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.
They came upon the village and Nikki drove the jeep into the stockade. The welcome was enthusiastic, with the villagers already knowing Nikki, and eager to meet their new guest especially the women and children.
"Oh my goodness, the women are so gorgeous." Helen remarked to Nikki, as they were escorted through the village. The women were elaborately dressed in bright robes, their ear lobes also with large holes and decorated. Their heads were shaved and Helen was captivated by their clear skin and beauty.
"I know. They put most supermodels to shame." Nikki agreed.
"I don't think I bought enough film with me." Helen looked around at all the photo opportunities.
"How many rolls did you bring?"
They approached one of the huts and George emerged. He was in full regal looking robes and Helen saw the necklace Nikki had mentioned around his neck, and even more elaborate decorations in his ears.
He shook their hands. "Welcome." He smiled. From behind him a woman appeared carrying a small bowl, which she handed to him. He lifted it slightly, then took a drink.
"Shit." Nikki muttered.
"What's wrong?" Helen whispered back.
"Sorry, I forgot to tell you. Look, don't hesitate when I hand it to you, just put it to your mouth and take a small sip. Whatever you do, don't refuse. It will be a big insult."
George handed the bowl to Nikki, and she raised it in thanks, and drank. Then she turned and handed it to Helen. Helen quickly looked at the contents as she lifted it to her mouth. It was a pinkish colour and smelled of milk just about to curdle. With Nikki's words in her mind, and without hesitating she took a small sip. The taste was of sour milk and something metallic that she recognised but couldn't name at that moment.
She smiled and handed the bowl back to George and he looked very pleased.
"Good. Good. Come!" He held out his arm directing them towards the hut.
Nikki went in first, ducking down, and Helen followed. She was surprised at how low the roof was, considering how tall the Maasai were. She could see another room towards the back and there was a small hole in the roof and in the middle was a fire. The smell was very strong and Helen recognised it as cow dung. The walls were plastered with it, and dried blocks of it were in the fire.
She saw children of varying ages sitting around them, the younger ones shyer than the older ones. George invited Helen and Nikki to sit, and they sat cross legged on the floor.
The woman who emerged with the bowl, now laid out bowls of food, with the help of the smaller children. She smiled at them both and along with George encouraged them to eat. There was a maize like porridge, buttermilk, bread, some rice and potatoes. And then to Nikki's surprise, another dish was placed in front of them.
"Bloody hell." Nikki muttered. Helen looked at the dish, wondering what it could be. To her it looked like meat, but who knew.
Nikki shook her head slightly then looked at Helen. "You're honoured. In all the time I've known George and eaten with him, I have never had meat at his table. It's goat meat."
Helen was relieved. As they eat she noticed George's wife and the children were not eating. Large eyes watched intently and Nikki sensed she was wondering why.
"We're the guests of honour. We eat first, then everybody else. Don't worry, I always make out I'm full after a while."
They sat eating for a while, then Nikki spoke to George and his wife and Helen realised from her mannerisms and tone that she was complementing on the food, but both she and Helen were now finished. George's wife smiled gratefully.
George looked at Helen. "No more?" He asked. She assured him she was full. And again he seemed pleased. "Good."
Helen watched one of the small children, a little girl of about two, snuggle up to her father. He looked at her sternly and clicked a reprimand with his tongue, and for a moment her bottom lip trembled. Large brown eyes lowered from her father's gaze.
Then in a soft voice, he spoke to the children and they moved closer to the food. The little girl allowed herself to look at George and he smiled at her. He was rewarded with an incredible smile and Helen wished she could have taken a picture. Clapping his hands, he signaled for the children to eat and then he stood up and Nikki and Helen followed suit. Nikki spoke to him again and he nodded.
"I won't be a minute," Nikki addressed Helen. "I have to check on George's other wife in the other room. He'll take you outside and show you around."
Outside the heat was like a slap in the face. Even with the small hole in the roof of the hut, Helen felt cooler inside.
George escorted her around the village. There was a small corral with some goats, and another with the larger cattle. With his strong accent, he spoke to Helen in English and she did her best to speak Swahili. They were followed by a small group of curious children and Helen motioned at her camera and George enthusiastically nodded his permission. The children stood giggling while Helen took their picture. She crouched down and showed them the digital image on the small screen and they laughed at themselves and each other as they pointed at the images.
Nikki appeared and wasn't surprised to see Helen surrounded by children. As she watched, she was entranced by the interaction. Helen was laughing at the children laughing. Her blondish hair seemed streaked with highlights from the sun and her greenish eyes appeared brighter and Nikki found herself smiling at the scene.
As Helen looked up she saw Nikki looking at her. Her smile was happy and relaxed and there was warmth to it that echoed in her face.
Nikki came closer to the group. "New students already?"
Helen laughed. "Maybe." She showed Nikki the photo. "By the way, what was the drink we were offered?"
Nikki looked down and scuffed her shoe in the dirt before answering. "It's a traditional drink, usually for special occasions or given if somebody's ill." Before continuing, Nikki spoke with George.
"Ah, yes." He motioned for them to follow him, and the whole troupe of children went too, some now holding Helen's hands.
"George is going to show you how they make the drink." Nikki told her.
