DISCLAIMER: Bad Girls and its characters are the property of Shed Productions. No infringement intended.
AUTHOR'S NOTE: Huge great liberties, imagination and "artistic license" have been used in the setting, characters and organisations depicted in this fan fic.
ARCHIVING: Only with the permission of the author.
Attrition "a gradual wearing down"
Helen felt the plane bank to the left as the pilot took one more fly over the landing strip. She looked out the window and saw a ground crew of one waving their arms signaling an all clear approach. She also saw three jeeps and people waiting nearby the dirt runway. The pilot turned to looked at his two passengers and gave a thumbs up and set the nose to descend. Helen smiled at the woman in the seat opposite her, Sal Johnson, as she mouthed 'finally' and crossed her fingers.
This last flight had been quite spectacular, allowing Helen to view parts of Kenya's landscape and wildlife. She saw herds of gazelle, wildebeest, groups of elephants and giraffes, lion prides and watering holes. The pilot also flew lower at times, so his passengers got a better view. The distant horizon shimmered from the heat and there were small dust storms on the ground every so often. She tried to photograph as much as possible for the children back home. And as much as she was awed by the vastness, she was also acutely aware of its dangers.
The plane landed with no problem. The grounds crewman rushed over once the plane stopped and opened the door for Helen and Sal, pulling down the small step ladder.
"Welcome, welcome." He shouted and Helen smiled. He helped her down, smiling broadly, his teeth gleaming white against his dark skin.
She and Sal walked to the waiting jeeps and were greeted by a white man and three other locals.
"Jim Fenner," The white man introduced himself. "Welcome to Kenya ladies. I assume you're going to the hospital?"
"Yes." Sal replied.
"Of course. We'll help load up your transport with your supplies. I'm going in the opposite direction to a smaller clinic. The boys here will look after you. We have some bottles of water over here so help yourselves."
He delegated the other men to unload the supplies from the plane and within twenty minutes it was all loaded into the waiting vehicles. Jim handed one of the drivers a sheet and kept a copy for himself. He bid Helen and Sal a farewell and left with his driver.
Helen sat with Sal in one of the jeeps while the other two men took the other vehicle and they headed off. Their driver, Kanja, proved to be very informative as she asked him questions. He spoke good English with a strong accent. He explained about the seasons, animal migration, the rains and he spoke highly of the hospital and the doctors and seemed very proud to be a part of the Red Cross organisation.
The daylight was fading when they came to the hospital compound. Kanja gave a couple of blasts on the horn and an armed guard appeared to open the gates. Helen was surprised to see so many buildings and bush cover. She had expected a sparser environment.
Kanja stopped outside the hospital entrance and Sal alighted from the Jeep.
"I will drive you to the school building." He said to Helen.
"Well, I'll see you later," Sal said. "Let's hope for a good nights sleep."
Kanja went with Sal, carrying her bags. He got back into the jeep and Helen couldn't believe it when he drove the jeep for twenty yards and stopped again.
"Here is the school." He announced.
He grabbed Helen's bags and they walked up to the door. She saw lights on, and as soon as Kanja knocked, the door opened and a familiar face greeted her.
"Sister Michael." She took the woman's hand and kissed it.
"Oh don't be so formal child." The older woman grabbed and hugged Helen to her as Kanja placed the bags inside.
"Thank you Kanja." Sister Michael said. He appeared to bow in reverence and left.
"Convert?" Helen asked.
"Good gracious no."
"I know your powers of faith and persuasion, Sister. You could convert the devil, if you could get your hands on him."
Sister Michael laughed. "Now that would be a challenge. No, Kanja was raised in a Catholic orphanage. He still has that child like fascination about nuns."
She put her arm through Helen's and drew her to a small office in the back of the main school room.
"So, how was the trip?" Sister Michael asked.
For Helen the flight from London to Nairobi had been relatively comfortable. From there it was a gradual progression of smaller planes and increasing discomfort.
Sister Michael showed Helen the office. She saw a desk with exercise books stacked for marking and boxes of school supplies.
"Here is the bedroom." Sister Michael pushed open a door in the corner.
Helen looked at the two beds with mosquito netting. There was another desk and two chairs and a window covered by shutters. She felt the cool breeze from the ceiling fan above her.
"I hope you don't mind sharing? There is a latrine and separate shower block for everybody's use. Although in that cupboard there, we have a chemical WC." Sister Michael pointed at another door. "Everything works very well here, considering. It's all a wonderful achievement."
"How many pupils attend the school?" Helen asked as she wandered around the room.
"Anywhere between fifteen to thirty. Sometimes more, sometimes less. And varying age groups, from six to sixteen."
"I wasn't aware of seeing any villages on the way in."
"Oh don't worry, there are villages all around. If there happens to be a transport gone out, they will bring some of the children in from the far off settlements. They'll stay for about a week and we have tents set up for that purpose. And we have a daily transport for the nearer ones. We also contribute financially to the food supply. It's nice to know that we can provide a good meal for the children."
"How do you structure the classes?" Helen leant against the desk.
"On a wing and a prayer mostly." Sister Michael rolled her eyes and Helen burst out laughing.
"I find that hard to believe of you. You're so disciplined."
"Yes, but this is no ordinary situation. Or rather not ordinary for us. I usually start with spoken English lessons, reading, writing, math, history. I usually get the children to tell me what they'd like to do. You'll find the pupils extremely enthusiastic and so eager to learn. I wish some of the pupils back home could be that way. It's quite exhausting keeping up with them and I certainly sleep well at night. But it's very rewarding. Reminds me why I became a teacher. You'll see for yourself on Monday. I would advise as much rest this weekend in preparation."
"I'm looking forward to assisting you."
"Ah, yes. Now then." Sister Michael put her arm through Helen's and led her over to a chair and made her sit.
