The Cornfield Quartet: Book One ~ The Cornfield Fraternity

The Cornfield Fraternity - Chapter Nine


Chapter Nine

The Cornfield Fraternity




The four boys were casting furtive glances at one another as Steven steered the Cruiser as swiftly as the precipitously steep, winding, murram dirt track which linked the Daktari’s family's bucolic demesne to the rest of the world would allow.

''Look, lads,'' spoke up Adam, who sat next to Steven, up front, leaving the four boys, ''squished'' as they now regularly came to call it, in the three-seater rear.  ''I don’t have many details about what to expect when we get to Bringitar District Referral.  The bare bones are that some guy, passing, somewhere not too far from the pathway Moses, Robbie’s father was going along when he found Philip the other day, heard dogs barking and whining.  So he saw these six or seven dogs jumping around and scraping the earth a few meters away in this field.

''Luckily, this man’s inquisitiveness got the better of his fear that any of these dogs might be rabid, and he went over to where the action was, so to speak.  There he almost threw up his meagre breakfast.

''Obviously the dogs had been trying to dig up a person from the ground, because an arm and a shoulder could be seen above the soil.  More important, though, the body’s face was revealed, too, and dogs had cleaned it of soil and licked it totally free.  This was important because the man quickly realised that the body, obviously that of a naked, young, teenage boy, was still alive.

''Fortunately he had credit on his mobile phone, enough to call his cousin’s husband’s brother whom he knew lived just a few hundred meters away.  He quickly summoned him to bring another with him, together with a blanket to carry the boy to the road.  In the end they got him to Musikoma where the three chipped in with two others to pay a taxi to the hospital.  In the end the taxi only charged half.  So everyone helped the boy.

''Anything more, other than he is and I quote Peter Mooney, far worse than Philip because he has sustained extensive defensive wounds.  It sounds as if he is older than Philip and fought his attackers harder - so got more hurt as a result,'' ended the surgeon, recognising he was the harbinger of a new reality for some if not all of the five in his vehicle.  If you fight back, be prepared that you could be hurt worse than if you simply surrender.

As if reading his father’s mind, which Adam often thought he actually did, Felix piped up, ''Dad, for my case at least, I am going to die defending myself rather than give in.  Just provide me the ability to defend myself the best I can within reason.  I will never be a black - or even whatever comes before that - belt in anything, but I can and have shown I have ability in the school yard.''

That comment, with a wink from Steven, lightened the mood a little bit, as at last the long wheel-base ambulance reached asphalt road and could gather speed.  In fact, Adam put on the siren and lights just to ensure no police check points had the temerity to pull them over.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Willi Wanyonyi was an angry man.  Zack had chased up and down the back lanes to find anyone who would come to the hospital to look at the new attack victim, to see if his name or even his nickname could be identified.  The boy had come up trumps.  Within 40 minutes of arriving, Willi knew who the boy was and roughly where his father, at least, lived.

''His name is Oliver, Willi,'' reported Zack, after he’d spent ten minutes comforting his 15 year old street boy contact who was totally distraught after seeing how beaten up the boy in the hospital bed was.  After a year on the streets, earning his crusts the hard way, he thought he had the wherewithal to face just about anything.  But seeing once lithe Oliver...He knew he’d brood on this and rethink his lifestyle while he still had a life to style.

''My contact didn’t know his last name, as the boy was not a street kid.  He hung out on the streets, he thinks because home life was a bit on and off.  You know, the usual.  Second wife.  This boy is son of first wife.  Now father lives with second wife.  My contact doesn’t know if Oliver’s mother is dead or somewhere else, or what.  Anyway, dad or new mum own a small cafe on east side of town, on the main road.  He’s told me how to find it near some trees.''

Fifteen minutes after telling this man, Henry Simiyiu, and explaining how sick his son was, the man was still delaying and fussing in leaving his shop/cafe and getting ready.

''Look, you man,'' said Willi, finally, ''I’ve had enough of your lassitude Mr. Simyiu.  It seems to me the strangers who struggled and paid money from their own pockets, getting blood on their clothes, dropping everything immediately, and taking an hour to save your son’s life by bringing him to hospital, care a damn sight more for him than you do, who fuss and tin tabulate about, and keep me waiting.  Well, to Hell with you.  I’m going.  Find your own way.''

At that, the huge mountain of Bukusu ire strode out of the penumbra where he’d been standing for far too long, and beckoned a slowly cruising pikipiki whose ‘pilot’ recognised him and was happy of the fare to the hospital.

Henry Simyiu was left standing looking woebegone.

''Fool!'' cried out his wife, Rose Nafula.  ''It does no good to make people like that man, who looks quite important, angry with you, Simyiu.  And now you have to walk all the way to the hospital or pay for a bodaboda yourself.'' The woman, Henry’s second wife, whom he’d married when Oliver’s mother had taken sick when the boy was 9 (she had since died when he was 11) had a leaning towards equality of the sexes, something alien to a Luyha man.  It was taking him some time to become accustomed to it, but the birth of Jonathon two years before and the getting there had leavened the task!

''The truth is I don’t want to go to the hospital.  I fear if it is him.  I fear it so much!''

''Oh, my Love.  I thought you had fallen out with the boy.  That you still care enough that it touches you so is very moving.  It shows you as a true father,'' said Rose.

''No, no.  You stupid bitch.  I’m worried that he might recover.''

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

In his halcyon days, fresh from Makarere University, when he retained the idealism of newly independent Africa, William W. Wanyonyi had the idea that he and all his fellow new graduates would be working alongside those who had struggled for freedom from colonialism to provide equality for all.  What tripe!

What actually happened was that British colonial control from a power 11,000 kilometers away was replaced for most East Africans by a sort of local colonialism, a control of the many by a select few within the country.  The ''freedom fighters'', for the most part, at least the vociferous leaders among them, became nepotistic political king-makers.  Or sometimes the ''kings'' themselves, creating political dynasties.  The lot of the rural poor could be said to be, at best, no better 50 years after independence than it was under British rule.  In some cases, it was worse.  Certainly the poverty gap between the richest five per cent, the political elite, and the 80 per cent who lived on the edge of poverty was as least as great as anything seen during the colonial era.

A new malaise which had permeated and infected every pore of public service, and even some aspects of private enterprise, since Independence, but which was very rarely if ever seen before then, is corruption, graft and bribery.  Call it what you will, Willi Wanyonyi found that this, above everything - even blatant nepotism - was the single most corrosive element which had taken the shine off that idealism of his youth.

Nepotism and corruption had conflated to eviscerate the incipient nations of East Africa of talent and energy and potential.  Instead, labyrinthine deception, graft, and open criminality was rewarded.  Old men ruled the roost while young ideas went overseas to win their fortunes furtively, away from prying eyes and in so doing, robbed the country of their birth of their talents, ideas and energy.

Backwaters like Bringitar continued with these now age-old practices.  In fact, the key office holders here had their practices down to a fine art.  Whether it be the Police Station, the Courts, the Prison, or access to the District Commissioner, money talked.  He knew he could buy everything from better food for a prisoner to getting a murder charge ''permanently misplaced'', for a price.  The first might be just 100 shillings a week ($1.40).  The latter, though, depending on the person’s ability to pay, would vary between 10,000 and 50,000 shillings ($140 to $700).

This case of Philip, and now this second boy, Oliver, sickened him beyond all of this, though.  Even the dirty police, like Ingilu and Okoth, generally drew a line somewhere.  And it was drawn well before this kind of mutilation and violence on children.  So why were there no police yet assigned the case?  Oh, Willi knew Juma has his ''secret'' covert duo.  But what of an official response?

By now the lumbering Bukusu giant’s piki had arrived at the hospital, and the man’s grey funk was interrupted by Zack who immediately greeted him as he handed his pilot the 20 shilling fare, grumbling that it was ''Daylight robbery'', as he simultaneously tipped him five Bob more!

''You seem in a bright, sunny, and positive frame of mind this morning, Boss,'' said Zack with a chatoyant look, redolent of sarcasm.

Just then the big Land Cruiser with the St. Luke’s Foundation livery and clearly marked as an ambulance, arrived.  The blue lights were no longer pulsing, nor were the sirens sounding, but the headlights were still flashing high and low, indicating something Zack supposed.  In any case the great double tyres on the rear skidded to a halt as the gates were still drawn shut.

