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.
It didn't take long for the news to spread around the compound, once they got back. They stopped on the way to drop the children off at their respective villages and George set off once they arrived.
Helen spent a little while at the school house. It felt odd to her not to have Sister Michael there, but she didn't feel alone. The Sister was one of the kindest, caring and deeply spiritual people Helen had ever known and she felt that presence about her now. She busied herself with some paperwork and meditation, before heading over to the dinning room. Yvonne had asked her to come over about 9pm.
As she wandered over she could see Nikki, Yvonne, Karen and Paula all sitting outside.
"Hey, the hero of the hour." Karen said. "Pull up a pew."
There was a chair beside her and Helen sat down. The area was lit from the lights of the dinning room behind them.
"Here, spray this on." Yvonne handed her a can of mosquito repellant. "Smells bloody awful, but just may stop a few of the little buggers. We thought we'd enjoy the night air as it's cooler."
Nikki leant forward slightly and pointed at Helen's neck. "Is that another crucifix?"
"A good Catholic's always prepared Dr Wade." Helen smiled.
"You do drink I take it?" Yvonne asked "Fancy a tipple?"
"Of course. For you English, drinking is just a hobby. For us Scots it's a way of life."
Yvonne poured out a generous measure of scotch into a beaker.
They talked for a while on the ambush and Nikki voiced her concerns.
"I wouldn't put it past Fenner to be involved." She stated.
"Whoa Nik. That's a big assumption. What would he gain? If you're right about him, he's making enough from the little he takes from meeting the plane. To organise something like this? That's taking a big chance. How would he have known who was meeting the plane?" Yvonne said.
"I'm not saying he organised it. Whoever they were, they were completely amateurish. They seemed relieved to have been given a way out."
Nikki raised her glass to acknowledge Helen.
"But they were in the area, at the right time and it would have been a big haul. Fenner's involvement could be just as informant. Greed becomes a good enough reason to take risks."
They sat silent, digesting what she said and then Jean- Paul appeared.
"Hey, is this a ladies only club?" He smiled at them all.
"You're more than welcome to join us. You want a drink?" Yvonne offered.
"Non, non. I have to be able to see to the patients. I shall leave you to a pleasant evening. Enjoy." He smiled again and as he walked away, Nikki spoke to him in French. As they talked the conversation was laced with medical terminology.
"Just how many languages do you speak Dr Wade?" Helen asked after he left. Yvonne refilled her glass.
"French iffy, Swahili passable, Maa terribly, and English barely." Nikki's deadpan delivery indicated a very dry wit.
"What is Maa?"
"It's the Maasai language. It's different from Swahili and very difficult to learn. Even amongst the Maasai tribes there are many different dialects. George has been trying to educate me. He can also speak Swahili and his English is pretty good."
"George isn't his given name I assume?" Helen said.
"No. When we first came here and they were setting up the hospital George was a regular visitor. He was very intrigued and interested in what was going on. He had an old English coin, that his father had been given. It was explained to his father that the image on there was of King George 6th and that he was a King in Britain. George showed us it and we updated him with a coin showing Queen Elizabeth. He was very impressed with her image. He said she was a very pretty woman. We quickly informed him that she was married and had been for a very long time. Anyway, we nick named him George and he's very happy to have the king's name."
"What does he call you?" Helen asked curiously. Nikki took a sip from her glass, hesitating to answer.
"Simba." Karen answered for her. "It means lion or lioness."
"Rather appropriate." Yvonne added.
Karen continued. "A little while after we got here, we ended up visiting George's village. While we were there one of his sons dislocated his shoulder horsing around. Nikki popped it back into place. The poor guy was in agony, but he suffered the whole ordeal. George of course was impressed with Nikki's skill. He was prepared to offer some fine cattle for her, to have a wife like that. Plus of course, she's tall, so that was in her favor also. He has a keen eye for the ladies."
Yvonne gurgled into her drink and then coughed, almost choking as she laughed. Nikki looked at her raising her eyebrows and Yvonne waved her hand in apology.
"Where does he live?" Helen asked.
"About fifty miles way." Nikki said.
"He walked here earlier and he's walking back that far?" Helen couldn't believe it.
"He can look after himself, he's a Maasai warrior."
"Do the Maasai get raided?"
"You've got to be pretty bloody desperate, if you want to take them on. Plus, they don't have medical supplies. They have their own Maasai doctor, but we do visit. The Maasai are herdsmen, they raise cattle. They're a nomadic people. They move over the region looking for grazing land, but over the years more and more of the land has been taken up by the government, so their options have become more limited. If the rains are good, then so is the grazing, if it's bad, it can devastate the herds. But they still have a very ritualistic culture. The women do all the cooking, fetch water, milk the cattle, repair the homes as well as take care of the children. Every few years the elders pick a new generation of warriors to be initiated. There is also a right of initiation into adulthood for both sexes. They are circumcised, but some of the Maasai women are starting to reject the idea. It's actually illegal in Kenya."
"I'm not surprised. It's barbaric." Paula said.
"For us yes, but it's their way of live. Although some of the younger Maasai do leave their settlements for the city and university. Just as some of the other Kenyan's leave their villages for the same reason."
Nikki turned her attention back to Helen.
"Malnutrition is also a major factor with women here. A woman's menstrual cycle is still a social taboo. You'll find that as the girls in your class begin their periods, they will probably be missing from class for several days. Hygiene is another factor. Young women often lack access to hygienic pads and towels, which can cause infections and even permanent damage to their reproductive system."
"Don't you find it frustrating, as a doctor?" Helen asked. Nikki took a sip of her drink.
"I took the Hippocratic Oath when I became a doctor. My primary concern is to save lives not change a culture. We can make changes medically and by educating people with regards to better health care and women are starting to take control in those aspects of their lives here, and that's the first step to their empowerment. Changes culturally are happening though. It's quite a surreal sight to see a young Massai herdsman with headphones and a walkman. I have every respect for their way of life especially the Maasai. They are a people who have endured."