"Sister?" Helen frowned.
"You're not here to assist me Helen. You're taking over here."
"What? But Reverend Mother and the school board at St John's said I was coming to assist for a couple of months, until they found suitable replacements for both of us." Helen was unable to hide the sound of panic in her voice.
"Hmm. Well I'm sorry to say neither I nor the Reverend Mother were quite forthcoming in our reason to get you here, especially me." Sister Michael smiled.
"As you know, we've had many teachers here since the school opened a year ago and it's not fair to the children. I came to see what could be done to help assist them. Four months later, I'm still here. We need something more stable in place. We are sponsoring local people who live here, through university to come back as teachers. We have two wonderful assistants who will also help you, who are also being sponsored. It goes without saying it's not easy here Helen. The heat, dust, illness, one needs a strong constitution. Our last teacher was constantly ill. It takes a lot of adjustment. Plus,"
Sister Michael hesitated for a moment.
"You'll also see things here that are hard to bear at times. In the past four months we have lost two pupils, all younger ones barely seven years old."
The Sister sat down.
"Helen, you have an extraordinary gift as a teacher, and you still have that passion after all these years. Not many can maintain it. Schools need teachers like you. This school needs a teacher like you. The pupils in your class back at St John's love you and it was a hard decision to take you away from them, but your capabilities we feel are needed here for the time being. And I think it's time for you to have a new challenge." Sister Michael smiled at her.
"If you can help to settle the school, we know it will have a good future under your guidance. The only way, I believe, to see if this was for you was to bring you out here. We're not saying you have to stay, and if you want to leave when I do, then we shall make arrangements. But I have every faith in you."
"The famous Sister Michael persuasion," Helen said and smiled. "Of course I'll do my best with you here. So tell me, how long are you here for?"
Sister Michael took a deep breath. "Four weeks."
Helen felt her mouth fall open.
"Don't worry dear it's plenty of time to get you settled. I'm truly sorry, but I have to return to Britain. My eldest sister is unwell and lives alone so I need to go back and see to her." She went over to Helen and held out her arm.
"Come, let me show you the school room properly."
As they walked back through they heard a commotion outside. Car horns were blaring and voices were shouting.
Sister Michael opened the door and they both stepped out. It was now dark, but Helen saw trucks parked right at the entrance of the hospital. People rushed out with stretchers and were taking people from the back of the vehicles.
"What's happened?" Helen asked
"I would say casualties of some kind. It's been a while, but villages often get raided."
Helen started to walk towards the hospital, unsure why. Medically she knew she could be of no help but she felt compelled to go.
"Be careful Helen." Sister Michael made no attempt to stop her. She knew being here could well be a baptism of fire and as much as she wanted to shield Helen from it, she knew it would be better for her to be initiated sooner rather than later.
Helen entered the hospital and saw three ER trolleys occupied by three adult men. Two were yelling in obvious pain and when Helen saw the blood, she realised they were possibly gun shot injuries. Both these men were being administered to by gowned medical staff. One doctor and one nurse each and one of them was Sal. But she saw one doctor working alone, their back to her and their gown just barely staying in place.
"I could have a bleeder!" Yelled the lone doctor and Helen realised from the voice she was female.
"I need help here. The femoral artery could rupture." She shouted again.
"I'll be there as soon as I can." Replied the other nurse.
"Can't, this guy won't stay still." Sal shouted out. The patient was writhing and she was holding him down.
"I can't wait." The doctor spun round and spied Helen "You, get over here and help for Christ's sake."
Helen was rooted to the spot and tried to answer "But doctor."
"See those gloves nurse? Just put them on and the eye protectors. Don't worry about a gown or mask, no time. I need help right now or he could bleed to death."
Helen still stood and hesitated. "But I'm not."
"For God sake. Now woman!" The doctor bellowed.
Without a second thought Helen grabbed surgical gloves and goggles from the utility cart and rushed over to the bed. The patient was relatively calm given his condition. Obviously in shock, he was trembling uncontrollably and he looked no more than 18 years old. There was blood seeping from a wound on his arm, but it was the one in his thigh the doctor was more concerned with.
The doctor proceeded to remove his trousers, tugging them from his legs and Helen gasped when she saw he was wearing no underwear and was naked before her.
"I need you to put all your weight right here." The doctor pointed to just above the wound. "I've got to get the bullet out. If we get this right, he won't bleed to death."
Helen pushed down with both hands as hard as possible.
The doctor seemed puzzled by her effort. "That won't help. I said all your weight. You'll have to get up on the bed, and push down with hands, your knee and full body weight."
Helen did as requested. She pushed down and more blood appeared and for a moment she thought she would lose her stomach contents.
The doctor spoke to the patient in Swahili and he nodded and gripped the side of the bed. Slicing into the flesh with a scalpel she worked quickly. Helen swallowed hard and averted her eyes from the scene. She was finding it difficult to keep up the pressure. Her whole body was tense and she felt her muscles, especially in her arms, begin to ache.
"What ever you do, don't ease off the pressure." It was as if the doctor were aware that she was struggling. Working quickly, the doctor pushed her finger into the wound she made bigger and felt around. Keeping her hand there, with the other she used another medical instrument and also placed it into the wound.
"When I pull this out, I need you to push down even harder." The doctor looked directly at Helen and she nodded back her understanding. With that, the other nurse appeared at the Doctor's side.
"Ok, Nikki. I'm here."
"Ok, you know what to do. Please don't ease off that pressure." The doctor said something to the patient again, and Helen determined she told him to stay as still as possible. His trembling stopped.
As much as Helen didn't want to, she couldn't help but watch. The team of doctor and nurse worked so incredible quickly, that the procedure was over in moments.
"Ok, you can get down. Thank you." The doctor said.
Helen climbed down from the bed. Her arms and legs were shaking so badly she couldn't control them.