At the corral with the cattle, George went in and grabbed one of the cows and bought it over. Helen saw a wound on the neck that had been patched. George pointed at it, then pretending he had a knife, made a gentle slicing motion at the jugular vein. He continued with his mime, this time pretending he had a bowl to catch the blood. Pointing at the udders, he made it clear it was mixed with milk. Helen stood watching, fascinated. George looked at Nikki briefly, then back to Helen. With one hand, he gestured towards his groin and depicted the act of urination into his imaginary bowl. Helen's face fell in disbelief.
George threw back his head laughing. Nikki's arms were folded across her chest and with one hand over her mouth she tried not to laugh out loud. The children were also giggling. George came up to Helen and put his arm around her shoulder.
"Good joke, yes?" He asked.
"Yes, very good joke!"
He continued to show them round and he introduced Helen to the other elders, as Mwana Kondoo. They all shook her hand aware of the story. She was reluctant to ask for a photo, but one of them pointed at her camera and the men stood like the supporters of a groom at a wedding. Helen took the picture with the SLR and then with the digital and it was the same reaction as the children. They laughed at their images.
George left them to set up the tent. The villagers were still eating, but shortly the singing and dancing would begin again, and this was their best oppourtunity. The dancing could go on for hours. The group of children helped them to unload the jeep and hand out the sections for the tent and when it was erected, Nikki checked the mosquito netting and the bedding and zipped up the entrance. It was now mid afternoon and hot and Helen noticed that both she and Nikki's clothing were now covered in a thin layer of dust.
A large circle of sitting people formed in the middle of the village and
Nikki spotted George and they sat with him and his family. He nudged Helen and then pointed at two young youths, wearing black and then pointed at his chest. Helen recalled the Swahili word for son and he nodded. He smiled proudly and held up two fingers "Two son now moran."
"Plus, see those three over there, at the end? They're George's elder sons. Already warriors." Nikki pointed them out.
Helen looked over at them. They were among a large group of men who stood very tall, holding spears in their hands, wearing bright red robes and their hair slick with an ochre colored paste.
Helen's became aware of a little brown naked body at her side. She turned and starring at her were the biggest brown eyes she'd ever seen. It was George's youngest daughter. She smiled and Helen's heart melted. Her little belly protruded and made her legs appear as thin as twigs. Her nose was running but she didn't seem bothered by it.
"Her name is Sunura." Nikki said.
Helen held out her hand and the little girl took it and Helen shook it gently.
"Hello Sunura." The child was ecstatic and giggled and then coughed a little. Her chest sounded congested. She touched Helen's hair, fascinated with its light color.
Just then the warrior men formed a line and started a chant. A group of women stood opposite and joined in and at first Helen thought the singing sounded random and in total discord, but as they kept it up, she discerned a rhythm and before long it was a pulsating beat that thumped through the ground. Sunura put her arm around Helen's neck and proceeded to sit in her lap.
One of the men stepped forward and from what appeared to Helen to be a standing position, jumped straight up in the air. He stepped back, and the next warrior in line did the same thing. This continued and with each jump, the men seemed to elevate themselves higher. Helen was so captivated she forgot her cameras. Quickly grabbing them, she looked at George and he nodded his consent to take pictures. She got up and held Sunura's hand as she moved around the circle, stopping to snap shots with both cameras. She was convinced that she was witnessing a human ability to defy gravity. The men appeared capable of jumping as high as their own height without any effort. Sunura watched and imitated the jumps, extremely excited at the spectacle.
When the men finished their dance, Helen quickly loaded another film into her camera. Sitting back with Nikki and George, she waited for the next one to start. Now the women formed a line directly opposite to the men and the chant changed slightly.
Nikki leant towards Helen. "This is the flirty one. The men will jump towards the women and thrust their hips in a provocative manner and the women will reciprocate. But they are not actually allowed to touch each other."
Helen readied her camera. Two of the women broke ranks from their line and rushed over. To Nikki's surprise, they grabbed her hands and pulled her up. Her protesting was of no use.
"Go Simba." George encouraged and waved her on. Nikki scowled at him and he laughed at her then turned to Helen.
"She good Maasai." He raised his hand above his head indicating her height.
The warrior opposite Nikki jumped at her. He was deliberately close and she wagged her finger at him, laughing.
Helen took more photos. Nikki was smiling and laughing as the warrior taunted her. Helen looked through the lens and zoomed in. The image she saw made her smile. Nikki looked extremely relaxed and happy. She zoomed in closer. Shifting to a kneeling position, she found she couldn't pull herself away from the scene she saw in the lens. She was captivated by Nikki's face. How her eyes were a lighter brown from the sunlight, and how alive they seemed. The shape of her mouth when she smiled and laughed. The way her hair tumbled across her forehead. The automatic winder took frame after frame and despite the obvious beauty of the Maasai women it was Nikki that stood out as the most beautiful woman Helen had ever seen.
Helen sat back on her heels and slowly lowered the camera. The dancing stopped for a break and Helen realised that she had taken a whole roll of film just of Nikki. She was aware of a shadow falling across her and looked up to see Nikki standing in front of her. She was a little out of breath and picked up a bottle of water and took several small sips.
"Come on." She held out her hand to Helen. "The guys seem to be getting the better of the girls. We need reinforcements." Nikki wasn't sure Helen would accept the offer.
Helen looked at the outstretched hand and didn't hesitate in grabbing it. She felt Nikki's slender fingers clasp around hers and pull her up and Helen felt slightly breathless.
