Posts tagged “inspiration

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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Sanctuary, Chapter 17

Posted on 13/07/2017

Karen shifted in her chair and hissed in pain. Her hands moved to her throbbing knees from landing on them when the man dropped her. Sitting in a car for more than five hours was taxing on her joints, and even though Ashon had graciously stopped at any rest area available, her body was screaming for relief.

“You okay, Missi?” With one glance at her, Ashon started to veer onto the shoulder of the road.

She held out a hand. “Keep going. We’ll be too late if you keep stopping.” Then she chuckled, glancing once at him. “Did you just shorten my nickname?”

One corner of his lips twitched upwards. “Missionary is too long. Are they broken?” he gestured to her knees.

“Or you could call me Karen, my real name. That’s short.” Touching her knees gingerly, she held back a grimace. “Nah, probably more bruised than anything else… I just need to soak them soon.”

“There’s nowhere to soak your knees.”

“I know that, just wishful thinking…” Karen heaved a sigh and turned her face to the vast expanse of land before them. The road was empty except Ashon’s sedan and the occasional truck that zoomed past them every thirty kilometers. “Are we at the border yet? This A2 highway is making me dizzy. How can people do road trips?”

Ashon chuckled, drumming his hands on the steering wheel. “Most don’t drive it all at once. They usually take their time, see the sights—”

“Excuse me, what sights?” Karen swept a hand over the bare scenery. She pouted when he laughed loud.

“Our east mountains are breathtaking,” Ashon said amid chuckles. “Take a picture before you miss it.”

“No phone, remember?”

“Ah yes…”

“And how would I miss it when we’ll be seeing it for the next ten hour—” Karen gasped and sat up. “Oh no, oh no!” she slapped hands to her cheeks; the face of sheer horror. “Oh noooo!!”

Alarmed, Ashon guided the car to the right shoulder. “What’s wrong? Are you hurt?”

“My passport, my stuff!” She groaned. “I lost it!”

Ashon was quiet, watching as Karen dissolved to sobs for the first time since he found her on the field. He’d expected that she was much braver and stronger than most since she didn’t cower in the face of her attacker. Yet, here she was weeping over a passport.

“H-how w-will I-I get home?!” she wailed, eyes filled with tears. How could she have been so stupid to carry all her things to that shady place? Because of her foolishness, everything she owned was gone.

“Missi, don’t cry.”

“How can I not cry?” Karen whined, big fat tears falling fast and free. “I’m alone in this foreign place, injured and unidentified. Can we even cross the border if I don’t have my passport—oh God, why?!” She choked on her sobs and pressed her forehead against the window, despondent and angry at the same time. “Why did I come here?! Why didn’t I just stay home and mind my own business?”

Ashon remained silent, his stare heavy on her.

“Let’s go back,” she said amid a hiccup. Dragging a hand over her face, Karen looked at him. “You were-hic-right, this is stupid. I can’t-hic-save anyone when I’m a-hic-hot mess myself.”

“Missi…”

“No, you were right. I can’t-hic-do this.” Her face twitched as another wave of despair swept over her. She would never go home now. “I have to go to the em-hic-bassy.”

“Missi.”

“I don’t even know what to tell them. Without-hic-proper ID, they’ll-hic-think I’m lying and-hic-put me in jail. I’ll get deported, but the U.S. will-hic-disown me and I’ll have nowhere—“

“Missi!!”

Karen flinched at his loud firm tone, and blinked at the man. “What?” she eked out in mid-hiccup. “Don’t you know you’re not-hic-supposed to yell when someone’s—“

“Your passport isn’t lost.”

She scowled. “How’re you gonna tell-hic-me when I definitely lost-hic-along with everything…” Karen bit her trembling bottom lip. It wasn’t like a Well to cry, and she usually prescribed to that saying until now. Everything, absolutely everything, except her checked-in luggage back in the airport was gone forever. And even the luggage wouldn’t be hers without proper ID. Karen groaned and covered her face, overcome with grief. This was, by far, the worst day of her life. Worse than that time she’d gotten dumped via a text.

“I said your passport isn’t lost.”

