Excerpts


Please note these excerpts are not final edits of the published book.


Prologue

Magic – uchawi? Is it real or imaginary? Do we just conjure it to endure the things we don’t want to face in life, like drawing a curtain across our eyes, so whatever it is vanishes? I want to believe in magic, but isn’t it ironic that magic rhymes with tragic?

Mwenye pupa hadiriki kula tamu which means in Swahil, ‘A hasty person misses the sweet things’. I know that to be true.

I was blind to my purpose and ignorant of what was truly meaningful, until a special man took my hand. He showed me the wide smiles of the starving, the wildlife that’s dying but living, and the land that is parched and raw but still beautiful. He was out of this world, a magician, a god, a myth and an enigma. His magic lives in the ancient lamp, the leather bound journal and the eyes of a child whose hand I hold.


Chapter 1

HAKUNA CHA PEKE YAKO

There isn’t just you

Smash – the bottles I’d been carrying fell from my grasp and broke at my feet? I felt the wet ale on my new pink sandals. I barely noticed. My shoes, at that point, were as insignificant as a tail on a Rottweiler.

I stood mute, while bottles shattered into pieces around me – much like my marriage.

I stared past the wheelie bin and waited for the semi-trailer of emotion to slam into me. I grappled at words but nothing came.

It was dark and shadowed but the neighbours’ sidelight gave just enough luminescence of the area behind the wheelie bin for me to see what I didn’t want to. I knew Roger’s blond hair, body shape and his shirt, which was an unmistakable lime-green golf polo. The cream cargos he’d dressed in that afternoon now hung at his ankles like a potato sack.

He struggled to pull them up as I kept staring and she pretended her hands were never down there where his shorts should have been. She straightened her skirt because it had been above her waist moments before. She dabbed a finger on her smudged lipstick.

I couldn’t speak but my mind was screaming a million things. You idiot. You cheat. Words I didn’t even want to verbalise in my head. Maybe I should pick up a piece of broken glass and slash off …. Yeah, cut his unfaithful…. Or I could scratch her not-even-guilty-looking eyes out… Or I could just start crying, which to my mortification I did.

“Ali, you’re bleeding,” said Tina snapping me out of my murderous thoughts and making me wipe at my tears. She grabbed my hand and led me away from the broken glass and away from what I shouldn’t see.

“Your leg, Ali, my god there’s a chunk of glass in it,” said Jill. She was also staring behind the wheelie bin with large horrified eyes. I noticed because I didn’t want to look at my leg.

“Shit. Someone get a towel. Find a pan and broom. Stay back!” yelled Shaun, taking charge and shooting daggers towards the wheelie bin and pitying eyes at me. I couldn’t stand pity in his dark blue eyes. I’d harboured a bit of a crush on the hot single guy from across the street and had been harmlessly flirting with him at about the same time Roger was being unfaithful in the most undignified way.

Like a slow-motion scene in a movie (not quite as slow as Pammy running up a beach in Baywatch, but you get the picture) our friends cleared up the mess. They yelled at them, reassured me, whispered innuendo behind their hands so I wouldn’t hear, and then went back to drinking and celebrating New Year’s Eve.

Beer stench was strong in my nose but I could also smell blood. I didn’t want to look at my leg so I closed my eyes and above the conversations, laughter and tinkle of ice in glasses. I could hear Coldplay’s music blasting from the sound system. An almost-smile turned my mouth because I’m not a fan of the band, Roger is, and at least I didn’t have to have a favourite song stuck in my head on the day my marriage died.

I could also hear a siren in the distance, which made me snap my eyes, open and ponder looking at my leg. Was that ambulance coming for me? Tina was standing in front of me. Shaun was kneeling at my feet holding a white towel to my leg. The towel was turning red as I watched – blood red. My head buzzed and I felt queasy, suddenly hot then cold. I knew I was about to fain…

“Ali, Ali, come on, Honey,” Roger was saying softly but I could hear the irritation in his voice. I’d heard that often enough to know. He may as well have said ‘get up and stop making a scene in front of our friends ‘cause you’re embarrassing me. You stupid bitch’.

“Do you think she needs you to even speak at the moment?” said Tina. I pictured her with her hands on her hips towering over him in her pencil thin heels. Flicking her long, dark hair over her slim shoulder practically baring her teeth at him. “Get away from her.”

I didn’t much feel like it but I couldn’t help the smile that crept on my face. Tina was a good-value friend and though the smile was betraying how I really felt, it at least let Tina know that I appreciated her support. I kept my eyes shut trying to fathom if I was feeling less nauseous.

