Catch-up with The Inklings

This is where you can read The Inklings from the start (up until the most recent chapter published).

Chapter 1.

It was raining just heavily enough to make an umbrella necessary. “Oh great!” complained Syafika, who was already struggling to keep her handbag from slipping off her shoulder while attempting to carry a cake horizontally – after all the effort she had put into making the cake look nice Syafika really didn’t want to get to work to find the cake stuck by the icing to one side of the container. Syafika went back inside to get an umbrella and when she came outside again she had the cake container balanced between her body and right hand, her handbag on her left shoulder and the umbrella in her left hand. After another few minutes and some nasty language she managed to put the umbrella up and then when she finally attempted to walk down the front steps she almost fell because the cake container obstructed her view of where she was putting her feet.

When Syafika had finished making the cake she’d been so proud. It was the best looking cake she’d ever made. But now her pride in the cake had been replaced by feelings of inadequacy as she struggled to cope with her load. Why couldn’t she look elegant and in control like other people, wondered Syafika. Then she started to hope that the cake was good enough. “You never know what the middle is like until you cut it” she worried. Syafika took a deep breath and thought that as long as she didn’t drop the cake on the way to work, it would probably all be worth it.

Syafika took a risky shortcut through the park, despite seeing the potential for slips in the mud. She wasn’t alone. The dirt path through the park was crammed with people. They were mostly people walking to work but there was also a woman taking two dogs for a walk.

“Watch it!” thought Syafika as her cake was bumped by a suited man with his umbrella so far down over his head that he couldn’t see in front of him.

Then, one of the dogs stopped at the side of the path and did a pooh. The woman walking them saw this but did nothing. This annoyed Syafika because she knew what it was like to tread in dog pooh. Apart from the trauma of having to get close to dog pooh while cleaning it off her shoe (and the inevitable mental picture of billions of germs squirming around), Syafika would spend the rest of day assuming that any expressions of distaste she saw were meant for her because she stank. Syafika didn’t say anything to the lady walking the dogs though. She never did in situations like these. She usually just let her annoyance bubble away inside her until she was distracted by something else.

This time the distraction was a skinny, grotty man who had been running past. He ducked into the crowd, picked up the dog pooh and rubbed it into the hair of the dog walking lady while shouting “I’m watching you”. Then he ran off through the rain.

The dog walker stopped. Her face was crimson with anger and embarrassment. She didn’t know what to do. When nobody offered her any sympathy (most people pretended not to notice what had happened and the others stared but kept walking) she began to cry. It would make Syafika feel guilty later, but at the time she thought the whole thing was pretty funny and had to repress a smirk.

Chapter 2.

A long way away from Syafika was another skinny man. His name was Mamadou and today was his 40th birthday. He didn’t have a cake and it definitely wasn’t going to rain in his village. It hadn’t rained properly for months and everything was dry and dusty – more than it had ever been before. Mamadou’s house was near the top of a hill, amongst forest. The trees and plants were already looking wilted, and it was still hours before the hottest part of the day. The weather had been making Mamadou depressed. Every day that it didn’t rain he felt worse. It was another sign that his life was still going downhill.

Nobody respected Mamadou. All the young people in the village thought he was crazy and all the old people were disappointed that such a lovely young man had thrown his life away. Anyone who really knew what had happened to Mamadou felt sorry for him, but also thought he had been foolish and were glad that he’d fallen so badly after trying to make too much of himself – he should have been happy to keep the life he’d grown up with. Everyone in the village agreed that it was good that Mamadou’s mother had died before his downfall, because it would have broken her heart and killed her anyway – and death due to the pain of disappointment and embarrassment had to be worse than death from fever.

At another time, years ago, Mamadou had felt like he was King of the World, but things would never be like that again. Even if something good did happen to him, Mamadou would never let himself feel as happy again because he knew what it felt like to lose it all.

Mamadou sat on an old wooden chair in the sunshine that was coming in through his window. He was drinking tea and trying to come to terms with being 40 and having nothing to show for it, except his paintings, but not many people cared about those and none of the people who did care lived in his village. He looked at the stack of his paintings against the wall near his bed. He looked at his paints and brushes and the sketches he’d done the day before of droopy leaves in the sun. Then he looked back at his paintings and his mood began to improve. He’d sold a painting not long ago – to a tourist who’d come to the village to sticky beak. She’d come a long way and had only a small suitcase, but had bought a painting anyway. She was only young, but she’d been a good listener and when Mamadou had told her about his downfall she’d paid attention and been sympathetic. He could see that she didn’t think he was worthless like everyone else did. Mamadou looked out the window at the blue sky. There were some clouds on the horizon and they were moving closer, but they weren’t rain clouds. Although Mamadou couldn’t imagine that it would ever rain again things did look a bit brighter than they had before. The trees looked a bit fresher. The tea tasted more like tea and less like rusty water. He had to remind himself that he’d had all he wanted and then lost it, just to check if he was really feeling hopeful again or had just forgotten about the awful things. The memories came back and cut Mamadou’s stomach, but he still felt optimistic – although he didn’t know why he should.

Chapter 3.

D’arby left his supervisor’s office feeling more deflated than he thought was possible. He’d felt so well prepared before the meeting. He thought he’d been getting somewhere with his work. Now he felt like a complete loser, someone stuck in a hole that he was making deeper every time he tried to climb out. D’arby couldn’t believe he would ever finish his PhD. Why did he keep trying? There were many good reasons to keep trying – because of what people would say if he gave up, because of what his mother would say, because of what his father would think but not say, because it would be his first big failure, because he didn’t want to have to explain in job interviews what he’d wasted the last couple of years doing. But the real reason was more complicated. It was a mixture of things. D’arby felt he had never been good at finishing things. He had guilty memories of promising projects he’d started but never finished. D’arby didn’t realize it yet, but he was finally learning real perseverance. He also didn’t quite realize that he actually found pleasure in having found a problem that had (so far) out-witted him. He also probably enjoyed the challenge of having a supervisor who he didn’t get along with. It would be a while before D’arby could articulate these reasons though. At that moment he was too busy despairing that there seemed no way out. The older D’arby got, the more he found that life was like that. The things he would most like to change were the hardest – if not impossible – to change.

Before the meeting with his supervisor D’arby was feeling the happiest he’d been for a long time. At last he thought he’d worked out how to get some answers. He thought his work was almost finished. He thought he’d done something good. Then his supervisor told D’arby what he thought about it all. He told D’arby that he’d been wasting time trying to do things that everyone else knew would never work. What D’arby had written was rubbish. He’d proved nothing. D’arby had been wasting time, and he didn’t have much left. Didn’t he know he’d never complete his PhD before his scholarship ran out? What was he doing with his time anyway? D’arby’s supervisor told him to report to him every day and tell him what he wanted to do before he did it, because that was the only way D’arby would ever finish. D’arby had to have some meaningful results to show by that time next week. Then his supervisor finished the meeting with a smile and D’arby tried to give one back.

After the wave of disappointment came the anger, but D’arby didn’t know if he was angry with himself or his supervisor or just the world in general. He realized he needed to ask himself some important questions but was scared of what his answers would be. Was his work crap? Was what he had done wrong? Was it bad supervision or D’arby’s stupidity that had got him into this situation? How could someone with as much potential as D’arby had have got everything so wrong? It was more likely that D’arby was wrong than that his supervisor was wrong though. Or were they both a bit wrong? Or were they both right? Did D’arby really understand his supervisor? Maybe it was just that his supervisor didn’t understand him. D’arby went to sit in the park. After a few minutes of watching the undergraduate students have lunch it occurred to D’arby that he didn’t have to go back into the building. He could just walk away and never return. D’arby was not in the mood for making decisions though. He stared into space and didn’t think anything.

Meanwhile, a man who D’arby hadn’t met yet was running down a nearby street. John was being chased by two police officers on foot and two police cars were trying to cut him off as he ran down laneways, across busy roads and jumped people’s fences. He didn’t even know why they were chasing him, not because he’d never done anything wrong but because he’d done so many things that police didn’t like that he didn’t know which one it was that had made everybody so angry. If he could find somewhere to hide, or make it to a crowded place John would be able to escape capture today. Then he’d sneak off to his sister Emily’s place for a couple of weeks, until things cooled down. His sister lived a quiet, respectable life in a leafy suburb and she had a spare room waiting for him whenever he needed it. She would know he was in trouble when he turned up because he only ever went there when he was in trouble, but she wasn’t allowed to mind because she was his older sister and was supposed to look after him. John never involved his sister when he got arrested. This was not because he wanted to keep her place as a reliable hideout, but because he didn’t want to upset Emily by letting her know what he got up to. She could probably guess, but it was better if she was only able to imagine these things. Seeing them would make everything seem as serious as it really was.

At last John made it to the uni, where he knew many places to hide. John was not very far in front of the police on foot when he made it to a toilet block. One of the cars wasn’t far away either – the siren was very loud. John chose to hide in the female toilets because he was being chased by men. Fortunately the toilets were empty. John went into a cubicle and hoped for the best. There weren’t many other places that John could have gone though and in a couple of minutes he heard the officers announce themselves before coming into the toilet block. John considered trying to push past them but then he noticed the hook on the back of the toilet door. He grabbed it and held himself up so that none of his body was visible above or below the door. Then he gently swung the door open so the officers would be able to see that nobody was sitting on the toilet. Although John was skinny it was an enormous effort for him to be able to hold himself up like that and as soon as the police decided he wasn’t there and walked out John fell to the floor. He was covered with sweat and felt too shaky to walk so he closed the cubicle door and sat there for a while.

When D’arby stood up and walked back to his desk he hoped that somewhere inside himself he really knew what he was doing. He passed John on the way. John had left the toilet block and was heading west. John was jealous when he saw D’arby, who, to John, didn’t seem to have a problem in the world. If D’arby had known what John was thinking maybe he would have tried to explain that being someone whose problems seem insignificant is a problem in itself.

 Chapter 4.

Syafika thought she was madly in love. She was definitely behaving crazily. She’d made a cake for the only person who made her want to go to work – Anthony. Then she told him she’d made the cake because he was leaving, but what she really wanted him to understand was that she loved him and didn’t want him to leave.

After lunch the people at work gathered to eat the cake. Anthony gave a short speech, taking the opportunity to thank everybody and give compliments. He thanked Syafika for the cake and everybody agreed that it was one of the best chocolate cakes they’d tasted. Someone even asked Syafika for the recipe.

Still, when Syafika walked home, she carried the empty cake plate unenthusiastically. The day had been such an anticlimax. In her dreams Anthony was much more impressed by the cake and had begged her to come to Adelaide with him. In reality Syafika had listened to Anthony announce that his girlfriend was pregnant. Everybody clapped, but all Syafika could hear was “girlfriend”. What girlfriend? Syafika had been so convinced that the love she felt for Anthony meant that he had to be for her. She’d never heard anything about his girlfriend and she’d never considered that he might not be single. She felt even more stupid and left out when it seemed that everyone else knew about Anthony’s girlfriend.

As Syafika walked back through the park she realized that it was raining again, and that she had left her umbrella at work, but she didn’t care that she was getting rained on. She didn’t know how she would care about anything anymore. Then, just to make things worse, she realized that she was such a small part of the world that it didn’t matter what she felt anyway.

It didn’t help that when Syafika got home her cousin Ousman was there, with her aunt Binta. Syafika’s Mum Rose was still at the beauty salon. She went there weekly and her appointments always went twice as long as they were supposed to. Syafika’s father Festus would always say that Rose was having an affair with her beautician. Syafika loved her father but not when he said things like that, because she wasn’t really sure whether he was serious or not.

Binta was cooking dinner when Syafika came into the kitchen. Binta always did things like that. Rose was so disorganized and Binta was so much the opposite that Binta couldn’t bear to be in their house unless she was allowed to do some cooking, cleaning or organizing. Rose didn’t care. She had told Binta to come for dinner and then hadn’t made any attempt to have anything ready on time. Syafika preferred Binta’s cooking to her mother’s and would have been pleased to see her in the kitchen if it didn’t mean that Ousman would also be there.

Nobody believed Syafika when she said she hated Ousman. He was a 10 year old boy and everyone thought he was cute, with his curly hair, big eyes and round cheeks. He was also incredibly precocious, which was the reason Syafika hated him. Ousman thought he was smarter than her. How dare a 10 year old think that! Ousman was also very good at arguing and his confidence made it look like he knew much more about things than he really did. He was determined to argue with Syafika whenever he saw her.

“Hey Syaf!” said Ousman when he saw her. “Did you read the article in the paper today about how corrupt your government department is? Have you been taking bribes at work?”

Syafika put the dirty cake plate on the kitchen bench and walked to her room without answering Ousman, but he didn’t give up that easily and followed her down the hallway.

Syafika slammed her bedroom door and moved her bed in front of it to prevent Ousman from coming in. “What a little shit!” she muttered as she dialled her friend Fanta’s number.

“Fantaaaaaaaaaaaaa! I’m dying!” said Syafika when Fanta answered. Of course Fanta said she’d come over straight away.

Fanta had just got back from her holiday that morning, but Syafika had been so obsessed with Anthony for the past month that she hadn’t even realized that Fanta was away. Fanta has sent Syafika a postcard, but it was still in a mail bag in another country and would arrive in a few days time. In their last conversation Fanta had told Syafika to keep away from Anthony and so Syafika had been avoiding Fanta. She only remembered Fanta now because she needed her.

Rose had just got back from the beauty salon when Fanta arrived and Binta was about to serve dinner. Syafika was still sulking in her room, and Ousman was sitting on the floor outside her door, reading the paper. Rose asked Fanta to stay for dinner and stormed up the corridor to get Syafika. Rose only got really angry with Syafika when she was sulking. She picked Ousman up by the elbow and propelled him down the corridor in the direction of the dining room. “Syafika!” she yelled through the door. “Stop being so childish and come and have dinner. You can sulk in your room as much as you like afterwards. Fanta is here.”

Rose heard Syafika’s bed being pushed away from the door and knew Syafika was coming so she went to start putting plates on the table.

Syafika was confused when Fanta greeted her with a present and even more confused when she opened it and saw it was a painting of some trees. Her aunt Binta was far more interested in the painting than Syafika. Syafika didn’t even listen as Fanta explained to Binta where she’d got the painting. Fanta’s voice was a faint “blah blah blah” in the background of Syafika’s thoughts. She was thinking about Anthony, of course. It was only when Fanta mentioned love that Syafika tuned back into the conversation. “He said you needed respect and trust as well as love to marry someone” said Fanta as she finished her story.

Festus thought it was his turn to say something. “Where’s Amanda tonight then?” he demanded. Amanda was Syafika’s 16 year old sister. She was a difficult teenager. When Amanda was fourteen her parents had discovered that she’d been sneaking out at night. Festus was so angry that he installed a bolt on the outside of Amanda’s bedroom door and locked her into her room for the night. The next morning he found her lying outside on the concrete driveway with a broken leg – she’d tried to escape in the middle of the night by jumping out of her third floor bedroom window. This really scared Festus, especially as he only found Amanda when he was about to reverse the car over her. It scared him so much that from then on he decided to let Amanda sort herself and now she was allowed to go wherever she wanted whenever she wanted.

Rose had also given up on Amanda. When beauty treatments and shopping hadn’t cured her Rose had started to treat Amanda like an invalid. Amanda didn’t seem to mind this, perhaps because it meant that her mother did everything she asked. Amanda stopped eating with the family and got Rose to bring her food to her bedroom. She also stopped going to school and spent most of the day sleeping.

As her older sister, maybe Syafika would have helped Amanda more, but Syafika just thought that Amanda was being selfish and needed to grow up. She started to ignore Amanda completely, which was pretty easy because Amanda rarely came out of her room during the hours when Syafika was awake.

After Festus’ comment the room was quiet for a while. Then Ousman, who had been reading the paper while eating, began to laugh at an article he’d found and started reading it aloud for everyone else’s benefit. Syafika thought she’d eaten enough to be able to leave the table and took Fanta with her.

“What happened?” asked Fanta, when they were safely in Syafika’s room, with the bed in front of the door.

“You are always right Fanta, but this time I’m glad I didn’t listen to you” said Syafika, and she started crying. Fanta sat down on the bed next to Syafika, and although she knew what must have happened, she asked “What happened?”

“You remember how I told you about Anthony?” asked Syafika. Of course Fanta remembered. Syafika hadn’t had anything else on her mind for months. Fanta nodded and Syafika continued.

“I didn’t stop thinking about him, like you said I should. I stopped talking to you instead. You must be angry. I haven’t called you for weeks – although you didn’t call me either!”

Fanta didn’t say anything, so Syafika continued.

“When I called you today, it was because I was feeling really empty” said Syafika, and tears started to flow. “Anthony is leaving, but that’s not the really bad thing, the really had thing is that he has a girlfriend and she is pregnant!”

“Syafika, did anything happen between you and Anthony?” asked Fanta.

“No” said Syafika.

“Well, that’s good then.” said Fanta. “And it is good that he is leaving – it will make it easier for you to get over him.”

“So you are happy that he didn’t even notice I existed? I knew you would be like this” said Syafika. She was getting angry, but it wasn’t really with Fanta. Fanta always got straight to the heart of things, and Syafika was angry with herself because she could see how stupid she’d been. For months she’d been telling Fanta every detail she knew about Anthony. Fanta had heard about every word Anthony had ever said to Syafika (except for the ten or so in the past month). Fanta knew what Anthony wore, when his birthday was and what he liked to eat for lunch. Syafika talked about Anthony like he was her husband.

“Maybe I should start stalking Anthony and his girlfriend. I could try to scare her away from him. Maybe she is the one who wants to leave, not him. If I get rid of her then maybe he will stay and I will still be able to see him at work.” said Syafika.

Fanta gave Syafika her most disapproving look, until she realized that Syafika was trying to hide a smirk. At least Syafika wasn’t taking this all too seriously. That was what Fanta liked best about Syafika. Syafika may have loved drama, but she could also laugh at herself when she went too far.

“At least now I know what it is like to love someone.” Said Syafika

Fanta didn’t say anything. She didn’t think she was experienced enough in love to be able to tell Syafika that she thought what Syafika felt for Anthony was more like obsession than love.

Chapter 5.

D’arby was used to being called a dreamer. It was usually said in a condescending tone, but it never really annoyed him. What did annoy D’arby was when someone told him that he was dreaming if he thought one person could change things. D’arby was disgusted with people who gave up without even trying and even more disgusted with those who thought that discouraging comments were wise advice. He considered these people to be free-riders. He knew that they must have benefitted at one time or another because of the actions of someone who did try to do good things despite being only one person and despite knowing that almost everybody thought that what they were attempting couldn’t be done. D’arby thought that people who said that things couldn’t be done were just making excuses for their own reluctance to do anything. Carrying on as usual and letting other people do all the important things and make all the important decisions was the lazy way out.

Despite his belief that he should be trying to do something good, D’arby often found that he wasn’t doing much at all. To decide what he was going to do about his PhD D’arby had bought a train ticket home to his parent’s house. While he was there he did a lot of walking in the bush around the house. That gave him time to think and he realized that at uni he’d been made ashamed of his view that he could make a difference. People accused him of being arrogant. Perhaps this being ashamed was what had gone wrong. D’arby decided he wasn’t going to let himself be ashamed of it anymore.

This renewed belief, that everybody could do something and that it was their responsibility to do so, was what gave D’arby the strength to think about his PhD in a new light.

First, he went over the past few years and remembered everything he had thought and felt. He remembered how when his supervisor had first complained that D’arby’s work wasn’t progressing well he’d thought himself lazy and then as more time passed D’arby had thought himself stupid. D’arby now realized that his laziness and inability to achieve what his supervisor wanted weren’t the problems but symptoms of the problem.

The real problem was that D’arby didn’t think his research was worth doing. He’d chosen the project because it sounded interesting (his supervisor would have been equally good at a sales career). D’arby wanted to be able to understand this complicated chemical reaction, but he didn’t think it would make much difference whether the answers were known or not – the industry had existed for years by trial and error and would keep on going without knowing D’arby’s answers (and D’arby wasn’t even sure that he wanted the industry to keep going at all – why hadn’t he considered that before!).

It was not until now, nearly three years later, that D’arby realized what he had gotten himself into. D’arby looked up at the cold blue sky and asked why he hadn’t been able to work out what was wrong until now when it was so clear. Now that D’arby could finally see the problem, he knew what he had to do about it.

“Less worrying and more action” said D’arby to himself. He’d decided to just get on and finish his thesis. He’d do whatever he had to do to get out of that awful place. If he stopped thinking about how awful it was and just concentrated, surely that would help him! But to help him get through the awful stuff he needed something else. This something else was D’arby’s secret project. It was only a few months after he started his PhD that he became interested in other research. When he should have been looking up papers relating to his project he couldn’t help looking at publications on other topics. His secret project was the research that he really wanted to do. D’arby’s deal with himself was that for every week he was productive at uni he could spend the weekend on his secret project. If he made his supervisor smile he could work four days in the next week on his PhD project and three on his secret project.

However, D’arby found that the best way to make his supervisor smile was not to try to do what his supervisor wanted. Like so many problems that are difficult to solve, D’arby’s PhD problem had a solution that was the opposite of what you would think it would be. Instead of trying to make his supervisor happy, what D’arby had to do was to ignore his supervisor completely and do what he thought should be done. This was what got him results, and the results made his supervisor happy. Every week or so, when D’arby bothered to go to see his supervisor (there were no more regular meetings since D’arby had stopped going to them) he would show him new and exciting results and they both knew that they would soon have enough for a very good thesis.

D’arby’s only problem was that his scholarship had just run out and so he’d have to get a job soon, but he was too busy already! D’arby was very excited by both his projects, but became quite stressed when he looked at his bank balance. He was frustrated that as soon as he climbed over one barrier, a new one appeared. D’arby’s supervisor assumed that D’arby had saved money in anticipation of this, or that D’arby’s family could help him out.

Maybe D’arby was too good at hiding his distress and behaving “normally” because nobody noticed that something was wrong with D’arby – not even his friends, even though D’arby mentioned to them that he’d soon run out of money and didn’t know what to do. They found it easy to assume that he’d be ok since he still managed to smile and laugh. The truth was probably that D’arby’s friends were too absorbed in their own problems to be able to donate any thought to his. And what problems!

“Cate and Suzy hate each other but both of them are my friends (although I prefer Cate). Should I invite both of them to my party, or just Cate?”

“My computer monitor has broken and I want a flat one but my supervisor doesn’t agree and says I should use his old boxy one, but that will leave me no space on my desk.”

“I’m going to Nepal for six weeks. Should I go to India after Nepal, or should I go to Thailand and lie on the beach for two weeks?”

“I can’t afford the house I want. I want three bedrooms on a quiet street in a nice suburb, within walking distance to a train station and restaurants, but I don’t want a terrace house and there must be off-street parking for the car because of the insurance and a garden because what’s the point of a house if not to have a garden?”

And so on. D’arby noticed that the more a person thought they knew, the more they had to analyse the minor things – as if each decision they made was a competition – a chance to display their superior intelligence. But spending time analysing minor things took up so much time that there was none left for action. D’arby wondered if the most important thing he’d learnt at uni was that if you take long enough trying to make a decision you will find you no longer have to make a decision because your options will have all evaporated. Not that D’arby minded discussing things with his friends at uni. He had learnt a lot from them, but he just hadn’t done much.

D’arby hated applying for jobs, but it taught him another important lesson. It seemed that the longer you spent at uni, the less employable you became outside universities. To be fair, he’d been a bit fussy in the jobs he’d applied for and hadn’t spent much time looking, but after sending out applications for two months, he hadn’t been offered a single interview. He was lacking experience and there were no part time jobs where his qualifications were essential. He knew his approach to job seeking was wrong but he didn’t know what to do about it. As usual, D’arby would find that when what he was doing felt wrong, it was because it was the wrong thing to be doing.

Afternoon was turning into evening on a Friday in spring, and D’arby was walking up the street to get a Thai takeaway. The sunlight was amazing. It was so golden that it made everything it hit look beautiful. The street normally looked shabby and rundown, but in that light it was the perfect street – where perfect, smiley people lived their happy lives and never worried about anything.

John wasn’t happy though. He was standing in the laneway, waiting. He peeped around the corner saw D’arby coming along the street, not paying attention to anything but his own thoughts. D’arby was confused when he found himself being dragged by the neck into the laneway. He thought it must be some sort of joke until he realized that there was a knife against his throat. John was expertly going through D’arby’s pockets with his left hand, while keeping half an eye on D’arby and half an eye on the knife. John soon discovered that D’arby hadn’t brought his wallet (not that there was any money in it) and had just enough money in his pocket to pay for a Thai takeaway. John started swearing in frustration but continued to search D’arby’s other pockets. “Bingo” said John when he found a little snap-lock bag with some pills in it. He wasn’t sure what they were but they looked homemade and so were probably illegal. John let go of D’arby, dexterously opened the little bag and popped a pill into his mouth.

John felt the pill start fizzing as it got to his stomach. It reminded him of the time he’d swallowed the kind of aspirin tablets that are supposed to be dissolved in water before you take them. Then John realized that D’arby hadn’t run away – he was still there, watching John.

”Why is he watching me?” thought John. Then he began to panic. What had he just eaten? Was this man a murderer who had just poisoned him? John could imagine that there were plenty of people who thought it would be funny to kill a drug addict. The police would probably be grateful for a drop in theft. John fell to his knees and stuck his finger down his throat, but he was in too much of a panic to be able to vomit.

D’arby could see that John was panicking and began to panic too.

“Calm down” said D’arby. “It wasn’t poison” said D’arby, but his tone was more hopeful than convincing.

The fizzing had stopped. John sat down on the footpath and began to feel better. He was actually beginning to feel pretty good. He wasn’t experiencing anything euphoric, but he felt calmer than he had for a long time.

For years John had been racing through life, living from craving to craving. Now, for some strange reason, he felt like he didn’t have to do that anymore. No more rushing. He had plenty of time to change things.

John could have spent hours sitting there, reflecting on who he was and where he’d gone wrong. D’arby was getting bored and hungry though. He cautiously tweaked the $10 note from John’s hand (John paid no attention) and tried to decide what to do next. D’arby wanted to go and get his Thai takeaway, but he was scared that John would be gone by the time he got back so he encouraged John to stand up and come with him. John was so caught up in his own thoughts that, although he was aware of D’arby, he didn’t care where he was taking him.

John remembered how he and his father had seen an alcoholic sitting drunk in the gutter when John was about 6 years old. John had asked his father what the man was doing and his father had said “I’m sure that man was born without problems, so he made them for himself”. John hadn’t taken that warning from his father. As a teenager John had never appreciated how lucky he was to have a bright mind and everything he needed. Instead John had decided to make his own problems. He didn’t talk to his parents anymore – they didn’t want to talk to him.

D’arby and John sat in the park. D’arby had one takeaway meal and two forks. John was drawn out of his deep thoughts by the smell of food. Like D’arby, John was very hungry.

Now that it looked like John wasn’t going to die D’arby felt very excited. He would have got up and jumped up and down a few times if he didn’t think that John would take the opportunity to eat all the food. Perhaps it was too soon to tell, but it looked like his pills had cured a drug addict. He was amazed and how calm and normal John seemed now. He’d been so scary before.

“How do you feel?” asked D’arby

“What’s your name?” asked John. He had never been very comfortable talking about how he was feeling, and asked the question in an annoyed tone.

“D’arby” said D’arby. “So how do you feel?”

“Well, I’m John, thanks for asking” replied John, but D’arby didn’t care that John thought he was being rude. D’arby never paid much attention to names and he didn’t think that remembering a person’s name was very important. It was just something people did to trick you into thinking that they cared about you.

“I thought you were trying to kill me” said John

“Well, I could say the same about you” said D’arby,

“What did you give me then?” asked John. He still wasn’t sure he could trust D’arby, or that he was going to be alright.

“I didn’t give you anything. You stole my pills” complained D’arby.

“You know what I mean!” said John “What was it?”

“Something I came up with in the lab” said D’arby. “I’ve been trying to make something to cure addiction.”

“So you’re a doctor then?” asked John, feeling relieved

“No, an engineer” replied D’arby

John scratched his head, with a pained expression on his face. Everything had seemed to clear a few minutes ago, but now nothing was making sense.

“Have you tested the pills? What’s going to happen to me?” asked John.

“Not really, but I’ve eaten heaps of them and nothing’s happened to me” said D’arby.

Then John started laughing at himself for caring about what he’d taken.  After everything else, what difference would it make? He was happy that he felt like caring again.

Chapter 6.

A lot had been going on, but Mamadou hadn’t paid much attention. He’d been working on a new series of paintings of clouds – while he watched and waited for it to rain he’d noticed how many different types of clouds there really were and he’d decided he’d paint clouds until it rained. Then when it eventually did start raining Mamadou realized how silly it had been to plan to stop painting clouds just at the time they became most common, and so he had continued his cloud series well into the wet season.

Mamadou had heard the news but it didn’t sound new. The President had been killed by his body guard. Then the military had taken over. People had taken to the streets to protest but things had become violent. Now the leaders of the two most powerful ethnic groups were each blaming the other for what was going on.

Other people in the village were agitated by the news though. As usually happened when there was instability, the price of rice had risen and foreigners were evacuating. Mamadou expected that things would settle soon though.

