Brother, when will you return to us?”
Clement glanced up from his phone to his elder sister-in-law Phoebe. “In a few days,” he answered the man through the speaker. “I’ll land in the capital by Wednesday.”
Phoebe gave him a gentle smile as she whisked eggs for an omelet and Clement smiled back in return, grateful for a sister who enjoyed cooking as much as he enjoyed eating. In a few days, he’d go back to eating his own food—if he had that with the busy schedule awaiting him.
“Ejigu will get you from the airport,” the man continued, the sound of a motorcycle buzzing in the background. “Send me your flight details and we will prepare for your arrival.”
“Thanks, my brother.” Clement lifted the mug of dark coffee to his lips and took a sip. He was not worried about his flight; he’d done this a thousand times for almost ten years. The long journey to a place he considered his second home was no longer a grueling task and he looked forward to it, even if it meant leaving behind his precious family behind. His mission drove his desire to return to work.
“It is nothing.” A bleating horn sounded in the background and Clement smirked, picturing the market scene. He could almost smell the smoky flavor of coffee beans brewing, the pungent aroma of fermented grain and the fresh spices that assailed his nostrils. “Ah Brother, you must hurry back. We have word that the Kutfi are planning an upri—“
Clement quickly tapped off the speaker phone at the mention of Kutfi and rose abruptly from his stool.
Curious, Phoebe turned from the frying pan with a brow raised in question. She watched Clement round the counter and walked toward the door leading to the backyard. Her brow furrowed as he stepped outside and closed the door behind him. “That was weird…”
“What was weird?” her husband Abe asked, stepping into the kitchen at that same minute and gave his wife a smile that slipped. “Something’s smoking.”
Phoebe gasped and turned back to salvage what was left of the egg omelet. She blew out a breath of relief and flipped it over. “You’re up earlier than I expected. Not tired anymore.”
“Karla woke me up to play dolls with her,” Abe replied as he leaned against the counter that faced Phoebe. Reaching around her for a fresh slice of green pepper, he dropped it in his open mouth and chewed noisily.
She chuckled. “The boys didn’t want to play anymore?”
“They pretended to sleep but she knew they weren’t asleep. Didn’t have the heart to ignore her.” He reached for another, frowning when she nudged his hand away. He glanced around. “Thought I heard Junior down here.”
“He was,” Phoebe answered, pouring another serving of whisked eggs onto the sizzling frying pan and then sprinkling the green peppers on top. “Stepped out to take a call from Ethiopia.”
“Hm,” Abe mumbled, taking a sip of the coffee Clement had discarded. He grimaced and held it up. “Ugh, this tastes like a thousand deaths.”
Phoebe chuckled. “I hear Ethiopian coffee’s among the best brews in the world.”
“Well if that’s what this is, I’ll stick to my regular Folgers.” He shook his head in distaste and put it down. “Has Darah called?”
“Not since they arrived and I’m not gonna bother them,” Phoebe answered, eyes focused on the omelet. “It’s their honeymoon and just as we were left alone for ours and the same with Bart’s, I’m suggesting we extend that same courtesy.”
Chuckling, Abe moved from the counter and wrapped both arms about his wife’s waist. After bearing three children, her waist wasn’t as slim as before and her hips spread over the years. But Abe found her beautiful as the first day he laid eyes on her. He bent his head and pressed a kiss to her ear. “Maybe we should make plans for another. The first one was too short.”
Phoebe laughed softly, patting his hand. “And this one’ll be much shorter if Karla and the boys have anything to say about it. That first time, we just had to worry about Darah and Eli—which wasn’t a big deal since Bart and Junior had help from my parents and Geri. This time, I fear Geri and Bart’ll be begging us to come home.”
Abe nipped her earlobe, unconcerned. “We’ve got a village to help ‘em. I’ll take leave from work and we’ll go somewhere private, no phones or children allowed. Just me and my woman. Anywhere you want; Paris, Rome, The Maldives, Hawaii, the moon.”
“You’re impossible.” She nudged him with her elbow. “Go away, I need to concentrate on breakfast.”
“You can cook half-asleep.” Abe squeezed her hips and released her. “Let me check on Junior and I’ll come help with the toast.”
“Thanks Babe,” she said with a smile as he made his way around the counter. Then her smile eased away, realizing that for once Abe hadn’t reacted when she mentioned his youngest brother Eleazar. The moody teenager had been avoiding their calls and tension was high between the siblings concerning him. She worried mostly for Abe who took the conflict to heart, and she fretted over his mounting blood pressure. This was a surprise that he didn’t tense up or get wistful, which meant he was either resigned to wait for Eleazar to get over whatever troubled him, or plotted in silence to draw the young man out of his self-imposed solitary confinement.