His firm conviction had her looking up. The look in Ashon’s stare had her trembling and she frowned. “What-hic-are you trying to say, Ashon?”

“I said your passport—”

“Yeah, what do you-hic-mean it isn’t lost?”

Ashon sighed. “Now you want to listen.” He held up a hand when she started to scowl. “There were two reasons I came back for you. Number one reason was I remembered that clinic had been abandoned for demolition a year ago. No one but government is allowed…” He paused when she squinted at him. “Okay, number two reason was because I found something in the backseat after you left the car.”

Karen drew in a sharp breath, and her pulse quickened as Ashon reached across the dashboard and popped open the compartment. A familiar leather pouch slid in view, perched on top the stack of papers. She caught it before it fell to the floor. “Oh…” she whispered reverently, turning the pouch in her hand.

“Is it yours?”

“I can’t believe…” she unzipped the pouch and peered it inside. Her breath caught and a lone tear fell. A sanitary pad, a roll of dollar bills, and a pack of unopened gum nested her American passport. “…this,” she whispered the rest of it and lifted her eyes to Ashon.

“So it’s yours?”

“It’s mine,” Karen said softly, looking back at the pouch she thought she’d never see again. Zipping it close, she held it against her bosom. “Oh thank you God!”

Ashon snorted, guiding the car back onto the road. “I found it, not your God.”

“He helped you find it,” Karen countered with a laugh. “And let me forget it here so you’d come back for me. My goodness, how did it slip out of my bag?!”

“Maybe when you made me take your money.”

“Yeah, maybe…” Karen nodded and then bit her bottom lip. “Is it too late to ask for it back?”

“Missionary!” Ashon said in mock disapproval and chuckled.

“I’m kidding,” Karen said while laughing. Then she released a sigh and sat back, relieved and grateful. “Man, you have no idea what a Godsend you are. Twice, you’ve saved my life. How can I thank you?”

He chuckled. “By not crying anymore. So what’s your plan when we get to Finch’awa?”

She nibbled her bottom lip. “I don’t actually have a plan. I just know I want to save the children.”

“And how do you plan on doing that, Missionary? Sure you can tackle one bad guy but an army of them?” Ashon shook his head. “I don’t think so.”

“I’ll wing it.”

“…wing it?”

Karen nodded. “Yeah, just like with the glass bottle.”

Ashon frowned. “But do you really know how to gut someone?”

“In general terms, maybe, but I wasn’t actually going to.” Karen shrugged. “Big guys like that are scared of dying painfully. They’d rather take a bullet to the head because it’s quicker than bleeding out. Anyway, I figured he’d croak before I really had to give it a shot.”

Incredulous, he blew out a breath and shook his head. “You’re one scary woman.”

“Only under life-threatening circumstances. How many more kilometers before we get to the border?”

Ashon’s lips twitched at the excitement in her voice now that she had her passport back. “Too many to track now. Why don’t you tell me about yourself, your family… anything to pass the time?”

Karen groaned but shifted in her seat to get more comfortable. “Where to start?”

“Anywhere. We’ve got a long way to go.”

Ashon chuckled when Karen whined in protest, and stepped on the accelerator to speed up their journey.

“Still nothing?” Clement asked over the speakerphone.

“No. She wasn’t in the afternoon or evening flights, Brother.” Ejigu answered. “I don’t think your lady friend even left Nairobi.”

He heaved a sigh. “That’s what troubles me.”

“She’s still not answering her calls?”

“It won’t even go through. Says the phone has been turned off.”

“Oh no.”

“Exactly.” Clement squeezed the steering wheel. He’d hoped for good news concerning Karen but this kind of silence wasn’t good for him. He had too many things to worry about. “And I have no information on the NGO she’s working with so can’t call them either.”

“Maybe she didn’t charge her phone. Don’t worry for nothing yet. You need to concentrate, Brother.”

His eyes scanned the mountains in front of him. “Nothing else to concentrate on, Brother.”

“Will you get there on time?”

Clement nodded, though Ejigu wouldn’t see it. “Hm. Just passed the 450-kilometer mark. Maybe get there by eight. Should give me time to freshen up before I meet Madame Deville.”

“Madame who?”

