THE CORNFIELD CONSPIRACY
''Now that we've enjoyed yet another fine repast, courtesy of Mrs. Karioke, I have a little quandary I wish to share with you boys,'' said Adam at 9.45 on Tuesday evening. The boys who had homes to go to had returned after two days with their families, to prepare for the next day's trip to their prospective schools for an entry test and a look around on Thursday. David would join those going to South Rift on Friday for his test and return a day later. School began one week from today.
''Allow me to explain my predicament. In doing so, however I am swearing you boys to secrecy in this matter. The whole project I am to outline to you won't work if word gets out concerning it. So do I have your words of honour on this?''
He was relying on a boyish sense of the theatrics in the dramatic way he was presenting this issue, though Adam did regard this new project, thought up by Zak and Kip, as amazingly good, and an appropriate pay-back in sentiment.
''The Chief, Mike Juma, has come up with some extra money. Quite a lot of money in fact. This is to help make a slight adjustment to the school allocation I had previously made, in collaboration with Daktari Arthur and Mama Florence. You probably noticed that when we learned Zebulon, Zeebee, was going to KIA, we opted to send the two new boys, Mose and Harry, there with him. The more prescient among you recognised that it was a peculiarly costly option to put two boys into KIA rather than change one out of there and transfer him to South Rift. KIA cost several thousand more per term than South Rift. And I'm talking dollars, not shillings.
The boys' rapt attention was on the mzungu now. Only a couple of the 25 pairs of eyes strayed to seek a grape or a slice of pineapple.
''Obviously we all now recognise that the corruption - such as that which the trial of Langat, beginning on Friday, exposes - goes deep. Langat takes a cut of the action of the street boys because to get where he is, as a sergeant, he had to pay off someone higher up the food chain. Then that person paid off his superior in order to get his post, and so on up through the complete pecking order. And where does the rot reach? At the level where the sorts of people who send their sons to KIA reside, that's where.
''Our boys are gregarious types on the whole. They easily make friends. Maybe they get invited for a home visit. Meet dad. Overhear things. See odd things. Who knows?''
''Dad, you are creating a cadre of undercover boys here. Little spies in the making! Don't go all around the houses. Get to the point. You want volunteer James Bonds. I'll go if I get an Aston Martin DB4!'' exclaimed Felix.
The whole table cracked up. The mental image of Felix's mini scruffy Afro peeking above the dashboard and between the spokes of the steering wheel of said sports car was enough to bring a smile to even the currently staid Ant's face.
''Maybe not,'' was Adam's jovial response,'' and this will not be a glamorous espionage operation, more a man-on-the-spot affair. Someone simply to keep their ears open and take advantage of opportunities offered, a fifth column presence. Which brings me to my purpose this evening. It is felt that having just three boys at KIA is not sufficient. A critical mass, of sorts, is necessary. A generous donor, with very good connections with KIA has offered to fully fund three more boys to attend the school. They need only pass the general entry exam.''
Everyone took the pause to replenish chai and dessert plates, chiefly with fruit. Then it was Lucas who just beat Isaac to the draw.
''So you're looking for volunteers, or what?''
''Not exactly, Lucas. I, or rather we, are still seeking balance between the schools. Balance of skills, academic showing so far, while trying to keep established close friendships like the Musketeers and the remaining Street Rats group together. Additionally, we don't want to over stress any of you and KIA has exceptional academic scores and thus very high expectations of its students.
''So in fact, I have three boys in mind. One from the Mount, and two from South Rift. One is a newish recruit, one older, and one - who would, if he accepted, be our recommendation as Skipper at KIA - is one of the Original Five. Each has good academic records and a keen brain from the way they've interacted with Arthur, Mama Florence, and me.''
He then didn't say any more. The silence was quite haunting. Sicily eerie in fact.
''Damn it, tell us. You're killing us here, Daktari,'' Francis said finally, with a shudder.
''Yea, no fair playing the evil dad in front of all of us. We mostly know it isn't true! Play acting after 10 at night. Disgraceful I say,'' Felix was laughing by the end of his little diatribe.
''Can't an aging man have some fun at his son's and his friends' expense now and then? Call it pay-forward for the anguish I know I'm going to suffer when puberty fully kicks in.''
''You mean it gets worse?''
''Oh god,'' said Finch.''At breakfast even buttered toast is already enough to give me an erection.''
Zeebee, being a year older muttered, ''At my age at boarding school you find better use for the little pats of butter you're given than wasting them on toast.''
''I don't think I wish to hear any more on this subject line, '' interjected Adam sternly.
''Come on dad! You went to all boy cathedral choir school for God's sake. We know what goes on in those places - not that it's any different from my school or any boarding school I should think. It's just the sexy long robes and white frilly collars attract the media's attention more than muddy rugby players.''
''Felix, you're being far too cavalier about this subject. It should be a serious issue,'' responded Adam.
''Don't worry, Dad. I'm just winding you up. You know there isn't wall to wall sex at school. In fact sex, as in intercourse, between students is a cause for expulsion. But boys do experiment and I'm sure they did when you were a boy, Dad. But I won't make David, Francis or Finch pregnant. I promise.''
This was cause for another round of general levity. Then everyone remembered why they were still at table so long!
''All right then. Zebedee I think you'd make a good candidate for KIA. From Kericho I would like to take Frankie. Finally as our suggested Skip, a founding Fraternity member and Comms expert, Gabriel, Gabe. Now think and chat and let me know at breakfast. Good night.''
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''David spoke to me on phone before dinner. He sounded so much better.'' Felix was lying atop his bed with Francis beside him. Fitch was on Francis's bed 1.5m away, reading a book by means of the little spotlight above the headboard. ''He explained that Robert and he had had a succession of heart to heart talks. He had also been deeply affected by the priest's message last Sunday. He's been communing with the fishes. I told him he got on well with them because they shared intelligence quotients. It's a good thing he can't travel 1100 km quickly. Then he told me he's been running a lot. So he's much more fit.
