The Cornfield Quartet: Book One ~ The Cornfield Fraternity

The Cornfield Fraternity - Chapter Eight

 

Chapter Eight

The Cornfield Fraternity

 

 

 

The phrase 'Organised Chaos' is grossly overused in both cheap literature and poor daytime television.  Nevertheless, Felix thought it well suited the scene which he oversaw from his position sitting half way up on the stairway from the lower level to the main floor of his home at 7.00 that evening.

After meeting up with the four who had been at Toriop, David and he had bought them chai and that ubiquitous throwback to colonial rule, queen cakes, at Khetia’s.  Now, queen cakes were probably once delightful confections created by the bakers for the womenfolk of the Bwana in Victorian or Edwardian days.  By now, however, mass produced by some East Indian operation in the South Rift they varied between a mildly sweet, dried sawdust with a hint of lemon or vanilla, to a sawdust devoid of any taste whatsoever.  Today’s rendition had tended towards the latter variety.

After choking them down, the boys returned to the hospital to find Daktari’s red Land Rover outside with Gabe already loaded inside and Dido holding Philip’s hand as he was being wheeled out of the gate towards the vehicle.  A second ambulance with St. Luke markings was just driving up with Steve and Daktari in front.

''Right, put Lucas and Bryan in here then, but we’ll have to put all the clinic supplies in the roof boxes,'' ordered Adam.

Felix was already on the job and instructing Matt, Mike, Abel and Robbie how to reorganise the back of the Land Cruiser to accommodate two gurneys, moving medical supplies to the roof hatches used for long-range camps, therefore currently empty.

''How are we all getting home, Dad, matatu?'' asked Felix, referring to the rest of the Fraternity.

''Well, you’re a fraternity, right?  So snuggle up close and fraternise.  There’s one jump seat in the back seat of each vehicle.  Someone ride navigator in the Red Beast, 'cause Paul drove down alone.  The rest sit in the aisles.  And by the way, Willi phoned to say to wait 5 minutes as a boy called Alex wants to ask to join in your venture to hunt down Philip’s attacker.  He’ll explain why.''

''Who is he, Daktari,'' asked David?

''You may ask him yourself.  I’m pretty sure that’s him coming across the street with the small backpack and the Maple Leaf's cap,'' replied Adam.

A tallish, slender brown boy, probably some sort of Cushite, thought Felix.  He’s dressed very well, too well for us lot.  Hell, even his shorts are pressed.  And he’s wearing socks!  Most of us aren’t even wearing shoes.  Is he the bloody Prince of Wales or something or the Emir of Oman?

The boy came up directly to the group of sweaty boys who had just been wiping their brows with their t-shirts after the hard work of moving all the stores and medical equipment from the second bed space in the Cruiser onto the roof in 35 degree temperatures.

''I wish both that I had come earlier so that I could have helped, and dressed more appropriately.  If there is more to be done, the latter is easily solved, however.  Just say the word.''

''First, who the fuck are you to waltz in here and assume you can insert yourself into our group?'' said Matt, in an aggressive tone.  ''We were invited in to an already existing family of friends and feel privileged to have been asked in.  Never did we expect to be invited because of who we were or because we asked.''

''Sorry, that came out all wrong.  I’m Alex Hussein.  I heard Mzee Wanyonyi talk to my father whilst I was in the second office doing some project work for school.  We’re fairly new here, just two months, and I came from my school just 10 days ago and have no friends here, so decided I may as well just get my holiday project work done and dusted.  Anyway, I overheard my father and Mzee Wanyonyi’s conversation.  To be honest, one couldn’t but overhear it.  Mzee was quite irate and his voice probably carried out to the parade ground.''

Felix and David looked at one another at those words and frowned.

''The second Wanyonyi left, I scooted into Father’s office and spoke to him urgently.  I told him that as his Police Chief’s boys were going to be involved in a subordinate way in tracking down the culprits in this terrible crime, and possibly more invidious networks of criminality behind that permeating his administration, it is incumbent on me, as his eldest son to play a part, if only a minor one, whatever is decided by the group, in this righteous campaign.''

''Has anyone ever told you that you sound like a pompous piece of shit?'' asked Matt.

''Pompous, yes, but for the ‘piece of shit’ bit I think we need to meet somewhere one-on-one very soon and someone needs to bring a first aid kit for you for afterwards.'' But in saying this, Alex was smiling broadly and holding out his hand to Matt.

''You’re father’s the District Commissioner, right?'' said Felix.  ''Most people don’t have parade grounds, believe it or not, so that quip gave you away.  Is your dad Somali or Boran?''

''Neither, my family is Gabbra from west of Marsabit.''

''Wait,'' said Felix, ''but your name is Hussein.  Most Gabbra I know are Christian.  Hussein is a Moslem name.  The Boran I know are mostly Moslem, Burji are a mix, Rendille are, what a bit Christian and some traditional religions then the Somalis are Moslem.  So the far North near Ethiopia is very mixed really.  But for you to be Alexander, surely in Moslem tradition that should be Sikander?''

''Way!  Felix, how come you know so much about our traditions?  I only learned this stuff recent!y when I reached the last term of 7th grade.''

''Dad, Daktari Adam, does clinics in the Chalbi in March and if Easter break is early I accompany him.  So I know your area a little.  I’ve camped out with the Rendille and Gabbra.  I even was out three nights with goat herding boys when I was 9 years old.  Boy, was I thirsty all the time and when I got back even this black arse was sun burned!''

There was a ripple of giggles and light laughter around the two vehicles.

''So I reckon you’ve made the cut Alex,'' said David.  ''But when we get to Adam’s place, dump the dress threads OK?  We dress to not be noticed, to blend in.  So no shoes.''

''Adam will tell you, in Gabbra tradition all boys my age wear is a sort of skirt when outside, which we leave neatly folded at the door of the communal male longhouse as we enter, until we are 15.  So no shoes is hardly a problem!''

The Luyha boys were mightily relieved they had not been born in the North by then.  It dawned on Mike to look at Felix with a questioning stare, seeing as his friend had stayed with the Gabbra several times it seemed.  ''Felix…''

''Don’t go there!''

''O….K…''

By then David had nabbed the jump seat next to Philips head, having thanked Dido for caring for his ward in his absence.  The younger boy curled at the Ogiek’s feet with Matt alongside him.  Mike has claimed the navigator or shotgun seat in the Land Rover.  In Steve’s Land Cruiser, David had the jump seat at Lucas’s head with Alex, Matt, Abel and Robbie crushed in the aisle.

Felix was with Francis speaking to the boy’s father, the gatekeeper.

''Thank you for all your help Mr. Kuyonga.  My father, Daktari Adam asked I leave this with you.  It is 5000 Shillings.  A van will come tomorrow from Funyolla Burial to take the girl Sarah’s body to mountain.  But I doubt they can find Kipsigon village without help.  My dad has cleared it with the hospital if you and your wife and family can accompany the body.  This is to cover your expenses.  The burial company is already paid so give them nothing.''