“That’s great, Ali, just breath. Your blood pressure’s better,” a deep unrecognised male voice said. In my weird post-faint, dream-like state I imagined a crocodile had clamped hold of my leg and the nice voice was Tarzan rescuing me from its jaws.

I slowly opened my eyes and images came through like a fuzzy movie, until they cleared and I found myself looking at a pock-marked sixty-something ambo with kind eyes, but as for loin cloth – well on this rotund man I’d rather not picture that.

I was lying down on a blanket on the freshly cut lawn of my backyard. The lawn Roger had been so proud of, which was green and lush despite the drought and water restrictions. I glanced at my right leg and the female ambo who was strapping it in a neat bandage from knee to ankle. No blood and that pleased me. I definitely didn’t want to faint again – not in front of Rooting Roger. Momentarily I wondered where Shaun had gone.

“She’ll have to have stitches of course,” the female ambo said to Tina. “The butterfly clips and bandage will hold till you get her to the twenty-four-hour clinic. It’s closer than the hospital and usually quicker to see a doctor.” She stood and moved away and answered a phone she had attached to her hip.

“Why can’t you bloody well take her?” Roger spat in the woman’s face. I could tell he was very pissed. He’d probably downed another ten stubbies since he’d been caught out. He wobbled around with his hands on his blond greying head. I glared at him as well as I could, considering I had blurry eyes and a fuzzy head.

The female ambo pointedly ignored Roger, picked up her emergency kit and said to her partner, “Charlie. Gotta head.” She turned to Tina. “We’ve a code one over at Palm Beach.”

Tina nodded. “Of course. Get going. I’ll look after Ali.”

I guess a cut leg isn’t really important compared to a heart attack or something. I felt a little silly that an ambulance had even been called. How about a broken heart, would that be a code one?

The male ambo stood with feet each side of my head and looked down at me. He looked a bit weird upside-down. I could see long grey hairs up his nostrils.

“Just keep her here for a bit, at least until the nausea subsides. Then get her down for those stitches.” He grinned, a sort of twisted but kind upside-down smile. “Take care, Ali,” he said and quickly followed his partner who was already in the ambulance.

The air was void of voices. Where did everyone go? Had I been out for that long or had Tina sent them all away to party somewhere else? I had no idea what the time was as I listened to the siren disappearing up the street. Roger staggered inside and was gone for a while and I tried to sit up but thought better of it when a wave of nausea hit me. I stared at the starry sky as music started playing again. It wasn’t as loud as it had been during the party but it was distinct – ‘Unwell’.

“Why did you put Matchbox 20 on?” I said turning my woozy head to see Roger almost trip over his own two feet as he returned. A beer was gripped in one hand, which he almost dropped, but I knew he’d rather fall flat on his face and break his nose than drop a beer. Too bad our marriage wasn’t as precious as beer.

I turned back to the blanket of stars but they became fuzzy as tears slipped from my eyes. Two faces looked down at me blocking the stars. Roger with his you’re-not-making-any-sense-you-stupid-bitch face and Tina with a you-poor-cheated-on-friend face.

“Where are my new pink sandals?” I asked because I couldn’t ask what I really wanted to. What do I do now that I have been betrayed?


Introducing Kendwa to the story as told by the Daktari

Chapter 4

SOMEWHERE IN AFRICA

Dr Don Cloutier

“Daktari Cloutier. He is here – again,” said Nurse Sari with a distinct and annoying Indian accent. She frowned and her thick eyebrows almost joined up in the middle. Placing a manila folder in my hands she stared at me evenly before leaving the examining room with her soft rubber soles squeaking on the linoleum. I needed to get a prettier nurse.

Looking at the chart I wondered what the young man could have possibly done to himself this time. Reading down his list of ailments, which were mainly injuries, it included gunshot wounds to his right shoulder and left leg, broken right arm, swollen and bleeding knuckles with index fingers broken and a severe concussion. Technically they were all sorts of broken bones and strained muscles but in brackets I’d gotten in the habit of writing layman’s terms, to remind me to discuss the ailments with the patient without the medical jargon. Africans could get confused enough without complicating it by saying that their tibia was shattered. Although this one was smarter than most.

There were plenty of other things I’ve had to adjust to since arriving in Africa six years ago. I studied plenty about the continent before leaving my native Canada but nothing could really prepare me for Africa. The eccentricity, come-what-may attitude, chaos and also their resilience astounded me most days and sometimes it just annoyed me.

