Posts tagged “writing

Sanctuary, Chapter 11

Posted on 30/06/2017

Clement blinked, not quite sure he heard her correctly. She couldn’t have interrupted his sleep to interrogate him about personal matters. “What?”

“A woman named Karen called asking for you.”

“You went through my phone?”

“I did not. Meko was playing with it when she called. Who is Karen?”

Clement stared at her for a moment and then shook his head. “We’re no longer in a relationship, which means I don’t have to answer that question. What else do you want to talk about?”

Her frown deepened. “You’re dating her?”

“Priscilla, I’m tired and my head hurts. Either say something relevant or go to your room.”

“So she’s irrelevant?”

“Oh my God,” Clement groaned, covering his eyes.

“I’ll take that as a yes.” There was a lilt in her tone. “Okay, next subject. How did it go?”

He uncovered one eye and regarded her warily. “Thought you didn’t care.”

“Of course I care,” Priscilla countered. “How come it’s different when Wubit gets mad about Dula’s involvement but I get crucified when I do it with you?”

“She’s his wife. It’s her right to be concerned.”

“Wow, Clement. That was low.”

He tamped a sigh, not in the mood for conversation. “On second thought, I don’t want to do this now. Please close the door on your way out.”

“You’re such a jerk when you’re mad.”

Clement arched a brow. “Who isn’t a jerk when they’re mad? You cursed me out and broke up with me on the same night.”

“I was worried for your safety!” Priscilla insisted. “Do you have any idea what I went through—?”

“Priscilla, enough already. We’ve been through this too many times to rehash it again.” He pinned a hard look at her. “I understand this isn’t what you expected coming back for the third time. But not everything can go your way just because you want it.”

“Waitamin—”

“You broke up with me twice and I’ve finally moved on. So if you’re here to stay, let it be clear the only relationship between us is for the children’s benefit, not yours.”

Her eyes glistened with unshed tears. “Are you being serious right now?”

“Very serious. Since we need a doctor and the children are used to you, it’ll be better than having to hire a stranger. So feel free to stay.”

Priscilla sniffed noisily, tears pooling.

He rubbed at his weary eyes. “If that’s all, I’d like to get some sleep.”

Wordlessly, she stood from the bed and shuffled to the door.

Clement sighed deeply. “Wait. Priscilla.”

She turned to face him, hope plain in her eyes.

“My phone, please.”

Her lips thinned. Shuffling back to the bed, Priscilla fished in her pocket for the phone and dropped it in his open hand.

Clement waited until she left the room before dropping his head back on the pillow. So much for a peaceful night.

His eyes opened, realizing Karen Wells had called. Curiosity trumped sleep, and Clement held the phone up to his face.

A smile formed as he recalled Karen planting a kiss to his cheek before hurrying away. In all honesty, that kiss had stayed on his mind and distracted him for the rest of the day. It was only the shocker of Eleazar’s absence that knocked him back to his senses.

Karen was a smart and beautiful woman, just like Priscilla. From what he knew about her, she had a gentle spirit that was necessary to take care of patients including Darah’s cranky father-in-law. Unlike Priscilla, her bedside manners extended outside the hospital; she was friendly and graceful with everyone.

Clement’s smile froze, realizing the direction of his thoughts. That wasn’t a fair comparison.

Priscilla was sweet when in the mood for it. However, her stubbornness often clashed with his. After many years of arguing and restarting their relationship again and again, Clement couldn’t imagine a future with someone as stubborn and hard-headed as he was.

Although his brother Bart and sister-in-law Geraldine had similar temperaments, one of them often deferred to the other… Priscilla deferred to no one.

He shook his head, feeling a headache creep up his temples. His five-year relationship with Priscilla was finally over, and he could move on with his life. Besides, there were far too many pressures other than relationships to consider.

Reminding himself that Karen was just a friend of the family and her spontaneous kiss was due to gratitude for his support, Clement dialed her international number and waited for an answer. He looked forward to talking with Karen, even if it was just for a minute or two. She was always a breath of fresh air and managed to draw a laugh out of him.

He’d readily forfeit an hour of sleep to chase away the troubles from his mind.

Karen struggled to stay awake, her body unable to take another minute of the grueling 12-hour seminar. It was one workshop after another all day, discussing everything from child slavery to HIV prevention. Some were informative and thought-provoking, while some felt like review sessions in nursing school.