Mamadou was working on a painting of drizzle, with clouds that were almost indistinguishable from the rain. He was trying to capture the moment just before a burst of sun appeared, but he was finding it a challenge. The sun often appeared briefly between periods of drizzle at this time of year and so Mamadou had been given lots of opportunities to watch this, but the moment he wanted to capture really was just a moment. Before he could work out what was going on, it was gone.

Mamadou didn’t often wish for modern luxuries but he was tempted by the thought of being able to video the moment he was trying to capture and watch it back in slow motion. Then he had second thoughts and realized that capturing the moment on video would take all of the magic out of painting it. Mamadou then became sidetracked for a little while, wondering whether any first thoughts were any good or whether second and further thoughts were the only worthwhile ones. He began to doubt that any flashes of brilliance were first thoughts, deciding that many thoughts on the topic must have come before the great one. Then the sun came out properly and Mamadou predicted that there would be no more “moments” that day. As he started washing his brushes he thought he could hear something – people were yelling. Maybe someone was arguing.

Mamadou’s house was an outlier – further up the hill than the other houses in the village. When Mamadou wanted to know what was going on in the village he liked to climb the tree closest to his house and have a look before deciding whether or not he wanted to walk down and get involved.

Climbing the tree after all the rain made Mamadou’s clothes wet and when he got up to his favourite branch he found a couple of parrots sitting there that were reluctant to move. Mamadou didn’t blame them for choosing that spot – it was comfortable and had a nice view. That didn’t stop him from shooing them away though. Mamadou took his favourite spot and then craned his neck, trying to see what was going on in the village below.

Chapter 7.

Syafika and Fanta were both 23 and had never had a boyfriend, not even a kiss. It wasn’t intentional for either of them, but Syafika took it much worse than Fanta did. Fanta didn’t seem to be very concerned but Syafika was very ashamed. She was so ashamed that whenever someone asked she told them that she had a boyfriend called Vincent. She had a well practiced description of Vincent’s appearance, personality, where he worked and good excuses for why he never turned up at parties when Syafika was invited to bring a partner. Syafika hadn’t ever told Fanta this though, because she knew how angry Fanta would be with her for having told such stupid lies.

When Anthony left, Syafika was miserable. She was especially miserable at work. Her job seemed so dull without there being the chance of meeting Anthony at the photocopier or of getting a smile from him in the corridor. She tried to hide her misery at work but was only moderately successful – her two friends Helen and Julie still noticed it. So Syafika had to make up an excuse for her misery. Over a coffee she told Helen and Julie that she and Vincent had broken up. They were already familiar with Vincent, and although they had never met him, they felt like they’d known him for years. So, when Syafika told them how she and Vincent had split up they were genuinely sad. Then, as the months passed and Syafika still didn’t seem to be back to her usual chirpy self, Helen and Julie began to be concerned. They decided that they needed to start taking Syafika out so she would fall into the path of other young men and eventually forget about Vincent.

Syafika wasn’t at all willing to go out dancing or drinking. She didn’t want to draw attention to her figure by dancing in front of anyone and she also hated the atmosphere of pubs and bars. They made her feel like she was the only one there who didn’t know what to say or do. In general she hated any place or activity where strangers would be scrutinizing her looks, movements or the things she said. What Syafika would agree to was to go out for dinner. Syafika was always much calmer when food was the central focus. So Helen and Julie sneakily decided that they would go to have dinner in a pub.

Helen, Julie and Syafika left work together and walked to the pub that Helen said had the best bistro in Sydney. As the three friends walked in the door Julie looked at her watch and said “It’s really too early for dinner. Why don’t we have a little drink in the bar before going to the bistro?”

“Yeah, that’s a good idea. Let’s sit over there where we can see everyone who comes in” said Helen, pointing to three comfortable looking chairs in a corner.

Syafika was alarmed by this modification to the plan, but didn’t want to look awkward and so she just said “Ok”. Then Syafika remembered that there was less potential for social blunders if you were the first person to buy everyone drinks and quickly asked the others “What would you like to drink?”

Fortunately Helen and Julie both asked for the same kind of wine so Syafika didn’t have to worry too much about getting the order wrong. Thinking ahead, Syafika took some money from her wallet, put her wallet back in her bag and then asked Helen to mind her bag so that she would more easily be able to carry three drinks.

As Syafika walked back to where she’d left Helen and Julie she was congratulating herself on being able to carry two wine glasses, a glass of orange juice and her change at the same time until she realized that Helen and Julie weren’t sitting there anymore. Syafika put the drinks down and sat down, trying to remain calm. Surely they must just have gone to the bathroom and would soon be back. Syafika looked at her watch and then checked to see if Helen and Julie were coming back. Then she realized she had forgotten the time and checked her watch again. She took a sip of juice and decided to look around and try to enjoy watching what other people were doing, but watching other people just made her notice when they looked at her. What must they think of her sitting alone with three drinks? Next Syafika decided to look out the window and pretend to be deep in thought. She sipped her orange juice. She wished that Anthony would walk in. Thinking about Anthony made the time pass faster. When Syafika finished her juice she looked at her watch and realized that she’d been waiting for half an hour. “What should I do next?” she wondered.

Syafika decided that she wanted to go home. Hopefully her parents hadn’t gone out because her house keys were in her bag (and her bag was hopefully still with Helen). “I’ll find a pay phone and call Mum on my walk home” decided Syafika. She didn’t think it likely that Helen and Julie were still in the pub and she was happy to have an excuse to be able to go home, but to make her excuse a really good one Syafika thought she better first have a look around the pub to make sure that Helen and Julie weren’t waiting somewhere for her.

Syafika picked up the two glasses of wine and explored the pub. The next floor was very busy. Syafika couldn’t be sure that Helen and Julie weren’t there but she didn’t want to push her way through the crowds to make sure so she walked up to the roof garden. The roof was not as busy, but that was only because it had started to rain. On her way down the stairs Syafika was thinking about where she should leave her glasses of wine when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

Syafika turned around, feeling very relieved because she thought one of her friends had found her, but instead found herself smiling at a handsome man.

“Have you lost someone, or are you lost?“ asked the man.

“I’m looking for my friends” said Syafika and blushed. She didn’t want to have to explain that her friends had taken off and left her. She just wanted to go home.

“Don’t worry! Let’s find somewhere to sit down and wait for them to find you” said the man.

Chapter 8.

As much as D’arby respected maths, he had to admit that sometimes one plus one did not equal two. He and John were one example.

D’arby always had ideas, but rarely bothered to do much with them. John was always wanting to do something but never knowing what to do. John was amazed with the things D’arby said. D’arby was amazed with the things John did. The things D’arby said triggered John to act and the things that John did made D’arby think and say more. They were like a runaway reaction.

John insisted that now that D’arby had developed his special pills and done some testing (on him and John) it was time for him to use them for something good. D’arby had been thinking of finding a job where he could continue this research. He hoped to start real trials and eventually (maybe in 15 years) his new cure for addiction would be manufactured legally by some big drug company and sold in chemists. However, this plan was full of obstacles. First D’arby would have to finish his PhD and then the examiners would have to pass him. Then he would have to find a suitable research position, then he’d have to find funding for his project and only then would the real work start! And what if after all that the pills didn’t really work or made people sick? Why was it that such a huge discovery could make D’arby’s life so much harder?

John laughed at D’arby’s idea for the pills and came up with a much simpler plan, a plan that would get results faster, but was probably not a good idea in the long term. John’s father owned a pizza restaurant, and John had recently been walking past it in the hope of bumping into his Dad. While doing this he had noticed that there was an ad in the window for a manager. John hoped that now he wasn’t using drugs anymore his father might be convinced to let him run the pizza restaurant. Then John would just add the pills to the pizza dough (they were fizzy so they might help make the dough rise). Then anyone who bought pizza would have all their addictions cured. John and D’arby could watch what happened and wouldn’t have to tell anyone anything. They could also make their living this way, as long as the pizza was nice enough for people to want to buy it. John reckoned that the hardest part of his plan would be convincing his father to let him have the restaurant. Then the second hardest part would be running the restaurant. Making the special ingredient would be easy because D’arby knew how. D’arby could have a special lab at the back of the restaurant. The pills were mostly made of really common things and needed only a couple of chemicals that you couldn’t easily buy. D’arby had already mentioned that he had enough of the hard-to-get chemicals left over from his legitimate experiments to make millions of the pills. John didn’t think it would be too hard for D’arby to sneak these chemicals home – they’d probably only be thrown out after D’arby left uni anyway.

At first, D’arby was horrified by John’s idea. It was a week since they’d first met. John was still off the drugs and not even tempted to go back. D’arby expected that John wouldn’t need a second dose. The pills were meant to work on the brain in a permanent way and D’arby couldn’t see how the change could be reversed, but he wanted to wait and see a bit longer until he was completely satisfied of that. D’arby wished he’d known John better before he’d taken the pills so he could see if there had been any other changes. He was particularly interested to know if John would have made such ridiculous suggestions before, because D’arby was worried that since he had also taken the pills he might also start thinking that it was a good idea to lace pizza with the special ingredient. D’arby worried about this because, despite his initial horror, after considering John’s plan for a couple of hours, D’arby had begun to find certain aspects of the plan appealing. Managing a restaurant would solve their money problems. John had moved in with D’arby but the rent would soon be due and D’arby didn’t have any money left. The other thing that appealed to D’arby was being able to set up his own lab. It was hard to make his pills at uni. People were so nosy. He had to be very careful not to leave anything lying around that might lead the other people working in the lab to ask questions about what he was doing. It was getting particularly difficult now that his official experiments were finished. D’arby was supposed to be spending all his time working at his computer now, not down in the lab.

So, D’arby ended up agreeing with John that they should at least try to get John’s father to let them run the pizza restaurant. Then when they had some money they could decide what to do next. Putting his special pills in the pizzas was still horrific to D’arby. That was a very unethical thing to do and not very scientific either. How would they even know if anyone was cured? They wouldn’t be able to give the customers questionnaires to fill out before and after.

So John called his father, but not before he got his sister Emily to mention to his parents that John wasn’t a drug addict anymore. Perhaps it would have been better if Emily had really believed this first. She had only seen John once since he’d taken the special pills, and although John did seem different, it was not enough to convince Emily. She was worried that John was just playing a trick on her and her parents in order to get some money out of them, although she couldn’t really see how running a pizza restaurant would get John money in a way that was quick enough to satisfy a drug craving.

“Hello Dad!” said John

“What do you want?” asked his father.

“I want to be the manager of your pizza place” said John

“No way!” said John’s father

“But I need a job!” whined John. “Nobody else will give me one and I need something to do all day, otherwise I’ll end up in trouble again.”

“That’s your problem!” said John’s father. “Don’t try to make me feel guilty. I’ve tried to help you many times and each time you just used me. I’ve given up trying to help you now.”

John knew his father hadn’t given up yet though, because his father would have hung up by now if it was true.

“Just give me one month! Let me show you? Please?” said John.

There was a long pause. Just when John was starting to think his father had walked away from the phone he said “Ok then. One month. If profits are up after a month you can stay.”

“Woo hoo!” said John after he hung up the phone. Then he did a victory lap of the flat and wondered whether D’arby would mind that they started work tomorrow. It was meant to be John’s job, but he needed D’arby’s help to get him organized. Once they had established a routine, John would do all the work (apart from making the pills) and D’arby could go back to uni. John had already been experimenting with his special pizza dough. Even with the fizz of the pills, it still needed yeast to rise, but John thought the pills made the dough taste a bit better, or at least they didn’t make the dough taste funny.

Chapter 9.

Syafika woke up early and spent an hour trying to decide whether she should call Fanta or not. She wanted to tell her about what had happened last night, but to properly explain she would have to tell Fanta how she’d made up the story about Vincent. In the end Syafika decided she would call Fanta. She needed to tell someone and she didn’t have anyone else who would listen, except her Mum. Rose would listen attentively to any of Syafika’s stories about men because she was keen to marry her off, but Syafika wasn’t ready to cope with that amount of attention from her mother so early in the morning.

Fanta didn’t answer the phone. Syafika wasn’t prepared for Fanta not being available – she needed her! So when Syafika got to Fanta’s answering machine the only message she could manage to leave was a kind of wailing sound. Syafika hopped back in bed and was trying to go back to sleep when she heard the doorbell ring. Then she heard the voices of her Aunt Binta and Ousman.

“Noooo!” said Syafika. “I can’t cope with them right now!”

A couple of minutes later there was a soft knock on Syafika’s bedroom door and Ousman said “Syafika? Are you awake?”

“Ohhh. I hate him!” said Syafika under her breath as she got out of bed, pushed it in front of the door and started getting dressed. Ousman started turning the door handle and rattling the door.

“Syafika?” said Ousman. “Can I please talk to you?”

“Go away” said Syafika

There was a sighing sound and then silence. “That’s strange” thought Syafika. She was in a hurry to see whether Ousman really had gone away or was just tricking her. She put her hair up in a clip without brushing it, moved the bed away from the door and looked out. Ousman really wasn’t there. She could hear Rose and her Mum in the kitchen so she went there.

Ousman was sitting silently at the kitchen table, with his head hung. Syafika had to check twice to make sure that he wasn’t reading something, but he really was just sitting there doing nothing.

Rose was pretending to listen to Binta while really giving her attention to choosing which tea to put in the pot. There were several tea canisters in the cupboard, all identical and all contained a different kind of tea. Of course there were no labels to let you know what was in each canister. You had to open them and sniff the contents to find out. “Mmmmm….. really?” said Rose, but what she was thinking was “Good – French Earl Grey. I never get sick of that smell”. She started scooping tea leaves into a large pot.

“You don’t sound very concerned!” complained Binta.

“Well…“ said Rose, struggling to think of something suitable to say “It wasn’t that bad was it?”

“Rose! He is only ten and he is already skipping school. At least Amanda waited until she was fourteen!” exclaimed Binta.

“Ousman always has been precocious” said Syafika. She knew it was a nasty thing to say but she couldn’t help it. She found it amusing that Ousman had done something naughty. Usually it was her or Amanda that was the bad one and in those instances Aunt Binta seemed to relish having a better behaved, smarter child. Binta had made Ousman her project. She began teaching him to read when he was only two years old and at age three he was learning algebra. When he did something well Binta felt she deserved some of the credit. Syafika thought that Binta should also take some of the blame when Ousman wasn’t good.

“Why did you wag school?” Syafika asked Ousman

“I wasn’t hanging out at the shops or something. I was at uni” complained Ousman

“What were you doing at uni?” asked Syafika, although she expected she wouldn’t like to hear the answer.

“I was at a maths lecture” said Ousman

“I knew it!” thought Syafika “I knew he’d have been doing something that would make me hate him more”. She couldn’t help shaking her head and Ousman noticed

“What?” asked Ousman “Don’t you believe me? The lecturer said I could sit in on the lectures and even go to the tutorials.” He looked at Syafika as he said this and she could see that he’d been crying.

“Ousman! Why didn’t you tell me this?” asked Binta. “Why didn’t you just tell me you wanted to go to maths lectures? Why didn’t you tell your teacher?”

“I don’t know” said Ousman, hanging his head again briefly and then looking at his watch. “Aunt Rose, may I please watch the 9 am news on TV?” he asked.

“Ok” said Rose and Ousman ran off to the lounge room.

Rose gave Syafika two cups of tea and asked her to go and make sure Ousman was ok. Syafika did as her mother asked, without complaining. For the first time ever she felt sorry for Ousman. It was the way he had looked at her with those red-rimmed eyes that had made her feel that way. Syafika was surprised with herself. She rarely felt pity for anyone, let alone someone she didn’t like.

Ousman was sitting in front of the TV. There was a story on about some crisis somewhere. There was talk of massacres and rapes and lots of refugees. Ousman was struggling to watch through tears, wiping his eyes on his sleeves and sniffling. If she hadn’t suspected that Ousman was probably just crying because he didn’t like his Mum being angry with him she would have thought he really felt sympathy for the people he was seeing on TV, although Syafika doubted that Ousman understood the news he loved to follow. How could a ten year old understand what was going on in the world when most adults didn’t?

Syafika discreetly put down Ousman’s cup of tea on the coffee table and took a sip of hers. She was wondering whether she should leave him alone when the doorbell rang.

“I’ll get it” said Syafika. Her heart was fluttering as she rushed to the front door, but it was just Fanta.

Straight away Syafika forgot about Ousman and remembered herself. “Guess what happened to me last night!” she said to Fanta.

“What?” asked Fanta.

“Well, it’s a long story. Let’s go to my room” said Syafika.

“Ok” said Syafika, as she closed her bedroom door. “First I have to tell you something that will make you angry, but then I’ll get to the good part” and Syafika confessed to Fanta about having made up stories about having a boyfriend called Vincent and then pretending she had  broken up with Vincent to cover her distress at Anthony leaving.

“You idiot!” said Fanta. “You expected Anthony to get down on his knee and tell you he loved you when you had been telling people that you already had a boyfriend!”

“I didn’t tell Anthony that, just a couple of my friends! They probably didn’t tell him anything about me” said Syafika, but she didn’t sound very convinced. She hadn’t thought about that before. She just assumed that Anthony would know they were meant to be together.

“So what happened next then?” said Fanta angrily. She wanted to get to the “good” part because she hoped that would make her less angry.

“Don’t be angry!” said Syafika. “I knew you would be angry, and that’s why I’ve had to keep this to myself for so long. You are so judgmental. That makes my life hard sometimes. You are supposed to have sympathy for me because nobody else would” said Syafika. She was sounding close to crying and so Fanta stopped being so angry.

“Ha ha ha” said Fanta.

“What?” asked Syafika. She was annoyed – she hated being laughed at.

“Well, I was thinking that if you had to make up a boyfriend, I didn’t think you’d create an accountant called Vincent. Why didn’t you tell your work friends you had a boyfriend called Fabio who was a model?” said Fanta.

“Yeah, yeah” said Syafika. “Next time I tell lies I’ll think them through more carefully first. Perhaps you can help me.”

“Or, you could tell the truth!” said Fanta

“Anyway…” said Syafika and she continued telling her story. Syafika told Fanta about the night before and how she had become separated from her friends.

“Did they come back?” asked Fanta

“No, thank goodness!” said Syafika

“Why?” asked Fanta

“Can’t you guess?” said Syafika

“Because you liked talking to the stranger too much?” asked Fanta

“No, well yes, but also because of his name. Guess what his name was?” said Syafika

“Ha ha. Not Vincent?” said Fanta

“Yes!” said Syafika.

When Fanta stopped laughing she asked “So what are you going to tell your friends at work now? That you met another Vincent, or that you got back together?”

“I don’t know!” said Syafika. “I hadn’t thought about that yet.”

“Hey, what happened with this Vincent? Any kisses?” said Fanta.

“Maybe” said Syafika

“Really?” said Fanta.

“Just one” said Syafika. Her face had gone red.

“So what happens now? Have you arranged to see each other again? When can I meet him?” asked Fanta

“We are going to see a movie today” said Syafika. “I don’t think I should introduce him to my friends yet. Isn’t that a bit soon?” asked Syafika

“What movie are you going to?” asked Ousman as he burst into the room.

“Ousman! Have you been eavesdropping outside my door?” asked Syafika. She was furious. “Get out!”

“I just wanted to say hello to Fanta before I left. Mum says we are going home now” said Ousman

“Didn’t you hear what I said?” said Syafika and she pushed Ousman out of the door.

“You should be nicer to him” Fanta told Syafika. “He just wants to be your friend”

“That’s too bad. I don’t want to be his friend. He is so rude and annoying” said Syafika

“He’s only ten” said Fanta. “I don’t think he has many friends. I bet he thinks a lot of you”

“How would you know?” said Syafika. “You’ve only seen him a few times. You don’t know what it is like to have to compete with him”

“I guess not” answered Fanta, sounding a bit bored. “Anyway, when you meet Vincent today can I follow you from a distance so I get to see him?”

“Sure, and why don’t you bring Ousman along too” said Syafika, shaking her head.

Chapter 10.

John met his father at the pizza place in the morning. John had hoped that his father would quickly show him where things were and leave, so he could call D’arby to come and help, but strangely John’s father seemed to want to give John as much help as he could and by the time John could call D’arby to tell him that the coast was clear, John’s father had already explained everything. There were good systems in place for ordering ingredients, preparing food, cleaning, staffing and even washing the table cloths. John didn’t think there was much for him to do after all. He could hardly believe that things were going so well. The only problem he could see was that the turnover was already so high. John didn’t see how the restaurant had capacity to make and sell any more pizzas.

That night, while John and D’arby watched over the restaurant, John asked D’arby “How are we going to make more money than the restaurant already does?”

D’arby laughed. “Did your Dad say it had to be a statistically significant increase in profits? Did he say that profits had to increase above the average monthly profit, last month’s profit, or the profit for the same month last year? Did he say the profit had to increase through increased sales? As long as we make five cents more than whatever he was expecting then you can say you have met the challenge” answered D’arby. “If we don’t sell more pizza, we can just decrease your salary.”

“Fair enough” said John, while thinking that he’d better ask D’arby to write down what he had just said.

The next day as John walked to the pizza place, something strange happened to him, something that would make him high all night.

When he got back to D’arby’s flat after work John knew that D’arby would be asleep but he didn’t care. He had to tell D’arby what had happened to him that day, so he shook D’arby until he woke up.

“What is it?” said D’arby. He thought that something terrible must have happened. “Have the police come to get you? Did you burn the restaurant down?”

“Ha ha. No! Something WONDERFUL happened. I have to tell you about it” said John and he started to dance around the room with his arms floating up and down.

“What have you taken? Are you drunk?” asked D’arby. He was really disappointed.

“No! I just saw something wonderful on the way to work”

“What?” asked D’arby, although he still didn’t believe that John was sober.

“A beautiful woman” said John

“Haven’t you ever seen one before?” asked D’arby. He was really annoyed, but still not sure what was going on.

“Not like this…but that’s not the important part” said John

“What is the important part then?” asked D’arby, and he sighed.

“She looked at me. She looked at me like I was a normal person, and she smiled!” said John

“Great!” said D’arby sarcastically. “Good for you. Now go to sleep. I’m tired” and he turned off the light.

The next morning John still hadn’t calmed down. When D’arby got up he found that John had cleaned the kitchen and was ironing clothes on the carpet.

“Why are you doing that?” asked D’arby. D’arby had a thing against ironing and he hadn’t even known that there was an iron in the flat.

“You don’t have an ironing board, so I have to use the carpet” said John, but when he saw D’arby’s expression he realized he’d given the wrong answer and quickly added “I’m trying to fill in time until the medical centre opens”

“Why are you going there?” asked D’arby

“I want to check that I haven’t got any STDs before I bump into that woman again” said John. Although John tried to sound casual as he said this, he was very worried. The thought of a relationship with someone had made him consider what he’d been up to while he was an addict.

D’arby knew that this was a very serious topic, but he couldn’t help laughing.

“What?” asked John

“Have you talked to her yet?” asked D’arby

“Not yet” said John, “But I might today if I see her on the way to work again”

“Good luck then, with her and at the medical centre” said D’arby and he left for uni, rolling his eyes.

Chapter 11.

Mamadou sat in the sun, watching more people arrive. He wished he’d been able to bring his paints and brushes and some canvas. He wanted to paint the relief he saw on the faces of the new arrivals when they made it to a place which would seem like some kind of hell to anyone who hadn’t just been somewhere worse.

Mamadou wouldn’t have been there at all if he hadn’t climbed the tree to see what was going on in the village. From the tree he saw the village being invaded by a group of ugly young men.

It was well accepted by Mamadou’s ethnic group that they were better looking and cleverer than the other dominant ethnic group in the country and so when he saw that the invaders were all ugly he had an idea of what was going on.

Mamadou expected that the ugly invaders would punch the men of his village a few times (as a demonstration of their superior power) and then leave but what happened was so much worse. Mamadou was shocked at the ferocity of the attack. The village men, then the women and then the children were bashed, whacked and chopped using an assortment of improvised weapons. The only survivors were those who weren’t found – Mamadou because he was up a tree, a teenage boy called Saidou who had been out searching for a lost cow and a woman called Howa with a small baby strapped to her back who had been out collecting medicinal bark. Everyone else had been sticking close to the village, which was what they normally did during the wet season.

The guilt that Mamadou now felt was incredible. Although he knew that if he had tried to help he couldn’t have prevented what had happened, he would rather have been down in the village to be killed with everyone else than be alive, having watched but not done anything. Every might since then he’d had dreams where he’d see injured people still breathing and he’d be walking away, leaving them to die.

After the attack Mamadou had rushed to check everyone, hoping to find signs of life but had found none. It was only the return of Howa and Saidou that kept him from collapsing.

Howa quickly became hysterical when she returned and Mamadou had only just managed to calm her down and begin explaining what he’d seen when Saidou returned with his cow.

Howa had lost her husband and her two eldest children. Her husband’s brothers and their families had also been killed.

Saidou had lost his mother and sisters. His father and two older brothers were fortunately away.

Overall, 45 villagers had been killed. They weren’t Mamadou’s relatives but he considered them to be his family because he was closer to them than he was to his own brothers and sisters, who all lived overseas.

Saidou insisted that they leave the village. He wanted to go and find his father and brothers. Saidou’s distress was showing itself as anger and Mamadou suspected that Saidou was planning for revenge.

Howa didn’t want to leave the bodies of her husband and children. Mamadou didn’t think they should leave either. He felt their duty was to bury the dead in the proper way (although he knew that it was going to be impossible for them on their own).

Saidou eventually managed to convince Mamadou and Howa to leave by pointing out that they needed help and that his father and brothers would be able to organize it.

Secretly they were all also scared of staying.

So, they all set out towards the town where Saidou’s father and brothers were. The walk was many kilometres, but they hoped they would be able to return with help before sunset.

It was now weeks later. They were all in a refugee camp across the border and Mamadou didn’t see how any of them would ever return to their village.

Although Mamadou wished he’d known he should bring his painting supplies with him he was glad that they hadn’t known of the extent of the attacks when they left their village looking for help. He didn’t know how he would have been able to decide what to do if he’d known what was really going on.

It was only when they reached the town that they started to realize that it wasn’t just their village that had been targeted, but their whole ethnic group.

Chapter 12.

Feeding an addiction had been hard work. John only realized how hard it had been now that he didn’t need to do it anymore. So, an unexpected bonus of those awful years was that now he was a really hard worker, and not just a hard worker but a determined one. This meant that the rest of his month at the Pizza restaurant went really smoothly. The problems John faced there were nothing compared to those he’d faced in his previous life. He turned out to be a calm and fair manager. The staff loved him and the customers were always satisfied. It was only when it came time for his father to decide whether he could stay on as manager that John felt any stress.

John and D’arby were still busily calculating the profit for the month when John’s father parked his car outside. He’d come an hour early to catch John unawares, and because he was curious to see how things had been going. He walked into the restaurant and saw D’arby and John with a calculator, various pieces of paper and strained expressions.

“Hello” said John’s father. “So what was the profit?”

John was too scared by the unexpected presence of his father to be able to do anything except give him the piece of paper that he and D’arby had been writing on. John wasn’t sure whether the profit was up or down. John’s father looked at the paper briefly and then asked John who D’arby was.

“He’s my friend D’arby. He is better at maths than me” explained John.

“Ok. How’s everything been going then?” said John’s father.

“Ok” said John. He didn’t want to chat. He wanted to know if he’d passed the test. “Well?” he asked

“Mmmm, I suppose you can stay, but don’t get too comfortable. You have to keep this up” said John’s father. Then he looked at D’arby and asked “Has John really been keeping out of trouble?”

“Well, he keeps doing the ironing, but apart from that he’s been very well behaved” answered D’arby.

John’s father didn’t understand this joke and decided it was time to leave. “I’ll leave you to it” he said

“How’s Mum?” asked John

“She’s well” said John’s father, and he left.

D’arby and John discreetly watched John’s father through a gap in the restaurant curtains as he got into his car and drove off. Then they started running around the restaurant laughing, until D’arby tripped on a chair and fell over.

D’arby limped off to uni, leaving John to get ready for the lunchtime shift. John couldn’t wipe the smile off his face and he decided that he would sell his first special pizzas that night.

It was also going to be a special night for Fanta too. She and Syafika had decided to go out for dinner together. Ever since Syafika had met Vincent Fanta hadn’t seen much of Syafika. Fanta had actually been missing Syafika’s company, and she was looking forward to hearing the latest about Vincent.

As Fanta approached Syafika’s place she could see that the front door was open, and Amanda was trying to fit a wardrobe through it. Fanta hardly recognized Amanda, but that was normal. She was always changing the way she looked. This time Amanda was wearing nothing but a short lace nightie that had been dyed purple. Her eye sockets were filled with matching purple eyeshadow and her shoulder length hair was so blonde it was white, apart from some purple streaks. Fanta was wondering how Amanda managed to have such a dark tan when she never went outside during the day, when her thoughts were interrupted by the arrival of Festus.

Festus slammed the car door angrily and yelled at Amanda “What do you think you are doing!” He was so loud that the neighbours opened their blinds to look out.