"Well, we can't have that can we?" She said.
The two sides mingled together during the break but as they split to form lines again, Nikki found herself in the same row as the men. Everybody laughed and cheered and Nikki stood there looking at the row of women who encouraged her to stay on that side. The dance started again at the other end.
"It would appear you've joined the opposition." Helen teased.
"Indeed. Not something I'm familiar with. I'm used to batting for the same side."
Helen tried not to laugh.
"Anyway, it appears I shall be playing Juliet to your Juliet." Nikki jumped at Helen, grunting and growling in a low deep voice, thrusting her pelvis at her.
Helen was surprised. She hadn't realised how quickly the dance had spread along the row. She thrust back imitating the cry of the women.
"Goodness, you've certainly thrown yourself into the role." Helen remarked.
"Well as they say, When in Rome." And Nikki gave Helen the most lecherous grin.
Any self consciousness Helen felt soon left. She kept her eye on Nikki who managed to jump closer each time, thrusting her pelvis until almost touching her. It was a competition and Helen did her best to keep up. She was enjoying herself and she watched Nikki's movements and tried to match them.
By now Helen saw perspiration trickling down the side of Nikki's face, and her hair was slightly damp and sticking to her forehead. The flirting was outrageous along with the grunts, growls and chanting and Helen found herself gazing at her body. Nikki's trousers hung low on her hips, accentuating her slim frame. Helen knew, from the time Nikki was ill, that a flat stomach and tanned, taught thigh muscles were hidden under her shirt and trousers. Another thrust from Nikki and this time she almost touched Helen. The pelvic gestures from all the participants were exaggerated, but with Nikki, Helen felt an element of naturalness and fluidity to her movements that was very sensual. For Helen it also appeared downright sexy. She wondered if Nikki moved that way when she made love.
Helen's heart was suddenly racing as that thought flashed across her mind. She felt it pounding in her chest along with a mixture of excitement and giddiness. She thrust back, gazing at Nikki's hips, before jumping away. As they stood waiting their turn again, Helen allowed her gaze to wander up to Nikki's face and the expression she saw there, rocked her to her core. There was no doubt that by her own actions, Nikki was completely aware of how she was looking at her. Nikki was starring at her with the same intensity, and Helen was horrified to discover she had been caught.
Nikki watched Helen looking at her. She thought for a fleeting moment there was a sign that Helen was no longer engrossed in the dance, but engrossed in something more. Nikki felt her heart quicken. It didn't last. As Helen's eyes met hers, she saw Helen's expression change completely. The only word Nikki could think of to describe it was revulsion.
Suddenly the dancing stopped. Any worry Helen had, that everybody was aware of what was going on, was dispelled. Nobody noticed. The men and women still chanted along with all the spectators. The young men congratulated Nikki on her efforts as did the women to Helen. They tried to persuade them to continue, but Nikki took the initiative and convinced them, that neither she nor Helen had any more energy and Helen was thankful for the excuse.
They walked back over to where George was sitting and Helen quickly sat down. Nikki came up behind, stopping only to pick up a bottle of water, and stepped over the children and carried on walking.
Helen was desperately trying to figure out what had happened. Something had happened to her she was sure, but why? Where had the notion come from that hard sparked and then in a flash fully ignited the feelings she experienced. She found she couldn't blame the intenseness of the dance, as much as she wished she could. She remembered the look on Nikki's face. Her gaze was so intense. Had she caused it? Was she responsible for giving the wrong impression to Nikki? Helen wasn't even sure that Nikki had felt anything. Had she falsely concluded that by Nikki's absence from the group, that she was avoiding further contact? Or was it that she merely walked off to cool down?
Helen turned and saw Nikki over by the jeep. She took a long swig from the water bottle then opening the driver's door, she retrieved her cigarettes. She lit one and it looked to Helen as though her hand was shaking as she put it to her lips. She inhaled for a long time, filling her lungs with as much smoke as possible. Then she coughed, unable to hold in the smoke. As Helen watched, she saw Nikki pace slightly up and down, as though agitated, and Helen thought how so alone she looked. She wanted to go over, but couldn't. At this moment she didn't trust herself, what she felt or what had happened. All she knew was that something about Nikki had deeply aroused her physically.
For the rest of the early and into late evening, Helen continued taking photos. Nikki sat by George and continued to watch the festivities. Sunura wore herself out and was asleep in Helen's lap and George's wife retrieved the youngster and carried her off to bed.
Before long, the rest of the villagers slowly made their way to their huts. Helen saw Nikki rub the bridge of her nose and yawn and she stood up.
"I'm going to hit the hay." She announced.
"Good idea. George, thank you so much for inviting us to your home. It's been a wonderful day. I shall never forget it."
For some reason, Helen found herself looking at Nikki as she said it and quickly added. "Thank you for brining me Nikki."
"No problem. I'm glad you had a good time." It was delivered with a penetrating gaze and Helen was sure the remark contained something more. She smiled and hastily made her way to the tent. She heard Nikki speak quickly to George, and then come up behind her.
"Go ahead. It's a bit cramped for two. I'll have a quick smoke." Nikki unzipped it and without looking at her, Helen stepped inside the tent.