''Master, I will be pleased to do this but the money is too much.  My wife and two younger children can come in the van with the coffin and…''

''Nonsense… sorry to be rude and interrupt my elder, Mr. Kuyonga, but my father’s driver has already arranged with a friend of ours who has a reliable high body Puegot taxi to be here to take you.  You’ll stay afterwards at our house until the funeral the next day and Robin, the taxi, will then bring you back.  So pack something for overnight.  I have to run now.  You’ll be staying in the same room, I’m sorry.  It’s just that with everybody our place will be full tonight, as you’ll see at supper tomorrow.  Bye.''

At that Felix took Francis’s hand and bolted for the red Land Rover where he pushed both himself and the Turkana boy onto the floor space between the gurneys.

''At last, the boy whose motto seems to be, ‘Never use one word when you can use ten’ has arrived.  So we can go.  Hopefully our patients won’t die of malnutrition from the long hours of waiting,'' said Adam with a deep hint of sarcasm in his voice, and as those on board tried to hold in their need to explode into laughter.  Gabe was the first to lose the fight, and the knock on effect was instantaneous until even Adam was seen to smile broadly.

So it was that two hours later Felix was looking at eight boys and accumulated bags at the foot of the stairs leading to the volunteers unit in the lower level of his and his father’s split-level home.

''Alright, guys.  Dad said he could spare three rooms, as he thought there were seven of us and David would bunk in with me.  Now we are eight, so someone needs to double up.  Sorry.  We can’t have another room as tomorrow the six Canadian medical students come back from their village placements so they will take the other four rooms.''

''We’re already sorted, Felix,'' said Mike.  ''We discussed it while you and your father and David got the hospital boys settled in.  By the way, your idea of still keeping one of us with Philip 24/7 I think is still a good one, David.  I don’t know why Daktari over ruled you.''

''I do, numbnuts,'' said Felix.  ''The idea is that Gabe and Bryan will be monitoring Philip soon and we’ll be in the field, so when you get to the ward in the morning you will see that Gabe’s bed is right up against Philip’s, so the little twerp can reach over with his good arm and hold the boy’s hand.  In a couple of days Bryan may be able to move into a wheelchair and help with this.  Tomorrow we need to be free to strategise, but also some of us need to volunteer to be with David to go home to Kipsigon to welcome his sister’s body home and to be his supporters through the 24 hours until the next day’s funeral.  I will be one of those three boys if he will allow me and he should chose two more.''

''Felix, I don’t need…''

''If you don’t pick then we will all walk to Kipsi wherever.  Wherever it is,'' laughed Matt.

David was very serious for a minute.  Then he spoke.  ''Alright.  Then I choose three in addition to Felix, as he chose himself as my principal supporter.  I choose not out of favouritism, but to show my family that when I take my younger brother and his two friends into our group, too, I’m taking them into something powerful and not just of us Ogiek.  So, Mike, Francis and Alex.  A mixed blood, a Turkana and a Gabbra, with Felix who is Teso but known as son of a mzungu.  We work with an Ogiek to help a Bukusu boy.  What more powerful message could we send?''

''So, Mike, you say you’ve set room allocations,'' asked Felix?

''Oh, yea.  My brother, Dido and me in one.  Then Alex and Francis, the northern pastoralists.  Finally, Robbie and Abel, the Toriop boys.  Natural really.''

''I expect room two will be real natural, if you get my gist,'' said Matt with a grin.

He barely avoided Francis’s slap to his head, but in side stepping with a broad grin on his face walked straight into a slap to his left cheek from Alex which had his head spinning and his knees buckling.  Fortunately he landed on a pile of backpacks, to the general applause of everyone present.

''Great acrobatics.  Going in for break dancing next term, bro,'' asked Mike?

''Funnnnny!'' Replied his brother holding his face.  ''Better you get Alex to transfer to our school and get him on our oh-so-lame boxing team.''

''Don’t let your older brother, Charlie, call it lame,'' said Felix.  ''By the way, where is he anyway? I thought, being just a year older than you two he generally hung out together.''

''Yea,'' said Matt, ''but the first two weeks of this holiday, he’s away with his Duke of Edinburgh Award group on some project in the Aberdares somewhere.''

''What's a Duke of Whatever Award,'' asked Robbie innocently?

''Please don’t let’s go down that long side-track now, just be satisfied that it’s a sort of special project that is built up and as you get older as a teenager you learn through endurance and service.  It began in the 1950's and was established by the Queen’s husband.  That’s all I’m going to say,'' said Felix.

''That’s a lot and enough,'' replied Robbie.  ''How come you know so much?''

''I’m on the scheme, too,'' Felix said.

''And me.''

''Me also.'' Chipped in both twins.

''The work we do with street kids counts as part of the Awards scheme, you see,'' added Matt.  ''It is hard work, and it is service to others.''

''Let’s cut the chit chat, guys, please.  My stomach thinks my throat’s been cut.  It’s 8.25 and dinner is in 5 minutes, so run to your rooms, wash your hands, and we’ll meet in the dining room in 4!'' said Felix.

''Sieg heil mein kommandant!'' replied Mike, in a terrible travesty of a German accent.  He obviously had watched too many poor, black and white 1940s propaganda war movies.

''OK, OK, just relax.  Simply don’t blame me if you feel hungry in the middle of the night,'' muttered Felix in a state whisper as he led David upstairs to his room, leaving the others to divide themselves between three of the six lower level bedrooms.

Adam, Dr. Tom, Steve, Richard the duty lab technician, six boys of varying ages between eight and 14, and a 14 year old girl were sitting, scattered around the large 24 seat dining table, with Adam at the head and Mama Florence, the Sister responsible for the rehabilitation children’s welfare at the foot.  Three other rehab kids were eating in their shared room with the duty nurse.

Everyone was enjoying a pre-dinner drink, soda for the kids, wine or beer for most adults, Mama Florence’s Sangria, and Daktari’s G & T.  Suddenly the quiet hum of small talk was disturbed by the apparent arrival of a troupe of screeching orangutans!  But no, it was Mike and Matt whose newly washed ginger, curly hair was bushy and they were talking loudly and moving left, then right, not seeming to know where they aught to go.  Those following them, Robbie, Abel, Dido, Alex and Francis were momentarily put off their stride by the Juma boys’ behaviour.

That was until Alex strode forward and spoke up, ''Sorry for these imbeciles.  Obviously, Daktari Adam, I presume, I am Alex Hussein.  These boys are overcome by a table with more than one chair and a stool and a soap box to sit on.  They probably, at their apology for a school, sit on the floor and eat with a spoon.  You can see that they move around like maggots on a round of beef and cannot keep still.  They probably have ADHD and their father needs to speak to you later.  But for the sake of the rest of we sane ones, may I ask you to forgive them and just put some Ritalin in their soup for now and direct us where you’d like us to sit.''

By half way through his little monologue Adam and Tom were chuckling, by the end, all the adults and most of the Fraternity were in stitches.  Even the twins couldn’t help laughing in self-deprecation.

This was the scene which greeted Felix and David as they arrived, freshly showered from Felix’s room down the corridor.  Felix immediately went to his seat at his father’s right, as was his right in custom being his oldest son in residence.  He sat David at his right.  He told the other boys to sit anywhere a place had been set.