Amanda was still busy trying to manoeuvre the wardrobe through the door and didn’t pay any attention to her father so he walked closer and yelled the question again. Amanda had managed to get the wardrobe stuck in the doorway and because of this barrier between her and her father she wasn’t scared and said “Why don’t you help me, you lazy arse”

Festus gave the wardrobe a kick and yelled “Just you wait until I get my hands on you” before heading off towards the back door.

“Thanks Dad” said Amanda as the wardrobe came loose. She gave it one final push and it slid out across the front verandah and onto the front steps before falling sideways onto Rose’s gardenia bushes.

Then Amanda ran upstairs to lock herself in her room before her father got to her, not that he would have done anything except yell some more.

Fanta was wondering whether she should enter the house when there was about to be fireworks, but she didn’t have to make the decision because Syafika came outside in a hurry.

“Let’s go before Dad sees what else Amanda has done” said Syafika. She took Fanta’s arm in hers and they hurried off.

“What was Amanda doing?” asked Fanta

“She decided to throw out all of her furniture” said Syafika. “She moved the wardrobe downstairs by herself and it was so heavy she couldn’t control it. It slipped down the stairs and when it got to the bottom it knocked a hole in the wall between the kitchen and the living room.”

Fanta didn’t bother asking why Amanda would do that. Nobody could give an answer except Amanda, and she never bothered to answer questions.

“Where are we going for dinner?” asked Fanta

“I want pizza” said Syafika. “Let’s try that funny little place with red and white checked table cloths that we saw from the bus on the way to the beach that day”

Fanta remembered the place and said “Ok”. She didn’t really like pizza but she thought she could bear it if that’s what Syafika wanted.

It was a particularly busy night at John’s pizza place, and he was disappointed that he hadn’t been able to use any of the special pizza dough yet. He had left it too late to make it and it hadn’t risen properly yet. “At least it will be ready in the second half of the evening” he thought and scanned the restaurant, trying to work out how many addicts were missing out on their cure that evening. John didn’t only count illicit drug addicts as addicts. That was only a small portion of the addicts in the world. It was the legal drugs that affected the most people. He could see three alcoholics and no doubt there were a few smokers there that evening too. Then there would have been at least one person who was addicted to prescription drugs (and probably didn’t even know it). John was wondering whether the special ingredient would also cure people who were addicted to other things, like shopping, when the restaurant door opened and Fanta and Syafika walked in.

It was fortunate that John wasn’t carrying any plates at that moment.

Fanta and Syafika sat down at one of the small tables near the front window and John hurried over to give them menus. He wanted to say something clever, but couldn’t think of anything and so he came out with the standard “Would you like to order any drinks first?”

Syafika ordered sparkling mineral water for them both while Fanta just stared at John. She remembered him. He was the strange man who had stared at her the other day. Fanta remembered John because people usually didn’t pay her much attention.

When John left the table Fanta asked Syafika “Do you think the waiter is handsome?”

“No way!” said Syafika “But I’m fussy now I have Vincent so maybe you better not listen to my opinion”

Fanta didn’t want to appear too interested in the waiter and so she returned to the topic of Vincent. “So, are you in love with Vincent?”

Syafika needed a few seconds to consider her answer. Fanta didn’t think that meant good things for Vincent.

“If I had written down all the qualities I wanted in a man and had put little check boxes next to each item on the list, then when Vincent came along I’d have been able to tick almost all of the boxes” said Syafika

“Almost all?” asked Fanta

“Yeah, I’ve always wanted a man with a six pack, and Vincent doesn’t have one” said Syafika “Although he does have nice arms and shoulders. He likes exercising, but for some reason he doesn’t spend enough time on his abs”

“What about his personality?” asked Fanta. She didn’t know why Syafika was so worried about a six pack. Couldn’t anyone get one of those if they really wanted?

“Yeah, he looks grumpy but he isn’t. He’s really nice. He tries very hard to make me happy. He gives me presents all the time and calls me at least twice a day” said Syafika

“And?” said Fanta

“And what?” asked Syafika

“Nothing” said Fanta. “I just thought you’d have more to say after having spent all your spare time with Vincent for so many weeks”

Syafika was going to say something about it sounding like Fanta was getting jealous of Vincent, but she stopped because John was back at their table.

“Are you ready to order?” asked John

“Ahhh, sorry. Not yet” said Fanta, realizing that she and Syafika hadn’t even looked at the menu yet.

“Take your time” said John and he left the table, wishing again that he’d been able to think of something clever to say.

“So what do you want?” asked Fanta

“Let’s share pizza number three and a salad” said Syafika. Food made her happy so she forgot she had been about to say something nasty to Fanta.

“Good” said Fanta. She wasn’t even paying attention to what Syafika chose though. Fanta was too busy watching John as he took the order of the people at another table. She could see that he was trying to concentrate on his job while also looking at her out of the corner of his eye.

“You like the waiter, don’t you?” said Syafika

“Yeah” replied Fanta

“He looks like a drug addict” said Syafika “He is so jumpy and scrawny. You have bad taste”

“He looks interesting” said Fanta, and then she couldn’t help adding “Which is more than can be said for Vincent, if I can only go on what you have said tonight”

“Well, you don’t know Vincent” said Syafika

“So tell me about him!” said Fanta. “Why are you so reluctant? I thought you’d be hard to stop!”

“Well… I guess it isn’t what I expected. I’ve never felt any heart racing excitement over Vincent. It is just nice to be with him. Maybe this is what love is really like. I just thought it would be so much more like in movies and books. There was no struggle for us to get together. There was no build up of tension. We just met and liked each other and get on well” said Syafika

“Pooh. That does sound boring” said Fanta “It’s like you went straight from being strangers to being a married couple”

“Yeah, well, that is the only thing that might be exciting. I’m wondering if he will propose soon and how he will do it” said Syafika

“So will you say yes if he asks?” asked Fanta

“Of course” said Syafika

Fanta was unhappy. Something wasn’t right. If Syafika was happy, why wasn’t she behaving that way?

“Hey, your favourite waiter is coming back to take the order. Sit up straight and smile” said Syafika

Fanta sat up straight and looked over her shoulder. John was already there. Fanta smiled and John smiled back. He forgot what he was standing there for.

“Can I order yet?” complained Syafika.

“If you could wait another few minutes it would be nice” thought John but Fanta had already looked away.

Syafika smirked as she ordered. Fanta was busy examining her napkin and wondering why she was feeling so nervous. She wasn’t normally like that. Fanta was used to being level headed at all times. She should say something before John left the table, but what could she say? Then she realized that there was something she could say.

“I saw you the other day, didn’t I?” asked Fanta

“Yeah, I saw you too” answered John, with a bigger smile than before and he took their order into the kitchen.

“Where did you see each other?” asked Syafika. “Or was that just your bad attempt at a pick-up line?”

“No!” said Fanta and started laughing. “I just saw him in the street, on my way home from uni”

“Yeah I can imagine him hanging out in the street. I hope he isn’t the one making the pizzas. You don’t know what he might put in them” said Syafika.

Fanta didn’t know if the pizza really was good or if she was just in a good enough mood to enjoy eating anything. When it was time to leave Fanta insisted on paying the bill, and Syafika smirked again as she watched Fanta go over to the cash register, which was conveniently being operated by John.

“Did he ask for your phone number?” said Syafika as soon as she and Fanta were outside.

“Yeah, but I didn’t give it to him” replied Fanta

“What!” said Syafika and she stopped walking to stare at Fanta

“I asked for his instead” said Fanta and she held up a piece of paper with “John” and a phone number written on it.

“You are naughty” said Syafika

“No, I’m just cautious” said Fanta

“What do you mean?” asked Syafika

“Well, you did say he looked a bit dodgy. I want to make sure he is normal before I let him know my phone number or where I live” said Fanta, and although she said it like she was joking, she wasn’t. Fanta had also decided that John had probably had a colourful past and she wouldn’t be letting him meet her sisters or know where she lived until he had told her about it.

It wasn’t until Fanta and Syafika had left the restaurant that John remembered the special pizza dough. He wasn’t sure he should use it anymore, but that was just because he didn’t know if it would be healthy for him to have any more excitement that night. That was only a passing thought though and he went into the kitchen to make sure the special dough was used for the rest of the evening.

There were three people working in the kitchen and they were so busy that evening that they were only just coping. Ellen made the pizzas five nights of the week and she was fussy about the dough. If it wasn’t made properly she was likely to throw it at someone in anger and storm out. When John appeared with some alternative pizza dough that he’d claimed to have made Ellen didn’t hide her disgust. “Do you have to try it out when it is so busy? What if it is crap? We won’t have time to make new pizzas!”

“I’ve already tested it and its great” said John. “Try it! You’ll like it”

“Don’t bother looking for a job in advertising” said Ellen, but she took the pizza dough anyway. Ellen thought that if she did John a favour he might do her one back and she asked “How’s your friend D’arby these days? Is he going to be coming in to the restaurant soon?”

“Probably not. He’s too busy writing up his thesis” said John. “Why?”

“He’s my type. I like a younger man, especially one who looks so serious. Is he single?” asked Ellen

“Yeah, he’s single” said John, and he wondered whether Ellen was D’arby’s type. They hadn’t talked about women much yet. There always seemed to be something more pressing to talk about. Ellen was right though, D’arby really was pretty serious. “I’ll tell him you asked about him” said John with a wink, and then he went back to the dining room.

The rest of the evening was an anticlimax, except that Ellen mentioned to John that his pizza dough was a little bit better than the normal one. The customers all ate their pizzas like there was nothing unusual about them, then they all paid their bills and left. Nobody seemed to have undergone a life-changing event. Perhaps the secret ingredient didn’t work when it was mixed with pizza dough. Or maybe none of the customers in the second half of the evening had been addicted to anything. Or maybe everything had gone to plan but anyone who had been cured had just thought that the relaxing feeling they were experiencing was just because of food and good conversation.

After the restaurant closed John whistled all the way home, and thought about Fanta. He hoped she would call him soon.

John was still whistling when he got home, and continued to whistle while he made some toast. D’arby soon appeared in the kitchen, looking annoyed because John had woken him up.

“Why are you whistling? I’m trying to sleep” said D’arby

“Want some toast?” asked John

“You were trying to wake me up, weren’t you?” said D’arby

“Yep” answered John and crunched into his toast.

“What happened then?” said D’arby and sighed.

“She came to the restaurant” said John

“Is that all?” asked D’arby “Will you let me sleep now?”

“No, it isn’t all. She took my phone number” said John, with a satisfied smile

“Why didn’t you get hers?” asked D’arby

“She didn’t want to give it to me” said John

“That’s not good. She probably only took your number to be polite and then threw it in the bin” said D’arby.

“Oh” said John. D’arby went back to bed.

John unfolded his sofa bed and sat on it, while staring at the floor and trying to work out whether Fanta really had seemed interested in him or was just being polite.

Chapter 13.

Fanta had been forcing herself to study all morning. Her final uni exams started in a week and she really wanted to do well, but she was so tired and distracted that she may as well have spent the morning staring at a wall.

Fanta hadn’t been able to sleep very well the night before. After arriving home she’d put the piece of paper with John’s phone number written on it on her desk. When she got up she looked at it again. She wondered whether she should throw it away immediately in case she was tempted to call him, keep it for a while and think about calling him or just call him. When Fanta remembered what Syafika had said about John she was swayed in the direction of throwing John’s phone number away. Then Fanta remembered how nice it was to talk to John and decided she should give him a chance. Then she thought about her little sisters (who she was the guardian of) and decided that it was better to avoid anyone who might upset their happy home. Then she remembered that she had told John she would call him, which meant she really did have to call him (even if it was just to say she didn’t want to see him). Finally Fanta decided that she didn’t have to decide anything yet because it would be silly to call John so soon anyway. Fanta was just about to start remembering what Syafika had said about John again when the phone rang. It was Syafika.

“Fanta! I’m coming over to your place right now. I need to escape my crazy family” said Syafika.

Syafika arrived not long after and spent the next hour telling Fanta what had been going on at her house that morning.

Festus was still fuming about the damage Amanda had done to the house. Even Rose was angry with Amanda, but that was mostly because the wardrobe had squashed her gardenia bushes. Because Amanda was hiding in her room Festus and Rose couldn’t help directing their anger at Syafika (which Syafika thought was really unfair. She thought her parents ought to be feeling thankful that she was not as naughty as Amanda and be rewarding her comparatively good behaviour with kind words).

Syafika reckoned she could have coped with the bad vibes coming from her parents if her Aunt Binta and Ousman hadn’t also come around with their own problems. They were already yelling at each other when they arrived. Ousman had done something naughty again, only he didn’t seem to think he’d done anything wrong. As Syafika left she’d heard Ousman complaining that there was no point doing well at school if it wouldn’t get him what he really wanted. That sentence had delighted Syafika.

After telling Fanta all about her morning Syafika decided that it was the right day for Fanta to meet Vincent. Syafika and Vincent were going to meet at their favourite café when Vincent finished work and Syafika wanted Fanta to come along.

Fanta was suspicious that the planned introduction to Vincent was just to stop her from being annoyed that Syafika was going to interrupt her plan to study all day.

“So what will we do until it is time to meet Vincent?” Syafika asked, but none of Fanta’s suggestions (clean the house, do the washing, read textbooks) tempted Syafika so Syafika and Fanta ended up making cakes and biscuits and having lots of cups of tea until it was time to go to meet Vincent.

In her head Fanta had a picture of a Vincent who was jumpy, nerdy and weedy (despite Syafika’s description of Vincent contradicting this picture), so when Vincent arrived at the café Fanta was surprised (and a bit sad because she’d grown fond of the imaginary Vincent). Vincent looked strong and had a permanent frown. Fanta imagined that Vincent was the sort of person who would competently take charge in emergency situations. She could see why Syafika liked Vincent but she couldn’t help wondering whether Syafika sometimes annoyed Vincent. He looked like he wouldn’t approve of silliness. Fanta decided that she better try not to giggle too much when Vincent was around.

Vincent and Fanta exchanged meaningless greetings and then Syafika burst in with “How was your day?”

“Busy, but I can’t really talk about it” said Vincent, looking suspiciously at Fanta.

Vincent sat down next to Syafika on the bench and they snuggled up. Fanta was sitting on a chair on the opposite side of the table. She felt like she was intruding. She actually felt even worse than that. Fanta knew that she should be happy for Syafika, and she was happy for her, but she had this other feeling too. It was to do with the change in the way things were. Fanta felt really lonely and decided to leave. She stood up and said something about needing to get home before her sisters made a mess.

Vincent and Syafika acknowledged that Fanta was saying something, but they weren’t really listening. They just said “Bye” and Fanta left.

 Chapter 14.

The next three days were the longest in John’s life. Each morning he woke up and remembered that Fanta had his phone number and might call him that day. Then John spent the days waiting for her to call. Finally, each night he went to bed feeling miserable because she hadn’t called. On the third night of this misery, John walked home from the Pizza restaurant without any spring in his step and without even thinking about whistling. Although he knew there was a chance that when he got home he would find a message from Fanta waiting for him on the answering machine John didn’t believe there would be one. He was beginning to think that D’arby was right. Fanta had just taken his number to be polite and had then thrown it in the first rubbish bin she came across.

When John got home he could tell that D’arby hadn’t come home yet because D’arby’s uni bag wasn’t hung up behind the front door and there were no dinner dishes in the sink.

“The perfect end to a perfect day” thought John, when he realized that there was no bread left for him to make toast with. D’arby’s absence meant that there would be no leftovers around for him to eat either. John went to bed hungry and lonely.

In the morning things began to look up for John. He awoke to the smell of coffee and fried eggs. D’arby had been shopping and was making a special breakfast to celebrate because the night before he had finished writing the most difficult chapter of his thesis.

“Have a coffee” said D’arby when he realized that John was sitting up and watching him cook.

John was pleased to see that the coffee D’arby handed him had milk froth on top. That meant D’arby had filled the cups at the nearby café, not made his own. D’arby’s method for making coffee was to boil ground coffee in a saucepan (for a not very carefully measured amount of time) and then slop in some milk. Sometimes he remembered to strain out the coffee grounds and sometimes he didn’t.

“Has she called you yet?” asked D’arby and he turned the frying pan around with one hand while taking a sip of coffee from the cup in his other hand.

“I thought you said she wouldn’t call” said John

“I was just pissed off with you because you woke me up” said D’arby.

“Well, you were right anyway” said John and he stared into his coffee cup.

“Sorry” said D’arby and he also seemed to find his coffee very interesting to look at.

“Yeah, well…” said John

“Have some eggs” said D’arby and tilted the frying pan so that two eggs slid out onto two pieces of toast on a plate next to the stove.

“Thanks” said John as D’arby handed him the plate. He was glad to be able to eat because it gave him an excuse for not talking. The eggs were also very tasty and John was very hungry. He was enjoying his second mouthful when the phone rang. John looked at D’arby to see if he was going to answer the phone but D’arby also had a mouth full of eggs. John chewed a couple of times, swallowed the eggs and then picked up the phone.

“Hhhllllo” said John

“Is John there please?” said a strange voice.

John coughed to clear his throat and then said “This is John. Who is that?”

“Wait…” said the strange voice. There was a clunking sound as the phone was put down on a table and John heard the strange voice say “He’s on the line. Come and talk to him. Come on! Hurry up or he’ll hang up.”

Then John heard some rustling sounds and some angry whispering that prompted some muffled laughter. Finally the phone was picked up again.

“Hello” said another voice. “Sorry about that. My sisters found your number and decided I should call you”

“Oh” said John. “It’s nice to hear from you but I’d rather you were talking to me because YOU wanted to.” He knew that wasn’t a good way to endear Fanta to him, but he was upset.

“It’s not that I didn’t want to call you. I was just scared to” said Fanta

“Scared? Why?” asked John, conveniently forgetting that he still wasn’t the most approachable young man.

“You look sort of rough” said Fanta. “Are you a criminal?”

John didn’t know how to answer. He stood there with his mouth open, thinking, until D’arby started laughing because John looked so stupid.

“Oh, you have someone there. I’ll let you go” said Fanta

“No! Don’t hang up. When can I see you? What are you doing tonight – I mean today – I have to work tonight?” said John, while feeling like a complete loser.

“I’m going to uni” said Fanta

“Oh” said John, feeling like even more of an idiot as he remembered that most people had stuff to do during week days.

“We could meet for lunch though” said Fanta.

When John hung up the phone he started to panic because he had no idea where the place that he’d agreed to meet Fanta at was. Fortunately D’arby was in no hurry to get to uni and agreed to show him where it was. This calmed John down enough for him to be able to decide what to wear. He laid out his outfit on the floor and plugged in the iron.

“Oh no…you aren’t going to make me watch you iron, are you?” complained D’arby

“You don’t have to watch” said John “but you might learn something if you do. I’m a master ironer”

“No, you’re just a neurotic ironer” said D’arby and he decided that next time he was home alone he’d get rid of the iron.

John carefully ironed the clothes he was going to wear (even his socks and undies), despite the withering glare of D’arby who was sitting impatiently, with his arms crossed in front of him. Somehow D’arby managed to control his annoyance as John then had his longest ever shower (shampooing his hair three times). Finally John and D’arby were on their way to the café at uni.

“Do I look rough?” asked John as he and D’arby walked along

“Well, a little bit” answered D’arby

“Why? What makes me look rough?” asked John

“Probably all the wrinkles in the back of your shirt” said D’arby

“What!” said John and tried to twist his shirt around so he could examine it for wrinkles until he realized that D’arby was laughing at him.

John swore at D’arby, but D’arby didn’t care. They were approaching the café and D’arby was looking at the people sitting at the outdoor tables, trying to guess which girl was Fanta.

“Is this it?” asked John

“Yeah” said D’arby. “Can you see her?”

John had a look around. “There she is!” he said and pointed to the furthest away table. “She hasn’t seen us yet. Look! Isn’t she lovely?”

D’arby strained to see Fanta. He had been spending too much time at the computer and couldn’t make out much detail from so far away.

“Come and meet her” said John, and walked over to Fanta without even checking that D’arby was following.

When John got to Fanta’s table she still hadn’t looked up from the book she was reading and it was only when D’arby’s shadow fell across the page that she realized someone was there.

“She is so calm” thought John

“She’s pretty ordinary” thought D’arby. He couldn’t see anything remarkable about this girl.

“Hello” said Fanta, standing up

“Hello” said John “This is my friend D’arby”

“Hello. I just had to help John find his way here, I’ll be off now” said D’arby

“Ok, bye, nice to meet you” said Fanta

“She is so cool” thought John

He sat down at the table with Fanta. She was smiling at him. It seemed to John that Fanta had stopped worrying about him being a dangerous criminal. Maybe it was because he arrived with the nerdy and respectable-looking D’arby or maybe it was just because of his nicely ironed clothes.

John could smell some of the gardenias that grew almost everywhere on the campus. There was a light breeze and the sun was warm. John had a feeling that this might be one of the best moments of his life but was distracted from that thought when he realized that his eyes had been following an old instinct and counting the number of wallets and bags that had been left in easy-to-steal positions. The people in this café were so relaxed that they were being careless. John wondered how he’d never found this place when he needed some cash, until he started to worry that he had been silent too long and didn’t want Fanta to start trying to read his mind.

“It’s lovely here” said John

“Very” said Fanta.

Chapter 15.

It had been more than a month since John’s father had checked up on him. John had spent most of it with his head in the clouds and D’arby claimed John was even whistling in his sleep. The more time John spent with Fanta, the more perfect she seemed. The only downside was that John often wondered what Fanta could see in him. He tried not to dwell on those thoughts and was determined to enjoy his relationship with Fanta while it lasted.

Fanta was also happy. John had told her what he’d been through but she really believed that he had reformed. What John hadn’t told Fanta about was how he’d had some help when he gave up.

Fanta’s last exam was on John’s day off (the restaurant was closed on Mondays) and he’d promised to cook her a special dinner. Fanta hadn’t been to John and D’arby’s place before so John was pretty nervous. He got up extra early and spent the whole day cleaning and cooking.

When D’arby got home that afternoon the flat was sparkling clean, a dining table had appeared (covered in a crisply ironed table cloth) and there were little vases of fresh flowers spread around the place. John had even hung some curtains on the kitchen window. There was a roast cooking in the oven and a bowl of salad on the table.

“I feel jealous” said D’arby. “You never do this for me!”

“Well, I don’t want to hurt your feelings, but you aren’t as pretty as Fanta” said John. He was lying on the sofa, trying to recover some energy before Fanta arrived. “I’m exhausted though. I wouldn’t want to have to do this every day.”

“Ha ha. Hopefully Fanta won’t want you to do anything too energetic tonight then.” said D’arby

“Don’t laugh too hard. You are the one who should be hoping Fanta doesn’t want to do anything energetic. If I keep you awake at night when I’m here on my own, imagine…..” said John

“No thanks!” said D’arby. “Don’t worry, as soon as I’ve said hello I’m going back to uni to work on my thesis and then I’ll sleep under my desk” said D’arby.

When Fanta arrived John sat her down on his folded-up sofa bed and got her a drink of home-made lemonade. D’arby was putting books into his uni bag and asked Fanta how her exams had gone.

“Ok, I think” said Fanta. “I’m just happy that they are over” but as she said it she wasn’t thinking about what she was saying. Fanta was looking around the flat. She noticed that it only had one bedroom.

“That’s good” said D’arby. “I better get back to uni now. I’ve got lots of thesis to write. It was nice to see you again Fanta.”

“Save some dessert for me” said D’arby to John as he left.

When D’arby had gone the first thing Fanta asked was what was for dessert. She just wanted to make sure that there was some because she thought she’d seen D’arby wink.

“Pavlova” said John, wondering why there was such a strong interest in dessert and hoping that he’d made enough.

When Fanta had gone home John reflected that dinner had gone well, apart from when he briefly fell asleep at the table during dessert. John unfolded the sofa bed and lay down, enjoying the feeling of knowing that he could finally have some sleep. Then the phone rang.

John struggled to get up and answer the phone. Ignoring it was not a choice. If John didn’t answer he knew he’d get less sleep than if he did answer because if he didn’t answer he’d lie there for hours wondering who had called and keep imagining that it had been someone in an emergency.

“Hello” said John

“Hello John” said John’s father. “Your Mother and I have decided to give you an early Christmas present…… we would like to hand over the restaurant to you. We’ll have to meet with my lawyer to sort this out. Will you have time tomorrow morning?”

John pinched himself after he’d hung up the phone, but that didn’t help convince him that he’d been awake during the phone call. “I might be awake now, but how do I know I didn’t just wake up from a dream about a phone call?” thought John. Fortunately the morning wasn’t far away. John finally drifted off to sleep wondering whether his father would turn up in the morning or not.

Chapter 16.

John had a roller coaster of a week. On Tuesday morning he and his father organized the transfer of the pizza restaurant over to John. Then on Tuesday evening, while working at the restaurant, John realized what that really meant, and it frightened him. Now the future of the restaurant was in his hands. There was nobody watching over him to catch his mistakes. All the people working there now depended on him to get things right. He could understand why his parents had decided to give the restaurant to him though. Now it was him who had to worry about his competence, not them. They’d given away a lot of money but also a source of worry.

John’s father had given him something else on Tuesday too – an invitation to Christmas lunch. It was the first time since he was a teenager that John wasn’t being excluded from a family event. This was another opportunity that placed enormous pressure on John. He was happy to have earned back some trust, but also aware that he did not yet deserve forgiveness. He hadn’t even asked for it yet. Then he realized he’d be expected to bring Christmas presents for all his relatives, but which relatives would be there? Which ones had gotten married or had kids since he last saw them? He’d need his sister Emily’s help!

On Wednesday John was feeling exhausted. He met Fanta for a coffee before heading off to work. She invited him to her place for dinner on Monday night. D’arby was invited too. John was going to meet Fanta’s sisters and her best friend Syafika. John knew this meant a lot. Fanta must really trust him now. More trust placed in him! John felt like he was carrying even more weight. He didn’t even have the energy to tell Fanta that he’d been given the pizza restaurant. He also realized that he should probably invite Fanta to come with him to his family’s Christmas lunch, but how could he expose her to that? How could he cope with her seeing him spend the day asking his relatives for forgiveness?

On Thursday morning John was feeling lighter. He’d started to get used to the idea of holding responsibility and it made him feel important. That was until D’arby asked him when he was planning to do his Christmas shopping and what he was going to get for Fanta. D’arby hadn’t meant to make John stressed. In fact D’arby was hoping that John might be able to help him choose a suitable Christmas present for his sister, who was expecting a baby around Christmas time. D’arby didn’t know much about babies and wasn’t very happy that his sister was having one anyway, because D’arby really didn’t like his sister’s husband and couldn’t bear the thought of that man’s genes being passed onto a child, especially not his sister’s child. If John would agree to choose a present for the baby then D’arby knew it would save him a lot of angst.

Sweat began to pour from John’s temples as he contemplated choosing a suitable Christmas present for Fanta. Being able to afford something nice was not much consolation. It just meant fewer constraints on what he could buy. More options meant more stress.

“Hey, don’t worry” said D’arby. I just thought you’d make a better choice than me”. He was surprised by John’s reaction, but also relieved that he wasn’t the only person scared by the thought of Christmas shopping.

“No, I can buy the baby a present. That will be easy compared to choosing one for Fanta” said John.

“Why don’t you just ask Fanta what she would like?” asked D’arby.

“You have no idea!” said John, shaking his head. If only things were that simple.

“I can choose a present for Fanta, if you like” offered D’arby. For a few seconds John was tempted to accept D’arby’s offer.

On Friday John called his sister Emily and caught up on all the family gossip. At the end of the conversation he had a list of people to buy Christmas presents for as well as Emily’s hints on what they would like (even what she would like). Emily also gave John a strong direction to buy jewellery for Fanta. “Take note of what she wears and choose something similar, but nicer” suggested Emily. “Similar, but nicer… what does that mean?” wondered John, but he did appreciate the advice.

John’s weekend was full of despair. He remembered something he’d pushed to the back of his mind. “I’m so stupid!” John thought. “Here I am running a restaurant and planning my Christmas shopping like a respectable person when I’m the man the local police most want to catch! How did I forget that?”

On Sunday morning John discussed the possibility of his arrest with D’arby. “I know how you feel” said D’arby. “It is when my life is going well that I’m most likely to remember that everyone has to die.”

John stared at D’arby as he took in what D’arby had just said. “You mean that it is inevitable that one day I will be arrested and charged over all the things I’ve done wrong and that I’ll go to gaol and lose everything?” he asked.

“I was talking more about the contrast of good and bad things becoming more apparent when things are going well” said D’arby “But you do have a point. Perhaps you should make a list of all the crimes you’ve committed and we can estimate how long they’ll want to lock you up for. Do you know any good defense lawyers? We should put some money aside to pay one”.

The mention of money made John realize that he hadn’t given D’arby his allowance that week yet. He opened his wallet and counted out some money, which gave him a few seconds rest from thinking about his future. D’arby reluctantly took the money. He wished he didn’t have to rely on John that way and planned to pay John back (with interest) when he finally finished his thesis and got a job.

On Monday John couldn’t help feeling happy again. That evening he was going to see Fanta, and meet her sisters.

Chapter 17.

Fanta’s sisters Nancy and Ruby had been helping her cook since they came home from school. They were trying to make sushi. The rolls weren’t very round, the seaweed was probably too chewy and the sushi rice was probably too wet. Fanta could see that dinner wasn’t going to be perfect, but she didn’t know what to do about it so decided not to care.

