Posts tagged “life

Sanctuary, Chapter 26

Posted on 03/08/2017

Karen was a pro at taking rejection. She didn’t wallow in self-pity for too long and chose to reaffirm that she was a great catch. She didn’t need a man that didn’t need her. After Clement’s lame attempt at rebuffing her confession, Karen merely thanked him for lending his phone and retreated to the bedroom for the night.

Surprisingly, she wasn’t convinced by Clement’s delayed reaction. That telltale pause after she confessed, and the way his gaze shifted as he announced he was like a celibate priest.

Refocusing her attention on the children coloring in their books, a soft smile lifted Karen’s lips. The five she and Clement had brought last night sat together for most of the activity. After warm baths, delicious food and a comfortable place to sleep, they now seemed content coloring pretty pictures with their new friends. For now, this was their home until Clement discovered their respective homes.

Wubit, Dula’s young wife, supervised some of the younger children. The teenager Eddie sat beside Karen and gestured toward the box of colored pencils. Since the girl couldn’t understand much English and Karen little to no Amharic, the two resorted to sign language.

“Thank you,” Karen said with a thumbs up and reached for a red colored pencil.

Nostalgia swept over her as she drew a heart, remembering her precocious niece and nephew. It was times like this that she wished to forget everything and run home. Resting her chin on one hand, she drew an interlocking heart and shaded it in.

“Pretty picture.”

Karen glanced up at Wubit and smiled. “Thanks. I usually color outside the lines. My sister would be proud.”

Settling in the seat to the left of Karen, Wubit accepted the paper Eddie offered. She grabbed a pencil. “How many siblings do you have?”

Three young girls abandoned their pictures and crowded Wubit, doodling with her on the piece of paper.

Karen’s smile warmed watching them. “Two. An older sister and younger brother.”

“They must miss you terribly.”

“Well they have their own lives. Sister’s married with two and a half kids. Brother’s living it up in college…” Karen glanced up, noting Wubit’s arched brow. “She’s pregnant with the third, and my brother is in college.”

“I figured,” Wubit said, one corner of her lips quirked upwards. “Do you miss home?”

Eddie gestured for the girls to leave Wubit alone, instructing them to return to their own papers.

“I do but…” She shrugged. “I always felt like I wasn’t meant to be in one place, especially not in the States.”

“Really?”

“Hmm. Ever since I was young, I’ve always wanted to do more with my life.”

Wubit’s lips twitched. “You must’ve been a fun child to be around.”

“That’s a nice way of saying I was a handful.”

“That too.” Wubit laughed, eyes dancing over Karen’s face. Then her smile dimmed slightly. “What made you go on this mission trip? Boredom or an interest in African culture?”

“No. I want to be a missionary.” She laughed when Wubit gaped at her. “That’s the same look Clement gave me when I told him…” Her laugh eased away and she returned her attention to her drawing.

“What’s wrong?”

“Just hoping we’ll reunite the kids with their parents. I can only imagine how they must be feeling.”

“Afraid, worried… hurt.”

Karen looked up, seeing those very emotions playing in Wubit’s youthful features. She didn’t look a day over twenty-five yet hidden pain, the same that she’d witnessed in Clement’s eyes, was evident in hers now. She frowned. “Were you also…”

Wubit’s smile was sad as she nodded. “I lost my parents to a fire a long time ago. I was very young, too young to remember all of what happened, but I knew they died in the fire.”

Pain sluiced Karen and she gripped the pencil. “How old are you, Wubit, if you don’t mind me asking…”

“I am twenty-three.” Wubit chuckled at Karen’s wide-eyed stare. “Yes, my husband and I are far in age. But he is the only one for me.”

Karen nodded dumbly, watching the very young wife and new mother continue drawing. It seemed all, including Clement, had matured from tragedies and hardships in their lives. She, on the other hand, felt like a fraud for having faced very little and a brat for complaining about it.

The door opened then and Karen slowly turned, her heart skipping a beat when Clement and Dula stepped inside. She quickly avoided Clement’s gaze, hers falling on the man that trailed behind them.

He was more slender than stocky and almost as dark as Dula. He also wore a wide grin that stretched his narrow face. “Hello,” he greeted while waving.

Wubit smiled. “Welcome back, Brother.”

Karen figured this must be the friend Clement spoke with earlier and waved. “Hi there. I’m Karen.”

“I know,” he said good-naturedly and put a hand to his chest. “I’m Ejigu.”

“Good to meet you, Ejigu. And thank you for your help.”

“It is my pleasure.” He started toward her, one hand out.

Clement stepped into his path, gaze fixed on Karen. “Are you ready to call your friend?”

Karen noted Ejigu and Dula chuckling behind Clement, then dragged her attention to Clement. “Uh, sure.”

“Come with me.” He held out a hand to help her stand.