''But the most important thing he said, and he was emphatic he wouldn't argue the issues over the phone, is that he is adamant he wants to give up as coordinator or chief of the Fraternity. It's grown too big. He's happy to chair the Community Committee and to form and lead a new PR team, but not to be the overall chief. He can be a stand-by reserve.''
This news shocked Francis so much he stopped massaging Felix's feet. Finch just lay his book in his lap and looked up.
''I think I guess where he's coming from, actually,'' remarked Finch. Because Finch had been the latest to join the inner circle, it surprised Francis, a little, that it was this newbie who spoke up first. ''When he became leader at the beginning, from what I understand, there were just a handful of you. Now there is a network of different groups totaling 200, plus the community groups, the police, the Foundation, schools. It's an entirely different kettle of fish from what David took on. He knows his level. It's a high one, but not the top one with this much going on.''
''It may interest you that David feels the new Chief should be a boy who is one of the 3+1 Musketeers with a name beginning with F - and that canceled out Mark or Lucas, both of whom I considered to be strong options.''
Francis sat up and reached his arms up to stretch them. His tightly muscled back cracked a little and he groaned.
''I need to go to bed. Am I in yours tonight, Felix, sharing mine with Finch, or alone in David's?''
''As far as I'm concerned you have carte blanche, my brother,'' said Finch, ''but remember, please, that I must finish this book tonight in case we are asked about it in the school tests on Thursday. And for what it's worth, I think Felix is a shoo-in as the new Chief. If he hadn't opted out, he would have been leader the first time.''
''As it happens I agree with you 100%, with either Mark or Lucas as his XO,'' commented Francis as he stripped off his boxer shorts and got under the sheet to join an equally au naturel Felix, just pulling on the rope to release the fine mosquito net.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
The following days passed in a frenzy of activity. But not before Zee threw a whole new spanner in the works during Monday's dinner.
''Daktari. I have here a cheque drawn on a charitable foundation based in New York which supports African children's education. It is for $35,000, which is about the cost of sending three boys to KIA for a year. It is made out to your Foundation.'' The boy passed the slip up the table to Adam, though the boys who handled it on its way couldn't resist a peek, having never seen such a valuable chit of paper.
After a quick glance at the cheque, Adam looked over at Zee with a deep frown, ''You must know I cannot accept this, my boy. Well intentioned as I am certain it may be, when we decided to add Mose and Harry with you at KIA we budgeted for it. I assume your family has already paid your fees. So this money is not necessary.''
''Daktari. Respectfully, allow me to explain my thinking. There are 11 boys at South Rift and nine at The Mount, but only three at KIA. If we are truly targeting the 'Elite' then we are rather light where it counts. You said the other day you wanted three more boys to join us in Nairobi. This cheque just means there is extra money for other things. I happen to know that Gabe and Zeb are far from keen about going to KIA. It's the social, the fitting-in part that they are concerned about and that they spoke to me concerning. So I used my US wealthy diaspora contacts é voilà a bit of dosh for three more boys to keep Mose, Harry and me company. The cheques will keep coming providing our boys keep doing well academically. You either pick three more boys from the camp or shuffle them from among the other schools. QED. You are now free to choose any boys you want.''
The others all looked at him a moment or two.
''A bit last minute this, isn't it? We're due at the schools tomorrow, lest you hadn't noticed,'' said Francis in his testy voice.
''Yes, well, I didn't get the letter with this in it until the mail arrived at 4.00 p.m., and thereafter Daktari has seemed to be out until just now. Sorry.'' Zee appeared genuinely contrite.
''There is real value in his argument too,'' added Mark. ''However, if the issue of not wanting to put boys in an environment where they would feel uncomfortable is valid for South Rift, then it would be true in Spades for KIA. They are total snobs there.''
''I have an answer for that, though it would mean a major sacrifice on the part of two boys who would hate to do it, except that it would be for the sake of the Fraternity,'' said Matt from his place at the far end of the table where he was assisting some rehab boys to cut their wild pig cutlets.
''Go ahead, you've started, so finish,'' said Felix.
''We..e..e..ll. What if somebody or somebodies who have already some experience of mixing with these snobby punks were to go to KIA and help Harry, Mose and whomever, aided by Zee of course, to walk the minefield of social propriety? And what if these bodies were already known to KIA by having competed against and thoroughly thrashed them in sports. And...and if these bodies, together with said Zee and company, were to make it known they might help KIA win at something other than swimming for once in its history, like the National Schools Marksmanship Tournament, for example. Particularly if those bodies moving were to be my brother and I and the third boy was Frankie.''
''WHAT!! Are you out of your God damned fucking stupid half-witted brain, brother? Leave South Rift! Me, Mark Juma, desert my friends, my dorm, my team, my, my, my...Fuck, Fuck, Fuck…you're running this rotten guilt trip on me. I bloody well know it. 'Do it for the Fraternity'. 'Remember Stevie's sacrifice. What is your little sacrifice to compare?' And of course you're right. By the law of averages, even you must sometimes be right. But I hate you for it. I don't know if I hate you most for thinking of it, or for thinking of it before I did. Fuck, Fuck, Fuck. I don't want to move!''
''Mark, maybe it won't be forever,'' suggested Finch, soothingly. ''Perhaps we'll get this this whole corruption thing wrapped up in a year of two, then you can transfer back.''
''Or just as likely we'll all have a bullet in the back of our necks,'' uttered Frankie. ''But, I'm game, Matt. Let's go for it. What's that phrase Daktari Peter used at church yesterday, Lucas? 'Let us advance and beard the lion in his den!' If corrupt, powerful people are our simba, lion, then the epitome of their den must be the elite schools, such as KIA. So, 'Once more into the breach dear friends, once more...'''
''God, Frankie, grade 5's haven't done Richard III yet have they, in state school?'' asked Mama Florence, revealing for once that she had more classical education than she had heretofore let on.
''No, Mama Florence. But I read a lot and, anyway, I'm in grade 6 doing Extra English and did Macbeth last year which got me interested in Shakespearean bad boys!'' and the cute 4 ft. 9 in. Ogiek, wearing his hair about 3 in long and dressed in red shorts and a huge Green Bay Packers T shirt which threatened to skip off his almost emaciated-looking shoulders threw Mama a wicked grin and cast his eyes downward, fluttering his impossibly long eyelashes like a humming bird's wings.