Nurse Sari knocked and poked her head around the door and I grimaced. “Ready for his latest adventure?” she asked raising her dark eyes and smiling. She was probably in love with him just like everybody else.

I leaned backwards to my desk and held a hand each side holding on to the wood and bracing myself for what I would see when Kendwa Ely walked in the door. More than likely he’d just wrestled barehanded with a crocodile or a lioness. Nurse Sari opened the door as a grin spread across her dark face accentuating her yellowing teeth and the red lipstick she wore every day – I’m sure to look a little bit Bollywood.

My glance shifted to the young man limping in the door. He was smiling despite the obvious pain in his leg. Again I was taken aback by how imposing a man he was. Kendwa was handsome too and although there were many good-looking men of mixed heritage in this part of Africa, Kendwa had something sensually enigmatic about him.

I’d tried to explain him to a colleague in Nairobi once and the best I could come up with was that he could turn a straight man gay. I must point out that I’m definitely, totally straight. I’m heterosexual to the core but I’ve got to give Kendwa credit. I’ve never seen a better-looking male specimen – and that’s the doctor talking.

Myself, I’m not a bad looking dude but Kendwa makes me envious of what I obviously lack, which mainly, comparing myself to him, is muscle. Though I’m a lot smarter. Of course it’s pointless measuring myself against the mixed-caste man, who seems to be blessed with only the beauty of every mix of race that he is.

Kendwa is more white than black but his skin is the colour of a strong, well-stirred latte. His muscles are smoothly defined particularly in his wide arms and strong legs. Also, and I know this for a fact, that under his bright green t-shirt that’s emblazoned with a white peace sign, is a six pack that smashes Hugh Jackman’s in Wolverine or that Amell guy in Arrow.

He strode towards me like a leopard, though a limping one, perfect teeth flashing through thick (but not full-African thick) lips. His turquoise eyes are the colour of the shallow waters off Zanzibar’s east coast. His brown wavy hair is thick and streaked blonde from the sun and it frames his broad angular face; a face with depth and stories to tell; a face one instantly likes. Though I’d love to hate this man.

Kendwa reached his right hand towards mine and shook firmly. “Daktari, nice to see you again.” His voice was deep and smooth and such a mixture of accents that it could only be called United Nations.

“So, [1]rafiki Kendwa, what have you done in your travels today?”

Kendwa grinned lopsidedly and limped to the bed, sat down, swung his leg up and tapped at a badly swollen knee.  “Stuffed my knee. I suspect.”

“Mmmm,” I said and felt the firm muscles around his left knee. I could see some scratches down his leg and the scar from the gunshot wound on his calf. The wound Kendwa called ‘a bum hole’. He didn’t flinch even though I could feel torn muscle around his knee. He was lucky the patella was still in place. “How’d it happen?” I asked.

“The cheetah got loose. I chased her through Stone Town.” He laughed a deep heartfelt laugh. “You should have seen the papasi[2] and utatii[3] screaming and running away. They were dropping cameras, knocking over carts and tripping over chickens. I finally caught her at Jamhuri Gardens at least before she reached the markets but a motorbike was blocking her way and I slammed my knee into it when I tackled her.”

I shook my head. Though nothing surprised me with Kendwa because he was like a modern-day Tarzan. I raised my eyes in disbelief. “You tackled a cheetah?”

“I do it all the time. It’s a game to her. I couldn’t have caught her otherwise but I’m working on some new commands,” he said seriously. “She’s a pussy cat really. She started licking my knee when she realised I was hurt. Have you ever had a cheetah tongue lick you?” He asked the question as if a cheetah licking someone was commonplace.

“Can’t say that I have.”

“Let’s just say I knew my knee was buggered when that tongue put pressure on it.”

“Yes it is. You’ll need surgery to correct it.” I knew before he spoke what his answer to that would be.

“Na. It’s hakuna matata[4]. Just strap me up and give me some anti-inflammatory or something. Promise, I’ll keep off it for a bit.” He crossed his chest with his index finger and then put his hand to his heart and his pout would have melted an ice-woman’s heart.

“Kendwa. It will be a problem. I’m serious.”

“Daktari, you know I heal. Sawa[5]?”

I frowned. He probably would. I’d seen it before with the gunshot wounds. He seemed superhuman with his recovery time but I knew better this time. I was a man of science after all and Kendwa’s medial ligament tear was probably a grade three. It could mend itself, but with physio and time. But I couldn’t argue with him as I’d tried before and failed.