Yanking off her boots, she climbed into the sleeping bag fully clothed. A few moments later, Nikki came in and did the same. There was silence and Helen wasn't sure if she should say goodnight, in case it started a conversation that might lead to what happened.
"Yes?" Helen held her breath.
Helen's chest sank with relief.
Helen sensed the tension as they sat subdued and ate breakfast with George the next morning. After they ate Nikki went to the room at the back of the hut, this time with her medical bag. She was gone for some time and Helen sat playing with Sunura and the other children.
When Nikki remerged Helen saw the worried look on her face.
"Ready to go?" Nikki asked.
They walked outside and George and the smaller children followed them over to the jeep. He shook hands with them both and embraced them.
"Thank you again George." Helen smiled. She got into the jeep and waited for Nikki but she walked George away from the jeep and spoke to him. Then she shook his hand and they embraced again.
Once back in the jeep, they waved at the children who rang along side, until they left the stockade.
Nothing was said for quite a while. Nikki's expression was pinched and she seemed miles away.
"What's wrong with George's wife that the Maasai doctor can't handle?" Helen inquired.
Nikki hesitated for a moment then cleared her throat. "She's dying. She has aids."
Helen was stunned. "Why didn't you say something before?"
"Don't worry, you won't have caught something." Nikki snapped.
Helen's anger was quick to rise and she rounded on Nikki with a biting response.
"That's not what I'm concerned about! I'm not ignorant about the illness Nikki. What do you think I'm going to do, run off to the nearest hospital in a panic and get myself tested? Is that why you didn't trust me enough to tell me, because you think that's how I'd react?"
She was so angry she was shaking. She took a deep breath to try and calm herself.
"My concern is for the children. Do any of them have the virus?" Helen closed her eyes.
"Yes, the three youngest ones."
The small moan that Helen emitted was laced with pain. That meant all the girls including Sunura.
"I'm sorry, that was a stupid thing for me to say." Nikki said. She looked at Helen who still had her eyes closed.
"Is anybody else in the village affected?" Helen asked.
"No, and hopefully won't be. George is aware that when the girls grow older, he may not be able to find them husbands, if they live that long." Nikki said softly.
"I seemed to have drummed into him, the necessity to be careful about sex with his wife. That fact that she hasn't fallen pregnant since Sunura's arrival tells me he's listened. He's aware of the devastation it could cause to the tribe and others. His hasn't contracted it and neither has his other wife."
"How did his wife contract it?" Helen opened her eyes and looked at Nikki.
Nikki took a deep breath.
"Just by luck while I was on a visit, his wife Makena was losing blood while pregnant with Sunura. We bought her back to the hospital and stabilised her and ran some tests and I had my suspicions. We sent off some samples to Nairobi for testing and they came back positive for HIV. We still had Makena in the hospital. She was ill and in need of additional medication. It just so happened that one of the young men who had left the village some years ago to study in Nairobi had returned on a visit. I had gone out to see George and couldn't believe this guy speaking perfect English. I asked him to come back to the hospital with me. I had no idea at that time how she could have contracted it. At first she was very reluctant to talk, but she eventually told her story. She actually belonged to another tribe. When she was only 14, she and her mother had gone to fetch water. As you know, not all settlements out here have a well and it would take them almost a day to fetch it. She and her mother were attacked by a group of men. They may have been Kenyan, or army, or even across from the border."
Nikki stopped talking for a moment and Helen saw her grip the steering wheel tightly until her knuckles turned white.
"Whoever they were, they brutalised them. They repeatedly raped her and her mother, and then beat her mother to death. Then they just left Makena. When they didn't return, the villagers went out and found them. A couple of years later George was on one of his walkabouts and met one of the warriors from her village. He was invited back and spotted Makena. She's a beautiful young woman. George being George, talked with her father about a marriage. He was told what had happened. According to Makena, George has been a good husband. From that I assume he was understanding of what had happened to her and wasn't overly demanding, physically. They married about six years ago. The first few pregnancies miscarried, no doubt due to the severity of the brutal attack she suffered. Obviously one or possible more, of those men."
Nikki's didn't elaborate.
"Anyway, as I said, George is wise enough to know the situation. The percentage of HIV cases is not as prevalent among the Maasai as it is elsewhere. Hopefully it will remain that way. We're treating the children with meds and we will keep Makena as comfortable as we can, but her immune system is shutting down now that the virus has progressed to aids."
Helen didn't know what to say. She had been witness to one of the most incredible displays of Maasai culture and an experience she would never forget, but now it seemed a bitter sweet irony that all was not as it had seemed. She had come to know George over the last few months and now all she could think about was what the future held for his family.
It was a silent journey back. When they arrived, they met up briefly with Karen and Yvonne and told them about the celebrations. Helen thanked Nikki again for taking her and then retired to the school house. She spent a long time in meditation and her prayers were solely for George and his children.
She sorted out her camera bag and put the rolls of film she had taken on the desk ready for the next mail dispatch. But one she separated. The roll she had taken of Nikki, she put out of the way in her suitcase.
Helen rose early preparing for class. More children than usual made it in and lessons were extremely jovial. Towards the afternoon, the heat was again oppressive, but it never seemed to bother the children too much. So she was surprised to see one of the younger children in a lethargic state. Jomo was only six and he was normally very active and had been the last few hours. But now he appeared dislocated from the lesson. She wandered over to his desk and he slowly lifted his head and attempted to smile. She gently stroked his head and as she did so, his body slumped towards her and she caught him.