''Open the gate, man,'' said Steven to a strange gatekeeper, not Francis Senior, the normal Turkana man who was nowhere to be seen.

''The Gatekeeper said not to open, only for Daktaris, young man,'' replied the stranger.

''This is a daktari.  Daktari Adam,'' continued Steve patiently.  ''So open this damned gate before I bloody well drive over it.''

Obviously very flustered by now, but reacting badly to being ordered about by someone he saw as being only a boy, he simply said, ''Boy, you speak polite to me.  Just because you pilot a big car don’t mean you can talk to me like I’m nobody.  I don’t know any daktari here called Adam, so we’ll wait until Francis comes in about 10 minutes, OK?''

Willi and Zack had been observing this little soap opera in progress.  Felix, Francis junior, David and Dido decided it was an appropriate time to get out of their cramped seating in the rear of the vehicle, having heard everything that had transpired.

Francis took the lead, just as Adam had also opened his door to say something and Francis senior was walking, emerging around the corner of the admissions block 50m away.  Both were beaten to the draw by the younger Francis, who saw neither when he went up to the acting gatekeeper, with Dido beside him.

''Were you born fucking stupid or did it take a lot of practice to get the way you are today, eh?  I can’t believe my father left you in charge of your own zipper, let alone the entrance to the hospital.  I wouldn’t let you clean my shoes you’re such an idiot.  Here in front of your eyes is a great big fucking Land Cruiser, probably the first one you’ve ever seen in your pitiful, miserable, little life.  All down the side, in huge letters is written the word Ambulance, on both sides and on the front and on the back.  In case you cannot read, which in your case I believe is very possible because you’ve shown yourself to be so totally devoid of any scintilla of intelligence.  The bloody thing has blue lights on top, like police cars do.  Might it not dawn - even on your dim brain - that this might signify something to do with an emergency?  So ambulance equals medical which, pardon me mentioning this, probably equals Daktari, don’t you think?

''So, GET THIS FUCKING GATE OPEN YOU MORON!  Honestly, I think you must stop being so generous and cease lending out your one and only brain cell to the local Askari each morning on your way to work.''

With that closing shot he walked towards the gate with Dido, to be quickly joined by Felix and David.  It took just a moment or two for the dazed man, who looked to be in his late 40s – or slightly older – and dressed in ragged brown dress slacks, dirty tennis shoes, and a once white, but now dirty-grey T-shirt with the slogan 'Ever Ready Batteries,' to unlock and open the red double gates for Steven to drive the now passenger-free Cruiser through the entrance to the hospital.

It was as the four boys were walking in that Francis saw his father walking in their direction and Adam to their right.

''Oh, shit!  Did dad hear my tirade?  If he heard me use the ‘f’ word I’m in for it for sure,'' mumbled Francis to his friends.

''In the circumstances, with two near dead assaulted boys in the area within three days, the use of the ‘f’ word can hardly be seen as a high crime or a felony, Francis.  So Chill,'' said Felix.

Despite his friend’s reassurance, Francis couldn’t help wonder if his victory over the temporary gatekeeper might prove a Pyrrhic one once his father’s belt and his arse connected later!

''Excellent work, Francis, my boy.  I thought that half-wit was going to keep me hanging about forever.  Sometimes you need to use strong language to get your point home, to assert your authority.  Just don’t do it too often, or it loses its shock effect,'' said Adam.  ''Your son did you proud.  You taught him well, Francis, not to be afraid to use appropriate language when called for, even if it offends.  You created a plucky lad, Francis.  Well done.  If ever you get tired guarding this gate, there’s always a job, with family accommodation, for you either at the children’s hospital or my place.

Young Francis felt Adam had surreptitiously poured a pacifying emollient on his father’s incipient ire.  God bless him.  The man was a genius.  He had praised his Dad for making the boy the way he was, ''f'' words and all, to the extent of offering him a great job including a house.  Dad couldn’t possibly beat on him now, not that he often did anyhow.  Only when he was really very out of line.  Perhaps once in three months he’d get a licking.  To be honest, he probably deserved those.  But when he’d tied Widow Nafula’s shoe laces together at the church by going under the table he’d become a hero with her Sunday School class because she was so nasty with them.  But he hadn’t intended her to fall over and smash her nose on the big Bible.  Gosh, there was so much blood.  She’d broken her leg too.  They had to find another Sunday class teacher.  Of course they never found the guilty party.  Dad never told, but he found out ’cause everyone was giving me chocolate and candy.  He gave me six with his belt on my bare ass!

''Ahm, well, yes.  Well.  Francis, thanks for getting Samson here to open the gate.  He’s not the sharpest arrow in the quiver as they say.  Good job, son,'' said Francis senior.

''Samson!'' said David.  ''If anyone is ill-named it is this guy.  I don’t think he could fight his way out of a wet brown paper bag.  God, parents should take care when naming their kids not to lumber them with monikers evocative of some idealistic expectations, which this kid in his or her teenage years may find it impossible to satisfy.''

By now Adam and Willi were striding around the corner towards the hospital wards with Zack and Steve hot on their bosses’ heels.  The boys decided their best plan was not to all crowd into the paediatric unit just yet, but to allow the adults their space to do their thing first and to go in a little later if this guy Oliver was awake.

''I’ll just SMS Dad to tell him our plan to cruise Moi Avenue and the lanes for an hour and then come back,'' said Felix as he rapidly tapped into his Nokia phone.

''I’m going to leave my backpack in the Cruiser.  I have a key.  Also my shirt.  I will wear just my tank top, shorts and tennis shoes without socks.  My phone I will put inside my underwear with my folding money.  I suggest we all dress down,'' remarked Felix.

At that each of the four adjusted their dress accordingly, Dido going so far as to opt for being barefoot.

As they were leaving, Chief Juma was crossing the road towards the hospital and espied them.  ''Hey, Felix, David, Didemus.  I’m sorry I don’t know your name young man,'' he said, looking at the fourth member of the quartet.

''Good morning, Sir.  I’m Francis Kiyonga.''

''You four look like two sets, each one of you a moiety.''

''You mean David and me, and Francis and Dido the city boys?'' asked Felix.

''Exactly.  You hit it right on the head,'' said the Chief.  ''Between your two pairs, town and country, and also different skills, you are covering most of the bases.  Between you, you cover all the quintessential areas of interest to young boys, so should be able to get to grips with how these boys became entrapped by their assailants.  Go to it.  But, for God’s sake, be careful.  Your parents will kill me slowly and painfully if anything happens to any of you, and I hate pain!'' He laughed as he walked off through the hospital gates.

''You know, I can hardly believe that I just had a regular conversation with the Chief Super of the police, the Chief for the whole District for God’s sake and he was talking to us, to me, just like you speak to me.  That is impossible, almost, to reckon with.  Before, the Chief was like Christ Almighty.  When he came even near, there were lots of other police and everyone shivered with fear and tried to look insignificant, hoping not to be noticed.  I still can hardly come to terms with the change.  The guy walking on his own, by foot, no car, no Askari.  Amazing.  The Second Coming must be close so I better go to Confession tomorrow.  I have a lot of catching up to do.'' Francis was smiling broadly as he said this, but Felix wasn’t sure whether or not his Turkana friend was serious about seeking out a priest.  He’d ask him in private later.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Mike Juma caught up with the duo of medics in deep conversation at the entrance to the paediatrics unit just as Willi and Zack also joined them and Matron Jo and her customary coterie of courtesan college student nurses arrived on the scene too.

''We cannot all go over to young Oliver’s bed like a trauma triage tsunami,'' said Peter Mooney.  ''Firstly, those of you, like Willi and Mike, with questions on your lips, will find no answers this morning.  I thought it best to sedate him.  The lad needs rest to both recover physically and emotionally, a bit.  Also, we – that is Adam and I and the diagnostic team – need a pliant patient.  Whatever we do with Oliver may, or more likely will, be painful for him.  That is getting on and off x-ray tables, having splints applied to fractures, having deep lesions cleaned and sutured, possibly some more invasive procedures once he’s transported up to Children’s Hospital.  I’m assuming that’s the plan, Daktari?'' he ended, looking at Adam.