"It's not hard to see the respect you have for them. It's evident in the way you talk about them."
It was the first time Helen had seen Nikki animated. In the limited times she had seen her, she appeared brusque and unapproachable but Helen found her articulate and saw a deep intelligence in the eyes.
The conversation turned to other matters. They talked of home and other general news. The scotch flowed freely and everybody was relaxed and enjoying the ambiance. Helen discovered that Yvonne also worked at the same hospital in the UK, as Nikki and Karen, and that it was Nikki's idea to go to Angola. The other two had agreed, their children and husbands, at the time, supporting them in their six month nursing duty.
"Mind you, I should have suspected Charlie's over enthusiasm in letting me go. Bastard was dinking his secretary." Yvonne poured everybody another shot.
Paula called it a night first and it wasn't long after that the others decided to follow her decision. Nikki went into the dinning area and returned with some bottles of water.
Karen, Yvonne and Helen stood up and there was a collective sway from all three.
"Bloody hell, that's good stuff." Yvonne looked at the empty bottle.
"I know." Karen agreed. "Problem is I'm going to be up all night, peeing."
"Well, come on then. I'll help you over to the powder room." Yvonne linked her arm through Karen's and they sauntered away.
Nikki handed Helen a bottle of water. "Try and drink it before you fall asleep." She advised.
"Thank you." Helen took the bottle and Nikki noticed her eyes were a little glazed.
"Are you ok?"
"I'm fine. Are you ok?" Helen's smile appeared a little lopsided and she swayed slightly.
"I'll walk over with you." Nikki offered.
"Oh no, you don't have to do that."
"I need the exercise." Nikki said. It was only twenty yards, but Nikki wanted to make sure Helen made it.
Helen did her best to appear sober. There were only a couple of times it was evident that she wasn't.
"Thank you Dr Wade. Will you be ok going back?" Helen's speech was now slurring.
"Yes, don't worry. If I don't think I can make it, I'll come back." Nikki pushed open the school door.
"Goodnight Nikki." It was the first time she referred to Nikki by her name rather than as Dr. Wade.
Helen was woken by a tapping on the door. She winced a she sat up, her head throbbing. She got out of bed and unlocked the bedroom door and Nikki was standing there.
"Your class is here. And you really should lock the school door at night."
"What? what time is it?" Helen yawned.
"Six am." Nikki was tempted to laugh. Helen's pajama top was buttoned up all wrong, her hair was sticking up on one side and her eyes were barely open.
"Why are they so early? Hang on, it's Sunday!" Helen grabbed her robe, put it on and started towards the school door.
"They've actually been here since 4am." Nikki shouted after her.
Helen turned to look at Nikki as she opened the door.
"Why on earth ." Helen stood dumbstruck. As she looked out, it was like a sea of people and her hand went to her mouth.
The children at the front she knew immediately. It was Abuya and Akeyo. They walked up to her with small daisy like dry flowers and presented her with them. Their smiles were so wide she felt a lump in her throat and bent down and kissed and hugged them.
"Mwana kondoo." One of the children said. Helen tried to clear her throat.
"What did she say?" She asked Nikki.
"Apparently it's your new name. It means Lamb."
"I don't understand."
"To put it simply Miss Helen, you're the lamb that defeated a lion."
"How did all these people know so quickly?"
"You've heard the expression bush drums? Actually you can probably thank George. I suspect he stopped at a few villages on his way home. By this time tonight, you'll be the most famous person in Kenya."
Nikki stepped past Helen. "It looks like you're going to have a busy class today. We'll keep the coffee going." Nikki winked and strode off towards the hospital.
As Helen watched her leave she saw the whole medical staff was outside watching the scene too. They all waved before heading into the hospital.
The next thing Helen knew her students took her by the hand and led her into the crowd. There wasn't a hand she didn't shake and she was introduced to everybody, her students translating as best they could. Parents, grandparents, people from other villages. For Helen, it was the most wonderful lesson of her life.
It was three weeks after Sister Michael left that Helen was invited to one of the nearby villages by the children in her class. It was Sunday and Kanja drove her the couple of miles that some of the children walked everyday. She took two cameras with her. One was a 35mm SLR with extra lenses and another was a small digital. The rolls of film she had taken had been sent home in the mail packages, so the children at St John's could see the pictures and in turn one of the teachers sent her back copies, as well as new rolls of film.
The children in her class were excited when Helen received the first batch of mail back form the UK, and loved to see the images she also took of them on the small digital camera screen.
She arrived at the village around 9am to an excited group of children, some of whom had walked from some of the other villages. She also met some of the parents again that she had been introduced to the day after the ambush.
As the day wore on the sun beat down. Helen played games with the children and was given lunch by the villagers, consisting of home made breads. She also took pictures, showing the results which produced hoots of laughter.
Towards late afternoon, Helen felt very tired. She mentally kicked herself for not bringing her hat, and felt exceptionally thirty. She felt soaked from sweat and her skin tasted very salty and she knew the stupidity in not having bought enough water. A slight headache was now starting that seemed to be located on the top of her head, spreading down her neck.
Kanja said he would be back at 4 o'clock in the afternoon, and Helen did her best to hang on until he arrived, hoping not to have given the children any indication of the fact that she now felt extremely unwell.
The children were reluctant to let her go. The drive back was bumpy along the road and it didn't help her headache. The tiredness was more pronounced and Helen couldn't wait to get back.
Kanja pulled up at the hospital entrance and noticed Helen hadn't said a word on the journey back.
He opened the door for her and she slowly got out. Even the weight of her camera bag over her shoulder was too much to bear. Yvonne, Nikki and Karen were all standing outside.
"Have a good day?" Karen called out.
Helen looked in the direction of the voice and raised her hand in an ok signal.
"Great." The attempt at saying it was painful. Kanja was talking to Nikki and looking in Helen's direction.
Helen walked towards the school house and the pain in her head escalated. It was like a heavy weight inside her skull. She felt dizzy and sick and her only thought was if she could lie down. Her periphery vision was blurring and darkness seemed to edge in on her from the sides. The last thing she remembered as her world went completely black was the sound of a shout from behind her.