Hesitating for just a moment, Karen reluctantly placed her hand in his and then stood. She bit the inside of her cheek when he tugged on her hand, silently guiding her toward the door. Karen snuck a peek at their spectators, noting the amusement dancing in Dula’s face and Wubit’s wide smile. Even Ejigu looked like he barely held back a laugh.

She let Clement lead her out of the room before she tugged her hand free and pocketed them in her borrowed capris. “Are celibate priests allowed to hold hands?”

Clement looked exasperated and flustered all at the same time.

Karen snorted incredulously. “Never mind. Give me your phone.”

“We need to talk after your call,” Clement muttered as Karen unfolded the scrap paper and dialed the number. He sighed when she merely turned her back, the phone pressed to her ear. It was obvious Karen wasn’t going to let him off the hook anytime soon. With one more glance at her walking down the hallway, he turned in the opposite direction to spend time with the children. His first order of business was getting the five children to tell them about their home and their parents.

Anticipating the tough task at hand, Clement drew in a sustaining breath and returned to the room.

Ejigu looked up from his drawing upon Clement’s return. “Where is she?”

“None of your business,” Clement groused, walking up to Dula and Wubit.

“Someone’s in a grouchy mood,” Wubit teased, nudging Clement’s arm.

“He’s jealous,” Dula interjected with a twinkle in his eye.

Clement scowled. “Jealous of what? Nonsense.”

Leaving his friends’ laughter behind him, he moved past them toward the group of boys and girls. Then cleared his throat to get their attention, and was rewarded with squeals of excitement for seeing him after few days of absence.

Pacing up and down the chapel aisle, Karen nibbled at her thumbnail as she waited for the dial-tone. Three rings and still no answer. Hope began to dissipate and Karen lowered the phone from her ear.

“Hello?”

She jerked the phone back. “Hello? Ashon?”

“Missi?!”

Karen’s tense shoulders sagged with relief. “My goodness! I’m so glad it’s you. Thank you, God.”

Loud static filled the silence on the other end and she drew back the phone, worried the signal would go out. “Hello, Ashon? Are you there?”

“I’m here…” Static undercut his voice.

She bit her bottom lip. “Are you okay? Everything okay?”

“Yes, Missi. We are fine.”

Karen blew out a breath. “We… you still have the children?”

“I couldn’t leave them. Where are you?”

“I’m with my friend in Bichena. Do you know where that is?”

“No. Is that east or west of the capital?”

Karen frowned, wishing Clement had stayed a bit longer. “Uh, I’m not sure. I just know it’s like sixteen hours from Finch’awa.”

“That won’t help me, Missi. Is your friend there? I will need directions.”

“Where are you? Did you get hurt?”

“Not hurt. I am a few hours from the capital. I didn’t know where else to take them, and I remember you said your friend works in an orphanage.”

“He does!” Karen started for the chapel door, ready to search for Clement. “Hold on, let me—”

Priscilla was on her way from the kitchen toward the children’s center when the chapel door swung open. She narrowly missed the swinging door but ended up bumping in the person exiting the chapel. “Watch it!” she scowled at the foreigner who stood before her.

Karen straightened and the frown eased off her face. She shoved the phone at Priscilla. “Here, give my friend directions.”

“Excuse…” her scowl darkened as Karen pressed the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hello,” the man answered stiffly. “I need to find the orphanage. Can you give me directions?”

Eying Karen askance, Priscilla held the phone. “Where are you coming from?”

A minute later, Priscilla reluctantly returned Clement’s phone to Karen. “Who is he?”

“A friend of mine,” Karen answered, pocketing the phone in her flower-printed pants.

Priscilla scowled. “Those are my pants.”

“They are?” Karen peered down and then shrugged. “Oh don’t worry. I’ll wash them and go back to wearing Clement’s clothes.”

“Keep it—is this guy your boyfriend?” She fell in step with Karen, both heading in the same direction.

“Goodness.” Karen laughed openly. “More like an uncle. Ashon’s is probably a decade older than me….”

“Probably?” Priscilla frowned. “Wubit and Dula have fifteen years between them. It is no big deal.”

Pausing in step, Karen arched a brow at Priscilla. “Your point?”

“Age isn’t but a number…” she halted as Karen scoffed and started walking faster. Catching up, she asked. “What is your real relationship with Clement?”

Karen rolled her eyes. “You heard him. I’m a good friend of his from America. Nothing more.” She imagined the Cheshire grin on Priscilla’s face and quickened her steps. “Thanks for helping with the directions.”

“You’re welcome!” Priscilla answered in a melodic voice.

Silently mimicking her words, Karen pushed open the door to the children’s center and froze in step.

Before her, Clement sat cross-legged with the children sitting around him. He wore a kind and patient smile that reached his eyes, listening intently as one of the girls told a story. There was no doubt that he loved children and would do anything to ensure they were safe and loved.

A thought of Clement cradling his own child popped in her mind and Karen brushed it aside. Celibate priests had no business fathering children much less settling down. He seemed too content as a bachelor.