''It seems logical, I suppose, now that Philip is there,'' answered Adam immediately.  ''However, this poses a whole new question.  One Felix brought up as we drove down here and which Steve, whom you most know is my aide and driver, underlined as important.  At a meeting of some community leaders, including businessmen, a pastor, Willi here, retail businesses and several people, among the issues we considered was that Philip’s case may not be an isolated incident.  What we unanimously thought, though, was that the notoriety surrounding Philip’s discovery would cause the assailants to lay low now for a while.  We would have a little time to work the streets, to research, to dig and think and harry and shake a few bushes.

''Oliver has proved we were wrong.  Perhaps the perpetrators of these heinous crimes are unaware we have found Philip – very unlikely, but just possible if either they live in a very remote village or are refuses or misanthropes.  Another possibility is that they are stupid.  I suggest that this is more likely, but that some of what has gone into the assaults, such as remote location, disposal of evidence underground, etc.  is proof of some intelligence.  A third option is, I suggest, more likely.

''Something has made Oliver enough of a liability alive, all of a sudden to risk possible discovery by attempting murder.  And what could have happened all of a sudden?''

''Philip has been found,'' said Zack in an instant.

''Exactly! Adam, you don’t by any chance want to change jobs do you? I have a vacancy currently for Chief Inspector of Criminal Investigations,'' said Mike Juma half in jest.

Everyone just stood silently for a moment or two, taking in the magnitude and great significance of what had just been speculated regarding the link between Philip’s and Oliver’s assaults.

As in all public hospitals in rural or semi-urban Africa, life continued around the group of twelve or so thoughtful souls, people glancing at them as they pushed by, wondering why these important-looking daktaris, including a mzungu for God’s sake, were standing and blocking up the corridor.  Women carried their six-month old babies on their backs with their dresses and loose carrying lessos wet with urine from the hours of trudging from some distant village.

A boy of eight or so eased his way past holding his left arm in his right with dried tears streaking his dust besmirched face.  An older boy was encouraging him along in an unusual dialect of Luyha for Bringitar, Kiwanga.

''Come on Josh, you’ve done really well.  You’ve been very brave.  Now we are almost at the daktari, so keep your chin up.  Dad would be very proud of you.  I know in Heaven he’s looking down, talking to the other angels and pointing down and saying, 'look, there’s my boy, who stood up to those attackers and didn’t give ground and got away.  He’s my boy and my hero.'''

As soon as Willi overheard that conversation, he turned and told Mike Juma what he’d just been privy to.  ''Look, I don’t want to scare these two young lads by all of us bearing down on them.  Matron, why don’t you facilitate this boy, Josh seeing somebody quickly and take Zack with you and a pretty young nurse to keep the older brother occupied, at least so far as his mind is concerned?''

''Dirty old man,'' said Jo with a twinkle in her eye.

''Not so much of the old, if you don’t mind, Matron,'' replied Willie, answering her wink with a broad grin and removing his pocket handkerchief with a flourish and bowing as if he were a courtier in an Elizabethan Hampton Court gavotte.

''Willi, why in hell do you dress today in a three piece suit, tie, French cuffs, and all the trimmings.  I’m in my scrubs and I am sweating cobs,'' said Adam after Jo and Zack had set off on their Josh quest.

''Firstly, allow me to correct your description of your condition, my good friend, ''said the human rights campaigner with his customary smile.  ''My father always told me it was only oafs who sweated.  Gentlemen perspire.  And before you ask, Mike, ladies simply ‘glow’.''

Everyone had a chuckle at Willi’s little light relief.

''To reply to your question, though, I intend to see the Commissioner today, so I’m dressing the part.  My intention is to beard the lion in his lair.  That’s why Zack is with me, also – for him at least – dressed in his finery.''

''Exactly what areas do you intend to cover, Willi?'' asked Mike Juma.  The tall policeman was in his police uniform shirt, complete with epauletes, his Smith and Wesson 5946, and his Taser.

''Don’t worry, I won’t get too specific and start stepping into your area of criminal investigation, Chief,'' said Willi, half laughingly.  ''No, Zack and I want to talk to His Majesty about street boys, rent boys, police collusion in organised prostitution of kids, the selling of glue to kids to get high, the wanton ineffectiveness of social services, and so on.  I will end, or rather Zack will end, with a copy of an article already written, edited and with five associated images , which is primed to be printed in the Saturday edition of one of the largest circulation national newspapers in Nairobi.  The title of the six column exclusive is 'Bringitar – Star Boy Sex Capital'.  I will tell him all I need to finish the piece is a comment from him and an associated image as to what the Administration is and intends to do about this issue.''  With that Willi looked at Peter, Mike, Adam, Steve and the younger student nurses around with a satisfied smile, almost a smirk, on his face.

''That should certainly set the cat amongst the pigeons,'' remarked Peter.  ''Do you think he’ll even let you out of the office?  He could simply call his Administration Police, arrest you and Zack on some flimsy charge or other, and hold you in his cells until -  well, until he feels like it, or your lawyer works his legal magic or bribes somebody, I guess.''

''Believe it or not, we have considered this, Zack and I.  Patrick, my other assistant, will be in the bushes near the Administration compound and will photograph Zack and me entering with a time stamp on the image, a digital thing I don’t pretend to understand.  Zack is recording the entire interview on the same mini recorder, or I believe this time he is going to use something smaller Patrick is giving him.

''In any case, it doesn’t matter.  If we are arrested, the headline on Saturday changes to 'Bringitar Commissioner Jails Boy Sex for Sale Investigator'.''

''I have a great idea.  At least I think it’s a good idea,'' said a young putative nurse, who had started out her outburst quite loudly and positively, but became more quiet and a little shaky as she went on.

''Don’t be nervous or shy with us,'' urged Adam.  ''I hope we’ve demonstrated that we regard everyone, young and old, each sex, every community, alike.  So speak up and be confident.  In my hospital I reward initiative, even if the idea is not used right away.  But tell me your name, first as you have me at a disadvantage knowing mine, but not reciprocating.''

''Alright, Daktari.  I am Noël Mbeki.  My family came to Myanga from Tanzania when Tanganyika was still German and there was a battle on Lake Victoria between a German boat and a British gun boat.  My great, great Grandfather worked on re-building the British boat which had been brought, piece by piece, across land from Mombasa.  Because he worked on an ‘enemy’ vessel it was thought unsafe that he returned to Dar es Salaam.  So, at age just 19, he was given a plot of 10 acres by the British near Myanga in 1918.  And we still live there, on that 10 acres, 87 years later.  And that is me.  I live there with Mam, grandma from my mam’s side, an aunt, two younger sisters, three younger brothers, and a cousin from the fact my only older brother had a girlfriend who had a baby, hence little Baraka!

''My mother works cleaning at the big sisters’ convent a little over a kilometer away.  It is a very good job and she is very blessed to have gotten it.  It pays better than just about any other job in the village because the sisters are mostly wazungu.  My older brother, Baraka ‘s dad, is at the Police Academy in Nairobi.  It cost the family a great deal of money to get him there.  But Mam stopped Dad putting up the farm as collateral for a loan to get yet more money for bribes to get Paul, that’s my brother’s name, into the Academy.  The farm is from Mam’s side of the family as there were no boys in her generation and she was oldest of the girls, so it is really hers.  Funny in a way in this very patriarchal society.  Anyway, Dad works in Kisumu as a concierge in the best hotel in the city, mainly dealing with overseas visitors, Americans, Brits, Chinese, Japanese, and so on.  He says he likes Australians and Canadians best, but hasn’t had time to explain why to me yet.

''So now you know all about me.  Probably far more than you expected to learn, but it all helps to explain why I am pretty outspoken.  You know, Daktari, my younger brothers and sisters depend on me.  Yes, my parents earn good money, but they also have a propinquity to spend money as if it grew like riparian reeds.  So they paid a king’s ransom to get Paul through the various hurdles necessary to get him where he is today.  They also paid for my expensive Anglican Convent school education, which accounts for my verbal gymnastics.  But we often don’t have ugali on the table, nor sukuma, nor beans, nor even ugi for breakfast.  So now, earning a little, I send my next eldest brother, Noah, who’s 13 and whom I gifted my old cell phone, about 1000 shillings ($13) each week using MPesa.''