Yvonne and Nikki were the first ones to get to her followed by Karen.
"Let's get her to the shower block." Nikki instructed. They half carried, half dragged Helen, who appeared semi conscious but was unable to get her limbs to work to aid them.
"I'm sorry." She mumbled. Once inside Karen turned on one of the showers.
"Get some rehydration meds." Nikki asked and Karen left. Yvonne removed Helen's shirt and Nikki proceeded to step into the shower cubicle holding Helen up. The coolness of the water was like a welcome glass of chilled wine.
Nikki brushed the wet hair out of Helen's face and her head lolled for a moment before resting in Nikki's shoulder.
"I'm sorry." She mumbled again. She lifted her arm and grabbed Nikki's to help support herself. She had no idea who she was hanging onto, only that she was grateful that the fire inside her head and skin was starting to dissipate.
When Helen woke up she felt quite refreshed, although her limbs felt heavy. She took a moment to realise where she was and was surprised to see she was in her bed at the school. She had a vague feeling she should be some where else. Through the mosquito netting she saw a figure sitting in a chair, reading. The person rose and when Helen focused, she saw it was Nikki.
"How are you feeling?"
"Fine. Tired. What?" Helen was about to inquire as to Nikki's presence, when she suddenly remembered the last thing she remembered.
"What happened?" Helen asked.
Helen brushed her hair back on her head and saw the plaster on the back of her hand.
"We rehydrated you. You're lucky it wasn't too severe. May I suggest next time a hat and plenty of water if you insist on spending a day hobnobbing with the locals. Sunstroke can be fatal out here. I guess the expression Mad Dogs and Englishmen now applies to Scotsmen."
Nikki pulled back the netting a little more.
"Open." She instructed and Helen saw the thermometer. Obeying, Nikki stuck it in her mouth. "At least now you're awake we won't have any more delirious renditions of Donald Where's Yer Troosers."
Helen felt mortified. She couldn't tell with Nikki's dry sense of humor if she was being serious.
"That was a joke. You didn't indulge in any delirious ramblings apart from a constant need to apologise." Nikki assured her.
There was a tap on the door and Yvonne appeared.
"Well, you look better." She said.
"I feel fine." Helen said out of the side of her mouth.
"I'm sure you do. But you won't be taking class today. Your assistant can cover for you. You need to rest." Nikki was holding Helen's wrist.
"Oh I'll be ok." Helen smiled. Nikki whipped the thermometer out of her mouth and checked it. She looked at Helen.
"That's not my recommendation. Its doctor's orders. You will NOT take class today. You will do as you're told and rest. We don't want you undoing what we've done to get you well. Depending on how you do today, we'll see about you maybe taking class tomorrow. One of the hospital volunteers will keep an eye on you. Lots of water and soup and maybe something more substantial later."
Her tone was forceful but quiet and Helen felt suitably admonished.
"I'll pop by later." Nikki walked towards the door picking up a book from the chair.
"Dr Wade, I'm sorry to be so much trouble. I should have known better."
Nikki turned. "It's no trouble. And yes you should. But you're not the first person to get sick Helen. Doctors, nurses, it can and does happen to anyone." And then she left.
"I feel such an idiot." Helen rubbed her forehead.
"Don't be daft. As Nikki said, it happens to the best of us." Yvonne pulled up a chair.
"She certainly told me."
Yvonne waved her hand dismissively. "If it's any consolation, Nikki's bedside manner is a lot better than it used to be. She's getting soft in her old age."
"I'm surprised I'm here and not at the hospital." Helen remarked.
"Nikki decided it would be better to treat you here and lucky for you it didn't take much. She clocked the problem straight away. She knew you wouldn't want the other patients and kids to see you on the ward. That you'd probably feel embarrassed at being such a burden." Yvonne smiled.
"Then she's very intuitive. That's exactly how I would have felt."
"Well you couldn't have been in better hands. Here drink this." Yvonne handed Helen some water.
"What do you mean?"
"You had your own personal doctor treating you."
Helen slumped back onto the bed. "You mean Dr Wade's been here all night." She closed her eyes tightly.
"Blimey, most people would be happy to have had the attention."
"I'm not being ungrateful. I feel bad that she spent her night here, with no rest I'm sure."
"Nah, don't worry about it. Nikki was an NHS doctor. They strive on no sleep. She'll catch some shut eye."
"Would I be right in assuming my treatment involved a shower?" Helen rested her arm across her forehead.
"Dr Wade I presume." Helen's voice trailed off.
"Yep, she's an all round Super Doc ain't she?"
Yvonne was enjoying Helen's tortuous embarrassment at Nikki's involvement. "It was necessary to lower your body's core temperature asap. And don't worry. In all circumstances of partial undress during treatment, a nurse was present. And I don't mean it was Nikki who was undressed. There's only so much you should expect of your doctor."
"Anyway, as the doc said, rest. We'll see you later."
Obeying doctor's orders, Helen rested. Her volunteer nurse bought water and soup. Some time in the afternoon she dozed off and was woken by hushed whispers. In the room were all the pupils looking rather grave at her condition. It transpired they wanted to see Helen for themselves to make sure the Lamb wasn't dying as they suspected. They were relieved to see Helen was alive and well and left happily to continue their class.
After another examination in the evening, Nikki gave the all clear for Helen to resume class in the morning, under the strict guideline that if she felt tired at any time, she was to rest and hand over to the assistant.
In the three months Helen had been at the school, the time seemed to have flown by. She slept better, her days full with the children, lessons and organising class content.
In between had been other trips to nearby villages and she made sure she had all she needed to avoid another bout of sunstroke. Sometimes at the weekends, she accompanied either Jean-Paul, Brian or Paula if they were on local visits, but rarely Nikki, who shared the longer days away with Ian.
George was also a regular visitor to the school. He sat in on lessons and even raised his hand to answer questions. The children giggled and he reminded Helen of a scampish little boy.