"Barika, look after the children." Helen instructed her assistant. With Jomo in her arms she rushed from the school room and ran to the hospital.
Yvonne was sitting outside and saw Helen hurtling towards her. She got up and yelled into the hospital entrance. "Medic!"
By the time Helen got there, Nikki and Jean-Paul appeared.
"What happened?" Nikki asked as they escorted Helen into the ward.
"I don't know. His eyes just rolled back and he seemed to pass out."
Jean-Paul steered them towards the operating room and Helen laid the boy on the bed.
"Ok, we'll take it from here," Nikki said. "Why don't you wait outside?"
Helen stood for a moment, reluctant to leave, then turned and left the room.
She walked out into the hospital reception and paced up and down. Finally she sat down and on the other side of the doors she heard the sound of a utility cart being hurriedly wheeled past.
She leant forward and rested her head in her hands. Then clasping her crucifix, she held it, closed her eyes and prayed.
It seemed as though hours had passed but it was only thirty minutes. Helen heard the door open and Nikki walked towards her. Her expression and body language said it all and Helen looked away.
"No." She gripped the chair in an attempt to hang on to something solid.
Nikki took Helen's arm at the elbow.
"Come with me." It was all she said and Helen numbly followed.
Nikki led her up to the dinning area and sat her down in one of the chairs out side. She pulled up another one and set it right next to Helen's.
"There was nothing we could do." She said softly and Helen let out a sob.
"We think it was a brain tumor. It was very quick and he didn't suffer."
Helen swallowed hard. "But he was fine earlier. Would there have been any sign?" Her look was imploring.
"It can happen that way. Perfectly fine one minute and then suddenly .there was nothing you could have done Helen. Even if there had been any indication. You mustn't blame yourself."
Helen battled with herself to keep her emotions in check. "His family." She managed to say.
"We'll go out there and let them know."
"I should go too."
"You don't have to do that."
"No, I want too." Helen was trembling and finally she gave in. "How do you remain so calm? How do you cope? Does there ever seem a point to all this?" She choked out the words, tears falling onto her cheeks. "I mean, it just seems to be a constant battle. Life seems so fragile."
Nikki leant towards her and put her arm around her shoulder. Helen gladly fell into her body and allowed herself to gently sob. She felt a warmth in the embrace and Nikki lifted her chin.
"Hey, it's not all bad." Nikki said quietly.
Helen looked at her and they starred at each other. Her eyes wandered to Nikki's lips and Helen saw them part slightly and her mouth appeared to come closer. Helen waited for the touch, but it never came.
Nikki gently let go of her, but to Helen it felt as though she had wrenched herself away, so surprised was she by the separation now between them. Nikki stood up.
Helen felt confused. She had wanted the comfort. And she had wanted Nikki to kiss her. To feel soft warm lips, to feel alive, to feel anything other than what she felt now. Now she felt guilty for wanting it, under the circumstances. But she didn't feel guilty that it was Nikki she had sought comfort from.
Nikki took a deep breath. She had no idea how she managed to stop herself. Every fibre of her being wanted to kiss Helen, and it took every fibre to walk away. She could only think of how Helen would have reacted. To have taken advantage of her at a time when she was deeply upset was unthinkable.
Nikki's back was to Helen and she saw her body tighten and her hands clench for a moment. Nikki turned to face her, pacing slightly. She looked as though she wanted to say something, but didn't
"I'd better go back to the children. I'll send everybody home." Helen wiped her face dry.
"When you're ready, will you come and get me when you leave for Jomo's village?" Helen asked.
"Yes, of course."
With a heavy heart Helen told the children. Some were even from the same village and Helen told them they would be taken home.
It was a somber and sorrowful trip. Helen accompanied Nikki, Karen and Paula and sat with the children in the truck. After telling Jomo's mother, the women in the village gathered round and helped the grieving woman to her home. They were gratefully thanked for what they had done by the rest of the villagers and were offered food and something to drink before they left but none of them could eat.
Nobody spoke on the way back to the hospital.
They alighted from the truck and Paula headed into the hospital along with Karen. As Helen started for the school house, Nikki spoke.
"Helen?" Helen turned and her whole demeanor was of defeat. Her shoulders were slumped and she felt wretched.
"You know where I am if you want to talk. There's no need to be alone." Nikki offered.
"I know. Thank you." Helen managed a smile and made her way. Nikki stood watching her until Helen disappeared into the school.
As she entered the school room, it seemed eerily quiet. The children's schoolwork lay abandoned on their desks and Helen wandered over to Jomo's. She picked up his exercise book and her eyes misted as she looked at his handwriting. Her hand started to shake and she put it down, unable to read anymore. An image of his smiling face entered her mind and she took a deep breath. She looked around the room and couldn't face gathering up the school work, so she left it and made her way to the bedroom.
She didn't know whether to sit, stand or walk and felt displaced and alone. The emotion of the day was rising again. And the one thing uppermost in her mind was how much she had needed Nikki. She sat on the chair and put her head in her hands.
What's wrong with me? She careered from confusion about her feelings for Nikki and the death of Jomo. She tried to control the tide of conflict and herself from crying but it was no use. The sobbing couldn't be tamed. The nausea hit her stomach like a punch to the gut and she got up quickly and rushed to the closet, convinced she would throw up, but she didn't.
