Posts tagged “friendship

Sanctuary, Chapter 25

Posted on 02/08/2017

“I don’t like her,” Priscilla announced, hands propped at her hips.

Dula and Wubit glanced once at each other before watching the agitated doctor grow even more unsettled. Clement had still not yet returned from settling his friend Karen in his room, deciding to bunk with Ejigu in one of the small rooms near the back of the church building.

“I should’ve known she’d be trouble,” Priscilla continued, pacing the small space in the kitchen. She came to a stop and faced her friends. “Did you see the way she looked at him? Like he was some piece of meat!”

“I remember you looking at him like that,” Dula reminded her, earning a dig in his side from Wubit. Eddie who stood by the stove, dishing out the meal into small bowls, muffled a giggle.

Priscilla scowled at him. “Of course I did because he was my boyfriend!”

“Even before that…” Dula swallowed the rest and held up both hands. “I’ll go see where he is.” He stepped off the stool and hurried out of the kitchen in search for Clement. He slowed to a stop, finding Clement and his lady companion strolling toward them. Planting a smile, he narrowed the distance between them. “Hello.”

Karen looked rueful as she bowed again. “Salam.”

“You can speak English,” Clement said gently. “He understands well.”

Dula smiled for good measure. “With an accent, of course, but my college insisted we learn.”

He’d meant to assure her but the pained look on her face proved otherwise. “I didn’t mean to sound like an arrogant foreigner thinking no one else knows English besides Americans or the British. I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay, Ms.…”

“Please call me Karen.” She offered Dula a genuine smile. “You must be Dula, Clement’s oldest friend.”

“Old as in age and duration, yes,” he joked, pleased when she giggled. So she had a sense of humor. Good. “Please, come. My wife has made you some dinner.”

Karen grinned openly. “I’ve been dreaming of Ethiopian cuisine for weeks.”

With a smile, he gestured for her to go ahead and then clapped a hand over his friend’s shoulder. “Good job,” he whispered in his native tongue.

Clement’s smile froze and he turned from watching Karen to giving Dula a quizzical stare. “What?”

Dula wriggled his brows. “I thought you’d never move on from Priscilla but…”

“Hey calm down,” Clement protested half-heartedly. “We’re just friends.”

“Uh-huh,” Dula slung an arm over Clement’s shoulder and when Karen paused in step to look over her shoulder, he grinned and waved. “Let’s not keep the ladies waiting.”

Priscilla’s scowl was a bit distracting but Karen focused her attention on Eddie’s bright smile and Wubit’s warm expression. Wiping her mouth, she set her fork down. “So how long have you all worked with Clement?”

“We were at this orphanage before Brother Clement joined us in 2004.” Wubit tossed Clement a grin. “I remember he was such a know-it-all.”

Clement scoffed but continued eating.

“I can see that,” Karen teased, winking at him. “He does act like he knows everything.”

Wubit and even Eddie nodded, surprised that she could relate with their struggles. Clement shook his head. “No, I was excited about my new assignment and they wanted to stay in the past.”

Dula grunted in disagreement. “No, you were a know-it-all.”

Wubit, Karen and Eddie giggled when Clement growled. Priscilla rolled her eyes and crossed her arms.

Karen peeked at her once and then spoke. “You must be the one I talked to on the phone earlier right?”

Wubit and Dula exchanged questioning glances. Clement lifted the glass of water to his lips, gaze volleying between the two women. Priscilla arched a shapely brow. “Pardon?”

“Yeah, I think it was you… You said you were Clement’s girlfriend,” Karen merely blinked when Clement choked on his water. “Was there a reason for the lies?”

Priscilla frowned in Clement’s direction. “You told her I was lying?”

Karen noted the wrinkle in Clement’s brow. “Wait… it isn’t a lie?”

Clement swallowed the water and looked chagrined as he turned to Karen. “I can explain.”

Karen choked on an incredulous laugh and lowered the fork to the plate. Then she gave Wubit and Dula a smile. “It was nice meeting you and thank you for the delicious meal. I think I need to go to bed now.”

Dula and Wubit nodded, their smiles strained. “Goodnight,” Wubit said gently.