Somehow D’arby managed to get John to Fanta’s house exactly on time. Neither of them was in a very good mood though because they had just had their first fight. It was over the iron, or the lack of an iron. D’arby had discreetly gotten rid of it. D’arby was already ready to leave when John began searching the flat for the iron. D’arby could see what was going on, but didn’t say anything. After John had looked everywhere that it was possible for the iron to have been put he began to get suspicious and turned to face D’arby.

“Where’s the iron?” asked John

“Not here” said D’arby. “I got rid of it because I hate irons.”

After swearing for a while John said to D’arby “Why didn’t you tell me? ….it wasn’t your iron! Now what am I going to wear?”

“Wear the same clothes, just don’t iron them” said D’arby.

John considered his options and despite wishing that he could avoid taking D’arby’s advice, he put on his wrinkled clothes and allowed D’arby to lead him out the door.

When John and D’arby arrived at Fanta’s place they both felt nervous. It wasn’t a big house, but it was pretty. It was the type of terrace house that was typical of the suburb. It had been painted white, but still had the original iron lacework balcony and arched windows. The small front garden was full of flowering plants and the front door had a stained glass panel.

“How does a uni student afford something so nice?” asked D’arby, but John was too busy being miserable over his wrinkly clothes to answer. He felt so inadequate that he wanted to run away and hide, but rang the polished brass bell anyway. John and D’arby heard footsteps in the corridor and then Fanta opened the door.

Fanta had obviously dressed up for the occasion. That made her seem even more grown up and D’arby and John became even more nervous. John wished he’d brought a bigger box of chocolates, but it was too late. Fortunately Fanta hadn’t seemed to notice how wrinkly his clothes looked.

Syafika was already there, sitting at the dining table. Ruby and Nancy were enjoying having visitors. They were pretending that they had a restaurant and that Fanta and her friends were the guests. They had set the dining table and put on some relaxing music. Ruby pulled out a chair for Fanta. “Take a seat” she said to John and D’arby. “We have a set menu tonight. The starter is a sushi platter for four. That will be followed by spaghetti bolognaise with garden salad, and for dessert we have a seasonal fruit salad with vanilla ice cream and your choice of tea or coffee. Would anyone like to order a drink?”

While Ruby was trying to impress John with her hospitality, Fanta and Syafika were trying not to laugh. Nancy wasn’t even trying though. Her giggling could be heard from the kitchen.

The sushi plate soon arrived, and it turned out to be edible, although poor John got the piece that Nancy had deliberately added too much wasabi to. It was looking like being a pleasant but unremarkable evening. Then Syafika and D’arby started talking to each other.

As soon as Syafika saw D’arby she decided that she didn’t really want to talk to him. She found him unattractive and thought he would probably just want to show her that he was smarter than her. D’arby wasn’t particularly interested in talking to Syafika either, but felt like he had to.

“How did you meet Fanta?” asked D’arby.

“We met in first year at uni, in a maths lecture” said Syafika.

“Are you still at uni?” asked D’arby.

“No, I have been working for almost two years” said Syafika.

“Where?” asked D’arby.

“In the city” replied Syafika.

“I mean, what do you do? Who do you work for?” said D’arby

“I try to do as little as possible, I live for the weekends” said Syafika “and I don’t really like talking about work when I’m not there”. She noticed that she was having no trouble saying what she meant and wanted, which was rare for Syafika. She decided it was probably because she didn’t really care what D’arby thought of her, and because she didn’t feel like she needed to impress him she wasn’t getting flustered and shy. “What about you?” Syafika asked D’arby. “What do you do?” Syafika already knew that D’arby was doing a PhD, but wanted to pretend she knew nothing about him. John had told Fanta that D’arby was a genius and the only other gifted person Syafika really knew was her cousin Ousman so she had had decided that D’arby must be like him.

“I’m struggling to finish my PhD thesis” said D’arby. “I often wonder why I even started the project, but now it is too late to stop so I just plod along.”

“Why don’t you like it? Is it too hard?” asked Syafika.

“Yeah, I guess so. It is hard for other reasons than I would have expected though. I think it is mostly because I don’t like my supervisor and he doesn’t like me” said D’arby.

“So you need to improve on your people skills then?” said Syafika. It was not a very nice thing to say, but she didn’t seem to notice that. D’arby felt a bit upset by it but more because Syafika didn’t seem to care if she upset him than because it did upset him. D’arby knew he had put all his eggs in one basket. He was a nerdy type of person and didn’t expect to be Mr Charming as well. He decided to change the topic.

“If you don’t like work, what do you like to do when you aren’t at work?” asked D’arby.

Syafika was beginning to soften to D’arby. She still didn’t like him but had decided he probably wasn’t as full of himself as she had expected.

“Probably my favourite thing is eating” admitted Syafika.

“Cooking too?” asked D’arby.

“No, just the eating part really” said Syafika.

“What do you do when you aren’t at uni?” asked Syafika.

“I’m almost always at uni, really. I guess I don’t really have a chance to do anything else, not for fun anyway…” answered D’arby.

“Well, what would you like to do if you weren’t always at uni?” asked Syafika. She was beginning to be interested in the conversation.

“What would I like to do?” D’arby asked himself. Then he started thinking out loud. “That’s an interesting question. I don’t really have an answer. There are lots of things I’d like to achieve, but I’m not sure what I need to do to achieve them. There isn’t anything I’d really like to do just for fun either. It is all about getting something done.”

“Oh” said Syafika. She was disappointed with that answer. D’arby might be humble about his brilliance but he was full of himself in other ways. Here was someone who wanted to get something done but would probably never get further than talking about wanting to.

“What’s this ‘something’?” asked Syafika. She was challenging D’arby. D’arby wasn’t offended though. He was really very happy that Syafika was making him think. She made him realize that not only did he not have a plan, but he didn’t even know what he wanted the plan to achieve. Without knowing it, D’arby was thinking the same thing as Syafika – that he wasn’t going to get anything done at this rate. Until recently D’arby had supposed that getting his research (official or secret) out into the world was what he wanted to get “done”. But what was that going to achieve, really? What was the underlying purpose of that? D’arby couldn’t articulate one. Fortunately Syafika had tuned into the conversation between John and Fanta, so D’arby was free to sit quietly and think for a while.

Fanta was talking about her part time job as a real estate agent. She’d become a real estate agent while working for her uncle, who was also a real estate agent, but she said that country real estate agents like her uncle were so much nicer than city ones.

“In the town I grew up in being a real estate agent is one of the most respectable jobs. You can’t rip people off or trick them because the place is so small that everyone will know about it. I haven’t found it to be the same here though!” complained Fanta.

“My current boss Lenny can be so awful to people. Finding yourself a house is such an emotional thing and I think Lenny enjoys making it a miserable experience. He is especially unkind to renters. He makes them jump through hoops to get a place. He gets them to fill in the same forms twice (to check that they give the same answers the second time), demands more proof of identification than you’d need to get a loan, never returns calls and always pretends there have been more applications than there have been. Then the lucky ones who get the place are rewarded with delayed repairs and if they decide to leave Lenny will try to charge at least a few days extra rent (which he keeps for himself) and never lets anyone get their entire bond back if they leave, not without a fight anyway. He can’t be the only one doing this though. Surely everyone would go elsewhere if there was a better alternative.”

“I’ve never really understood why Lenny gets you to do the selling while he deals with the rentals. I thought everyone wanted to do sales not rentals” said Syafika. “But it must be because he gets pleasure from being awful!”

“Maybe, or maybe he is just trying to maximise his income. He gets a slice of sales commissions, of course, and I am better at making sales than he is – I don’t really understand why though. I don’t have any tricks.”

“It is probably because you don’t have any tricks” said John. “I bet people can trust you to be fair”.

“Perhaps” said Fanta. “At least I try to be fair. I try to find buyers something they will like and can afford, and I try to get the seller a fair price, which isn’t hard in this market. Prices just keep going up! Everyone thinks I must have predicted that when I bought this place cheap, but I didn’t know. I just liked this house and was so pleasantly surprised to be able to afford it that I bought it without much thought. The only downside was that having a mortgage means I’ve had to continue working for Lenny, even when I’ve been tempted to quit. I can’t wait to find a real job now that I’ve finished uni.”

Syafika was looking at John while Fanta was talking. She could tell he thought Fanta was the most amazing person in the world. Syafika realized that John was a pretty nice person and felt bad about having tried to discourage Fanta from seeing him. Still, there was something about John that worried Syafika. Something she hadn’t been able to completely work out yet. He seemed familiar somehow, but where had Syafika seen him before? She strained her mind (something she rarely did) and a few minutes later she was rewarded with the realization that John was the grotty man who had rubbed a dog’s pooh into its owner’s hair all those months ago (on the day that Syafika had walked to work in the rain carrying a cake for Anthony). If this memory hadn’t made Syafika start thinking about Anthony (she had to admit to herself that she still missed him) she might have asked John about that episode, but instead she kept quiet and started comparing Anthony to Vincent and this meant that D’arby had a chance to speak.

“I’ve had an idea” said D’arby. Everyone turned to listen to him. Even Nancy and Ruby stopped preparing dessert and looked out of the kitchen door. “There’s a lot about this world that I would like to change and I’ve always wanted to do something about that. I’ve always expected that I would do something. But now, thanks to Syafika, I realise that the way I’m going I’m never going to get anything good done. I can’t because I don’t have a plan or even an aim. But I still HAVE to do something. Not doing something is the same as agreeing with the things I don’t like! So I have to do something, but I can’t do anything on my own. I’m just not capable. Not yet anyway. What I think is that if we all worked together, the four of us, maybe together we could come up with an aim and then a plan and then….” Suddenly D’arby felt that his idea was pretty lame. He didn’t even know whether these people wanted the same world as he did (and suspected that they didn’t). All he knew was that they seemed to have complementary talents.

“Yes!” said John “Let’s do it!” John was sure D’arby would think of something good for them to do and he was always keen to do something (he conveniently forgot that he had his own problems plus a busy restaurant to look after).

Fanta felt strange. She wanted to hug D’arby. Despite a hard childhood she’d managed to build herself a comfortable life but lately she had started to wonder whether there was meant to be more to life than comfort. Then here was D’arby offering her something more. Just at the right time.

Syafika would have been completely against such a flimsy idea if she hadn’t been given some credit for it. She liked to know that she had made D’arby realise something about himself. She decided to go along with the idea because she’d win either way. Either D’arby wouldn’t go through with his plan to change the world, in which case Syafika wouldn’t have to do anything to help. Or D’arby would change the world and she would know that it was all because of her.

Chapter 18.

It was early on Sunday morning. D’arby’s sister Jinabu woke up and made herself a cup of peppermint tea. She sat on the sofa, enjoying the warmth of the cup in her hands and the smell of peppermint. She stared out the window and started thinking about what she would do that day. It looked like it was going to be a sunny day, and probably not too hot to be outside. Jinabu decided that she would put a load of washing on and then go for a walk in the park. Then she’d make a nice lunch and read baby books all afternoon. Then her husband Andrew appeared. He was dressed for a day out shopping. He wanted to buy all the baby stuff in one go.

“Aren’t you even dressed yet?” complained Andrew when he saw that Jinabu was still wearing her nightie and hadn’t brushed her hair. “Have you got that shopping list I asked you to write? Why have you become so lazy?”

Jinabu didn’t really feel like answering. She hadn’t made a shopping list and didn’t want to go shopping. “Do we need to buy anything?” asked Jinabu. “I’m not even sure of what we will need. I’ve got some second hand stuff from my friends anyway. Can’t we just wait and see if we need anything else when the baby is here?”

Andrew shook his head and frowned. “I don’t want my child to be a bludger before it is even born. How do we know that the stuff your friends gave us is any good? You might not care about using other people’s cast-offs but I do. Why don’t you care what people think of you?”

Andrew turned his back to Jinabu and looked out the window, watching the neighbours put their kids into their big, shiny car. He decided it was time to put his foot down.

“I know you can’t help having been born into a family of useless hippies, but as the mother of my child you will have to make more of an effort to be a normal person. I don’t have to stay married to you, you know. There are plenty of other women who would happily take your place. I don’t want to have to make up excuses for you for the rest of my life. See how the neighbours are? I want us to be like them. They know how to be respectable.” said Andrew.

Jinabu felt that she should have been more shocked than she was. She stared into space and wondered how she had got here. How had she married this man? How had she moved into this big house? How had she ever considered that a relationship with someone who hated everything she believed in could ever work? She didn’t understand anything. Her thoughts were cloudy.

Jinabu didn’t pack a bag. She just told Andrew that she needed to go away and think about things and then she wandered out of the house and down the street in her bare feet, still wearing her floral cotton nightie.

Jinabu was out the door before Andrew could respond. He really didn’t want Jinabu going out of the house dressed like that, especially not without shoes on. There was a strong chance that some of the neighbours would see her, especially as he expected that she would go and sit in the nearby park to do her thinking. Andrew started to follow Jinabu, but then stopped, deciding it would probably be less embarrassing for her to go alone than for anyone to see him trying to get her back inside – they’d probably argue.

So, Andrew let Jinabu go outside to be embarrassing on her own. He stewed for a while and then picked up one of Jinabu’s baby books. In the back of the book there was a list of essential baby equipment. “How easy is that?” thought Andrew and he set off to buy everything on the list.

Jinabu’s messy hair was hanging down her back and around her shoulders. All she could bear to think about was how nice and warm the sun was and how cold and hard the footpath was. Jinabu didn’t care where she was going or what she was going to do. She just followed her feet down the street, and that was how Ark’s eyes first found Jinabu. When Ark saw Jinabu he couldn’t believe that she was real. Then when she turned and looked at him he lost control of his limbs and stalled his truck.

Jinabu was focusing on enjoying the way the sun fell through the leaves of the trees that lined the street when she thought she could smell popcorn. The smell became stronger so she looked around to see what it could be, but the only sign of life was an old, open truck full of furniture coming along the street. As the truck passed her it stalled.

Jinabu looked at the driver of the truck, and at the same time she noticed her own reflection in the passenger side window. It amused her how similar they looked. His hair was long, wild and wispy and he too looked like he was just drifting along without thinking much. Ark was always like that though. He did what he thought was the right thing at the time but hardly ever made plans for his future. He was usually too busy helping someone or fighting for some cause to think about himself much. At that moment, he was moving a friend’s furniture. His friend Ian had been sent to gaol for becoming violent at a protest. Today Ark was moving Ian’s furniture from the flat Ian had been renting and was going to keep Ian’s stuff at his place in the country until he could come and get it.

Jinabu walked over to the truck and Ark leant over and opened the passenger side door.

“Can you smell popcorn?” Jinabu asked

That was when Ark noticed Jinabu’s huge stomach. She looked like she could give birth at any moment.”Not another one.” thought Ark. He was always meeting lovely women who wanted to have kids, but he didn’t want any more kids, or to have to look after them. He’d been a teenage Dad and was content with the one son he had. “It’s probably the truck” said Ark, trying not to look disappointed, and when Jinabu looked confused he got out and showed her a drum in the back of the truck. “Smell this” he said as he opened the drum. “The truck runs on biodiesel that is made from old cooking oil”. Jinabu smelt it and remarked that the exhaust smelt better, then she asked Ark if he had made it himself and if it wasn’t bad for the engine. Ark was always ready to defend biodiesel and began a spiel about how it is actually good for diesel engines when he realized that he was blocking the traffic so he got back into the truck. Jinabu got in too and they drove off together.

Chapter 19.

It was a boring Sunday morning and Syafika and Fanta were not doing much, just sitting around at Syafika’s place and wishing that something would happen. They were both looking forward to their Monday night meeting with John and D’arby. Both of them had already done their homework for the meeting, which was to write a list of things that they thought were wrong in the world and things they could do to make everything better. It was hard to resist discussing these lists before the meeting, but so far they had both managed to avoid the topic.

Then the phone rang. It was John. He said he needed Fanta and Syafika’s help urgently and that it had something to do with T-shirts. Then he said where to meet him and hung up.

Fortunately Syafika and Fanta were in the type of mood where they would volunteer for anything rather than stay at home doing nothing and so they left to meet John immediately. After a bit of walking Fanta and Syafika found John and D’arby right where they said they’d be – in the alley behind an old warehouse. Someone had left an enormous box of T-shirts out on the street, with a cardboard sign saying “Free to a good home”. John was sure that his place was as good a home as any. As soon as he and D’arby had come across the T-shirts they had thought of a way to use them. D’arby had once been a fan of screen printing and still had all the equipment. He and John were going to print T-shirts and give them away at the restaurant. They just had to get them home first.

Fanta and Syafika were assigned the task of convincing a taxi driver to come up the back alley and let them fill the taxi full of T-shirts. It was easy enough to stop a taxi on the busy road nearby but when the taxi driver got to where John and D’arby were sorting through the T-shirts he had to be offered double the fare to let them stuff them in the taxi.

“See you back at our place!” said D’arby as he left in the taxi. Fanta and Syafika were beginning to wish they were still sitting around doing nothing as they began the walk back with John. All three of them were carrying large piles of T-shirts that hadn’t fitted in the taxi.

“At least this pile is so high that nobody passing can see my face” said Syafika. She was embarrassed. She didn’t want to be seen scavenging.

“Yeah, the disadvantage is that I can’t see where I’m going” said Fanta and then walked straight into a post. After that, John insisted on carrying all of Fanta’s T-shirts, as well as his own. Fanta walked in front and guided John and Syafika past any obstacles on the footpath.

“Dog pooh coming up” said Fanta “At the third step, take an extra large one.” She was enjoying herself. There seemed to be a lot more dog poohs on the walk back than John or Syafika had ever remembered.

——————————-

“So, what are you going to print on them?” asked Fanta when they were all back at John and D’arby’s place.

John and D’arby were arranging the T-shirts in piles on the floor of the lounge room.

“Something risqué” said D’arby. “The point is to see what ridiculous slogans we can make people wear by making them free.”

“Free to a good home?” asked Syafika

“I’m free, take me?” said Fanta

“Discarded” said John

“I was thinking about something to do with money” said D’arby. “Only I can’t think of a way to say what I want to say”

“Try” said Fanta

“Something distilling how I feel about the importance we give the economy not being justified – that it has become a beast that we are slaves to” said D’arby

“Why don’t you just say ‘Fuck the economy’” said John.

“Ha ha, won’t people get arrested for wearing something like that?” said Syafika

“I wonder” said Fanta. “Why don’t you ask Vincent?”

“Why don’t we just try it!” said John “Lets print some up now and I’ll give them away at the restaurant tonight.

Chapter 20.

Jinabu didn’t ask Ark where he was going and Ark didn’t ask Jinabu where she wanted to go. They were just both happy to be sitting next to each other. Jinabu felt safe and was glad to not have to think about where she was going or what she was going to do. Ark was grinning because he’d found someone stranger than him. They sat in silence until they got out of the city because Jinabu didn’t feel like talking and Ark needed to concentrate on the city traffic.

It was going to be a long drive, especially in the slow old truck. That was the first thing that Ark told Jinabu when the traffic had thinned enough for him to be able to talk. Jinabu said she didn’t mind, but that she would need lots of toilet breaks. What she didn’t tell Ark was that she already needed a toilet break and that she was getting a headache because she was so hungry, or that she didn’t have any money to buy food. When Ark noticed Jinabu’s change in mood he began to feel less happy. He thought she must have been bored with him already.

So they both sat in silence, staring ahead with grey faces, until Jinabu’s stomach began to growl. It was so loud and persistent that Ark couldn’t help himself, and he had to laugh.

“You wouldn’t be hungry, would you?” he managed to ask between chuckles. Jinabu didn’t answer, she just looked daggers at Ark. She always became grumpy when she was hungry. Ark parked outside the first place that looked like it might sell food and have a toilet and Jinabu sighed with relief. While Jinabu went to the toilet, Ark bought some food. Jinabu then went back to the truck to wait for Ark because she was feeling too weak to explain that she didn’t have any money to contribute to the food.

Ark had a few minutes of panic in the shop because he wanted to buy exactly what Jinabu needed, but didn’t know what that was. He couldn’t buy lots of things either, because he didn’t have a lot of money and they still had a long way to go. For some reason he thought that pregnant women liked icecream and so he bought a small container of that. Then he saw some fruit juice with added folate, which he’d heard that pregnant women needed. Finally he bought a fruitcake, because he liked them.

Jinabu’s eyes lit up when she saw what Ark had bought and her headache disappeared after a bit of orange juice. The next bit of the trip was much more fun. Jinabu did all the talking and she fed Ark fruitcake and ice cream as he drove. Ark ate more than he had room for because he didn’t want to upset Jinabu by telling her to stop feeding him.

As the day progressed, Jinabu and Ark got closer to Arks place, but it was a long way in a slow truck and in the afternoon they still had three hours of driving left. Jinabu had begun to feel really uncomfortable. Ark had been generous with toilet and food stops, but something else was bothering Jinabu now. At first she thought it was the truck seat that was giving her a sore back, but she began to recognize a pattern in the pain. Jinabu felt angry with herself. She’d been told so many times by friends and relatives that the baby would probably be overdue that she’d never considered that two weeks early was also possible. Jinabu began to think about the birth centre she’d booked back in Sydney, with the candles and relaxing music. The truck wasn’t much like that. Jinabu considered telling Ark what was happening, but decided to wait until they were approaching a town, as she didn’t want to make him panic and there wasn’t anything he could really do to help (they had no phone, the truck couldn’t go any faster and there was scarcely any traffic on this stretch of road). Anyway, thought Jinabu, there’s probably hours and hours of this to go.

Chapter 21.

When Syafika got home from John and D’arby’s place on Sunday afternoon she was feeling tired but excited. She never would have imagined that she’d enjoy the company of people as unconventional as John or D’arby as much as she did. It was as if she’d spent the day in a parallel universe, one where her life wasn’t dominated by feelings of inadequacy, one where she could enjoy doing and learning things instead of having herself at the centre of her thoughts – and she didn’t have to think about herself because she knew she wasn’t being judged. Who’d have thought that Syafika would enjoy something as potentially embarrassing and dirty as scavenging and then learning to screen print? Not even the presence of Ousman and Binta at home could make Syafika angry that afternoon.

Ousman was sitting on the front steps when Syafika arrived. “What are you doing out here?” asked Syafika.

“Sulking” answered Ousman.

“Why?” asked Syafika. She was interested enough to stop and wait for an answer.

Ousman sighed and said “It’s a long story. You probably don’t have time”.

Syafika realized that Ousman was making an observation more than accusing her of not caring. If she’d been in a bad mood she still would have been offended though. Luckily for Ousman, today Syafika realized that what he had just said was true. She never did give him much time so why should he expect her to want to listen now? She was tempted to defend herself but decided it would be more productive if she just sat down and made it clear that she wanted to hear more.

“So?” said Syafika.

Ousman sighed again. He seemed to be having trouble working out what to say. Even this new, improved version of Syafika derived some amusement from this, but it was mixed with pity.

“Imagine if you’d never met your father and if you didn’t even know who he was” said Ousman eventually. “What would you do? Would you just accept it if your Mum didn’t want to tell you anything? Or would you try to find out?”

Syafika was very tempted to tell Ousman what she’d heard about his father, but for some reason she hesitated. She remembered the day she’d heard her mother and father discussing this issue in the kitchen. That was way back when Binta was still pregnant and Syafika was only 13. Festus had been talking about Binta’s anonymous donor so Syafika had asked what that meant. She could still remember the embarrassment she felt when Festus explained how a woman could go to a special kind of bank if she wanted to have a baby without a man. Rose had been so annoyed at this discussion that she’d left the room. At the time Syafika couldn’t understand why her mum was angry, but now she realized that it was probably because Festus had been making up stories as a joke.

“Well?” said Ousman. He was still waiting for Syafika to answer his question.

“I’d want to find out” answered Syafika.

“Me too!” said Ousman. “I wanted to find out, and I did, and now Mum is very angry with me”.

“How did you find out?” asked Syafika, with some strain. What she’d really wanted to say was “What did you find out!”

“I read Mum’s diaries” replied Ousman. “I think that’s the main reason she’s angry, because she doesn’t…” Ousman stopped talking and looked at Syafika as if he’d just realized who he’d been talking to and had decided that he couldn’t trust her enough to tell her any more.

Chapter 22.

An hour later Ark and Jinabu still hadn’t reached a town and Jinabu wasn’t in a good way. She was pale, covered with sweat and couldn’t help bracing herself and gritting her teeth with every contraction.

“What’s wrong?” asked Ark, but Jinabu couldn’t answer. She just glared at him and tried to breathe deeply.

“Oh no!” said Ark and he stopped the truck in a shady spot on the side of the road, got out of the truck and opened the door on Jinabu’s side. Jinabu lay down across the seats and concentrated on her breathing. Ark felt like fainting and so he lay down on the ground saying “I’ll just be a minute”.

Ark woke up sometime later. He sat up. It took him a couple of seconds to remember what he had been doing. Then he noticed the silence and jumped up in fright. Jinabu was sitting up in the truck holding a sleeping baby and smiling. Jinabu and the baby were both covered in blood and Ark could smell vomit. The umbilical cord, still joined to the baby, disappeared over the edge of the seat. Ark imagined that the placenta was lurking somewhere on the truck floor and averted his eyes before he could confirm his suspicion. He went round to the driver’s side and saw that there was a pool of blood on the floor right next to the pedals, and that a line of ants was marching in.

“Are you both ok?” asked Ark. “Yeah” answered Jinabu. She looked tired but seemed happy and healthy. The baby stirred and made a few squawking sounds.

They had to get to a hospital so Ark took a deep breath and climbed into the truck. He tried not to think about what he was putting his feet in and started the truck. Jinabu couldn’t help laughing when she saw Ark’s face.

“Sorry about making a mess” she said, between giggles.

“Yeah, you really sound sorry” said Ark. He was annoyed, but that just made Jinabu laugh even more.

Chapter 23

Monday night had finally come around. John, Fanta, D’arby and Syafika were all going to meet at Syafika’s place. All four of them had a lot on their minds.

John’s preparation for the meeting involved writing one sentence on a piece of paper, but this wasn’t a sign of indifference. John was full of enthusiasm to do something good, and knew what he wanted to do – that’s why he only needed to write one sentence. The only thing bothering him about the meeting was that he wondered how he could discuss his idea without making two dangerous confessions.

Fanta was a lot less certain of her ideas than John. She knew that there were some big things wrong in the world, but for some reason she couldn’t identify them, and so she had no chance of knowing what could be done about them. All she had written down were some (probably minor) things that regularly made her angry. She was looking forward to hearing what everyone else had come up with though.

Fanta was also a bit distracted by a couple of things. One was a pleasant distraction – her uncle and aunt were in town and would be staying until after Christmas. The other distraction was a secret project, and Fanta was feeling guilty that she had to keep it secret from John and Syafika.

D’arby had written pages of dot points, but they weren’t a list of problems and solutions. Instead they were points he wanted to discuss as he tried to describe what he had decided might be the biggest problem in the world. D’arby was also excited that his sister had given birth to a baby boy, and that she had done so in unexpected circumstances. D’arby was going to travel to see his sister and his new nephew the next day.

Syafika had written her list based on the things she found most awful about the world and although she’d decided on solutions, she hadn’t really thought them through. She had spent a lot more time thinking about more T-shirt slogans though. She’d even come up with a special one for D’arby.

Syafika was still busy tidying her room when John and D’arby arrived. John had brought some cold pizza. Syafika was keen to know how the T-shirt give away had gone the night before but John was more interested in heating up and serving his pizza than discussing that. Syafika decided she’d ask again when Fanta had arrived and everyone had settled down.

“Will we sit around the kitchen table?” asked John, as he started looking in the drawers and cupboards for cutlery and plates.

Syafika had been hoping to have the meeting in her room, so that her parents wouldn’t hear what they were talking about, but was now trying to decide whether it would be more embarrassing for her parents to listen to them or for her friends to see her messy room. Then Rose and Fanta arrived.

“Syafika, aren’t you going to introduce your friends?” asked Rose. After Rose was introduced to John and D’arby Rose went on to tell Syafika how Festus was bringing home takeaway and they were going to have dinner in front of the TV so Syafika could have her meeting in peace. Syafika sighed with relief and went to get some napkins from the linen cupboard.

“So, did people like the T-shirts?” asked Fanta as Syafika helped John set the table.

“There was a mixed response” answered John. “Only one person was enthusiastic, but a few people took them – probably just because they were free. Most people looked confused at being offered a T-shirt or were offended by the slogan, or by me asking what size T-shirt they wore. People are complicated!”

“Well, if I see someone wearing one one day I’ll be happy.” said Syafika. “You will keep trying to give them away, won’t you? I have some more ideas for slogans. Some might be more popular than others.”

“Of course, I haven’t given up yet” said John.

As the four friends ate their pizza D’arby told everyone how his sister had given birth at the side of the road after having run away from her husband. Then Fanta told how her uncle and aunt were going to be staying with her for the next month and apologized to John that this meant she couldn’t go to his family’s Christmas lunch with him. John didn’t seem very upset about this.

Finally there were no more excuses – it was time to get out their lists.

“Can I go first?” asked Fanta. “I don’t think my ideas are very good so I better read them out before hearing any of yours or I might not want to read them out at all anymore.”