''Sorry to interrupt the flow of your story, which I find fascinating, Noël, but what on earth is MPesa, is it?'' asked Mike Juma.  Peter Mooney looked equally bemused.

''To give Noël a rest for a second of two, I can explain that to you,'' piped in another student, who then went on to introduce herself quickly as Lucy Biwot, who was only studying here, but was actually from Eldama Ravine in the Great Rift.  ''MPesa is a new service introduced by Safaricom, the mobile phone service people.  You can go to any place where you buy phone credit, like your market or pharmacy or bookshop.  There you say you want to send, say 500 shillings to so-and-so.  It doesn’t matter where they are, so long as they have a Safaricom phone number.  Then the agent will ask if you pay the charge or the recipient pays.  In either case it’s only 5 per cent.  I pay my 25 shilling extra to the guy and the money goes.

''My receiver, let’s say my mama, gets a message saying her Safaricom account is credited 500 shillings.  Now she can either keep it there for use whenever she needs it later, or to pay bills even using transfer by MPesa to someone else, or she can trot down to the nearest Safaricom agent, show some ID and collect all or some of the money in her account.  There is more to the account as well, but that is MPesa in a nutshell,'' ended Lucy.

''What an amazingly brilliant idea.  And it should help rural families massively,'' said Mike immediately.

''I get the good idea bit, but I don’t understand why you enthuse about it helping rural families, Mike,'' commented Peter, the townie, quizzically.

''Having said nothing yet, the only remaining silent remnant of Matron Jo’s morning entourage, let me speak up here,'' said a petite, very black girl wearing her long hair in convoluted, beaded plaits.  She stood very straight, her 1.90m or so dwarfing her fellow novice nurses.  Her skin shone, glistening still from the tamarind seed oil with which she nourished it each morning, as her massage therapist partner insisted.  Her nurse's cap looked absurd atop her head, but any uniform, or none, would have looked fantastic on her.  Of course, on duty she wore no jewelry.  But still, her ear piercings had those gold bands and on her fingers there were one of two clear indications of her clan, even her overall tribal hierarchical senior status for those who could read the subtle signs.  Adam was one such, having held medical camps among the Samburu and Rendille for many years.  Indeed he was fairly sure Felix’s birth father had been of a very small tribe related to the Samburu called the Ichamus, who lived on the shores of Lake Baringo and numbered under 50,000 in total.

''I am Lechipan Letitiyo and hope to qualify as a registered nurse next year and return to work in either Maralal or Isiolo.  But to return to the issue.  The reason MPesa helps the rural economy is easy peasy really, when you think about it.

''Men, husbands, go to the big city to seek work to earn money to support their families back home.  Often they have extended families to uphold because brothers have died leaving issue to their siblings to look after.  Of course, once in the city, the cost of living hits the country boy hard.  But he gets a job through the tribal network and earn a good money.  Each time he goes home, usually at Easter and Christmas, he dutifully delivers his largesse to his wife to support his family, and his seed to increase his family too!

''As time goes, however, twice a year sexual marathons are hardly enough for a typical, say, Luyha man.  So is introduced wife number two, perfectly admissible, even among Christian families, in many East African communities.  So wife number two begins to drain the excheque, particularly after she herself births a kid or two.  So the biennial visits home to the shamba (homestead) bring fewer shillings each trip.

''With MPesa the wandering husband has no excuse why from week one of his employment in the big city he cannot allot a portion of his income, however meager, to his family back home and send it straight away by MPesa.  No longer need he wait for his trip home to feed his children.  He can do it every week, admittedly leaving less money for luxuries such as courting a second wife!''

''You should become a spokesperson for Safaricom.  My young Samburu friend you’ve just made a perfect pitch for the product.  But I suggest a possible abuse of it too.  What if someone wanted to pay for sex by phone rather than carry cash in case of a police raid or setup.  He could pay using a false name.  If it was a setup he could play the innocent claiming he was looking for a boy, sure, but not to pay for one.  This was not prostitution, but simple immorality,'' said Adam.

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

''Hi Josh, I’m Matron Jo, let’s see if we can get you seen a bit more quickly, eh?  It looks to me from the look of your shirt and shorts and all that you’ve lost quite a bit of blood.  Are you feeling much pain?  You must be, you brave little tyke, you.''

''Oh, God, Sister, Matron, sorry.  I really hurt so, so much.  I can hardly breathe.  I didn’t want to scare my brother who cares for me and my younger bros so much, but I think I must be dying.  Before I got to my brother Joseph, I had lost so, so much blood that I fell over twice.  I got here because Jo helped me, but I am now all threw and feel like puking.  You can’t see, 'cause I’m hiding it from Jo, but all my left side is gone.  I have no skin there.  If I lift my arm there now, you’ll see all my ribs and my insides.  So, my sweet Matron, I may be only 12, but I know enough to know I am going to die soon, here.''

''Now you listen to me you snot nosed punk.  You got to my hospital and you are not about to become a statistic on the deceased column if I have anything to do with it.  SISTER DAMIEN! CRASH CART!  CODE RED!  SUMMON DAKTARIS ON THE DOUBLE...Now we’ll see some action my lad.''

Both Peter and Adam were just arriving at the foot of comatose Oliver’s bed when their pagers pinged simultaneously summoning them with a Code Red to the Admissions Small Side Ward which Peter remembered having two beds for receiving patients awaiting beds on a ward.  Adam couldn’t remember ever having been called to the place before.

By the time they arrived Matron Jo had two IV cannulas in place ready for whatever the doctors prescribed.  She didn’t want any time wasted.  She had taken the necessary vital sign measurements also, ready to report and was ready also to take blood for test.  She had already taken the initiative of taking a blood sample for cross matching.  Josh was A+, not the most common blood type, but not a rarity either.  In any case they would need to harvest donors, beginning - she presumed - with his brother.

''Hello doctors, things haven’t gone as planned at all.  Joshua’s injuries are far more extensive than we thought.  In fact I think he’s critical, and I cannot touch him because he tells me his left arm is actually containing his whole left side.  He says if he takes his arm away he will reveal his skeleton and organs as his attackers sliced him.  He certainly has lost a lot of blood, though he is not bleeding now.  Blood pressure 80 over 45''

''Low, but not critical,'' commented Adam

''Blood oxygenation 89, low.  Temperature 39.2, which is feverish.  Blood sugar 8.2 very high, suggesting dehydration.  Heart rate 112, high even allowing for his age.  His body is working overtime to try to repair damage.  I’ve cross matched him A+ and put in two cannulas.''

''Matron, this place is nothing without you, honestly.  Now it’s our turn,'' said Peter Mooney.  ''Nurse.'' He spoke addressing the student assisting Matron Jo.  ''Find Mzee Wanyonyi, who will be with this young boy’s brother.  Tell him that under no circumstances is the brother to come over here until I or Daktari Adam say so.  However, in the meantime I need them to round up people to donate blood, lots and lots of blood, and very, very urgently.  In fact I need some right now.  Tell them to give me some right now this very minute.  It is a matter of life and death for Josh.  You spread the word, too, nurse, OK?

''Right, let’s gird our loins, Adam, Jo.''

The three went into the small side ward where Josh lay on one of the two beds with a pretty, late teenage, somewhat buxom, brown girl was watching over him, very tempted to hold his hand to comfort him as he lay on his left side, half awake, half asleep, yet groaning in obvious, excruciating pain.

''Way!!  Why didn’t he mention the pain when he passed us earlier?  Jo, draw 10mg in 5 ml morphine sulfate and put it in a small glass of cola with a straw please.  That will work almost instantly.  Then put up a 5 perc cent dextrose solution over 2 hours with a nice 10 μg/hr opiate to deaden the pain.  I know he’s young for opiates, but I hope it is only for a week or so.  Next, Jo, call Arthur Chester in will you please.  Tell him to wheel in the portable anaesthesia apparatus too.''  The instructions from Peter Mooney came quick fire and brokered no questioning.  Up to this stage at least, Joshua was indisputably within Peter ‘s bailiwick.

Adam was meanwhile simply getting as comfortable as he could on an old stool, sitting as close to Josh as was decent and respectful of his ''space''.