''Lovely, evil, child,'' thought Florence as she smiled to herself. ''Every girl at KIA better watch for her virginity once this boy gets there, even if he's just getting to 10. Every boy too, I shouldn't be surprised!''
''Now, then, this is a fine new arrangement. And an excellent one. You will need to meet to elect a leader and I shall coordinate with Kip Kipsang to find you a police contact at the Karen police station in southwestern Nairobi where the school is situated. I'll call them in the morning, tell them of the extra potential students and get you two boys' transcripts from South Rift. I can tell you this is a huge thing you are doing and way more than we have any right to expect. Don't you need to talk to your dad and mom first, to be sure?'' Adam interjected, while their joint decisions seemed to be helping him solve his delimma.
''Look, Daktari, just like you and Fello, Dad trusts us a lot. His work has taken him out of our lives a great deal these past couple of years so we've simply had to get on with things. With this, I know…we know dad will see the sense in it. He may grumble a bit at first, but he'll be proud really, and he'll worry about the extra expense so please slip him some money somehow, just the difference in cost between the schools, that's all.'' With that, Matt finished - giving the boy he had helped cut up his meat a helping of rhubarb pie and ice cream. Most of the pie went into the boy's, Charlie's, mouth, whereas the ice cream seemed destined for just about anywhere else. His nurse would have a good job with his pre-bedtime washing this night!
The next morning the Toyota Hiace took the eight boys plus Zac and Willi Wanyoni to The Mount. The large Sikorski chopper took the nine South Rift candidates, plus Felix, Adam and DC Rashid. A small private jet aircraft hired by friends of Zee's friends took the six KIA candidates plus Daktari Arthur, Chief Juma and Mama Florence (ostensibly because Mark was still in rehab and in a wheelchair, which of course he was) from Kitale airport to Nairobi Wilson airport, the small domestic one on the south side of the city. There a mini bus would take them the 10 km or so to the school. In each case the parties would stay overnight and return on Thursday for a debrief dinner at PMs. David and Robert were joining the others at South Rift lunchtime Tuesday.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
The taxicab was wending its way from the long distance, express bus stage at Naivasha towards South Rift School. David and Robert had travelled from the coast on the overnight train from Mombasa to Nairobi - a rare luxury curtesy of Chief Juma - and had then jumped on an ''express, non-stop'' matatu to Naivasha. In fact the 90 km had taken 90 minutes.
''Rob. I..I..I..Look, I've been trying ever since we left Diani last evening to find words adequate to express what I feel for everything you've done for me this past week. I think I have found a very simple five words. You have saved my life.
''It is that simple really. Everything was on top of me. The feeling of responsibility, of helplessness, of having put hopeless kids in harm's way and stood by playing with words whilst they died. But you figuratively punched me in the gut, gave me a mean upper cut, and forced me to see the truth. Yes, I did lead whilst boys died, but if there had been no leadership and no strategy, then far more would have fallen. And most fell, not in the field, but when our defences were down, when we were relaxing.
''So your message is true, my mentor. In the future, the leader must be steadfast that we never allow our guard down, we never relax.
''Thank you for my life back, Robert. I'm ready to go on, now. As I wrote Felix in an email yesterday, I am prepared to continue to chair the Community Action Community and to take a lead rôle in the Fraternity, but with its exponential growth to 200+ kids, and your admitted need for 24/7 vigilance in future, I am not the one to be the overall Coordinator any more. You need a more natural leader.''
''Funnily enough, David, I'm not going to try arguing with you. I'm not sure whether or not you are right. Maybe keeping the Committee chairmanship apart is a good thing. Let's go with the flow a bit.''
And go with the flow each party did.
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
''Alright everyone. Can we gather up? If each has a drink of his or her choice, let's all sit. It's getting on in time and some, most, if not all of us, have had a long day, already. It's ten o'clock already and I, at least, have an overly full schedule tomorrow. So, please everyone, find a seat. Felix, David, Kip, Arthur, up here with me please.''
Adam was directing with his incisive best. It was Thursday evening at PMs and each school group had returned between 6.00 and 8.00 when a magnificent buffet had been served. The Committee members arrived together with several of Kip Kipsang's team who were off duty and the elected leaders of the SKS and the Irregulars. It was a large gathering. Clement arrived with Sister Teresa who would be looking after Odede.
''Arthur, your quick report first please.''
''Oh, yes, well. Now, based on age alone those of you aged 11 would expect to enter grade 6, and so on. On the whole you have passed to comply with your age grades at KIA, except Frankie.''
The boy looked up. What, he didn't get into Grade Five? Yet he was in grade Six back home! Oh no, he couldn't stand going back to Four.
''Now, Matt will be in Grade 7, as expected, as will Mose and Harry. Mike will join Zee in Grade 8. Oh yes, and Frankie will be in Grade 7, too, with the others. He aced everything.''
What! Grade 7! I made it to be in class with Big Matt? Way to go. If you're looking Stevie, and I'm sure you are, whatcha think of this, then?
''Moving right along, at The Mount, every boy is in grade according to age, though Robbie, you have an option of Extra English and Extra Spanish because you show promise in languages, and Ant, Extra Math and Extra Science. No doubt some of the rest of you will get a shot at extras later, too. Finally, South Rift. I don't think I need to elaborate on the impact you made in the pool, Isaac. The swim coach almost had an orgasm watching you swim freestyle.''
Everyone - possibly, just possibly (though she did lift her scarf to her face) with the exception of Sister Teresa - collapsed in hoots and howls of laughter.
''No folks, he didn't lose his swimsuit,'' added Felix.
Another bout of laughter ensued, though mostly confined to the boys - mostly, Kip, Zak, Patrick!
''Alright, but seriously, Isaac you swim very, very well. But our boys also scored well academically. At present Felix is in grade 8, a year ahead of his 12 year old age mates. David, Finch, Lucas, Gabe, Francis, Timmy and Isaac all join him. Zeb also jumps a year and begins in grade 7, like his age mate Frankie at KIA. And that ends my report.''