“Don’t be silly! I’m sure you have great ideas” said John. “But you go first if you want.”

Syafika couldn’t help hoping that Fanta’s ideas were bad. She didn’t want to have the worst ones. She already felt that she was the stupidest person in the room.

“Ok” said Fanta. “I couldn’t work out what the really big problems in the world are so I came up with two things that often bother me. First, I don’t like cars and secondly I don’t like smokers. I guess what I mean is that I would like to see cities and towns that were designed for people not cars (I mean pedestrians mostly, I suppose, but bicycles are probably ok too – I might even ride one if I wasn’t scared of being hit by a car) and I’d like to be able to enjoy outdoor spaces without having to passive smoke. I mean, at cafes, in parks, at the bus stop, at the train station, while walking down the street….”

“I know! We could print T-shirts with the slogan “How much does your freedom cost others?” said Syafika.

D’arby raised an eyebrow at Syafika’s suggestion, which made her feel foolish. She realized she wasn’t really concentrating on the task at hand – she was still obsessed with T-shirts. But D’arby wasn’t thinking that Syafika was a fool. He was actually impressed because he thought Syafika had very quickly compressed what Fanta had been saying into a single sentence. He didn’t know that Syafika was just using what Fanta said as an excuse to talk about T-shirt slogans.

Then everyone turned back to Fanta and she realized that they were waiting for her solutions. “I don’t know how to fix these problems though” said Fanta. “I was hoping one of you would have some ideas”.

“Can I go next?” asked John. “I think my idea goes well with Fanta’s. I think the solution to my problem might also be part of the solution to hers.”

And so John explained how he thought that the worst problem in the world was addiction, but not just to drugs. He included extreme behaviour like eating too much, or starving yourself, or accumulating too much money or too many shoes or gambling all your money away. “There are some things people become addicted to that you can’t remove from your life (like food) so I think that to avoid suffering and disasters people need to look for balance rather than seeking extremes and I think D’arby may have already found part of the solution to this.”

Suddenly Fanta and Syafika were looking at D’arby, waiting for an explanation, but before D’arby could work out what he was supposed to say John said “I need to confess something – two things” and Fanta and Syafika turned their attention back to John.

“Fanta, I only gave up drugs because D’arby gave me some pills and they fixed me. I didn’t want to give up before that and I’d never tried. I should have told you this but I thought it would have made you think less of me” said John as he looked pleadingly at Fanta.

“What’s the other thing?” asked Fanta. She didn’t really care how John gave up his addiction but was worried that the second thing was worse.

John looked at D’arby this time and said “I’ve been putting the same pills into pizzas at the restaurant.”

“I thought I told you not to do that!” said D’arby angrily, and he wished he was at home so he could check the state of his stash of special pills. D’arby had been so distracted by his thesis lately that he’d almost forgotten that John had intended setting a lab up for him at the back of the restaurant. Suddenly he had lots of questions.

“Where did you get the pills you used? You haven’t been trying to make any of your own have you?” asked D’arby.

“Nope, I just took the big jar of them that you had in the laundry. I don’t know if putting them in the cupboard behind the washing detergent was meant to be your way of hiding them, but if it was it didn’t work” said John.

D’arby wanted to ask what had happened to the people who’d eaten the special pizzas, but didn’t think it was appropriate for him to show that much interest while he was still trying to be angry. Fortunately Fanta asked for him.

“Have you been curing your customers?” asked Fanta.

“I wish I knew!” said John. “People come in and eat the pizza, pay and leave and I can’t really see any change, but I don’t know what I should be looking for. I don’t know who is an addict and who isn’t. I don’t know if the pills will work instantly if they are taken as part of a large meal. Does drinking alcohol with them stop them from working? I don’t know anything really. I just hope I’m doing some good and I’d like to be able to do more.”

Syafika had just eaten a bite of her fourth slice of pizza when she froze. “Were there any of these pills in this pizza?” she asked, with wide eyes.

“No, I wouldn’t waste them on us” said John.

“Good” said Syafika and was about to take another bite of pizza when from the corner of her eye she noticed something move in the doorway of the kitchen. Vincent was standing there. He was looking very angry. Everyone at the kitchen table turned to look at him and all of them were thinking the same thing – how long had he been standing there?

Vincent wouldn’t have needed his experience as a police detective to know that he’d interrupted a discussion about something criminal. The four very guilty looking faces around the kitchen table told him that.

John, D’arby and Fanta left immediately, leaving Syafika and Vincent alone.

“Who were those men?” asked Vincent. Syafika explained that John was Fanta’s boyfriend and D’arby was John’s flatmate. Next Vincent wanted to know what they’d been talking about. Syafika felt like a small child as she explained that they were thinking of ways to make the world a better place, but at least Vincent seemed to believe her.

“I think you should stay away from John and D’arby” said Vincent and then changed the topic. Vincent had come over as a surprise to give Syafika a CD that he’d been enjoying. He didn’t stay long. Syafika could tell that he was disappointed with her. As she closed the door behind Vincent tears welled in her eyes. Syafika turned and ran to her bedroom, where she sat on her bed looking at her list of T-shirt slogans and ways to fix the world while she cried.

Chapter 24.

On Tuesday morning D’arby was in a rush to catch his train but John was taking ages in the bathroom. “Hurry up!” yelled D’arby and he banged on the bathroom door. There was no answer and ten minutes later John was still in the shower so D’arby decided he’d have to leave without having a shower or cleaning his teeth. It also meant that he couldn’t pack his toothbrush. D’arby left an angry goodbye note on the table for John and walked to the station. He was going to go and stay with his sister for a few days. She was staying with Ark, who happened to live in what sounded like a hippie commune – it was a community owned farm next to a river. Jinabu said it was a beautiful place, but had also mentioned that only two of the houses there had electricity (and Ark’s house wasn’t one of them). To get there D’arby had to take an eight hour train trip and then catch a bus to the closest town, where Ark would pick him up.

D’arby had only just found his seat on the train when the guard announced that the train was about to depart and that only “intending passengers” should remain on the train. D’arby took a red pen and some reading material out of his backpack (a draft of a thesis chapter, some scientific papers on psychopaths and the notes he hadn’t been able to read out at the meeting the night before) then put his back-pack on the luggage rack above his head and started thinking about what had happened the night before.

As soon as John had seen Vincent he’d wanted to leave Syafika’s place. John walked home at such a pace that D’arby couldn’t keep up. Not long after John and D’arby got home Fanta rang John to tell him what Syafika had just called to tell her – that Vincent had seemed more jealous than suspicious. Fanta didn’t pass on that Vincent had also ordered Syafika to keep away from John and D’arby though. John was relieved by this news, but had still had trouble sleeping, which was why he’d needed to have an incredibly long “wake-up shower” in the morning.

Although D’arby resented Vincent for having broken up their meeting he wasn’t upset that he hadn’t been able to talk about his ideas for saving the world because he thought they needed more polishing. He hoped that on the long train trip he’d be able to write something for the next meeting that he’d be proud of.

At the first stop D’arby’s plans for a productive journey were destroyed when the person who’d booked the seat next to him got on the train. At first things didn’t look too bad – the young man smiled and then sat down next to D’arby and got out a book. The book turned out to be just a prop though. The man pretended to be reading it, but was really trying to read over D’arby’s shoulder. This made D’arby uncomfortable. He put his plans for saving the world away and tried to read through his thesis chapter instead, but his neighbour seemed just as interested in his thesis – he didn’t speak though.

When the buffet car opened D’arby decided to go and see whether they sold toothbrushes or anything else that might take away his bad breath. When he came back with chewing gum, toast (John would be proud) and a very strange tasting coffee D’arby noticed that his neighbour was now wearing headphones and had a sheepish look on his face.

D’arby ate his breakfast and enjoyed looking out the window. He decided it might be better to spend the trip thinking rather than reading and writing, but his neighbour had other plans. He walked off somewhere and when he came back he had a guitar with him. D’arby and anyone else in the carriage who had seen this hoped in vain that this didn’t mean they were about to be treated to some music.

D’arby’s neighbour folded up the arm rest that separated their seats to make room for the guitar and began to play. First it was just some quiet strumming. D’arby would have been able to find this amusing if he wasn’t embarrassed that everyone in the carriage was looking at him as well as his neighbour. D’arby wished he was wearing a T-shirt that had an arrow pointing towards the seat next to him with the writing “I’m not with him” and thought about making a sign. Then the guitar man began to sing, quietly at first, but as he became more and more entranced by the music his singing got louder and louder. People started muttering – telling him to shut up. Some even complained to D’arby that he should ask his neighbour to shut up. Then a woman walked off in a huff towards the buffet car and not long after one of the train conductors came along and asked the guitar man to be quiet. This worked for about five minutes, but then the man started gently strumming his guitar again, and the music eventually escalated as it had done before.

The next time the conductor came back he brought with him the largest member of the train staff (the man who had made D’arby’s strange coffee). The guitar man was made to put his guitar back on the luggage rack at the end of the carriage. He tried to sit still and be good but it seemed to be making him itchy. He began to scratch his scalp, then his face, shoulders, arms and hands. The itchiness must have spread to his back because he spent a while writhing around trying to reach the middle of his back. Then his feet became itchy and he had to take off his shoes and socks. Watching the guitar man scratch himself made D’arby feel itchy too, and he wasn’t the only one. He noticed that other passengers were beginning to scratch itches too. The couple sitting behind D’arby started to discuss whether someone might have let loose some fleas. The guitar man must have had enough. He let out a scream “Aaaaaaaaaaahhhhh!” and got up, then came back with his guitar and the music soon started again. At the next stop two police officers forced guitar man off the train.

As the train pulled away from the station where the guitar man was arguing with the police, D’arby assembled his pile of reading material again and found that one of his papers on psychopaths and his plans for saving the world were missing.

Chapter 25.

Syafika wasn’t able to concentrate on her work. Normally her solution to this was to go and get a coffee, but today she didn’t feel like one, which made her suspect that John had been lying when he’d said that the pizza they’d eaten the night before didn’t have any of D’arby’s special pills in it.

Syafika had been shaken by what had happened the night before. She was upset that she had disappointed Vincent, but she was also annoyed that he thought he could order her around. Ultimately she didn’t want to stop seeing John and D’arby, but was wondering whether Vincent was wiser than she was. Perhaps Vincent could tell that those two were going to get her into trouble one day.

“Maybe some music will help me decide what I should do” thought Syafika and she took her headphones and the CD that Vincent had given her out of her bag. The music wasn’t new – it sounded familiar to Syafika, but she didn’t really like it. Then the phone rang. It was Vincent. He wanted to know whether Syafika liked the CD. Syafika tried to fake enthusiasm for the music. She was genuinely happy that Vincent had called though. He didn’t sound angry. It seemed that things were back to normal. Syafika also liked it that he’d called as soon as she’d started listening to the music. “Our minds must be working in tune!” she thought.

After talking to Vincent Syafika’s thoughts were much clearer. She decided she wouldn’t stop seeing John and D’arby, but wouldn’t have the meetings at her house anymore. She didn’t think it was worth causing dramas by telling Fanta, John and D’arby that she wasn’t going to be part of their plans anymore because she didn’t really think their plans would come to anything, and if things did start to happen she could quit then.

Fanta was also at work and distracted. She’d just sold another house and was doing paper work without really thinking about what she was doing. Now that she had finished uni Fanta knew that she really should be getting a new job so she could make use of her degree, and yet it seemed so much easier to just keep on working part time as a real estate agent, especially when she was just beginning to realise that there were probably many other more important things that she should be giving her attention to.

When Fanta got home a bit later, her aunt and uncle were there, going through some complicated documents. They were helping Fanta with her secret project – or actually more than just helping. Fanta wouldn’t have been able to even start the project without their help.

Chapter 26

It was only when D’arby got off the bus that he realized that the town he was supposed to meet Ark in was quite large and that he should have organized a specific place to meet him at. D’arby decided to wait at the bus stop for a while, in case Ark was on his way there, but when an hour had passed D’arby couldn’t wait anymore. His bladder was about to burst and he was tired, hungry and a bit itchy.

D’arby walked along the main street, looking for a place that might have either a toilet or be somewhere where Ark might hang out while waiting for a bus. As he passed a small supermarket D’arby noticed a familiar face – Jinabu’s husband Andrew was buying groceries. If D’arby hadn’t been in need of help he might have hidden from Andrew, but instead he just stood there and waited for Andrew to notice him.

“There you are!” said Andrew. He seemed happy to see D’arby and so D’arby couldn’t help giving him a smile even though he was disappointed that Andrew had found Jinabu so quickly. Andrew explained to D’arby that he was supposed to be picking him up instead of Ark, but that he didn’t know where the bus stop was or when the bus was going to arrive and so had decided to do some shopping and hope that D’arby would recognize his car. D’arby didn’t really want to hear explanations, he just wanted to know where the public toilets were, and fortunately Andrew knew.

The car trip from the town to “the farm” was a bit uncomfortable. Andrew tried a few times to start a conversation but D’arby didn’t make enough effort for it to develop into anything. D’arby thought that Andrew looked a bit strange, as if he couldn’t decide whether he should be delighted at having a healthy baby boy or whether he should be wallowing in self pity over the way that Jinabu ran off and had the baby by the side of the road.

When D’arby and Andrew arrived Jinabu seemed happier to see the groceries than either of them. She was tired and very hungry and it was dinner time. D’arby held the baby for a little while, but the baby soon started to cry and Jinabu had to take him back. The baby still hadn’t been named because Andrew and Jinabu couldn’t agree on a name.

Andrew and D’arby worked together to cook some dinner by candlelight. Andrew struggled a bit with Ark’s limited kitchen facilities, but D’arby was pleasantly surprised. There was running water at the sink and the two-burner gas camping stove was just as effective as what he was used to using at home. There were even two sharp knives and two cutting boards, which meant that he and Andrew could both chop veggies at the same time.

Andrew held the baby while Jinabu and D’arby had dinner. Ark was still down at “the workshop”, which, as well as really being a workshop, was the farm meeting place. The workshop had electricity connected and so it was where the community home brew fridge was kept. It was also the only place you could have a hot shower.

After dinner Andrew kindly took D’arby on a torch-lit walk to the workshop. It was not an easy walk in the dark and D’arby wouldn’t have bothered having a shower if he hadn’t felt so grimy and itchy.

At the workshop Ark and three other men were sitting around chatting, drinking beer and pretending to be carving some wooden lettering into signs. Andrew waited for D’arby to have a shower, but didn’t join the other people in the workshop. Instead he sat outside getting bitten by mosquitoes. Andrew knew nobody there liked him, and he didn’t like anyone else there very much either. He planned to stick as close as possible to D’arby while D’arby was there. Andrew hoped that D’arby might help him convince Jinabu to come home, and soon!

D’arby felt much better after his shower. The itchiness went away and he began to feel quite comfortable. Andrew had made up a bed for D’arby, and had placed brand new toothbrush on the pillow (in his haste to find a toilet D’arby had forgotten to buy one when they were in town and he wondered how Andrew had anticipated that he would need a toothbrush). D’arby had his own room and the bed had a mosquito net. Jinabu, Andrew and the baby were sleeping in the other bedroom and Ark had moved into the caravan near the house. D’arby listened to the sound of frogs croaking as he fell asleep.

Chapter 27.

Mamadou was hungry. He had a strong headache and wished he could have a cup of tea and a bowl of rice, but there wasn’t any. They always ran out of food before the end of the ration period. Last night Mamadou had given his dinner to Howa, because he’d noticed how her baby started crying more frequently in the last couple of days before a food delivery and suspected that Howa wasn’t always able to make enough breast milk.

Saidou had snuck off early that morning to try to get some work in the nearest town. Howa and Mamadou worried about him doing this – sometimes refugees were attacked when they left the camp because some of the locals resented them for taking jobs that they might otherwise have been given – but when the food ran out Howa and Mamadou lost the strength to worry. Saidou would always bring back food.

Normally (when he wasn’t too hungry) Mamadou would try to be useful – groups of men would gather together and go looking for suitable jobs, like helping build shelters and sometimes Mamadou would go to the camp school to help teach the kids. But today Mamadou’s hunger and headache meant he wasn’t up to much at all.

To take his mind of his headache and empty stomach, Mamadou decided to take a walk around the camp. He could see some cars coming in the front gate and wandered over to see if the people in them had any news. A crowd quickly gathered around. They were trying to keep a respectable distance from the visitors and the aid workers who were meeting them, but were finding it hard.

Mamadou watched for a while but nothing exciting seemed to be happening and he couldn’t hear what the visitors were saying over everyone else’s chatter. He had just set off to see what was going on at the camp school when he thought he heard someone yelling out his name. He turned around. One of the aid workers and one of the visitors were making their way through the crowd, waving their arms above their heads and yelling out his name.

Mamadou approached and the visitor, speaking English, asked Mamadou if he spoke English. Mamadou responded that he did. The visitor said “Good! This is for you” and handed Mamadou an envelope. The visitor was then mobbed by other people, who hoped he would also give them an envelope so Mamadou retreated, holding his envelope close to his body.

Mamadou walked back to the one room shelter that he, Howa and Saidou shared. Nobody was there. Mamadou could hear lots of voices next door and thought that Howa was probably helping the neighbours with their cooking (since she didn’t have any food to cook that day). Mamadou hoped that someone they knew would have enough food to share with them that night. People tried to make sure nobody went hungry but sometimes they all ran out of food at the same time.

Mamadou sat down on the floor, opened the envelope and took out the letter inside it. It was written in English. Mamadou had suspected it would be. He could speak English, but he could scarcely read it! “Maybe when my headache goes away I will be able to” thought Mamadou. He got up and went to see if he could find Howa.

Chapter 28.

Despite being woken a couple times during the night – first by a slightly drunk Ark returning home for dinner and then later by the baby crying – D’arby woke up feeling refreshed.

The air was humid and smelt of a mixture of some unfamiliar kind of plant plus a little bit of mould, but D’arby still found it fresh.

When D’arby got out of bed he was shocked to find that he’d been attacked during the night. He was covered in blood, and so were the bed sheets. He didn’t feel any pain though. Then he found a swollen leech amongst the sheets and realized what had happened. He must have picked up the leech on the walk back from the workshop. He gathered up the sheets and went to look for a bucket to soak them in.

Andrew was up and about but Jinabu and the baby were asleep. Andrew had also been attacked. He was sitting in the sun with a pair of tweezers, bending over and looking at his stomach. “I have a tick” said Andrew as soon as he saw D’arby.

“I had a leech” replied D’arby, and showed Andrew the sheets and a bite on his ankle.

“I really don’t like this place!” complained Andrew. His voice sounded whiney. D’arby hoped that Andrew wouldn’t start crying.

When Andrew and D’arby had both dealt with their parasites they started making breakfast. D’arby offered to make the coffee but Andrew, who had heard about D’arby’s coffee from Jinabu, insisted on doing that himself and asked D’arby if he would make some scrambled eggs.

D’arby agreed, and rummaged around looking for a frying pan, oil, eggs and powdered milk while keeping one eye on Andrew so he could see how he was going to make the coffee.

Andrew looked hopefully through Ark’s kitchen equipment for the coffee plunger, but it had gone. “Maybe Ark has got his plunger” commented Andrew. “How am I going to make the coffee without one? I should have bought a tin of instant coffee!” said Andrew.

“I’ll do it then” said D’arby, “You make the eggs, and, can you make up a bit of extra milk up for the coffee too?”

And so D’arby took the coffee and a saucepan and got to work, leaving Andrew to read the instructions on the tin of milk powder. Andrew’s hopes for a nice breakfast were not high. He had hoped that D’arby would make some nice fluffy eggs. Andrew loved scrambled eggs but wasn’t any good at making them. At least I have my chocolate for later, thought Andrew. And then he realized that he hadn’t seen the chocolate that morning. “Where’s my chocolate gone?” moaned Andrew as he looked around. “Do you think Ark took that as well as the plunger?”

Ark chose that moment to appear. He was carrying his coffee plunger, which he put down loudly on the kitchen bench. “I think it should be alright for a man to use his own friggin coffee plunger without being accused of stealing chocolate. The bush rats probably took it.”

D’arby couldn’t help laughing. He thought Ark must have been joking about the bush rats.

“No, I’m serious!” said Ark. “The bush rats do like chocolate.”

Andrew wanted to start moaning about hating the place again, but instead he managed to squeeze out a “Sorry.” to Ark. Then he went back to mixing up some milk.

Ark obviously couldn’t wait for Andrew to leave his house. Andrew couldn’t wait to leave either, but he wasn’t going to go until Jinabu came with him. Ark invited D’arby down to the workshop after breakfast, then took a towel and left.

In the end, D’arby made the coffee and the eggs and some toast, while Andrew went looking around the house for his chocolate. Andrew returned about ten minutes later carrying an unwrapped misshapen piece of chocolate. He showed D’arby the tooth marks around the edges with a mixture of disgust and wonder. “Do you think it would be safe to eat the middle if I trim all the chewed bits off?” asked Andrew.

As Andrew carefully removed the contaminated portion of his chocolate bar, D’arby served the breakfast and coffee. D’arby made sure that Andrew wasn’t looking and then dropped two little pills into Andrew’s coffee and gave it a good stir.

Chapter 29.

The next morning Mamadou got up early. He was feeling much better. There had been a big dinner the night before, thanks to Saidou, who had brought home as much cassava, okra, tomatoes and onions as he could carry.

“If only there were some tea then life would be complete” thought Mamadou.

Mamadou took his letter and went outside, hoping to find a place that was both quiet and catching the early sun so he could have a go at reading the letter. He didn’t expect that he’d be able to understand it completely, but hoped that he’d be able to work out enough to help him decide what to do next. If the letter contained something he didn’t mind sharing then he’d look for someone to help him read it properly.

The letter started in the usual way, with a greeting. Mamadou skipped to the bottom of the page to read who the letter was from, but it wasn’t anyone he knew. Then he looked at the top of the page to see their address and what he saw made his heart start racing. He furiously started trying to read the whole letter.

The first paragraph seemed to be warning him of what was to come in the rest of the letter. Mamadou successfully read the phrase “I hope this doesn’t come as too much of a shock.”

Mamadou stopped and took a few deep breaths, then read on.

When he got to the bit that said “you have a son” Mamadou was shocked. He read it again and again, to make sure he understood correctly.

From what Mamadou understood, the rest of the letter was asking him if he’d be happy for his son to contact him and that his son would like to bring Mamadou to come and live with him.

Mamadou got up and ran off to find someone who could help him write a reply.

Chapter 30.

When D’arby got to the workshop after breakfast Ark was the only person still waiting there. Everyone else had already gone to start the garlic harvest. Ark handed D’arby a small shovel and a dented stainless steel drink bottle and they headed off to join the others.

On the way Ark remarked that he didn’t mind Jinabu staying in his house, but that having Andrew there too was pushing the boundaries of his generosity.

“You don’t know when Andrew is planning to leave, do you? He must have a job to go back to, surely?” Ark asked D’arby.

Unfortunately D’arby couldn’t provide an answer, but did promise to try to find out.

D’arby and Ark soon arrived at the garlic crop, where about a dozen adults were busy digging up garlic bulbs and several grubby children were running around. After the garlic bulbs were dug up they were placed gently on the back of Ark’s truck.

By mid afternoon D’arby was as much an expert at removing leaches as he was at digging up garlic. Fortunately though, only a few garlic bulbs remained in the ground and the spirits of the pickers were rising. They’d gone without a lunch break in order to finish the job earlier. As the last garlic bulbs were placed on the truck there were cheers. Then Ark got into his truck and drove slowly and carefully off towards the drying shed. By now most minds were on the home brew fridge at the workshop.

Meanwhile, Andrew and Jinabu were preparing dinner together silently, while each of them reflected on what had been a strange day.

The baby had slept most of the day and hadn’t cried at all. This meant that Jinabu had been able to gather her thoughts.

Andrew had also been able to gather his thoughts, but he put that down to the excellent cup of coffee that D’arby had made for him.

When Jinabu got up that morning she was already in a better mood than she’d been for a while. She’d had quite a bit of sleep during the night and could smell that there was a nice breakfast waiting for her.

As Jinabu ate her eggs Andrew watched and wondered whether it was a good time to talk about going home. Andrew had never before wished he could read Jinabu’s mind. “I’ve always assumed I knew what she was thinking” realized Andrew.

Without meaning to, Andrew began to think out loud. “I’m sorry” he said to Jinabu. Jinabu stopped chewing and stared at Andrew. She wanted to talk but her mouth was full. As she swallowed her eggs Jinabu imagined what Andrew would have said if she’d spat out her half-chewed eggs so she could reply faster.

Finally Jinabu was able to reply with “Which thing are you saying sorry for?”

Andrew felt hurt by that comment. He wondered how many thing Jinabu had on her list, but he decided to stay on track and answer Jinabu’s question. “For saying you weren’t respectable and insisting that you change, and all the other things I said on Sunday.”

“And for calling my family ‘useless?’” Jinabu asked

Andrew wanted to say no, but realized that he could say something that might make them both satisfied “I’m sorry for calling your family useless hippies” said Andrew, while thinking “Now that I’ve seen the people here I wouldn’t call your family hippies anymore.”

Andrew really was feeling sorry for what he’d said to Jinabu, but it was more for practical than emotional reasons. He and Jinabu had a child now, which would tie them together forever, whether they liked it or not. When Andrew weighed up the embarrassment that Jinabu would sometimes cause him against the upset and inconvenience that would be caused by her refusing to come back to him, it became clear that he’d be better off letting Jinabu be herself if it meant that the three of them could live together in some kind of harmony.

Jinabu was also thinking practically. She realized that it would probably be harder for her to be a single mother than to put up with the stuff Andrew sometimes said.

After breakfast Jinabu and Andrew went for a walk. Andrew carried the baby and Jinabu carried the camera. As they explored the farm they tried to agree on a baby name. Jinabu pretended she wanted him to be called Carob, just to see how far she could push Andrew that day, but Andrew could tell that she was joking. They still didn’t agree on a name but at least they weren’t being rude to each other.

Then Andrew changed the topic and started to talk about his plans for when he got back home. At first he used “I need to” and “I want to” and then he sneakily replaced the beginning of his sentences with “We should”. This was his indirect way of asking Jinabu whether she would come back with him. Jinabu listened and nodded and eventually started adding things to the list, saying “We also need to”. When Jinabu did this Andrew became almost giddy with happiness – he was so relieved that they would soon be back to their regular, respectable life. Eventually Andrew and Jinabu calculated that they needed to leave for home the next day in order to have enough time to get all their jobs done before Andrew’s paternity leave was over.

Chapter 31

Fanta was anxious as she walked to Syafika’s place. Syafika had invited Fanta to dinner because Ousman and Binta were also coming for dinner and Syafika hoped that Fanta being there too would somehow make it more bearable. Fanta had a feeling that there would be arguments tonight though.

When Fanta arrived she found Rose in the front garden. Rose was busy digging up her gardenia bushes.

“What are you doing?” asked Fanta, with pain in her voice. The gardenias were flowering and smelt beautiful. Fanta couldn’t understand why Rose would be destroying them.

Rose stood up and pointed down the street. “Look!” she said. “See how many houses now have vegetables growing in their front yards? I used to grow vegetables and herbs and tomatoes in the front yard, but then all the rich people started moving into the street and they looked down their noses at me and complained that the fertilizer I was using stank, so I moved the veggie patch to the back yard and planted gardenias here instead.”

Rose paused so that Fanta had time to peer down the street. Then she continued.

“Well, then a few months ago it started to be trendy to grow your own vegetables and so now everyone has been pulling up their gardenias and planting vegetables! See number 32? They even have a worm farm!” said Rose.

“That black box on legs?” asked Fanta

“Yes! So now I’m going to plant basil and chives and chillies and rockmelons and sunflowers and zucchinis and whatever else I like! And then I’m going to put on the stinkiest fertilizer I can find. I might even try to get some chicken or cow pooh” said Rose and she chuckled.

As Fanta looked up the street she noticed that Rose had by far the biggest front yard. Fanta the real estate agent chuckled as she estimated the value of the land that would soon be covered in manure.

Fanta was going to ask Rose where Syafika was and whether Ousman and Binta were there yet, but Rose had returned her attention to digging, so Fanta went inside instead. Not surprisingly, Binta was in the kitchen preparing dinner. Ousman was there too. Binta had given him the job of washing the vegetables and while he wasn’t reluctant to do the job, he wasn’t giving it his full attention. When he heard Fanta say hello to his mother, Ousman turned around with a smile on his face. Binta wasn’t smiling though. She stopped what she was doing and looked sternly at Fanta.

“Where do I start!” said Binta. “How dare you interfere in my life in such a way! How dare you!”

Fanta realized that Binta had found out about her secret project. She hadn’t really expected such anger to be directed at her though. Fanta was certain she’d been doing a good thing.

When Fanta didn’t respond Binta continued “Why didn’t you talk to me about this? Didn’t you think I had the right to know what my own son was up to?”

“Ousman begged me to help him and not to tell anyone” explained Fanta, but she could see that perhaps she hadn’t done the wisest thing and that she should have consulted Binta.

“What are you doing here anyway? How can you think you know what is right for my son when you are always leaving your daughters at home and going out on your own?” said Binta angrily and then she turned her back on Fanta and pretended to be stirring the contents of a saucepan.