When she pinned up a large map of the world, he looked at it intently, rubbing his chin with his hand. He pointed at Great Britain and gestured towards Helen. She affirmed he was correct, and that was where she came from. Then he pointed to the African continent and Kenya. He tutted severely. Pointing at Britain again, he emphasised its tiny size between his forefinger and thumb. Then pointing at Africa, he opened his arms wide. Even Helen couldn't resist laughing along with the children at his mischievous grin.
It was Friday just after 4.30pm, and Helen wandered over to the dinning area. School was over and she thought she would grab a bite to eat. As she entered she saw Karen sitting at a table nursing a cup of coffee.
"Hiya." She said.
"Hey, Helen. Glad it's the weekend?"
"In some ways. Gives me a chance to catch up on paperwork and write some letters home. But I do miss the children. Have you been busy?"
"A bit. As you know, Paula and Ian are on leave. Nikki and Corrine have been away for the last few days, but they got back about thirty minutes ago. Yvonne, Sal and Jean-Paul have been out all day but will be back later tonight, so it's just been me and Brian."
Helen's back was to the door and she didn't see Nikki come in, but she saw Karen frown and she was looking at Nikki.
"So, any visits this weekend?" Karen asked.
"No, nothing planned. I'll probably visit the villages in a couple of weeks. It will be half term for the children."
As Helen talked she noticed Karen wasn't paying attention. She turned to see what Karen was looking at. It was Nikki and she was watching her intently. Nikki was over by the coffee machine and for a moment she seemed to sway.
"Shit." As Karen said it, she rose quickly from the chair and Helen still wasn't sure what was going on.
Karen made it to Nikki just in time to catch her as her legs buckled and she crumpled towards the floor.
Helen rushed to get help and Brian and Corrine accompanied her back. Together they carried Nikki to the theatre room.
Brian checked her over, and he and Karen agreed on the initial treatment and then he left with Corrine.
"What's wrong? Is it serious?" Helen asked. Nikki was sweating and shaking.
"Malaria?" Helen almost shouted. "How?"
"Nikki contracted it when she first got here. After Trish was killed her world fell apart. She didn't eat properly for weeks and obviously hadn't taken her meds regularly. She has relapsing malaria. It could be worse. She hasn't had a relapse for over a year. It will resemble flu - chills, fever, muscle aches, vomiting. It can last for a few days."
The distraction of removing Nikki's clothes as she spoke made Karen unaware of what she had said.
"Can I do anything to help?" Helen asked
"Yes, let's get her clothes off."
"She won't mind me being here?"
"At the moment she's a little too incapacitated to object. Plus it will be a joy to have her helpless and quiet for a time." Karen said.
Helen wasn't sure if she should bring it up, but what Karen had told her peaked her curiosity.
"Who was Trish?" She saw Karen flinch.
"Ah," Karen hesitated before continuing. "Nikki's a very private person Helen. If she hasn't said anything to you," She paused for a moment. "But perhaps if she wasn't so insular and opened up a bit more." It was directed at Nikki and she was looking at her when she said it.
"Trish was Nikki's girlfriend. She was also a doctor. We were all out in Angola. Most of the hospital cases were land mine injuries and it was a very traumatic time. We were transferring here. Nikki and I flew out first and Trish and Yvonne were leaving two weeks later. Yvonne was going back to England. The day they left for the airport, they were on one of the roads they thought had been cleared. There were a couple of locals having an argument over a cart that had fallen over, spilling grain on the road. The jeeps couldn't get through. Trish was in the first jeep and Yvonne was in the one behind. The driver of Trish's jeep was getting impatient about getting to the airport, so he drove the jeep off road. After a short distance, he hit a landmine. Both he and Trish were killed outright. It was a huge explosion."
Helen was stunned. "That must have been awful."
"It was, especially for Nikki. The irony was, that it was Trish that was due to fly out here first but she persuaded Nikki to her take her place. We knew something was wrong when Trish didn't arrive on schedule. We finally got the news a week later. Nikki flew back to the UK just in time for the funeral. Trish's parents hung on as long as they could until she could get there. It was the last time Nikki saw Yvonne."
"Does Nikki have any family?"
"Her father. But she never mentions him much. Her mother died when she was young and she had an older brother, but he's no longer alive."
They stripped Nikki to her underwear. She was sweating profusely and shivering.
"She's running a fever. Let's get her cooled down." Karen said.
She left for a moment and returned with some towels and a bowl of water. Between them, they bathed her arms, legs, neck, chest and back. As Helen assisted, she was struck by how fragile Nikki looked. She always appeared controlled and strong but now seemed completely helpless and Helen felt a sudden deep compassion for her.
After bathing her they dressed her in a hospital gown and covered her with a light sheet and Karen started setting up an IV line for the meds and fluids.
All the while, Nikki floated in and out. As Karen was about to insert the IV, Nikki convulsed. Instinctively Karen grabbed a bowl from the table.
"Helen, help me turn her on her side." Karen requested. As soon as they did, Nikki vomited into the bowl Karen held at her head.
"Damn it Nikki." Karen hissed. "She obviously didn't eat this morning." It was mostly fluid.
As she set up the IV Karen said to Helen. "Would you mind sitting with her for a moment? I've got to help the others. I shouldn't be long. Nikki's timing not great, what with the others away for the next few hours."
"Of course I don't mind."
"See if you can get her to drink some water." Karen placed a blanket over Nikki and left a small pile of towels and after rinsing out the bowl, placed it next to the bed.
"She might vomit some more. If you see any sign of blood, come get me." Karen left.
Helen saw a chair in the corner and placed it next to the bed. She sat and closed her eyes and took a moment of silent prayer for Nikki's behalf.
Nikki mumbled something and it broke Helen from her meditation.
"Water." She said again.
Helen grabbed the glass and positioning herself half on the bed, helped Nikki to sit up. She held the glass for Nikki who immediately began to gulp it down.
"Slowly, slowly." Helen said gently.
