“I need a shower!” Jennifer said, dropping to the first mattress upon entering the suite the three women shared. Unfortunately, there were only two beds in this room. Thankfully, they were two queen-size beds and the three women were slim in stature.

“I call the bed by the balcony!” Shonda called over her shoulder as she hurried, with camera in tow, toward the glass door that led to a balcony overlooking the city. She didn’t hesitate to drop her bag on the pristine white bedsheet and walked out into the balcony. “Whoa! Come look at this, ladies.”

Karen stood where she was, wondering how she’d found herself without a bed and not particularly keen on sharing with either. On the long ride to the hotel, she discovered that both Shonda and Jennifer were snorers. No telling what else they did once comfortable in their temporary beds.

“Oooh! Karen, come take a look!” Jennifer said, having joined Shonda on the balcony. “It’s gorgeous! Send me that pic, will you girl?”

“Got it,” Shonda said, clicking away.

Reluctantly, Karen made her way to the balcony and looked out from where she stood, seeing past the trees and buildings. Beyond the horizon and the outskirts of this city was a region filled with hungry, abandoned children who only knew love from the volunteers of the organization Karen and her colleagues volunteered with. Her heart ached to see them, to give each one a smile and an embrace.

“I smell meat!” Shonda’s words pervaded Karen’s thoughts and Jennifer laughed.

“You’re such a foodie.”

Karen didn’t respond and with one more glance at the scene before her, she stepped back into the room. “While you’re busy taking pics, I’ll take my shower first.”

“Go ahead, girl,” Shonda said, too distracted with the glamour shots she took of Jennifer overlooking the city. “Ooh, turn this way—no, put your chin down. Okay good.”

Shaking her head, Karen grabbed her suitcase and rolled it into the bathroom. Her colleagues were anything but boring, and she hoped that their energy would see them through what would be an arduous journey; physically, emotionally, and mentally.

By the time she’d dried her body and put on a thin tunic and shorts for bed, Karen stepped out into the room and paused in her steps. The two girls had occupied both beds, deep in sleep with limbs thrown every which way so there was no room for her on either without jostling them awake.

A snore from Shonda was undercut by a series of snorts from Jennifer, the pandemonium filling the room. Karen suddenly wished she’d asked for a separate room even if it costs more than she’d saved. Drawing in a breath, she grabbed her phone and her purse and walked out to the balcony.

Dialing through a phone card Eddy had given each of them before dropping them off at the hotel, Karen leaned against the railing and waited for the dial tone to stop ringing.

It did, giving way to some static. Then a “Chance Residence, Samina speaking.”

Karen smiled at her sister’s official greeting. “Hey, it’s me.”

“Kare-bear!” Samina’s greeting turned warm and Karen could almost picture her older sister’s bright smile. “You made it safely!”

“That I did,” Karen replied, eyes moving over the skyline. The sun had long since departed while she was in the bathroom, and lights dotted both the sky and the buildings. She noticed in the horizon that the regional outskirts were void of light.

“How was it? Your hotel room okay?”

Just then, a drawn-out snore sounded in the distance. Karen barely swallowed a laugh. “It’s alright.”

“That’s good. What time is it over there?”

Karen could hear someone, either her nephew or niece, making noise in the background. “It’s almost midnight here. What about you? Is that Prissy or Harry”

“Both,” Samina said with a groan. “It’s almost eight and both refuse to get ready for school. Toph’s with ‘em.”

“I’m sure he’ll be calling for you in a second so I won’t keep you long,” Karen said with a smile. Her nephew and niece were quite rambunctious and a handful for both parents who had been model children growing up. “Just wanted to say hi.”

“Are you nervous still?”

Karen’s smile dimmed slightly. “Not really nervous… just don’t know what to expect.”

“That’s understandable, but stay positive. You did your research right?”

Karen nodded, knowing full well her sister wouldn’t see it.

“Trust your instinct and enjoy yourself. And if anything seems off, evaluate it objectively before making any decision. We’ll pay for the next flight out if you want to come back.”

Though Samina had spoken as the caring and doting older sister, Karen bristled at the offer. “I made the decision to come here and I’ll see it through, no matter what. I won’t run away.”

“Never said you would, Kare—” she stopped abruptly and then heaved a sigh. “Ugh, Topher’s calling me.”

Karen’s smile was wan. “Told you.”

“Try to enjoy yourself and call when—ugh, Christopher Chance, they are your kids too!”

This time Karen chuckled. “You better go. Love you.”

“Love you too, Kare-bear. Will you call Mom?”

“I will,” Karen fibbed, having no intention on calling her parents for fear that they’d share the same sentiments as Samina and offer her an escape. “Have a good day.”

“You too, Babe—oh, have a good night. Love you.” And with that, the call disconnected.

