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

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One day Owen asked Kagiso if there was an easy way to get around to his assignments in the nearby villages. He had relied on buses and sometimes taxis. Many times the buses were late.

“My brother Ebo works at a motorbike repair shop. He knows someone who wants to sell his Vespa scooter. You interested?” Kogiso asked.

“Sure,” he replied. A scooter would give him more mobility and allow him to visit Rachel more frequently. He was excited.

Owen bought the scooter for $200. The repair shop had fixed it up.

Kogiso had asked him to help develop a plan to educate people on behavioral changes to prevent tuberculosis. People needed to be educated about general hygiene and cleanliness to prevent the cultivation of mosquito swarms. Controlling tuberculosis and malaria were major problems and difficult to control. This was something Owen was interested in doing and it kept him busy the whole day. He didn’t have time to call or visit Rachel. He wondered why she never called or visited him.

One Friday Owen finished his work early. He surprised Rachel by showing up at her school on his new scooter. The school was a one level brick building surrounded by trees and green lawns. She was teaching a class. He waved at her and waited outside until she was finished. Two young children followed her.

“This is Eze, and this is Gamba,” Rachel said pointing to the two boys who accompanied her. They were not quite teenagers yet.

“Hi there,” said Owen. “You like your teacher?”

“Yes.” Both Eza and Gamba answered together in a soft voice gazing the floor, avoiding looking directly at Owen.

Owen took out his Kodak instamatic.

“Why don’t you both stand here,” he said to Eza and Gamba, pointing to where he was standing next to Rachel. He took a picture of Rachel and the students. Then he himself stood next to her and asked Eza to take their picture. Eza held the camera with both hands extended straight ahead of him and clicked. He immediately gave it back to Owen as if he was afraid to damage it. Eza and Gamba stood close to Rachel and Owen, admiring the camera and the whole picture-taking session.

Owen hadn’t written to his parents in a while. An earlier letter from his Dad had informed him that he had retired and was volunteering as an events planner at the Pauls Valley church. “Everything’s all right,” Owen wrote and asked them not to worry. He enclosed a copy of the photos with Rachel. He suddenly remembered his friend Ashley Wilkins from Oklahoma University. He had lost touch with Ashley. He wondered if Ashley was pursuing a doctoral program in Engineering as he had told him.

Owen wrote a long letter to Ashley enclosing a picture of him with Rachel. “We are just good friends, nothing serious,” he wrote. He wasn’t sure at the time where their relationship was headed. He liked Rachel but wished there was more response from her. In his letter he described the health problems faced by many in Malawi and how what he was doing in Peace Corps was not enough to tackle the problem.

“Still, I am happy to make a contribution,” he added, promising to write more often. A month later he received a response from Ashley. He had graduated from OU with a doctorate and was working as an assistant professor at the University of Michigan.

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