''Hi Josh.  You may not recall me, but you passed by me as you came in the hospital a while back.  My name is Adam and I have a son about your age, coming on 12 in a couple of weeks.  His name’s Felix.  You’ll probably meet him soon.  I have a feeling you two are going to get on like a house on fire.  If you will forgive my language, Felix is like you in that he won’t take any shit from anyone either.  He’s ended up in a clinic twice that I know of, because of that.  He’s going to love you.'' And he smiled broadly and brought his face down and gave Josh a kiss on his forehead.

A thud and bang, followed by much rattling and the sudden loud crash of the little ward’s double doors opening together at the behest of a large trolley laden with monitors, large glass instruments, rows of injectables, vials, cables, Uncle Tom Cobbly and All… At the other end of this magical mystery tour-de-force was a tiny, bald, mustachioed, very lightly brown man, wearing an immaculate, starched, pressed, startlingly white lab coat.  Under that he sported, again exquisitely and perfectly ironed, an Egyptian cotton shirt in light blue, with a light mauve bow tie.  Dr. Arthur Chester’s trousers (never ''pants''!!) were a light wool worsted in grey, of course, it being a work day.  As the hospital had such poor flooring and dust was everywhere, he had given up on highly polished shoes, but still kept his black brogues as clean as possible.

''How are the wife and kids, Arthur?'' asked Peter as a greeting to one of his favourite, and indubitably among the most professionally outstanding amongst his colleagues here at Bringitar, or further afield.  Arthur had saved more of Peter’s patients on the operating table than all other anaesthetists he had worked with put together and multiplied by two.  He was a veritable genius of anaesthesiology.

''So this young man is why I am running about like a blue assed fly, eh?  Well, he’s a good looking little fucker, I’ll say that for him.  A little white under the gills today.  Needs the help of a vampire or two I’d say, colleagues.  Or are you two so busy with a thumb up your asses you hadn’t noticed a tinge of white in this little black toy-boy’s aspect?''

''I’m nobody’s toy-boy, mister.  Hell no.''

''Miracle of miracles.  Lazarus awakens.  Toy-boy stirs his little loins, well his tongue at least.  By the way, my dear wife Lavenda, is as beautiful as ever and is now visiting our eldest boy and his wife and our four grandchildren at Kilifi, where he’s teaching at a technical college.  Of my other nine, just three remain at home.  Zebedee is the youngest at 12.  If toy-boy here survives I’ll bring him over and they can enjoy a 69 together.''

''What the fuck….!'' started Josh before everybody else in the room began roaring with laughter.  This was typical Arthur Chester style.  If he observed a patient going into a negative frame of mind before surgery, he tried his hardest to get the person out of his or her angst.  Sometimes he saw the way to do this was to arouse in the person some emotion, any emotion rather than giving up on life.  This time he’d obviously chosen to arouse in Josh the emotion of anger, a very powerful emotion, but Josh was small and weak so Arthur reckoned he could be handled.  What he wanted was to get Josh out of his death funk, to get him aroused, angry, and – he suddenly decided at the spur of the moment, on a wild impulse – to shock him too with his son’s recently discovered pubescent behaviour.

''Yea, I’ll bring Zee over next week.  If you’re still around that is, of course.  But more likely you’ll have allowed whoever wanted you as a toy-boy to have won out, beaten you, sucked the life out of you.  After all, you’re just a wimpy would be toy-boy.  You even failed at that.  You wouldn’t even know how to 69 my Zee.  Probably don’t even know what the fuck I’m talking about.''

''I DO,YOU BALD DWARF INCESTUOUS PIMP.  You probably shove yours up poor Zee’s arse every night.  I know your kind.  Well I am NOT into being anybody’s toy-boy and when I do choose to have a relationship with someone, be it a boy or a girl, I will do the choosing, thank you very much.  That is why I’m in the state I am right now.''

Suddenly Josh looked around the grey and green painted room, with its fluorescent lighting, the usual totally grime-encrusted windows wide open, the cracked, faded and scuffed, painted concrete floors, and the iron bedteads.  What he also saw were wide smiles, grins, even a mild chuckle in Peter Moodey’s case.  All showed the same emotion - Matron Jo, the young nurse whose name he didn’t know, the kindly Daktari Adam, Daktari Peter, this new arsehole, Daktari Arthur.  All of them were smiling at him.

It was Adam who spoke.

''My dear, dear boy.  Arthur Chester, behind that bow tie and starched coat and beneath that shiny pate, is secretly a magician.  A wizard in fact.  He gets boys, and even men, even humans of the alternative gender if you get my meaning?''

Adam winked, and Joshua, obviously high by now on a mix of morphine and whatever other opiate Peter had prescribed for his intravenous infusion, but certainly feeling no pain, but yet keen enough still to understand exactly what HIS Daktari was saying.

''Wizard Arthur has brought, brung, winched, dragged, forced, inveigled, wrenched, pummeled, persuaded you back to face the pain of life.  And I and Dr. Peter, and Matron Jo, and all the nurses, not to mention your brothers, and my son Felix who, if Zee won’t, definitely will 69 you if you want.  His friends say he’s the best in his year in school.  So now let’s get the blood and gore stuff out of the way so we can face everything afterwards, OK, Josh?''

Everything was a hushed silence.  Josh was stunned that anyone should care so much for him as to go out on a limb like that and play such a risky trick, just to save his scrawny little butt.  But Arthur, whom he didn’t even know must be one hell of a fantastic guy to do that just to save one patient.  Now he had to do something to pay back.  He knew something they all didn’t, for all their wisdom and kindness, so it was time to pay up.

''Before we start everything, please can you and me talk privately, but I’d like Wizard Arthur there too, please.  Just us three.  Just ten or fifteen minutes, please.  Then I’m all yours.  Promise.''

''I really don’t like any further delays, but as you’re not actively bleeding I’ll say OK.  No, Sister and I will take a tea break for twenty minutes.  Make the most of it.'' With that Peter Mooney lead his trip out of the side ward.

''Daktaris.  Please sit.  Do not interrupt me until I finish.  Then say whatever the fuck you want.  I’m going to have a hard time getting through this so do NOT interrupt.  Respect.  I’m going to tell you all about the attack on me so you know about the guys.  Do not interrupt.  I saw you begin.

''I came out of the market at Sang’alo, intending to walk home with the tea and sugar I had bought.  A lounging, big guy on a bicycle pulled up next to me and just started chatting.  I thought this unusual, but I thought maybe he was a bit, you know, simple minded.  I can’t remember having seen him before, which means he can’t be local, as I know everyone around there.

''Anyroad, I keep walking and he trudged alongside me wheeling his Chinese bike.  He’s about 5 ft. 9 ins. tall, but walks stooped over so appears shorter.  I don’t think he’s hot on hygiene either, ’cause he stank and his pits – phew!!''

''May I ask questions for elucidation,'' asked Adam?

''Go ahead.''

''What was he wearing, did he have rings or tattoos, was he very black or not, bald or what, glasses, beard, glasses, what was he wearing, did his bicycle have lights, what shoes did he wear, and what language did he speak to you and to others?''

''Wow! You got so carried away you asked me some questions twice over.  I am determined to do my best to help you get these guys, but I am not without my limits.  Wait.  Do NOT STOP.  Right.  He wore a green army-style shirt, not a T shirt, with green camouflage pants too.  His shoes were black trainers, rip-off high tops of some sort.  He didn’t have a shaved head, but it was close.  I guess his age at 30, 'cause he needed a shave, but there were no grey bits in his beard stubble.  He spoke Kiswahili, but poorly.  I reckon the other guy, the one we met later, told him everything must be in Kiswahili.

''Let me think.  No, no glasses.  I can’t remember whether I saw a light on the bike.  It was daylight, of course.  I would describe him as a typical Luo looking guy, except I’m fairly sure, for some reason, that he is not a Luo.  He just has similar stature and colouring.

''Going on.  After a while he told me his name was David and that he and his older brother had just recently moved here after inheriting an uncle's land – an uncle they hadn’t seen since they were kids.  The land was in very bad shape.  It hadn’t been looked after in years, he told me.  It was going to take lots of work to put right, but would be worth it once it was all done.  He and his brother had been recruiting local lads on a day by day basis to help clear the land of weeds, rocks, old debris, etc.  Would I be interested?  They paid 600 shillings for a 10 hour day 8.00 to 7.00 with a lunch provided.