"How long since you qualified?" The doctor asked, as she and the nurse set about bandaging and injecting antibiotics.
"Qualified?" Helen replied.
"From nursing training?"
"Oh, that's what I was trying to tell you. I'm not a nurse."
"What? What the bloody hell are you doing here then?" The doctor ripped off the surgical hat, mask and goggles and Helen was struck by the striking dark features.
"I'll finish up here Nikki." Said the nurse.
"I'm with the school. I'm a teacher."
"Oh bloody great. I thought we were getting nurses today." Now visibly annoyed the doctor savagely ripped off her gown.
"That would be me," Sal said. "There was some kind of delay. The other one will be here tomorrow."
"What about those two?" Nikki pointed at the other two patients.
"Ok, one stomach wound, but not as bad as it looked." Helen heard the distinct French accent of the doctor speaking.
"Same here, superficial leg wound, and a superficial one to the shoulder."
At first glance Helen assumed the doctor was Kenyan, but his accent was predominately English.
"Good. Let's get them through to recovery and get this cleaned up."
Helen looked around and there was blood all over the floor. Then she saw more people in the room. Additional staff, standing by to help with whatever the medical team needed. They wheeled the beds through some doors and others began the task of cleaning.
Sal and the medical team went through also, removing their gloves as they made their way to sinks to scrub up.
"I'm sorry, I don't know your name?" It was the nurse who came over to assist.
"Oh, yes, sorry. I'm Helen Stewart."
"Hi, I'm Karen Betts. Welcome to our world. I would shake your hand, but." She held up her hands still gloved and covered in blood.
"No worries." Helen smiled.
"Those will have to be washed."
Karen pointed at her and Helen looked at herself and saw her shirt and trousers were covered in blood.
"If you follow me, we'll go through and get you scrubbed up and a gown. We'll put those in a special laundry bag, and I can introduce you to the team. I gather you already know Sal, is it? we didn't get much chance of a hello either."
"What happened?" Helen asked as she followed Karen.
"It was a raiding party. Fortunately it doesn't happen often, and when it does, it's not usually this bad. The rebels will go into a village and ransack. They'll take medical supplies to sell on the black market. They rarely shoot anybody, but from what we gathered, these villagers were prepared to put up a fight. We got a radio call, about a raid. Some of the team were in the area on calls, that's why there were only three doctors here. It seems the raiders caught these poor souls who were heading home to their village. Our drivers found them about twenty miles away trying to get here for help. Luckily it seems there were no fatalities. The rebels were more likely a little trigger happy."
They were now in the back part of the hospital where there was a ward and Helen saw a small operating room.
Karen removed the gloves at a sink and scrubbed her hands and arms and helped Helen do the same.
"You see that cupboard there, if you open it, you'll find some gowns and some blue bags. There's a loo there for you to change."
Helen did her best to tie up the hospital gown before emerging from the lavatory.
"Ok? Follow me." Karen led the way along the ward and Helen noticed most of the beds, covered with mosquito netting, were occupied by children.
"Are they all sick?" She asked.
"Mostly malnutrition." Karen explained. They entered a small office where the others were.
"I don't know why they keep bothering to send bloody teachers. They never last out here."
It was said by the doctor Helen assisted, who hadn't seen her come in. If Karen heard the comment, she showed no sign of it.
"Helen, this is Dr Nikki Wade. Our longest serving resident medic here, as well as controversial figure and all round pain in the arse."
Nikki snorted and she carried on.
"This is Dr Jean-Paul Hubert, and this is Dr Brian Grant. Everyone, this is Helen Stewart. A new teacher for the school."
They shook hands and Sal introduced herself to the medical team.
"We also have two other doctors who are out in the field right now and won't be back until morning, along with nursing staff. They are doctor's Paula Gates and Ian long and nurses Dominique Hubert, no relation to Jean-Paul, and Corrine White. And we shall have the other nurse flying in tomorrow. Plus we have other local Red Cross volunteers whom we couldn't manage without."
"Right, I'm off to check on our patients." Nikki said flatly and she brushed past Helen and Karen.
"Let me walk you back to the school house," Karen offered.
"If you feel as exhausted as you look, you're going to ache in the morning. That was quite an adrenaline rush you got back there. Drink plenty of water. Have you all your medications with you? Remember to take them. It's very important here, especially the malaria meds. We will give you more when they run out. But please, if you feel at all unwell at anytime, don't hesitate to come and see one of us. Your predecessor was too worried about bothering us, I think. The biggest thing that can affect you here will be stomach issues, which can lead to dehydration, or you may suffer sunstroke. If you're not a water drinker, you need to become one." Karen advised.
"You said Dr Wade was the longest resident doctor here?" Helen asked.
"Yes, she's been here six years. I've know Nikki a long time. We first worked together in the UK at the same hospital. Then long story short, for the Red Cross in Angola. Then we both came out here from there. I was here for a short secondment of three months, then went back home and returned three years ago."
"Isn't it unusual for doctors and nurses to stay that long?"
"Normally yes. But there are a few of us that end up staying. It gets into your blood after a while." Karen smiled.
"You said she was controversial?"
Karen half laughed. "Hmm. Nikki doesn't always play it by the book. There can be a lot of red tape and bureaucracy, even in these circumstances, which she can't abide. But she's an excellent doctor and she gets results. Her bark is worse than her bite. But don't worry I'm sure she won't cross your path too much."
"Are there no indigenous doctors working at the hospital?"
"Oh yes, most of the time. But it just so happens at the moment we have a very international team. Ian is from Australia and Paula is from South Africa. Our locals move from hospital to hospital also across the region. The team we have at the moment is about to change. Dominique is due to leave us in a few weeks she's been here for six months."
"Do you have any family?"