''Kip your turn.''
''Thanks Daktari. I can now report that we have completed our forensic excavation at the Corn field in Toriop. Pending confirmation from the regional forensic laboratory at Kisumu, I can report to you that we believe we have unearthed the remains of between 24 and 30 boys, probably 28. They were aged between 10 and 15 when killed. There seem to be few, if any, skull injuries. So we conclude, pending further evidence to the contrary that death was caused by desanguination in each or at least most cases. There is flesh remaining on several corpses. Throughout the site, not one single penis has been found.
''Now, to everyone here, please note that this information is shared with you as part of your involvement in an ongoing investigation. You may not share this information with anyone at all. And I do mean anyone - your parents, your priest, your lover (unless he's in this room, of course). Every one of you is a member of my team, as of now. You are subject to the Official Secrets Act. In fact each of you will sign it before you leave here tonight. In return, at school you will be protected. You in the SKS and the Irregulars will be more lightly watched, whereas the leaders, those we know are targets - including you Irregular and SKS leaders - will be closely covered, even though I hope you'll never see them.
''Before you go back to school I will give Felix, Isaac, Robbie, Derry and whomever you guys at KIA choose as your Skips your local police contacts. Each of you will also be given your usual handgun, but obviously you'll have to find a lockable hiding place for them immediately. In KIA you'll get expelled if found with a firearm.''
At that the young police sergeant returned to his place.
David stood before anyone else had the opportunity.
''I am so pleased there are the leaders of SKS and the Irregulars here tonight together with my brothers from the Fraternity. During this coming semester, this Trinity or Autumn Term at school, I know that Sergeant Kip, Willi Wanyonyi, the DC, and our own leaders will be strategising and planning, scheming, and preparing tactics for field operations, public relations exercises, and courtroom battles - all aimed at chipping away at the mountain of corruption which is snuffing out the life of the wananchi - the common man and woman - of this great nation. I want to be a part if that battle. I will be part of that battle. If you want, I shall take a leading part in that battle.
''But…my friends…and there is a big but. I have spent a few days with Brother Robert, who I can tell you is truly a great, great young man, who will be a wondrous brother, if he so choses. In that time I searched my soul deeply. And I saw my limitations at this stage in my life. Adam, Kip, Chief, Daktari Arthur, Mama, I am a 12 year old boy. Already most of us here have done things most 12 year olds are never called upon to do. I feel unable to lead a company of 200 children. A squad of five, even a dozen at a push, but 200. No Sir. Not yet. I may be 12 going on 20, but I'm not a young Montgomery or Gordon striving for El Alamein or Khartoum. But there are boys like that here. I will gladly serve as their lieutenant.
''I propose we now, this minute, by closed ballot, elect a new Coordinator for the Fraternity and all Children's Support Groups, plus an XO and a Comms. I am excluding myself. I will continue to serve as Chairman of the Community Action Committee. I further propose three things. That Daktari Arthur and Mama Florence act as scrutineers, that each boy here, including leaders of the SKS and Irregulars have a vote, including also those under 20 such as Zak, Robert, Patrick and Grace. Finally, I propose that other than myself, no one else may excuse himself or herself from office.
''Do I have a seconder?''
''I second,'' shouted Francis, whilst Felix glared at him from the podium.
Felix tried to stand, but Arthur held him down, saying ''I have a proposer and seconder, so I move to the vote. Those in favour, kindly show your hands.''
While Felix was struggling, and could have broken free of the older doctor, but to have done so he'd have had to hit him, which he really didn't want to do.
''Those against. All right then. The proposal is passed nem. con. I'll hand the proceedings back to you Daktari Arthur.''
With that David returned to his chair next to Felix, and to a swift punch in left arm.
''Hey, ouch. That almost hurt…a little!'' And he smiled at his friend. ''I did tell you I wasn't going to stay as Coordinator, so with everyone here this was definitely the obvious time. And it's only fair on everyone that they get the chance to include you in their options. Let's listen to the old guy, too.''
''So I'll distribute the papers. Put three names in order. One for Coordinator, then XO, then Comms. The KIA guys will get a blue paper too, put two names for Skip, and Deputy. There are 26 Fraternity here, plus the four honorary members, then the three SKS leaders present, and eight Irregulars. That totals 41 votes in all. Dave is serving ice cream while Mama and I count the votes,'' Doctor Adam announced and coordinated the vote.
Congratulations little brother of mine, Grade 7 eh? Bloody hell, Mam will be proud as all get go. You know we'll have to go up to see her before we leave for school, just to tell her everything.'' David had reached over to his brother just as the almost 10 year old was tucking into his second bowl of ice cream. This one was strawberry. The first had been vanilla. The boy had never tasted the dairy desert until going to Daktari's house, and the first time he put a desert spoon full in his mouth he thought his tongue might freeze and fall off. But he rapidly became hooked on the stuff. Raspberry ripple! He believed he could survive alone on a tropical island like Robinson Crusoe provided there was a supply of Raspberry Ripple. And now strawberry. Wow!
''Ehm, ah. Thanks, bro. I guess I was just lucky with the questions. And the talk thing was right up my street, by chance,'' Frankie responded.
''Talk, what talk?''
''In our interview at KIA we were asked by the panel to give an impromptu talk for five minutes. My subject was 'My Family'. It was easy. I spoke of Sara's illness, of Stevie's sacrifice, of your service to the community, of my gramps, and my deadbeat dad, and finally of how we all work together. When I looked at the clock I had spoken for 30 minutes. I looked at the three teachers, and the two women were wiping their eyes. I asked why they didn't stop me. They simply said, 'Because you were fascinating'. ''
''People, people. Let's gather again, please,'' Daktari Arthur was herding his flock once more.
''Let us begin with KIA seeing as it is very straightforward. There were six votes in total. Five went to Mark as Skip. As assistant, it was a 3, 2, 1 division of votes. So I went to the guy who received one vote to ask his second preference, only to find he'd voted for the guy who got three. It was 3 for Frankie, 2 for Zee, 1 for Matt and Matt then stood down in favour of Frankie, so Zee also stood down. So it's Mark and Frankie.
