Looking for serious feedback on the first two Chapters of this Novel!!
K I R A|
DURBAWA SETTLEMENT, WEST AFRICA.
The Land rover came to a stop amidst a cloud of orange dust. Inside, Robert Pinto and Teklani Medu were both silently thankful they had reached the last stop for the day. The oppressive heat of January in West Africa was enough to make better men than they, cry out for shade and a cold beer. The dust settled. Through the windscreen, and the heat haze, both men contemplated the dilapidated circular hut that faced them. Robert turned down the crackle which emanated from the SBE “Cataline III” 23 channel CB Radio.
“Let’s get this one done then we can have a cold beer.” Robert said giving Teklani a tight smile as he opened the driver’s door.
Robert strode across the scorched earth, scattering angry chickens into flight. He approached the round, wooden door and pounded loudly with his fist.
“Hello! Sokoto Relief Fund. I have water and supplies for you. Hello?”
Teklani joined Robert in front of the door, a sack of maize meal over one shoulder and a five litre jerry can of fresh water in his hand.
“Hello! Anyone home?” Robert yelled as he pounded on the door again. Robert strained to hear some sound of movement or sign of life; he was rewarded with a faint, low groan, not unusual in this heat. Several earlier stops had produced much the same response. It was too hot outside. With a lack of fresh water and food in these regions, one had a tendency to become sopoforic.
“I’m coming in.” Robert announced, signaling Teklani to follow.
Robert’s eyes widened as he walked into the contrasting darkness of the hut. Willing his eyes to adjust he looked around seeing nothing.
“Hello?” He called, his eyes finally making out the shape of a body, prostrate on a cot. Robert motioned for Teklani to offer water. His vision, corrected now, introduced him to a large, middle aged man. His skin glowed black and as shiny as ebony. The man had shifted into a seated position on the edge of the cot and was drinking thirstily from a tin cup that Teklani was waiting to refill. Robert let his eyes move around the hut. His nose picked up the stale aromas of alcohol, sweat and urine. Three rickety wooden tables made an effort to follow the circular walls of the hut and were stacked with half gnawed bones, dirty tin dishes a battered steel kettle covered in dust, all barely discernable beneath the cloud of green-bottle flies, maggots and rubble of beer bottles. Robert turned to look for a stool, finding instead a large packing crate, resting on its side. Too big to sit on, Robert chose to lean against the crate, crossing his ankles and folding his arms.
“Feeling better?” He asked the man. In response, Robert received, the by now, familiar, yellow-eyed belligerent stare. He shrugged and continued waving away inquisitive clumps of flies, allowing Teklani to continue speaking with the man. Teklani seemed to be making headway with his smattering of Wolof; just one of the many spoken languages in these regions. Robert reached into his breast pocket for cigarettes, lighting one and leaning back enjoying time in the shade.
Robert became aware of an almost imperceptible push against his legs, turning around, he realised it was the lid of the crate standing ever so slightly ajar. He pushed the lid flush with the crate, resuming his stance. Flicking the stub of his cigarette through the open doorway to the dust beyond, he straightened and once again, felt the crate’s lid push against his rear. Interested, he squatted, pushing his fingers into the narrow gap between the lid and wall of the crate, he pulled the lid open. A foul stench immediately violated his nostrils, pulling his head back, swatting furiously at yet more flies, he cautiously, squinted into the blackness.
“Jesus Christ!” Robert yelled. “There’s a kid in here!”
Camouflaged in the blackness, huddled in the corner of the packing crate, two large glassy eyes stared into Robert’s. Unable to discern more than a shady human form and the eyes, Robert was unsure how to proceed. He wanted the child out of the crate, realising however, the crate was open with no signs of a lock on the door; the child could obviously enter and exit of its own accord. So, what was it doing in there?
“Bring water, Teklani.” Robert half turning in Teklani’s direction, became aware of the older man shouting and gesticulating towards Robert. Obviously angered at Robert’s discovery, the man was now making it quite clear he wanted them both, out. He took angry strides, babbling furiously, reaching Robert’s side; he slammed the lid of the crate shut. Robert stood his ground.
“Teklani. Ask this man, whose child this is. What is its name and why, for God’s sake, is the child in this crate?” Teklani cut short the man’s babble and a heated exchange took place.
“He says it is his child. It doesn’t have a name. The mother apparently died in childbirth. He says he can do what he wants with his child. He wants us to leave.” Robert stared at the man, his eyes filled with disgust.