“Karen.”

Ignoring Clement, she also gave Eddie a smile before standing to her feet.

Clement rose with her, placing a hand on her shoulder.

“Clement,” she said in a falsely-calm tone. “I don’t want to embarrass you or myself in front of your lovely friends. So kindly let me get some rest.”

“But…”

“Brother,” Dula interjected gently and when Clement glanced his way, he shook his head imperceptibly. Wubit also nodded, silently willing him to let Karen go for tonight.

Reluctantly, Clement released Karen’s arm and she hightailed out of the kitchen and down the hall to his bedroom for the night. Heaving a deep sigh, Clement dragged a hand over his face.

“You were wrong for that, Priscilla,” Wubit berated her friend softly.

“She provoked me first.”

Clement scowled in Priscilla’s direction and stormed out in the other direction, to the small room he and Ejigu would have to share for the evening. He didn’t understand why he was so frustrated with how Priscilla behaved and Karen’s reaction, but he dropped on the bed exhausted and annoyed. Even though he was beyond exhausted, Clement tossed and turned on the cot until Ejigu dragged himself inside hours later.

“You’re still awake, Brother?”

“Hmm,” Clement muttered, tucking one hand under his head. He stared up at the ceiling, sleepless.

Ejigu chuckled, shrugging off his backpack. “Priscilla is such a pain.”

“You heard?”

“Uh-hmm. I also heard your lady friend is a fireball.”

“Firecracker,” Clement corrected softly and sighed heavily. “And yeah, looks that way.”

Though exhausted, Karen couldn’t sleep for long. She’d spent the night drifting out of sleep and tossing in bed. So after a few hours of trying to stay asleep, she gave up and left the room. The chapel was empty, so Karen claimed the first pew. An oak podium mounted the altar and a stained glass cross etched on the wall behind. Imagining Clement standing there with light casting a halo around his head made Karen smile.

The smile quickly eased away and Karen sighed deeply. “What am I doing here?”

She was a long way from home, with no way to reach her family. No doubt her family worried after not hearing from her for so long. She needed to call them soon.

Then her thoughts shifted to the children whose parents were undergoing the same turmoil or worse. She imagined their bitter and despondent cries, and wished she could do more to help.

Closing her eyes, Karen bowed her head and folded her hands. “Lord, I don’t know what else to do. I’m just one person and the bad guys are… they’re out there, doing really bad things to innocent people. But I know you are much bigger than any of them put together. Even when the wicked is mighty, you’re mightier.” She sighed deeply. “And please protect these children. Help us get them back safely to their families. Let us not lose any child to the wicked…”

Her brow furrowed. “And protect Clement also. He’s got a lot on his plate, serving as a pastor here and now having to go undercover as if he’s some James Bond…” She sighed. “I guess I did the same, so yeah. Forgive us for putting up pretenses to save the children. It’ll be great if you could provide a better way, one that we can safely bring them home and not have to sin against you.”

“Amen.”

Karen’s eyes snapped open and she jerked about to see a man sitting in the shadowed pew a few rows hers. She spun about, ignoring the quick jump in her pulse and closed her eyes. “Anyway, Father, please help me be able to locate Ashon so I can get back my passport. And keep him safe also. Oh, and help him find his daughter. In your precious name I pray. Amen.”

“Amen.”

She frowned and glanced over her shoulder at him. “It’s rude to eavesdrop on someone’s prayer.”

“Sorry.” He draped his arms around the back of the pew. “One of your prayers has been answered.”

Karen merely gave him a hairy stare and Clement chuckled in the shadows. “I see you’re still mad at me, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why.”

“Which request, Clement?”

“Ashon.”

Karen sat up. “Really?” She left her seat and walked down toward him, perching at his side. “Is he okay?”

“Hold on,” he answered with amusement in his tone. “My friend Ejigu, you’ll meet him at breakfast, he was able to get in touch with the cab your friend works for. Apparently, the day he picked you up was his last day. He no longer works for them.”

Karen frowned. “Okay, but did they have his contact information?”

“That’s why it’s a prayer answered.” Clement shifted, pulling out a sheet of paper from his pocket. “Here.”