''Tomorrow there will be six more when the med students return.  You’ll notice we also always set one more place than the number of people we expect.  This is because if someone arrives at our door unexpectedly and we invite him or her to join us to eat, we want them to feel expected at any time,'' explained Adam.  ''My grandfather began this tradition and we have kept to it every evening for as long as I have known.  There is always a chair and a place set for the unexpected visitor at my house wherever I am in the world.''

''Felix will say Grace before we eat.''  This was not a request from Adam to his son.  This was a statement.  It was obviously one often made and one with which he was comfortable.

''Shall we hold hands?'' Felix waited while those unaccustomed to this family tradition did so.

''Holy Father.  Bless this food for our use.  Bless ourselves to your service.  And make us always responsive to the needs of others.  In Christ our Lord’s name we ask this.  Amen.''  After squeezing one another’s hands and sitting down again the food was brought in.

''We don’t wait to be served here, people.  Use your hands as you would at home,'' said Adam.  ''I will be honest and tell you that while ugali I can manage fine, I have never mastered using my fingers to eat rice and lamb stew.  I always end up with the lamb in my mouth and the rice still in the dish.  It must be that mzungu fingers are genetically less tactile,'' he claimed with a smile.

''Dad, how come you can hold a left ventricle in your fingers, or whatever, or do these attachments of bits of people, but can’t hold bits of rice?''

Steve butted in at this point, ''Felix, my buddy, just go figure!''

''As we eat, may we also talk business a bit, boys,'' asked Daktari?

''Sure Doc.  You know we’re here to help, not to sleep and eat,'' said David.

''Good.  Now, when Felix called me with the news that you four,'' and Adam indicated the Toriop boys and the twins, ''had garnered from speaking with village children, I thought I would take the opportunity of us having an ongoing clinic at a school in Mumias to see if Philip’s name rang any bells there.  Remember Muslim Primary is by far the largest such school in that town and that place was one possible place he might have walked from if he’d gotten a bit lost en route.''

''I will pick up the story there,'' said Dr. Tom.  ''Adam described Philip to me and I circulated the info to all my colleagues so we asked all class 6, 7 and 8 boys if his name or description rang any bells, particularly if he’d gone missing from school that week.

''After a number of false trails at first, I think we finally found the correct boy.  Three different boys, and a girl identified a skinny, very shy Bukusu boy named Philip – or at least two of them knew him as Philip.  He has only been at the school 6 or 8 months.  They’ve never seen a parent around.  In class he never answers anything.  The boys only know him because he’s a good football player.  But he can never stay to play after school for some reason and they never see him weekends.''

''Perhaps he lives on a farm and has lots of chores,'' suggested Francis.

''But one other thing the girl said, something she would notice more than the boys,'' said Richard, ''was that the boy was very poorly dressed all the time.  My experience working in clinics here is that farm children, though still very poor, are a little better off than others.  So if Philip were on a farm so big his chores demanded he worked every evening and each weekend, I would expect him to be the best dressed boy in school.  Not in a shirt with only one sleeve, no shoes, shorts with a rip on one side and (naturally) no underwear, and a pencil with no rubber on the end of it, and no ink in his pen either.''

''Did anyone say whether this boy mixed particularly with anyone else at the school, say during lunch break or the morning play interval,'' asked Abel?

''No,'' replied the lab man quickly, ''in fact everyone who recognised, or suggested that it may be our Philip I should say, remarked that he was uncannily shy and a total loner.''

''Well, almost,'' cut in Dr. Tom.  ''I recall one boy suggesting that he heard this boy refer to a boy in a senior class as mukhwas, which would suggest a close family relationship.''

''Sorry, but for the sake of those of us new to Western, what exactly does that word mean and what language is it in,'' asked Alex.

''Oh, from the guttural kh sound like someone clearing his throat ready to spit out a nasty throat-full, I’m guessing it’s Kibukusu,'' said Mike, ''but as for what it means, well I haven’t the foggiest.''

''Thanks for being so derogatory to my mother tongue moth...'' Abel suddenly remembered there was a woman at the table, plus two daktari.  ''I mean my mother would be very upset with you.  Anyway, mukhwas means, literally, brother-in-law, but colloquially it can be extended to mean any close relative or very good friend.''

''So perhaps this boy has a relative at the school still,'' suggested Alex.

''We’re jumping well ahead of ourselves here,'' interjected Felix while some of his compatriots were getting sufficiently excited that they were out of their seats.  ''Sit, sit.  At this house we eat dinner at leisure.  We discuss quietly whilst eating.  I can’t see the need for the unprecedented level of discombobulation such as to cause pubescent boys to miss their ugali!

''More seriously, look at the facts, boys.  We certainly don’t know for sure Philip came from Mumias.  It was just one among several options we considered, or rather those at Toriop considered.  Even then, of what, 1200 kids at that school today just five or six thought they may have recognised this lad.  This is pretty tenuous stuff here.  Of these only one thinks he saw him talking to somebody else as if he was a relative or close friend.  Could he recognise this older boy again, Richard?''

''I didn’t ask him, Felix.  I’m sorry I didn’t think of it at the time.''

''That’s alright.  If necessary we can go back there and you can find this boy again.  Tom, didn’t anyone say this boy was in their class and so get his last name from when the Mwalim calls the register each morning, or roll call or whatever you call it in a public school?'' Felix continued.  He was on a roll now.

Tom and Richard looked at one another before they each shook their heads.  ''No, Felix my boy,'' said Dr. Tom, ''it appears neither of us came across anyone who claimed to be this possible Philip’s classmate, amazing as that may seem.  In fact the more I think on it, the stranger that appears to be.  One or more of those who claimed to recognise him must have been in his class.  They must have listened to his last name called out numerous times.  Why did they not tell me?''

''It is not totally impossible if he’s a relatively new boy,'' commented Robbie.  ''You know morning register period is a bit of a zoo.  There are probably 45 kids in the class.  Unless you’re very interested in a particular person, like he’s your best friend or your sworn enemy or something, you don’t care less what his last name is.  So who listens?''

By now plates were empty and everyone was eating fruit and drinking chai.  The rehab kids seemed to be wilting quickly.  ''I think, if you’ll excuse us, I’ll take these young miscreants up to their rooms and then go to my place at the Carriage House,'' said Florence, referring to those selfsame children.

''Fine, Sister.  If not before, we’ll see you tomorrow evening again,'' smiled Adam in response as he stood politely for the lady to leave and, by gesture, reminded his son to do likewise.  This confused some of the other boys, Matt and Alex in particular, who began to stand too thinking everyone was leaving even though their chai was still only half drunk.  When Daktari and Felix sat back down, leaving Matt and Alex standing in isolation, they looked around nervously while Tom, Richard and Steve chuckled.

Finally they tentatively sat back down, totally confused.  ''What the hell was that up down bit for Felix,'' asked Matt in a loud whisper.  ''It left me and Alex standing out like a spare prick on the wedding night.''

''Boys, boys.  I can’t help it if you were dragged up rather than brought up, but in our upbringing in this refined family, ahem, ahem, we learn always as gentlemen to stand when a lady stands, such as when she leaves the table or arrives.  So there, morons,'' said Felix.

