The Orphans 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.
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.
Beginning on 10 January 2016, I shall publish The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Thirteen, scene two: At the orphanage, part 2.
Arriving back at the orphanage, we saw a police vehicle parked outside. Kitwana was waiting for us. One of his nurses was there, and immediately took charge of Kanene, whisking her into the orphanage’s small infirmary.
The police officer approached me. “I am sorry that you have suffered an attack in my district, Miss Matham. I presume you want to make a formal complaint.” That was a statement, not a question. He presumed wrong.
“I don’t want to press charges or make a formal complaint. I only want you to know about what happened. I want you to have the spear, so you can take off any finger-prints and DNA samples. We haven’t touched the spear; its shaft was resting on my shoulder when I carried the wheel to the back of the car. Our finger-prints will not be on it.”
“But this man might have killed you.”
“He didn’t, though. I think the villagers need to know what happened; the nurses can mention it in passing; and they need to know that the police know about it. It might make them think twice before doing anything like this again.”
“They will surely think twice if we catch and punish the man who did this thing.”
“I don’t want you to do anything that could risk turning local people against this orphanage or the vital work they do.”
The police officer saluted me and shook hands with Kitwana, muttering something in the local dialect as he did so. He then climbed into his car and drove off.
“The poor man has had no excitement for ages,” Kitwana informed me, “he saw a nice, juicy investigation here, ending with someone spending time in jail, and helping his promotion prospects. Don’t worry, though; you are right to protect the good name of the orphanage. People in the villages know that you have a connection with us, and if you lodge a complaint against them, they will see it as the orphanage lodging a complaint against them. Let’s go off to dinner.”
Dinner at the orphanage was a much grander and more formal affair than I had expected. I think it was a special occasion for them, with the arrival of two new volunteers as well as Kanene and myself. The large circular table was set out, a large bowl of ugali and a broth of spinach and root vegetables at its centre. Kitwana and Makena Nchimbi, four nurses, Sadie and Pauline, and we two took our places around it. After discussing at length what had happened to Kanene and me, and agreeing that we were right not to press for a full investigation, much of the conversation was about the two volunteers. On their very first full day, they managed to exasperate the orphanage nurses by their antics.
Sadie explained: “Perhaps we should take it more seriously; but we had so much fun. We tickled some of the kids after just washing them with soap and cold water, which made them accidentally pee themselves down our trouser legs as we were holding them. With some of them, we climbed into their tiny cots beside them to make them laugh—”
“That isn’t the way we treat our children here, girls,” the head nurse said sternly and, I thought, rather tetchily.
“We got that from your looks. Sorry,” Sadie said, “but they did cry at the end of the day when we had to leave them.”
“I expected that from the children,” the head nurse responded, “but I didn’t expect you two to start crying, too.”
“We were sorry to leave them, and upset at seeing the poor little mites in tears.”
“Are you going to be like this for the whole month you will be here?”
Sadie’s final word on the subject caused the group to explode in gleeful laughter.
“I’m sorry,” Sadie said, “there isn’t much we can do to really help these kids, so we just want to make them happy while we are here.”
“That’s not such a bad thing,” Kitwana interjected, in a tone that was cautionary without being reprimanding, “as long as you listen to the nurses and stay roughly within the established rules of the orphanage.”
“We’ll try,” the two volunteers said in unison.
After dinner, Kanene and I sat with the Nchimbis and told them what we had found in the villages. Our information confirmed what they had understood already, and validated the nurses’ trips and clinics. There being little more we could do or learn in the area, we agreed that we would return to the city the following morning. A brief call to the airline secured our seats on the Wednesday flight.
I dug out the scanner I had brought with me and swept the entire orphanage for listening devices. I had Kitwana accompany me as I carried out the sweep, mostly to see the results at the same time as I did, so I wouldn’t need to report back to him, but also to familiarise him with the scanner’s operation, as I planned to leave it with him after I had finished.
“Clean as a whistle,” I said to Kitwana after we finished scanning the last room. “I’m happy to confirm that there is no active listening device anywhere in the orphanage. Keep this here, so you can re-scan if you have any suspicion that someone may be bugging you.”
“Thank you Max,” he replied, “that makes me much happier, and it means I don’t need to worry what I can safely talk about here.”