This particular session focused on wound care and Karen instantly tuned out the presenter. She could treat wounds in her sleep.

Blinking weary and dry eyes, Karen reached for her cup of coffee only to find it empty. The groan escaped her lips and the volunteer beside her snickered. Karen propped up her elbow, resting her cheek there. The makeshift pillow only weakened her resolve to stay awake, and her eyes started to close.

“Karen,” a voice called out, followed by a nudge on her arm.

She jolted awake, earning chuckles and giggles all around. Karen blinked sleepy eyes. “Huh?”

The presenter smiled patiently. “For those with little first-aid experience, could you explain the difference between CAT and SOFT tourniquets?”

She refrained from rolling her eyes and glanced over to where Jennifer sat on another row. After the first workshop on illegal adoptions, Jennifer steered clear of her. It made no difference to Karen either way. Glancing once at the stapled papers, Karen shrugged. “One is hard and the other soft?”

Her cavalier response invoked laughter all around, and even the presenter chuckled. “Final answer?”

“Maybe…” Karen paused as her phone lit up on the table. The +251 number was unlisted but she recognized it after contemplating whether to save it or not. Clement Teka’s phone number. Without hesitation, she snatched it off the desk and stood. “Excuse me. Call.”

Not waiting for a response, Karen made her way out of the classroom, relieved for the distraction. Tapping the green call button, she held the phone to her ear. “Hello?”

“Hey.”

Against her better judgment, Karen’s stomach did a somersault. Clement’s baritone tickled her ears, a pleasant sensation that she didn’t mind one bit. Realizing herself, she frowned. “Hey.”

“… Is this a bad time? Did I wake you?”

Her lips twitched a wry smile. “Sorta.”

“Oh sorry. I can call back—”

“It’s fine, I’m awake now.” Karen attempted sounding as casual as possible, not an easy task with butterflies quivering in her belly. “What’s up?”

There was a slight pause and Karen feared he’d hung up. Then he let out a deep yawn that had Karen’s brows lift in surprise. “My bad. Long…” he paused to yawn again. “… day. Sorry.”

“Probably not as long as mine,” she said, a smile forming against her resolve. He was so stinking adorable.

“Oh yeah? What was your day like?”

“Workshops since morning. Attempting to stay awake but losing the battle before you called.”

Clement’s low chuckle felt like a warm blanket. “Hopefully you’ll get to rest soon.”

“Yeah, hopefully,” Karen replied, leaning against the wall. “So what’s up?”

“I forgot my phone at home and missed your call. Sorry about that. Everything good?”

‘At home’ was all it took for Karen to recall his girlfriend, and her smile faded instantly. “It’s all good.”

“I’d like to hear about your adventures but I might fall sleep on you and miss all the good stories. So can I call you tomorrow?”

Karen frowned as her unruly heart skipped a beat. “Your girl cool with that?”

“… my girl?”

She rolled her eyes. “Your whole girlfriend, Clement. Remember her?”

Clement choked on a laugh. “Not sure what you mean.”

“Your girlfriend. Y’know, the one who answered your phone while you were gone.”

“Karen…” he sighed. “I don’t have a girlfriend.”

“Uh-huh.” She frowned, ignoring the fluttering in her gut. “Say listen, I gotta head back to this workshop so… yeah.”

“Sure. I can call you tomorrow.”

Karen rolled her eyes. “There’s no need. We’ll have plenty of time to catch up once I get to Addis Ababa.”

He paused briefly and then sighed again. “Okay. When do you get here?”

“In a few days. I’ll call you.”

“…okay. Take care.”

“Goodbye,” she said and quickly disconnected the call.

He must’ve thought she was that gullible. And it was her fault for making it a bigger deal that it needed to be. She was thirty-three, for goodness’ sake, not some teenage girl crushing hard on a guy. There were plenty of available men out there, if she was interested, but she had no time for drama.  Relationships were more than she could deal with currently, and she had her travel adventures to occupy her time and mind space.

Still, it sucked that even a man of God attempted to pull the wool over her eyes.

Annoyed with Clement but mostly herself, Karen shoved the phone into her pocket and returned to the classroom.

<<Chapter 10 || Chapter 12>>

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Sanctuary, Chapter 5

Posted on 06/06/2017

“Brother Clement!” one of the Americans called from the back of the van. “How long have you lived here?”