''I’ll give you ‘morons’ when next we’re alone, mister,'' said Matt with a grin.

''I’m sure glad I got a couple of shots of you standing there like a dork, looking at Alex with that ‘what now’ look on your face, my dear brother of mine,'' said Mark holding up his cell phone.

''Enough hilarity, munchkins,'' interjected Adam before sibling rivalry got out of hand.  ''With clinics tomorrow in Busia district, near Nalondo, and an HIV teach-in at a high school way out at somewhere in the Tachoni area that Steve has arranged, plus I’m sorry but you know Sarah’s body will be brought home in the noon to your village.  You need to be there David and I imagine some of you boys will want to accompany him so I’ve set aside the Land Rover for your use.  Also on that subject, on Saturday, for the funeral - that is the day after tomorrow - I have only one school clinic which Dr. Tom has agreed to do for me.  Cecil, my chief clinical officer is handling my afternoon minor surgeries that day.  So Saturday afternoon from midday we can all be free to be with you, or as many as want to.  I suggest too that tomorrow morning you spend time as a group strategizing with your three members who are in the hospital, and continue with that on Sunday before putting into action whatever you decide starting Monday.  In other words.  This is Thursday evening.  Use the next three days for mourning Sarah, consolidating your group, and formulating your plans.  Then get off your buts and tell Mike, Willi, me and the rest of us like Zack how best we fit into your plans or can support you in some way.''

''I suggest we move into the Great Room and relax.  Bring any drinks you want with you,'' said Felix.  ''As a special exception tonight nobody has to clear the table or anything.  Normally we have a Rota of who has cleaning duty, but dad has paid the staff extra this week to cover evening hours so I and you guys can slack off.  If any of you are around next week, don’t get used to this lazy way!''

Tom and Steve led the way the 70 meters to the large multi-purpose Great Room with its high, 4 to 7 meter vaulted Elgon teak exposed beam ceilings with hidden lighting fixtures.

''Who plays the piano,'' asked Alex, espying the gleaming grand Yamaha in one corner of the room, though with its lid shut.

''Sometimes I play at it.  But I hardly claim to play it, as I don’t practice sufficiently,'' said Felix.

''It was my late wife’s,'' said Adam.  ''She played to concert level.  She knew each of the Beethoven concertos by heart, for example.  When the children, now Felix ‘s older brother and sister by some 20 and 18 years respectively, were little, Louise would sit them each on one side of her and teach them to play.

''Anyhow, please let’s not follow that red herring just now.  You have sufficient on which to focus your cranial capacities.  Sit, sit and stop gawking at the artwork as if Felix and my home were an annex of the Smithsonian or something.''

''But, Doc, you have to admit you do have some awesome carvings and all these different kinds of masks.  Over here, these very black wooden ones draw my eyes to them.  The ones on the top are Akamba, right, the lighter wood ones, but the big wood ones with the feathers, what are they, and the very black ones?'' All of this came out in an excited rush, accompanied by lots of arm movements and walking to and fro by Alex, much to the studied amusement of Matt.

''Ethnic masks interest you then, Alex?'' posed Adam as he rested back in his favourite leather recliner, wing-backed chair which looked to Alex older than anything else in the room, or at least any other furniture item.  He wondered silently why Daktari would chose such an obviously old chair when the huge room had what must be over a score of other seemingly very comfy seats of all kinds to choose from.

''You’re wondering firstly why I am sitting in this old chair of all the chairs in the room…''

''And second,'' interrupted Felix, ''like most others who visit us first and see the house, you wonder why in a house like ours we don’t furnish it like some place in House and Garden or something with matching suites of Italian leather upholstered furniture?  Now I ask you, get real.  Who the bloody hell gets to stay here.  Sure, we get important surgeons as volunteers from around the world, and sometimes distinguished executives from funding organisations.  But most of the time it’s sick kids on long term rehabilitation who come from villages where pit latrines are the height of modern technology, and student volunteers from around the world who after a long day at a village clinic want to kick back, put their feet up on the couch and share their exciting new experiences.  Maybe beer will be spilled, or teenagers will fall asleep, or fall in love even – it’s been known.

''Dad doesn’t want to have to worry about scratches on a $6000 kid skin couch, or stains on some uncleanable surface.  So we have good quality, but an eclectic mix of furniture which Dad, and Daryl and Genny’s Mum and Dad’s Dad and Mum chose over the years.''

''And this chair right here,'' continued Adam, ''is one my Great grandfather bought from the man who owned the original tract of land he purchased when he settled here from Canada over 120 years ago.  This chair was in the living room of the Black Plantation, which was the house from which I was born and lived until I built this in 1983.  My coffee plantation manager lives there now.  So this chair is over 120 years old, maybe much older.  Who knows?  I simply know it’s very comfortable.  And I see furniture as being utilitarian and not just to look at.  That doesn’t mean it cannot be made beautiful too.

''You take young Dido here, for example.  He’s the smallest person here.  God made him a very, very utilitarian being.  From what I have heard from Willi he tried to help stop the drug trade among street kids and confronted the police all on his own.  He gave no thought for his own welfare in doing so.  Well, I hear you say to yourself, 'that was stupid and lacked foresight and was suicidal.'  What it lacked was the wisdom that comes of age and from planning.  But he was definitely showing that he had ability and a huge heart.  Dido was made with great utility.  But look at him.  I know you are all boys, but put that aside for a minute and be objective and treat this as a scientific exercise.  Shut your eyes as a boy.  Now open them as as an adult scientific observer and tell me honestly that Dido is not beautiful.

''If I hear a single snicker from anyone he is straight off to bed.  This is something serious I am discussing here.  I am treating you as older than you are, because you have told me and Chief Mike and Mzee Willi that you can take on adult tasks regarding our investigations surrounding Philip and where that may lead.  I am testing how adult you are.

''Look, just look at the boy to your right, at his face.  Obviously he has black eyes, but look at the shape of his face.  If asked tomorrow could you describe it well?  Would you call him good looking?  Learn to observe everyone this weekend and I’ll test you Sunday after dinner to see how much you’ve really noticed both of one another and of your surroundings.  In what you have chosen to do, this lesson could one day save you a lot of anguish, or even your life itself.  And I am not one drawn to the melodramatic I assure you,'' Adam concluded.

Each of the boys continued to look studiously at their neighbour for a minute or two, until Daktari broke their reverie.

''Feel free to roam the house as you wish.  Felix, you can spot anyone who wants to use free weights in the games room.  Otherwise there’s a pool table, ping pong, darts, pin-ball, the library is up the stairs there to the right in the loft gallery where there are four computer terminals too.

''Alex you asked about the masks.  This collection was begun by my grandfather.  Many are, as you said, Akamba from eastern central Kenya, the feathered ones are Kuria from the South west on the Tanzania border.  The very black ones you like are not African at all.  I got those in Sarawak in Borneo, part of what is now Malaysia.  They are Dayak masks from a remote peoples of the Borneo jungle.  When I was at school in Britain from aged 7 to14 one of my best friends was an ex pat Malayan planter’s son from a native mother.  Our choir sang in Singapore before independence and I was later, on the way home, allowed to break off and stay over with his family in Sarawak for two weeks.  It was totally another world, even for me coming from here.  That’s when I got this mask.