“Teklani. Go to the car, radio Will Gorman, tell him to get his ass down here pronto. We got a case of child abuse for him.” Robert watched Teklani walk out the door. With his back to the tall black man, Robert spun around, his fist connecting accurately with the jaw of the large man; he staggered backwards, landing heavily on his backside, looking slightly dazed. Robert was troubled. Any other man he’d punched in the same manner; usually went down, out for the count. Not this one it seemed. Robert pulled out his Luger semi-automatic pistol and pointed it, arm extended, directly in the man’s face.
“Don’t fucking move.” Robert warned in a slow, quiet voice. He needed the time to think. It would take Will, the closest these parts had to a police chief, at least an hour to get here. Glancing at the crate, he badly wanted to get the child out of there. He made his decision. Taking two steps closer to the now, trembling, man, Robert raised the butt of the pistol and slammed it down into the man’s temple. The man keeled over on his side, his head hitting the mud floor with a hollow thud. Robert leaned over and felt for a pulse. No problem there, a strong pulse beat between his fingers.
“What have you done?” Teklani asked, standing in the doorway.
“I’ve just knocked him out. Get some rope from the car; let’s tie this bugger up so we can get the child out of that crate.”
It took both Robert and Teklani, to lift the bound unconscious man and swing him on to the cot he had so recently woken in. They turned their attention to the crate. Robert swung the lid wide open and hunkered down looking into the darkness. Shuffling over to one side he made space for Teklani.
“Talk to the child, find out its name, offer some water.” Teklani held the water out to the child making inviting, soothing noises. There was no response from the child. Robert’s eyes wandered over what served as the floor of the packing crate. In the darkness he recognized dried stains of faeces and urine. Again Robert made a decision and began crawling inside the crate, reaching out for the child, determined to pull it out into the fresh, clean air.
“Aaiiiiiii.” A shrill, high pitched cry emanated from the darkened corner. Robert was unperturbed. He fumbled until his hand reached around a naked slimy limb. Unsure of whether what he held was an arm or a leg, he reached out his other hand and found the corresponding limb, equally slimy. Pushing all recriminations aside, he pulled the small body towards him. Initially muttering words of comfort, Robert suddenly swore.
“Shit! Little bugger just bit me!”
“Aaiiiiii!” Robert shuffled backwards as fast as he could. One limb was still firmly in his grasp.
“I’m going to need some help here, Teklani, Grab hold of the little shit when I get it out!” Teklani positioned himself. The crate gave birth to a wriggling mass of shiny black spirit.
“It’s a girl!” Teklani announced excitedly, taking hold of the child’s hands and feet.
“Just what I always wanted” Robert replied, scrutinizing the blood running down his arm.
“Watch those teeth of hers.”
“Aaiiiii, Aaiiiii, Aaiiii!” The young girl writhed and fought. Teklani was having a hard time holding on to her, her skin, streaked in sweat and waste matter; was like gripping a melting candle. Robert, noticing the impossibility of the task, jumped up and rotated the crate so that the lid was now closed and on top. Hoping this would wipe out any thoughts the young girl may have about returning to her dark corner. Quite suddenly, the young girl stopped struggling. She lay face down on the mud floor. Teklani held her hands behind her back in one hand and her thin ankles in his other hand. She was completely naked. Her young back was a map of scars, as if she’d been beaten with a leather strip, or belt of some sort. The backs of her legs were pock marked with round cigarette tip scars, some, barely healed. One ankle had obviously been broken some time ago and had healed at an awkward angle. Robert and Teklani stared, taking in the horror story written over her small body. Slowly, Teklani let go of her ankles. She didn’t move. He let go of one hand and rolled her on to her back. The young girl had her eyes shut tightly, as if waiting in anticipation for the pain that should surely begin. Her face was caked with dried green mucus, fresh globules peeped out of the edges of her nostrils. Her tummy distended, synonymous with malnutrition. Scabs, at various stages of healing were dotted on both arms and angry bruising was apparent on her neck, between her thighs and even on her flat chest.
“My God!” Teklani stammered looking aghast. Robert’s fingers found the Luger’s handle, tempting his brain to explore the thought of ridding the world of the filth that lay unconscious on the cot. Reading his thoughts, Teklani shook his head at Robert. Robert sucked air over his tightened lips and knelt alongside the child. Slowly, the girl opened first one eye, then the other. Her eyes were huge round pools of darkness. Fear shone out of them as she looked from both Teklani to Robert. Her bottom lip trembled uncontrollably.
“Find another language to speak to her in. Tell her we’re not here to hurt her.” Once again, Teklani shook his head at Robert.
“She doesn’t speak. I don’t think she’s been taught how to.”