''It sounded just too good to be true.  I asked if I could look the place over first.  He thought that would be ideal and called his brother.  While he did that, I secretly called my brother too and informed him where I was planning to go after dropping the items off at ‘Auntie Eddie’s in the village for him to pick up and take home.  Unbeknownst to me, he became nervous about the whole transaction after hearing from friends about the discovery of a second boy who had been attacked, and had decided to track my path with ‘Dave’.

''I got on the bike with Dave and ended up in a small village I may have been through before, but truly don’t remember it having made much of an impression on me if I had.  I certainly can’t tell you its name, but my brother certainly can, I’m sure.  There I met the older brother, a much darker character altogether.  He wore a distinctive blue shirt with wide, pointy, collars.  Over this he had a fake black leather jerkin or waistcoat thingy.  His jeans were too wide to be modern.  He wore Western style leather boots too.  He stank of stale beer and something else I didn’t recognise.  A type of smoke, but not tobacco and not hashish.  I would know those two.  Please don’t ask me how.

''Want to see the plantation, kid?  The older brother, whose name I never learned, believe it or not, asked me.  I replied, 'Sure, why not'.  So we got on two bikes, he extremely wobbly on his, and cycled about two or three kilometers more to a huge open maize field.  ‘This is what we need to clear, my son.  Feel up to helping?’ Is what he said, that is the older brother, as he had his arm around my shoulder.  I was almost half supporting him, ’cause either he was drunk or whatever he had smoked was stronger than any hashish I have ever…shit...I never said that.  Right.

''Today it doesn’t matter anyway.  I can tell you every sin I have ever committed and it doesn’t matter a damn.  And I haven’t committed enough if truth be told.

''But his arm kept creeping lower, not on my shoulder, but my back.  As we walked into the field he was talking.  Cute young boy like you.  800 shillings for working all day.  I have boys less talented than you earning 2000 shillings an hour.  What do you think of that idea, young Josh?  Of course I had a pretty good idea where this conversation was going, but I wanted to keep him talking, rather than doing anything else.  What does that involve, sir?  I can’t drive or carry big loads or anything.  By now his arm was at the base of my spine and I saw his brother come up the other way behind me.

''What if I want to consider your proposal, Sir?  At that, both brothers jumped for me and the older one simply said it was time to sample the goods.  At which I picked up a fist sized rock, threw it directly at his nose, heard the crack, saw the blood spurt and shouted, perhaps unwisely, sample that!

''I ran like my life depended on it.  And it did.  ‘Dave’ picked up a panga (meter long twin-bladed, long handled cleaver used to clear undergrowth) from somewhere and that truly scared me.  But in the distance, I saw my brother Joseph and this gave me second breath.  He cycled to me and threw stones at the men and shouted at them so loudly that he attracted the attention of others.  In the end a number of men came running towards us, but just as I thought all would be well I tripped.  Dave caught up with me and sliced me all up my left side before he ran off to escape before the men in turn would catch up to him.  I had the sense to quickly put myself together and squeeze tight and I’ve been doing that ever since, daktaris.  But I also have felt things inside slipping down.  I know things aren’t where they’re meant to be.  I also know that as soon as I let go this pressure everything going to go everywhere and no amount of you three rushing about is going to be able to keep up.

''That’s why it was so important that I told you everything now.  I know I won’t be here in an hour or so.  Don’t let Joseph in, please.  I can’t do a goodbye with him.  It would be too painful.  But please, please, please, Daktari.  Get the motherfuckers for me.  Promise me.''

With that the boy closed his eyes, but still held Adam’s hand tightly.

''I do promise you, Josh.  But I also am a very skilled surgeon who never gives up until the very last breath.  So don’t assume you’ve shut your eyes for the last time yet.  But Arthur is going to put you under soon.  Once Peter is back, OK.''

''Sure thing, Daktari.  Before you put me under can we say the Our Father together please.''

''Most certainly.  Would you like Communion too?''

''No.  Just us saying our prayers is enough.''

Just then Peter and Jo returned.

Adam took a stern pose and briefed both of his colleagues.

''The situation is much more serious than we thought.  I want Josh strapped now, exactly as he is no movement, not even a toe.  Then I want surgery open for him in 15 minutes.  I don’t care what’s scheduled.  Clear it.  We carry him there.  That is we, you and me Peter.  No one else.  I want every way cleared on our way there.  Arthur sedate him to get there, but not out, OK.  I want you on anesthetics.  I want 10 units whole blood available.  You and I will work Peter, but I need two other scrubbed in and at the table.  You choose them, Peter, but they must be good.  I need you there, Jo, plus the full normal operating room ward for a class one surgery.

''Don’t just stand there looking at me, let’s get moving.''

∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞

Jesse was still walking on air.  Since arriving at Casa de Medicos, the name on the gatepost of Daktari’s and Felix’s mansion (at least to Jesse’s eyes), the Toriop ten-year old had studiously kept a low profile.  He’d watched while his slightly older village mates, Abel and Robbie had been introduced to the intricacies of American eight-ball pool, then to pin ball, then been beaten, no, stupifyingly humiliated at darts by Matt and Mike, and finally both wrestled even out of their T shirts, till the shirts covered their heads to force their submission, by an obviously well-practiced tag team of Felix and Matt.  All in all, Jesse thought he had been wise to surreptitiously slink into the shadows whenever teams were being chosen for games the previous evening.  He felt that, having lost no games, though admittedly having won none either, at least he could claim a vestige, a scintilla, of pride for his otherwise woebegone village.  Buggered in reputation thanks to Robbie and Abel, taking on games they knew nothing about.  They’d been well and truly made a dog’s breakfast of.

But it had seemed like fun.

It was just that he was so overwhelmed by it all.

Take yesterday.  Getting Mam’s permission to come had been easier than he thought it would be.  That Matt sure is a slick talker, even with grown-up.  When he said he was the Police Chief’s son, I thought Mam was going to have a conniption fit!  She almost dropped him a curtsey, for fuck’s sake!  She was tottering, thinking about it, when Matt saw what was happening and nipped what would have been a terribly embarrassing episode in the bud by sitting her down on her chair and kneeling in front of her.

After that he could have asked for me to become his sex slave for life and she’d have acquiesced.  As it was he and I just put a couple of things in a plastic bag and that was that.

No, it was me and my reaction to everything since that which is my problem now.  My first ride in a real garry (autocar) when we came from the hospital up to the mountain.  The beautiful new hospital that Philip, Gabe and those other two are in.  I can’t believe such a place exists.  My one time in a hospital before, in Kakamega when I was 6 years old and I was staying with Uncle John and broke my leg falling from a tree.  I remember the choo (toilet) with shit piled so high I couldn’t do anything there ’cause I couldn’t reach without sitting on somebody else’s doodoo.  And the stink!!!  There were three of us small boys in my bed.  I could move after a few days, using crutches, but the other two had heavy weights on their legs.  So I helped them pee and things as there were few nurses.  The whole ward was men and boys.  Men coughing up gobs of terrible phlegm all the time and making that deep throat noise as they brought it up, day and night.

And men and boys dying everywhere.  I was in that ward two weeks before Mam came and picked me home and gave Uncle John hell for leaving me there, and in that time two boys in the next bed to me died.  In all I lost count after 20 boys and 6 men, because by then I could only count up to twenty.

But this place where Philip and the gang are now.  Way!  I could imagine dying happily there.  Everything clean.  I didn’t see the toilets, but I doubt it’s piled with shit, somehow.

Then this house.  It’s not a house.  It’s a whole village made into one house.  But not even that.  The floors are impossible, cause in some places they’re shiny, shiny stone, but in others they’re very nicely polished wood with patterned coverings on it in places too.  I just cannot fathom it.  I cannot take it in.  Every house I know has a cow-shit floor.  The big supermarket in Bringitar has stone floors, but nothing like this shiny one here.  A few good shops on Moi Avenue, such as the book shop where I buy my school texts, have wood floors.  But they’re rough planks.  Absolutely no comparison with Daktari’s house, here.

My brain cannot manage to solve the mystery of how one minute I’m in a mud hut and the next I am amidst this palatial finery.  Why?  And how can this stuff even exist and I have no hint of it until now?

