaine would find it hard to compete with the nubile maidens that Sam was used to.Some are blessed with eternal youth and others are destined to age. James’s reflections were engaged with this philosophical and biological point 

Sam’s spiel gave Jim and Bill a lot to think about, especially as they respected Sam’s opinion on money matters. Sam was always canny in business and with his soft Scottish brogue, red face, Ernest Hemingway beard and impassioned manner, he was most convincing.

 . Sam Bell and Patoman passed on to their eternal reward. One could see them in paradise chasing their earthly pursuits: Sam on the look out for valuable artifacts and Patoman arranging assignations for others with celestial maidens.  

   Excerpts from Sepik Blu Longpela Muruk 


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