She snatched the paper and unfolded it, although she couldn’t read it legibly.

“It’s his phone number. I doubt he’ll be awake now so let’s wait until sun-up to call him.”

“Yeah okay.” She folded and tucked the paper in her shirt pocket.

“Hmm.” Clement gestured to her. “We’ll need to get you a change of clothes.”

Karen glanced down. “No wonder your girlfriend made such a fuss. I’m still wearing your shirt.”

He heaved a sigh. “For the umpteenth time, she’s not my girlfriend.”

“Whatever.” Karen started to stand when Clement grabbed her hand. She sighed. “How many times do I have to tell you not to grab my hand whenever you like, without permission? Let go.”

“Not until you tell me what’s wrong.”

“Nothing’s wrong.” Karen lowered back onto the seat. “Let me use your phone.”

“You can’t call your friend, Karen. It’s late—”

“I need to call my family. Hand it over please…”

“Bossy woman.” Holding her with one hand, the other held out his phone. “I have an app that allows you to call without a calling card.”

“Yeah, I had one for mine. Let go, Clement.” She yanked her hand from his the minute he loosened his grip. Then standing, she relocated to her original seat and dialed her sister’s number first.

Samina picked on the second ring. “Finally! My goodness, Karen, where have you been?”

“I’m sorry, sis. It’s been a hectic week.”

“Are you okay?”

“Better than okay.” Karen dragged one foot on the cement floor. “How are you?”

“Nu-unh. You don’t get to divert attention to me when you’re the one whose been missing for a week.”

“I recall someone going off the grid for a week also, for surgery no less…”

Her sister cleared her throat. “That’s different. I was still in Houston, not some foreign place doing God knows what. Are you alright? What was hectic about your week?”

“I’ll give you details when I get home. Is Mom okay?”

“She’s pissed but that’s normal. I’ll tell her you called. Actually, it’ll be better for you to call her yourself.”

“And risk getting my ear bitten off? Nah, I’ll let you relay the news.”

Samina snorted derisively. “Anyway, when are you coming back? You’re still set for next week?”

Karen frowned, realizing that her trip was drawing to a close a little too soon. “Um, about that…”

Clement had abandoned his shadowy post to perch beside Karen. He smirked when she scooted an inch from him and found himself narrowing the gap between them. Something about her made him want to tease her, and he couldn’t figure out what or why he didn’t want to stop.

Karen scooted an inch more, teeth dragging against her bottom lip. “I might have to extend my trip.”

“What… Karen, you’ve been gone for a month and a half!”

“Yeah, I know but…” Karen sighed in exasperation as Clement scooted close, his thighs brushing hers. She tossed him a warning look which he responded with an innocent smile. She scowled. “What are you doing?”

Clement maintained his innocence and shrugged, refusing to budge.

“What am I doing?” Samina replied. “You’re the one being vague. Why do you need to extend your trip?”

“Just because…” Karen’s hip bumped into the wooden edge of the pew. She couldn’t move another inch away, pinned between Clement and the end of the pew.

“From your itinerary, I’m guessing you’re now in Ethiopia, correct?”

“Yeah, so?” Karen gestured for Clement to move. She scowled when he merely crossed his ankles and draped an arm behind her shoulders.

“You’re with that pastor guy, aren’t you? He’s the reason you’re staying, isn’t he?”

Karen stiffened and snuck a glance at Clement. He stared her down, one brow arched in silent question. She fought a grimace at Samina’s loud voice. There was little doubt in her mind he’d heard every word.

“Hey Sam, let me call you back.” She disconnected the call over her sister’s protests. “Did you hear her?”

“Not if you don’t want me to.” He drew back the arm draped behind her and eased back an inch.

“It’s fine. I have nothing to hide.” Karen lifted her chin, staring at him straight on. “Well it’s true. I like you. It’s the reason why I was pissed off last night.”

Clement remained silent, merely staring at her. It took everything in Karen to keep from not looking away. She continued. “I think it must’ve started at your sister’s wedding or maybe before that… It doesn’t matter when it happened. All I know is that I like you, Clement Teka.”

“Hey!” Clement exclaimed, rubbing the sore spot Dula had smacked him. “What was that for?”