“How old would you guess she is?” Robert asked in a whisper, a smile stuck to his face as he looked into the girl’s frightened eyes.
“Mmm, she looks maybe four years old, but she could be six or more, malnutrition stunts growth, I don’t know Robert.”
Let’s try and get her washed and dressed into something. You stay here with her, try and reassure her somehow. I’m going to pour some of our water into the steel container. It will be warm; we may get some of that mess off her. Have we still got some of those children’s clothes from the Red Cross?”
“They’re behind the driver seat in a black plastic bag.” Teklani answered.
From the struggling wild animal that was delivered out of the crate, the young girl had now adopted completely different tactics. She refused to move at all. Her large eyes were blinking non-coherence at either of the two men’s requests. Teklani carried her outside and seated her gently into the steel container, half filled with sun warmed water. Robert had found a large chunk of carbolic soap. He rolled up his sleeves and began working on a thick lather between his hands. Teklani remained close by, all the while smiling widely at the young girl and murmuring words of comfort in different languages. Her eyes widened in terror as she blinked alternately at each one of the strange men, while she received the first bath she’d ever had in her life.
With some difficulty, Robert and Teklani finally managed to dress the young girl. They had dug out a faded pair of jeans and a clean but wrinkled yellow T-shirt. They spent a frustrating five minutes, gesticulating to the child to lift up one leg at a time in order to slip on the jeans. Never having seen a pair of jeans before, she stared in wonder at the two grown men hopping around, one legged, making urging noises while smiling encouragingly at her. Quite suddenly, as if the sun had burst through thunder clouds, her face broke. A huge smile lit up her face, her eyes twinkled as the smile turned into a giggle showing small, bright white teeth. Robert and Teklani forgot their hopping and watched happiness infect her features. Her face was transformed and Robert could see a ghost of the beauty that would in later years, become obvious. Teklani eventually picked the child up placing his hands underneath her armpits, which prompted a fresh bout of giggles, while Robert slipped the jeans over both feet. The T-shirt proved easier and once on, the girl’s eyes looked down at herself, reflecting a mixture of confusion and amazement. Robert hunched down in front of her, pinching the jeans between thumb and forefinger, he looked into her eyes.
“Jeans” he said. The confusion disappeared from her eyes as her smile returned.
“Jeeeenz!” She mimicked.
“Very good.” Robert nodded, smiling. He then pulled her T-shirt.
“T-shirt” He said slowly. She paused, frowning.
“Teeshit!” She responded happily.
“Good enough!” Robert said chuckling as he picked her up and deposited her in the Land Rover.
A low moan seeped out of the hut.
“Sounds like the father of the year is awake. You wait out here for Will, I’m going to teach this guy some English”
“Don’t hurt him Robert, leave that for someone else to do” Teklani urged.
“Uh-huh” Robert grunted in return. Inside the hut, Robert hauled the man into a sitting position by the shirt collar, pushed his back into the wall, the distance between their faces not more than two centimeters, Robert barked.
“The child’s name, what is it?!” The man’s bleary eyes stared stubbornly back into Robert’s. Robert gripped the man’s jaw, forcing his head into the wall.
“What was the mother’s name?” Robert asked, pushing the clenched jaw harder.
“Aiii! Kira! Let me go!” The man begged.
“Nothing wrong with your English now, hey?” Robert snarled as he let go.
“Who is Kira, the mother or the child?”
“The mother, she Kira, she die giving birth. The child is no name.”
“Fine. You’ve helped me a lot, you piece of shit. If you don’t get locked up for life for the way you’ve treated this child, then I at least hope you get the same treatment you showed your child!” Robert spat on the floor as he left the hut. Back outside he saw a dust cloud on the wavy Horizon.
“Will’s almost here” Teklani said pointing.
“The child will be known as Kira, okay? It’s her mother’s name. Better than making one up I suppose” said Robert.
“It’s a good name” Teklani agreed.
DECIDING A HOME
Robert looked outside the dust smeared window of the small station house. The sun stretched low over the red sand, the clouds bursting with colours, no artist could ever hope to match, nor name. The usual longing to be outdoors overcame him. He stood up, punctuating finality with his current surroundings.
“Will?” He called out as he knocked on the door of the small office.
“Come in Rob.” A thin reedy voice crept through the door. Robert pushed the door open revealing an equally reedy, balding, middle aged Will Gorman seated behind a crooked steel desk.
“So what’s happening Will? I need to hit the road.”
“No problem. Go ahead. We’ve put Mr Oshea in a cool, dark place for now. Sokoto state officers are coming to collect him. They’re going to try him in Katsina. He won’t stand much of a chance there.” Will chuckled. “With a bit of luck, he’ll get lost in their system and never see the light of day again.”
