This was my first attempt at a novella. Its working title is The Orphans. It is mostly set in the rural Tanzania I remember from the early 1980s, but some of the technologies used are much more recent. To that extent, it is anachronistic. Don’t forget, though; it is fictional, made up, lies. All of it.
The image on the left was my first bash at a cover. In a series of firsts, here’s its blurb.
Max Matham is a self-employed freelance forensic accountant living in a quiet village in Buckinghamshire. Della Jont is a hard-nosed businesswoman who presses Max into working for her, investigating alleged financial irregularities at an orphanage in East Africa. Max soon finds that some disturbing things are going on at the orphanage, and becomes involved in a set of intriguing events involving orphans, government agencies, witch-doctors, an old university chum and a multinational pharmaceutical company.
From 10 January 2016, I will publish The Orphans here as a serial in 59 parts; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Four, scene four: Tribunal part 2
“We have three hours,” Dick said, “Saturday or not, let’s see if we can’t get a Class A permit application started. From what you and Hannice have told me, I think that would be a good move, regardless of this hearing. It will also come to the judge’s ear that you have started the application process, which will show good faith – and that can’t hurt.”
The application process was awful, but we got it started. Just before 2pm, we were back in the tribunal, waiting for the judge to re-appear.
The usher called the court to order and bade us stand. I couldn’t gauge the judge’s mood when he walked in, and had no idea what to expect.
“Miss Matham,” he started, “although your attorney has made a compelling argument on your behalf, I am not convinced that exercising the Power of Attorney of another person confers the rights and privileges granted to that other person by way of a Residence Permit. The Residence Permit forms part of the holder’s passport, which is a personal document not transferable to another, even by way of a Power of Attorney. Do you understand that?”
“Yes, Your Honour, I do,” I said.
“However,” he continued.
“Can I just say—”
“Miss Matham, do me the courtesy of allowing me to continue, please,” he interrupted brusquely. “However, your attorney has made me aware of your purpose in coming to Tanzania, and the ends you are aiming to achieve. The court accepts that this is a noble endeavour, and believes it in the interests of the people of the United Republic of Tanzania that you be allowed to continue. It is, therefore, the judgement of this court that you be discharged, conditional upon your acquisition of a Class A Residence Permit within thirty days of today’s date. If you continue in your present work and fail to obtain a Class A Residence Permit within that time, be assured, Miss Matham, that you will be arrested, deported, and barred from ever entering the United Republic of Tanzania again. We are adjourned.”
With that, the judge left the tribunal hall. Dick said something about a pressing appointment, and made a hasty exit, leaving me to my own devices. I left the building and wandered around the area for a while, trying to process the events of the past days. I was sure one of the TanzCap directors had reported me, and I suspected Fonseca. “You will regret this,” he had said, with real menace in his voice. Thakur and Wangwe were unhappy with what I was doing, but he was the only one to level a threat at me.
That may have been too simplistic, though. I remembered my Sunday School teacher telling us the parable of the two sons. One said he would work in his father’s vineyard but didn’t, the other said he wouldn’t but did. I have two directors saying they will go along with my plan, and one who implies that he won’t. All just words so far. It’s possible that the immigration police were tipped off, not by Fonseca, who appeared to threaten me, but by one of the others, saying one thing and doing another. I decided to try bouncing this off Hannice later that day. Meantime, I needed something to take my mind off this for a while.
I really wanted to go home for a few days, to collect my thoughts and formulate a plan, then come back refreshed. I knew that had I left Tanzania, though, I wouldn’t have been allowed back in again without the Residence Permit the judge had insisted I get.
Deprived of that option, another situation had come to my notice that could occupy my mind.
I had been hearing a lot recently about the difficulties faced by people with albinism in Africa. Popular folklore believes them either to be cursed or to be vehicles for evil spirits or both. Paradoxically, some traditional healers believe that body parts, blood or hair from a person with albinism can be very powerful in spells for wealth, good fortune and the like. The result of that, particularly in remote rural areas where witch doctors hold sway, is that the sufferers are rejected by their village; sometimes even by their family; then some are attacked and digits or limbs removed to add power to the witch doctors’ spells. There are a few charities trying to help, one of which has its headquarters in a cancer hospital in Dar. People with albinism are highly susceptible to skin cancer and most have light-induced vision problems, to help with which they need sunblock, sunglasses, umbrellas and protective clothing. I decided to spend the rest of the day shopping for items like these, which I could take to the charity’s office and donate.
I hailed a passing taxi. It stopped, and I asked the driver to take me to a part of the city where I could buy the items I wanted. We set off, weaving through the heaving traffic as the heavily overcast sky rolled and grumbled preparatory to releasing its daily deluge. The driver was constantly cursing other road users. I had no idea what he was saying; my Swahili was not yet anything like strong enough to glean even a single word of his continuous diatribe; but it was clear from the tone of his voice, that he was not over-enamoured with the behaviour of his fellow drivers. After what felt like an hour, but was probably less than fifteen minutes, my driver’s mobile phone rang. He answered it while still navigating extremely heavy traffic. His earnest tone suggested that the conversation was heated. He stopped the car and turned to me.
“You go now. No charge,” he said, gruffly.
“We’re not there yet. Drive on!” I instructed.
“No. You go. NOW.”
I threw the door open, leapt out of the car and landed with my foot in a pothole. My weight was turning, but the pothole-encased foot had no intention of changing direction. I went down and felt a searing pain in my ankle. I tried to stand, couldn’t, and looked down at the ankle. It was definitely swelling. As if that wasn’t enough, I seemed to be attracting the attention of a bit of a crowd of onlookers.
“I need a doctor,” I said to no-one in particular. A man came forward.
He said something in Swahili. I managed to understand that the man was an ambulance driver. Sensing there to be someone among them who actually knew what to do, the gathered crowd moved back as one, leaving the ambulance driver to apply first aid. He said something towards the crowd. I couldn’t catch what it was, but it resulted in someone walking off and coming back quite shortly afterwards with a first aid kit. The ambulance driver removed my shoe, cleaned and bandaged the ankle and hailed a taxi for me.
“You go see daktari, he fix it good,” he said, as I hobbled into the taxi. He walked off before I could offer him anything, or even thank him. I gave the taxi driver Hannice’s address. We could call a doctor from there.
This taxi driver couldn’t have been more different from the last one if he’d been an alien from another planet. The drive was smooth, calm, and quiet. Once we had arrived at Nocturne, he practically carried me inside and made sure I was comfortable in a chair before asking for the standard fare for the journey and placing his card on the table, in case I need a taxi again. Scarcely seconds after he had left, the promised rain arrived with its customary ferocity.