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 am publishing The Orphans here as a serial in 59 parts; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Six, scene one: Hannice in trouble
Due to the nature of his injuries, and no doubt aided by his position in the community and his connections, Hannice was rushed through triage and taken straight to the private suites in the hospital. Within an hour of his arrival, the doctor had completed a full scan of Hannice’s spine, and carried out some detailed physical examinations. She asked me to leave, whilst she discussed Hannice’s condition with him.
“Prefer her to stay, please,” Hannice said, “Max is the closest to family I have in Tanzania.”
“Very well,” the doctor said. “It’s probably not a bad idea; you’ll need someone to support you for a while.”
“What do you mean by ‘a while’?” Hannice asked.
“That’s what I want to talk to you about. The scan shows that you have spinal cord damage in the 11th intercostal space. That will leave you effectively immobilised from the waist down until it repairs itself.”
“And how long is that likely to take?” I asked.
“I wish I could put a figure to that,” the doctor said. “If it repairs itself, it will take as long as it takes. It isn’t possible even to stab a guess at how long that might be.”
“But is it possible that it won’t ever repair itself?” Hannice asked, with deep concern in his voice.
“Yes, Mr Knight, that is a possibility we have to face,” the doctor replied. “We hope that it will eventually repair, but we can’t be sure. If it doesn’t, I can’t offer any real hope, except to say that stem cell research that’s going on in various countries now might show some promise.”
“So what am I supposed to do now?” Hannice asked. In all the time I had known Hannice, I had never heard his voice sound so small.
“We’re going to work on the assumption that your spinal cord will repair itself. I shall give your friend details of some manipulations that will need to be done regularly, ideally every day. These are designed to prevent muscle atrophy and osteoporosis, and to support blood flow. That means that when the cord does repair; assuming that it does; you’ll be in a position to regain mobility that much sooner.” She looked closely into Hannice’s face and saw that, although he appeared to be taking this devastating news calmly, it was all a front. “Let’s leave it there for now,” she said. “You’ll be here with us for some days, and we’ll have plenty of time to answer any questions you may have, and to help ease you into the lifestyle changes that you’ll face – at least temporarily.”
Hannice let out a hesitant breath. It was clear to me, too, that this turn of events affected him more deeply than he was letting on.
“What am I going to do, Max?” he asked, his tone that of a frightened boy.
“You’re going to get better,” I replied as cheerfully and as positively as I could, “and until you do, I’ll be here to help you. I can do most of what I need to do from your house, and those things I can’t; well, you may have reduced mobility, but you’re not ill as such, I’ll be able to trail you around with me. Do you have any idea how many places I can get to free, as a helper for a disabled person?”
“So I am to be reduced to your free ticket to the zoo?”
“Why not? Not reduced, either. Important job, that,” I said in as light a way as I could.
“I’m glad I’m of some use!”
I could hear in Hannice’s voice, a mixture of frustration and worry, even fear for the future. My efforts to lighten the mood had not succeeded, and may even have made things worse.
“If you are going to be here for a few days, Hannice,” I offered, “would you like me to bring your laptop in? It’s only your legs that are temporarily not working; your brain is unaffected, and I’d really appreciate your input on this TanzCap project.”
“Check with the doctor. If she okays it, I’m in. While you’re with her, can you ask if I can have some help to sleep, Max? I feel exhausted.”
“Of course. Then I’ll leave you to rest, if you wish, and be back tomorrow.”
The doctor was in her office. The name plate announced her as Dr A Subramanium. I knocked and entered.
“Excuse me, Dr Subramanium.”
“Please, call me Ayesha.”
“Thank you. I’m Max. Mr Knight – Hannice – says he’s tired and could use some pills to help him get off to sleep.”
“I don’t want to do that for a while. I’d rather he stay awake until I’ve fully assessed his mental state. After you leave, I’ll have a conversation with him; not about his condition, but about his life. I want to know who he is, so I can try to assess who he can be, if this damage is permanent.”
“Is that likely?”
“Yes. Very likely. I’m serious about the manipulations, though. I want his muscles, bones and circulation kept in tip-top condition, so if the damage does repair, he won’t need too much retraining. Is it your plan to stay with him?”
“For as long as I can, yes. I don’t have any experience with manipulating muscles and limbs, though.”
“Don’t worry, I’ll teach you. In the meantime, Mr Knight needs to feel useful. Any help you can give in that area would benefit him greatly.”
“Hannice is helping me at the moment, with a thorny business project that has serious moral implications. If I can bring his laptop in tomorrow, we can continue with our work on that from his bed.”
“Sounds ideal. I’ll make sure that there’s a fast, reliable internet connection and a phone line in his room. As fast and reliable as any of us get, anyway. Anything else you think he’ll need, just let me know.”
“What are his visiting hours?”
“Whenever you like. He’s in a private room, and as long as there are no medical procedures to do, I’m happy for you to be with him as much as he needs. I can’t do too much about his physical condition in the short term, so let’s make sure that he has whatever he needs to support his mental well-being.”
“Fair enough, Ayesha. I’ll be here just after ten in the morning.”