''Come on Jesse.  Eat some bloody breakfast man.  You have a busy day ahead of you.  Daktari Adam, with David, Dido, Francis and Felix have already set off for Bringitar Hospital again.  Unfortunately there’s been another attack and a boy is, seemingly, hanging on to life by a whisker.''  The news reporter was Mark.  He was addressing the breakfasting brood already busy demolishing the little buffet the cook had prepared for them on the kitchen credenza.

Robbie, Abel, Matt, and now Jesse had arrived not really knowing the plan for the day.  Fortunately, David, Felix, Adam and Mark had shared coffee and some boysenberry muffins an hour or so earlier, before the Oliver Detachment, as they’d named themselves, had left at 06.00.  It was now 06.30.

''Over there, on the credenza, there’s boysenberry muffins, I think maybe a pancake or two left if my brother hasn’t scarfed them all, scrambled eggs, mushrooms, crispy bacon, oh and ugi of course made strong with millet, ground nuts, simsim, and ground almonds.  Milk, apple juice, mango juice, mixed avocado and carrot juice, and chai are on the table.  Our own coffee is over there near the big range.  Anything else you need, hard luck till lunch at 1.00,'' ended Mike.

''Certain you didn’t miss anything out, like grilled crocodile cheeks or broiled buffalo balls?'' asked Jesse with more than a touch of sarcasm in his dulcet tone.

''While you are all languorously resting, replete after your morning repast…''

''Brother of mine, kindly cut the long words and verbiage and tell us what David and Felix want us to damn well do.  Boy, sometimes I wonder if we had a dictionary in the womb with us,'' said Matt to sniggering from the others at the table.  Unfortunately, Jesse had just put a spoonful of scrambled egg in his mouth as Matt made his joke.  The result was that he and Robbie were sprayed liberally with an interesting mix of avocado/carrot juice (which Jesse already had in his mouth) and wet greenish-reddish scrambled egg.

''What the fu…'' began Matt.

''Damn it to hell - my only clean T,'' said Robbie.

Mike and Abel were rolling on the floor in uncontrollable laughter.

Jesse just sat there, until he decided he may as well continue with his very interesting and noisome breakfast.

''Alright, alright.  Nobody has any damage, other than a stained shirt.  And it was VERY funny,'' began Mike again after a couple of minutes for the four of them to gather their equilibrium.  Jesse seemed unfazed by the whole thing.

''After breakfast we just stack dishes on the draining board over there and wipe down the table here.  Put the juices in the fridge marked number 2.  Everything else we leave, but with covers on.  The kitchen cleaners come in at 7.30, Adam told me.  The rehab kids have breakfast and lunch on their wing, only eating en famile at dinner.

''Matt and I have spare shirts so, Robbie, you can have one of mine after breakfast to replace the interestingly patterned one you're wearing now.''

Robbie gave him a wan look and turned his eyes skyward, and pursed his lips, creating a face evocative of one saying voicelessly, ''I can’t believe this could happen to me! Why me? lol!!!''

''Moving on.  Robbie and Abel, David and Fello would like you to work with Gabe to see if you can plot a more defined route Philip could be taking.  Where from.  If his Mom is truly very sick, which clinics are there she could have gone to east of Toriop?  And so on.  Matt and I are going to work with Bryan on a strategy to entrap bent cops.  I have an idea, but it’s a bit risky.  I need to discuss it.

''That leaves Jesse and Lucas.  In many ways, Jesse you have the most critical job and the one which could short-cut every other one here.  We all want you to break into Philip’s hiding place, the secret room to which he’s escaped to avoid the horrors he went through, and he fears he still faces.  You are almost certainly the last kind person he spoke to, Jesse.  David, Felix, Adam, Matt, Me, every one of us need you to connect with Philip and using even those exact same words as before, remind him that there are good people and good experiences, behind your mellifluous voice.''

What Mike said, the way he said it, and the importance of the message his words carried, caused everyone to pause a while.  Even a gaggle of pre-teen boys can be still briefly.  But such stillnesses among a group of 12 year olds are evanescent.  In less than a minute or two, plates were being precariously stacked, juices placed in the correct refrigerator, once found (in the second, back, dry goods pantry), and the 12-person cedar-top breakfast table thoroughly scrubbed.

''Mike came down with five T shirts from among which Robbie could choose, while Matt scooted off to change his.

''Boy, this is a really fantastic looking one, Mike.  Can I really borrow this one?  It must be worth a mint.  It can’t be an original ‘I Am A Bird Now’ promo T.  I am on top of the rock scene more than anyone else in my school of my age and almost nobody there has heard of Truly Canadian.  This album came out only weeks ago.  This must be a very new rip-off from some market in Nairobi.  Even then it must have cost, what - 200 Shillings maybe.  More than my whole school uniform, anyway.''

''Robbie, I’m not into rock music AT ALL, understand.  Oh, I listen to Kiss FM and it’s OK, but the scene is not for me at all.  So, will you please accept this shirt from me?  I have a feeling we all are going to be doing some pretty deep shit together before this is over, so a little gift like this is nothing between fellow warriors at arms, right?''

''Alright.  Thanks.  I will accept with alacrity.  But do tell me the story behind the shirt.''

''I got one, and Matt has one too, but he doesn’t wear his, but has it framed in glass on a wall in his dorm at school.  He’s much more into rock music than I am.  They were gifts from my uncle, Reymond Big Cloud.  He’s my mother’s brother.  You will see the shirt is signed by each member of the band and it says, ‘To my good friend Running Wind.'  I guess it would be worth lots if I were broke and needed to sell it, but I prefer to gift it to a new found friend who will value it.  I also suggest you pick another shirt to wear, too, and I’ll store this one away for you to take home.  After all, you don’t want egg, avocado and carrot on this one, or worse!  By the way, you know my mother is a North American Indian.  The Running Wind guy mentioned on the shirt?  That would be me.  He he!''

Before Robbie could say anything, Mike placed a black tank top in Robbie’s hands as he rushed to his room to put the other stuff away and to carry out necessary post prandial ablutions.

''Hey, it’s one heck of a trudge from here to Children’s Hospital.  It’s a pity Daktari had to leave early,'' said Abel as the five gathered at the vestibule ready to leave.  It was nearing 8.00 and the temperature was a pleasant 19 degrees.  At 3000m, there was a mild 5 km breeze but the cloud cover that morning amounted to little more than mare’s tails, or cirrus.  These would likely soon vanish and, as it was not the Rainy Season, nor was it yet approaching the Short Rains, even here at high altitude it would almost certainly be a bright, sunny day, with a high approaching the upper 20s.

So a 12km hike to the hospital, while certainly not a serious challenge to any of the five, was something Robbie and the others had not considered.

''Don’t worry chaps.  As usual, under Chief David’s watchful eye, and following Mwalim Felix’s strenuous and exhaustive tuition, Champion Pilot Mike will ride to your rescue.''

''What the fuck are you on about now, brother of mine, and sometime total idiot,'' commented Matt as he and the others followed a beckoning Mike to the six-car garage which abutted the games room on the lower level of the house.

''E voilà,'' said Mike with a flourish of his right arm and a little bow.  He couldn’t help noticing as he looked over that the tank top he’d given Robbie to wear was a trifle, shall one say, snug.  Still, Robbie DID have a lovely looking inny!

''Do you think for one split second that I am going to trust my precious life on, on, on that, that, contraption, with YOU, of all 4 billion or so people in this world driving the thing?  You and David and Felix must have combined to totally lose your marbles.  No way, Jose.  Nada.  Nein.  Niet.  Ich bin nicht ein dumkoft or whatever the word is.  What’s that word for a special… oh yes!  I think when you three thought this up it was a lagniappe of idiocy.''

''Have you quite finished, my dear brother, with your eloquent histrionics.  O K.  Just get on.  This vehicle is known as an ATV or an All Terrain Vehicle.  So as its name suggests it will go anywhere.  Being 12, of course, I can’t drive on public roads, but I can on the Foundation’s property.  So I can get us to the hospital following the map Felix has given me.  It means we need to jig about here and there to stay on private land, but it seems fairly easy as its dry now and no muddy areas.  Felix has given me exhaustive training on how to drive this ATV.  Of course there are belts and crash helmets for those who feel they need them.  All aboard the Philip Express.''