She held the glass allowing Nikki to drink in small increments. When it was empty she laid Nikki back down. It was less than a minute when the tell tail convulsion alerted Helen that Nikki was about to throw up. She sat her up quickly and held the bowl and was relived to see there was no blood.
She persisted with another glass of water, and Nikki drank it all. Laying her back down, Helen felt her forehead. It was hot and clammy, so using one of the small towels, Helen wetted it and wiped Nikki's face and neck. Then she wiped down her arms and as she finished, Nikki grabbed her hand. She was mumbling and becoming more incoherent and delirious. Her grip was tight, and Helen placed her other hand over it.
"Shush." She said softly. It calmed Nikki, but she held on to Helen, who was acutely aware that Nikki probably had no inclination of what she was doing.
After thirty minutes, Nikki began to get restless. She moaned and her whole body appeared to be in pain. Helen reached out and took her hand and Nikki gripped it again and moaned louder. It worried Helen and as she was contemplating getting Karen, she entered the room.
"How's she doing?"
Helen told her.
"Ok, I'll get her some muscle relaxant meds that will help. And ask Brian to check on her too."
Helen continued to sit with Nikki, leaving occasionally to get a drink.
When Yvonne arrived back she sat with Helen for a while.
"Is this a bad bout?" Yvonne asked Karen.
"Took hold pretty quick, but then she's probably been fighting it while she's been away the last couple of days. Last time we caught it, but it still laid her up. That was nothing to the initial attack. Frightened the life out of me. I thought she was a goner."
Helen was reading aloud. Nikki had been mumbling and moaning for most of the afternoon and early evening, but when Helen had started reading, it lulled her.
"Did you ever consider being a nurse?" Karen asked her as she entered the room. "What are you reading to her?" Karen bent her head trying to see the cover.
"Roald Dahl's James and the Giant Peach. It was a favorite among my pupils back home. When I left they presented me with a copy which they all signed. I don't think it would matter what I read at the moment, I think it's just the sound of someone's voice."
"Well, it seems to be working. Perhaps we should have thought of it before. She seems very peaceful. If you like to read you should ask to borrow some of Nikki's books. She's a little book worm. She has loads of them she can barely get into her room they take up so much space."
Helen was pleasantly surprised. She found she liked the idea that Nikki was the literary type.
"That would be great. I didn't bring much with me, due to luggage allowance. I was thinking of getting some sent over."
"I can show you what she has if you like."
"Oh no, I couldn't let you do that."
"Helen seriously, Nikki won't mind me showing you. She's always telling me and the other's to help ourselves and borrow stuff. I do, but I think she'd welcome someone who would appreciate it more. Don't worry her rooms not like some shrine housing the Shroud of Turin. It's just a room." Karen smiled. "She probably would have said something to you as well, but she probably assumed you had enough with you. I did notice some books in your room."
"Yes, mostly teaching stuff and a few paperbacks.
"Well then, give me five minutes. There's probably one she's thumbing through at the moment."
Karen led Helen to a small dorm block at the back of the hospital. Inside the building was a corridor, with small compartment rooms and Helen thought how much they looked like nuns' quarters in a convent.
Karen pushed open one of the doors and Helen peered inside. Against a wall was a bed, with a bedside table. A rail with plastic covering acted as a wardrobe against another wall. There was a desk and a chair, with assorted paperwork, neatly organised. But Karen was right, everywhere else were books. Shelves adorned the walls and what couldn't fit on those, were neatly stacked on the floor. The room was very sparse, with no other decoration. To Helen, it appeared a deliberate attempt to remove any form of comfort.
She gingerly stepped into the room. She felt awkward, as though invading Nikki's space without an invite.
As she looked at the books, she saw collections of D. H. Lawrence, George Elliot, Thomas Hardy, Patricia Highsmith, as well as many other classic and contemporary authors. On the desk was a copy of Sophie's World and with a bookmark in it, a copy of Thomas Hardy poems and a well read copy of Wuthering Heights.
"Wow." Helen said softly.
"See anything you like?" Karen smiled as she saw the look on Helen's face.
"All of it." Helen continued to stare around her. "I've been meaning to read this but never got around to it," She pointed at Sophie's World. "But I'll take this back with me. It seems Nikki's currently reading it." Helen picked up the Thomas Hardy poems.
"It's quite late Helen. You should get some rest."
"No, I'm happy to keep an eye on her. It will enable the rest of you to rest. You've all got enough to do. I'll bring over one of the cots from the tents."
"You really don't have too. We'll be checking on her anyway."
"Really, I'd like too. It's the weekend, so no class until Monday. And besides, it gives me the opportunity to get reacquainted with Mr. Hardy." Helen waved the book.
Helen sat reading as much as possible throughout the night. She stopped every now and then to doze, and found she was woken up by the sound of Nikki shifting in the bed. She appeared restless, but at the sound of Helen's voice, she settled down.
Over the night shift, the team constantly checked on Nikki. Karen told Helen some of the meds included a sedative to allow Nikki to sleep and the drugs to do their work and she certainly seemed out of it. Karen and Yvonne also spent some of the early hours visiting and keeping Helen supplied with water and something to eat.
Sunday was much the same. Helen showered, ate breakfast and continued her bedside vigil, chatting with the constant visitors, reading and taking time for meditation. By evening she moved on to the Thomas Hardy poems. Karen tried to persuade her to call it quits around midnight, but Helen assured her she was fine.
Monday came too soon. Helen woke early so she had time to shower, eat and get ready for class. Before she left the room, she went over and lifted Nikki's head to arrange the pillow. She stood and stared at her face. A small lock of hair had fallen across Nikki's forehead and Helen unconsciously reached out and softly touched it. Nikki sighed deeply and it made Helen retract her arm swiftly, as though she had touched something scolding hot.
"Morning." Came a quiet voice from behind and Karen came over to the bed.
"How's she been?"
"Fine, she woke up a couple of times and I gave her some water. I don't think she was aware of too much."
"Good. Jean- Paul and Brian both said they'd checked on her and she's doing well. Thanks Helen. You've been a great help."