“For being a fool.”

“I agree,” Ejigu said, folding his arms across his chest. “A woman tells you she likes you and you say what? That you’re a celibate priest?”

Clement frowned as both his friends muttered their disapproval. “Would you have preferred I led her on?”

“Admitting your feelings is not leading someone on. Don’t you like her?”

“This isn’t about liking her,” Clement countered, still rubbing the back of his head. “I already told you how difficult it is to be in a serious relationship right now. She’s saying she likes me now but she’ll be like Priscilla after a few months and end up resenting me.”

“That sounds like an excuse,” Dula groused. “A terrible one at that.”

“Not everyone is like Priscilla,” Ejigu refuted. “I haven’t met your lady yet but from what I heard, she seems very different. You’re always preaching about giving people a fair chance and not to discriminate, but you’re putting her in the same category as your ex-girlfriend. How fair is that?”

Clement regarded his friends warily. “Why are you all so invested in my love life?”

“Because you deserve to be happy,” Dula replied easily. “Marriage will do you good.”

He rolled his eyes and gestured to Ejigu. “Get him married first then. I’m fine—” He scowled when Dula smacked him upside the head. “Will you stop that?”

“Not until I knock sense back into you.” Dula shook his head and turned to Ejigu. “Never mind with him. Let’s get you married first. Maybe we can introduce you to Ms. Karen today at breakfast.”

Ejigu nodded, sneaking a peek at the frown forming on Clement’s face. He hid a smirk. “What a brilliant idea. Is she a beauty?”

“She’s beautiful.” Dula draped an arm about Ejigu’s shoulders. “Maybe you could teach her Amharic.”

“Hold on a minute,” Clement interjected. “Ejigu’s too young for her.”

“Age isn’t but a number. Besides, I like older ladies,” Ejigu tossed over his shoulder and flashed his friend a cheeky smile. Then turned to Dula. “Come introduce me to the beautiful Ms. Karen.”

The two smiling friends strolled out of Clement’s room and upon hearing the telltale growl behind the closed door, gave each other a fist bump before walking toward the kitchen.

<<Chapter 24 || Chapter 26>>

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Sanctuary, Chapter 24

Posted on 01/08/2017

Karen jerked awake to screaming cats and a bullhorn. She stirred from sleep and pressed a hand over her ears, only realizing she was in a car and the dreadful sound were of children crying inconsolably. The seat beside was empty and Karen swiveled in her seating position, finding Clement with his arms around two wailing children that sat on his lap. The other three sobbed uncontrollably in the backseat.

She blinked in confusion. “What happened?”

Concern etched in his features, Clement didn’t look up at her. Instead, he smoothed a hand over one of the girl’s scruffy hair. “They’re awake.”

“I can see that,” Karen said, unbuckling her seatbelt. “The tranquilizer’s wearing off?”

“Been worn off an hour ago.” Clement finally looked up at her. “Give me a hand?”

“You don’t have to ask.” Karen pushed open the door and stepped out.

Moments later, Karen was running out of ways to console the two girls. They didn’t take well to physical touch, probably because of the abuse they suffered under their captors. She had to keep their hands still or risk a black eye or a broken tooth. And the racket of their desperate wails aggravated the pounding headache. She winced as one of the boys screamed from the backseat. “What now?”

Clement groaned. “He’s trying to get out of the car.”

“Maybe that’s what they need.”

Ignoring his puzzled expression, Karen continued. “Seriously we’ve been cramped for hours, not to talk of them being stuffed in a dark van for days. It’s obvious they’re still traumatized and think this is just another prison.” She moved her head back as the girl swiped a hand at her face. “I think we all need to get out for a bit and stretch our legs.”

Clement looked conflicted.

“Let’s take turns so we can keep track of them.” Karen gave him an assuring smile. “Ladies first.”

Minutes passed and the boys calmed down, staring out the window as Karen walked up and down the road with the girls’ hands in hers. Clement watched with growing worry, eyes volleying between the two girls. Though Karen was heads taller and pounds heavier than both girls, he wondered how long she’d be able to keep them from running away. She’d assured him that her grip was firm, but he still worried.