She wetted her face and drank some water and lay down on the bed. She needed to rationalise her feelings. There was no doubt in her mind that she had a definite attraction for Nikki that had a growing momentum that she seemed helpless to stop. She knew her feelings went beyond mere friendship.
Why am I feeling this way now? Her confusion lay in the foundation that she had been married for many years and had never once felt or considered that she may feel this way about a woman.
Was it mere curiosity? Nikki was gay, and therefore, a possibility of reciprocation from her, should Helen explore the idea. But she dispelled that as well. Nikki being gay was neither here nor there. It was Nikki herself, that was the attraction and the dilemma Helen now faced was that she knew there could be a possibility of reciprocation from Nikki, if Nikki was interested.
Helen debated with herself what her reaction would be to any kind of advance from Nikki. She found that the idea didn't concern her, and she wasn't shocked at the realisation that she would probably respond to it, rather than reject it.
She resigned herself to the knowledge that she could easily become involved in a relationship with a woman, but not just any. Her feelings and affections lie with only one. But she would do nothing about it. She would not act upon them. She had no idea what Nikki felt about her and she treasured the friendship they had begun to forge, to risk it on emotions that could ruin it.
Helen sat and prayed for Jomo and his family and all the children, and then allowed herself to ask for guidance for her own inner peace.
Exhausted, Helen undressed and climbed into bed. Before she let sleep finally blackout out the day, she touched her lips with her fingertips and allowed herself to imagine for a selfish moment, it was Nikki.
Nikki hadn't slept well the last four nights. Every time she fell asleep, it was the same dream. She was kissing Helen. Each night she gave up, got out of bed and sat reading until daylight appeared through her window.
Now she was trying to prep a syringe. Yvonne was assisting with the patient and watched her, as her growing annoyance at it's unwillingness to comply finally culminated in Nikki swearing at it under her breath.
"Fuck it!" She slammed it back into the tray.
"Sal, can you take care of this for a minute?" Yvonne asked. Sal nodded, having heard the mumbled expletive and made her way over.
"Let's have a smoke." Yvonne suggested and pushed Nikki towards the door.
Nikki slammed her palm against it, sending the door flying back on its hinges.
They walked outside to the chairs by the dinning area. Yvonne sat down but Nikki stood, her hands on her hips, looking out at the compound.
Yvonne pulled her cigarettes from a back pocket. "Want one?"
Nikki stared at the packet, hesitating before taking one. Then slumped down into a chair beside Yvonne. Her brow was deeply furrowed in a severe frown. Yvonne had seen the look before and it always reminded her of a petulant teenager.
"So, what's up?" Yvonne asked as she held the lighter to Nikki's cigarette then lit her own.
Nikki let out a deep sigh and shrugged.
Yvonne knew this might take a while. With Nikki it was easier to get blood out of a stone.
"You know the UN is having that conference in Mombasa next month. The Red Cross will need representatives there. We've had a letter asking a least one of our doc's to attend. Why don't you go, have a break from this place?" Yvonne suggested.
"I hate those bloody things. I don't mind the RC meetings. It's dealing with bloody politicians and bureaucrats. I can't stand all their jumped up bullshit."
"Then go and tell him what they need to hear."
"I'll think about it."
"You won't have to go alone. Helen found out this morning she's going. The school board was asked if they could send someone too, so the school volunteered her. She said she'd go and give them her two penny worth."
Nikki raised the cigarette to her mouth and stopped momentarily at this news and it didn't go unnoticed by Yvonne.
"Nik, you need a break. Take some extra time for a few days R&R. We'll cope here. You've worked hard enough these last six years. Time for some pay back."
"I don't want the RC to have to arrange anything."
"Fine. Arrange a phone call and get hold of Diane to sort it out. She can book the flights and hotels. She's done it before. That will save you having to put up with those stuffy political twats. You can pay for it yourself. Do it Nik." Yvonne urged.
Nikki still seemed reluctant.
"You can't go on like this. It's like a self imposed life sentence. Life goes on Nikki. Don't waste it on guilt."
Nikki's eyes narrowed and Yvonne continued. "This ain't what she would have wanted. Don't miss an opportunity to move on."
Nikki blew out stream of smoke. "I want to ask you something. And I want an honest answer."
"I know what you're going to ask. Not once in six years have you asked me and I've been waiting for it." Yvonne stamped out her cigarette. "When that mine went off, I legged it over there. It was instinct. Didn't even occur to me while I was running, I might hit one too.
"Oh Christ, Yvonne." The words fell numbly from Nikki's mouth.
"I was the first one to get to her. She was gone Nikki. She didn't know a thing. It was quick. She wasn't alive, she didn't suffer."
Tears welled in Nikki's eyes. "If she had been alive for a brief time, would you have told me?"
Yvonne just looked at her. After a moment she answered.
"What purpose would it have served in you knowing? Made your grief any more than it already has been?"
Yvonne stood up. "Go to Mombasa. Upset the guys in shirts and let your hair down."
Nikki grabbed her hand. "Thanks Yvonne." It was all she could do to say it. Her voice was chocked with emotion.
"Thank you. You've answered my question. By finally asking me about Trish, I know you are ready to move on. But then you've known that for yourself haven't you?"
