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 am publishing The Orphans here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
The full list of scenes so far published is here
The Orphans. Chapter Nineteen, scene two: …and tribulations.
Just as I was settling down to dinner, the phone rang.
“What’s this you’re stirring up now?” asked an angry Della Jont.
“Hello, Della. How lovely to hear from you after so long. What can I do to help you?” I knew that would annoy her even more.
“You know very well what you can do. You can keep your bloody nose out of my business.”
“No. No nose-bleed here. Perhaps you’d like to elaborate.”
“Elaborate? I’ll elaborate for you. Have you been talking to my man in Tanzania?”
“If you mean Dr Nchimbi, the answer is yes and no.”
“What’s that supposed to mean?”
“He called me for advice, which I didn’t give him because of a conflict of interest. The only advice I gave him was to call you.”
“And he did. And he presented some crazy idea about releasing our orphans with no payment, just a vague promise of jam tomorrow.”
“Did you listen to what he was saying?”
“Didn’t need to. It was a stupid idea. For God’s sake I am trying to run a business here, not a bloody charity.”
“And there’s your problem, isn’t it? By funding the orphanage you are indeed running a charity. You just don’t want to accept that.”
“So, what are you suggesting?”
“Nothing, Della, nothing. But if you wanted me to make a suggestion it would be this: look at your father’s reasons for founding the orphanage, and his reasons for writing it into the by-laws of the company the way he did. Follow his lead and respect his wishes in that one small part of your not inconsiderable empire and, as far as I am concerned, the rest can go to hell in a handcart. Oh; and don’t ask me how to run your businesses, I might just tell you.”
“Just who the hell do you think you are?” Della demanded, “You no longer have any connection with MY orphanage, and I don’t expect you to get involved in any way.”
“Who do I think I am? Google me, Della. You will see that as well as CFO and Regional Director for Knight Global, I am also CEO of three of Knight’s companies in Tanzania and, oh yes, CEO of Jaxson Pharmaceutical Tanzania. I think that gives me a connection with YOUR orphanage, don’t you?”
Words could not describe the heady feeling I had, ending the call at that point. Somehow, though, pressing the red button is nowhere near as satisfying as slamming down a good old-fashioned Bakelite handset.
Less than half an hour later, Kitwana called again.
“Della says no payment no kids,” he said.
“Did you tell her that there would be a contribution from Jaxson to the orphanage?”
“I did, but it made no difference.”
“Did you make it clear that the donation would happen anyway?”
“I did, but she said to take the donation and keep the kids. She’s determined, Max; implacable. Perhaps she is preparing for something else. Who knows?”
“How many of the decisions you make every day do you run past Della?”
“So why this one?”
“I thought it was a matter of policy, of the level that needed… No. That’s not it. I didn’t feel confident to make that decision by myself, so I looked for her support.”
“That went well, didn’t it? What if I tell you that the contribution will be at least equivalent to the payment you would have received under the old system, and maybe more?”
“Then I’d go ahead and do it anyway. In that case, though, what’s the point of the new system?” he asked.
“Very simple, Kitwana,” I said. “Under the old system, you were ordered to present the required number of children for shipment to somewhere you had no knowledge about, and for purposes that hadn’t been made clear. Now, we ask you for some children of your choosing; we’re open about where they are going and what will happen to them. Any you send will have been selected by you and your staff based, I hope, on the children’s best interests first, the orphanage’s needs second, and the needs of pharmaceutical research last. I’ll tell you what. Why don’t you and Makena bring them to us? I’ll let you have the location, timings and anything else you need to know, and I’ll arrange accommodation for you here. You will then be able to see the facilities and meet the medical and care staff who will be responsible for the children when they arrive. And if you aren’t totally happy with the arrangements, I will personally pay for you to take them straight back again.”
“That sounds very fair, Max,” he said.
“The only thing I would ask is that, whatever you find here, whatever you decide, good or bad, you spread around to the principals of the other orphanages we deal with. I’ll give you a list.”
“Are you asking me to do your sales pitch, Max?”
“No, I’m not. I’m asking you to pass on to the others exactly what you find here, and what you think about it. They will respect your opinion.”
“And if I am unhappy with what I find?”
“Tell them that. Be honest with them. My goal isn’t to sell or persuade, my goal is to reassure.”
I paused for that to register fully.
“You know how I feel about this business, Kitwana,” I continued. “You know how upset I was that these kids were being used without their consent or the consent of a responsible adult acting in their interests and in their interests alone. Did you imagine that I would be involved in a process that didn’t meet the standards for which I campaigned for so long?”
I gave him details of the location of the centre and fired off an email to Paul, Julie Greatorex and Tom Goodship to let them know that the Nchimbis would be down in a few days with an as-yet-unspecified number of children. I called Lindy and asked him to liaise with Roger to arrange accommodation for the party.