“Be careful!” he called out, alarming two of the boys and suffered a kick to his gut. Trying to hold the three boys to keep them from hurrying out of the van was increasingly hard.

“We’re fine,” Karen called back and looked down with a smile at the younger of the two girls. The girl only stared at her with those innocent black eyes. If she was well-fed, her heart-shaped face would be like that of Karen’s niece, Priscilla. Her heart ached for both girls.

She sighed softly and slowed to a stop. The girls had no choice but to stop also, their eyes steady on Karen’s face. Then she lowered herself to the floor and tugged on their hands, willing them to sit beside her on the asphalt road. “How about I teach you a song I learned…”

Clement craned his neck and so did the three boys, all interested as to what Karen was doing. His brow furrowed as the wind carried Karen’s song to the car. The boys stretched to see, growing increasingly curious about what happened outside. Relenting, he loosened his hold.

As though entranced by the song and rhythmic clapping, the boys remained still. Not letting down his guard, Clement eased out of the car and held the door open. It took only a minute before one of the boys; a scrawny kid with brown hair cropped very low to his scalp, the one who had struggled the most in Clement’s hold earlier, turned to see him standing there. His expression was one of suspicion and Clement quietly gestured toward Karen and the girls.

Nudging his two friends, the boy gestured to the open door. They glanced once at him and then at Clement, then at the girls. Clement blew out a breath of relief as the three filed out of the car and came to stand beside him. No running off, no kicking him in the shins… just stood there, glaring at him. It marveled him that these three boys had once been almost lifeless and docile hours ago. Then again, the tranquilizer could make even a fierce lion defenseless.

Silent in his thoughts, Clement started toward Karen all the while hoping the boys would follow.

Karen contained her smile as the girls reluctantly followed her clapping, their eyes steady on her as she kept singing the nursery rhyme learned from the children of Kampala. “Emu yamama, emu yatata, emu ya kalenzi kato*…” she slowed as Clement settled beside her, the boys slowly trailing behind.

Once her gaze lowered back to Clement, he winked and copied the clapping pattern. The girls paused to glance his way. Karen sang on, a smile on her face. “Akalima munimiro. Baa baa akaliga, kalian ebyo ya…”

Clement grinned, recognizing the melody of the Baa Baa Black Sheep nursery rhyme and began humming a soft bass to Karen’s alto. The boys inched closer, cautiously perching near the two girls. Merely watching the adult duo singing and the girls clapping happily, they didn’t join along until the girls tried at singing along. Then the three boys, one after the other, joined in the clapping and humming with Clement.

“One for the master,” Karen and Clement sang in harmony. “One for the dame and one for the little boy who lives down the lane!”

“Yay!” Karen cooed, clapping her hands. “Very good.”

Clement watched with an amused grin at Karen’s joyful smile. He knew it took everything in her to keep from rejoicing too much that the girls gazed up at her with their big black eyes dancing happily. His eyes swung to the boys watching Karen with open curiosity. Their slender shoulders had lost the guarded and taut starch, and he could relax a little. The five children seemed at ease.

A stomach growled amongst the seven of them and Karen glanced up at Clement, her smile easing away.

He held up both hands. “Wasn’t me.”

“Of course not. Do we have food?” her brows furrowed with concern.

He ignored the need to smoothen the wrinkle and focused his attention on the five children looking at him with expectancy. They didn’t understand English, that much was certain, but it seemed they understood that he was in charge of them for the time being.

Ready to please, Clement nodded. “Bought some food before getting to Finch’awa. I’ll be back.” He was careful to stand slowly, not wanting to alert the children who had just begun to relax with them.

One of the boys stood with Clement and started after him before Karen could think to do anything. She watched as the other two boys followed and sighed with relief when they stood in front of the van, watching Clement rummage in the trunk.

She returned her attention to the girls whose eyes watched her carefully. It seemed their suspicion was slowly returning, so she began clapping again. “Hmm, let’s see. New song…” She managed not to frown as she tried remembering the other nursery rhyme from her stay in Kampala.