“Nevermind.” Clement drummed his fingers on the steering wheel.

“Dula is angry with you.”

“He’s always angry. What’s new?” Clement glanced at his rearview mirror and frowned. A dump truck had been tailing him for more than 100 kilometers.

“He says you’re reckless and inconsiderate. Oh, and childish for not answering his calls.”

“I can see that,” Clement switched to the next lane and watched as the truck zoomed past him. He released a breath and switched back to the faster lane, speeding up also. “What else did our big brother say?”

“He said your brother called.”

Clement stiffened in alarm. “Which one?”

“Eli or something… I didn’t get the full message because—”

“I’ll call you back,” Clement interjected and pulled the car onto the left shoulder. Without hesitation, he redialed Dula’s cellphone and waited, eyes on the road and the cars that zoomed past him. The delay was worth it if he got a chance to talk with Eleazar.

“How kind of you to finally call me back,” Dula answered sardonically.

“Yea, sorry about that. Did someone call for me?”

Dula snorted but answered anyway. “He said he’s your brother.”

“Youngest one. I’ve been trying to reach him for weeks now.”

“Well he called.”

Clement’s pulse skipped. “Did he leave a message? How did he sound?”

“How’s he supposed to sound?” Dula sighed. “He said he’ll call back later.”

“Did he leave a number?”

“Hm, no. I guess he figured you’ll call him.”

Clement worried his top lip between his teeth. “Okay. Yeah, that’s fine. I’ll call you back.”

“Are you—” The rest of Dula’s inquiry was cut off once the call disconnected.

Dialing out one of the few numbers he memorized, Clement eased back onto the road and waited for the ringing to stop and for Eleazar to answer. He gripped the steering wheel when it kept on ringing and he feared that he’d missed this rare opportunity to—

“Hello?” Eleazar’s hesitant voice filled the silence.

Clement almost slammed on the brakes, surprised and relieved. “Hey!”

“Junior?”

“Yea, hey!” He could barely contain the excitement nor the grin that brightened his face. “What’s up?”

Eleazar blew out a breath. “Thought you were Sally or something…”

“Sally, who’s that?”

“Nevermind. Are you driving?”

“Yeah, what’s up?” His smile softened, grateful that Eleazar sounded like his normal self. “Where you at?”

“Home.”

Clement arched a brow. “Home as in…?”

“I moved back home.”

He punched the air with his fist but contained himself to answer casually. “Oh yeah? When?”

“Father’s day.”

Clement grinned. “That’s… nice.” He had much to say but didn’t want to bombard his elusive sibling with too much all at once. “Everyone okay?”

“Yeah, they’re fine. I’m fine.”

“That’s good…”

Eleazar sighed. “Hey, I want to come stay with you. Abe said I should ask first. ”

Clement’s smile waned. Father’s Day was less than a month ago and he was already seeking an escape. “What’s going on, Eli? You just got home.”

“You can say no, if you want. It’s no big deal.”

His voice didn’t match the nonchalance in his words and Clement’s brow furrowed. “I’m not saying no…” his eyes made note of Finchawa exit sign. “It’s just a little crazy around here.”

“I won’t cause trouble, I swear. I’ll be useful. Whatever you need me to do, I’ll do it. C’mon Junior, please?”

Clement hesitated, wanting to understand the urgency in his brother’s tone but didn’t have the much needed time for it. “Why don’t we talk about this when I get back—”

“Whatever, it’s fine. Forget I asked.”

“What? Now wait a minute, I didn’t say no.”

Eleazar heaved a sigh. “Not yet. You want to think about a nice way to say it. I get it, I know I’m a burden.”

“Now where on earth did you get such…?” Clement paused and a scowl formed as realization hit. “Don’t tell me that’s why you moved out from home. Eli, I swear to God, I’ll whoop your a—backside if that’s why you’ve been avoiding us for months.”

When Eleazar didn’t answer, Clement gritted his teeth; his suspicions confirmed. “Yeah, you know what? Let’s talk later before I say something you and I will both regret.”

“Fine.”

Clement’s scowl darkened. “Stop acting like a self-entitled brat, Eleazar. A burden–what kind of stupid thought process is that?”