"I have a son Tom, but he's 25 now and training to be a doctor. My husband and I divorced about four years ago. Hence my return to the Red Cross."
"Is it difficult to maintain a family life?" Helen was finding the conversation very informative.
"Obviously yes, it's not too conducive to becoming a settled family unit at times. It becomes its own little world. Forming relationships is difficult. It happens obviously between doctors and nurses, but it can also be very brief. Brian's father was an English doctor working out here many years ago and met his mother who was a local nurse. These situations can be very emotive and it's hard to maintain an emotional relationship on top of that as well."
They stopped at the door to the school.
"Anyway Helen, get some rest. We have a dinning area so come over in the morning for breakfast. Sister Michael usually joins us. Goodnight."
Helen spoke a while longer with the Sister about the school. She felt excited at the prospect, but also a little nervous at what might lie ahead. It didn't last long. As she laid her head on the pillow, she didn't know any more until Sister Michael gently woke her the next morning.
"Look at this bloody manifest." Nikki threw it on the table and slumped down on a chair, drinking some coffee.
Karen picked it up, looking at it while she ate her scrambled eggs.
"Fenner took an extra box of our medication again. I know he's signed for it, but every time he meets the supply plane, something goes missing. That bastard is selling stuff, I just know it."
"If you're so sure, why not report it?" Karen replied.
"Because I have no real proof, just a gut feeling. When I first met him, I just knew there was something bent about him."
"You're not eating?" Karen's tone was authoritative.
"I ate earlier. I was up before everybody, checking on little Chanya."
"How is she?"
"Not good." Nikki shook her head.
They looked up at the sound of a joint good morning as Helen and Sister Michael walked in.
"Morning." Karen and Nikki said simultaneously.
"How are you feeling?" Karen asked Helen.
"You were right. I ache." Helen smiled. Both she and the Sister went over and got themselves some coffee and eggs.
After sitting, Nikki and Karen watched as they both bowed their heads for a moment. Karen raised her fork to her mouth and wasn't sure whether to continue, when Nikki waved with a flick of her hand to do so.
As Helen tucked into her breakfast, Karen spoke to her.
"I hope you don't mind me asking but you're not a nun, are you Helen?"
"No. I wanted to be when I was much younger. I was certain at sixteen that it was my calling. But my teachers at my school, especially Sister Michael, were wise enough to see that my strengths lied elsewhere."
Karen wasn't sure if Helen was teasing her.
"Helen was one of my pupils. I persuaded her that her calling was to become a teacher." Sister Michael added.
"You all know each other?" Karen seemed surprised.
"Yes. St John's Catholic School has been a big part of my life, I taught there myself until last week. It's a bit like what you were saying last night. You have a community going here. Most people see faith as a personal thing, and in some ways it is, but it's also about community and helping each other. St John's has sponsored many schools like this one. Not just in Africa."
Nikki pointed at the ring on Helen's left hand. "You're married?"
Helen instinctively touched it. "I was. My husband died five years ago."
"Oh, I'm sorry." Karen said.
"You don't have children?" Nikki leant towards the table.
Nikki raised her eyebrows. "You're a practicing Catholic?"
"Dr Wade." Sister Michael's tone was reprimanding and even Karen looked at Nikki sharply.
"It just wasn't meant to be. David was also a teacher, so we were always surrounded by children in some way. I did eventually get pregnant. But then at four months we were involved in a car crash. David was killed. I survived. The baby didn't."
Helen maintained her composure. She wasn't sure if Nikki's remark was a deliberate attempt to provoke her.
"I'm sorry. That was very insensitive of me." Nikki apologised.
"Thank you." Helen said it gracefully, looking Nikki directly in the eye.
There was a terseness to Helen's face that wasn't lost on Nikki and she wasn't sure if it was meant as a warning.
Helen changed the subject. "I noticed that most of the patients are children."
Nikki placed her elbows on the table clasping her hands as she answered. Helen noticed a hint of tiredness to her voice, mirrored by the darkness under her eyes, but even with no make up, her face was clear and strikingly beautiful. Her dark short hair was a little unkempt and curled into her neck at the back and her dark brown eyes seemed to accentuate her beauty all the more. But there was a hint of something that went beyond tiredness that Helen couldn't put her finger on.
"Yes. The biggest problem here is malnutrition. Most of the children are undernourished and many of the mother's are young and inexperienced, practically still kids themselves. Many are still nursing older babies, with another newborn waiting in line. The mortality rate is very high, especially in the 3 to 5 year age group. We have a Malnutrition Centre here that educates the mothers about giving their children extra vitamins with food. After the children recover here, we have an after care program too. Caregivers go out into the nearby villages and follow up on the progress of the children, weighing them, and continuing with help and advice. Our facility here obviously deals with that, but as you were witness to, we have the capability for surgical needs, to a certain degree. Life support units are very minimal and not what you would find in a city hospital. But we do have the assistance of the Kenyan army. Their med. vac. helicopters are available to us if we need them to transport someone to Nairobi. They often use this area for a lot of training. Every now and then they will land either here or at the other clinic."
"If you want, we can give you a tour if you have time now?" Karen offered "Nikki and I will be off on a locum visit in two hours."
"Yes, I would like that." Helen said. Sister Michael declined the offer, saying she wanted to complete some lesson sheets for the coming week, but would visit the children later.
Nikki rose from her chair and Helen saw how tall she was. She hadn't really noticed last night. Nikki was slim, maybe too slim Helen thought. She was wearing a khaki T-shirt and Khaki trousers. Her boots were a little dusty and she wiped them off with a napkin.
They all went out of the dinning room and into the hospital reception next door.
"How far do patients have to come?" Helen asked Nikki.
"Obviously local villagers not very far. At a real push, we can cover a several hundred mile radius if need be. Far out villages, if large enough will have a local GP on hand most of the time, living there. Then there is another facility that covers beyond that so can overlap that radius. For critical patients, like the ones we have here right now, will be brought in from the villages."