“I’m telling you, Clem, I have a bad feeling about this,” the man said, voice shaking. “If it gets out that we’re acquiring weapons—”
“Which is why I am telling you to keep it between us.” Clement gripped the phone when silence answered him on the other hand. “We need to be smart. Arming ourselves against the enemy is doing just that.” He walked across the bed of fresh kale planted by Phoebe. “I won’t lose another one, Dula.”
“I don’t want to lose another either but what we’re doing is illegal.”
Clement scoffed. “Selling children as slaves and child soldiers is illegal too!” He glanced around him before clearing his throat. “Listen, just do as I say. This is the only way. Can’t you trust me?”
The other end was silent, static from the international call filling the silence with the intermittent sounds of market hustle and bustle. The silence stretched and Clement grew more agitated. “Dula?”
Then Dula heaved a deep sigh. “I trust you, Brother. I know you care for our people.”
Clement dared not breathe a sigh of relief yet. There was still hesitation in his friend’s voice. “I don’t want to resort to violence and I pray we won’t have to… but our first priority are the children. And I refuse to see another sold for evil means.” He gripped the phone tight, forcing the gruesome image of a child’s burned and mangled body from his memory. “This is the only way.”
Dula sighed again. “Fine. We will prepare everything.”
“You must do it quietly and without suspicion.” But even as he said that, Clement wondered how a group of missionary workers could smuggle and hide artillery from watchful eyes. He needed to return quickly. Time was of the essence. “Any other news from the borders?”
It should’ve been good news but Clement had spent too long in the field to believe that no news was good news. When evil lurked in the shadows, silence was the most deceitful foe. “I will be there soon. Keep strong and be careful.”
The creaking sound of the rickety back door alerted Clement and he quickly glanced over his shoulder to see his eldest brother step out onto the porch. “Uh Brother, I must go now.”
“Send your details tonight.”
“I will,” Clement promised and with a short farewell in Amharic, he disconnected the call before easing the tension from his face. “Good morning.”
Abe smirked his own greeting and stepped onto the grass, his eyes dropping to the bed of kale near Clement’s feet. “Your sister-in-law’s become a farmer.”
His gaze dropped to the fresh greens and nodded. “It looks good.”
“Yeah well, it tastes like death.”
Clement shook his head and lifted his gaze back to Abe’s face. “Sometimes what’s good for you doesn’t taste that great… remember?”
Abe snorted. “Are you giving me a taste of my own medicine now?”
“You used to be annoying, saying that about everything…” The two brothers chuckled at the memory of Abe navigating fatherhood so soon after their parents passed. Then Abe sighed heavily. “So you’ll be leaving us again…”
It wasn’t a question and Clement already knew Abe didn’t particularly like him being away from home for so long, but this was his calling. He’d chosen this life. “It’s my work.”
“And when does this work end, or does it ever end?”
At Clement’s pointed silence, Abe smiled wryly before clapping a hand over his shoulder. “In any case, I’m proud of you.” He smirked when Clement arched a brow. “When you first dropped out of college and told us you were gonna be a missionary, I thought you were joking… but after ten years, I think you’re actually serious about it.” Abe chortled and squeezed his shoulder. “But try to come home more often. Having to introduce you to every child you haven’t seen for a while is getting tiring…”
“I’ll call more often,” Clement promised, eying his brother’s face. “Did Eli call yet?”
Abe’s smile waned and his dark gaze swept Clement’s face. “I was about to ask you the same thing.”
Clement snorted disdainfully. “That brat.”
Abe heaved a sigh. “Something’s wrong. I just know something’s wrong.”
This time, Clement clapped a hand over his eldest brother’s shoulder. “We’ll figure it out. Even if I have to storm that woman’s house and drag him out, we will get our brother back.”
The hard determination in his tone had Abe eying him warily. “What if he doesn’t budge?”
“We’ve got three days to get him to budge. We’ll get him to budge.”
Three days later and Clement sat on the plane, brooding. Eleazar didn’t budge. In fact, the kid wasn’t available when he, Abe and their other brother Bart showed up unannounced at Eleazar’s grandmother’s house. A teary-eyed Mrs. Crane yanked open the door and demanded to know where he was, bemoaning the fact that he’d been missing for days!
That only sent all three brothers in a frenzy with Abe looking like he was about to bust a nerve. It took everything in Clement not to push his way past Mrs. Crane and search the premises, not believing for a second that Mrs. Crane was telling the truth about Eleazar’s absence.
“Where would he go?!” Abe yelled, despondent as they drove back to their family home.