Yvonne smiled and squeezed her hand. Letting go, she left Nikki and went back into the hospital.
Sitting in the chair, Nikki closed her eyes and put her head back. She felt the sun on her face and its warmth made her face tingle. She let her arms fall to the sides, one hand still holding a burning cigarette between her fingers. She inhaled a deep breath and let it out slowly. It carried with it relief and a weight felt prized from her body. She inhaled again, holding it in her lungs, before releasing it. Her chest felt warm, as did her arms and legs. Her muscles melted into the chair. For the first time in a long time, she felt free.
"Enjoying the sun?"
Nikki was so startled she almost leapt in the air. She'd heard no one approach and had been so far away in her mind, she hadn't recognised the voice. She squinted and raised her hand to shield her eyes from the glare, trying to make out the form in front of her.
The figure had a bright halo around it, as it blocked the sun behind. As the figure moved to the side, it was Helen that came into view.
"I'm sorry, I didn't realise you were asleep." She said.
"I wasn't. I was just taking a break." Nikki shook her head slightly. She still had the preposterous image of an angel in her head.
"Must have been a nice one. It was making you smile." Helen sat down.
"Oh." Nikki blushed slightly. She noticed her cigarette and managed to get one last nicotine shot from it, before a long tail of ash fell off. She crushed it into the dirt.
"Yvonne told me you're going to the conference in Mombasa next month." Nikki said.
"Yes, St John's was asked for a representative in Kenya. I was the obvious choice. The UN would like to hear a viewpoint from a school and the issues and successes it encounters. I have some trepidation about it. Have you been to one before?"
"Yes, three years ago." There was no hiding the disinterest in Nikki's voice.
"That bad eh?"
"Apart from the RC's input, the rest of them seemed a waste of space. I'm easily irritated, as I'm sure you already know."
"The only good part was I took time for a mini holiday. Mombassa's where all the beachy hotels are, not my kind of holiday, but the city has some interesting architecture to see."
"Sounds interesting. What would you recommend visiting?"
Nikki cleared her throat. "Well, I'm actually thinking of going. They want some one from the hospital to attend." She said it nonchalantly, as though it was more a hindrance to her.
"I could show you some sights if you like?" Nikki avoided eye contact.
"Excellent, that would be great. Are all your arrangements made?"
"No, I'm going to get Diane to sort it out. I'd rather pay myself. I know a nice hotel that's not on the main drag."
"Really? Could I ask a favor? Could Diane arrange all that for me too? I can get my family to send her the money. Like you, I don't like the idea of the school paying for it all. They haven't made the arrangements yet."
"That should be no problem. We can catch the plane from our small airstrip on the scheduled flight nearer the time. That will get us to the next leg."
"Great." Helen's smile bordered on ecstatic.
"Make a change to get away from here."
"Yes it will. It'll only be two weeks after the conference and the summer break will begin for the children."
"How long are you going to give them off?"
"It'll be an eight week break. I'll stay on for two weeks after they finish, preparing for the new term then I'll be flying back to the UK to report to the school and see my family."
"Oh? Are you planning on coming back?" Nikki sounded anxious.
"Yes, I'd like to carry on here until the local teachers are ready to take over. I've become very attached to this place."
"Good. That's good news. I mean especially for the children."
Nikki picked up her small case and checking to make sure she had her passport, made her way outside to meet Helen.
As she wandered round to the hospital entrance, she was surprised to see Helen with the bonnet of the jeep up, leaning into the engine. Underneath the car, Kanja's legs were visible.
"Trouble?" Nikki asked. Helen looked up. Her fingers were covered in grease and she wiped her hair back, smudging some off it onto the side of her face.
"I would say new spark plugs." Helen picked up a rag and used it to wipe her hands. "Kanja said he can order some in, but we'll have to take the truck. The other jeep will be needed while we're on our way to the airstrip."
Kanja pulled himself out from underneath. His hands were just as greasy and he dusted himself off.
"I'll go and get the truck." He announced.
"Know a lot about cars?" Nikki asked.
"A fair bit. Five older brothers who had no interest in playing dolls, so I had to compromise." Helen smiled.
The smile struck Nikki every time she saw it. She wondered if Helen was aware of the effect it had. How many young men had fallen for it when she was younger, and how many continued to do so now? She'd heard Brian, Ian and Jean-Paul remark on it.
"You've got some grease." Nikki pointed at her cheek.
"Oh." Helen attempted to wipe it off with the palm of her hand.
"No, you've still " Nikki reached out and gently rubbed the area with her thumb, her hand resting against Helen's cheek.
The skin was soft and warm and as she looked at Helen, she was staring at her intently. Nikki felt her hand start to tremble.
Helen couldn't move. The proximity between them was unbearable. From no where she felt a sudden rush of excitement and was hoping that it didn't show on her face. The sound of the truck approaching broke her from her reverie.
"There's still a little bit there." Nikki removed her hand.
"I'll go and wash up before we leave."
Nikki watched her walk over to the shower block. She took a deep breath and let it out slowly, stemming her arousal.
Their bags were loaded into the truck by the time Helen reappeared.
"Got everything?" Nikki said
"Yes, I've checked half a dozen times for my passport, conference ID and medication. And my notes."
"A little. I've tried to be prepared, but I guess it's difficult to know what questions they may ask."