"What about power?"
"We're lucky to have a large generator, supplying electricity to power the facility and water. When we first arrived here, it was just tents and a few shacks. What they have achieved here certainly has been an achievement. We have a petrol store, for the jeeps and trucks and generator, as well as water storage. The airstrip that you landed on, will take a larger cargo plane. It's that far out as we know it's not a regular migratory route for animals, and in the unfortunate event of an accident, the planes use air space without direct settlements below. And the communications set up is far superior to what it used to be. Back then it was practically two plastics cups and a piece of string to call anybody."
"Do animals get into the compound?"
"Yes, but it's usually just antelope, not predatory ones. And this is not a regular trail, that's why it's built here. We have bush cover and the perimeter fence to keep anything else out, and gates so the local villagers can get in. There is a natural well here, which the locals use, and which we rarely have too."
"What about attacks like the one last night?"
"We've never had one. Again the perimeter fence, such as it is, deters any real threat and we do have a couple of armed guards. The rebels prefer to attack the villages because they are easy targets and defenseless. It's a quick in and out job. Here, it's too much trouble and there's more risk of being caught."
Helen saw the three patients from the incident last night were now on the ward. There were some young women, as well as a couple of elderly ones but it was the children Helen was struck by. They all looked so fragile and lifeless, many of them hooked up to IV lines. She was used to children with much more energy.
The mothers of the children sat by their beds holding tiny hands. Nikki spoke to everyone, and examined each child gently.
Then they came upon one child. Her skin was almost translucent, stretched across her bones. Her stomach was distended, making it look hugely swollen and her eyes were sunken into the sockets.
"Hello Chanya." Nikki said softly, smiling and the little girl managed to smile back. She spent a long time examining her. Helen saw the concern on Nikki's face and she called Karen over and they spoke quietly.
"She looks very ill." Helen remarked, as Nikki and Karen left the bedside.
"She is. Dehydrated, undernourished. And she has malaria. We're doing all we can, but..." Nikki didn't finish.
"How old is she?" Helen asked.
"Five years old. None of the children here are as young as they look."
Helen was shocked. She looked at the child again, and all she could see was what looked like a baby no more than eighteen months old.
"Oh God." Helen murmured and her stomach turned.
"I think you'll find Him of little help here. Too many miracles to perform." Nikki brushed past Helen before she could react to the obvious animosity in Nikki's voice.
Karen gently touched Helen's arm. "Would you like some more coffee?" She said it to break Helen from the scene before her and it worked. Helen meekly smiled and nodded and followed her.
"Dr Wade certainly speaks her mind." Helen remarked.
"Yes she does. I would put it down to her having been up early, but there are no excuses for Nikki. She is who she is. Take it or leave it."
They left the hospital and went back into the dinning area. Nikki was coming out of there with a glass of water, when a jeep pulled up. At the sight of the person that climbed out, Karen shrieked.
"What the fu " Nikki thought she was seeing things. The person was wearing dark sunglasses that shielded their face.
"Bloody hell, could you have been any bleeding further out in the sticks!" There was no hiding the East End accent. The woman strode up to Nikki and grabbed her.
"Yvonne?" Nikki was in shock.
Yvonne stepped back and looked at her. "When was the last time you ate something girl? You look as skinny as a frigging stick insect."
Nikki was still speechless and grabbed Yvonne back for another embrace. They looked at each other again.
"I can't believe it, the last time I saw you was..." Nikki stopped, unable to continue. Her joy suddenly tempered at the recollection.
"I know mate, I know," Yvonne sobered for a moment too. "Six years ago."
Nikki cleared the lump from her throat. "Bloody hell, it's good to see you. Did you know about this?" She turned to Karen.
"Yep. When she didn't turn up yesterday, I was beside myself. I've been keeping it quiet for so long. Luckily Sal explained about the delay."
"You pair of buggers. All your letters and not once did you say something! How did you wrangle it?"
"Easy, pulled a few favors here and there." Yvonne said and Nikki didn't bother to ask which.
"Anyway, how could they resist my record, they practically jumped all over me. I've been itching to get back into the swing of things. Now Lauren's settled at University, I thought I'd better do it now. One last hurrah."
"How is she doing at Uni?" Nikki asked.
"Bloody loving it of course, loads of fellas and cheap beer on campus."
"Takes after her mother." Nikki quipped.
There was a clinking of bottles and Kanja set down a wooden case.
"Speaking of which." Yvonne bent down and picked up a bottle. "I've bought a little tipple with me. Still like a drop of scotch I take it?"
"How the hell did you get that here?" Nikki couldn't believe her eyes.
"Easy, me and Lauren spent the other night putting it into different bottles. Then I just kinda added it to the medical manifest." Yvonne winked. "Looks a lot like disinfectant don't it. Anyway, if I'd have known this bleeding place was in the back of beyond, I would have brought another case."
Nikki shook her head and Karen laughed.
"By the way Nik, you still on the smokes? Got you 400 fags as well."
"Yvonne, you're a bloody saint."
Karen and Yvonne finally embraced one another. Helen watched the interaction between the three of them and Karen set about introducing her.
"Helen, this is Yvonne Atkins, Yvonne this is Helen Stewart the new."
"School teacher, I know. My pal Kanja already filled me in." They shook each others hand.
"I understand you were on nursing duty last night." Yvonne smiled. "She give you a rough time?" She half whispered and motioned in Nikki's direction.
"Not at all." Helen smiled.
"Blimey, you were lucky. You getting soft in your old age?" She looked at Nikki.
"I'll leave you all to catch up. It was nice to meet you." Helen said and headed off to the school.
"Yvonne, come on through. Me and Nikki are out on a visit in an hour, we can show you round and get you settled."
