Dark WarriorBy: Lily Harlem
Leo Rotherham gripped the lap belt securing him to the creaky plastic seat. He’d known that the trip from Nairobi to the furthest corner of Moshi was going to be tiresome but he was so exhausted it was an effort to even sit upright.
The pothole-laden, two-tire track they’d been winding along for the last few hours really didn’t help matters either, nor did the fact that he’d finished his water and the driver sitting next to him had such awful body odor he feared his olfactory nerves had been permanently damaged.
He glanced out of the window, which, despite the intense heat, was wound up. The dust, he’d soon found out, was intolerable and swept in sharp gusts through the smallest crack.
“We nearly there, Doctor Leo,” the driver said.
“Great,” Leo replied.
He was treated to a gappy grin. Why the driver, Salim, had so few teeth, Leo didn’t know. He was only a young man, perhaps early twenties, yet he had hardly any enamel. He also had bright pink gums and plump lips that were thick and dark.
Leo licked his own dry lips and held on as the Jeep jolted through a particularly nasty hole. It was so deep it made the vehicle squeak and creak in complaint and his behind left the seat for a moment before crashing back down.
“The mountain is there,” Salim said, pointing at Kilimanjaro looming in the distance. He didn’t seem to notice the rough ride.
“Mmm, yes, it’s beautiful.”
And it was, but Salim wafting his arm around had increased the pungent smell in the enclosed space.
Leo shut his eyes and held in a cough. He’d admire the stunning mountain later, when he was in the open air and not peering at it through a windscreen splattered with mud and bugs.
He’d never thought voluntary work for the charity Medics On Hand would be an easy task—never once convinced himself it would be glamorous or sophisticated—but he’d hoped he’d be able to breathe. Surely that was a basic right.
“The hospital is very excited that I bring you today.” Salim steered around a deep pit in the track that would have taken out the suspension.
“Good, I’m glad. Are we nearly there?” Leo narrowly missed whacking his head on the window as the vehicle lurched.
“Yes. We nearly there, very nearly there.”
Leo heaved a sigh of relief. Nearly two hundred miles in a twenty-year-old Jeep through scrubland and along dirt roads lined with prickly trees—hiding goodness only knew what creatures—was about all he could take, especially after a twelve-hour flight from London.
London. Boy, that felt like a long time ago. His mock Tudor semi in Brixton already seemed a thing of the past. The rooms still held all of his furniture but the kitchen cupboards were empty and a gardener had been paid to keep a check on the lawn and shrubs. Seeing it again in a month’s time felt like a long way off.
“Your room is ready for you at the hospital,” Salim said. “I, myself, painted the walls last week.”
“That was very kind of you,” Leo said.
“Not kind, necessary.” Salim studied Leo and pulled a face. “They were covered in mess. We didn’t want our new doctor to have to sleep in such a place. Now it is bright and shiny and waiting for you. Clean covers on the bed too. Sister Afua organized that.” Salim sighed. “She is so good. So good to everyone and beautiful too.”
Leo smiled, sensing the youngster’s love for the head nurse who he’d heard great things about from the guys at the charity.
“You will like her, a lot.” Salim nodded enthusiastically. “You have a wife, yes?”
“Er, no. I don’t.” Leo held up his left hand, showing his empty ring finger. “No wife.”
“Oh.” Salim frowned. “Girlfriend then?”
“Nope, no girlfriend.”
Salim continued to sport a worried expression. “Sister Afua is someone I love very much. She is very special to me.”
“It sounds as if she does wonderful work with the local people,” Leo replied.
“She does, yes. And I love her for that and…” Salim patted his chest. “I love her in here, in my heart, in my soul.”
“Well, I’m pleased for you. Love is very precious and when you find it, you should hold on to it tight and not let go.”