From where he sat in the front passenger’s seat, Clement could feel all eyes on him including Ejigu’s. He turned around with an amicable smile. “Almost ten years. Is this your first trip overseas?”

“Nope, we’ve been to all parts of the world at least once!” the ruddy-faced man said proudly. “But this is our first trip to Africa.”

“It’s such a beautiful country!” the woman at his side gushed, eyes dancing with delight.

“She means Ethiopia, not the whole continent,” a teenager added, a permanent scowl look on her face. Or was it embarrassment?

Clement hid a smirk. His oldest niece Joselyn was barely in her pre-teens and already wore that expression when her loud-mouthed parents spoke out of turn or embarrassing. His eyes fell on the girl who attempted to wear makeup in this sweltering heat. He could never understand teenagers, even though he was one at some point in life.

She caught him looking at her with a perturbed look and rolled her eyes before looking away. He fought a laugh. This moody teenager reminded him of Darah, and he immediately missed home.

“Brother Clement,” another spoke, drawing him away from his nostalgic thoughts. “Is it always this hot?” the man was practically red in the face and drenched with sweat.

“Oh dear!” his female companion scooted close and began fanning him with the brochure in hand. Her eyes flitted over to Clement. “Does the AC work?”

“Sorry Madam,” Ejigu said before Clement could. “Picked up the old van.”

Barely registering the groans and sighs from the tourists, Clement shifted in his seat and exchanged a quick glance with Ejigu. It was the only van that did not undergo close inspection by the tourist company Ejigu moonlighted with, and the perfect hideout for their newly-acquired guns.

“Ooh! Pretty!”

“Jamie, quick take a picture!”

Clement didn’t look to see what they found enthralling; tourists thought everything about a foreign country was interesting. He propped one elbow on the open window and just quietly watched as Ejigu maneuvered the small van along the dusty road. Two new buildings filled his view, their identical steel spindles piercing the blue sky.

“Doesn’t it remind you of Phoenix, honey? Look at that gorgeous mountain.”

Clement propped his head back and closed his eyes. The ride along this road never failed to lull him to sleep; the jostling felt like the sway of a rocking chair and the wind like a soft caress of a mother.

His lips twitched a bitter smile. What mother? He couldn’t remember anything about his childhood, and that was for the best. No good memories were in his early childhood, not until Yonas and Ester Teka came to the foster home one fateful afternoon.

“Brother! Brother!” The panic in the voice and the rough shaking jostled him from the brief nap.

Clement’s eyes snapped open and he glanced once at Ejigu’s perturbed expression. The man wordlessly inclined his head to the front of the car where blue-uniformed men surrounded a car in front. Clement gritted his teeth. Police men.

“What’s happening?” a drowsy voice asked from the backseat. “Border patrol?”

Ejigu managed a smile and looked back to the bewildered tourists. “It’s just the police… random checks.” His smile eased away once he turned around.

Clement noted Ejigu’s hands squeeze the steering wheel and understood the cause of his anxiety.

At the beginning of the year, city-wide violent attacks had taken place due to ethnic-based clashes among the youth. Universities reported fights breaking out among the student population, resulting in major injuring and requiring immediate police involvement. A few of the city precincts had their officers patrol the streets, looking for troublemakers and those intent on disturbing the peace or causing violence. Which meant impromptu car searches were no exception for any resident of the city.

Normal citizens found it a mere nuisance to be interrupted from their drives, but Ejigu’s van had weapons. Trouble of the worst kind awaited them.

The two men exchanged a look and Clement began praying for immediate intervention.

Kibera was nothing she’d ever seen before in her life… well at least apart from what was shown on television. The pungent smells of refuse waste and unwashed bodies was mixed with spices and roasted meat. The cocktail of scents assailed her nostrils and Karen refrained from holding her hand to her nose. Too many people were watching.

A giant housefly buzzed around her face and Karen merely leaned her head back to avoid it from perching on her cheek as its mates did on faces of those in her team. Shonda was not having it, swiping at her unwelcome companion with a heavy hand.

Giggles sounded across the stream of water that trickled right in front of them. Karen sought the beautiful sound and her heart melted. From what resembled a makeshift playhouse, a handful of children watched them openly. She found herself smiling at them. Despite their disheveled appearances, their big button eyes deep-set on dark dusty faces and bright smiles won her heart. They were entirely too precious for words. She wished to cross the stream, talk with them and just love on them.