"Great. By the way, who's that slime ball Fenner?"
Nikki stopped in her tracks. "He met the plane? Did he take anything?"
"Yeah, couple of extra boxes but he signed for them. He was eyeing up the scotch. Problem is he?"
"I can't prove it, but I think so."
"He ain't a doctor is he? Was trying to act like he was the dogs' bollocks."
"No, he's RC admin. Was only supposed to be here a while, but I reckon he talked himself into a longer arrangement."
As they walked through the hospital, Nikki pointed at Yvonne's sunglasses.
"You going to take them off?"
"Are you bleeding mad. In this heat? Right now they're the only things stopping my fucking eyeballs from melting!"
After meeting Yvonne, Helen spent most of the day going over lesson content with Sister Michael in preparation for the next morning's class. Towards the early evening, she began to feel tired. The time difference was evident and Sister Michael encouraged her to take a nap.
She woke suddenly. A lamp was on in the room, and she sat up. Sister Michael was asleep in the other bed and when Helen looked at her watch it was 11.30pm.
She felt thirsty and went to get some water but there was none. Leaving quietly, she made her way across to the dinning area and sat at one of the tables and drank two glasses of water in quick succession. After the activity last night, the compound seemed eerily quiet and she knew there must be hospital staff on shift, so thought she would check the ward.
The sound of children's giggling filtered through to the hospital reception and Helen wondered what was going on. She gingerly pushed open the ward door. The lighting was dimmed and ceiling fans were keeping the ward cool.
She saw Nikki sitting in a chair between two of the beds with two children in her lap. As she talked to them, they were giggling, trying to be quiet so as not to wake the others. Helen stepped back a little so she could watch, without them noticing her. After a few more minutes, Nikki pointed at her watch, signaling to the children they needed to be in bed. Without them making a fuss, she popped each one back, and then walked along slowly.
There were more giggles and Nikki stopped between another two beds. The mothers smiled as she proceeded to gently poke the children, until they couldn't take it any more. Helen realised it was a game, mostly among the children that were recovering. This went on for another 20 minutes and Helen was mesmerised as she watched Nikki with her patients. The children's faces were so expressive that Helen put her hand over her mouth, to stop herself from laughing.
By now Nikki was at the far end of the ward and she stopped at the bed of Chanya. Helen saw an elderly woman sitting at the bedside and Nikki spoke to her. Taking her stethoscope she put it to the child's chest, holding her wrist as she did so and stood there for quite some time before kneeling down in front of the woman, to speak to her again. The woman nodded. With that, Nikki made her way over to the office and Karen followed her back out. They unhooked the IV line from the child's hand and Nikki scooped up the tiny bundle. The elderly woman got up and followed her, as Nikki headed for the operating room.
Helen moved further into the ward and Karen saw her and she wandered over.
"Hi Helen." She said quietly. "Couldn't sleep?"
"I popped over to get some water and just thought I'd pop in here to see the children. Is everything alright?" Helen whispered back.
Karen looked back to where Nikki had just disappeared.
"No, I'm afraid it's not good. It will only be a matter of one or two hours now."
"Oh no, that's so sad. Is that Chanya's mother?" Helen remembered the child smiling earlier and even though aware of how ill she was, it seemed hard to believe that in only a few short hours later, her life was coming to a end.
"No, it's her grandmother. Chanya's mother died last year in childbirth. Her grandmother's been trying to look after her. We're moving them both in to the operating room, to give them more privacy. I'd better go. Oh, and good luck for tomorrow. Your first class."
Helen didn't feel like leaving and when she saw Sal emerge from the office, she walked down to her.
"Hi Helen." Sal whispered too.
"I'm just going to do the rounds. Want to tag along? I promise I won't get you to do anything."
Helen nodded and accompanied her, as she took the children's temperatures and checked on IV bags. Some of the mothers spoke a little English and they shook hands with Helen and introduced themselves and their children. She explained as best she could, that she was the new teacher.
By now it was 12.30am and Helen knew she should get some sleep. She bade Sal goodnight and left the hospital.
Outside she saw Nikki sitting on a chair down by the dinning area. In one hand she had a cigarette, the end giving off a tiny red glow as she inhaled. She rubbed her forehead with her other hand and then around the back of her neck. Sitting forward she rested her elbow on her knee and rubbed her eyes.
Helen wandered over and at the sound of approaching footsteps Nikki looked up and Helen saw how tired she looked. Her eyes appeared a little red.
"Do you usually work such long hours Dr Wade?"
Nikki inhaled again and answered as she exhaled the smoke.
"It's difficult not too. Let's face it. There's not much of a social scene out here is there?" The remark had a hint of sarcasm.
"Karen said you've been here six years."
"Yep." Helen waited for Nikki to expand, but nothing was forthcoming.
Helen pointed at the cigarette. "Don't the others give you gip about that?"
"I haven't had one in about two years. It's a very small pleasure that I allow myself, as hypocritical as it seems being a doctor and promoting healthcare."
She took another puff and pulled the packet from her back pocket and offered it to Helen.
"No thank you, I don't smoke."
"I understand Chanya is," Helen couldn't finish. "Would you like me to fetch Sister Michael?"
"What for? Not everybody here follows the Christian faith Ms. Stewart. One's last breath doesn't always need to be absolved. Death has occurred here for centuries with out it."
The attack was said quietly but with enough venom that it surprised Helen and she was about to explain that that had not been her motive when Nikki spoke again.
"Look," Nikki rubbed her eyes again. "I appreciate the attempt at small talk, but it's really not necessary. If you don't mind, I have a dying child and I'd just like a moment before I go back in."
A line had been drawn and Helen could see it was not to be crossed.
"Goodnight Dr Wade." Helen said it as civilly as she could and left.