Clement’s lips twitched a smirk as Karen slipped on a word. He lifted the bags of bread and fried meat from under a plastic tub, nudged the trunk door close with his hip and turned. He paused, realizing that the three boys waited for him. It was clear that they didn’t completely trust him yet didn’t think to run just yet.

Thankful for small mercies, Clement held out the bag of bread to one and the bag of meat to the other. They dutifully accepted the offering but didn’t move, gaze steady on him. The remaining boy with empty hands blinked at him.

“Water,” he said, pulling the backseat door open and pointing to the bag of water bottles.

The boy didn’t move at first, sizing Clement from head to toe. He had to be about seven, and resembled one of Clement’s nephews, Tomas. They even had the same doubtful gaze, although Tomas’ was from having to stay alert in response to his twin sister’s mischief. This young boy had experienced failure and hurt from people that were old enough to know better.

Lifting the bag onto his shoulder, Clement gestured for the boy to carry it. Instead of following his friends’ lead, the boy shook his head and hurried back to the girls and Karen.

Tri-li chi-li tri-li chi-li,” Karen sang on, her alto becoming a wavering soprano.

Clement grimaced as he and the other two boys reseated themselves. “You okay?”

“Hush,” Karen rebuffed, not missing a beat. “Nange bwe nyi..uh—nyimba bwento—tyo.” She too grimaced, glancing once at Clement who clapped, encouraging the children to clap along with him. “Okay, I’m pretty sure I didn’t sang that well.”

Chuckling, Clement unpackaged the food and lay it before the children. “Belu…”

The five of them glanced up in recognition of their native tongue. Then when he lifted a meat jerky to the youngest girl and she shyly accepted it, the rest readily followed suit.

Karen watched with a wistful smile as the children tore at the meat and bread. Then she glanced Clement’s way. “What did you say to them? How’d you know they were from here?”

“I told them to eat. Since they didn’t recognize your songs, I figured they might be from here…”

“I wish I knew a little.” Karen pouted as she picked at the bread in her hand. “All I know is hello and my name is Karen.”

He nudged her shoulder. “I’ll teach you. Seems you pick up on languages quickly.”

She smirked, pleased with his compliment and promise. “Works in my favor since I want to be a missionary.”

Clement paused, his smile waning. “No kidding.”

Karen’s smile turned shy, pinching off a morsel of bread to her lips. “Uh-hmm.”

His gaze lowered to the morsel of bread and it quickly swung upwards. “I see.” He abruptly stood, forgetting to be careful not to alert the children. Thankfully, they were too busy stuffing their faces with the bread. “I’ll… be right back.”

“Okay…” Karen said after him, watching Clement amble back toward the van. Then she shook her head and returned her attention to the children, flashing them a bright smile. “Belu.”

By the time Clement returned to her side, Karen held up her half-eaten kebab and paused instantly. Upon sighting the guitar in his right hand, Karen gawked at him.

Just when she thought he couldn’t get more attractive, he surprised her with an acoustic guitar. Karen swallowed the meat and the groan stuck in her throat. Mentally scrolling the list of qualities for her perfect man, knowing how to play an instrument was one of them. Karen stifled a sigh; she was a goner.

Unaware of the turmoil he’d stirred, Clement sat cross-legged before the children who now watching him curiously. Strumming the strings, Clement started to hum.

Karen’s pulse skipped a beat. The girls and boys sat up as if they recognized the tune.

Eshururu ruru, eshururu ruru,” Clement sang in his soft baritone, fingers adeptly plucking the strings. His gaze softened on the children, stealing Karen’s unsteady breath. “Yemamuye enate tolo neyilete…”

The older of the two girls whimpered, tears gathering. The boys lowered their heads. Only the youngest girl kept her gaze on Clement, although her eyes brimmed with tears.

Eshururu ruru, eshururu ruru.” Clement lowered his head but kept on strumming, the melody sorrowful.

Karen watched helplessly as the girl kept on crying, and a boy swiped a hand over his runny nose. She looked back at Clement. “What are you doing? What song is this?”