There were plenty of things Fanta could have said, but because she could feel tears forming in her eyes she turned and left instead. As she walked off down the street Fanta knew that she would regret not having stayed to explain things, but couldn’t bear to go back. Fanta was used to people she didn’t know assuming that her sisters were really her daughters, but she hadn’t expected it from someone she considered to be a friend. She imagined Syafika’s family discussing her – talking about her having been a teenage mother and how she tried to trick people into thinking her kids were her sisters. Fanta wondered what Syafika really believed. Fanta’s sisters were almost young enough to be her children and she was their guardian but Fanta was hurt that these people might not believe her when she said they were not her children.

Fanta was also hurt by Binta saying that she didn’t know what was good for Ousman. Maybe Syafika hadn’t told Binta how Fanta’s father had died just before Fanta’s youngest sister was born, or how Fanta’s mother had then abandoned them all and run off with a new man. After going through that, Fanta thought she did have some idea of what Ousman felt when his mother didn’t want him to know who his father was.

Fanta wondered whether Binta was right to think that Fanta shouldn’t go out and leave her sisters behind. Fanta had always considered that she should be able to have a separate social life, like she would have if her parents had been around. She never left her sisters on their own, they always had a babysitter, and tonight they were home with their aunt and uncle, who were practically their parents anyway.

Fanta wondered what would have happened if she had proposed to Binta that they try to find Ousman’s father. She knew Binta’s initial answer would have been “No!”, but would Binta have eventually changed her mind? Fanta decided that Binta probably would have eventually agreed with the plan to find Ousman’s father and Fanta began to regret not having discussed it with Binta first. She wished she had been able to say so.

After gathering her thoughts on the walk home, Fanta realized she needed to call Syafika, who would at least need to know why she hadn’t stayed for dinner. Festus answered the phone. He’d been instructed to tell Fanta that Syafika was too angry to talk to her. “Of course Syafika feels betrayed too” thought Fanta. She could imagine how angry Syafika would feel when she found out that she’d been left out of a secret.

After Fanta explained to her aunt and uncle why she’d come home so early her uncle told her his news. He’d had a phone call. The letter had been delivered successfully. Fanta smiled and hoped she’d eventually be forgiven.

Chapter 32.

D’arby came home from the garlic harvest in high spirits, and that was despite leaving before the workshop home brew fridge was opened. He’d thoroughly enjoyed the day. D’arby had forgotten how delightful physical work could be. Once he got over the sweatiness and dirtiness of digging up the garlic his mind had relaxed and wandered off all over the place. D’arby had had so many good ideas that afternoon that he’d rushed back to write them down before joining the celebrations.

As D’arby walked in he noticed that Jinabu and Andrew had packed up their things. They had been waiting for D’arby to come home so they could tell him their good news.

“We’ve decided to go home tomorrow morning” Andrew announced. D’arby looked at Jinabu for confirmation. He was disappointed. While D’arby hadn’t really expected that Jinabu would leave Andrew permanently, he had hoped that they (and he) would be staying a bit longer.

Jinabu laughed when she saw D’arby’s expression. “Don’t blame me that we are leaving!” she said. “You shouldn’t have made Andrew such a good coffee this morning. He’s been in such a lovely mood since then that I could hardly refuse anything he asked.”

D’arby decided to avoid saying anything about the coffee. Instead he wondered out loud whether Ark would mind if he stayed for a few days by himself, but then he succumbed to the temptation of travelling home with Jinabu and decided to go home the next day too. That way D’arby could avoid another strange train journey on his own and would get home in time to spend the weekend refining his new ideas – in time for the Monday meeting.

The next morning D’arby, Jinabu and Andrew had breakfast with Ark before leaving. Ark was in a good mood. He promised to come and visit them soon.

They stopped in town to buy some food for the trip. When they got out of the car they could hear someone strumming on a guitar while preaching. D’arby was only half surprised to see that it was the crazy man from the train. Guitar-man was standing on a milk crate. He stared straight ahead as he recited his sermon, but D’arby couldn’t make out what he was saying until he walked closer. When D’arby heard the familiar words he stopped walking and looked at Jinabu. “How embarrassing” thought D’arby. Jinabu stopped too and listened to what Guitar-man was saying for a while before laughing and saying to D’arby “He sounds just like you.” D’arby gave a sarcastic laugh but didn’t tell Jinabu that Guitar-man was reciting his plans for saving the world.

Chapter 33

Syafika was furious to wake up and realise that it was Monday. She’d wasted the weekend waiting for Fanta to call and apologise (which Fanta hadn’t done) and now, not only was it time to go back to work again, but because Fanta hadn’t apologized Syafika had to decide whether to demonstrate her hurt by staying home that night and missing the meeting (which she had really been looking forward to) or to go to the meeting and risk looking like she wasn’t very upset with Fanta. Syafika picked up the phone and was about to call Vincent and ask him what she should do when she realized that she couldn’t do that either because she’d promised Vincent she wouldn’t go to any more of the meetings.

Since Wednesday Syafika had been stewing. She was incredibly hurt that Fanta had been keeping secrets from her and was even more hurt (and very jealous) that Fanta had been collaborating with her awful little cousin Ousman. Another element of Syafika’s hurt was that she was starting to realize that she needed Fanta more than Fanta needed her.

At last Syafika decided to give in and go to the meeting. Staying home would just make her even angrier. Besides, Fanta would have probably made a nice cake for dessert.

Poor John wasn’t in a good way either. The scare he’d got when Vincent turned up at Syafika’s place had made him start thinking about the precarious situation he was in. Since then John had spent every spare moment thinking about how he could avoid going to gaol. He was now feeling really depressed because he couldn’t think of a way of cutting off his past. And John wasn’t worried just for himself. He could see that whatever happened to him would also affect Fanta, his family and even D’arby. It would even affect their plans to “save the world”.

Syafika was right, Fanta did make a cake for the meeting. As Fanta took it out of the oven that afternoon she was wondering whether the meeting would go any better than their first. Fanta was hoping that if she made an extra special dinner it would help Syafika forgive her. Fanta was also worried about John, who had been distant that week. She could tell something was on his mind but when she asked him if anything was wrong he tried to pretend that nothing was.

D’arby was oblivious to all the dramas of his friends. He had been too engrossed in his latest draft of his plan to save the world to notice that John was depressed.

Fanta finished setting the table just at the time they’d agreed to meet. Then she looked out the window but couldn’t see any of her guests coming so she went to check that there was a fresh hand towel in the bathroom. Fanta then spent the next half an hour doing various unimportant household jobs, and checking out the window every five minutes or so. Finally she sat down and regretted having organized for her aunt and uncle to take her sisters out for the evening because it looked like nobody was going to turn up for the meeting. Who was going to eat all the food now?

Then there was a knock at the door and the next thing Fanta knew, John and D’arby were showering her with excuses for being so late. Just behind them was Syafika. She came in without saying much and soon all of them were sitting around the table.

Dinner was strangely silent. D’arby kept getting out his notes, looking at them, folding them up and putting them back in his pocket. The rustling sound was annoying Syafika. She hadn’t brought any notes this time. She’d been too angry to remember to bring her notes and was disappointed because she couldn’t remember her ideas without them.

Everyone was relieved when the dinner had all been eaten, even Syafika. As Fanta poured everyone cups of tea, D’arby skimmed through his notes once more and then stood up, cleared his throat and began.

“I’ve been trying to work out whether there is any root cause to the rot we were talking about last week. Is there any one thing that we can focus on that will make more difference than others? Anyway, this is what I’ve come up with so far:

It all started while I was watching the news. The usual finance reporter was showing graphs and talking about how consumers where still saving rather than spending so the retail outlook was grim and economic growth was threatened. I started to wonder whether all these “consumers” were really saving, or whether they’d made the same realization that I’d made and had decided they didn’t want to be consumers anymore. What if everyone stopped buying so much because they didn’t want to keep using resources unsustainably? What would that do to the economy? Would there be a recession? A depression? What are those things anyway? Can our economic system survive if we live more sustainably? I mean, even with increased efficiency, continual economic growth is impossible so either we stuff the planet or we stuff the economy, right? I know I’m not the only person who can see this problem so why are we so determined to stick to this path? Why aren’t we changing the economy?

I’d be surprised if it wasn’t those who benefit from the current system who are keeping things on the current path – so we may as well blame the richest people, but it isn’t just their fault because everyone else is letting them get away with it.

Anyway, if these rich people don’t care that they are destroying the planet and that they will be remembered as having been the biggest arseholes who ever lived, then why not? Are they psychopaths? Let’s assume that they are, even just for the fun of it.”

D’arby paused and looked at his audience. They seemed to be paying attention but he wasn’t sure they were following. He hadn’t been following his notes so he put them down on the table and just kept talking without them.

“I guess you’ve heard how corporations are inherently evil, and probably run by psychopaths and that corporations influence our governments so we can probably blame them for keeping us on a path to destruction – psychopaths via corporations, that is. And corporations probably turn normal people into virtual psychopaths too.

So what can we do about it? Can we make the normal people fight the system? Or can we fight the psychopaths directly? Or both?

I’ve been reading papers about psychopaths and I can’t say things are very clear. There isn’t total agreement on what one is, let alone on what to do about them. Some people reckon they might be able to come up with a treatment, but I can’t imagine psychos volunteering to take medication. I also worry that if we knew what makes a psycho someone would probably have a go at creating more of them – in some professions having empathy holds you back.

This gets me back to behaviour and the only thing I’ve ever been able to change. I think I know how to cure addiction, but can I cure a psychopath? Should I spend my time trying to work out how to do something I’m not sure I’ll ever be able to do or should I spend my time doing something I have already done before? Or can we do both?”

D’arby stopped again and looked at his audience, waiting for an answer but their faces were blank. This response made D’arby very annoyed. He sighed and sat down, shaking his head and was about to voice his disgust when John’s face lit up.

“I think he means he agrees with my idea and that we should keep putting the pills in the pizzas!” said John, with a triumphant smile on his face.

D’arby let out an exasperated laugh and then said “Yes, but only while we try to work out what else we can do.”

Fanta and Syafika just nodded and wondered what their roles in this plan were going to be.

Chapter 34.

Binta wondered why it was that after arguing with someone she always felt so much better, even when nothing had been resolved. Ever since she’d yelled at Fanta, Binta had felt much more positive about what had happened. She and Ousman had started talking again, and most importantly, Binta wasn’t angry with him or Fanta anymore. She wasn’t quite ready to admit that she was happy about what they’d been up to, but she was excited to think that Ousman might soon meet his father. She wondered what Mamadou would think of their son and before she could stop herself, Binta started wondering what Mamadou would think of her now.

Binta remembered when, earlier that year, Fanta had given Syafika a painting done by Mamadou. Now she realized that Fanta must have known who Mamadou was when she met him on holiday and bought that painting. Indeed, Fanta must have already known who Mamadou was before she visited him – Fanta must have tracked Mamadou down and just pretended she was a tourist. Binta blushed when she realized that Fanta must have known who Mamadou was talking about when he told her (thinking she was just a tourist) that he’d been planning to marry an Australian woman until he found out that she didn’t trust him. At the time Binta wished she could have told her side of the story, but now she realized that she may as well go along with Mamadou’s version because it was true that she hadn’t trusted Mamadou. When it happened Binta thought she had good reason not to trust Mamadou, but now she could see that she had added a large amount of imagination to small inconsistencies in some of the things Mamadou said. In her head she had turned minor things into major ones and instead of asking Mamadou to explain things that didn’t make sense she’d accused him of things he hadn’t done.

“I should have known!” said Binta to herself when she remembered how every time she’d gotten angry with Mamadou he’d been able to turn things around and make it her fault. Of course it made sense that their arguments would always be at least partly because of things Binta did, so it wasn’t fair for her to assign all the blame to Mamadou in the first place, but Binta hadn’t been able to see that when she was angry. Binta hoped she was wiser now. She didn’t think that Mamadou would have forgiven her though and hoped that Mamadou wouldn’t let his anger at her affect his relationship with Ousman.

Chapter 35.

It was the Sunday before Christmas. It was a hot afternoon, but not unbearably hot, just lovely Summer weather. Syafika had all the windows open to let in the warm breeze, which carried the smell of Jasmine flowers and traces of the incense that the neighbours were burning.

Fanta, D’arby and John were on their way and Syafika was clearing everything off the kitchen table to make room for them to screen print some T-shirts. All four of them were in a holiday mood, especially John because his restaurant was closed until January.

As they walked to Syafika’s place John and D’arby were each pulling a two-wheeled shopping trolleys full of blank T-shirts and screen printing materials. D’arby was hoping that this visit would be better than the last time they went to Syafika’s place. John was appreciating the contrast between how good he felt to be on holiday now with how he used to feel when he didn’t have a job to take holiday from.

Syafika had an even longer list of T-shirt ideas ready this time. She’d also made some iced tea. Her parents had gone for a walk.

John and D’arby arrived before Fanta. The combination of holiday time plus the heat and smell of flowers soon put them into a silly mood. John insisted that they put some music on and started going through Syafika’s music collection. When Fanta arrived John and D’arby were laughing as they tried to break dance to an album they remembered fondly. John put on Syafika’s bicycle helmet and was trying to spin on his head when the doorbell rang.

Syafika threw the door open without taking notice of who it was – she was busy laughing at John, who was actually pretty good at spinning on his head, and assumed it was her parents returning from their walk.

In walked Vincent. He was carrying a bunch of flowers, but did not look amused. When Syafika turned back to see who had come in the door Vincent greeted her with an expression that was a mixture of disappointment and anger. These emotions had so overcome him that all he could manage to say was “Well!” before he turned and left.

Syafika ran after Vincent, leaving John, D’arby and Fanta to look at each other guiltily. They realized now that they shouldn’t have agreed to meet at Syafika’s place, but the weather and their holiday moods had made them reckless.

Syafika wasn’t been able to get Vincent to stop walking. She chased him and tried to explain, but there really wasn’t anything to explain. Vincent had told Syafika to stay away from John and D’arby. He thought she would understand that it was a well-meant warning based on his experience. Syafika thought Vincent was being silly and bossy and had ignored his warning. She didn’t think Vincent would find out that she was still spending time with John and D’arby – Vincent had only given her a surprise visit once before, and although that was the time John and D’arby had been there Syafika hadn’t expected it to happen again.

When Syafika returned half an hour later her friends had gone. So had the screen printing stuff, and even her list of T-shirt ideas. The weather had changed. A cooler wind was blowing from another direction, bringing with it the smell of the damp manure that Rose had put on the front garden that morning.

Chapter 36.

The next afternoon John went for a long walk. He wasn’t going anywhere in particular, he just wanted to get out of the house and do something. John was sick of being on holiday already. He wasn’t used to relaxing – he didn’t know how to enjoy it, and without anything to distract him, his mind kept wandering back to his problem of how to avoid going to gaol.

After a couple of hours of walking John needed a rest so he sat down on a seat in a park and started watching the other people in the park. Some people were sitting on the grass in the sun, others were walking their dogs, some people were conscientiously running laps and there was a group of adults watching their children play on the swings. Amongst all of this, one person caught John’s eye. There was a woman who was walking slowly around in an unpredictable pattern. “Maybe she is walking around to kill the holiday time like me” thought John. “Or maybe she’s thinking about her problems like me.” She was too far away for John to be able to work out the expression on her face so he walked closer, averting his eyes until he was near so it wouldn’t look like he was spying on her. When John got close he looked at the woman and was surprised to find that it was Syafika. He hadn’t recognized her in her hat and sunglasses.

“How are you going?” John asked. Syafika looked a bit confused when she saw him. He decided she must have been deep in thought – probably wondering about what Vincent was thinking.

“I’m ok” said Syafika

“Sorry about last night” said John.

“Don’t worry” replied Syafika. “It wasn’t your fault.”

There was a pause, which Syafika felt uncomfortable with so she added “I had to get out of the house so I wasn’t sitting around waiting for Vincent to return my calls.”

“I had to get out of the house too.” said John. “Otherwise I might have been tempted to put up some Christmas decorations. D’arby warned me to not even think about buying any, so instead I was thinking about making my own, but I know that would still be dangerous.”

Syafika was glad to have a reason to laugh and when she had finished she took the opportunity to ask John about something she’d been meaning to ask for a long time. “Hey, I think I saw you in this park months ago” said Syafika, and she couldn’t help smirking as she remembered. “You rubbed dog pooh into its owner’s hair.”

John stared blankly ahead while sifting through his memory. Eventually he came across a blurry memory of a rainy morning when he’d been feeling particularly angry.

“That sounds like something I would have done” John eventually answered and he made a mental note to add that incident to his list of things he could go to gaol for.

Chapter 37.

D’arby went home to his parent’s place two days before Christmas. He had mixed feelings about the trip. Of course he wanted to see his parents and he enjoyed being closer to nature, but he didn’t like the hot dry weather. He felt anxious about bushfires – he felt the need to scan the horizon every hour or so for signs of smoke. He also felt depressed thinking that this hot dry weather was most likely just going to become hotter, dryer and more frequent as the years passed. One of the main reasons D’arby felt the need to save the world was because he wanted to stop the bush he grew up in from dying. The thought of that landscape changing was enough to fill him with sadness and if he dwelt on the thought a terrible rage would well up in him. D’arby had grown up with people who didn’t care (or wouldn’t admit to caring) about nature despite living in it. He’d had arguments with them about whether animals had any right to exist. They had made fun of him for caring about trees. He’d defended his piece of bush from them when they turned up with their spotlights and shot guns, or trailers and chainsaws. But all his efforts had been in vain – and the people who didn’t care were going to win – because climate change was going to take the bush even if D’arby was on guard 24 hours a day. When D’arby thought about climate change he had a mental picture of a red-faced young man revving his perfectly polished ute, blasting out tones of carbon dioxide and laughing because, in the battle between him and D’arby, he knew he was going to win.

To cheer himself up a bit, D’arby went for a walk just before sunset (when it was cool enough to make being outside enjoyable) and imagined what it would be like to have invented a way to remove enough carbon dioxide from the atmosphere to reverse climate change. Of course D’arby had no idea how that could be achieved and suspected that it couldn’t be (not on a scale large enough with the resources available anyway).

D’arby’s thoughts then drifted back to the red faced man in the ute. Inside the red faced man’s head D’arby imagined that there was a yearning for an endless, softly undulating, treeless landscape – like the lawn covered hills that so often get associated with “green” products. D’arby felt the red faced man’s reptilian urge to bash the crap out of anything or anyone that made him feel uncomfortable, but D’arby also knew that the man had in his brain the capability for empathy and the ability to reason.

“Why don’t people use their brains!” yelled D’arby.

To calm himself down, D’arby took some deep breaths and tried to appreciate the sunset. Then he began walking home.

“I’m trapped on a planet with people who don’t care enough about it to look after it and yet none of us have anywhere else to go” D’arby complained to himself. He couldn’t help feeling that it had all been somehow organized as a challenge.

Chapter 38.

John was feeling lonely and a bit anxious without D’arby, but tried to make the most of having the flat to himself, starting with a spring clean. John removed every trace of mould from the bathroom then every trace of dust from the rest of the flat. He even wiped the picture rails and skirting boards. When John had finished cleaning the oven he emptied out all of the drawers and cupboards, wiped them all clean and put everything back tidily. It wasn’t until John was bringing in the freshly washed curtains off the line that he thought about doing some ironing.

John hadn’t always liked ironing, and for most of his adult life he hadn’t bothered with it, but he did like the way that properly ironed clothes looked so neat and tidy. Doing the ironing also helped John to feel calm. However, John knew that if he did some ironing in D’arby’s flat he wouldn’t be able to enjoy it because he’d feel guilty and imagine that D’arby would know what he was up to. So John put his crinkly clothes into the bag on his two-wheel shopping trolley and walked to Fanta’s house. It didn’t matter that she wasn’t there – John now had his own key.

When Fanta arrived home she found that John had the ironing board out in the lounge room and was singing to himself as he pressed the button on the iron to squirt steam onto a pair of jeans.

“What’s wrong?” asked Fanta, without really knowing why she said it.

John looked confused at first, as if he didn’t know why Fanta would ask such a question but then he thought again, put down the iron, sat down on the sofa and put his head in his hands.

“Tomorrow is Christmas!” said John in a terrified voice. Then he added “And I have to spend it with my family!”

Fanta couldn’t help laughing.

“It isn’t funny!” said John, although he couldn’t help having a short giggle at himself before adding “Your family loves you but mine hates me and I don’t know if anything I can do can make up for all the awful things I’ve done in the past.”

“They don’t hate you” said Fanta. “They just want you to have a good life. I’m sure they can’t wait to see you.”

John felt much better after hearing that and decided he didn’t need to finish his ironing. He squashed the jeans he had been ironing back into the bag on his shopping trolley and unplugged the iron.

“What are you doing?” John asked Fanta as she turned her computer on.

“I need to print out a letter that was emailed to my Uncle. It is a Christmas present for Syafika’s cousin Ousman.” answered Fanta.

John watched Fanta open up a file containing a scan of a hand written letter. He then averted his eyes because he thought it would be rude to read it and waited as Fanta printed it out, folded the letter up and put it in a red envelope. She wrote “Ousman” on the envelope and then tied a piece of gold ribbon around it.

“Let’s walk to Syafika’s place now and put it under their Christmas tree” said Fanta.

Chapter 39.

When Syafika woke up on Christmas morning she could feel the heat of the sun coming through the closed blinds and wasn’t sure if it was because she’d slept in or because it was going to be a very hot day. It was actually both.

“Its 10am on Christmas morning” realized Syafika when she turned over and looked at her clock. “Will Vincent come for Christmas lunch?” she wondered. Before their fight Vincent and Syafika had agreed that he would come to her place for Christmas and that she would go to his parent’s place on Boxing Day. Perhaps that firm agreement would be enough of an excuse for Vincent to end his display of anger. Syafika felt hopeful but didn’t want to feel that way. She preferred to be pleasantly surprised than disappointed.

The thing that was actually making Syafika most anxious about whether Vincent came to lunch or not was that she hadn’t told her parents about their fight, and so she hadn’t warned them that Vincent might not come for Christmas lunch. If Vincent didn’t turn up Syafika’s parents would not only be disappointed, but Syafika would have to put up with them demanding to know why he didn’t come. Syafika hadn’t envisaged her first romance ending with her being dumped. When Syafika’s daydream romances did end it involved her making a passionate break-up speech about how incredibly unfairly she’d been treated.

Syafika put on a nicer outfit than she would have chosen if she was sure that she’d only be spending the day with her family, and then she went to see what her parents were up to.

Rose and Festus had actually been up to a lot. Preparations for Christmas lunch were well underway. Festus had moved the barbeque to the shady driveway and was lighting it, Syafika could smell something roasting in the oven and Rose was making three types of salad. “Three types of salad, at once!” thought Syafika and wondered how it was that her mother managed to always do such a nice Christmas lunch when on other days she usually had trouble boiling eggs or making toast.

The dining table had been decorated with vases of red bougainvillea flowers and set with the best cutlery, plates and glasses. Syafika was imagining who would sit where when she realized that there were only five places laid.

“Mum, why are only five places laid at the table?” Syafika asked.

“Vincent called this morning and said he wouldn’t be coming” answered Rose.

Syafika’s face became very hot with embarrassment. She also felt intense disappointment and realized that she had expected Vincent to come. As the shock subsided Syafika began to feel angry that Vincent and her mother had conspired and made her look like a fool.

Syafika marched into the back garden and sat down to stew, but didn’t stay long because it was very hot and she was very hungry. She sheepishly went back into the kitchen to make some tea, but avoided making eye contact with her mother. Syafika didn’t offer her mother a cup of tea either, although she knew Rose would be dying for one.

While the tea was drawing Syafika opened the packed-full fridge and poked around, looking for something tasty for breakfast that wouldn’t ruin her appetite for lunch.

“Careful!” complained Festus when he came inside and saw Syafika investigating the precariously positioned stacks of food in the fridge. He’d spent quite a bit of time the night before getting everything to fit.

“How can the fridge be so full and not have something good for breakfast in it?” Syafika complained back.

“Have cereal like you have everyday” suggested Rose.

“You can’t have cereal for breakfast on Christmas Day!” said Syafika and she scanned the fridge shelves once more before slowly closing the door.

Syafika took a handful of salted nuts from a bowl on the dining table, and went back to the back yard, slopping some tea on the floor on the way.

“It’s going to be a crap day” Syafika said to herself as she sat down on the very hot iron bench. She slumped and chewed with her mouth open. She didn’t care if she wasn’t being elegant. She thought she may as well be a grumpy slob because nobody loved her even when she tried her best to be lovely. Then Syafika remembered the delicious lunch her parents were making and couldn’t help feeling a bit more positive. “I may as well try to enjoy the one day of the year that Mum makes an effort in the kitchen” thought Syafika.

Chapter 40.

Emily picked John up on Christmas morning and John was very grateful. John knew his place was out of Emily’s way, plus he had so many presents to carry that he didn’t know how he would have managed if he’d had to take the bus, and John was feeling so scared about seeing all his relatives again that he didn’t want to arrive alone.

John had presents for Emily’s kids on hand when he squeezed into the back of the car to sit between their special booster seats. He’d bought a recorder for the eldest and a drum for the youngest and soon wished they hadn’t opened them in the car. Emily took many deep breaths but managed to stay calm. Her husband Greg wasn’t as strong and after 5 minutes of tooting and banging he fiercely told his kids to stop unless they wanted to get out and walk.

John couldn’t help feeling pleased with himself when he arrived at the Christmas party not only with presents for all but able to recognize everyone, even children he’d never met. This was thanks to Emily having used her photo album to show him what everyone looked like.

But then John’s brother Tim arrived. That was a surprise for everyone because Tim had been living overseas and hadn’t told anyone he’d be back for Christmas.

As John watched his relatives give his brother Tim a warm welcome he couldn’t help feeling jealous. Tim had brought everyone electronic gadgets as gifts that were made in his factory – the factory he had started in order to make the electronics he invented.

“That could have been me if I hadn’t stuffed up” thought John because he knew he’d once been just as smart as Tim.

Tim looked so happy, healthy and young for his age, while John had aged prematurely. One Aunt unkindly remarked that anyone would think that John was Tim’s father.

John was very glad that Fanta hadn’t been able to come with him. He imagined that Fanta would prefer Tim to him. All Emily had said about Tim was that he was a workaholic and single. “At least Tim doesn’t have any kids” thought John. “That would make me really jealous”.

Eventually Tim noticed John and came over.

“Hey!” exclaimed Tim when he realized who John was. Tim gave John a hug and John wondered what his parents had told Tim about him. Did Tim know he’d turned over a new leaf?

Perhaps John was just imagining it, but he felt that Tim was treating him with pity and John resented that. They’d once been equals, and good friends.

“It’s so good to see you!” said Tim. “I didn’t expect it. You look really well. How have you been?”

John didn’t open up and talk to Tim the way he would have liked to. He just gave brief answers to Tim’s questions and didn’t ask any in return. It wasn’t long before the very popular Tim was dragged off by one of their uncles to talk about the latest technologies. John sat down on the stone fence of the backyard and watched his relatives enjoying their Christmas like he wasn’t one of them.

“As if I could just buy my way back into the family with clever Christmas presents” thought John and he wished Tim had invented a remote control that would let John fast-forward the rest of the day.

Chapter 41.

In Syafika’s family the tradition for Christmas lunch was to have an early savory course, then open Christmas presents and then have dessert. Syafika liked that very much because the break between courses meant she could eat so much more – she didn’t have to save room for dessert. Syafika giggled to herself when she realized that now that Vincent wasn’t coming she wouldn’t have to worry about what he thought if she ate a lot.

When it was time to move to the lounge room to open presents Syafika was so blissfully full of perfectly roasted potatoes that she no longer cared what Vincent did or what her parents thought about her and Vincent. She didn’t even care when Ousman took the place next to her on the sofa.

Rose and Binta picked up presents from under the Christmas tree, read the labels and handed them to the right people. Everyone watched patiently and waited until all the gifts had been handed out before opening theirs.

When Rose or Binta found a present labelled “Amanda” or “Vincent” they put them aside without saying anything. Amanda was still in her room and unsurprisingly had refused to come out of her room for Christmas.

Syafika found that in her pile of presents was one from Amanda. It was a hair brush, which surprised Syafika because she needed one – hers had gone missing and she had been borrowing Rose’s hair brush for the last week.

Syafika looked at Ousman, who was being very quiet and noticed that he was delicately opening an envelope with a gold ribbon around it. Ousman took out a piece of paper and unfolded it. Syafika looked over Ousman’s shoulder and saw that it was a copy of a hand written letter. Ousman smiled as he read it, before turning to Syafika and saying proudly “Look! A letter from my Dad”. Syafika took the letter from Ousman and read it.

To my dear son Ousman,

You would not believe how happy I was to hear from you. I have recently been through an experience that no person should have to endure and am living in a place which offers only scraps of hope and comfort, but now that I know you exist I have a reason to continue.

If the circumstances were different in my country (which is also yours) then I would prefer you came to live with me there, but if it is really possible that we can meet then I would accept any way of doing that. I once promised myself that I would never return to your country but that was before I knew about you.

I hope your mother is well and that she appreciates how lucky she is to have you. You be a good boy and, god willing, we will soon meet.