“Take your pills!” Bart growled from the passenger’s seat to Abe while Clement drove, stewing in his seat. “This is getting ridiculous.”
What all three brothers really wished was to whoop Eleazar’s behind until it was raw, until he repented for putting them through such pain. How could a sweet and obedient child turn into a rebellious ingrate?
“It doesn’t make sense,” Clement muttered as he replayed the three days of torture, trying to find his youngest brother. The boy didn’t pick up his phone, his so-called friends had no idea where he was, and the house was in a frenzy. Phoebe, the level-headed one in the family, wept like a baby and Geri, Bart’s wife, ranted until she lost her voice. The children tiptoed in their own home, some retreating to their rooms so as not to provoke their parents.
They’d all vowed not to tell Darah anything; especially not on her vacation or while she was in her last weeks of this pregnancy. After the first scare that sent her to the hospital around four weeks, everyone was careful not to provoke her for fear of losing the child. They had to keep it a secret until they found Eleazar. There was no other option.
Except Clement had to leave on the third day, and still no word. This wasn’t like Eleazar.
Clement shook his head and pinched the bridge of his nose, attempting to ease the tension that had settled there since the day of Eleazar’s absence.
“Sir, could I get you something?”
He pried one eye open to see the smiling attendant standing beside him. Though he knew she asked for his drink or food preference, all he wanted was word on his missing brother. The thoughts of his brother’s whereabouts would occupy his time until they arrived in Addis Ababa hours from now. So he shook his head and closed his eyes.
She’d never seen anything like it. The vibrant colors, the dusty road, the clear blue sky. Karen was all smiles. Like the other passengers in the beat-up Nissan sedan that was surely once a white but caked with dirt, Karen rolled down the window and propped her elbows on the ledge. The wind brushed her face like a rough caress and tugged at the tendrils that had escaped the silk scarf holding her hair from her face.
She tucked tendrils behind her ears and took in the sights. Beautiful Nairobi, Karen thought to herself, wishing she’d unpacked her camera to capture the scenes.
“How was your flight?” the driver said, his English almost as good as anyone else in the car.
“Was great!” the passenger in the front spoke enthusiastically. This was Jennifer, a pediatric nurse from Seattle, who also took a sabbatical for this trip. She and Karen just met at the Nairobi airport but had corresponded over emails and phone calls for months prior to the trip. Where Karen was more subdued, Jennifer was a bundle of energy. Then again, Jennifer from Seattle was barely 27 years old but had been working as a nurse for 8 years—most of it spent as a travel nurse. She’d been to various countries including Cambodia and rural parts of India, so this was not her first trip unlike Karen.
“What about you, Madam?”
Karen blinked and frowned at the distinction. “It’s Karen,” she said, managing not to sound frosty. “And it was good. The food and everything…” She nodded, at a loss for words. Kenya was breathtaking.
“Oh yeah,” gushed the passenger beside Karen. This was Shonda from New York, also a nurse and travel blogger. It was clear the real reason she came, a DSLR camera propped in her hands as she snapped moving shots of the city life. “I can’t wait to try the real cuisine of this place. Please say we will, I’m starved!”
The driver chuckled. “For sure you will.” He snuck another look at Karen and quickly looked away when their gazes collided.
“Mr. Bu-bu…” Jennifer giggled nervously. “I’m sorry, how did you say it again?”
“It’s Mmm-boo-roo.” The driver smiled patiently as he glanced once at her before turning back to the street ahead. One could not take his eyes off the street for too long, cars and motorbikes weaved in and out with little care for traffic rules and regulations. Still his eyes flitted to the rear-view mirror to where Karen sat quietly. “But please call me Eddy. Every other male here is a Mburu.”
Karen refrained from rolling her eyes and faced the window once more.
The driver, tall and lanky like a Masai warrior had not stopped staring at her from the moment he met her and Jennifer at the baggage claim with his sign. Karen paid him little mind except a thank-you when he took her bags and placed them in the trunk. While he and Jennifer proceeded to spend the drive chatting it up on the way to the next city where they picked up Shonda, Karen focused her attention on the sights and smells of the country. She didn’t come all the way to Kenya for a fling or anything for that matter.
“Okay great Eddy,” Shonda said easily. “Where can we get some kebabs? I’ve been dying to try some.”
Eddy and Jennifer laughed, then Eddy nodded. “Your wish is my command, Miss.”
The three laughed except Karen who was already thinking about how she would spend the next month loving on the orphaned children in the rural parts of Kenya. Butterflies fluttered in her belly and she rested her chin on her arms, drinking in the sights of the city as Eddy’s beat-up sedan sped past.