At that Mike inserted the key Felix had given him into the red 5-seater 250cc ATV and pressed the ignition button.  A dull roar emitted from the dual, high positioned exhaust pipes.  Robbie got in to the bucket seat alongside Mike immediately.

''This is so cool, can’t get over you driving and not yet 12.  How long was the driving course Felix gave you?  Can I enroll sometime?'' Robbie was beaming and looking at everything in the little vehicle like a kid in a toy store.

''Ten minutes, probably nearer eight actually,'' said Mike in a matter of fact way, as Abel and Jesse got in the back.  Matt was still kicking his heels a few meters away as Mike began inching the powerful machine out of the shadows and into full sunlight.

''Ten minutes what, dick head?'' laughed Robbie to his ''pilot'' as the Big Red idled right next to Matt and Abel urged him aboard.

''That’s how long my training was by Felix to drive this SOB, partner.  Now, we going with or without you, Matt?  To be honest I don’t give a fuck by now.  I got to drive this thing simply because I got up this morning.  I didn’t get, crave or even particularly want the extra hassle.  But now we have things to do and places to go.  The others have been working their butts off for three hours already while we’re still half sulking and the other half sitting on our hands waiting for Godot.  Before anybody asks, please not now.  In Adam’s library tonight after dinner.  But I am putting MY foot on the accelerator now, on the gas pedal.  So shit or get off the pot Matt.''

At that he did indeed slowly speed up.  Matt continued to vacillate for a moment, then began to run and jumped into Abel’s arms as he dragged him aboard, just as Mark does up to 30 kmh, the fastest he felt comfortable going without insisting on everyone buckling up.

The ride was actually remarkably free of incident.  At the end even Matt had to grudgingly compliment his brother on his negotiation of sharp bends, and sharper wolf whistles from several groups of village girls, and even a few village youths!

On the South Wing, in special unit 3, where the usual 4 beds had been augmented with two more lest any of the visiting boys wanted to sleep over, Gabe, Bry and Lucas had been playing Hearts since breakfast had been cleared away.  The problem of reaching over to play had been overcome in a very easy way by an accommodating therapist who set up everything for them.  Firstly he reversed Lucas’s bed, so his head was where Gabe’s foot was.  Then, as Bry had been reclassified as semi-ambulatory, he took his traction weights off and sat him in a wheelchair between the beds of his mates, with his mates in a sort of V shape.

''You’re going to have to have the traction back on for 12 hours out of 24 for the next 6 weeks or so, but that is better than now, eh?'' said Clement, the therapist.

''Man, you know from your other patients, I expect, how much I now value this freedom.  It is truly beautiful.  Guys,'' he said, now holding hands with his two roomies, ''now that I can get around at least a little, just tell me what and if it is within my capacity to fulfill, consider it done.''

As he finished his little ode to feeling free, there was an apparent invasion of black and grey-white clad African ninjas or something of that ilk, for five howling, sub teen boys seemingly tasked with raising the dead from their stupor.

Clement simply stood back, near the large, open French windows where he later intended wheeling the three boys out for some air.  They didn’t know it yet, being new here, but as they were in the Special Unit they merited their own therapist, or at least he spent 4 hours a day with them, the equivalent of an hour each.  But now he just wanted to watch these new arrivals.  He’d been primed there would be boys visiting who were highly approved by Daktari and could even overnight if they wanted.  That was a first for non-family members.

The boys gave one another the standard African boys' double handshake, but a couple went a bit further and a mild hug.  What was the world coming to!

Jesse went straight to Philip’s bed.  He needed to go there.  He was being called there in some mysterious way.

''Philip, my dear, dear, dear, brother.'' He spoke in Kibukusu, of course.  His accent was redolent of the village, of the countryside, of boyhood.  There was no dissembling in his way of talking to his friend.  They were so alike, though Jesse didn’t know it yet.

He leaned closer, felt alone with Philip though he heard the others talking in groups around the room.  They might as well not have been there.  He leaned closer.  Stroked Philip’s brow gently, as he recalled his own mother doing when he’d been very ill some years back, and almost died.  They said so, his older brothers.  His mother’d nursed him night and day for a week.  His little sister Kate had not been so lucky.  Now it’s Philip.  Pay up.  Pay back.  Stand up.  Stand back.

No.  This Jesse is no stand back guy.  Like the other boys he is going to stand up, even if that sounds very, what’s the word he’d learned last lesson which sounds like the lining of a cow’s stomach, ah yes, trite.  Yes it may be trite, but I’m not going to stand back, but I’m going to stand UP!

''So, Philip, remember I told you to shelter by the church where the noise of the loose tin roof scares the hyenas and keeps them away.  I also gave you my Auntie’s mandazi and my school lunch for next day.  I loved sharing with you, because I think you and I are like brothers.  David, who was with you before, will be here later, too.  He loves you, just like me.  He told me you like your hand held like this.''

At that Jesse took Philip’s right hand in both his hands and gently ran his fingers along the palm.  Still holding his hand, Jesse felt compelled to move his left hand back to stroke the very black boy’s brow.  He moved down the cheeks and finally had to rest little, while still holding his hand of course.

''Why don’t you sit on the bed?  You won’t hurt anything.''  When Clement spoke he shocked Jesse so much he actually fell over onto his backside, hitting his head on the wall with a bang.

''Hey!  Sorry!  I didn’t intend to frighten you.  Here get up.  Did you hurt yourself much?''  Clement reached out his hand and easily aided Jesse back up.

''Naw, I’m fine.  Slightly bruised arse.  More greatly bruised ego, I think.  I’m glad my friends are so immersed in their planning discussions that they didn’t notice my show.  I am so embarrassed, but I was so focused on Philip I was almost in another place.  I’m Jesse, by the way,'' and he held out his hand gripping his lower arm with his left hand as a sign of respect towards an elder.

''Jesse, the fault was mine.  I’m Philip’s and the other boys’ therapist.  My name is Clement.  I only came over, not to interfere at all, because I think the way you are associating with Philip is just right.  No, I simply suggest you get comfortable.  Sit on the bed.  Just don’t get on the catheter.  Body contact when you're rubbing him was great.  Felix massaged his feet and legs really deeply but you focus on upper body I think.  At that, I’ll leave you to it.''

''Sorry I fell over, Philip.  It was so funny.  I fell right on my little ass.  Hurt too.  I’m going to sit next to you now, ’cause I’m too small to keep reachin’ over to rub your hand and also your forehead.  Hope this is alright for you.''

He was gently holding and rubbing Philip’s hand, while stroking his cheek and coming down and rubbing his chest.  Of course he was bandaged where his ribs had been damaged, but elsewhere Jesse used a cloth from the bedside table to clean off the boy’s sweat.  He continued this ministration where sweat had pooled at his navel and, lower, at the groin before all dressings covering the mutilated area.

As Jesse worked, silently, adding aloe embrocation he’d found in a drawer in Philip’s cupboard and also some oil of eucalyptus where his bandages had begun to smell bad, as he did these things and felt the welts and bandages and tried to imagine the horrors underneath those dressings, he felt the tears dripping from his chin as they ran down his face.

Jesse couldn’t remember when last he’d cried.  Not when he’d had stitches in his cut belly from falling on a broken bottle.  Not when he broke his leg and was in hospital.  Not even when his little sister Katy died from cerebral malaria.  But now he’s crying because he should and could have saved Philip.  He should have taken him home that night.  God forgive him.

''Please Philip, forgive me.  Come back and I will be a better friend than any friend you have ever had in your life so far.  We will find your Mama together.  If I have to walk to your house on my hands and knees while you lay here getting better, I’ll do it gladly.  Just come back to us.  Come back to ME.''

Jesse lay his head gently on Philip’s chest and was almost dozing off.  He felt the hand on his head and said, ''Thank you Clement, you’re a very kind person.  You truly are.''

Clement had been about to leave, having been listening to Lucas and some of his interesting ideas, but he caught his name being spoken and thought it was little Jesse saying something.

He looked across at Philip’s bed and stopped himself from falling over only by gripping Matt’s strong arm.  This made Matt look where Clement was looking and his jaw dropped too.  Like a rash, the need to look spread and the reactions varied from awed silence to the taking of photographs.

Oh yes, what was it?

Jesse was asleep on Philip’s chest, while Philip, eyes wide open, sat upright on his pillows stroking Jesse’s brow softly with his one good hand.