By the end of her first week, the rapport between Helen and the pupils was just as Sister Michael knew it would be. Helen's easy going fun manner, and approach to teaching made the children even more enthusiastic. She broke up the lessons with breaks for fun activities and even turned the tables on herself, by sitting in one of the seats, while one of the teaching assistants gave Swahili lessons. She had studied the language a little before arriving. The children laughed and giggled at her attempts but were just as encouraging.
Helen was pleased at how well the children responded. The varying ages concerned her to begin with. As a primary school teacher, the age group she was used to teaching was seven to eight years olds, but she found she was able to organise more complex lessons for the older children here.
And it wasn't hard for Helen to understand why the climate took some getting used too. The heat was extremely oppressive during the day, especially from noon. The fans in the school room made it a little bearable, but as soon as she stepped outside, it was a blast of searing warmth. The dust got every where, fine particles, settled on every surface, from the desks to the paper, to shoes and clothes. Everyday on her back, she was aware of a damp pool between her shoulder blades, and around the neckline of her shirt as well as under her arms. Even Sister Michael dressed sensibly for the heat. A pinafore dress and short sleeved blouse kept her cool.
But Helen also witnessed some of the most spectacular sun rises and sunsets. And through the children with field visits around the compound, she learnt about some of the animal and plant life.
It was three o' clock in the morning and so hot Helen couldn't sleep. Even though the ceiling fan was on it was providing no relief. Sister Michael was sound asleep, so she got up and as quietly as she could, took a flashlight, towel and her bath robe and made her way to the shower block.
She found the outside air not much cooler. The moon was full and the sky a light with stars and the sounds of insects seemed to resonate through the earth.
Helen hoped a cold shower would help. She opened the shower block door and was about to go into one of the two cubicles, when she was surprised to hear one of the showers running. She wondered who else could be up this early. She stood very still and strained to hear. The sound of a woman's voice, speaking in French, floated towards Helen and she was certain it was Dominique. There was another voice, but it was too quiet to distinguish. For whatever reason, Helen stopped herself from calling out. With the next sounds it became obvious what activity was taking place. Helen wasn't shocked. She was more concerned with leaving as quietly as possible, so that she didn't disturb the two people who were otherwise occupied.
"Now Helen, are you absolutely sure about staying?" Sister Michael took her hands.
"Yes, I'm sure."
"It's not too late to change your mind; they'll be a seat on that plane."
"No, seriously, I'll be fine." Helen reassured her.
"Ok. Let's make our way over to the hospital. Dr Wade is going to drive to the airstrip. I know she's worried about the supplies. We can sit in the back of the truck with the children and Dominique can sit in the front."
Helen realised it would be the first time she had seen Nikki in four weeks. Their paths had not crossed much since the night Chanya had died and she saw more of Karen and Yvonne and the other nurses rather than any of the doctors who were normally out on visits, sometimes for several days.
"At least you won't be traveling alone until Nairobi." Helen picked up the Sister's suitcase.
"Yes, I wish I could speak French as well as she speaks English."
Outside were a group of girls, all patiently waiting.
"Ah, my sending off party. Good morning everyone." Sister Michael smiled and held out her arms and the children embraced her.
The school children all wanted to accompany her to the plane, but it would have been impossible to fit them all in the truck. It was decided that the first six children, who had been attending the school the longest while she had been there, were chosen for the trip. The day before, the afternoon's lessons were halted and they held a leaving party so the other children could wish her goodbye.
They wandered over to the truck where Nikki and Dominique were waiting and Helen was surprised to hear the conversation between them was in fluent French.
"Oh I hope I haven't kept you waiting?" Sister Michael asked.
"No, we were just loading up Dominique's gear." Nikki assured her. She headed towards the hospital and returned with Karen, Yvonne and the rest of the medical team so that Dominique and the Sister could say their good byes.
"Sister, are you sure about sitting in the back, there's room in the front?" Nikki asked
"Yes, it's no problem. I want to sit with the girls."
Just as they were all about to get into the truck someone called out.
Helen turned and saw striding towards them, a very tall and handsome man dressed in a red robe that covered most of his body and draped over his shoulder. His ear lobes had large holes that hung almost down to his neck and were decorated with ivory tusk. The shaved hair on his head was graying and his skin was almost black. He smiled as he approached Nikki.
"George." Nikki greeted him. They spoke briefly then he made his was round to the passenger side.
"Ok, let's go." Nikki announced.
The back of the covered truck had two long bench seats running down the sides. Helen and the children climbed up and between them they pulled Sister Michael inside. They talked, sang songs and laughter could be heard by the passengers in the front.
It was no surprise to Nikki to see a familiar figure waiting at the airstrip. Just as she pulled up, they heard the plane approach and waited for it to land.
Helen and the children helped Sister Michael down from the truck while Nikki, Dominique and George went over to the plane and helped to unload some of the supplies along with Jim Fenner and his crew.
As Jim started to count out and separate boxes Nikki stopped him.
"Those are for us."
"Ah, I was going to take a couple of extra." Before he could finish Nikki interrupted him.
"No, we need those. We were short last time and we're running low." Nikki took the boxes back and looked at him. He hesitated, unsure if he should push it further.
"Ok, no worries." He held up his hands in mock surrender and smiled but Nikki could see he wasn't happy. He loaded his jeep with his supplies and left while Nikki and the others loaded up the truck.
"Abuya, Akeyo, look after your brother and help him with his lessons." Sister Michael addressed two of the girls. "And everybody, remember to give Miss Helen her Swahili home work. I shall miss you all very much." There were tears in her eyes and the girls hugged her again.
"Helen dear, are you sure?" She asked one last time before grabbing her into another embrace.
"Yes." Helen tried to sound reassuring.
"Look after yourself. If you need anything, let us know."
"I will. Safe journey. Give my love to everyone at St John's." Helen wiped some tears from her cheek as Dominique approached her.