“And the child?” Robert asked.
“Bit more of a problem that one. Sokoto State officers are bringing a couple of people from the Red Cross Children’s homes, with them. Hopefully, they’ll take her and get her settled in a good home.”
“When are they arriving?”
“Should get here tomorrow evening. In the meantime, I’ve put her in my room at the back. She can have the bed tonight. Martha’s here so don’t worry, she’ll give her a meal and watch over her until they get here tomorrow.
“You’ve got my phone number; phone me if there’s a problem with the kid. I’m going home.” Robert said with a sigh in his voice.
“Give my love to that girlfriend of yours” Will winked. Robert rolled his eyes.
“I’ll try Will, I’ll try.”
Robert turned the Land Rover on to the dusty road. It would take him an hour to reach Maradi. The sun pointed its final pink glow along the road home. Robert punched a Credence Clearwater Revival tape into the slot, turning the volume full. Stretching his arm behind the passenger seat he found his cooler box, the ice had melted, leaving six bottles of beer rolling around in ice cold water, just how he liked it. Taking a long refreshing drink he settled in for the drive.
Robert was enjoying his life in West Africa. He liked the nomadic lifestyle. The wide open spaces seemed to call out and touch his very soul with their harsh beauty. Experience had taught him, however, that life was better not too far from Sokoto River. Also known as Kebbi River in Northwestern Nigeria, rising just south of Funtua on the Northern plateau. It flows north-westward in a wide arc for 200 miles to Sokoto town, west of which the Rima River joins it, and it eventually meets up with the Niger River. The people of these parts made a little money cultivating and selling peanuts, cotton, tobacco, swamp rice, onions, sugarcane, and indigo. Several irrigation projects had been introduced over the last few years to promote year-round farming along the river. These were doing well. The Sokoto River is considered a highly important waterway for these parts. For Robert it was a good place to go shopping when it became absolutely necessary. Tradesmen used the river to transport produce up and down the tributaries of the Niger River. If the weather was good, some weekends, the river banks were transformed from their usual calm, into a frenzied market place with traders selling everything from cattle to hand made furniture.
It was late 1970. The civil war between Moslems and Christians was over bar the shouting. Nigeria was picking up the pieces. Traces of the genocide that took place were still apparent, if not on the faces of the remaining people, then, reflected by the grave yards that had sprung up in so many places. Robert himself was of German descent. His parents had emigrated from Bremen, Germany in 1935, settling in Walvis Bay, South West Africa. Robert had been born five months later. His childhood had been a happy one until marred at five years old. His mind traveled back to the holiday they had taken to Rhodesia. They had been at breakfast in the lush five star hotel, huge bay windows surrounded the dining-room. Sunlight poured in from all directions casting gold glints off glasses and cutlery. The waiter had arrived with a silver tray laden with silver tea pot sugar and milk. Standing alongside the young Robert, he had balanced his tray on one hand and removed the steaming tea pot, with the other. An imperceptible move? A distraction? Robert couldn’t remember. All he knew was in one swift movement, the scalding water was pouring over his face, the sensation of his skin melting as it combined with the immense heat. His mother; screaming, his father; shouting. He’d woken up in hospital; a large dressing had been wrapped around his head. The pain came in waves, making him nauseous. His mother explained that the right side of his face had been badly burned, there would be scarring, but he shouldn’t worry, over time, it would improve. He’d stuttered from that day forward until he was twenty years old.
Dusk ended abruptly as did Credence Clearwater Revival, Robert turned the tape over and reached for another beer. Thinking back on his childhood, brought the young girl they had found today, back to mind. If he had developed a stutter from the small accident he had been victim to, God knows what repercussions this child would experience from the atrocities she had been forced to endure.
His conscience was pricking him. His discovery of the child had left a deep rooted sadness somewhere in the pit of his stomach. He pushed the feeling aside. He was twenty minutes from home and he was starving. With a bit of luck, Bridget may have cooked. His mood lifted thinking of Bridget. He had no idea why she was with him, he didn’t want to know. In his wildest dreams he had never imagined he would end up with such a beautiful woman. Six years now and they were still in love. How many couples could still say that? A warm smile passed over Roberts distorted, yet handsome features.
Bridget lay in bed, a single sheet managing to cover a few square inches of her tanned firm body. She smiled sleepily at the man hurriedly dressing.
“What’s your hurry Jack? Stay, have a drink with me.”
“Can’t. Moira will have supper ready soon. You remember your best friend don’t you, my wife Moira? I’ve got to get back.”