Karen swallowed the hardened lump in her throat as she lowered the phone from her ear. Her eyes scanned the lit skyline and shifted her gaze to the darkened regions of the horizon. Tomorrow, she and the girls would be riding out to Kibera first before heading out to the eastern part of Nairobi where the orphanage and its children resided.

Drawing in a breath, Karen turned away from the scene and walked back into the room, welcomed by the chorus of snores from both beds. Retreating to the sofa, Karen curled her legs to her chest, propped her hands under her cheek and closed her eyes. Jet-lag and the long day pulled her quickly to a deep sleep.

Morning came too quickly and with a jostle near her legs, Karen squinted an eye open. Jennifer’s face hovered inches from her face and Karen jerked back, subsequently bumping her head on the edge of the sofa. She groaned and held a hand to her temple.

“Oh no!” Jennifer’s musical voice sounded panicked. Her hand moved to Karen’s. “Are you okay?”

“Why were you standing so close?!” Karen groused, cranky over the interruption of her sleep and the pounding in her temple.

“I-I’m ss-sorry!”

Karen paused and opened both eyes to find Jennifer’s wide as saucers. She quickly rearranged her features and summoned all the patience in her being. “It’s alright…” Hoisting herself up by an elbow, Karen grimaced at the stiffness in her body. The couch was not the ideal sleeping spot; she made a mental note to claim the bed for sure next time. “What time is it?”

Jennifer was quiet for a long moment, obviously still stunned by Karen’s outburst. This was clearly not the placid and patient Karen she’d talked to on the phone, or spotted in the airport hours ago. When Karen looked up at her, the younger woman was eying her warily.

The front door opened, and Shonda waltzed in, clad in exercise shorts and a matching tank. Sweat glazed her dark skin, and she had a wash towel draped on one shoulder. She paused in front of the two women and arched a brow. “What’s going on, a staring contest?”

Karen broke eye contact first and looked to Shonda. “What time is it?”

“Time to get ready,” Shonda said after consulting her watch. “Mind if I take a shower first?”

Tempted to say yes, that she did in fact mind them walking all over her, Karen refrained and shrugged. “Make it fast. We don’t have time.”

Shonda nodded and hurried for the bathroom, leaving Jennifer and Karen alone. The younger nurse sighed and turned back to Karen, a furrow in her brow. “I’m sorry for taking up the whole bed, if that’s why you’re in a bad mood today.”

“I’m not in a bad mood, I just woke up.” Karen gingerly patted her temple. “But it’ll be better if you two shared a bed next time.”

Jennifer frowned, watching Karen stand and walked to the nearby fridge. “Why?”

Fishing a bottle of water, Karen twisted the cap open. “Just until we get to the next hotel. It’s the least you can do since I slept on the sofa…” She arched a brow. “Or would you rather take the sofa next time?”

“Oh!” Jennifer said, thin brows raised in surprise. Then she shook her head. “No, that’s fine. I’ll tell Shonda we’ll share.”

“Thanks,” Karen said, taking a swig of the drink and turned away from Jennifer. There was no need telling her that the bad mood had everything to do with their merciless and unending snoring that practically kept her awake for most of the night. She’d barely slept before being woken to Jennifer’s tugging at her leg and a knot on her temple.

Praying that this would be the end of their troubles for the long two-week period, Karen exited to the balcony to channel the positivity to calm her nerves. She’d need to be happy if she wanted to be of much help to the orphaned children.

Ejigu, an average-sized and slim dark man, greeted Clement with a smile just outside the airport. Clement did not hesitate giving his friend and colleague a firm handshake before tugging him into a brief embrace. Then he released the man and peered at the dusty Mitsubishi Rosa van before lifting a questioning brow at his friend.

His friend let out a short laugh. “Picking up a bunch of Americans.” Then he nudged over Clement’s shoulder with his chin.

Clement turned and spotted a group of Caucasians walking up to them, dressed like they were either going to Hawaii or on an African Safari. Without blinking an eye, he turned to Ejigu with a pointed stare.

Ejigu gave him an imperceptible nod and Clement tamped down a sigh. His friend was transporting more than just tourists in this small van. His eyes dropped to the trunk, knowing full well what was hidden inside; weapons.

And before Clement could say another word, Ejigu swept past him to meet the American group with a friendly greeting.

Clement shook his head slightly and moved toward the trunk. Opening the door, he glanced down at the empty floor before placing his duffel bag to one corner.

“Brother Clement,” Ejigu called out in his accented English. “Could you give us a hand?”

With one fleeting glance at the flap covering the hidden weapons, Clement turned to face the curious tourists with a smile.

“Welcome to Addis Ababa, friends!” he greeted in his perfect English, earning him beaming smiles from the Americans. He hurried toward them, putting on his best affable tour guide personality as he helped carry their suitcases to the van.

<<Chapter 3 || Chapter 5>>