 

With love from your Father,

 

Mamadou

The letter was signed in distinctly different handwriting to the rest of the letter and Syafika wondered whether Ousman’s father was illiterate. She thought it would be funny if he was.

Chapter 42.

D’arby’s Christmas break was very productive. By the time he got back he had filled a whole notebook with ideas and plans for saving the world. D’arby was keen to show John his notebook and discuss some of the ideas and so he rushed home from the train station, hoping that John would still be awake.

Of course John was still awake. He’d been missing D’arby and couldn’t wait for his return. Spending Christmas with his family had made John more passionate than ever about doing “something”. He had been daydreaming about the next family Christmas, where it would be him, not Tim, who everyone was impressed with. John also couldn’t wait to show D’arby all the interesting gadgets that Tim had given him.

John boiled the kettle and put bread in the toaster as soon as D’arby came in the door. Normally D’arby just wanted to have a shower and go to bed after such a long trip, but tonight he started going through his bag looking for his special note book as soon as he got in the door. Before D’arby could find his notebook John had brought him toast, chamomile tea and a handful of tiny electronic things to look at.

“Oh thanks!” said D’arby in an appreciative tone. “I’m just looking for my notebook. I want to show you some of my new ideas” said D’arby and he began taking everything out of his bag so he could find the notebook, but after every pocket of the bag was empty the notebook still hadn’t appeared. D’arby let out a few swear words when he had to conclude that he must have left his precious ideas behind on the train.

“Don’t worry” said John. “You’ll remember them” but D’arby was so tired he couldn’t remember anything he’d written and was sure that something really good would be lost forever.

“Oh, did you have your name on the book?” asked John. “You could call the lost property number and see if they found your notebook” suggested John. D’arby hadn’t written his name on the book, but decided he’d call in the morning anyway. He wasn’t hopeful though, and went to have a shower without eating his toast or drinking his chamomile tea.

John sadly unfolded the sofa bed and tried to sleep. He decided he’d cheer D’arby up in the morning by taking him to a café for breakfast.

John’s plan to make D’arby happy with a café breakfast didn’t get off to a good start because D’arby’s favourite café was closed until the middle of January. They reluctantly decided to try their luck with the place a few doors down instead. John and D’arby sat inside, but right near the large front window that was wide open. After they had ordered their breakfasts they eavesdropped on the conversation of the people at the table directly outside the window. The two men at the outside table were dressed suitably for the café, which was the most expensive in the area and either was, or successfully pretended to be, the place where important people had their coffees – or at least the place where the most high maintenance people had their coffees. The men outside looked like they had just come out of a beauty salon. Even John and D’arby could tell that their neighbours were wearing fake tans, had had their eyebrows waxed and their teeth whitened. Their hairstyles were more ambitious than anything John or D’arby would ever contemplate and their clothes looked so new that John couldn’t believe they had ever been worn before. John was particularly amazed by the bright whiteness of the T-shirt of the man on the left. John’s whites were never that bright.

The man on the right wore a black T-shirt with the name of an expensive brand written across the front in sparkly gold letters. The man in the white T-shirt had been explaining how the council had rejected his development application because it exceeded height restrictions and the man in the black T-shirt responded “So? What you gonna do? You aren’t going to leave it at that are you? Don’t be a pussy! Tell them who your Dad is. Take the Mayor out to dinner and get him drunk” and as he said this he took the last piece of toast from his friend’s plate.

“Hey! I was going to eat that!” said white T-shirt man.

“The quick and the dead man, the quick and the dead” replied black T-shirt man.

Then a man dressed in a calf-length, off-white cotton robe walked up to the outside table. He had shoulder length brown hair and a neat beard. His robe was accessorized with a faded, geometrically patterned woven bag (worn diagonally across his body) and he wore sandals on his hairy feet.

“Gentleman” said the man in the off-white robe. “You don’t need to pretend to be loved and valued. You don’t need to preen and build tall buildings. Those things hinder you rather than help you in the quest for the good life. If you want to be happy you should work on relationships, not appearances.

Both men looked angry by the time the robed man had finished speaking but the man in the black was the quickest to respond.

“Fuck off! Have you had a look at your appearance lately? And what are you doing wearing sandals when your feet are in that condition?”

John, D’arby and the robed man all looked down at the robed man’s feet, which as well as being hairy had dirty toe nails that could do with a trim.

“So do you get many chicks in that outfit?” asked white T-shirt man and he and his friend started laughing.

“Get many chicks?” asked the robed man. “I don’t want to ‘get chicks’ like women are some sort of purchase. Wouldn’t you deep down like to have a proper relationship with a woman – one with mutual respect?”

“Oh piss off” said black T-shirt man and he started playing with his phone.

The robed man shrugged his shoulders and walked off with a slight giggle. When he was about 10 metres down the street he stopped and took a red notebook out of his bag. While he was leafing through the notebook D’arby and John could hear him say to himself “That man really needs a hug. Somebody give him a hug.”

Chapter 43.

It had been over a week since Syafika and Vincent had their big fight and Vincent still hadn’t contacted Syafika. Syafika was feeling unloved and thought that Vincent was being very self-centred. Vincent was showing his stubborn side and it really was a stubborn side. Syafika had spent most of the week staring at the telephone, hoping that Vincent would call and then getting angry when he didn’t.

Syafika was angrily washing the dishes and thinking about how awful Vincent was being when she heard the phone ring. She stopped washing the dishes and listened as her mum answered then called her to the phone.

Syafika ran to the phone because she thought Vincent had finally decided to apologise and she wanted to get to the phone before he changed his mind.

“Hello” said Syafika

“Hello Syafika! Why are you breathless? Is it because it is exciting to hear from me?”

Syafika took a couple of seconds to respond. Her mind had to change gears.

“Syafika?”

“Anthony?” said Syafika, finally.

“Yes. Did you miss me?” asked Anthony

Syafika couldn’t believe she was in the sort of situation she had once spent all of her spare moments dreaming about and wasn’t able to truthfully say that she’d missed Anthony.

“At first I missed you, but then I just got on with life” answered Syafika.

“I missed you” said Anthony

“What about your girlfriend and baby?” asked Syafika. She hadn’t forgotten about that!

“I made that up” said Anthony. “They don’t exist”

“Why?” asked Syafika

“Because I needed an excuse to leave” said Anthony

“Why? Why couldn’t you just say you were leaving?” asked Syafika

Anthony was sick of the topic though, and he ignored the question.

“So what are you doing tonight?” asked Anthony

“I hadn’t thought about that yet” replied Syafika

“Let’s go out for dinner then” said Anthony.

Syafika didn’t know what to say. She didn’t know what she wanted to do or what she should do. She’d been ready to spend the evening at home, waiting for Vincent to call.

“Well?” asked Anthony

“Ok” said Syafika and they arranged to meet in an hour.

When Syafika hung up the phone she was still justifying this date to herself. She decided it was going to be just a friendly dinner and that Vincent couldn’t have objected to that (although she was dreaming if she thought he wouldn’t) and that because Vincent hadn’t called her for a week Syafika could do what she liked. It was only when Syafika was satisfied with her reasoning that she realized she had agreed to meet Anthony in only one hour! Of course it was only going to be a friendly date, but it was still a date with Anthony. How could she make herself look perfect and get to the restaurant in less than an hour? She hadn’t even thought about what she would wear. She would be lucky if she even owned something nice enough for this special occasion and if she did there was no way it would be clean and ironed.

“Mum! Help me!” yelled Syafika.

Sixty five minutes later, Syafika arrived at the restaurant. Rose knew that Syafika and Vincent had been fighting but she had never known about Syafika’s obsession with Anthony and so she didn’t really understand what this date with a strange man was about. Nevertheless, Rose helped Syafika choose some clothes to wear and did her hair. Rose hoped that if Vincent was out of the picture the replacement was at least as handsome as him.

Anthony wasn’t there when Syafika arrived at the restaurant and so she immediately began to feel foolish. Why had she rushed? Now he would think she was keen to see him. Or what if he wasn’t coming at all? What would she do then? Would she have dinner by herself? Syafika wasn’t even wearing a watch so she couldn’t tell how late he was. She sat down at a table by herself and pretended to be looking at the menu while these thoughts floated around in her head. She was so worried about what to do if Anthony didn’t turn up that she forgot he might actually arrive.

When Anthony walked into the restaurant he saw Syafika staring intently at the menu, looking sort of worried.

“My lovely Syafika!” said Anthony, as he walked over to the table. Syafika looked up to see Anthony with such a big smile on his face that it was almost ridiculous. She couldn’t believe that he was so happy to be there with her, but that’s what it looked like.

“Hello” said Syafika. She was thrilled to see Anthony, but also worried about what would happen and she was feeling guilty because she wasn’t sure whether she was still in a relationship with Vincent or not.

Anthony sat down. “So what are you having? I saw you studying the menu carefully.”

“I don’t know. What do you suggest?” said Syafika, but she was just talking without thinking. She wanted to fill the space and make things feel a bit more normal because Anthony was still smiling crazily.

“It’s good to see you again” said Anthony. “I missed you”

Syafika couldn’t believe her ears. It was the second time in the same day she’d heard something that belonged in daydreams. Although things were different now and Syafika thought she still loved Vincent, she couldn’t help saying “I’m glad to see you again too”, although she didn’t add that she had missed Anthony, because that still wasn’t true. She had scarcely thought about Anthony since she met Vincent, but she knew that she would be thinking a lot about him now.

Syafika soon realized that Anthony had an agenda for the evening. He ordered some food (Syafika didn’t care what) and as soon as the waitress had gone he said “So, what have you been up to? I heard that you and Vincent broke up”. Syafika’s lies were coming back to get her. Anthony wasn’t talking about her recent fight with Vincent, but the story she’d made up about breaking up with her imaginary Vincent.

“Who told you that?” asked Syafika. Anthony must have been in touch with someone from work. Then their drinks arrived, so Anthony took the opportunity to avoid Syafika’s question.

“So, are you still single? Asked Anthony

At least Syafika had met a real life Vincent. It made it easier for her to explain what was going on now.

“I don’t know” said Syafika. “Vincent and I had a big fight and we haven’t been talking for a week.” As she said this, Syafika felt bad because she really didn’t believe that she and Vincent had broken up and she should have said so.

Anthony looked disappointed and confused. “So, did you and Vincent get back together again?” he asked.

“Yeah” said Syafika, extending her old lie.

“And now you have broken up again?” Asked Anthony

“I don’t know” said Syafika.

“Well you should work out what’s going on. It’s important” said Anthony. “Anyway, let’s talk about something else now.”

The rest of the evening was more comfortable. Syafika even managed to relax enough to be able to understand Anthony’s jokes (when she was nervous her brain didn’t work very well). At the end of the evening, Anthony walked her home, patted her on the shoulder, said he’d had fun and told her to take care of herself.

Syafika stayed awake all night, trying to work out what was going on. Three things were bothering her at once. The first was that Vincent still hadn’t called her and she didn’t know what that meant. She hadn’t thought that their fight would end the relationship and she didn’t want it to.

The second thing that bothered Syafika that night was whether it was right for her to have gone out for dinner with Anthony when she still thought Vincent was her boyfriend. Until she sorted out an answer to her first concern, Syafika couldn’t sort out the second.

The third thing that kept Syafika awake took most of her thoughts that night. She was wondering how much Anthony was interested in her and whether she had blown her chance that night. At first he’d seemed really keen. Remembering this made Syafika’s heart beat faster. However, after they had discussed Vincent, Anthony’s mood had changed and it had become less of a romantic date and more like dinner between friends. Even if Syafika and Vincent were still together, even if Vincent rang to apologise tomorrow, Syafika would still like Anthony to be in love with her, not just a friend. Of course if Anthony did tell Syafika that he loved her, Syafika would ask Anthony if they could just be friends (that’s if she decided that she was still with Vincent). Syafika was really disappointed that Anthony hadn’t tried to kiss her (not that she would have kissed him back, but just because she wanted him to have tried). Then Syafika thought about this a bit more and realized that maybe Anthony’s not kissing her was a good sign because it meant that he respected her too much to try when he wasn’t sure that she was single. Maybe it was a sign that he wanted to marry her! Maybe Anthony wasn’t sleeping either. Maybe he was lying awake and hoping that she and Vincent would really break up. Syafika didn’t rest on this thought though. If Anthony was awake, maybe he wasn’t thinking of her at all. Maybe he was out dancing and having fun. Maybe Vincent was out dancing too.

Chapter 44.

“What an amazing orator!” said John after the strange robed man walked off. D’arby just grunted and said nothing. He hardly said anything for the rest of the day, no matter how hard John tried to prompt him. At first John managed to remain good humoured, but by night time he’d had enough.

“What is friggin wrong with you?” John demanded after 20 minutes of watching D’arby spin a pen around on the table.

D’arby rubbed his eyes and sighed. “That man we saw at the café this morning who was wearing a white robe and preaching is the same man who sat next to me when I went to visit Jinabu and who stole my draft plan for saving the world. And the notebook he had was red, just like the one I lost on the train yesterday. The things he was saying yesterday were not really part of my plans, but it is as if he is able to imagine what I am thinking, only he is better able to articulate my thoughts than I am, and he is a much better speaker. Imagine how you would feel if you came across a more effective version of yourself.”

“Ha, I get you” said John, thinking of his brother Tim, although John hadn’t fully understood the significance of the robed man having a red notebook that looked like D’arby’s. “But isn’t it good to find that someone else has the same ideas as you?” asked John.

“Don’t you understand? Or do you think I’m just being paranoid?” asked D’arby. “That man doesn’t have the same ideas as me, he STEALS my ideas! But then he does better with them than I do. He goes out and tells people things, while I just sit around stewing.”

John found what D’arby said a bit disturbing, and did start to think that D’arby might be a bit paranoid. Afterall, it is possible for two people to have the same opinion, and to have the same colour notebook. But John decided to humour D’arby and see if D’arby’s mood would pass on its own. “That’s good though, isn’t it?” said John. “I mean, if he is going around and preaching your ideas then you don’t need to do it yourself and have more time to think. Besides, I don’t think you’d really enjoy doing what he is doing.”

“I guess so” said D’arby, after thinking about it for a while. “But it is a bit creepy. I can’t help imagining that if I look out the window I’ll see him peeping in at us”

John couldn’t help himself and found himself turning to look out of the window, but he could see nothing worth noting except the last remnants of sunset.

Chapter 45.

Syafika gave up trying to sleep when she heard birds chirping outside. She reached out and opened the blind so she could watch the sky change colour as the sun came up. The excitement she’d felt the night before had given way to sadness. As she enjoyed the sunrise she couldn’t help crying. How was it that she only managed to appreciate the beauty in everyday things when she was feeling miserable?

A Noisy Miner landed on the window sill and looked judgmentally at Syafika. She couldn’t help asking “Did Vincent send you, little bird?” and in reply the bird flew away.

Then Syafika cried some more because she had finally realized that Vincent was not going to call her again.

“What am I going to do now?” Syafika asked herself. Then she realized that it was Tuesday and she was going to Fanta’s place for morning tea.

“How was last night?” said Rose when Syafika walked into the kitchen. She was a bit confused by Syafika appearing so early in the morning when she didn’t have to go to work. Then Rose looked a bit closer and noticed that Syafika looked really tired and had red eyes, as if she had been crying all night.

Rose rushed over to Syafika and gave her a cuddle and asked “What happened?”

“Vincent isn’t going to call me ever again, is he?” answered Syafika quietly.

“Don’t worry about that!” said Rose. “He doesn’t deserve you.”

Syafika smiled and started to feel better. She decided to have a cup of tea.

A few hours later Syafika swished out of the front gate on her way to morning tea at Fanta’s house. She was wearing a pretty dress and carrying a bunch of jasmine.

Evan though Syafika was a bit worried that Fanta wouldn’t approve, the first thing Syafika did when she arrived at Fanta’s house was to tell Fanta about her date with Anthony. Fanta had never liked the sound of Anthony, but for some reason Fanta wasn’t particularly angry and seemed more concerned that Vincent still hadn’t called Syafika. John and D’arby arrived while Syafika and Fanta were discussing it.

“John! What can we do to make Vincent realize that he won’t find anyone better than Syafika?” asked Fanta

“He still hasn’t called?” asked John

“No” said Syafika. Despite the sudden change in topic from Anthony to Vincent, Syafika was feeling sad enough at being reminded that Vincent hadn’t called for tears to start rolling down her cheeks.

“Don’t cry! Leave it up to D’arby and me” said John

“What are we going to do?” asked D’arby.

“We are going to remind Vincent of Syafika” said John

“How?” asked Fanta

“Yeah, how?” asked D’arby

“Do you have a special song? A song that will remind Vincent of the times he spent with you?” John asked Syafika

“I don’t think so” said Syafika

“Nothing? Didn’t you share music? Didn’t you listen to music together?” asked John

“Yeah…Vincent did give me a CD.I took it to work with me but hardly listened to it. Wait! It’s in here somewhere” said Syafika and she started rummaging around in her handbag.

“Here” said Syafika, and handed a CD to John

“The Very Best of Cat Stevens!” said John

“Yeah, Vincent things he is great but I found it sort of boring” said Syafika

“I know this song – The First Cut is the Deepest” said Fanta

“Did Cat Stevens write that?” asked D’arby, looking at Syafika

“Don’t ask me!” said Syafika

“That’s a good song to play Vincent” said Fanta “But how are you going to get him to listen to it?”

“I have an idea, but I’ll have to discuss it in private with D’arby first” said John. “What I need to know is where Vincent lives, works and the places he likes to go in his spare time” said John

John and D’arby seemed to be pretty excited by their new assignment. Fanta thought it would be better if she didn’t ask what they were planning in case she disapproved. Syafika didn’t really care what they did. She’d be happy if Vincent called her again but she would also be happy if Anthony called instead.

Chapter 46.

Syafika was almost back home when she noticed that her mum was walking up the street towards her. Rose looked very cross.

“What’s wrong?” asked Syafika when she and Rose both arrived at the front gate.

“I’ve had to spend the last two hours listening to India talk about permaculture and aquaponics!” said Rose. She spat out the words “permaculture” and “aquaponics” in such disgust that Syafika guessed they must be awful things (but had no idea what they were). India was one of their neighbours. She had a worm farm in the front yard, wore sandals made from recycled tires and liked to tell people about all the poor people she’d met while on exotic holidays. She also annoyed Festus by parking her large car across their driveway. When Festus complained to India she complained back that it wasn’t fair that not all houses in the street had off-street parking spaces. That attempt at a barb only made Festus laugh though. He did enjoy parking his low class plumber’s van in their expansive driveway while the neighbours were forced to park their expensive lumps of cars on the street, where they were vulnerable to being vandalized by the gangs of small children that often roamed the streets.

Syafika started walking to the front door but Rose stayed in the front yard. She was looking at the driveway and front yard and muttering something about nutrient cycling.

Chapter 47.

Although Vincent missed Syafika he thought that because she had disregarded his serious, well intentioned and wise advice on who she should avoid it would be bad for him if he were to see her again because she would inevitably disappoint him in the same way again at some point in the future. It upset Vincent that Syafika was hanging around with people who he didn’t want her to hang around with.

Vincent decided to put Syafika out of his mind and enjoy his break from work. When Vincent left the house he discovered that it had begun to rain and so he decided to take a bus to his favourite café instead of walking. The bus driver was listening to the radio, but for some reason the reception had become bad as Vincent boarded and all Vincent could hear was static. By the time the driver had a chance to adjust the radio Vincent had taken his seat. When the radio signal was restored Vincent heard a guitar phrase that was so familiar to him that he didn’t need to hear the first lines of the song to know what it was.

“I would have given you all of my heart
but there’s someone who’s torn it apart” went the radio. Vincent realized that this song would bring him to tears and so he covered his ears until the next stop, where he got off. He would rather walk in the rain than cry on a bus full of strangers.

The wind and rain was so cold that it shocked Vincent out of his sadness and all he wanted to do was get under cover. As Vincent ran through the rain a van drove past with the window down and radio on. Vincent could hear the tail end of the song he’d been trying to avoid “The first cut is the deepest, Baby I know…”

Vincent swore and wished he’d stayed at home. At least he was nearly at his favourite café. He began to imagine the nice cup of black coffee he’d have and tried to decide whether he would have bacon and eggs or French toast.

Just next to the café was a newsagent and Vincent decided to buy a newspaper to read over breakfast, but as he walked in his eye was drawn to one of the posters in the window. It was advertising a magazine and the girl on the cover looked strangely like Syafika. Vincent turned his head away. He was disgusted with himself. Why was everything reminding him of Syafika today? He should forget about her.

At least the paper looked interesting, which was unusual for the weekend. Vincent was sure he could lose himself in news for at least an hour. One hour without thinking of Syafika would do him good.

Vincent sat down and straight away a waiter came over with a menu. Vincent didn’t need to look at it though because he’d already decided. He ordered his coffee and French toast and was just opening the paper when he noticed that the café was also playing Cat Stevens.

“It’s not time to make a change” went the song.

“Man! Syafika may not have played that cd I gave her but the rest of the world seems to be” thought Vincent. He realized that he wasn’t going to be able to avoid thinking about Syafika today so he gave up trying to read the paper and started going over their fight in his head. He thought that at least that might make him angry enough to stop Cat Stevens from making him cry.

Chapter 48.

The smell of Turkish delight tempted Syafika out of her room, where she’d been lying in bed reading. As Syafika wandered towards the living room she expected to find something nice to eat and hoped there would also be some interesting visitors, but she was disappointed with what she found. Rose was sitting cross-legged on the floor along with Ousman, Binta and India (from up the street). They all had their hands in a silly pose and eyes closed. On the coffee table was a tray with a pretty tea set. When Syafika walked over and lifted the lid of the teapot nobody acknowledged her. Syafika was disappointed that she’d only smelled tea, not cakes and she might have made a rude comment except that India being there made her think twice about it. Instead Syafika went to the kitchen to look for something sweet to eat.

While waiting for three mince pies to heat up, Syafika went and got her book and sat down at the kitchen table to read, while listening out for signs of life in the living room. She half expected to hear some chanting soon.

Syafika’s mince pies were long eaten by the time Ousman finally came into the kitchen. “That was so cool!” he said.

“What was so cool?” asked Syafika, putting her book down.

“We were meditating, where you try to think about nothing. I kept seeing colours and strange pictures and all these thoughts kept trying to sneak into my head like someone else was coming along to make trouble and I had to keep pushing the ideas away again, but it all made me feel so happy!” explained Ousman and Syafika could see the happiness in his face. She couldn’t help feeling she’d missed out on something, but would never admit it. Her first impulse was to roll her eyes and say “Boring!” but for some reason Syafika didn’t find Ousman so annoying anymore and didn’t want to deliberately hurt his feelings. Instead she asked “What has brought all this meditation on?”

“India just turned up with her pot of rose and apple tea and asked us if we wanted to help her end the year on a good note and sort out our thoughts so we are ready for the new year.” said Ousman. Syafika couldn’t say what she was thinking because she saw that India was coming into the kitchen, along with Rose and Binta. India was carrying the tray with the teaset on it. India said something about it being time to feed the chickens and asked Rose to open the front door for her.

“Does India have chickens” Syafika asked when India had gone.

“Does she ever!” replied Rose. “Next thing we know, she’ll have a goat”

“No, not a goat, an alpaca” said Binta and she and Rose started giggling. Syafika thought it might have made her laugh too, if she’d known what an aplaca was.

“Can we get a goat?” Ousman asked Binta.

“I don’t know” said Binta and she looked from Rose to Syafika as she asked “Would I be allowed to keep a goat?”

“Why would you want a goat?” asked Syafika. “Not for goats milk, surely”.

“Yes, and what about one of those fluffy goats for the wool? I could spin it and knit it into jumpers and beanies” said Binta and she and Rose started giggling again.

Syafika was getting annoyed now. “What was in that tea?” she asked. But that just made Rose and Binta giggle more.

“I think they are just making fun of India” said Ousman.

But when Festus came home a couple of hours later, Syafika saw the influence that India was having when Rose started asking Festus if he’d ever had to install a composting toilet and whether it would be a lot of work to put in a greywater system. Festus shrugged and asked whether you even needed a plumber to install a composting toilet if it wasn’t connected to water or the sewer. “Is this for India?” he asked.

“No, at least not yet” answered Rose. “I was hoping to beat her to it”

“Does she have a greywater system?” asked Festus.

“She’s looking into one” said Rose. “How quickly could you put one in?”

“You could tell India you’d forgotten you had a greywater system” commented Binta and she and Rose were about to start giggling again when Festus gave an annoyed sigh.

“Where do you want to collect the greywater from and what do you want to use it for?” he asked.

Rose shrugged and said “Whatever is easiest for you”.

Festus went out to his van to get a catalogue and then sat down at the kitchen table to draw a piping design and decide the pieces he needed to order.

Chapter 49.

John and D’arby were on bikes and trying to beat the storm to Jinabu’s place when the chain came off D’arby’s bike and he crashed into a shrub.

The brakes on John’s bike squeaked as he stopped. He dismounted inelegantly, nearly tripping over the back wheel as he tried to get to D’arby as quickly as possible.

D’arby was bleeding from some scratches on his arms but otherwise ok.

“Sorry” said John. He felt he was to blame because he’d bought the bikes. They were secondhand and had been ‘reconditioned’, but perhaps not very well.

“Don’t worry” said D’arby. He started to laugh. “I don’t think it is fair to blame a bike for my lack of coordination. I should have practiced riding before we decided to take a trip this far.”

John bent down and was looking at D’arby’s bike. The chain went back on easily but seemed a bit loose.

“Maybe we can tighten the chain at Jinabu’s place so it is safe for the ride home.” suggested John. “Is it far? Can we walk the bikes?”

D’arby pulled a map out of his back pocket and unfolded it. “It’s only about one kilometre more so we may as well walk” he said. “That would be safer. I don’t think we should ride home tonight though.” said D’arby as he looked up. “See – there are hardly any street lights around here so it will be pretty dark and we don’t have lights on our bikes.”

“So much for the carefree life I was imagining when I bought the bikes!” said John. “How are we going to get home instead then? We can’t take the bikes on a bus and there’s no train station near here.”

“I’ll see if we can stay at Jinabu’s instead.” answered D’arby.

John didn’t like the sound of that. He hadn’t brought a change of clothes or his deodorant, but before he could say anything it started to rain. The rain was so heavy that it took John’s breath away.

When John and D’arby arrived at Jinabu’s house a little while later they were soaking wet but feeling exhilarated.

Jinabu answered the door, which D’arby thought was just as well. They were so un-presentable that D’arby expected Andrew would want to shoo them away. Jinabu just laughed when she saw them though. They left the bikes on the front verandah and came inside, leaving wet footprints as they went.

Andrew then appeared. He had the baby asleep in a carrier on his front and a drink in each hand. He hurriedly handed John and D’arby a glass each before hurrying off.

“That’s iced tea” explained Jinabu and she hurried after Andrew. Jinabu and Andrew soon came back with towels and some of Andrew’s clothes.

“I’ve made two beds in the spare room” announced Andrew. “You can go and get changed there.” And he pointed down the hallway.

“Are we staying the night?” John whispered to D’arby but D’arby didn’t answer because he’d just noticed that one of his scratches was bleeding and blood had dripped onto the carpet. Unfortunately Andrew had also seen the blood.

“Quick Jinabu” said Andrew. D’arby needs a bandage. I’ll clean the carpet.

So John went to the spare room and got changed. He contemplated climbing out the window, sneaking around the front and escaping on his bike, but he wasn’t sure he’d be able to find his way home so instead John dried his hair and put on Andrew’s old tracksuit. At least it was comfortable, thought John.

The rest of the evening went more smoothly. D’arby and John were on their best behavior. The baby cried for about an hour just as they were about to sit down for dinner but otherwise it was pleasant. D’arby thought it was suspiciously pleasant.

Andrew was a different person – almost. He was still Andrew but seemed to have more confidence, as if he’d finally stopped worrying what other people think. Jinabu seemed happy and that made D’arby happy.

Still, D’arby was happy when it was finally bedtime.

“There are towels in the bathroom. Will you be ok?” asked Jinabu as she headed to bed. Andrew had gone ahead to check on the baby.

“Yeah, don’t worry about me!” said D’arby.

The house was so quiet that when John and D’arby got to the spare room they were almost too scared to say anything in case Jinabu or Andrew could hear them.

“I thought you said Andrew was awful” whispered John, cautiously.

“He used to be” answered D’arby and then he couldn’t’ help adding “But then I gave him some of my special pills.” John smiled thoughtfully for a couple of minutes then said “I wish I could clean my teeth.”

“That’s what I was thinking” said D’arby. “Let’s see what Jinabu has in the garden” said D’arby and he opened the window and climbed out. John followed, but he wasn’t hopeful of finding a toothbrush plant in the garden.

“What are we looking for?” whispered John

“Not sure” replied D’arby. “A veggie patch with celery hopefully. Or a eucalypt.”

The neighbours still had their lights on so the garden wasn’t very dark. There were snails about though and John trod on one. The crunch under his bare foot made shivers run down his spine but he stayed quiet. He wiped his foot on the lawn while D’arby bent over the veggie patch. After a bit of rustling around D’arby straightened up with two celery sticks in his hand. Then D’arby snapped two twigs off a small tree and they headed back to the spare room on tip toe. As they passed the window to Jinabu and Andrew’s room they could hear snoring.