“Oh Jack, you’re such a naff. Just phone and tell her you’re running late” Bridget rose from the bed, letting the sheet slip from her body. She stood blocking Jack’s path, legs splayed, she leaned against his body, teasing his crotch as she cupped and stroked his manhood.
“Bridget, please don’t. Really I have to go and think about this. It doesn’t feel right, it was a mistake. We’re not having an affair. I can’t do that to Moira and the kids.” He pushed Bridget gently back down to the bed and picked up his shirt from the floor. Bridget’s face broke.
“Bastard” She spat. “That’s not what you said before you got your end away – ‘Oh Bridget, I’ve always fancied you.” She mimicked.
“I’m sorry. I – I got carried away” Jack stammered, while lacing his boots.
“Yeah, then you enjoyed yourself, then you tell me you made a mistake, listen, why don’t you just leave some cash on the dresser over there….”
“Stop it Bridget!” Jack yelled at her. “I told you, I’ve gotta think about this, ok? I’m going, I’ll call you. Bye.” Jack marched from the room leaving Bridget without a backward glance.
“Asshole” She murmured. Bridget walked into the bathroom and turned on the taps for a bath. The pipes shuddered and rattled as the water trickled into the tub. She faced herself in the mirror.
“Hmm, not bad” She whispered to herself, running her hands over her firm breasts and down to her flat stomach. She’d spent some time tanning this summer, very carefully, half an hour a day. The results were starting to show. Her normally pale, alabaster skin, was taking on a golden hue. She unpinned her auburn hair, letting the locks spiral down to her waist. Pushing her face close to the mirror to check for wrinkles, her green eyes focused hard on her plump red lips. No tell tale wrinkles from smoking yet. She smiled shyly at her reflection. Her teeth could do with whitening again soon, she noted. Not too bad for thirty-three. She’d have to ask Robert to take her into Sokoto soon though; she needed some pampering, some new summer clothes, a hairdo. Bridget bent to turn off the taps. She suppressed a small scream as two large hands fiercely gripped a buttock in each, spinning around she glared into Robert’s eyes.
“Jesus Robert! You gave me a heart attack.”
“Hmm? You look perfectly healthy. It’s a nice surprise to see you’re ready for me” Robert teased.
“Oh really? Ready for you? I don’t ever know when you’re going to be here for God’s sake. How could I possibly ever be ready for you?” Bridget glared at Robert as she moved away from his embrace and stepped into the bath. Robert seated himself on the edge of the bath tub.
“You don’t sound happy to see me.”
“I am happy to see you!” Bridget snapped. “You just gave me a hell of a fright you stupid oaf” Robert decided to ignore her mood.
“How was your day?” He asked instead.
“Oh, y’know, not bad. I did two readings today. Made myself a hundred Delasi. Of course, I’ve got nowhere to spend it, but I suppose I can wait until you take me to Sokoto again. When will that be by the way?”
“I’m not sure yet…”
“Oh come on Robert, commit yourself. I need stuff. You have to take me soon.” Bridget interrupted as she soaped her breasts. Robert winked at her as he got up.
“As soon as you get out that bath, I’ll make sure I take you!” He warned humorously. Robert grinned to himself as he walked into the bedroom. Of course, he would have to make supper himself, there had been no welcome food aromas greeting him as he’d entered the sprawling farm house. He sat at Bridget’s dressing table and removed his boots, groaning as he did so. Looking around the room, at the un-made bed, Bridget’s clothes slung carelessly on the floor, he pushed unwanted images from his mind. If she wasn’t faithful to him, would she be so blatant? – No, he was being paranoid. Things were fine between them. She loved him, otherwise, why would she be here? Robert padded through to the kitchen. Breakfast dishes were still on the counter where he’d left them early this morning. He ran a sink full of hot, soapy water and washed up the debris. Bridget was not domesticated. It didn’t bother him. She made him aware that she was no housewife early in their relationship. They employed a domestic, Tryphena, three days a week was all he could afford. The other days, well, he did it all himself. He’d taken out chicken fillets that morning, hoping, to no avail, that Bridget might feel like doing something with them. He prepared a marinade of olive oil, balsamic vinegar and mustard, dropping the chicken breasts into the bowl of marinade; he covered it, and then took out salad ingredients. It was too hot for starches. Chopping radish, spring onion, cucumber, lettuce, tomato and avocado, he tossed all the ingredients into a salad bowl and put it in the fridge to chill. Next he grabbed two large, empty dog bowls from outside the kitchen door, filled them with ‘Pal meat chunks’ and, furtively, walked out the kitchen door. Two large tan Bull mastiffs were waiting excitedly for him, their stubby tails wagging to a blur.