Clement didn’t answer at first, humming the melody. “Wetetun beguya… dabowun bahiya yizechilete.” His fingers moved expertly over the strings, and he bobbed his head in tune until the strumming slowed and softened. “Eshururu ruru…”

One of the boys, the one with brown hair, sang along with Clement. The other boy followed and so the youngest girl. “Eshururu ruru. Yemamuye enate tolo neyilete.”

Ending the song on a refrain, he regarded all five children whose eyes shone with tears. His own glimmered and he offered the children the warmest smile he could muster. “It is well…” he said gently.

Tears streaming down her own face, Karen gazed at him. She’d fallen irrevocably for Clement Teka.

Clement raised his gaze to the rearview mirror, sneaking yet another peek of Karen and the children sleeping in the back. She sat with the two girls who rested their faces against her bosom, her arms wrapped loosely about their thin shoulders. The boys slept behind them, heads dropped back and mouths propped open, snoring loud without a care in the world.

Smirking, Clement returned to Karen’s sleeping face. Full lips parted, her snoring was soft compared to the thunderous yet rhythmic snores behind her. Her sleeping habits revealed that this sabbatical adventure had indeed worn her out to complete exhaustion. She would need time to recuperate.

He knew he should let her rest, but this was the only time they could talk. Still, he debated to wake her, content to watch her sleep. There was a softness about her now than when she was awake. With the afternoon sun casting a warm light on one side of her face, Clement found himself admiring the gentle curve of her cheek and the soft swell of her bottom lip.

His phone vibrated loudly on the dashboard where he’d been charging it. Clement jerked his gaze back to the front and with one hand, reached for the phone before it woke everyone. “Hello?” he whispered.

“Brother,” Ejigu sighed with relief. “Thank God you’re well.”

Clement smirked, leaning into his seat. “All is well.”

“You had me worried.”

“No need to be. God is with me.”

“I don’t know for how long,” Ejigu grumbled, earning a soft chuckle from Clement. “How did you do?”

“Only five, but I plan to go back.” He glanced once more at the mirror, recalling Karen’s insistence to join him. His brow furrowed, not sure he could risk that chance with her. “What’s up?”

“Are you on your way back home?”

“I am, but only until I know where the children live. We barely just calmed them down. It might take a day or more before they trust us to take them home.”

“…we?”

“Ah yes,” Clement recalled his promise to Karen about her friend’s whereabouts. “Could you do me a favor? Are you still in the capital?”

“I am until sundown. I will arrive at the church by midnight.”

“Okay, good. Could you call the Nairobi airport and check on something for me?”

“Ah Brother, I don’t think it will be easy to find your lady friend. It will be like finding a needle—”

“Never mind about finding her. She found me.” He noted that Karen’s face turned to lean her cheek against the youngest girl’s temple. His lips twitched a smile and returned his attention to the road.

“What do you mean she found you? Is she part of the ‘we’?”

“Uh-hmm. I’ll explain later. It’s too long for a phone chat. Can you help me search for a cab company?”

“Can’t wait to hear this story. What cab company?”

Clement frowned. “Hmm.”

“Are you asking about Ashon?”

He looked up at the sound of Karen’s voice, gaze darting to the rearview mirror. “You’re awake?”

“Uh-hmm.” Karen was careful to ease from under the girls’ hold and leaned forward. “Is it about Ashon?”

“It is. Can you remember what company you called?”

She paused briefly, then shook her head. “Can’t remember the name but there was a tree logo on the side.”

“A tree logo?” Clement echoed with a frown.

“Uh-hmm, right near the passenger’s side. Like an oak tree?”

“Brother, is that her? Is that your lady friend?”

“Wait, Ejigu.” Clement watched the frown wrinkle Karen’s brow. “Anything else you remember?”

Karen sighed. “No, I’m sorry. I was in a hurry and it was dark. But…” she paused.

“What?”

Her eyes lifted to his. “His car was the only one standing out there when I stepped out.”

“Only car out there,” Clement relayed the message to his friend. “What time, Karen?”

“It was literarily right after I hung up on you.” Karen gnawed on her bottom lip. “Will that help?”

“Let’s see. We chatted around 2 so around 2 to 3 AM. Ejigu, will that help?”

“I can ask security for the CCTV around that time. What is this about, Brother?”