''Then we have the big vote. Let's begin with Comms. It came out clearly. There were five boys named. Gabe and Ant each received a vote. Bryan got two votes. Finch got 10 votes. But a clear 27 votes went to David.
''XO was messier by far, you should know. In the first ballot it went like this: Francis 10, Finch 10, Mark 10, Lucas 9, Isaac 2. So we dropped Isaac and asked you to vote again. Finch 12, Mark 10, Lucas 10, Francis 9. This time we dropped Francis. Finch 19, Lucas 12, Mark 10. So, it was down to the wire. The final ballot. Lucas 22 Finch 19.
''Fortunately the election of the Coordinator was far, far more straightforward. Felix 40, Francis 1. So the team is Felix, Lucas and David. I think you have chosen very well.''
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
As David lay with Felix and across the room Francis was studying Finch's ear for some reason, Finch said, ''It's taken a few months, but finally you are in the position everyone knew you belonged to be in all along, Fello. I, we, each understood the reasoning behind your choice not to run before, but now that we all know you, those reasons lose their veracity. So lead.''
Suddenly, Felix got up out of bed with a genuinely sly grin on his face, one David and Francis recognised, but that the new boy Finch probably hadn't seen before.
''Lead, you said, eh, boy? Alright then.'' And Felix grabbed his prey by the balls and dragged him on tippy toes towards the en suite shower room. ''Come on slaves help me here. I'm your leader, remember.''
''Oh yes, sir, master, whatever you say, oh great leader. Your wish is our command,'' said Francis truly getting in on the act.
''This just saves you from having this done at school by 10th graders, Finch. You should lick my feet and thank me.''
''What does, what you doing, Fello? Hey guys…''
''Just leading, like you said, and as the Leader, if you look carefully, I seem not to have grown any pubes. Do you notice, Finch? How can I, even among my closest compadres, my actual bodyguards, be a leader shamed by having no pubes whilst my fellow does. Obviously this is impossible. So, off with them…''
With this Felix reaches over to the very back of his bathroom cabinet and retrieves an aerosol can of shaving foam.
''No, no, please. Ohmygod, no. Not my pubes. Please, my friends, my dearest and my closest…''
Felix sprayed the foam around the base of Finch's totally flaccid penis.
''Guys, guys, David, Fello! Francis, my own dear brother. I'll do anything. Anything.''
''Anything?'' asked Felix as he was walking back to the cabinet as if to fetch something.
''Yes, yes. Anything.''
''Each of us three gets a blow job twice a day for the next 10 days''
''OK, OK, OK!''
''Plus...we each get to nominate three other guys you blow once. And one of the ones you blow for me you blow naked on the pool table at 6.30 pm - on the day I choose.''
''Fuck, Fello, Mama could walk in, or Daktari, or a sister, or…''
''Is OK, you don't have so many to shave anyway.'' And he opened the cabinet door.
''Alright already. I agree. I agree.''
Felix came over with a damp towel to wipe off the shaving soap.
''Swear your oath to keep to your agreement with us Finch. And I'll let you into a little secret, '' said Felix as he stretched to place the towel in the laundry bin.
''I swear by the eternal souls of my lost brothers that I will fulfill my oath made to Felix, David and Francis, so help me God. I don't even mind most of it. It's the pool table bit.''
''Don't worry. We'll keep watch for you.''
''And what is the big secret you want to share with me?''
Felix was edging for the door until he remembered he couldn't go far as he wasn't wearing anything. Oh well....
''The thing is, Finch...I don't have any razors.''
Felix simply looked at him smiling.
David and Francis tried to control themselves, but after a couple of moments they lost it and started sniggering, then chuckling, which turned into open laughter, which became uncontrolled totally.
Finch was just sitting there in a stupor at first. Then he too began to break down. Soon he was joining the duo in their naked dance of mirth.
''They're fucking mad,'' said Felix as he left them to it and went back to bed, waiting to see which one, if any of them, deigned to join him - or more ??!!
∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞ ∞
The Musketeers, all four of them, seemed to be the last to arrive at breakfast on Friday morning, though they did make it by 6.45. Everyone else was deep into ugi and toast and mandazi. Mandazi? Wow, some kitchen staff must be up early today! Or is it someone's birthday?
''Dad? I was thinking…''
''Oh, oh. This early in the morning, and you just reaching for your first coffee - Felix, do you earnestly feel this is wise?'' teased Adam as he began to sort his papers prior to getting ready to leave for his school clinic, the normal thing for a Friday.
''Hold on a bit. What time are you due out today? And where to?''
''Tongaren High School for Boys clinic this morning and HIV talk this afternoon. I set off at 8.00. Why?''
''Some of the Fraternity have been asking exactly what you do at a clinic. I thought that with just a week left until we go back to school, interspersed with some of the lads wanting to visit family for a couple of days, each could have a day out on a clinic too. I would chaperone them, sort of. And Steve too of course. With 24 of us, and 7 days of clinics, exclude me in the count actually, but count Lucas for four clinics and Rob for three so that is 28 units. So we'll have four boys on each clinic, to watch and learn under Steve, me and a nurse or two. That is two to each ambulance. We can squeeze those in. If we have a clinic scheduled close to someone's home, then do his time there and leave him there with fare to get back.''
There was a lot of discussion going on around the table at this seemingly ad hoc suggestion.
''Why do you want me and Lucas to do extra clinics, more than the rest,'' asked Robbie suddenly whilst holding a piece of half eaten toast and orange marmalade half way twixt his comestible-smeared mouth and his plate loaded with three ready-buttered pieces of whole wheat bread still awaiting the addition of Dundee Thick Cut.
''Lucas and I,'' quickly interjected Mark.
''No, not you, me. He never mentioned you, Mark.''
''He was correcting your syntax, silly,'' added Frankie.
''There's a tax on sin now. Well then I'm totally fucked. I'll be broke forever,'' said Finch with a knowing grin.
''This conversation is totally confusing me now. Or should I say I am confused, Frankie?'' This last comment came from Francis.