''The two white and brown and coloured masks are totem masks made by a now famous Kwakiutl Pacific Northwestern Indian carver named Dempsey Bob.  When he was unknown he came to the notice of a friend of my cousin in Vancouver just when my late wife and I happened to be visiting.  Louise fell in love with his work so we said we would sponsor a one man show two weeks later in a friend’s Granville Island gallery.  We wrote, photographed, and distributed a glossy colour promotional brochure.  The result was that all 36 items Dempsey had carved, including a piece you can see in the hospital entryway tomorrow depicting the terrible oil spill in Alaska, was sold before the exhibition even opened and he had enough commissions to keep him busy for months.  You can now Google him as a big wheel in First Nations culture and I couldn’t even get an appointment to see him he’s so important! That’s how it goes.

''My grandfather always told me the Russian proverb: in life and work, always smile at those whom you pass going up, for one day you may pass them going down.''

By then Mark, Matt, Dido and Felix had gone down to the games room on the lower level, the brothers partnering against the other two at American black ball rules pool.  Robbie and Abel had decided they wanted to investigate what Daktari had described as the library.  There was a library at school, but it was a joke.  They had seen pictures of libraries in books now and then, and their school’s two shelves containing 35 Kiswahili and 66 English books hardly constituted so much as a glance.  Both boys had read every book, and each even modestly interesting one at least twice.  Robbie thought he could recite a couple of the books by heart he had read them so often.  It was ridiculous.

388 children and a library of 101 books, none of which less than 14 years old.  In fact Robbie had studied the publishing dates of the books in the shelves.  30 were from since 1995.  41 were 1990 to 1995, 20 were 1980s, 5 were 1970s, 2 1960s, 2 1950s, and one was published in 1933, ''The Modern Guide to Bee Keeping.'' Strangely enough Robbie and Abel had both found this to be one of the most interesting books in the school.  They had told Mwalim Tiriki, who also kept the books in his classroom, that if he ever thought to throw this old book out, please to give it to one of them first.  With an amused look in his eyes after looking at the title, he had assured them he would and had gone off with a perplexed smile on his face, thinking to himself that he must keep a closer look on this odd pair.

The stairway Daktari had mentioned turned out to be a tight, narrow metal spiral stairway, mostly hidden behind the massive damask drapes which covered the doors between the Great Room and the corridor leading to the Rehab Wing, the South Wing.  The steps were covered in non-slip red carpeting to match the drapes.  ''Very natty detailing,'' thought Abel to himself.  ''Somebody’s into every little bit of detail here.  It may look as if it’s thrown together like a jumble sale, but in fact each item blends finely into the next, into the next and so on.  Very neat indeed.  Just like a surgeon, in fact.''

When he and his fellow village boy, Robbie reached the uppermost of the sixteen narrow steps, he had to stop awhile and focus.  The loft space seemed to go on interminably, each centimetre crammed with books, pamphlets, magazines, files, God knew what.  If it was made of paper and had writing on it, it seemed Daktari must have had some of it.  Abel never imagined there were so many books in all of the district put together.  He just sunk on his haunches to the ground.

''Daktari just said, casually, ‘Go and pick a book from the library if you want,’ and I thought of maybe a couple of dozen books, but this…'' said Abel.

''I think I’ve begun to learn since dropping Philip, Gabe, Lucas and Bryan at the Foundation hospital and seeing what that place was like, you know clean white cloths on the beds, soft puffy things to put their heads on, electric controls to lift their heads up, real television in their room, really in their room.  And did you see they could actually see Nation TV and KTV and Citizen and others and could swap channels from Gabe’s bed using that black electronic control phone thing he had.  Amazing!'' waxed Robbie enthusiastically.

''Yea, I know, and the miracle of seeing nurses who actually smiled at children and food that looked as if someone human had cooked it, but even all the incredible things I admit I have seen at the hospital and over supper here at the house hasn’t prepared me for this.  You must remember that I dream of owning books.  I worked hours and hours to get shillings to buy one comic.  And here I see, what...'' and he paused and looked around him before continuing, ''thousands of books.  I cannot even guesstimate how many.  I’m gobsmacked.''

Abel got up and moved his hand along the spines of books he could comfortably reach, caressing each one softly, lovingly, stroking it.  When he suddenly came across a stunningly soft feel on his fingers, he couldn’t resist tugging at the book and it slid easily from the shelf until he found himself holding the substantial volume in his two hands and running his right hand over the embossed title on the cover.  Robbie came over and stood at his shoulder.

''Feel how silky this cover is, Robbie.  It doesn’t feel like paper or card at all.  I think it smells like leather, but it seems too thin for that.''

''Let’s open up the pages, as often it says inside what type is used, when it was printed and where and may be it will say what the cover is too.  I know my book of Treasure Island which my dad got on the market in Kakamega one time said it was the Collins Edition 14th reprint 1966.''

''On the front this book is called The Tale of Two Cities by Mr. Charles Dickens.  I think I may have heard of this author, but he wrote a long, long time ago.  It’s funny they called him Mr. on the book cover.  I’ve never seen that before.''

''Open the damn book,'' urged his friend impatiently.  ''We don’t have all bloody night to sit here just looking at the cover of the fricking thing!''

''Here on the big page it says again A Tale of Two Cities and then underneath in slightly smaller type is printed a com… compen… compendium of the 31 instalments first printed in the periodical All the Year Round.  By Charles Dickens Esq.''

Robbie then interjected.  ''Look, on the opposite page, like I said it gives details.  Set in New Roman type, at Houndsditch Printers, 124b Leatherslade Street, London.  Bound in new Lamb skin hide by Randolf and nephew, Old Brewery Tanners and Binders, Water Street, Chatham.  First Edition December 1859.''

By then Abel had turned the pages of the famous Victorian novelist’s historical account of the French Revolution to its opening paragraphs.

''This sounds a bit like what we all are going through here with Philip, but finding one another,'' remarked Abel.  ''Listen.  ‘It was the best of times.  It was the worst of times.’ Doesn’t that sound a bell?''

Just then Adam’s head and shoulders emerged atop the stairway and the boys shuffled to put away the books they had started to look at, including the first folio.

''Stop it lads.  Freeze.  You’re doing exactly what I wanted, taking down books to look at.  These books don’t get sufficient use and words frozen on a page, unread are like pictures on a wall left unseen.  They are impotent, useless, and may as well not have been written or have been left as raw paint on a pallet.  So if there are a couple of books or three which each of you would care to borrow, just put the name of the book in that little red ledger near the top of the stairway there next to your name.  The exception are books with red stickers inside the cover.  You may read those, but they may not leave the house or the verandah.  Like that Tale of Two Cities you have, Abel.  I have another copy you may take home, but that first edition has to stay in the house as it is too sensitive to risk getting wet.''

''Thank you Daktari.  It seems like a good start to the book.  I like where it says ‘It was the season of Light.  It was the season of Darkness.’ I just read the first paragraph of the book and all these comparative opposites, and I think of how you and Chief Juma, and Willi Wanyonyi and now we in the Fraternity will be confronting opposites here in our community, trying to make a little revolution of our own.  This will be our Tale of One City if you like, eh?''