Yet, as she watched him lift one of the youngest children onto his lap, Karen couldn’t help but question his softly-spoken rejection. There was something that flitted in his eyes when she told him how she felt. Even though it was just wishful thinking on her part, Karen wanted to believe that Clement wasn’t completely immune to romance. Just like her, he hadn’t met the right one.

At that moment, Clement looked up and their eyes met. Karen didn’t look away this time, and gave him a gentle smile. Even if he rejected her again, she planned to show him bachelorhood wasn’t for him.

Clement noted the warm smile softening Karen’s pretty features and marveled how she managed to look refreshed after only a few hours of sleep. He couldn’t deny she was beautiful, and a good woman at that. It was plain to see she would make someone a very happy man, but he wasn’t sure he could take that chance. Her pretty smile would morph into a disapproving scowl whenever he stayed away for more than a day. They’d argue all the time and the excitement he experienced seeing her would cease with harsh finality.

As Priscilla stepped in behind her, Clement refocused his attention on his favorite storyteller. His smile twitched as the little girl waved her arms, enthusiastically describing the scene. Her peers watched with enraptured attention and to his pleasant surprise, so did the five newcomers.

Sobering, Clement thought about the many other children that would be sleeping in a cramped box while being transported to the next auction house. His stomach turned, worried for his next move.

“So Karen,” Ejigu’s voice pervaded his thoughts and Clement looked up to see his friend standing by Karen.

He gaped openly as Karen turned that pretty smile to Ejigu. “Oh, hi again.”

“Hi. Has anyone had the chance to show you around?”

“Not yet. Hopefully soon.”

And before Clement could think to say anything, Ejigu gestured toward the door. “Allow me.”

Perturbed, Clement watched Karen willingly follow Ejigu out the door, laughing as they exited the center.

“Yup,” Dula said by Clement’s right shoulder where he perched on a toy box, bouncing his son Meko on his knee. His eyes twinkled with mirth. “Not jealous at all.”

While his friend chuckled at his expense, Clement forced himself to sit back and listen to the girl’s story for the millionth time.

“Sorry for the interruption,” Ejigu said, jogging back to Karen’s side. “Important phone call.”

“No worries. So, did you meet Clement here too?” Karen asked once they resumed their stroll around the church courtyard. She smiled up at the lopsided paper wreaths that hung on the terrace. There was enough evidence that the orphaned children were loved and taken care of here.

“No,” Ejigu answered easily, hands pocketed. “My main job is a tour guide and driver. We met in the capital a few times, and came to know everyone through him. He is a very good man.”

Karen glanced up at him, noting his dimpled smile. “That he is.”

“A bit stubborn and very hard-headed, but he cares for his family and friends.”

She smirked. “Are you trying to convince me? I already know him.”

Ejigu chuckled but said nothing more on the matter. He moved up a sloping hill toward a small gazebo. “Clement mentioned that you were with him on the last mission. How did that happen?”

Karen paused and watched the man walk ahead of her. Although he was good friends with Clement and probably already knew about the encounter, she didn’t feel comfortable divulging her side of the story.

He glanced over his shoulder and stopped, turning to look at her. “Are you alright?”

“I’m fine.” She resumed walking up to meet him. “I’m sure Clement told you already.”

“He did…” he regarded her carefully. “You believe what he’s doing is correct?”

Karen shrugged. “I don’t know about correct. I just think at the moment, it seemed the only thing to do besides doing nothing at all.” She eyed him curiously. “I take it you don’t agree?”

Ejigu sighed, facing the sun that was slowly descending behind a mountain. “It’s very complicated. I know that when a child was killed after one of the village raids and countless children were stolen, Clement blamed himself. He became a desperate man then, spending a lot of sleepless nights trying to figure out who caused the child’s and the kidnapping of so many others.”

Her breath caught. “A child died?”

“… He didn’t tell you?” He heaved another sigh. “He still has nightmares about that day. Had one yesterday night. That’s why he was awake when you err…Perhaps he should tell you himself.”

She shook her head. “We both know he won’t budge. Please tell me what happened.”

Ejigu hesitated for a moment and then gestured to the gazebo. “We might as well sit. It is a long story.”

Karen quietly moved toward the gazebo, dreading the tragedy that drove Clement to such desperate lengths to save a child. But as Ejigu took his place beside Karen, a ping sound stopped him from starting the tale. Giving her an apologetic look, he retrieved the phone and frowned at it. “It’s a text from Clement.”

“Uh-oh,” Karen said with a laugh. “What does it say?”

“Says your friend has arrived and we should come inside now. Can we postpone our talk?”

Karen jumped to her feet. “Yes, later!” Then she hurried out of the gazebo and back down to the church. Ejigu had no choice but to follow, curious to meet the man that made Karen smile so prettily.

<<Chapter 25 || Chapter 27>>

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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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