“Hey boys” Robert greeted them as he set their food down. Making them wait for his instruction before eating, he petted first one,
then the other. Both dogs whined their impatience to eat and sat, barely containing themselves until Robert’s instruction. “On your marks, get set, - go!” Both dogs lunged forward and began eating as if tomorrow were a rumour.
Back inside, Robert picked out a Buddy Holly L.P from his alphabetised record rack and placed on it on his highly revered Bush Hi-Fi system. It was a recent, highly expensive purchase, consequently, it was jealously protected and others were banned from using it. Bridget had ignored him on two occasions, carelessly leaving an L.P on its deck, lid open, power still on creating an incessant low buzz. On the second occasion, Robert had arrived home late one night and, hearing the buzz, had physically removed a sleeping Bridget from her bed, pulled her into the lounge, his voice quivering with the effort of containing his anger, he’d told her to show him that she understood how to turn the system off and replace the L.P, not only in its correct sleeve, but also, its correct position in the record rack. In defiance, she hadn’t touched the system since.
Singing along to the strains of ‘Peggy Sue’ in the background, Robert began cooking the evening meal.
Bridget, hearing the music, reluctantly forced herself out of the bath. Knowing Robert would be cooking, she hadn’t time to linger and she was hungry. Her cheeks flushed with shame at how close Jack and herself had come to being discovered by Robert, she decided there and then that she would refrain from afternoon encounters. As she padded naked through the passage to the bedroom, her mind wandered further. Jack could go to hell anyway, after today. Christ, all these months of him nagging her! She thought back on times when the four of them had been together. Jack’s stolen glances at her body, his eyes filled with lust and promise, the awkward rapid fumbling as they’d passed each other entering or leaving the bathroom. She had been excited by the prospect of an affair with Jack. He was easier on the eyes than Robert, although, admittedly, she thought, not as virile and passionate. Ah well, she’d refuse any further attentions from him, no matter what he decided. From now on she’d focus her attention on Robert until a new opportunity presented himself. It wasn’t that she wanted to be unfaithful to Robert. She told herself it was a deep, unsatisfied need that she recognised in herself, for an element of excitement. A sense of danger that aroused the very core of her being and, once tasted, begged for more. She considered this a harmless past time and condoned it by telling herself she was doing the right thing by satisfying her own needs, which in turn, would keep her sweet for Robert’s unpredictable moods. Staring at her reflection in the dressing table mirror, she ran a brush through her damp hair, donned blue denim shorts and an orange ‘V’ necked T shirt. Looking around the room, guilt, pulling at the edges of her mind, forced her to pick up her previously discarded clothing. Balling it all up together, she pushed the bundle to the bottom of the washing basket. Satisfied there was nothing on the floor, she made the bed, plumping up the pillows and visualising what new pleasure she would introduce Robert to tonight. That always pushed the guilt away.
Kira sat in the corner of the rapidly darkening room. Hugging her knees to her chest, unaware of her rhythmic sniffling, she looked with bewildered fear at the array of furniture and colour around the room. The bulkiness of the furniture frightened her. She had no idea what these things were. A large clear square in the wall allowed outside to come in, she could see trees swaying gently in the slowly enveloping darkness. The darkness was comforting, if not for being able to see outside she might have explored. Craving the familiar darkness of her old crate she slowly inched her way across the floor to the beckoning dark comfort under the bed. Curling herself into a tight ball, her breathing easier, she began to slowly rock and hum to herself. Suddenly, the sun came out. Glaring bright yellow light illuminated the area around her. Her eyes wide with fear, she stopped her breathing. A gentle voice was calling softly.
Her heart was pounding in her ears. She saw large feet covered in a soft brown material. They had stopped almost in line with her head. “Where are you honey?”
Her eyes remained focused on the underside of the bed above her head, not daring to move for fear of giving her position away. One foot slipped backwards and the space was replaced by a knee, the other knee followed and then quite suddenly, a head appeared, warm brown eyes stared directly into her own.
“Aiiiiiiiiiiiii!” Kira backed away, her body like a snake, writhing backwards. Martha stood quickly. Not realising she would frighten the child, she was unsure of how to proceed. Murmuring soft words, hoping to calm the child, Martha looked at the tray of food she had set down on the bed. There was a steaming bowl of mutton stew with two hunks of bread smothered in butter, a glass of fresh milk and two oatmeal rusks. Realising she was in for a long night, she sat crossed legged on the floor. She picked up the tray and set it down on the floor just in front of the bed.
