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 two: Visiting time
When I turned up at Hannice’s room the following morning, Ayesha was sitting with him, deep in conversation. Looking around, I could see that she had done what she promised; there were two network points on a desk close to Hannice’s bed, and a telephone set, too.
“Hannice has been telling me about your project, Max,” Ayesha said. “It’s a tough one, that’s for sure.”
“And one we… I have to find a solution for,” I replied.
I unpacked Hannice’s laptop and set it all up on the desk next to his bed. “Do you want to come down here, Hannice?” I asked, “or shall I bring your laptop to you there?”
“Better on the desk,” he replied, “can’t type properly half-sitting, half-lying on the bed. Care to help me down?”
Ayesha and I helped Hannice down and settled him in the chair by the desk, after which Ayesha left us to attend to her other patients.
“How are you doing, Hannice?”
“Had a long chat with Ayesha earlier,” he said, “Convinced me the only change in my life is lack of self-propelled mobility. Arms and hands still working; brain still working; only legs not, and need a bit of support sitting. I’m still the same person, I’m still Hannice Knight. Stephen Hawking has coped with a lot worse for a long time, and FDR did, too. And it was permanent for both those men – hoping mine will only be temporary.”
“Attaboy, Hannice. Now; tell me about your plan – the one you were going to explain before your accident.” I was keen to take his mind away from his own troubles, if only for a while.
“Plan is to hit Jaxson with injunction forbidding payment to orphanages for kids, collection of kids, and research using human subjects without proper informed consent, which means excluding all children under 18. Unless he can get consent from someone deemed appropriate.”
“That won’t be popular.”
“No,” he replied, “but it will force Jaxson to become more inventive.” Hannice paused for a while. I couldn’t tell whether he was thinking, or in pain. “I guarantee he will, in very short order, propose ways of going forward within the terms of the injunctions. He has a lot to lose by stopping AIDS research and drug development right now.”
The idea intrigued me, but could change Della’s attitude to the venture. “I need to talk to Della,” I said, after some thought.
“There, or by phone?”
“Not sure yet,” I replied, “I’d like to go there, but don’t want to leave you here on your own.”
Hannice’s face lit up. “Fits in nicely with something else I wanted to mention to you,” he said, “Ayesha thinks it will take a long time for me to get my legs back again, if I ever do. Can’t help thinking I would be better off in Blighty than here. Papa’s HR people can get me into the private hospital the firm uses. That way I can get priority with treatment and physio. I’ll square it with Ayesha and Papa. Knight Trading will organise the flight – you’ll have to come as my carer. How’s your visa thing coming on?”
“I had a letter from the ministry this morning, telling me that I can go and collect my passport at any time.” I had intended to get it later, on leaving the hospital.
Suddenly, from making plans to deal with the orphans’ problems, we were occupying our minds with the details of Hannice’s repatriation and treatment.
Knight Global Trading had booked us on a flight the following week. I had decided not to say anything to Della until I was back in the country, but I did call Sophie to give her the flight details. As my visa situation was now settled, I was free to continue as Chairman of TanzCap; I was also able to agree to Hannice’s request to act as his deputy when I was in Tanzania. I hoped all this wouldn’t last too long, as Sophie was having to turn away potential business at home.
Hannice was booked in to a private hospital some twenty miles from my home. On arrival, we were met by Dr Harry Khan-Smith, the lead surgeon in the spinal unit, who would be looking after Hannice. Ayesha had sent her notes through so the hospital would know what they were dealing with, and after the briefest of delays, an orderly wheeled Hannice through to a private room that had been well prepared for him – even down to the desk with two network points and a telephone close to his bed.
I had asked Sophie to collect me from the hospital, and she arrived just after we had got Hannice settled and comfortable. I introduced her to Hannice. Within a very short time, Sophie had told Hannice that she was a qualified physiotherapist, and had offered to help him when he eventually left hospital.
“Sounds like a good idea, but don’t you work for Max?” Hannice asked.
“It’s not full time,” Sophie explained, “as long as I do my work, I can set my own hours. It wouldn’t be difficult to fit in an hour a day to help with your physio, and anything else you need me to do for you.”
“That okay with you, Max?” he asked.
“In all honesty,” I said, “there isn’t enough to keep Sophie occupied all day, especially if I’m in Africa being you. If I know that she’s busy with you, I shan’t bother her.”
“Sounds like we have a deal then, Sophie. We’ll work out the details later, but let’s shake on the principle.” Hands were duly shaken, and an agreement struck.
“Sophie, I may have to go back to Tanzania again quite soon,” I said, anticipating the result of the conversation I was shortly to have with Della. “Are you okay to visit Hannice every so often, so he’s not on his own here? I’ll be calling him regularly about work – his and mine – but I think it would be good for him to see a friendly face, too.”
“Of course, Max. I need to spend some time here to make sure I’m absolutely clear on his physio régime. It’s crucial to his recovery – assuming he does regain his mobility.”
“Ahem!” Hannice interjected, “I am here, you know.”
I apologised, recognising the plight of disabled people everywhere – the ‘does he take sugar’ thing. Later, I returned home with Sophie, and called Della. I updated her on all developments and raised with her Hannice’s idea for court injunctions.
“Based on that, Della, do you want to meet to discuss it further?” I asked.
“No need to for you to come here, Max,” she replied. “Get back to Dar as soon as you can and finalise the divestment. You know my wishes, and you have my instructions and my full authority to carry them out.”
That was as clear and unequivocal as I could have asked for. I called Sophie in, and let her know that I’d be returning to Tanzania within a matter of days.