''Stop, stop, stop! You boys are driving me crazy. Forget the grammatical niceties, though I never thought I'd ever catch myself saying that. Felix, kindly explain the raison d'étre for affording both Lucas and Robbie addition clinics.'' Daktari Arthur had decided to stamp some adult order on the proceedings when he saw that his colleague Adam was simply too amused with what was going on to intervene himself. Later he would explain that he enjoyed observing children being children sometimes, especially when they played mind games with one another. He was totally into how Robbie was being tied in knots by first Mark and then little Frankie. If it had gone on he wondered who would be next to join. Finch's remark was just classic. And he obviously knew exactly what he was doing. This kid merited watching. He and Felix together? A potent and possibly volatile mix!
''My reasoning, Dad and Daktari is that as my XO, Lucas needs to be able to take my place in the event of my being incapacitated or, your favourite word Dad, whatever. So you, Lucas, need to be brought up to speed with as many aspects of my work as possible as quickly as possible. If I didn't think you could do it, I wouldn't put it on you. The same with you Rob. I am calling you Rob, you notice, not Robbie. Robbie is for little boys, you have graduated now to a leader, so you are Rob to me if that is alright with you. I need you to learn as much as possible too. Why? Let's suppose, just suppose, worst case scenario here, that South Rift boys are subjected to an attack like that at PMs. We might be at least temporarily off the map for a while. That would make you Acting Coordinator, as the three leaders are at South Rift. I need you to have at least rudimentary skills to assist my Dad and others in clinics. For in the scenario I painted then things are very serious and lots of help is going to be needed.''
Felix had outlined some grim situations. Ones which few of those present had seriously considered. The effective destruction of the nine-strong boy unit at South Rift, or the immobilization of Felix at least. Either option was one only perhaps Adam or Arthur or Francis or Zee or possibly Finch had thought a concern worth planning for. It struck David like a pile driver. Lucas simply nodded his head as if an awareness had suddenly dawned on him.
''David, I'm Frank now. I'm not Frankie any longer. There's no room for little boys in this Fraternity. This is Frank Chebet speaking. XO of the KIA Fraternity Group. And proud to help Felix and Lucas in whatever they ask of us...whatever, no questions asked, except when. And I'll go on today's clinic if you want, unless you have one coming up nearer Kipsigon.''
Within the next hour the clinic schedule was scrutinised by Steve and Amos, his fellow driver. And the following boys were divided by proximity to their homes, each given 48 hours at home after the clinics, and all to be at Casa for the final weekend. Sunday the SKS would join them and the leaders of the Irregulars. Monday would be a day just for themselves. Then Tuesday would be their school travelling day - by road this time.
So the schedule:
Today, Saturday: Tongaren Boys HS, with Bryan (Home), Cory, Lucas
Monday: Kimaeti Village (border Teso/Bringitar) with Francis, Mose, Rob
Tuesday: Mungatsi Village (Busia) with Finch, Wheels (Home), Dak
Wednesday: Kang'anga Village (Mt Elgon- Cheptais) with Harry (Home), Zee (Home), Lucas
Thursday: Namuningyie (Bringitar) with Matt (Home), Mike (Home), Rob
Friday: Kabukwo Market (Mt Elgon) with David (Home), Frank (Home), Lucas
Samoya Secondary School (Bringitar) Abel (Home), Gabe (Home), Rob (Home)
Saturday : Chemasiri Barasa HIV talk and clinic - Derry, Cory, Isaac, Timmy, Zeb and Lucas, all 24 hour overnight pass, return by taxi by lunchtime Sunday.
Ant had no clinic time scheduled yet, as he has care of Philip and Oliver.
Each evening, as the weary boys who'd been out in the clinics dragged themselves to their respective showers before dinner and thereafter joined their fraternity mates, the daktari, the ambulatory rehabs, Mama Florence, Steve, the various volunteers who were around this week, and a couple of others usually, at the huge table for the ritual dinner. Adam at the head (while Felix sat at his right and Mama Florence sat at the opposite end) reminded them each night that he wanted the boys to have one Grand Debrief on the final Sunday, so as not to spoil things for those who had not done a clinic yet. So, very unusually, no talk of the daily clinics at dinner this week please. Volunteers could meet with him as a group after dinner for port in his study to talk things over. Those who have been before will know this is not the usual way, but then I usually do not have 24 young teen and pre-teen boys on my team.
''I think it's a miracle you've retained your hair, Dr Adam,'' commented one Dutch volunteer, a final year medical student from Amsterdam who had been coming to Children's Hospital and going out to the villages for three weeks each alternate August since she was 16, this bring her fourth trip.
''Probably because there's so much fertiliser underneath,'' jested Felix before his father could get a word in.
This sort of comment toward a father from a son, even humorously, was so totally alien to East African, indeed any Sub-Saharan culture that almost every other boy around the table caught their breath. As close as some of them were to their dads, such a remark would, for more than half of them, result in an immediate cuff around the head - hard and intended to hurt and even to knock down. For the others it would mean an interview with dad's belt behind the kitchen later. Three or five or even ten sharp reminders not to humiliate the head of the family in front of guests. ''Your mouth gets ahead of your brain my boy. Control it or I will. Know your place or I'll put you there,'' would be the admonishment during the lashing.
Love is a word rarely used in a family here once a baby begins to walk, particularly by a father and definitely towards a boy. Hugs? Hardly! A smile at a job well done. A pat on the back for good marks. But the sort of shared èsprit de corps that Daktari Adam and his adopted son Felix displayed was unbelievable to 21 of the 25 boys in the room. Zee had experienced it in the States, of course. Matt and Mark had seen it at school and their father had it with them, but to a slightly lesser extent than Felix. The other exception was Francis. He and his namesake father had always been a team. It simply happened that way somehow. He'd tried to emulate his dad since he could remember, and instead of just chasing him off, the older Francis had seemed amused by the tot's persistence and decided to teach him bits and pieces. Before he knew it, there before him was a 5 year old auto mechanic. Not a full-blown one, of course. But he could do a basic service on a simple engine.
So a team was formed. Ergo, Francis understood Daktari Adam and Felix's relationship. Still, he didn't think he'd suggest his Dad's brain was fertiliser in front of 45 people!