Half an hour passed. Kira lay quivering under the bed staring at the crossed legs obscured by an array of objects seemingly being offered to her. Her nose picked up a wonderful aroma; she had never smelt such a smell in her life before. Instinctively, she knew that this was food. Her small tummy rumbled and her mouth filled with saliva.
Gathering as much courage as she could muster, she slid her body towards the sumptuous smelling objects. Her nimble hands reached out and grabbed the tray, pulling it towards her roughly, she laid on her belly, fingers dipping into the stew she began shovelling meat and vegetables into her mouth, savouring the taste. Martha grinned to herself as she listened to the slurping sounds of the child eating. She slowly changed her position and lay on her own stomach. She rested her face on arms folded in front of her and peered into the darkness. Kira hadn’t noticed, she continued eating, frantically pulling off pieces of bread chunks and stuffing them into her mouth. Imperceptibly, Martha’s fingers reached for the edge of the tray and began to slowly draw the tray towards her. Kira edged forward on her belly, reaching out for more.
“Martha!” Will called out for the fourth time.
“Where is that bloody woman?” He had spent most of the afternoon being subjected to the wonderful smell of Martha’s mutton stew and was now hungry. Will very seldom moved from his office, he enjoyed his own company and delighted in the isolation of his position. He allowed himself to go out to the local bar in town once a week, on Fridays, and get blind drunk, hopefully pick up a pretty girl, if not, an ugly one would do, and get laid. The rest of the week he would spend in his office. He was diligent over his paperwork and when that was done, he had a healthy stash of girly magazines locked away in his safe as well as a CB in his office. Plenty to keep him occupied. The police station was his home. Apart from the waiting room, which the front door opened into, his home consisted of four rooms, kitchen, bathroom, office and back bedroom. Martha lived in a shack, which he was proud to tell people, he’d built himself, just behind the station house. In the early days, he used to visit her shack at night. This habit came to an abrupt halt after one night, drunk, he had crept in through the shack’s metal make shift door and Martha, having heard his approach, and armed with the garden spade, had perfectly timed his entrance with a downward blow to his head. She had nursed him for three days after that, and, worried that his concussion could also cause memory loss, reminded him daily, she would not tolerate further night visits. The spade now lived just inside her doorway to serve as a constant reminder. Will finished rolling his after dinner joint, expertly trimming the ends, he decided to go and look for Martha. Opening the door to the bedroom, Will paused at the sight of Martha seated on the floor, her back resting against the side of the bed, her head lolled back on to the bed, a gentle snore resonating in her throat due to the awkward angle of her neck. The child, sleeping, curled up comfortably like a cat in Martha’s lap.
Bridget sat at the rickety Remington manual typewriter, mumbling irritably, while Robert dictated his reports. She hated this. A large portion of the day would be gone before the paperwork was done. It wasn’t that she minded helping Robert, more a case of becoming frustrated with his slow, methodical thinking. She felt sure that she could do the whole job in half the time Robert took, but knew better than to suggest this. Robert paced back and forth, his brow furrowed in concentration.
“A completion date on the water pipeline is now requested as a matter of urgency urm . . . ” Robert paused.
“Oh for God’s sake Robert!” Bridget interrupted his thought process.
“You’ve asked them for the same information in your last six reports. They’ve no intention of actually answering this question Robert, it doesn’t matter how many times you change the phrasing of it!.” Robert’s eyes narrowed. He forced down the familiar surge of anger.
“Bridget. Please, just type, don’t talk. Can you do that?” He asked ominously. With an exaggerated sigh, Bridget turned her attention back to the typewriter.
The telephone rang. Robert snapped up the phone impatiently. Having reached the final stages of his lengthy report, he was annoyed at the interruption.
“Robert, Hi, Will here. Listen you said to call if there was a problem with the child you found yesterday.”
“Well Red Cross are here, there’s no way they can take this kid. Jesus, Robert, y’know she can’t talk? They can’t place her anywhere suitable, I don’t think she’s ever been inside a house before, you should have seen her today, she’s been fascinated with the toilet for hours!”
“Well, what are they going to do with her?”
“Children’s home in Nigeria. It’s their best suggestion.”
“How’s the kid going to handle that? No one will play with her, those guys don’t have the time or the inclination to give undivided attention to one kid. That’ll just frighten her into running away.”
“Well, there aren’t any other family members to send her to, so what choice have we got?”
“I’ll take her. We’ll come through and fetch her from you tonight. Do me a favour and make sure she’s eaten; by the time we get back here it’ll be too late to cook a meal. Is that alright by you?”