Studying him now, as I had every time he’d come to the dispensary, I pondered his abilities. It intrigued me that he seemed to have a perfect blending of nationalities and possibly this was the reason his body healed itself so well. Strangely there had been rumours that he was a descendent of the Omani Princess Salme. His blood was a mix of Arab, Persian, German, English and African American and he’d travelled the world since being brought up in the USA and graduating from Harvard with a Bachelor of Husbandry. Though most of his time was spent on safari in Africa no one really knew where he really called home or what he actually did. Some say he’d even been a US soldier in The Ghan for a bit.

I went to my cabinet and collected bandages, strapping tape and antiseptic then returned to the bed. Kendwa had his hands behind his head and his muscles were bulging and straining the edges of the t-shirt fabric like it would snap. I noticed scratches on the inside of his arms similar to the ones down his legs. The smile had left his face and he stared up at the ceiling. “It’s bad, Daktari?”

“Yes, Kendwa.”

“I will rest it.”

“You’ll have to. At least three months.”

“I’ll miss the buffalo migration.”

“There’ll be another.”

He kept staring at the roof and I knew his dark mood had set in. It concerned me how upbeat he could be and then he’d suddenly crash to an almost depressed state. I wondered if I should examine him further for more than the superficial wounds.

He turned and suddenly grinned. The bad mood evaporating like moisture in the air. “You seen Jai lately? He’s getting big and strong. You know he recites the whole English alphabet now?”

“That’s great. How’s his kiswahili going?” I asked as I methodically strapped his knee.

“Fine but either language la[6] or no are his main words.”

“Three year olds love to say no.”

Kendwa didn’t even wince as I strapped the bandage over the swollen area of his knee.

“Come back tomorrow so I can check the swelling has gone down and redo the bandage. Now, about the cheetah scratches.” I started dabbing them with antiseptic. “Keep an eye on them. Don’t let them get a fungus.”

“We done?” He asked abruptly as I finished with the last scratch on his arm. He got up before I could answer.

“I guess so,” I said, dropping the rest of my supplies on the bed and following Kendwa to the door. “I’ll subscribe you some painkillers.”

“No. I’ve got some bangi[7].”

“Marijuana may not be strong enough.”

“It will do,” said Kendwa firmly and shook my right hand again.

I had to ask about the cheetah. Even for Kendwa the story seemed too fanciful though the scratches on his arms indicated something bigger than a house cat. “What happened to the cheetah?”

Kendwa flashed a smile that nearly blinded me in its cheekiness and said, “She’s right outside.”

I followed behind him watching his trim waist tapering to broad shoulders enviously. Even though he was limping he still had a magnificent presence.

Outside the dispensary my eyes grew wide. Sure enough there was a cheetah sitting on the cobbled path, tied to a timber post by a thick metal chain. The bustle of people was giving it a wide berth.

Kendwa went to the huge wild cat and began to untie it as the cheetah circled and rubbed up against Kendwa. Was it purring?

“Isn’t she a beaut.” Kendwa said. It wasn’t a question.

I took a step back but couldn’t speak.

“Her name’s Cheetah.” He rubbed her neck and she looked up at him almost adoringly.

“Imaginative name,” I said taking another step back and nearly tripping over the step. “I didn’t think they were allowed here because of the monkeys and bats.” I was embarrassed that my voiced sounded like it was breaking.

Kendwa seemed not to notice my distress as he kept patting the big ferocious head. “Special permission for that tourist show at the new resort at Kiwengwa. It’s got taarab and the Maasai get to strut their stuff but Cheetah here is the draw card. You should come over and check it out.”

“Maybe I will.” Maybe I won’t. I wiped at the sweat on my forehead that had nothing to do with the climate and couldn’t take my eyes off the man or beast. I couldn’t help wondering if Kendwa was really safe with a Cheetah on just a lead. Couldn’t he just put it in a cage? Surely the cat was stronger than he was, perhaps not.

Kendwa waved, said, “Tutaonana,” which means ‘we shall meet again’ and limped up the narrow lane with the cheetah sashaying by his side. I finally let out a breath.

Tarzan, eat your heart out, I thought, as I returned to the dispensary and other less interesting patients.

 

 

[1] Friend

[2] Hawkers

[3] Tourists

[4] No problem

[5] Okay

[6] No in kiswahili

[7] African weed like Marijuana

 

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