“ASF for Africa was founded in the early 90s by a Catholic nurse and her family,” said a plump fair-skinned woman with thin blond hair flowing free in the wind. Her bright-green eyes skimmed the group before her. “She came to Uganda first on a sabbatical, very much like the one you’re on right now, before coming here. She discovered a need not met by the Red Cross and other NGOs in the area. The children of the slums were not being cared for past the first few days of free food and water.”

Shonda looked up from her camera and followed Karen’s direction of sight to the children there. She grinned and lifted her camera once more, taking a series of shots. The children ducked from view and Karen frowned at Shonda who was now studying her pictures with a satisfied smile.

“ASF works with a few orphanages and academies in the area, providing the basic education for the children that live here.” The representative for the nonprofit foundation continued, her small hands clasped in front of her. “We cannot reach every single one, and some of the children stay only for the food and water but find no interest in the education.”

Karen frowned and looked at the woman. What child would not be interested in education if it were free?

“Is it because the academies cost what they can’t afford?” Jennifer asked softly, and endeared herself to Karen once again. All eyes turned to the young but seasoned nurse. “From what I know, many children have a sharp mind and an interest in learning anything if given the chance. What do the academies require for a child to enroll?”

A furrow appeared between the representative’s brows. Her green gaze flickered among the attentive crew. “Uh, well it varies… but the highest is 28,000 per year.”

One gasped, another whistled in awe. Karen stiffened.

“Why is it so much?” Shonda asked, distracted momentarily from her camera. “Isn’t that too much to ask from a family living on 2 shillings per day?”

The representative’s lips twitched a dry smile. “Actually, it’s one dollar per day. Unfortunately, the academies bear most of the costs to not only educate but feed the children. Besides, in order to educate, they need teachers who won’t work for free.”

The crowd grew silent in thought. A train whistle sounded in the distance while the carefree children played without a care in the world…

Karen found herself watching a new set of children as they kicked at the dirty stream of water, no doubt ridden with bacteria and critters. She bit her bottom lip, taking in their torn and faded clothing. In spite of their unfavorable conditions, they could still laugh and play. If only there was more she could do than just offer two weeks of attention.

“What can we do?” Jennifer then asked after a moment of silence.

“You’re helping already,” the woman insisted with a gentle smile. “Offering to teach the children and love on them while you’re here is enough. We have more of you coming all year round, so we are not short on help. Trust me, what you are doing is more than we could ever ask.”

“You can ask for more,” Karen said for the first time since arriving at the foundation’s building hours ago.

All eyes turned to look at her. The representative raised a questioning brow. “Pardon?”

“You heard me,” Karen replied, turning to face the woman with a firm expression. “As Jennifer already mentioned, it’s foolish to expect a family living on very little to find 28,000 for an education when their children can be more useful to them on the field, making money.”

A couple team members nodded in agreement. The furrow in the representative’s brow only deepened.

“It doesn’t make sense to ask the parents to foot a bill the organizations are not even willing to pay for,” Karen continued, emboldened by the compassion she felt for these children. Some of them were her niece and nephew’s age. “Of course the children will only stay for the free offerings, I would too even if education proved beneficial and long-lasting… In a place like this, what good is an elementary-school education if nothing else changes?”

The mumbles of consent only deepened the woman’s frown. Her thin lips only tightened, as if no one had voiced such a strong opinion about her foundation’s operations. “When there is little help from the NGOs or the governmental agencies, what else can we do?”

“Ask your guests to do more.”

She didn’t break eye-contact with the representative whose eyes widened in surprise.

“W-what do you mean? Ask them to donate more than their time?”

The consenting stopped suddenly and eyes widened at Karen.

Karen tilted her chin slightly. “That’s precisely what I’m saying.” Then she grabbed hold of her money purse and unzipped it. “How much did you say it was per student?”

When silence answered, Karen looked up from counting the cash in her purse to see the woman’s mouth wide open. Her eyes flitted to the equal gapes among her teammates. “28,000 right? Which is approximately…” Her brow furrowed, doing the mental math.

“2,400 per month!” Jennifer piped in, eyes bright.

Karen nodded and slowly zipped her purse. “Well I don’t have the money in my purse right now but I can transfer the money once we get back to the hotel.”

“W-what are you saying, Miss?” the representative asked in disbelief. “Are you offering to pay a student’s tuition for the year?”