“Sure. There’s paperwork you’ll have to fill in, you’ll be like a foster parent y’know. Maybe in a couple of years, Red Cross can place her with a more suitable family”
“Will, in a couple of years, we will be her family.” Robert hung up the phone and grabbed his keys off the desk. Bridget stared at him quizzically.
“Are you forgetting to tell me something?” She asked in a threatening tone.
“Get in the car, I’ll fill you in on the way.”
“A child!?” Bridget spat after Robert had recounted the previous day’s happenings.
“Have you completely lost your mind? Who’s going to look after this black child, huh? Me? Why haven’t you discussed this with me? You think a decision like this can be made between the two of us, five minutes before we pick her up? Jesus Robert! I hate kids at the best of times!” Bridget folded her arms as she slid down sulkily in her chair.
“Lately, Bridget, there isn’t much that you do like, I’m not even sure you like me anymore. As for the kid, how much trouble can a child be? We’ll send her to school, feed her, clothe her and give her a bed to sleep in. You’ll see, she’ll have you wrapped round her little finger in a couple of weeks, so stop bloody complaining and just get used to the idea.” Robert could see the pep talk had done nothing to chase away Bridget’s sulk. They continued the drive in silence.
Martha, looked out the small bedroom window when she heard the throaty gurgle of a Land Rover coming to a halt. Smiling animatedly at the wide-eyed Kira, she called the child over to the window with a beckoning wave of her arm. Martha watched as the child’s expression went from amazement, on touching the glass window, uncontained happiness at the recognition of Robert, climbing out of the vehicle, to a withdrawn wariness at seeing Robert’s sulky, female companion. The couple entered the station house. Martha smiled at Kira.
“You’re going home with them sweet heart! Isn’t that exciting?” She pointed first at Kira, then out the window to the empty vehicle. Not expecting a response from the child, Martha clapped her hands as she smiled, then grabbing the young girl’s hand, took her to get cleaned up.
Will emerged from his office bleary-eyed and scratching his groin. His face brightened when he saw Bridget.
“Hello Bridget, how’s my favourite girlfriend?” He asked as he winked.
“Ah, Will, all the better for seeing you!” Bridget beamed as she pulled out a visitors chair and crossed her long, shapely legs invitingly. Robert eyed them both then, choosing to ignore the flirtations, got straight to the point.
“Where’s the child?” Will responded by yelling at the top of his voice.
“Martha!” He then returned to his office and emerged carrying three plastic cups and a bottle of cheap brandy.
“Least I can do is offer you guys a drink” He poured a generous double sized tot into each cup and passed them around.
“I’d like to make a toast to the new parents!” He held his cup in the air briefly, then, not waiting for Bridget or Robert to follow, he chugged the brandy in one gulp. Wiping his mouth with the back of his hand, he then threw back his head and once again, yelled.
“We’re here! Stop you’re screaming!” Martha appeared at the entrance of the passage. Kira was seeking refuge in Martha’s skirts alongside her. Bridget, feeling like it was required of her, suddenly dropped to her knees in front of the child. Arranging her face into, what she hoped, resembled a warm smile, she attempted to encourage the child towards her.
“Hello Pretty! My name’s Bridget, you’re going to come and live with us, we’ll have lots of fun and you can have your own room! You’ll like that won’t you?” Kira looked at the woman’s face in front of her, she had no idea what the woman had said, but sensed it was a show for the people who did understand her. Suddenly, Kira looked across the room at Robert. She broke away from Martha’s skirts and ran full tilt towards him. Attaching her arms around his long legs, she looked up into his eyes, smiling. Robert smiled down at the child. He finished his Brandy and patting the child’s head said.
“Let’s go.” Bridget was still fighting to keep anger out of her expression. She wasn’t used to rejection from anyone, least of all a child. She narrowed her eyes at Kira and retrieving her handbag from the floor, turned to Will.
“Just make sure you fill us in once a week on what you’re doing to find a suitable home for this child. She can’t stay with us forever. In case you hadn’t noticed, we’re white!”
“Get in the car, Bridget.” Robert hissed.
Bridget turned on her heel and flounced out the front door.
“Deliver the paperwork to me when it arrives from Sekoto.” Robert threw over his shoulder to Will, as he took Kira by the hand and led her out the door.
Robert placed a clutching Kira at the back of the landrover, away from Bridget’s burning gaze. He made her comfortable with a cushion, blanket and a continuous smile. As they began their homeward journey, Robert, using the aid of the rear-view mirror, noticed with growing happiness, Kira’s inquisitive nature, her face almost stuck to the windows, watching the outside world rush past in the fading sunset.