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


Owen and Rachel dated regularly. It was Owen who made the trips to Blantyre. He had his scooter and he didn’t have to wait for a bus. They would ride around town, or go to movies and local restaurants. On Rachel’s birthday in December they visited the Mandala House again. In the quietness of his apartment Owen wondered if Rachel and he would be happy if they lived together.

Kogiso kept Owen busy. In addition to preparing the plan for controlling tuberculosis they distributed mosquito nets by going door to door or hut to hut to meet the families, instructing them in the use of the nets, how to secure them over the beds in the already crowded space.

Owen met the Ibori family on one such mission. They had three children and Mrs. Ibori was pregnant again.

Owen hoped that the mosquito nets he had distributed to families would make their lives a bit livable. He learned a couple of months later from Kogiso that Mrs. Ibori had delivered a baby girl who died within a month. The mosquito nets they were given were stolen and they were without protection. The baby had developed an infection and died a week later. Kogiso also told him that the Igori’s teenage son Demond was a suspect.

“It’s a problem we have,” Kogiso said.

Owen felt sorry for the Ibori family.

I don’t understand how a member of a family could do such a thing to earn money?” he wrote in his diary.

Kogiso called a month later and said that Demond had been arrested and was to face trial in a civil court. Owen had to appear in court to attest to the fact that he had distributed the mosquito nets to the Ibori family.

The official time to start the court proceeding was 9 am but the lawyers typically sauntered in at 10, the judges an hour later. The Demond case lasted only a day. The judge admonished him about his behavior and released him without any punishment. It appeared that there wasn’t enough direct evidence to charge him.

When the trial was going on Owen didn’t find time to talk with Rachel. He worried whether her stomach was stable. She had not called. When the trial ended he was anxious to tell her everything about it. He felt sorry for Demond who was so young, but was wasting his life by keeping bad company. He so noted in his diary. On the day of the trial he came to his room a bit early. His host family told him he had a call from someone in Blantyre.

Owen thought it must be from Rachel. May be she was going to visit him, for a change. The call was from Agnes.

“Rachel was attacked while walking home last evening.” Agnes said, agitated. “She had gone over to talk with Gamba’s parents to discuss the progress of their son. On the way back, on a deserted street, she was attacked by two young boys. It was a case of harassment but it had shocked Rachel. She was not injured. The boys were after American money.”

“The Peace Corps had warned us to be careful travelling alone at night.” Owen said.

Owen rushed over to see Rachel. There were no visible signs of bodily harm. She was mentally shaken but otherwise ok. There was no use calling the police. They would have looked the other way just like the Judge at the Demond case.

“I can’t stay here much as I want to,” said Rachel. “I am scared and my stomach is causing havoc with me again.”

Rachel left the Peace Corps and returned to America soon after. Owen went to see her off at the airport.

When Owen returned to his room he couldn’t sleep. He took out his guitar and started humming Come Together, over me and Some Day we’ll be Together. He had no idea how long he was up. He slept without changing his clothes.

He met Agnes occasionally. They talked about Rachel. Owen sent letters to Rachel and received answers but it took more than a month. First the letters were long then as time went by they became shorter and more time passed in between.

“I’ve seen Dr. Pembroke,” She had written. “He says there’s nothing to worry. All I need is some home cooked meals. I have enrolled in a master’s degree program in education.” She never wrote whether she missed him or that they would get together sometimes.

One day in late 1970 Owen received a letter from the Peace Corps manager that the Malawi government is suspending the Peace Corps mission. Owen had heard from other volunteers that the conservative Hastings Banda government was not pleased with the long hair kept by some men volunteers and casual dressing by young women. All volunteers were instructed to start preparing to return to America.

Owen’s fellow volunteers had a party for him when the time came for him to leave Malawi.

As I look back on the two years in Malawi I feel happy that I had the opportunity to help the people in whatever small way I could. I wish I could have spent more time with Rachel, but understood the events were beyond her control. I have to make a new beginning on returning home. It is possible that I would come across her in the future, but I must be ready to go on with my life even if it didn’t happen.

 I wish well for Demond and hope he makes something of his life. ”

That was the last entry in his diary when he left Malawi.



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