A YOUNG man sat cross-legged, hunched over a pair of shoes that had obviously walked more than its fair share.
His posture never shifted as his fingers swiftly wove the needle through the leather. Only after his task was complete did he straighten up to stretch, the frown on his brow disappearing to give way to a smile.
It was a smile of satisfaction for Petero Dulukibau. The 19-year-old repairs shoes for a living. He has plied this trade from his home at Nawaido Village in Bua for the past three years. He says he is the only shoe repairer from his village up to Nabouwalu.
This, he said, was good for business but at times he was overwhelmed with work. "A lot of villagers come around with their broken shoes to get it fixed and no matter what the circumstance, I always make sure there is no credit," he said.
"Some of them, especially my relatives, ask for credit; for them to pick up the shoes first and pay later but I never allow this because it's a business that needs to survive."
He said business was so popular that at times his relatives and friends would drag him out of bed as early as 5am to fix their shoes before they leave for Labasa town. "That's the disadvantage of operating from home," he sighs, gesturing to the humble lean-to home he occupies with his cousins and two older brothers.
"Even at night at about 9pm or 10pm, my relatives and friends still come around home for me to fix their shoes. "Sometimes around the grog bowl, they will come and throw their shoes in and tell me to fix it so after hours, I always tell them, that charges will be higher and they still pay."
His favourite clients are the Roman Catholic nuns and priests from Solevu.
"I am always happy to see the nuns and priests come around and see me and ask about my business because that's when I share my experiences with them and it's just good to be encouraged by them," said Petero.
"At times, after a good conversation with them, I get shy again to ask for the payment so I just say bye and continue with my work but they never forget. "Instead they give me more than the normal charges of $1.50 and $2; I only thank God for bringing me such customers, he smiled.
His fondness for the nuns and priests could possibly run deeper than the interesting conversations they share.
This is because he largely attributes his success to a sermon a European priest delivered that inspired him never to give him. The priest, whose name he could not recall, had preached that dreams could come true if one had the will to do the long, hard slog.
He was a Class Three student of Solevu Primary School at the time he heard those words of encouragement. "The words continued to be in my mind and although I dropped out of school when I was nine, I always told myself that if I have the will to succeed in life, I will succeed," he said.
"Whether it be in farming or fishing, it will happen." Money woes meant he had to help his uncle, Viliame Raikivi, on the farm. Mr Raikivi, who is his mother's brother, practically raised him from birth. It was from him that he learnt his trade.
Mr Raikivi had repaired shoes before retiring to his farm. Today, Petero lives in a household of young bachelors. "We all have our share of buying food," he said. "While I buy from the shop, they provide root crops from the plantation and seafood for our meals."
He is happy with the lifestyle he has toiled to build. While it may be enough for some, it is not for Petero.
He is set on opening a little repair shop at Nabouwalu soon. He has already started saving towards this.
Adapted from Fijitimes Online