Waiting for Josef

photo by US Army Africa via Wikimedia Commons

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.

 

Follow the Leader

gettyimages.com

The faded pavement cut through the middle of the parched fields, disappearing beyond the horizon. Ripples danced across its surface as the late-morning sun beat down from a white-hot sky. No breeze stirred. A constant chorus of crickets and grasshoppers drowned out all other sound. Jeremy could see a flock of birds up in the sky but they flew too high to be heard, too close to the sun.

He looked sideways at his sister, Meg. Her straw-coloured hair was plastered to her flushed face, but she pushed on, her eyes forward. The rustle of her dress, its white pinafore still attached, had by now been silenced by the perspiration that glued the skirt to her legs. She had rolled her sleeves to her elbows, but this was the only concession she would make to the heat. She bore the weight of the bindle and stick with silent grace.

“Meg?” Jeremy said, then paused. His tongue felt swollen and it stuck to the roof of his mouth.

“Yes, Jeremy,” she said, forcing her voice above a whisper.

“Are we going to stop? I’m hot and thirsty and I’m hungry, too, and couldn’t we take just a little rest?” Once he started, the small boy couldn’t stop all the complaints from tumbling out.

Meg sighed but did not slow her pace and did not turn her head to look at him. “Jeremy. I know you’re all of those things but, look, can you see a creek or a store or even a farm? Do you see any kind of shade? We must keep going.”

Jeremy said nothing more for a while. He looked down at the surface of the road and concentrated on the cracks that zigzagged along it. His mind meandered in the same way: He thought about playing with their brother, Jimmy, by the creek, and fishing with his friend, Sam, from the overhanging bough of a tree. He thought about Ma and Pa and the house, with its lovely orchards and the shady trees he loved to climb on hot days like today. He thought about their little pony that pulled the wagon full of provisions back from town, once a week, always on a Saturday.

Today was Saturday. He wondered where the pony was now.

When he looked up again, he noticed there were purple-black clouds gathering in the distance, over the fields to the left. He glanced at Meg to see if she had noticed. She didn’t give any indication that she had.

He wondered how long it had been since they last spoke. There was something more he wanted to ask her.

“Meg?” he ventured in a faint voice, pausing to see if she would scold him. When all he got was a quiet sigh, he continued. “Meg, do you think Jimmy will be looking for us? Do you think he’ll come find us?”

“No, Jeremy, I don’t. It’s just you and me now.”

A sob escaped his lips and his eyes blurred. His short, chubby legs plodded on mechanically, almost in step with Meg.

He blinked back his tears and looked beyond his sister, focusing on the clouds. They were getting closer, pressing down on the countryside like a thick blanket.

“But Ma and Pa…” he began again, knowing Meg would cut him off.

“I told you already, plain as day. They don’t want us anymore. They said so. I heard them. We’re too young to be of any help. We have to make our own way from now on.”

She had explained it already, while they crouched in the ditch by the road watching their parents leave for town. She may have exaggerated a few details, but Jeremy would never know that for sure. It was the only way she could be certain he would agree to come with her. Once their parents had disappeared around the crook in the road, she led him out and in the opposite direction. She was quite sure the road would lead to the big city.

They both noticed the blue blur of rain reaching down to Earth from the approaching clouds.

“There, now, see? Soon we shall be cooled off and we’ll have some water to drink again,” she said. She smiled as she unscrewed the canteen.

Her confidence bolstered Jeremy’s spirits. He smiled back at her with a rush of emotion. He would follow her anywhere, do whatever she asked, because she was his sister. She was all he had left in the world.

Sometimes, Fortune Smiles

Copyright Silverleaf 2013

Copyright Silverleaf 2013

“When did you know you were lost?” he asked.

“Lost? But I’m not lost,” I replied, confused. Did he think I had stumbled in because I’d lost may way among the beachside carnival tents?

