What did you say your Name was? – A Novel, Chapter 4


For Chapter 3 click here:  Chapter 3

To go to chapter 1 of the novel click here: Chapter 1

(Author’s note: This chapter has multiple pages. Please click the number at the bottom to continue reading the next page)

“Mr. Oben,” Kagiso said. “We are going to distribute mosquito nets today. Wear your sneakers. We’ll be walking a lot.”

Owen was assigned to work with Kagiso, a health care nurse. As a Peace Corps volunteer he was to help and otherwise act as an adviser. Kagiso was a pleasant middle-aged lady, with a slight heavy build and a ready smile.

Sometimes they took a bus, other times they walked. Most days they left early in the morning and returned late in the evening. The roads had plenty of colorful flowering trees. He was sad that widespread malaria, malnutrition, tuberculosis were so prevalent in a country with such natural splendor.

At first the local people were a bit uneasy talking with a white man. Kagiso talked to them in the native language. Owen’s easy going manners helped ease the preliminary uneasiness. The daily trips would be long and upon returning back to his room he wished he had someone to talk to about the events of the day. He thought of Rachel who was 35 miles away. He was renting a small cottage without electricity and running water. He cooked whenever he felt like it or ate out. There wasn’t much choice, even though Zomba was the capital of Malawi since the independence in 1964. To make a call he had to go to over to his host’s house and ask if he could use their phone.

The Peace Corps didn’t allow volunteers to own cars. One weekend Owen took a bus to Blantyre to meet Rachel. It was a half hour ride, but it seemed longer since the bus didn’t start on time. It also made several stops to pick up passengers and before he knew it, it was packed. Owen wished he had taken a taxi or one of the mini buses instead of the state-run buses. The roads were bumpy and some passengers were carrying live chickens in the bus. Owen covered his nose to avoid inhaling the dust and the smell.

When he reached the house where Rachel was staying with her friend Agnes, his body was sore. Rachel was suffering from a stomach virus again.

“I don’t think I’m in a shape to go out anywhere,” she said.

“Have you seen a doctor?”

Peace Corps had assigned doctors to attend to health issues of the volunteers.

“Yes, they say it’s a mild intestinal infection. It’ll pass.”

They just sat and talked. Agnes was out on errands.

“I’ve started my assignment as an English teacher at the Blantyre Secondary School,” Rachel said. She also helped in developing student evaluation guides.

Owen spent the night at Rachel’s, sleeping on a sofa. Next morning she felt much better. Later in the afternoon they walked to the Mandala House, home of the La Caverna Art Gallery and café. They barely looked at the artifacts and paintings before they lost interest in the gallery. It was past lunch time. The place was not busy. They walked over to the on site restaurant. Owen ordered a chicken Mandala salad, a homemade cookie and coffee. Rachel said she didn’t want to eat and ordered just coffee.

Rachel was quiet for a long time. Owen asked if everything was all right, whether her stomach virus was acting up again.

“I got a letter from my mom,” she said. “Little Shane will be playing in a college musical.”

“That’s great.”

“But I wish I was there. I miss him so much. Now he is a sophomore and a drama major.”

Owen thought she was going to cry. He put his hands around her. He wanted to ask who Shane was. Was it her son? Rachel never mentioned that she was married. If Shane was her son, and she was divorced or something then he would be intruding in her private life. He left it at that.

“Oh, how I wish I was back home,” Rachel said again with a sad face.

“I hope you asked them to take a lot of pictures,” Owen said. He knew it didn’t matter what he said, it wasn’t going to be of any help.

Rachel continued talking about her family. It was the first time she was opening up.

“We used to watch the Lucy Show and Gomer Pyle together and laugh our hearts out.” Rachel continued.

“What do your Dad and Mom do?”

“Dad’s a professor of American history and Mom’s an elementary school teacher. I miss them.”

“Do you write them often?”

“When I find time. It takes almost a month to get their response.”

“Yeah. I wish there was a faster way to communicate. Calling long distance is also such a hassle.”

“I know what you mean. We just have to do the best we can.”

When they returned back to Rachel’s place Owen said he would take the afternoon bus to Zomba. Rachel said OK with a sad face as if she didn’t care what he did. She didn’t even look at him when she said that. Owen thought it best to leave her alone to give her some space and allow her to come back to normal.

I am worried about Rachel’s health. Today I learned a bit about her family. They seem like a nice bunch of folks. I wonder who Shane is.” Owen wrote in his diary when he returned to Zomba.


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