So, the home visits continued. The boys who were not on clinic duty received further firearms and Tae kwon do instruction, went on runs with Francis and Finch, or visited with kids in the hospital.
On Sunday, everyone who had arrived back joined with the SKS's and the Irregulars' leaders and drove in two large buses to Hezekiah's church in Bringitar for 9.00 a.m. Worship Service in Kiswahili. He had invited Adam and Felix to give the ''Message'' or as he put it ''Share the Word''. The robed choir sang a lot of music none of the boys knew, except two who attended this church and one who attended a similar one in Nambale - all three were Irregular leaders.
Then a lady read from the Bible. It was from Psalms. It spoke of how God never deserts him who calls upon Him when he calls in times of trouble. Then there was more singing. The words were projected up on a large overhead screen, but not the music. However it looked to Felix as if many of the several hundred in the church couldn't read Kiswahili, as they were just looking up and saying nothing. He reckoned maybe there were 1000 in all there, including the large choir, but at most 300 were opening their mouths.
Then a great looking boy read from James. Faith without works is dead, useless, doesn't count for anything. God, did this kid have telepathy or something? How did he find out what I was going to speak about and from which book I was going to quote. I know. I have an idea!
After the next ''song'' Adam and Felix were invited up.
''Brothers and sisters, '' started Pastor Hezekiah, '' you've heard me speak over and again until I'm blue in the face of the true Christian witness I have personally experienced displayed in the lives of these two fine people I have the single honour of introducing as the bearers of the Word to us here today. I am almost ashamed to begin to think that I could introduce Daktari Adam to you. I don't think there is a breathing soul in this region who doesn't know the contribution Daktari and his family have made to us and to the entire cause of children's health and the welfare of the rural poor over the past century or more. So I won't say more, but to say, Daktari, that I am truly blessed to know you.
''As to this young man, Felix, well I am in no doubt that whether born of the blood or adopted, my son, you are a true inheritor of your father's grace and purity of spirit. I have seen the way that, as a barely 12 year old boy, you have offered your life to try to save another, not just once, but twice. You have a special gift of leadership which just last week brought the disparate group of lads from Busia, Teso, Bringitar, Kakamega, Mt. Elgon and even further afield to elect you their leader with only a single vote against - just one. And that was your own.''
There was a ripple of laughter run through the overflowing church, which had now opened its large side windows to allow a bit of air through.
''Most young men your age, Felix, boys in Grade 5?'' The Pastor looked quizzically at Felix at this point, as if to confirm his assumption.
''Gabriel, Timothy, Lucas, Francis, Finch, Isaac, David and I at South Rift will be starting Grade 8 on Wednesday, Pastor, and Zebedee, who is only 11, will be Grade 7.'' Felix was smiling and not smirking. Definitely he was NOT smirking. No matter what anyone may claim it was not a smirk!! No, no, no....
''I stand corrected,'' said a smiling Pastor Hezekiah.
''But as I was saying, when the terrible attack at PMs hostelry (''Hostelry!'' thought Felix to himself, ''only an Evangelical pastor could get away with calling a bar like PMs, with a saloon area full of hookers, though Dad doesn't know I know who they are, a hostelry!'') took place, just about any kid I know - and be honest brothers and sisters, most kids you know, too - would say, Oh my goodness gracious, this is just too much! (''What!'' Thought Felix, '''Oh my goodness gracious!!' What kid my age, when he sees a bomb go off and his best friend blown to bits says, 'Oh my goodness gracious?''') But not this scion of the House of Adam! He gathers his friends, he organises help for the wounded under his Dad's direction and he takes time to talk to a dying boy to comfort him in his final moments. He is the last to leave PMs and, with his closest pals stops again to get out of his police security car to talk to the crowds, to offer them reassurance. Always the same message from Adam and Felix - reassure, comfort and assist.
''My brothers, my sisters. On behalf of all those other boys and men and nurses who stood up on our behalf, ten of whom are now residing eternally with our Lord awaiting us and reaping the reward of their sacrifice for the common good. For and on behalf of the Action Committee and the Fraternity and Chief Juma's campaign and Daktari's greater work, all please stand as I welcome to speak Daktari Adam and his son, Fraternity Coordinator Felix.''
At that, the entire auditorium erupted in loud applause to which the boys, of course, added whistles and cheers. As much as Adam used his arms to attempt to quench the clapping, it simply went on and on. Felix went to the mike and asked ''enough, thank you. Thanks. We'll speak now.'' But all that seemed to do was give fresh fuel to the enthusiasm to make noise. It was a full 6 minutes before the cacophony finally eased. People began to sit again, the boys even resumed their places looking very pleased with themselves for adding to the embarrassment heaped on Felix, in particular, less so Daktari. The boys loved messing with each other. It eased the tension.
''Amazing,'' was the first word Adam said once there was sufficient quiet for him to begin his homily, though he had suddenly decided to change the plan he had made with Felix the previous day as to how they would fill the long period of time allotted them. Pity he hadn't now the opportunity to tell Felix his new idea, Oh well, surprises can be good.
''As I said, my friends and neighbours, boys, colleagues, and honoured guests, the welcome you have afforded my son and me is truly both wondrous and amazing. I would seek your forbearance though, Pastor, if I claim to demure from the glowing reports you gave of me and my son's work. Pastor, anything I do is because I enjoy doing it. Oh maybe I don't enjoy every little detail. Nobody is enchanted by the sight or scent of vomit or faeces.''
Another rill of sniggers rolled through the aisles.
''Equally, I doubt our Lord indeed enjoyed his disciples' sweaty feet on that first Maundy Thursday. But He enjoyed serving them. He was acutely percipient as a person that, to get to the heart of a man or woman or child, the best way is to offer them a very personal service. My fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, there is no more personal service that can be offered than to ask if I can help to ease your pain.