“No, you’re lost. It’s in the cards, right here,” he said as he tapped one of several cards he had spread out in a formation on the table. On the face of the card was a picture of a girl in a long dress walking down a dark path in the depths of a forest. She was dwarfed by the trees, their green boughs woven intricately overhead.

I frowned. Some fortuneteller this guy is, I thought, sighing. I almost wished I hadn’t been tempted to waste the last of the foreign change that was rattling around in my pocket with the broken bits of seashell.

I wasn’t even sure that men were supposed to be fortunetellers. Wasn’t it supposed to be an old woman with a headscarf? Truth be told, he had won me over with his dark good looks. And I was annoyed with Taylor anyway. Not that I was looking for something to happen. I just wanted to do something Taylor wouldn’t approve of. I’d never tell him I was here, but it was my little bit of rebellion. Besides, I’d always been intrigued by the promise of having something mysterious about myself revealed.

The fortuneteller had seemed authentic, too, which had helped lure me in. His black curly hair was held off his face with a pink and mauve scarf. He wore a billowing black silk shirt, faded jeans and bare feet. He had a gold-capped tooth, too; the whole nine yards. And his tent! It was small, shadowy, and lined inside with tapestries. A small table sat in the centre, a hammock hung off to the side. I guess it was where he slept at night. The place smelled, predictably, of sweet, woodsy incense.

“What else?” I asked, trying to move beyond the being lost bit. I wanted to get my money’s worth, but I also had my eye on the time. At a certain point, Taylor would be beyond annoyed and it would be wise to get back before then.

“The man you are with now, soon you will have to choose between him – he is fair, no? – and a darker man.”

Oh, brother, I thought. Could you be any more predictable?

“Whichever man you choose, you will have a boy with him. But your love will not last. You and your son will leave. In five years, you will go to live in Australia and there you will meet another man. You will have another son with him.”

He was speaking quickly by then. If it was a trick, it was a good one. I had slid to the edge of my seat and was leaning in, waiting for more. It sounded so concrete, so detailed.

“You will work either as a healer or a wilderness guide. You will be happy.” For a moment, he was quiet, then he sat back and looked impassively at me. “That is it. That is all I can see.”

I nodded, feeling a bit bewildered, but thanked him, paid and left. As I stepped out into the night, the sea air shocked me back to my senses. What a crock, I thought, rolling my eyes. I couldn’t believe I had been taken in by what was obviously a routine designed to convince the doubters, to get that extra bit of money. Well, joke was on him; I didn’t have anything more than the advertised rate.

I didn’t think much about that night once it was over. It hadn’t ended particularly well. I forgot about the silly fortune, the card with the lost maiden in the forest, the rest of it.

It wasn’t until five years later that it all came back to me.

I was standing on a lookout platform absorbing the warmth of the sun. My eyes were closed, but I could feel my son’s small hand in mine. I squeezed, he squeezed back.

After a few minutes, I opened my eyes and looked out over the treetops. The forest spread out for miles in front of us. At that moment, I remembered the night in the fortuneteller’s tent. This wasn’t quite Australia, but it was close enough.

I smiled, realizing I was no longer lost on the forest floor. I had found my way.

Writers’ Block

nickusborne.com

Words
Bright and blood-red
Splash angrily across the page
With Murderous intent
But nothing more
No beauty
No poetry
No meaningful order
They do not arrange themselves
Into coherence
They trip the writer
Throw up walls
Impossible for him to cross
Tortured by the frustration
He stares blankly
Like the page he never filled
His typewriter is silent on the desk
The bottle is mostly empty
The glass sticky with remnants of the night’s sorrows
A storm of balled up paper is scattered across the cottage floor
He lives and breathes the stereotype in all its gritty glory.

Sure,
The writers’ block may have eventually passed
But Sam was never the same again.

 

I used this week’s Speakeasy prompt as the needed impetus to continue a story I began last week.