"No thanks necessary. I was lucky enough to have the luxury of time to spend. You and Yvonne must both be tired."
Karen waved it off.
"Anyway, I'll pop over again after school."
The day dragged and Helen felt anxious. At the back of her mind, she wondered how Nikki was. She made herself concentrate harder on the lessons and finally school was over.
After sorting through the children's school work, Helen put it aside for marking and made her way over to the hospital.
As she entered the room, she heard Yvonne and Karen laughing and was amazed when she saw Nikki sitting up, spooning food into her mouth from a bowl.
They all turned to see the surprise on Helen's face. "You certainly look better." She said.
"Doesn't she," Karen agreed. "That's her second bowl of soup."
"I liked her better when she was sedated. She's been bossing us about since she woke up around 2 o'clock!" Yvonne said.
"I told Nikki I put her quick recovery down to Roald Dahl and Thomas Hardy, courtesy of you. And that she's broken the myth that all doctors and nurses make terrible patients. She's been an absolute pussycat under your watchful eye." Karen added.
"It must have been the school mistress tone that kept me in line." Nikki smiled at Helen.
"Maybe, but I think a lot had to do with the care you were given by your colleagues." Helen told her.
"We're off to get some dinner. Have you eaten Helen?" Yvonne asked.
"No, I was going to get something."
"Let's go then. You want anything Nik?"
"Another bowl of soup would be nice on your way back."
As all three of them left, Nikki called out.
"Yes?" She walked halfway back in.
"Thank you." Even though Nikki looked tired, it was the genuine smile in her eyes that made Helen want to stay.
"Anytime." Helen said.
After a moment she turned and reluctantly left the room, feeling a tug in her body, like an invisible thread being stretched between them.
Nikki was back to full time work by the end of the week, with everyone still amazed at her speedy recovery, although she didn't leave the compound for another three weeks.
One lunchtime during school, Helen returned to her desk to find a copy of Sophie's World. A small note was attached 'Library's always open. Borrow what ever you like. N'
Helen made her way over to the dining area. During the last four weeks since Nikki's recovery, every Friday night she joined a social gathering of the medical team. The main attendees were Nikki, Yvonne, Karen and the other's joining according to hospital duties. George also showed up sometimes and as she walked over now, she saw him sitting with Nikki.
Yvonne and Karen appeared and Helen saw the obligatory bottle of scotch that they saved for these occasions. Nikki and Yvonne had also chosen to ration their cigarettes to just the weekends in an effort to make them last longer.
Helen enjoyed these gatherings. The topics varied. At their first social night they talked about the hospital and the school and Helen was convinced it would have to be extended at some point now more children were attending. One evening, she sat listening as Nikki, Yvonne and Karen recounted A&E incidents back in the UK. Yvonne's East End accent and choice way with words and Karen's inability to tell any humourous story without laughing herself, made Helen's stomach ache from laughing. As Helen approached now George stood up to greet her.
"Miss Helen." He said. Since his occasional school attendance, he referred to her as the children did. Paula and Corrine also arrived and sat down.
"The guys can handle it for a couple of hours." Paula said to Nikki.
Yvonne began pouring out the scotch. Helen looked at George who had chosen to sit on the floor, to allow the women to sit on the chairs. He appeared to her, to be very happy surrounded by all the female staff.
"George, would you tell us some stories please?" Nikki asked him. Helen shifted excitedly in her seat. The last time George joined them, Nikki requested the same and they all sat enthralled.
And he obliged them now. Nikki and Paula translated some of the Swahili when George was unsure of the English words. He performed as he told the stories, and they applauded him when he finished and sat once again on the floor.
They all talked for another hour on general topics, before Paula and Corrine left. George also got up to announce he was leaving.
"George, why don't you stay? You know you can sleep in one of the tents if you wish?" Helen offered.
"Thank you," He said graciously. "But the moon is high and she wishes me to lay beneath her tonight, and I wish the same. So I must obey my mistress."
"That's a lovely way to put it." Helen smiled at him.
"It is difficult not to do what the heart wishes. It is the same for everyone I think? You see a beautiful man, or a beautiful woman? How can you tell your heart no? That is not a good thing"
He looked directly at Helen and smiled, before looking at Nikki. He held out his hand and Nikki stood and shook it. He did the same with the rest of them and left.
Helen watched him walk away and disappear into the darkness of the night.
"George is a bit of a lad." Yvonne remarked.
"In some ways, but not all, anymore." Nikki said. "It's quite acceptable among the Maasai to have extramarital affairs. Women are just as free as their husbands to pursue it. Although if she has children with her lover, they become the property of her husband."
"I bet that can cause some jealousy." Karen said.
"Mind you, saves on the lawyer's bills for a divorce," Yvonne added. "Sounds like they have the ideal situation!"
"But it must put a strain on the marriage relationship? I mean, jealous love can be very destructive." Karen frowned.
"Is jealous love the worse kind though?" Yvonne asked. "At least emotions are still running. There must be something worse?"
"What do you say Nikki, you're the bookworm. You've read enough novels to know?" Karen smiled at her.
Nikki lowered her glass. "Unrequited love."
"Why do you say that? Why is unrequited love so bad?" Helen saw the puzzled look on Yvonne & Karen faces too.
"Because it's a love that can never be realised. It remains unfulfilled. Especially if the object of your desire doesn't know, or isn't able to return it. Then your life just waits in the wings, unable to move forward, and it can never go back. Unrequited love is always hoping that maybe sometime they'll be a chance. The reality is, that most of the time, it remains trapped and longing."
Helen felt Nikki's eyes lock on hers and found the gaze penetrating. She was about to speak when Karen started to laugh.
"Jesus Nikki. Being a bit deep tonight aren't we?" Karen asked.
Helen saw Yvonne smiling.
"Sounds like someone needs to get laid if you ask me." Yvonne muttered.
Nikki threw her head back and laughed. Helen was now unsure if Nikki's unrequited statement was a joke. She had been drawn in by what Nikki said and wanted to continue the conversation.