“Not just one student.” Her eyes skipped over to the children she’d spotted earlier, and her lips twitched a smile. Lifting a hand, Karen gestured to the children now playing a form of tag. “Those five.”

A chorus of gasps sounded among the group, and the representative looked as if she’d swallowed an egg whole.

“Me too!” Jennifer said without hesitation. “Put me down for five also.”

Shonda lowered her camera and cleared her throat, looking a bit uncomfortable. “… I’ll do three.”

Karen bit back a smile as a few others volunteered to pay for the children, and she returned her attention to the children playing in the streets. There were many more that needed sponsorship—and an elementary education was only the first step. After that, they’d need secondary education and mentorship all throughout their lives. Their parents and their environment needed lifelong support, which Karen and her teammates couldn’t afford to provide on their own… but at least this was a start.

For the first time since she arrived here in Nairobi, Karen felt as if she was doing exactly what she’d been born to do. And that was the best feeling in the world.

It was their turn to be checked and Clement had not stopped praying. He could feel the tension in waves from Ejigu’s side of the car but kept his face forward as the two uniformed men approached the car.

One on the driver’s side bent and peered into the car. His gaze swept over the tourists in the backseat. “Who are these?”

“Americans,” Ejigu answered in their native tongue, keeping a smile on his face.

“Hello officers!” one of the Americans greeted the men.

Clement clenched his teeth; their audacious greeting may backfire if these men were not in the mood.

The officer grunted his reply and lifted his eyes to Clement. One brow arched suspiciously. “And him?”

“My pastor,” Ejigu answered. “A local church near Bichena.”

With no indication that he understood, the officer narrowed his eyes at Clement who maintained a placid expression. Any strange twitch or shift of gaze could have the officers begin an unnecessary search, one they could not afford at this present time. They had already wasted enough of it carting these tourists to their hotel. By the time they reached Bichena, it would be late in the day.

The car was tense in silence as the first officer studied all the passengers in the car. Clement couldn’t even shift his gaze to watch the second man circling the car, for fear of attracting suspicion.

Then a voice from the back of the car called out to his comrade, alerting both Ejigu and Clement who understood the words spoken in a harsh Amharic.

The first looked back at Ejigu. “Open the trunk.”

Ejigu stiffened visibly and the first officer straightened. Clement gritted his teeth as the both officers convened at the back of the car. They pounded on the hood impatiently.

With a nervous glance at Clement, Ejigu reluctantly unlocked the trunk. He also drew in a sharp breath and clenched the steering wheel.

Tense in his seat, Clement prayed… although there was no telling what would come out of it. God did not mess around with illegal smuggling of weapons, even if it was for a good cause.

“Oh my God, what’s going on?” one of the Americans exclaimed in horror, shifting around in her seat.

“Sit still!” Clement barked, glancing out of the rear-view mirror to watch both officers shifting the luggage around.

“Are they allowed to do that?!” another protested, turning his head to watch them unzip their suitcases.

Of course in the U.S., it was highly unacceptable but with the city in a state of emergency, the police officers were given special authority to search, arrest and disarm as needed. Clement did not care for the Americans’ sensibilities as he did the discovery of weapons hidden in the floor of the van. He strengthened his desperate prayer and waited with baited breath.

“Reggie! Oh my gosh, Reggie!”

Both Ejigu and Clement jerked around despite their attempts to stay still. One of the tourists, the one whose face was like a tomato, was now slumped over. His wife, panicked and distraught, was attempting to keep his head up. Her friends surrounded her, attempting to help also.

“Please help me!! Help my husband!”

Clement glanced once at the police officers rifling through the luggage and without hesitation, climbed over to their side. “What’s the matter with him?” he crouched beside the unconscious man. One hand moved to his forehead; his skin was as hot as it looked.

“He’s been complaining of chest pains since we left yesterday,” his wife replied, tears streaming down her own red face. “Oh God, please help me! He’s all I have!” She moaned, ignoring her friends’ attempts to comfort her.

Just then, the door slid open and one of the police officers glared down at them. “What are you doing?” he demanded in his native tongue.

Clement glared right back, no longer caring what they’d discovered in the trunk or the gun strapped on the officer’s hip. “This man is dying,” he said in perfect Amharic. “We need to get him to the hospital now.”

<<Chapter 4 || Chapter 6>>

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