"Don't worry about it," Nikki encouraged. "Just give them straight, honest answers. They need to hear it all, good and bad. Hopefully there's not been too much bad."
Nikki opened the door to the passenger side for Helen to get in.
The seat in the cab was big enough, so they were not too close to each other. It would have been more than Helen could stand.
"Will the assistant be ok with you gone for a few days?" Nikki asked.
"Yes. We'll be back by Wednesday night next week. When do you think we'll get to Mombasa?"
"Hopefully late tonight, as long as there are no flight delays. It's going to be a long day. If you're up to it we can do some sightseeing tomorrow, then Sunday we'll have the meetings. God help us." Nikki mumbled under her breath.
The six seater provided no real comfort, especially for Nikki. The leg space was cramped and she sat with her legs stretched out in the small aisle. The noise was such that talking to each other was mostly done in shouts and sign language.
When they reached the airport for their connecting flight they had a several hour wait and the connecting flight proved no more comfortable for Nikki, leg wise. But the aircraft was considerably bigger and the seats were luxurious compared to the Sesna's.
Again Nikki took the aisle seat at Helen's insistence, while she sat near the window. It wasn't long after take off, that Nikki fell asleep. Her body twisted, so that her legs stretched out at the side, and her body slumped towards Helen, until her head rested against Helen's shoulder. As gently as she could, Helen pulled her towards her, so that Nikki's head rested in her lap on a small cushion. Helen watched her sleep and closed her own eyes and tried to ignore that fact that Nikki was so close, and managed to resist the urge to stroke her hair.
When Nikki woke up she was surprised to find herself resting in Helen's lap. She raised herself and saw Helen asleep with a cushion as her only support. Her head resting near the window.
Nikki stretched as best she could without disturbing her. She sat watching as Helen slept and studied her features like an MRI scan. She had come to know them well over the last few months, but this was really the first time she had been allowed the opportunity to stare at them without Helen's knowledge.
The voice of the pilot announcing they would soon be landing woke Helen from her slumber and she winched as she moved her neck.
"Stiff neck?" Nikki asked
"A little." Helen tried to rub it.
"Here, let me try."
Helen sat forward and Nikki gently massaged the top of her shoulders and neck for several minutes.
"Much. Thank you."
"Not much longer now. Once we land and get through, we can pick up the money transfers and then get a taxi to the hotel. We can grab something to eat and take a walk before calling it a night."
"That sounds fine." Helen answered.
The taxi ride was one of the most hair raising experiences and Helen was thankful when they arrived at the hotel unscathed. After eating a little dinner, they both found they were yawning and Nikki suggested they get some rest and meet down in the lobby around 9am in the morning, before sightseeing.
Helen wandered over to the breakfast room. She took a plate of fruit and with a book headed for the pool. It was still only 8am, but she had slept well, despite the traveling and when she woke up at 7am, she felt wide awake and couldn't see the point in just lying there. She decided to relax before meeting Nikki in the lobby.
As she stepped out to the pool area, it was deserted. She heard a slight splash and saw the lone swimmer. The arm strokes appeared lazy and effortless but powerful. There were hardly any ripples and the body glided through the water. Helen recognised who it was straight away. She noticed a chair with a towel and sat in the one next to it and watched as Nikki ploughed up and down.
After several more length's, Nikki stopped. Helen heard movement in the water and Nikki slowly rose up the ladder. Helen quickly grabbed her book, the appearance of reading a ruse as she watched Nikki over the top edge of it, her eyes hidden behind her sunglasses.
Water cascaded off Nikki in tiny droplets and Helen watched her brush back her hair with both hands.Her body was taught and toned. The bikini top was black and pronounced the tan shade of her skin and her water clogged shorts clung to her thighs and Helen was mesmerized by the image. She thought of Aphrodite emerging innocently out of the sea. But this image wasn't so innocent in Helen's mind.
"Morning." Nikki said as she picked up the towel. She covered her head with it and rubbed vigorously.
"Morning." Helen replied. She watched jealously as beads of water trickled down Nikki's legs.
Sitting down, Nikki removed the towel to reveal tousled wet hair. The effect of that and her dark brown eyes almost made Helen whimper.
"How's the book?" Nikki nodded at it and dried her arms.
"Can't really get into it." Helen quickly answered and removed her sunglasses.
"Hmm. Think I can understand why." Nikki reached out her arm, took the book from Helen's hand and turned it the correct way round. "Try that. It might help."
There was no mistaking the smile behind the brown eyes. Helen felt her cheeks redden and the flush of heat went up onto her scalp. She wasn't sure what to say but Nikki let her off the hook.
"May I?" Nikki didn't wait for permission as she took a slice of apple from the plate.
"Help yourself." Helen heard the relief in her own voice. Nikki proceeded to bite into it, chewing slowly.
"Did you sleep well?" Nikki asked as she crunched on the apple.
"Yes. I don't remember much after getting into bed. I was out like a light."
"Yeah, me too. So you feel up to sightseeing then?"
"Ok, I'll go and take a shower and meet you in the lobby. Don't forget your cameras."
"Where are we going?"
"Fort Jesus." Nikki smiled and Helen wasn't sure if she was teasing.
"It's a fort the Portuguese built in the 16th century. Seen some battles in it's time. And we can visit Old Town, lots of Arab architecture there too. That'll probably take up most of our day."
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