"Don't know about you gals, but I'm knackered. I'm calling it a night." Yvonne announced.
"Me too." Karen said. Both their glasses were empty, but Helen and Nikki were still drinking.
"We'll see you in the morning." Yvonne said. They all said goodnight, and as Yvonne and Karen walked away, Helen distinctly heard Yvonne mimicking Nikki's "Unrequited love" speech and Karen laugh.
"They're certainly a couple of characters." Helen commented.
"Yes they are. We used to have a good time back in the UK. They're both exceptional nurses. And they've been the greatest of friends." Nikki sipped her drink. "What about your friends and family back home. How do they feel about you being here?"
"Very supportive and excited for me. Obviously the opportunity of a lifetime. I never expected this would happen to me at thirty-five."
"Do you miss them?" Nikki finally lit her first cigarette of the evening. She preferred to save it until she would leave to go to her room.
"Yes, of course. We're a close family. I have five older brothers, so I had to be able to stand up for myself. My parents were determined to get a girl in there somewhere."
"Do you have a home?"
"A-huh. My eldest brother's daughter recently got married. They're living in the house and paying rent. I didn't want them too, but they insisted. It's helping them to save for a place of their own. I'll just end up giving it back to them when they find a place. After David died the mortgage insurance paid off the mortgage, so financially in that respect I'm ok. Do you ever think of going home?"
"It's crossed my mind, but there's really nothing there for me. I could go back into the NHS, but I'm not sure I'd want to anymore. I'll be forty next year and I think I'm a bit long in the tooth to take all that again."
Helen paused before her next question. "What about family?"
Nikki exhaled a stream of smoke.
"Nobody really close. My mother died of breast cancer when I was thirteen. She was French, hence my ability to speak it. She was a beautiful woman, who put up a brave fight for two years. I had a brother, Danny, who was five years older. I adored him too. He'd hoped for a baby brother, but got a sister instead. Despite that, he looked after me and was very protective and included me in all his schemes. Oddly enough, as gentle as he was, he joined the army as soon as he was seventeen. He'd always wanted to be a soldier. He loved the idea of camaraderie, serving Queen and Country. A year after my mother died he was killed by a road side bomb while serving in Northern Ireland. He was only nineteen. I left home at sixteen to stay with relatives. We lived in a fairly small village and I'd decided I wanted to pursue medicine. It wasn't going to happen staying there."
"What about your dad?"
"Hmm. We no longer saw eye to eye. It had been a rough couple of years and I grew up."
Helen wanted to continue, but hesitated. Nikki looked at her over the rim of her glass, hiding a smile behind it.
"You're avoiding asking me about something you already know. A little bird told me they had spilled the beans."
Helen looked down and smiled.
"My father didn't disapprove of my sexual orientation. At sixteen even I wasn't quite sure." Nikki rolled her eyes and Helen smiled. "My dad and I correspond, me more erratically with him, but I haven't seen him in many years."
"That's not what I was avoiding asking you about. I didn't want to openly talk about Trish, if it would upset you to do so."
Nikki shrugged. "We were both twenty-three and met during our medical training. Gorgeous blue eyed blonde." Nikki smiled. "She was an excellent doctor and had a much better bedside manner than me. After the loss of my mother and brother, and I dare say like you, I believed my life was finally settled and it would stay that way. I was happy and it never occurred to me that something would happen again, to change it."
As Helen listened she was moved by the lack of emotion as Nikki spoke about her mother, brother and Trish. It then struck her that the one quality she had not been able to recognise about Nikki so far, was a fatalistic one.
"Is that why you've spent so long out here?" Helen asked.
"I guess at first. It was a definite distraction. Luckily Karen was here, or I might not be now."
"How do you cope, financially?"
"Same as you. We were buying a house and after Trish was killed, the mortgage was paid off. Her sister Diane has her own estate agent business and rents it out for me. There's a monthly income and if I need anything Diane can arrange it."
Nikki stretched out her legs crossing her feet. "So did you really want to be a nun?"
"Yes, truly. It seemed a very romantic notion at sixteen. In reality of course, it's not romantic but a very disciplined life. My mentors knew it would be too restricting. I was always asking questions and seeking knowledge, so teaching became the obvious path. In that respect I have gained more spiritually than if I had joined a convent."
Helen continued. "You don't believe in religion, faith?"
"I don't rely on it. And I wouldn't recommend anyone else to. But that's just my opinion."
"Have you never looked towards it?"
Nikki raised her eyebrows. "Your teachers were right. You do have an inquisitive mind."
Helen laughed. "I'm just intrigued by people's beliefs, how they view life." The truth, if Helen was to admit it, was that she was intrigued by Nikki.
"I guess I don't believe in unconditional forgiveness."
"You don't think it's right that God forgives unconditionally?" Helen frowned.
"I wasn't referring to God's forgiveness. I was referring to forgiving God."
Helen frowned even deeper. "You think He should answer to us?" Helen was answering more for herself than for Nikki.
Nikki watched Helen's expression. She could almost see her brain waves, like frantic lines on a polygraph, trying to figure out an answer. Helen was quick to understand the meaning and Nikki found it stimulating to have someone who was capable of such a thought process.
"I guess that's why a lot of people don't believe. So much happens in the world and to individuals and there's always the question Why?""
"Did you ask that after the accident?" Nikki wasn't sure if she had gone too far in asking such a question.
Helen tilted her head to one side, pondering. "Yes, but I didn't blame God for not stopping it. He didn't make the decision to allow a drunk driver to climb into their car. The driver alone made that decision. And it's one he has to live with and seek forgiveness for, if forgiveness is what he wants. I forgave him a long time ago. I had to carry on and that was the first step."
"Then you're a better person than I am." Nikki was shocked at the revelation that a drunk driver had been responsible for the fatal accident. "I find it hard to believe in the existence of a powerful being that doesn't intervene."
"I couldn't believe in a God like that either."
"Then why believe in one, that's not capable of stopping anything. What's the point?"