''Dickens only wrote one other historical novel, Barnaby Rudge, and in that book Barnaby is a simpleton.  So obviously none of the Fraternity fit that part, so I’m glad you’ve latched on to the Two Cities as your better read.  There is a great deal to be learned from this book, but don’t take the idea of self-sacrifice too far,'' advised Adam.

''If you can find the other copy for me, I would be happier.  I’m nervous handling this one now,'' said Abel.

As Adam scoured the bookcase he expected to find what he sought, Robbie asked, ''Is it the lamb skin cover that makes it valuable, Daktari? It is certainly very soft and nice to touch.''

''Lamb and calf skin were the choice expensive leathers for top class binding in the 19th century, certainly.  But it is not this which makes this particular volume or folio as it would be called in the book trade, of outstanding value.  Firstly it is by arguably the finest August of his day, Charles Dickens.  Most important, though, it is a first edition.  That is this book is the very first time this story was printed all together as a novel.  Probably no more than 2 or 3000 were printed in December 1859 and of these maybe 10 per cent had lamb skin bindings and covers, the very best.  How many of those 250 or so which were produced 150 years ago are still surviving in good condition like mine today?''

''So this book I have been turning pages like my comic book at home is worth what Daktari,'' asked Abel with a very worried look on his face and gingerly laying the book on the floor next to him.

''First of all, my boy, pick that book back up and continue reading as before.  I see full well that you do not abuse books or rip them apart, but treat them with the care they deserve.  A book, regardless of its monetary value, is worthless if it is not read, as I intimated earlier.  So please ignore the difference between a one shilling scrappy comic and the original Magna Carta when it comes to their real purpose, which is to impart the written word.

''For your information, and not for widespread dissemination, as this is not this house’s only first edition folio as Felix can show you if you’re interested, this particular book is currently insured for $2,750.00.  But to me the book is absolutely useless and worthless if it sits for years on a shelf, unread, but is priceless if it stirs the imagination or the interest in literature of just one person.''

The three returned to the Great Room a few minutes later, each boy having chosen a couple of books in addition to a Collins Classic edition of A Tale of Two Cities.  Adam had ensured one of the books chosen was one of a stock he kept of Kipling’s boyhood adventure, Kim.  He thought it the finest multicultural book for youth ever written because it was not created as an educational tool, but as a boyhood adventure story, with spies, and mystery, and exciting people.  All set in India during the Raj.  He always tried to give a copy to Daryl’s friends when they were 11 to 14.  Now he’d start with Felix’s.

''Why don’t you put your books down in your room, lads, then join the others, probably they’re in the Games Room down on the lower level too, just turn right at the bottom of the stairs then left.  You’ll hear them.  By the way, the book Kim is yours to keep.  I don’t want it back.  That’s why I gave one to each of you.  See you at breakfast.  6.00 sharp.  You can sleep in late tomorrow.''

When Robbie and Abel entered the Games Room, their friends were huddled round in a circle on the floor in the corner near the pool table.

''Felix reckoned you were zoned out in the library and like some guy he read about,'' began Matt, before he was peremptorily interrupted by Felix.

''It was Daniel, I forget his last name and the book was by Carlos Ruiz Zafón.  But it featured a great place called the Cemetery of Forgotten Books, and sometimes I go to our library upstairs, sort of half shut my eyes as if they are just tiny slits open so the view is misty through my eyelashes and imagine the library going on and on and on, just like in that book, The Shadow of the Wind.  In that book Daniel seeks to discover the mystery of someone’s death.  Now we’re seeking to discover a mystery before someone dies, unless someone already has.

''Now Gabe has used the mobile phone we left him at the hospital to tell me firstly that Philip has been moaning a lot and begun moving about a bit in bed.  So he’s been holding his hand more.''

''That’s good, isn’t it, Fello?  Doesn’t it mean he may be coming out of his coma or whatever it is he’s in,'' asked David?

''May be.  I’ve seen, when I’ve been with Dad and people have been through bad experiences and lost consciousness, then come round, some cannot remember anything, some remember bits gradually, some are quite OK, but some, I tell you, wake up screaming and shouting and struggling and going on and end up having to be tied down to stop hurting themselves by tearing their bandages off and stuff.  It’s terrifying.  They are out of control until they can be held down long enough for Dad or somebody to give them a powerful sedative injection to almost knock them out.''

''I sure hope Philip isn’t that type of waker-upper,'' said Dido quietly.  Most of the others silently nodded their assent.

''To go on,'' continued Felix, ''Gabe also said that he, Bryan and Lucas had been doing what I suppose we should have been doing rather than just playing games or entertaining ourselves all evening, which is reviewing all the facts we have at our disposal thus far, and seeing if we can extrapolate them in any way to help identify Philip.''

''Felix,'' said Mike, ''before telling us more, don’t castigate any of us, least of all yourself, ’cause we spent a couple of hours down time this evening.  We’re kids, for God’s sake, and we’re taking on grown up tasks here.  We’re entitled a little fun when we can grab the opportunity, which I think in coming days will be few and far between.  So, as we say in Nairobi Swinglish, Go Chill!''

''As I was saying,'' continued Felix with a wry smile pointed at Mike, ''Gabe and his hospital musketeers looked at Philip’s journey East or Northeastwards through Toriop.  Assuming he was aiming to go somewhere, then you need to extend that line he took along available roads.  And where do you end up?''

''Look, Matt and I, and I presume Alex are so new to this place that I don’t even know where we are now compared to Bringitar.  So count us out in your geography calculations,'' said Mike.

''Same for me, but for a different reason.  I don’t know about you, Robbie, but I’m a poor village boy and, except for going to Bringitar, have never gone more than 10 kilometers from my village, to Myanga market.  So I don’t know far,'' said Abel.

''I can try,'' said Robbie, ''’cause I’ve been with my Dad a bit around to visit relatives and to funerals and things.  Let me think.  Going towards the dawn.  So towards the Malaba Road.  Maybe just to Myanga, or over the road to the long, straight road to Cheptais.  This would be my guess.''

''I agree,'' added Dido.  ''I have a cousin in Malakisi on that road.  Maybe he was headed there.''

''You may be interested to hear that the newly dubbed Three Musketeers in the hospital came up with exactly the same road.  I concur.  Six great minds cannot all be wrong.  How say you, David?'' replied Felix.

''I believe in leading by listening.  I think we should inform Daktari at breakfast of our research so he can contact Willi and Chief Juma.  But we must not stop consideration of alternatives such as Myanga or even somewhere on the Chwele Road.  We cannot discount the fact Philip got lost on his way to Toriop, so he was off course.''

''Many of you may not know it, but there is also a tiny track linking very small settlements, which runs parallel to and in between the Chwele and the Cheptais roads.  It runs through a beautiful village called Namuningyie,'' said Felix.

''What a lovely sounding word for a village name,'' said Alex.  ''What does it mean?''

''I cannot translate it precisely, because my Kibukusu is not too good.  Perhaps Robbie, Dido or Abel can do better, but it is the name of a kind of lake dwelling, high-soaring bird.''