"Goodbye Helen." They shook hands and both she and Sister Michael walked over to the plane. When Dominique said goodbye to Nikki, they embraced for a moment, before Dominique kissed Nikki on both cheeks. She held one of Nikki's hands, and as she walked away, their hands stayed together until they broke apart.
The children waved frantically as the plane took off and they could see Sister Michael at the window waving back. Everybody stood and watched until the plane was just a spec in the sky.
"Did you want to sit up front with me and George, there's plenty of room?" Nikki asked Helen.
"No that's fine. I'll sit in the back with the girls."
"This is George by the way. A good friend of mine." Nikki introduced him.
As he shook Helen's hand, she was almost crippled by his grip. His handshake was firm and her fingers felt as though they had been crushed.
"Karibu. Nafurahi kukuona." He said
Nikki translated "Hello. Pleased to meet you."
Helen thought for a moment "Er, nimefurahi " she stumbled over the words. One of the girls whispered in her ear. "Oh yes, nimefrahi kukutana nawe. Hopefully that was I am pleased to meet you."
"Ah!" George raised his hand "Good!"
"Ok, lessons over, lets get back home." Nikki clapped her hands and ushered everyone back into the truck.
It was about forty-five minutes into the journey back, when the ambush happened.
Helen and the children were having fun in the back of the truck, while George sat in the front talking with Nikki. In the wing mirror, she spotted the dust and saw the two jeeps speeding up behind them.
"Where the hell did they come from?"
George leant out of the window and at the same time, Helen banged on the cab.
"Dr Wade!" It was the urgency in Helen's voice that alarmed Nikki.
"Guns!" George announced.
Nikki knew there was no way she could out run them in the truck. In no time, one of the jeeps was along side and a rifle pointed straight at her. The occupants signaled for her to stop or they would fire and she saw they were aiming at the side of the truck where Helen and the children were. She obeyed immediately.
Five men scrambled from the two jeeps. They dragged Nikki and George from the cab and forced them to kneel at the front, their hands behind their heads. Next the raiders, yelling and shouting, forced the children and Helen from the back. The children were hysterical and Helen was doing her best to keep them calm. They all stood, gathered round her and she put her arms around the nearest ones. She felt her heartbeat racing as she saw Nikki and George on their knees.
Nikki watched the rebels. They were obviously as terrified as their captives. Nervous, waving their weapons widely. One of them shouted at the children, and although they immediately ceased crying, they continued to whimper.
In as soft a voice as possible, Helen asked Nikki what he said.
"He said if they didn't stop crying he would shoot you."
The idea of Nikki talking incensed the man who had shouted. He appeared to be the leader and he took a menacing step towards Nikki, waving a hand gun.
"Shut up, shut up." He said in Swahili.
"What do you want?" Nikki asked in the same language.
"You have supplies."
"Yes." Nikki's mind was racing. She was frantically trying to figure a way out of the situation. If she could keep him focused on her, perhaps he would leave the others alone.
"Take what you want. Don't harm the woman and children." Nikki said.
"You have a radio. You'll call for help." The rebel looked at her.
"No, we don't." It was true. Nikki knew if they were stranded, George would be their greatest asset. And when they didn't arrive back at the hospital, they would send out a search party.
"Don't lie!" He yelled and he raised the gun and pointed it at her. He signaled one of the other men to check for any radio equipment.
Helen felt her body jolt with fear as she saw the rebel leader aim his gun directly at Nikki's head. She had no idea what their conversation had been about. Then she saw something around his neck. It caught the sun and flashed out a bright beam for a split second. As she looked at it, she was surprised to see what it was. She believed they had only ever been made for St John's.
She put her hands behind her head and released the necklace. Prizing the children from her she gave them a reassuring look, before taking a few paces forward, her hand out stretched. Her heart was thumping and she knew the risk she was taking could cost lives, but for some reason she kept walking towards the gunman.
Nikki saw Helen come along side and her arm was lowered deliberately so Nikki could see what she had. In her hand was a crucifix.
"Dr Wade, tell him to take it. Tell him God will forgive him for what he's doing here. Tell him, he must let us leave with the medicine. It's God's will."
"Stop, what is she doing?" The leader yelled at Nikki. He was now completely angry and more nervous at Helen's approach.
Nikki did her best to relay the message. Helen smiled and held out her hand. He lowered the gun and looked at her and she nodded at him. He reached out and took the gold crucifix. It was ornately decorated and although much smaller, matched the one he was wearing. His eyes widened when he saw the resemblance. Nikki had also seen the coincidence and wondered what the odds were.
He stared at it for a moment, then turned to the other gunmen and spoke rapidly. With that they turned and left as quickly as they had appeared, without another word.
"Jesus." Nikki muttered. She took in a depth breath and exhaled with relief. George stood up and held out his hand.
"All fixed Simba." She took it and he pulled her up.
Helen turned and the children flew in her direction, hanging on to her hands and arms.
Nikki looked at her. "I'm still trying to figure out if that was an incredibly brave move or an incredibly bloody stupid one."
"Well Dr Wade, to save you agonising over it, let's just put it down to a case of Divine Intervention shall we?"
Helen felt an enormous sense of triumph. She stood for a moment longer then smiled at Nikki before turning to gather the children and led them back into the truck. She was grateful her legs carried her. They were shaking so much she was convinced she would collapse.
Nikki just stood there. She was speechless at Helen's statement and couldn't think of a suitable argument for what had happened. But it was also Helen's smile that grabbed her attention. Helen's tongue was just protruding between her teeth and it struck Nikki as a sexy flirtatious gesture. From anybody else, she would have assumed just that. She wiped the idea from her mind as ridiculous.
Before long Helen had the children signing and laughing. Nikki and George sat in the front, silent for the remainder of the journey.
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