“I thought you said you didn’t want to say anything you’ll regret.”

“Eli!” Clement snapped. “You better be lucky I’m more than a thousand miles from home.”

“So that’s a no then? I can’t come stay with you?”

The uncertainty in Eleazar’s tone reminded Clement of his little brother at a very young age. He sighed deeply, his annoyance waning. “Later I said… We’ll talk later, okay?”

“Okay…”

“I love you, Eli. We all do. You’re not a burden, never have and never will. Hear me?”

“… I hear you.”

Clement shook his head, knowing his brother wouldn’t believe it and that grieved him. They’d given him everything, especially Abe and Phoebe who raised him as their first son. To think that Eleazar thought he was a burden would break Abe’s heart. It certainly broke his. “I’ll call you when I get back, okay?”

“Alright. Drive safely.”

“Will do. Take care, bro.” Clement waited until Eleazar disconnected the international call and then slammed a fist on the steering wheel. He felt helpless, not knowing how to help his family from clear across the world. He would give anything to be home to spend time with his younger brother, to assure him that he was well loved and show him how fortunate he was compared to abandoned children.

But he could understand Eleazar’s fear, especially since both of them had been abandoned by their mothers. Yes, he was three when his mother dropped him off at a police station saying she couldn’t handle him anymore while Eleazar was abandoned near a garbage can by his drugged-up mother. Clement knew early on that his mother resented him for blocking her future and didn’t hesitate leaving him behind.

She was still alive, the wicked woman, and had the audacity to have more children with her new husband. Even though she’d supposedly repented and sought him out through emotional letters when he was a teenager, he tore every single one. He didn’t care to know her; not about her whereabouts or her new family. He was a Teka now, and readily left his past behind.

Unfortunately, Eleazar didn’t and couldn’t have that closure since his mother died shortly after abandoning him. The sad part was Eleazar had no idea he wasn’t only one abandoned by his birth parents, and Clement vowed to make him see the truth once he returned to Bichena.

But for the next day and a half, he was Mr. Austin Legesse who had an auction to crash and a nefarious scheme to disrupt. Hitting the gas pedal hard, Clement guided his rented SUV toward the Fincha’wa exit.

“Relax,” Ashon mumbled as they inched closer to the border. Along the road were armed officers, their watchful eyes shielded behind dark sunshades, their faces stern and unfriendly.

Vehicles lined up, bumper to bumper. An open truck in front of Ashon’s cab contained restless cattle that protested the cramped space. Unfazed by the giant flies that flew around them, the soldiers strolled casually alongside and inspected each vehicle.

“Don’t worry,” he reassured his restless passenger. “We won’t have any problems.”

Karen watched a soldier peek into one of the other covered trucks. “How were they able to pass a truck full of children across the border?”

“They probably took a backroad. There’s one that cuts through a hill in Marsabit…” he paused as one of the soldiers paused in front of their car. “Stay calm.”

“I can’t,” Karen hissed, clutching the pouch that held her passport. Fear gripped her throat as one soldier rounded the back of their trunk, and she wished for the second time that day to be back in the comfort of her apartment in the United States. “Who sent me here…” she mumbled under her breath.

Ashon chuckled low, not the least bit fazed that soldiers were inspecting his cab.

She frowned. “I really don’t see what’s funny here, Ashon.’

He lifted one shoulder. “For someone who claims to trust God, you are a scared kitten.”

The conviction slammed her like a punch in the gut and she gaped at him, gutted.

Ashon glanced once at her, then smirked unrepentantly. “We are not criminals, so there is nothing to fear.”

A tap on the window pulled his attention from her and he rolled down to address the soldier. Answering in a language she didn’t understand, Ashon reached across her to open the glove compartment. Pulling out his passport, he held out a hand for hers.

Karen swallowed the lump lodged in her throat and quietly surrendered her passport to him. Giving her a gentle smile, Ashon handed both passports over to the soldier who studied them quickly.

And true to his word, Ashon received both back without any trouble. Soon they were on their way across the border toward Fincha’wa.

Karen settled in her seat, quietly mulling over Ashon’s keen assessment of her.

<<Chapter 16 || Chapter 18>>

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