''The first duty of a physician, the very first promise due a patient under his oath from Hippocrates is to alleviate suffering, to reduce pain. All the rest, like curing illness, surgery, research, therapy, everything, all of it comes after the number one duty - to ease pain. Of course all the other things come into play in order to stop the pain in the end, but first, when I meet a boy or girl, man or woman for an initial talk I simply ask, 'Where does it hurt and how much and for how long?' If I can stop the pain, or lessen it a lot, I hope I will gain sufficient trust from him or her and we can begin to speak about a proper examination so I may search for a cause for the pain in the first place.
''Why am I telling you this? Because it is the same when you are trying to spread the word of God to someone who doesn't know Him. If you walk in with a lot of words, religious words like righteousness or damnation or confession or salvation or some such. Or you give them tracts about the Last Days or the Second Coming, ideas which even committed Christians argue about, it is like trying to undertake major surgery on a new patient before even ascertaining where it hurts. I suggest that, just as I deal first with my patient's pain, you do the same. Don't even mention God or our Lord when you help someone.
''If you have a neighbour you think needs help, don't jump in. If he has kids use your kids as your ambassadors; they make friends easier. If not then you just ask them for help one day, perhaps to lift something. The thing is, gradually get to know where they are hurting. Is it a problem with their kids, at school, poor marks? If so perhaps you can tutor, or your kids can, or you know someone who can. Is someone sick? If so call me. Is there no money for food? Introduce them to your food bank. Whatever you do don't mention God. Just wear your cross, and in your home have your Bible open and a few leaflets on the sideboard, and a picture of Christ somewhere obvious. Let our Lord sell himself through what you are doing, rather than anything you may say.
''Which is an excellent cue for me to pass the baton to Felix...son…''
Adam looked over to Felix, who was sitting at the side of the stage area, sort of half listening to his Dad. It had been agreed the previous evening, that with 65 minutes to fill, Dad would cover 45 which would leave him with 20. Fine. I think I can stretch to that.
But what the...look at watch…15 minutes???? 15 minutes gone!! That leaves 50 minutes. There is no way in hell.
Improvise...And kill Dad later.
''Thanks Dad. And truly, I do mean thank you,'' He passed his father a smile which Adam could not misunderstand.
''Our Lord must have been working overtime last night, and it seems he spoke to two similarly aged boys in this church last night, bearing the same message. Would the young man who read from James's Epistle kindly come back up, bringing his Bible with him.''
There was a bit of a stir as the boy, dressed in black dress pants, black lace-up shoes, and a smart blue and grey polo shirt pushed his way past those in his row and walked the 30 metres or so before striding up the three steps onto the stage. All the while the keyboard player had played some sort of background music to cover the coughs and throat clearing noises. Felix had been studying the boy as he had been making his way forward. He wasn't sure if he'd seen him before or not. He was just slightly shorter than Felix, probably 5 ft. 3 in. - so either was tall for his age or was older than him. Like most, he was very skinny, but seemed quite built. He wore his hair longer than average so (according to Felix's bizarre logic) was probably a free thinking rebel. As he got really close, however, on stage and next to Felix, the Teso boy started as he saw the boy's face full on, close up, for the first time. His medium brown skin and regular African features were overwhelmed by one rare feature. The boy had blue eyes.
Felix gathered himself quickly; he'd deal with this issue later.
''Hi. You have me at a disadvantage,'' he said quietly, ''you know my name, but I don't know yours.''
''Habari, Felix. Subai. My name is Xavier Sospeter Cheriot. My friends call me Xavi. And, Felix, not only did our Lord pick just any two boys, he picked two hot, cute boys. And you can have me at your advantage any night you like, any way you like, after all, James is all into works rather than talk, right.''
''Eh, ahem, right. We'll talk first though. I kinda think going into action in front of 1000 Pentecostals may not be a good idea.''
''Point taken. Or rather, not taken...delayed at this time.''
''Brothers and sisters, forgive us, we were just meeting for the first time,'' said Felix, returning to the mike ''and I was commenting to Xavi that it was truly extraordinary that God should bless him with the message that he should read from James today. For last evening my father and I were talking about today and when he asked me to speak as well as him, I said that I would wish to speak the central messages of James.''
There were several Hallelujah and Praise Bes and Praise the Lords and various other echoes of support.
''So, let us begun by hearing again what our Lord is obviously so keen that we hear today. Xavi, over to you, please.''
Xavier Sospeter Cheriot again read from St. James Epistle General, but this time Felix interrupted often with comments and examples from real life and how this or that can be undertaken in the contemporary experience. It was a masterclass in Christianity in Action, delivered by a child.
''Thank you so much Xavi. Please, sit there next to my Dad in case I need to look up some other verse. Or need to look in anywhere else, later.
''I don't and won't run over time my new found friends, but my message to you is now obvious, I will also be blunt and honest. I may offend in doing so. My Fraternity and I, our colleagues in our associated organisations, which all of us you have loudly praised today as disciples and some sort of epitome of childhood excellence. Pastor, I hope I am now your friend even though young enough to be your son. I think we've all earned the right to walk tall. BUT WE ARE NOT SAINTS. We are pubescent boys, many attending single sex boarding schools, and up to now none of us has entered a novitiate.''
There was a lot of chuckling going on around the church, certainly not limited to the children.
''I am a firm believer in my Lord, but maybe my belief in him is a little radical for an Evangelical to get to grips with. What is important is, we all, Anglicans, Roman Catholics, Lutherans, AIC, Quakers, Salvation Army, Evangelicals, even Adventists believe in our Lord and in the Trinity of God. And, very importantly, that we cannot simply sit on our backsides and wait for God to do everything for us. We must act. Christianity is a faith of activism.
''Here in this district this day the call to action is against the sin, the disease, the disgrace, the plague of corruption. It has killed children. It is killing our economy and draining the wananchi of hope. On behalf of the 200 children of the Fraternity, the SKS and the Irregulars, I commit myself, my time, my efforts, and, if need be, my life to you and the cause of freedom from corruption. I do so because the message of St James asks of me nothing less.
''He asks the same of each of you.
''And now to the God eternal! Immortal, invisible, to God only wise, be all power and glory and majesty now and for evermore. Amen.''
And Felix sat down. 64 minutes 53 seconds. He could have added a Hallelujah at no extra charge he thought to himself.