He waited for an hour, sitting on his duffel bag in the suffocating heat. The heat, and what it did to the pervasive smell of urine, weren’t the only things getting to him, though he wondered if he would ever get used to them. But discomfort aside, he was getting worried, too. The train would be here soon and he didn’t want to miss it. Where on Earth was Josef?
He squinted through the glare and wiped his face. People were leaning against the wall under the station roof, chatting in the shade. Beyond them, cars and pedestrians ambled to and fro. No one seemed to be in a hurry.
David looked at his watch for the umpteenth time. It had only been thirty seconds since the last time he checked.
He began to wonder whether he should just get on the train when it came. Forget about Josef. One moment, that seemed the obvious choice. He was on his way out to the sea for a holiday – his first since he had arrived in Kenya three months ago – and there wouldn’t be another for two days. But the more he thought about it, the more he wondered whether it would be a serious cultural faux-pas to just up and leave when your colleague had arranged to meet you. Even if he was more than an hour late.
An hour and seven minutes, to be precise.
Three months in Kenya had taught David that things here didn’t happen with the timely precision they did back in England. But he knew that he would have to be here much longer before he learned relax, or to ever be late for anything himself.
David had met Josef over tea in the Global Research Systems lunchroom one day. They had discussed their respective research projects and bonded over football and the differences between their countries. When David mentioned he was taking a trip out to Mombasa, Josef asked if he’d mind bringing some school supplies to his village along the way. The children were eagerly awaiting materials that they could only get when someone brought them in from one of the cities.
The Nairobi-Mombasa train was usually a direct trip but the line was under construction. David would have to get off in Josef’s village to wait for a connecting bus. He agreed to help out his friend and was looking forward to the experience of seeing a rural village. It would certainly be more interesting than wiling away the time sitting in another hot, foul-smelling train station.
If Josef ever arrived.
David looked up and down the rail line. The tracks stretched away from the station over red-earthed scrubland for as far as the eye could see. No train yet.
He checked the expected departure time again. The train, like Josef, was now late. David was wondering which would arrive first when he felt a hand on his shoulder. He looked up to see Josef grinning down at him.
“Where have you been? You’re late!” he said, sounding more accusatory than he had intended.
“Ah, my friend, don’t worry! The train won’t be here for a while.”
“But, it’s late,” David said uncertainly, looking up and down the track as if it would appear suddenly, proving his point.
Josef laughed again and shook his head. “We have time to eat before your train comes! Is everyone this anxious in England? Let’s go.”
“You wouldn’t have left without the children’s supplies, would you?” asked Josef when they were seated and had ordered their food. He smiled without a trace of doubt.
“Well…” David trailed off, craning his neck to check for the train.
Josef’s smile faded. “David, these children cannot learn without these supplies. Their school is the grass under a tree. It is very hard. But you, you can always take the next train to Mombasa.”
David wondered what Josef would have done if he hadn’t been going to Mombasa in the first place, but he didn’t say anything.
The train arrived an hour later. Josef handed David the school supplies and wished him a pleasant journey, adding, “You will learn to tell time not by your watch, but by the rhythm of life!”
Arriving in Josef’s village seven hours later, David was advised the bus to Mombasa would be two days late. It would turn out to be delayed by five days but by then, David had discovered that some things are more thrilling than the sea.