"That's expecting a lot, and kind of missing the point of what He's actually about. At some point, parents have to let their children go. Allow them to stand up for themselves, make their own mistakes, find their own way. Learn from experience. But a child always knows they have someone to turn to for help and guidance. Unconditional love. Unconditional forgiveness. A parent will do anything for their child, even sacrifice themselves. He's no different."
Nikki looked at her for a moment and Helen wasn't sure if she was goading her. Then Nikki half laughed.
"What's funny?" Helen asked.
"I'm trying to figure out how we got from Maasai folklore to a discussion practically about theology."
Helen smiled. "Apparently it's one of the three main topics of discussion amongst groups of people. Religion, politics and sex." Helen finished the last of her drink.
"Indeed. I think we should save the other two for another time. Although I do know a good joke about all three."
Helen laughed. "I'd be interested to hear it."
"I'll be intrigued to hear your views on the other two." Nikki said.
Helen was tidying up the school room, when there was a tap on the door behind her. She was so engrossed in what she was doing, the sound made her jump.
"Sorry." Nikki said.
"It's ok. I was miles away." Helen continued gathering up papers from the desks.
"Need some help?" Nikki offered.
"George has invited you to a ceremony at his village next weekend." Nikki announced as she stood and looked at some of the schoolwork.
"Oh? What's the ceremony?"
"Hmm?" Nikki was busy reading one of the essays. Helen smiled and walked over to her and stood at Nikki's side and watched her eyes scan the page.
"If you like to write stories, we have an empty desk if you'd like to attend the school."
"What? Oh sorry." It broke Nikki from her concentration. "This is very good. You're pupils have a good grasp of English. A reflection on their teacher no doubt."
"I can't take all the credit. The school children are enthusiastic to learn. Makes my job easier. Anyway, you were saying?" Helen took the papers Nikki offered her.
"The elders have picked a new generation of moran, Maasai warriors from the young boys and men. It will be a ceremony of their initiation. George has invited us to attend. It only happens every few years, and this is the first time it's happened since I've been here. It's quite an honour. Would you like to go?"
"Oh yes, that sounds incredible. How long does the ceremony last?"
"The actual celebrations go on for a few days, but we can go next weekend. I can take some time off and drive us out there."
"That will be fine. A weekend break sounds ideal."
"Ok, I'll let George know next time he visits." Nikki smiled and turned to go.
Nikki turned back and for a second Helen's breath caught in her chest. Nikki was standing only a few inches away and their eyes met and Helen felt inexplicably drawn to them.
"Thank you, for offering to take me." Helen said it rather feebly.
Nikki shrugged as though it wasn't a problem then added with a mischievous grin.
"Of course, if you'd rather walk?"
Helen slapped her arm with the papers. The gesture surprised them both. Nikki laughed and Helen blushed.
"I'm going before I get detention." Nikki said and headed towards the door.
Helen was trying to figure out what had happened to make her do what she did. She was sure that although Nikki laughed, there was a hint of something more in her expression, as though she thought Helen had in some way made a flirtatious gesture. Now Helen wondered if in some unconscious way she had, and if she had, why had she? Then she laughed out loud to herself.
"Oh Stewart, don't be so ridiculous. Over analyzing as usual." She sat at her desk and went over the school work.
"Ready, you have your meds?" Nikki asked as Helen closed the school door behind her.
Nikki took Helen's small bag and slung it into the back of the jeep where she saw other supplies.
"Hope you don't mind roughing it? We'll be sleeping in a tent." Nikki said.
"No problem. I'm used to it. With six kids my parents had to find a cheap way to afford holidays. Camping provided the answer."
Helen settled into the passenger seat with her camera bag in her lap.
"Will it be ok to take some pictures?"
"It should be, but ask first. They'll probably want to see what you've taken."
Helen was visibly excited. Apart from her trips to the nearby villages this was the farthest she had ventured.
"What happens at the celebrations?"
"Eating, dancing, singing and flirting in a nut shell." Nikki quickly glanced at Helen before explaining further.
"The young men chosen, aging from fifteen to early twenties, will have been circumcised if they haven't already been. It's done without anesthetic, and they must show no pain, or it will bring dishonor. They have to wear black for up to eight months and will live a manyatta, which is a village built by their mothers. They'll live there from any where up to twelve years, learning the skills to be a warrior."
"Are they a fighting group?" Helen asked.
"Not necessarily. The role of the warrior is to protect the village and the cattle from predators and other tribes. They go out and find new grazing land and take the cattle, which means they can be gone for days. Which also gives them the opportunity to take cattle from other Maasai." Nikki smiled.
"Many years ago, they also proved their manhood by killing a lion, armed with just a spear. It's outlawed now of course. But between you and me, George did it. He has a necklace made of the lion's claws and teeth. He took down a grown male at sixteen."
"How old is George?"
"Does he have family?"
"Yes, warriors eventually marry and can have several wives. Sadly he's lost two wives in childbirth along with the babies and several other children."
"How many wives does he have now?"
"Two, both quite young." Nikki didn't elaborate any more, and Helen sensed she shouldn't ask. There was something about Nikki's reply that seemed to punctuate it with a full stop.
Instead Helen asked other general questions and Nikki was happy to oblige with answers. Along the way was plenty of photo opportunity and at one point they spotted a pride of female lions with cubs, lazing under a tree. Nikki detoured towards them, but kept a safe distance. Helen attached a telephoto lens and clicked away from the passenger window, capturing the group as the cubs tumbled playfully with one another. She was enthralled and kept reminding herself that she was actually witnessing this and not through the wonders of David Attenborough.
The road was bumpy and dusty, and every now and then Nikki stopped when she spotted something she thought Helen might like to photograph. Apart from their conversation on the Maasai, not much else was said, but it wasn't an uncomfortable silence. Nikki knew this was such a big thrill for Helen and she was enjoying it just as much. It seemed pointless to talk about a landscape or interrupt it with pointless conversation, when it spoke for itself. It needed no narration.
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