“I’ll explain once you get back to the church.”

“When will you get there?”

Clement squinted at the road sign they approached and sighed. “Not for another seven hours.”

Karen had no idea what Clement was saying but she marveled at how easily the foreign language rolled off his tongue as if it was his native speech. Besides her budding attraction for the man, she admired his ability to leave all that was familiar and make a life for himself in a strange new country. If nothing else, she wished to know how he’d made the decision to become a missionary in a foreign land.

Once Clement bid his friend farewell and replaced the mobile phone on the dashboard, Karen tapped his shoulder. “Teach me.”

He chucked softly and glanced her way. “Now?”

“Right now. Everyone’s asleep. We’ve got plenty of time.”

“That’s true. What do you want to learn first?”

“That song you sang earlier… what did it mean? Why did they cry?”

He glanced at the sleeping children before letting out a soft sigh. “It’s a lullaby that says ‘hush a bye, hush.”

Eshururu ruru means hush-a-bye, hush?”

“Essentially.” He flashed her a smile. “You’re a quick learner.”

“Seems easy.” Karen smiled gently. “Continue.”

“The next says ‘Baby’s mommy will come return, on the donkey’s back with bread and milk in her arms.’”

“Oh Clement…” Her heart ached, realizing why the children sobbed in response to the song.

“It’s one of the first songs I learned at the church. Dula’s wife sang it to the younger ones whenever they had difficulty sleeping. When she was pregnant and on bedrest, Dula and I took her place.”

Her lips twitched a wistful smile, imagining Clement cuddling a baby in his strong arms. She promptly shifted her focus back to him. “It’s a beautiful yet sad song.”

“Hopefully we’ll be able to return the children to their parents soon.”

“We’ll as in you and me?” His gaze snagged hers for a second and she held her breath, hopeful.

“I have no choice.” One corner of his lips twitched upwards. “I’m stuck with you until further notice, remember?”

Karen’s only response was a smile and once Clement returned his focus on the road ahead, she rested her chin on the leather seat and listened to the engine’s rumbling as they made their way toward Bichena.

A small welcoming party awaited Clement and his entourage as he pulled up to the church seven hours later. Dula stood with one arm around his wife Wubit’s shoulders, while she carried a drowsy Meko in her arms. A perturbed Priscilla stood on the opposite side of Dula, watching the woman that helped the girls out of the car. And finally, a teenager that living with them wore a welcoming smile.

It was a quarter past ten, which meant Clement had missed the children’s bedtime by an hour and a half. He swallowed his disappointment at not being there to see his children’s bright smiles and bask in their joyful laughter, and instead stepped aside to give the boys room.

“Welcome back, Brother Clement,” the teenager greeted with a warm smile.

Clement smiled in return. “Thanks, Eddie. These are our guests.” He hesitated briefly before placing his hands around the boys’ shoulders. Thankfully, they only stiffened briefly before loosening under his light touch.

Wubit offered the children a gentle, maternal smile. “Beautiful children. Do we know where they are from?”

“Not yet. But we will.” He noticed that Dula and Priscilla were staring at the woman at his side. So he willingly placed a hand on her shoulder. “And this is Karen Wells, my very good friend from America.”

It was hard to miss the furrow that wrinkled Priscilla’s brow and the smile that formed on Wubit’s face. Dula looked amused and the teenager looked curious.

Karen dipped her head slightly. “Salam. Nafekachuhen…”

The silence was brief when Priscilla suddenly burst out laughing loud and hard. Wubit squeezed her lips together to hold hers and the teenager giggled softly. Dula tried and failed to keep a straight expression.

Befuddled, Karen sought out Clement for help. “What did I say?”

He too struggled to hold back his mirth, though his gaze was soft on her. “Hello. I miss you.”

Karen inhaled sharply and held both hands over her mouth. “Oh no. I’m sorry!”

“Don’t worry,” he said, leaning close to whisper near her ear. He then slung an arm over her shoulder, instantly dissolving Priscilla’s mirth. “I’ll teach you.”

Dula and Wubit exchanged pointed glances when Karen gave Clement an unabashed, adoring smile.

<<Chapter 23 || Chapter 25>>

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