''Sorry,'' said Robbie, ''but I don’t know the English for this bird, and I doubt either of our friends do either.

David interjected here,  ''I suggest, as it’s coming on eleven thirty and we need to be up for showers in six hours, we stop discussing these three or four possible options now.  I think you boys who attend private school will need to show the others how showers in this place work, just as Felix shocked the hell out of me by displaying the possibilities of indoor warm showers earlier, before dinner.''

''I know some of you are keen on your prayers.  If, before breakfast you want quiet time, then through the library, at the very far end is a red door leading to a small private chapel, just with prayer desks, no chairs, or just one for older persons.  It is always open and the Host is kept there and the Eternal Light is kept burning.  Anglicans maintain that belief also, you know,'' said Felix.

At that the boys set off for their rooms.  Some had books to read.  A couple had lap tops.  Each had memories.  All were fast asleep within half an hour.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Meanwhile at the Children’s Hospital, things were far from as peaceful as at the Daktari’s house several kilometers away.

Gabe was awoken by Lucas throwing a groundnut at him from the adjacent bed.  ''I think Philip is waking up.  Hold his hand.  If he opens his eyes he will need to see a friendly face, even if it is your damned ugly Watsotso mug attempting what - for you - passes as a smile,'' said the Teso boy.

By now Bryan, the other Luyha boy was awake too.  His bed was across from Philip’s, facing the other three, the other two beds in the unit being empty, blocked off by Daktari Adam’s orders, barring an emergency.

''The dark is less now, but do I want it to be?  In the dark it is as if I do not have to think, or feel, or concentrate on anything.  I may simply surrender.  I have no older sister worrying me.  Her husband is not hurting me.  I don’t have chores for hours every day.  I’m still at home with Mam.  We’re poor.  We’re often hungry.  My brother died ’cause he had no strength.  Then my last, my only younger brother got sick.  So Mam said I must go to my second oldest sister to care for me.

''Care for me!  That’s a joke.  Make me a house slave is more like.  Her son does nearly nothing and I work all the time so I fail school homework.  Then after many months I hear sister on phone say Mam is very sick in hospital.  So next morning I run away to see my Mam.  I get so very lost.  First night I sleep outside under a thick hedgerow.  It was alright, only too many grass snakes and mice kept waking me up.

''Next night I was in a village and was trying to find food scraps around, when a boy told me to try sheltering behind the little church building for the night.  I was heading that way when a youngish guy appeared, probably about 35 or so, not old enough to be a mzee anyhow, and he asked me where I was off to.  He was very friendly.

''Now I want to think about the dark place again.  Please leave me here at peace in my darkness.  But no it’s getting grey, steadily lighter by the moment.  Whoever is controlling my mind just now, stop messing with me!  I remember, I half remember some kid holding my hand, but through this clearing mist before my eyes I now see a different boy.  What is this?  Some trick?  Have I died and this is Heaven?  No, can’t be there’s not enough white.  The walls are blue and patterned with rainbows.  This boy looks friendly enough.  But he’s all in bandages and stuff like he’s been attacked, too.

''Too…I said, Too.  There I said it.  I was attacked.  Now let’s put it in the dark.  I can’t go there.  I just can’t.  Let’s focus on this boy.  And, as I cast my eyes around there are two other boys at least.  Though I don’t see the sweet boy I thought I could remember from before.  Perhaps it was all a dream.

''Is it a dream I hear my name being called?  But I want to go, to slip back where it doesn’t hurt.  Where I don’t need to think, but, but…''

''Philip.  Philip.  Hi, Philip.  I’m Gabe and I’m so glad you opened your eyes.  Philip.  Philip, please don’t shut your eyes again, just look at me or my friends Lucas or Bryan.  We are all keen to know you.  We’re all sick, like you.  All have bandages and splints, just like you.  So we know what pain is like.  We know you just feel like one more pill to kill the pain and sleep some more, but you can’t sleep forever.  So better to suck it up now and get it over with and wake up once and for all.  You can’t put it off forever.  Like taking home that worst school report, or having to go to the water hole when the others are bigger than you, or fetching wood when it’s already getting dark, or facing down the class bully.  It always seems worse than it actually falls out to be.  With the report, a couple of swipes and it’s over.  With the water hole and the bully, inevitably a mate or two come out of the woodwork at the last minute to back you up and the opposition either back down or you both go down fighting, equally bruised.  And I’ve never come across anything more scary than a fruit bat whilst out on a nocturnal hunt for firewood, nor have I heard of anyone else doing so either.

''In short, I think our fears are just that.  Fear.  Nothing more.  No facts to back them up.  If you don’t just wake up now you’re being nothing short of recalcitrant, my man.  So there.''

''Way, Gabe.  Where the fuck did that last big word come from – re…something?  Never heard that one before,'' said Bryan.

''It just goes to show we boys from blink-and-you-miss-them little villages can still read and make notes and remember what they have noted,'' replied Gabriel.  ''It is a posh way of saying awkward and hard headed and backward-looking all in one word, I think.

''So, do you want to be thought of as all of those things, Philip?  Awkward and hard headed, and backward-looking?'' ended Gabe as he squeezed his charge’s hand.

It was obvious from looking at Philip’s fevered brow that his mind was in turmoil.  His eyes were open, but he was blinking more than was usual.  He was squeezing and releasing, squeezing and releasing Gabe’s hand alternately, minute by minute.

After an interminable 5 minutes, Philip, whose pillow was by now soaked in sweat, stopped his constant head movements, blinking, and hand squeezing.

Philip thought to himself, ''I loved the calmness, the loving caress of it, but the dark place is not somewhere I can return to, though I long to, I yearn to.  Because I set off on this safari to see my sick Mam and I am not there yet.  If I return to the dark now, some instinct tells me I will never return.  So now I stay awake with this boy, with these boys.  But does the first boy also exist?''

Philip’s eyes opened wide and he looked at each of the Three Musketeers, though none of them knew they had been so dubbed by their compadres at Felix and Adam’s house the previous evening.

''Good, Philip.  Welcome, welcome to our little, exclusive group here in this, our little room.  We’re in Daktari Adam’s hospital.  It’s called The Children’s Hospital and it’s just for kids like us, kids who’ve had injuries like ours.  Of course each of us is different, but we each help each other.  I can’t walk, numbnuts over there, Lucas, can’t cut his meat so I help him out there.  We’ll help you any way we are able, short of walking.  For now, anyway, none of us can manage that,'' said Bryan opposite him.

''It’s the middle of the night now, about 2.00 in the morning by the clock on the wall.  So would it be alright if I called a sister to let her know you are awake?  I think she would be very happy.  Our sister here tonight, funny enough, is actually called – and don’t laugh like Lucas did earlier – Night!  She is really very nice, and young, and very hot.  So is it OK if I call her?'' It was the ever somewhat risque Gabriel, of course, who posed the question.

Philip merely blinked, which Gabe took as a go ahead to push the call button on the toggle hanging from the drip trolley next to his bed.  He saw the red light blink above the doorway to their room, and just ten or twenty seconds later a petite young woman, probably in her very early twenties dressed in candy pink and white pin striped uniform with a white pinafore and a stiff white pinned nurses starched cap opened the door quickly, but quietly.

