Knight & Deigh started life as a retelling of The Orphans, from the point of view of the second lead character, Hannice Knight. It, too, is partly 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.
Hannice Knight had run the African operation of his father’s global business for many years, when a freak accident at home left him unable to walk. Together with physiotherapist Sophie Deigh, he tries to bring into his life the excitement and adventure he missed in his formative years, due to the need to be tied to the business.
A number of adventures and activities follow; but even these can’t lift Hannice’s spirits. What, or who can? Will the developing closeness between Hannice and Sophie come to anything, and what of the rumoured advances in medical technology?
Beginning today, I shall publish Knight & Deigh here as a serial; one scene each Sunday.
Knight & Deigh. Chapter One, scene one: An old friend arrives.
Papa’s secretary had called me from London to tell me that Max Matham, an old chum from my university days, had some business here in Dar-es-Salaam and was looking for a place to stay. Of course, I agreed straight away. After twenty years living alone here, looking after the African operations of Knight Global Trading, a walk down memory lane with an old friend would offer a refreshing change of pace.
It was the middle of the main rainy season, and nature was throwing a lot at us. I was relaxing in my lounge when my house-girl announced that my car had arrived.
“Show them in, Kanene,” I said.
My driver came into the house, accompanied by a short, slightly overweight, dark-haired woman of forty-something years, comfortably dressed for travel.
“Mama Mattam, Bwana,” he announced.
“Max?” I asked, “Is it really you?”
“Hannice,” she replied, smiling, “it’s good to see you, too.”
“Thank you, David,” I said, dismissing my driver. I stepped aside and waved Max into the lounge, where she all but collapsed into an armchair.
My memory of Max Matham was of an intense and opinionated young woman of slight build, with long, straight, blonde hair, who was something of a snappy dresser. I know I hadn’t seen Max since university, more than two decades earlier, but the person I just let in looked like a different woman altogether.
“Max,” I said, following her into the lounge, “welcome to Dar-es-Salaam, and welcome to my pied-à-terre. I hope you’ll be comfortable here.”
“Thanks, Hannice,” she replied. “I’ll be properly grateful once I get my breath back.”
“You’re looking well,” I said, “more comfortable than I recall. Always a bit skinny, always thought you could do with a few more pounds. Prefer the hair colour, too. Brown suits you better than blonde.”
“Thank you, Hannice,” she replied, “I’m going to take that as a compliment. I stopped bleaching my hair after uni: my work means a lot to me, and I soon learned that people treated me differently if I looked the part. So – no make-up, simple, short hairstyle and practical dress. Men take me more seriously, and women respect me more; and they don’t see me as competition, so they’re less guarded with me.”
“You never married, Max?” I asked.
“No, Hannice,” she said, “I’m happy on my own. As well as my work, I have my books, and my writing. I don’t want or need any complications. Sophie, my PA, is also my housekeeper and looks after my cat while I am away. She’s a qualified physiotherapist too, and she gives a great massage.”
I had some interesting memories of our time at uni. “Do you still, you know, play those games we used to play?” I asked, emphasising the word games to refer to the things some of us tried, to give our libidos a boost. Between us, we tried multiple partners, mixing and matching genders, bondage, hypnosis, alcohol, even some mood-enhancing drugs.
“No, Hannice, I don’t,” she said, indignantly. “That was just a bunch of kids pushing the boundaries. I doubt anyone even thought about it once we had finished at uni.”
“Quite so,” I replied, feeling somewhat embarrassed by her reaction. “Here we are, then; two loners together. Welcome. Treat the place like home; make yourself comfortable.”
“Thank you, Hannice. I’m grateful.”
“London didn’t say much about the reason for your visit, Max. Care to fill me in?”
The story she told me didn’t make comfortable listening. She had been kidnapped outside her own house by some of Della Jont’s henchmen and made to visit an orphanage in the south-west of Tanzania on some kind of audit. I didn’t know Della, apart from by reputation, but I had heard some discomfiting stories about her. While at the orphanage, Max had learned that HIV-positive orphans were being taken from the place against payment of large sums of money, and used as test subjects by Jaxson Pharmaceutical’s Tanzanian operation, in which Della’s local company had a majority stake. Now, it seemed, Della wanted out of that business and had instructed Max to take charge of her local company and have them sell off their interest in the venture. Meanwhile, Paul Jaxson, the American owner of the global pharmaceutical giant, claimed that his company was working in the best interests of the children.
“You have the very devil of a dilemma there, Max,” I said, “Jaxson’s question really cuts to the nub of the thing. Is it better to want the orphans to die with dignity, or to want them not to die at all? Easy on the face of it; of course, better they don’t die; but when you throw in the methods… Hell of a question. Not one I’d care to attempt to answer. Merit on both sides. Hope you aren’t here expecting me to offer a solution — it’s well outside my area of competence. Don’t know of anyone who would dare to attempt a definitive answer.”
“No, Hannice. I can understand Paul Jaxson’s position; but my heart, my upbringing and my beliefs lead me to reject it totally.”
Sensing that Max could use a distraction, I called my house-girl in, “Tea for two please, Kanene.”
Kanene went off to the kitchen to produce tea and tiffin, and I turned back to my house-guest.
“Make yourself comfy, Max,” I said, “Kanene will bring tea and biscuits shortly.” I guided her to the sofa in the centre of the room. “Sherry, while we wait?”
“Sweet, as I recall.”
I fetched two schooners. “Rich cream for you,” I said, handing her the schooner of golden-brown liquid, “and for HK, a very dry fino.” I parked myself in the armchair opposite her.
“So, Max, what exactly do you want from me?” I asked.
“Mostly, somewhere to stay in Dar-es-Salaam, somewhere that’s not an impersonal hotel; a catch up with an old chum and, if you can stand it, a bouncing board to try to help me clarify my ideas. If I remember rightly, you could always get to the root of things, as well as see both sides of an argument. Why you never went into politics remains one of life’s great unanswered questions.”
“As long as you’re not expecting me to validate your position,” I said.
“Far from it,” Max assured me, “I’m not even sure what my position is. I’m hoping that your thoughts will help me to find it. We’ll worry about validating it later.”
Kanene brought a silver tray bearing tea, milk, sugar, and my favourite luxury – double-chocolate chip cookies. I hoped that Max would appreciate them, they’re the very Devil to get hold of in this corner of Africa.
We spent the rest of the afternoon reliving post-adolescent memories from almost a quarter of a century earlier; as best we could to a background of the heavy rain crashing against the window-panes, and the occasional thunder-clap that sounded like artillery fire in my back garden.
It rained almost until the light failed. When it eventually stopped, we risked an after-dinner stroll in the garden to stretch our legs after the fine, traditional roast beef meal that Kanene had provided. I think Max was expecting something more ethnic than that, but I don’t do foreign food; British and proud of it, that’s me.
It was still heavy and muggy as we walked the grounds, but at least the last of the heat of the day had started to burn off the worst of the surface water. I gave some thought to Max’s dilemma as we walked.
“Been thinking,” I said. “Seems to me, Government and big business know all about this business with the orphans. Only the orphanages are in the dark. At least, if the orphanages knew more, they could throw in their thoughts, too. I’ll talk to some chums at the health ministry, social care ministry and churches, and make sure everyone is singing from the same song sheet. If nothing else, we can start a debate; get people talking about it.”
“Can we think about it in the morning, Hannice?” she asked, “I’m exhausted, and I have a big day ahead of me tomorrow. I have to face the TanzCap board and persuade and cajole, or instruct and bully them into agreeing to part company with Jaxsons.”
We said our good-nights, and Max retired to the guest room.