Don’t get me wrong; I’m thrilled it got me to sit down and organize my thoughts for a sequel. I don’t usually return to continue my stories. But I didn’t really allow the prompt full reign in my imagination. And it was a great prompt for a writer, all about writing, punctuation and writer’s block.

Last night, as I climbed into bed and let my mind drift, the above poem came to me, inspired by the video portion of the prompt. It’s worth watching:


Writers’ Block is a short film written and directed by Tom Gran and Martin Woolley and produced by WONKY Films with the support of IdeasTap. 

 

The Absolute

This is a sequel to My Eyes Have Seen You, my Speakeasy entry from last week.

Copyright Luma Pictures (lumapictures.com)

Copyright Luma Pictures (lumapictures.com)

“I need to understand what I’m fighting for,” I said as I looked, wide-eyed, from the crowd back to Melis that morning in the ruins.

“Fighting? You’re not a fighter. I will protect you but there may come a time that you will have to get far away from me. For your own safety.”

“Melis, you may see me as a naïve little girl, but you have taught me much. And I’m tougher than you think.”

We left it at that for the time being. The people were waiting and he couldn’t let them stand there in the grey lull while we worked out what he was going to do with me. I knew, though, that his silence did not mean he agreed.

He may have taught me basic survival, and to be wary, but he never involved me in any of the training. “There is more to a rebellion than fighting,” he often said. To him, I was still the girl he found that first day, the girl who had trusted her parents as they blinded her to the truth about the world.

Maybe he wanted to keep me that way, a piece of a lost world, but I was eager to grow, to leave the past behind.

Over time, Melis had explained all about the war that had been averted, the war I hadn’t known anything about. There had, indeed, been more than a few battles in Europe. Before the Great Disaster, the world had become a web of hate, held fast by many battles; North vs. South, East vs. West, old rivalries and new. No allies were true allies, nothing was as it seemed and every leader had a backroom deal going on with the most unexpected of partners.

On the eve of what surely would have been a full-fledged armageddon, the Earth had saved herself. It was as though every natural disaster hit at once.

No war. But the world was still shattered.

Before the dust had settled, The Absolute was there, seizing power when no one was organized enough to stop it. Countries, governments, were in disarray, unable to fend off this power. Those who understood what was happening realized it was wiser, for the time being, to lay low and stay out of sight.

Melis had explained all this to me as we, too, lay low.

I could see the planning and plotting in his eyes. I had a vague notion that they were spying on The Absolute, trying to find weak spots they could exploit without loosing anyone. Beyond that, I knew little and though I asked, Melis wouldn’t share anything. “It’s safer if you don’t know,” he’d say.

Instead, he put me in charge of the compound. I had at least proven myself by managing the transformation of the ruins into a headquarters. I was glad to have a chance to lead in my own way.

And still our numbers swelled, the cries of “Melisizwe!” growing louder as the days passed.

I knew the training and minor expeditions wouldn’t last forever. I knew something more had to happen. But despite the fire I saw in his eyes one morning, I barely looked up to watch as the familiar sway of his back disappeared across the drab, grassy plain at the edge of the abandoned town.

When I first saw the glint of silver in the sky, I thought it was a bird. But there was no birdsong to go with it. When I looked again, I noticed the shining circle of rotating blades; still it made no sound. As it got close enough to land, it whipped up a frenzied wind but the machine itself remained eerily silent.

Remembering everything Melis had taught me, I stayed in the shadows, unseen. I knew they would find those who tried to hide, and there were many. For them – the taken – the sweet air of freedom was locked away forever.

I desperately hoped they hadn’t found Melis. I wouldn’t know until he returned – if he returned.

Among the captives was a young girl, Sam. They chose her as the one to release, to send back to us as a message. She brought with her a list of those who had been killed and those imprisoned for future use. Her return showed that they knew who and where we were.

It might have been better if they had killed her, though; she may have lived, but Sam was never the same again.