''You don’t need to be stealthy, Sister Night,'' said Gabe.  ''Philip is awake.  We, or rather Lukas and Bryan and I have been talking with him for some minutes now and by eye movements he’s been signaling that he’s understood.  We asked if he minded if we called you now.  We told him you were nice, so here you are.''

Philip could be seen trying to struggle for attention.  He seemed panicky.

Night went over immediately, but first pushed the alarm button again to get further assistance from better qualified staff.

''Alright Philip.  Don’t worry.  You’re in good hands now.  Everyone is here to look after you and ensure all goes well.''

Just then, Ursula Williams, a clinical officer and Roberta Ali Yussuf a paediatric trauma nurse arrived.  Both had read Philip’s notes and had looked in on the boy a couple of times since coming on duty at 20.00.

''Hello Philip.  Bit scary waking up in this big new place with all these new people, I bet.'' Ursula had to assume Philip spoke Kiswahili as she was not up on Kibukusu yet, having only begun this new job six months ago.  She came from South Africa and even learning this in half a year had been a challenge.  ''But these three guys, Gabe and his chums, don’t seem too rough to me.  Cut them some slack, eh? Give them a chance.''

But still Philip was sweating profusely again and Night, now joined at the bed by Roberta, was struggling even more.

''Philip, my boy.''  This time it was Roberta and this time speaking soothingly in Kibukusu, a tongue she had learned over her twenty-four years working at Children’s Hospital.  ''I am going to ask this nice lady daktari to give you some medicine so you sleep three or four hours until breakfast time, alright?''  She caste her eyes over at her colleague who quickly shuffled off for a shot of Mogadon.

''Then when all you four wake, after breakfast, you can talk among yourselves some more before Daktari Adam or possibly Felix and his crew come over.  It may get quite crowded in here I’m led to believe, eh?  Boys, anything to say?'' continued the Somali nurse originally from Kenya’s Lamu Island , while still trying to hold the boy down.

The door re-opened and the clinical officer quickly administered the subcutaneous injection together with a quick acting dose of a mild short-term tranquilizer.  ''The sleeping sedative should provide him 4 hours of undisturbed rest, and the 20 minute tranquilizer provide the time necessary for it to take effect,'' Ursula said.  ''Now you boys try to rest and tomorrow will be a new day.''

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Indeed tomorrow proved to be a new day indeed.

The boys gathered, in varied states of dress, consciousness, and keenness to greet a new day, at the agreed hour of 6.00.  The village boys, Robbie, Abel, and Dido were full of vim and vigour.  Two of them, as they would have been at home, wore t-shirts and shorts, the other two, Francis and Dido just shorts.  Mike had been on his lap top for an hour already, but still struggled with being verbal yet.  He struggled up in his soccer shorts.  Alex and Matt had to almost physically be tipped out of their beds and thrown in the showers.  Everyone assumed they were lucky they wore even as much as the gym shorts they had on.  Last to arrive, just as 6.00 struck on the clock, still both toweling their hair and wet from the shower, were David and Felix.

''Sorry, last night I forgot to mention I run every morning.  If any of you want to join David and me tomorrow, please feel free.  In fact it would help a lot, then I could run a bit faster knowing David had company running a little bit slower,'' said Felix.

''Sure, count me in,'' said Abel.

''And me,'' said Robbie.

''How far?'' asked Dido.

''Wise question, Dido, my boy, wise question.  You notice the two boys who go to school with this running genius did not put their hands up to run with him.  You notice that.  Why do you think that might be? Because this boy is a running maniac!  That is why.  He runs and runs, and frigging runs.  And at this altitude, what is it?  3000 bloody meters?  Running up here will be like twice as hard and I have not seen ten meters of flat land so it’s going to be up, up, up then all the way down, and then up, up and up again, ad infinitum.  Not for this pussy.  No siree Bob.''

''David, how far did you guys run this morning?  When did you set off?'' Alex posed the questions.

David shared a conspiratorial look with his current roommate, as he ladled millet, simsim, groundnut, and almond ugi into his and Felix’s bowls from the hot plate in the kitchen.  Breakfast was being served at the smaller, 12 seat kitchen table as Dr. Tom had already taken out the first team of mobile clinic staff.  The resident rehab kids came down after house staff arrived at 7.00.

''I guess we ran about 12 kilometers in all.  Two kilometers was for me to warm up.  Then we needed to do what I called an all-out 10k.  I don’t think it was nearly all-out for Felix, though.  So if anyone else comes it would help.''

''What’s your best time for 10k, Felix?'' asked Robbie.

''Depends.  In school, on the flat on a track I’ve run 10k as an 11 yr. old in 37minutes and 55 seconds.  Here in the mountains, with all the ups and downs and rough roads, my best is 46 minutes 35 seconds.  Both are within range of the African Junior Schools records though.  That stands at 37 minutes 36 sec on track and 43 minutes 10 seconds cross country.  And I still have two years yet to go for both of them,'' said Felix.

''Who holds them now?'' asked Francis.

''Not sure, one is a boy in Kenya I think, the track one.  The other is either a Moroccan or from Eritrea, not certain.''

The boys were all busy eating by then and hardy noticed Adam as he entered with an empty coffee cup in his hand.  He stood hovering over the table, with Steven near the door, himself pouring a cup of chai from a pot on the oven top.

''Boys.'' He looked decidedly grave, as if some massive dystopian roadblock had halted the progress of all his well-considered plans.

''Something very important has come up.  I have to ask you to split your forces at least for this morning, possibly all of today.''

''What is it Dad?''

''Don’t interrupt for a little and all will become clear, just hear me out.  So, most of you proceed as planned.  Go to the hospital.  The very good news is Philip is now awake, though not yet speaking.  Just don’t crowd him.  Don’t all go in at once.  Try one.  Then he come out.  Then two others.  Then those three go in.  Then out.  Then the others go in.  Then the original three join them.

''I need Felix, David and Francis with me this morning.  Francis because of his knowledge of Bringitar.  I would bring Dido too, but you are under the twins care and I can’t bring them.  Otherwise I could have used your street smarts too.  David you are both the coordinator and a very sympathetic person and get through to people well, as you did with Philip.  And Felix, well I am probably terribly biased but I trust the way you put yourself in almost any other kid’s mind.''

''I don’t mean to interrupt you, Daktari, but I know my father the Chief would tell me it would be alright to delegate Dido’s care to Felix and David if it helps with anything,'' said Mike.

''Thanks boys.  So you’ll be with us Dido.  Stick with Francis and Felix, OK?''

The small boy nodded seriously.

''I may as well get to the nub of the matter.  Willi Wanyonyi called me from Bringitar hospital 45 minutes ago and I have since spoken to Dr. Peter Mooney that a boy has been found very seriously attacked in a field in Toriop.  His injuries are far more serious than Philip’s because he clearly tried vigorously, but vainly to defend himself.  His situation is precarious.  All we know for sure is that he is recognised as coming from Bringitar.

''Time is running out.  Let’s get in the Cruiser.''