When they got back inside John sighed with relief, but he was still unsure how he was going to clean his teeth so D’arby demonstrated by rubbing the celery all over his teeth as he ate it and then chewing on the twig to make the end brush-like before rubbing it all over his teeth. John wasn’t impressed but gave it a try and was pleasantly surprised because afterwards his mouth felt quite clean. “Now all I need is a shower and some deodorant and I’ll be able to sleep” said John.

While John was having a shower, D’arby went to the kitchen and tried to quietly look through the kitchen cupboards. When John emerged from the bathroom in some of Andrew’s old pyjamas D’arby handed him a bowl of white powder.

“What’s that?” asked John, sounding a bit worried. “I made you some deodorant” answered D’arby.

…………….
The first thing John did in the morning was sniff his armpits and then he smiled. As he and D’arby cycled home John discreetly sniffed his armpits every time he wiped sweat from his forehead. D’arby noticed but didn’t say anything.

As they rode through the park near home, John and D’arby noticed a crowd of people so they rode over to have a look. In the centre of the crowd was Guitar Man. He was standing on a milk crate and preaching to the crowd. John looked around and saw that although a few people were giggling quietly, most people were listening eagerly and nodding occasionally.

“Who really needs the most money? Is it the most charming person who can get people to do whatever they want without paying anyone? Is it the most competent person who can do things for themselves? Is it the person who enjoys hard work? Or is it the lazy incompetent who nobody wants to do favours for?”

A few people cheered. Guitar Man paused for a moment before continuing.

“Think about who most feels the need to drive an expensive car or have a flashy house. Who worries the most about what they look like? Is it the person who knows that deep down they are a good and worthwhile person? Or is it the person who is forever insecure and no matter how much they manage to accumulate, still worries that someone will one day expose them as a fraud?”

The crowd was quiet this time. The people who’d had their teeth whitened deliberately kept their mouths closed. A few people looked down at their shoes uncomfortably.

“Have another look at the world with fresh eyes. That CEO earning millions of dollars a year – if they aren’t happy unless they earn more than everyone else, what does that say about them and their inner strength? If you can choose your own salary and you choose to make it higher and higher what does it really mean? That you are worth more and more? Or that you need more and more in order to feel as adequate as the person who manages to get by on below average wages? Who is more genuine?”

“The brain plays a funny trick on you when you get more than other people – you start to think you deserve it because you are somehow better. That’s what needy people really crave – this feeling – to make up for the way they naturally feel inferior.

“But I’m not here to make you hate these needy people. I want to help them, and I want to help you so you never become them.”

“Yes, people will judge you by what you’ve done in the past but in reality we live our life one day at a time. It is what we do right now that matters right now. You could build up the perfect life being the perfect person and then ruin it all by doing something really dreadful. We can’t guarantee anything. If we think we can build up something now and then enjoy taking it easy later we are wrong. Our bodies and minds need to be used or they fade. To really feel pleasure we need to sometimes feel pain. Starving yourself when you are young doesn’t mean you can be a glutton in middle age and not get fat. Of course we need to do what is going to be best in the future, but we also need to do what is best today. No, it isn’t easy to do both. It requires thinking and effort and not doing the first thing that jumps into your mind. Easy things don’t make you happy!”

“What you can build up are memories. You remember when you do something awful. You remember when you made someone happy. If you lift yourself up by bringing others down that becomes part of you. You remember how much effort went into your achievements. And in your subconscious you keep a running total of good minus bad, of effort minus luck, of treating people well minus using them to get what you want, of giving minus taking. It is when things go really wrong in your life that you become aware of this running total. Imagine how the greedy, needy billionaire who, by living a life of luxury has not only deprived millions of a dignified life but has set the consumption bar so high that billions of other people who have all they need are left feeling like they’ve missed out – imagine how you’d feel to be hit by that negative running total as you lay on your death bed. To realize that you’d had the power to really change the world and you’d squandered it and to know that there was no time left to do anything about it.”

“Because NOT becoming a billionaire is how you become something genuinely great. If you give more than you get you can’t end up with lots of money. You’ll never know whether you could have been a billionaire, just like you’ll never know so many things, but not needing to know is where you show your strength.”

John was so mesmerized that D’arby had to jab him in the ribs to get him to notice that he was whispering “I’ve had enough. Let’s go home”.

Chapter 50.

Mamadou was crying as he walked around looking for things to put in the bag he’d just been given. He was incredibly happy and incredibly sad at the same time. He folded his clothes and put them in the bag, then added a pile of letters and papers. There was still plenty of room for his drawings.

Saidou and Howa tried to smile as Mamadou walked away with his mostly-empty bag. They were happy for him, despite his leaving making their own situation feel more desperate, and they were going to miss him. Mamadou didn’t think it was fair that only he was being given a new place to live. He imagined that Howa and her baby or Saidou would be much more valuable to Australia than he would be.

As he plodded towards the car waiting for him outside the gates, Mamadou tried to imagine what it was going to be like when Ousman met him at the airport.

…….

Fanta was feeling a bit guilty as she rushed into Syafika’s house with a suitcase and a sweaty face. Rose, Binta, Syafika, Ousman and Festus all looked up from the kitchen table in surprise.

Fanta knew that Binta and Ousman were going to be at Syafika’s place that morning because Syafika had rung her yesterday to complain about how they were all having a meeting to go through Rose’s renovation plans. Fanta had explained that she couldn’t come to the meeting because she was going away on a short holiday and made sure to mention she was going to need to go to the airport.

“Can someone please drive me to the airport” Puffed Fanta. “I ordered a taxi but it didn’t arrive.”

“I’ll take you” said Festus and he got up.

That was what Fanta had hoped wouldn’t happen, but fortunately India had unintentionally helped with Fanta’s plan by parking her car across Festus’ driveway.

In the end, it turned out just as Fanta had hoped and she, Binta, Ousman and Syafika were soon on their way to the airport in Binta’s car.

Fanta lead the others on a twisting and turning walking tour of the airport as she pretended to be working out where to go to check her bag in. Then she stopped near a roped-off area and took some folded-up papers out of her pocket and started looking at them.

“What are you doing?” asked Syafika. She noticed that a stream of people had started coming out of an arrivals gate and they were standing in their way.

Fanta held up a piece of paper facing towards the stream of people. Syafika realized it must have been a sign but couldn’t see what was on it. Then a man walked over to them from the arrivals gate, but he seemed more interested in Binta and Ousman than Fanta or her sign. That’s when Syafika realized she’d been tricked.

Binta thought she was going to faint when she saw Mamadou. Ousman took the longest to work out what was going on and when he did he gave his father a hug and tried to understand what his father was saying but didn’t say much back. Ousman was too worried about how his Mum was feeling to be able to come up with conversation.

The car trip back from the airport was very awkward. Fanta felt like she should have been explaining things, but at the same time she didn’t want to interrupt anyone’s thoughts so there was silence for most of the way until Binta realized she didn’t know where she was supposed to be going. Where was Mamadou going to be staying?

“I have room at my place”, said Fanta, “But…” Fanta was going to add that Mamadou probably wanted to stay with Ousman, but she couldn’t work out how to phrase it – she didn’t know what Binta was thinking and didn’t want her to feel pressured to make room for Mamadou at her place.

“Dad is staying at our place” said Ousman.

“Ok” said Binta.

“And Mum will be really angry if we don’t get back to inspecting her renovation plans” added Syafika.

So they all went back to Rose and Festus and after a bit of explaining they were soon all sitting around the kitchen table drinking tea and looking at Rose’s drawings. As Mamadou sipped his tea he was hit by a wave of tiredness and relief. The conversation around him was peacefully incomprehensible. After he swallowed the last sip of tea his head fell forward onto the table and he started to snore softly, like a purring cat.

If Syafika hadn’t been so concerned about the changes Rose wanted to make to their house she probably would have started laughing when Mamadou fell asleep on the table, but she was too distressed by the thought of having to use a composting toilet to have any sense of humour.

Ousman got a small cushion and put it under Mamadou’s forehead and put a blanket over his shoulders.

“Won’t the composting toilet stink and attract flies?” asked Syafika. “And what will our visitors think when they have to use it?”

Rose proudly opened a brochure on composting toilets and read out loud how the model she’d selected had features that prevented odour and insects.

“But why do we have to move the bathroom and laundry to the garage?” asked Syafika.

Festus explained that it would be easier to build the new bathroom and laundry where the garage was and then demolish the old ones because otherwise they’d be without a bathroom or laundry while the changes were made.

Then the doorbell rang. It was India, who had come to apologise to Festus for parking her car across the driveway that morning. Before India could launch into her excuses, Rose delightedly led her over to inspect the renovation plans. Soon Rose was busy pointing to various features and explaining how they were going to install a urine-separating composting toilet, plus a greywater treatment system, rainwater tank, solar panels and solar hot water system. But Rose saved the best bit for last. Where the old bathroom and laundry were, they were going to create a greenhouse with an aquaponics system.

When India left she was in a bit of a daze. Rose started telling Festus that if he did a good job, he’d probably get lots more work from other people in the street. Syafika tried again to convince Rose that the new bathroom was not a good idea.

“But Mum, how are you going to pay for all this?” asked Syafika.

“I’m going to sell the car” answered Rose. “We hardly use it anyway. Your Dad can use his van to do any shopping that we can’t carry home.” explained Rose.

“And we can put up a car port in the driveway and rent it out to India” suggested Festus. “Then I can park my van across the driveway”.

“Yes, but we have to put a green roof on the car port” said Rose.

Chapter 51.

“Wake up!” D’arby shouted to John.

John felt cranky at being woken. He’d been having a nice dream but now that he was awake he couldn’t remember anything about it except that he’d been enjoying it.

“What do I have to wake up for?” asked John.

“We have to finish the Vincent job, remember?” answered D’arby.

…………………….

Rose had just put away her renovation plans and set the table for lunch when the doorbell rang. It was John and D’arby.

“We need you and Syafika to come with us” said John to Fanta.

“Why?” asked Syafika. “We were just about to have lunch”

“You can have lunch at the café” answered John

As they walked to the café that John was talking about D’arby and John gave Fanta and Syafika instructions, but refused to explain the full plan.

Syafika sat down and ordered some lunch. Her job was to sit in the window and keep eating until someone came and told her otherwise. “Easy peasy” thought Syafika.

Fanta’s job was more complicated.

…………….

Vincent was enjoying his last day of holidays. He was sitting at home and reading a book, while listening to some music and drinking coffee that he’d made with some complicated equipment his parents had given him for Christmas. Then he heard someone outside scream. He looked out the front window but couldn’t see anything unusual. Then he heard it again – a screech, followed by “Help!”. Vincent opened the front door and looked up the street. He saw someone disappear around the corner so he checked his keys were in his pocket and then followed. Vincent got around the corner just in time to see the figure dash into a narrow laneway. Vincent followed. He couldn’t see anyone, but at the other end there was a bearded man with a guitar. He had the guitar case open on the ground and was sitting on a milk crate. Vincent thought the busker might have seen the person he was following so he walked over. The busker looked up as Vincent approached and switched his tune mid-song. “I would have given you all of my heart” began the busker, strumming his guitar awkwardly.

Vincent’s face started to burn as blood rushed to his cheeks and tears to his eyes, but he pulled himself together enough to ask the busker if he’d seen anyone run down the alley.

“Yeah, there was a lady. She looked distressed but didn’t want to talk to me” answered the busker. “She went that way”

Vincent looked in the direction that the busker had pointed. It was along a street with some shops and cafes.

As Vincent walked past the hairdresser he could hear music playing “Morning has broken” sang Cat Stevens. Vincent stopped and was about to turn around and go home when he saw a woman run out of the newsagent and up the street. She was wailing.

Vincent ran after her but she was fast. She disappeared around the corner. When Vincent turned the corner a large woman on a bike was blocking his way. She was puffing. “Sorry, just having a rest dear” she said in a funny voice. She was wearing sunglasses and her hair was messy. Vincent squeezed past but couldn’t see the lady he’d been following. He turned back to the woman with the bike.

“Did you see where she went?” asked Vincent

“Did you make her cry? Why were you chasing her?” asked the woman on the bike.

Vincent was cross. He also wondered what he was doing, chasing that lady all over the place, but he didn’t want to give up so he ran to the end of the block and looked both ways along the intersecting street. He spotted her along the street to the left. She was leaning against a tree but when she saw Vincent she ran off again. He followed. He’d gotten so far into this chase that he was determined to get to the bottom of the mystery. The lady turned left and back towards the street with the shops. He followed her around the corner but his way was blocked by a moustached man in a yellow fluorescent vest who was pushing a trolley full of boxes into a cafe. Vincent stopped suddenly. He could hear Cat Stevens singing again “Sitting on my own not by myself, everybody’s here with me”. He turned his head to the right and looked into the café window. There was Syafika, sitting by herself and eating lunch. Vincent followed the moustached man as he took his trolley of boxes into the café. He walked up to Syafika’s table with his arms crossed and asked “What is going on!”

Syafika looked up in surprise and Vincent could tell immediately that Syafika didn’t know what he was talking about.

“Have a seat” said a moustached waiter man to Vincent, so Vincent sat down opposite Syafika. Then the waiter brought over a tray with a plate of French toast and a black coffee for Vincent and a pot of tea for Syafika.

Syafika realized that she and Vincent had been tricked by John and D’arby.

“This is the second time today that I’ve been tricked” Syafika said to Vincent.

“What do you mean?” asked Vincent

Before Syafika answered she took a sip of her tea, and in doing so she was falling for a third trick that day, because before D’arby (who was wearing a fake moustache) had discreetly left the café he’d added his special pills to Syafika’s tea and Vincent’s coffee.

…………………

An hour later, Syafika and Vincent left the café and went their separate ways. After a bit of an awkward start, they’d been able to amicably agree that their relationship would never be worth the effort.

Syafika was walking home when she heard what sounded like a cackle of hyenas approaching rapidly from behind. John, D’arby and Fanta soon caught up with her but they were still laughing too much to be able to talk.

“I was going to ask whether you were pleased with yourselves, but there’s no need to ask” said Syafika. She was trying to sound grumpy but was actually feeling pretty good. She felt free.

“Did you and Vincent make-up?” asked Fanta

“No, we decided to split” answered Syafika, “but that’s good”.

John slowed his walk upon hearing Syafika’s answer.

“So you mean that we did all that for nothing?” asked John

“No” answered Syafika. “It was good to have a final discussion and agree to not see each other anymore.”

D’arby was quiet. He had a frown on his face. He opened his mouth as if he was about to speak but then changed his mind and stayed quiet.

“I don’t suppose you’ll be able to get Vincent’s belt for me then?” asked John.

“Why would you want Vincent’s belt?” asked Syafika.

“It has a little transmitter in it” answered John.

“What?” asked Syafika.

Fanta covered her ears and said “Stop talking about Vincent’s belt. I don’t want to hear about you having done illegal stuff.”

“It wasn’t that bad” said John. “Tell her D’arby”

But D’arby didn’t feel like talking. He was too busy thinking.

Chapter 52.

It was 10am on Monday and Syafika was at work, although hardly anyone else was – there was nobody at any of the other desks in her room that day. It was the time of year that people were encouraged to take their annual leave. Syafika had hardly eased her way back into the work routine when her phone rang. She put down her cup of tea and answered. It was an urgent request from the Minister’s office for statistics to be used in a press release and they needed them before tomorrow. Syafika hadn’t before been directly asked for anything like this but because the management people in her area were all still away on holiday she was the only one to call. She hadn’t expected anything like this to happen – at this time of year nothing usually happened. Syafika took careful notes about the request and tried to remain calm but as soon as she hung up the phone she felt sweat dripping down her back.

“What am I going to do?” said Syafika, but there was nobody else around to hear her. So she called Fanta.

“Stay calm” said Fanta. “Do you understand what the request is for?”

“Yes” said Syafika “But I don’t know if I can get an answer, let alone get one today”

“Spend a bit of time thinking it through” said Fanta “Up to an hour. Write down what you know and what you don’t know and possible ways to find the information you don’t have. Then if you don’t know what to do, call me back.”

Syaf worked hard all day – no lunch break. Fanta called her at 6pm to see when she would be leaving. John and D’arby were at Fanta’s place and were waiting for Syafika to come for dinner and their Monday meeting. Syafika was really upset that she couldn’t make it. She still had at least another hour’s worth of work to do before she could leave.

It was dark when Syafika finally sent off the email with the advice, after having read it through to Fanta on the phone. Fanta reported that the meeting with John and D’arby had been quiet without her and she hadn’t missed anything important.

Usually Syafika took the stairs but it was too scary when the building was mostly dark.  She took the lift and was surprised when it stopped at the floor below. A strange man got in the lift. He looked tired too. Syafika tried to smile at him but his unfriendly expression made her give up half-way.

When the lift stopped at the ground floor Syafika hurried to the exit, but when she got to the door she realized she didn’t have her swipe card in her hand. She was so tired that she couldn’t remember where it was. She started looking in her bag. The man from the lift didn’t seem to have his swipe card either. He patted his pockets and then started looking in his bag too.

Syafika was getting angry. Why couldn’t she just get out of the stupid building after such a long day!

The man shook his head. “What are the odds of both of us having lost our cards? I must have left mine on my desk” he said, and he walked back to the lift. Syafika realized that she might also have left her card on her desk, but didn’t want to go in the lift with the man again so she kept looking through her bag instead. She eventually found the card – she’d put it in the side pocket. Syafika felt she should wait in case the man couldn’t find his card. She imagined how awful it would be to be locked into the building overnight and wondered whether there was an emergency way out.

Syafika tapped her foot impatiently for five minutes before the lift arrived again. This time there was a woman in the lift with the man. Syafika recognized the woman – she was one of the Executive Directors. She seemed cross with the man – she hurried out in front of him, turning to say “I need it done by 10am tomorrow”.

When Syafika got home it was bedtime. She was so tired she didn’t have any dinner.

Chapter 53.

Mamadou woke with a fright on Monday morning. His bed was so soft that he’d been dreaming that he was floating down a river. He looked at the ceiling, unable to remember where he was until he noticed the familiar smell of vanilla and roses. Then he remembered he was in Binta’s spare room. Mamadou sat up and accidentally knocked a book off the bedside table. It made a loud slapping sound as it hit the wooden floor. Ousman must have heard it because he was soon peeping in the door.

“Can I come in?” asked Ousman.

“Come in” answered Mamadou.

“What would you like to do today?” asked Ousman

“What?” said Mamadou. He wasn’t used to the luxury of being able to choose something nice to do.

“What about the big art gallery?” suggested Ousman

……….

The art gallery was familiar to Mamadou. He’d enjoyed going there when he was younger and still hopeful of finding success as an artist. Now it just made him feel depressed. As he and Ousman wandered around looking at the exhibits Mamadou realized this world was not for him. He didn’t understand the works, nor did he want to create anything that was like them, but at the same time he longed to hang his paintings in this gallery and it was the knowing that he’d never be admitted to the club of successful artists that made him depressed. He saw an older man in a white cap that seemed to be feeling the same way. He was looking despairingly at finalists in the portrait prize. Mamadou cautiously approached. His English was returning to him but he still needed to form his sentences in advance in order for them to come out right.

“You not enjoying the exhibition?” asked Mamadou

“It is shit! Total shit!” said the man in the white cap.

Mamadou smiled and so did Ousman, although for different reasons.

“I know!” said Mamadou. “You paint?”

“Not like this” replied the man.

The nearby security guard took a couple of steps closer. The man in the white cap noticed and was offended. He shook his head and walked out of the exhibition.

“Good” said Mamadou, feeling better. “It is not just me”

“What do you mean?” asked Ousman.

“I’ll explain while we walk home” answered Mamadou, looking at the security guard.

Chapter 54.

Tuesday at work was much quieter for Syafika. Nobody emailed her, and nobody called her. She could only assume that the Ministers Office had been happy with the information she’d supplied the night before. After the excitement of the day before, Syafika actually felt a bit bored. At lunchtime she decided to go for a walk in the nearby Botanic Gardens and enjoy not having to keep an eye on the time (if she was late nobody would be there to care and she’d already finished everything on her list of things to do that day).

Syafika wandered along the paths enjoying the smell of damp leaves and some strange fluffy white flowers. She was humming to herself and not paying attention to where she was going when around the corner came a runner and they collided. Syafika nearly lost her balance but he quickly put his arm out to support her. She looked up, not sure whether to be angry or apologetic and saw that it was Anthony. Instead of taking a step back to reclaim her personal space, Syafika stayed where she was and took a deep breath.

“You ok?” asked Anthony

“Yep” answered Syafika and tried to think of something else to say to keep the conversation going.

“I didn’t know you came here” said Anthony.

“I didn’t know you came here either” said Syafika

“Or you wouldn’t have come here?” suggested Anthony.

“No! I mean….” said Syafika. Then she was too embarrassed to say anything else.

“How’s Vincent?” asked Anthony.

“We broke up. I guess he’s fine” replied Syafika.

“Again?” asked Anthony.

“For the last time. We neither care for each other anymore” said Syafika.

Anthony smiled then said “I need to finish my run and get back to work. I’ll call you”. Then he ran off.

Syafika sat down on the first seat she could find. She felt shaky – she had that Anthony-induced feeling again. It was unsettling and made her feel a bit anxious but it was also delicious – warm and happy. Syafika remembered what it felt like in those seconds she was standing close to Anthony and didn’t want to move. She thought about following him to see where he went, but it was too late – she didn’t know which way he’d gone.

Instead Syafika went back to her desk and was engrossed in reading an article Fanta had emailed her when she realized that someone was standing behind her.

“Ah, so this is why you have to stay so late to finish your work” said the man from the lift. He introduced himself as Nelson and explained that he was hiding from his Executive Director Christine – the lady Syafika had seen him coming out of the lift with the night before.

“I can’t believe you are really hiding” said Syafika.

“I am” Nelson replied. “Christine is a bully”

Syafika was unsure what to do or say so she wheeled a chair to the empty desk next to her and said “Sit down if you like”

Nelson sat down and didn’t say anything. After a few minutes Syafika couldn’t stand the awkwardness anymore and started laughing nervously.

“Do you want some paper and pens so you can do a drawing?” she tried to joke.

Nelson looked Syafika in the eye while he took a breath.

“Can I tell you something?” asked Nelson.

“Ok” answered Syafika, sounding a bit worried.

“Sorry, but I need to tell someone. Christine is doing something really bad and I don’t understand why” said Nelson

“What is she doing?” asked Syafika.

“I think she is helping the Minister steal money” said Nelson.

“You should report it then” said Syafika.

“Yeah, that’s easier said than done” answered Nelson. “She’s had me organize the dodgy modelling and sign-off on all the paperwork so it looks like I’m the one who’s doing the wrong thing.

Syafika didn’t know what to say. She felt scared because she didn’t know whether it was Nelson or Christine who was the bad one and she wished Nelson hadn’t told her anything.

Luckily for Syafika, her phone rang and as she answered it Nelson got up and left.

Chapter 55.

Mamadou felt anxious. Not long after he and Ousman returned from the gallery Rose called Binta and asked them to come over urgently.

“Relax” explained Binta “Rose probably just wants me to cook dinner”

But it was worse than that. When they arrived, Rose was crying.

“What is wrong?” asked Binta.

Rose pointed to the lounge where Festus was lying asleep with his leg in a plastic cast. He had scratches on his face and bruises on his arms.

“Festus broke his leg and its my fault. I asked him to get up on the garage roof to check the condition because sometimes the roof leaks and I wanted to know whether we should replace the roof when we convert the garage into the new bathroom and laundry. But then Festus trod on a rotten patch and fell through.” said Rose

“And it isn’t just that. He won’t be able to work for two months. So we won’t have any income until he is better nor will he be able to work on the renovations. And in case you thought it couldn’t get any worse, this morning India came over to tell me that her producer friend Zikpi, who is making a TV show about ambitious renovations, wants to make an episode about my project – filming it from start to finish. Just before Festus got up on the garage roof I spoke to Zikpi on the phone and agreed to meet on Friday to explain my renovation plans. This is despite me not knowing what I’m doing. I just didn’t want to show India that.” Rose added, before flopping down on a comfy chair and looking at the ceiling.

Mamadou offered to help and asked to look at the plans. Rose told him where they were – she didn’t feel like getting up yet. Mamadou spread the plans out on the kitchen table and his eyes soon lit up at the prospect.

“Can we do the garden too?” he sang out to Rose.

“I can’t cope with the house, let alone the garden” replied Rose

“Sorry” replied Mamadou “I just had an idea for a beautiful garden to go with the beautiful house. I’ll do the work. I need a project”

Rose’s eyes lit up. She got up and went to the kitchen. Binta followed. Rose looked at Mamadou. He was skinny but probably strong. Rose imagined Festus sitting on a chair instructing Mamadou.

“If you help Festus with the house, you can do the garden” said Rose.

Binta didn’t think that was very fair, and was about to tell Rose when she noticed how happy Mamadou looked.

“I’ll draw my plan and bring it to show you” said Mamadou

“I need it by Thursday” answered Rose

……………….

When Syafika got home she found her parents sitting in the lounge room while Binta prepared dinner, and Mamadou and Ousman drew pictures of gardens.

“You’ll have to cancel the renovations” said Syafika

“I can’t” replied Rose “Zikpi is going to film it all and put it on TV for everyone to see. I’m sure they’ll enjoy the bit about Festus having a broken leg and him having to instruct Mamadou on how to install a greywater system.”

“I don’t think he can do that. We’ll have to get a plumber in – have to do it properly if it is going to be on TV.” said Festus. But then he thought a bit more and added “Or he could become my new apprentice!”

“But if Dad isn’t working how are you going to pay an apprentice or pay for anything?” asked Syafika.

“Just as well you are still working!” answered Rose. “You’ll be the breadwinner while Festus gets better”

“So I’m going to be paying for the stinking renovations that I don’t want?” asked Syafika. But she was really only pretending to be angry. She wanted to support the family because it would make her feel important. It was the best convincing Rose had done so far – Syafika was no longer against the renovations. She sat down next to Mamadou to look at the plans.

The phone rang but nobody could be bothered getting up to answer it.

Chapter 56.

On Wednesday morning Syafika was just opening the door to leave for work when she heard Rose say “Oh no! Oh dear! Syafika!” so she went to find out what was wrong. She had the phone in her hand and was pressing buttons in a fluster.Syafika could hear the answering machine saying ‘You have no saved messages’.

“There was a message on the answering machine for you but I think I accidentally deleted it” said Rose.

“That’s probably ok” replied Syafika. “Just tell me what the message was or who called”

“A man… Anthony? The message was left last night. He asked whether you wanted to go somewhere for dinner and to call him. He said his phone number, but of course I can’t remember that!” explained Rose.

Syafika suddenly felt like crying. “I don’t have his number” she said. Syafika had a go at retrieving the message but it had definitely been deleted so she headed off for work, hoping that Anthony was going to be running in the Botanic Gardens at lunchtime.

When Syafika arrived at work she found a note stuck to her computer screen saying to call Glenda and her number. Syafika didn’t know Glenda but had heard about her and decided to have a cup of tea before calling her. As the tea was drawing Syafika turned her computer on and saw that she’d been copied in to a string of emails regarding the advice she’d given the Minister’s Office on Monday. She opened the first one and was just starting to read it when Glenda appeared.

“Why didn’t you call me?” Glenda demanded.

“I was just about to” answered Syafika. Glenda didn’t look like she believed her.

“The Minister is furious” said Glenda.

Syafika was frightened and wondered what she’d done wrong.

Glenda started explaining but Syafika didn’t understand what she was talking about. Glenda kept mentioning names and projects that only sounded vaguely familiar. Then Christine walked in and told Glenda that Joe needed to speak to her. Joe was the Executive Director that Glenda worked for.

“I’ll be back” said Glenda as she left.

Syafika looked at Christine. She remembered what Nelson had said about Christine and expected to be yelled at, but instead Christine was calm and friendly.

“Joe gets Glenda to be his attack dog” said Christine. “She doesn’t always know what she’s talking about. Neither does Joe. None of this is your fault but you have been blamed for it.”

Christine explained what had happened. Syafika’s advice had been fine but it wasn’t the information the Minister needed because she’d been asked the wrong questions. She’d been asked the wrong questions because Joe hadn’t bothered clarifying with one of the other Executive Directors before passing them on. And so the Minister had been made to look like a fool in a press conference, and someone had to be blamed.

“So you are going to have to leave this branch and come and work for me” concluded Christine. She told Syafika to pack up her stuff and come down to her office on level 2.

As Syafika packed her teapot, cups, diary and pot plant into an empty printer paper box she contemplated going home instead of down to level 2 but then Syafika remembered what had happened last night and that it was now her responsibility to earn money to support her family. As she walked down the stairs to level 2 she still wasn’t sure what was going on. If she had been she’d have been crying with rage.

Nelson was in Christine’s office when Syafika arrived. Christine was on the phone. Nelson led Syafika to her new desk and introduced her to the rest of the team. Then everyone went to the meeting room to discuss their current project. It was lunchtime when they emerged but Syafika wasn’t hungry. Her head was foggy though and her hands were shaking. She looked around and saw everyone else settling down to eat lunch at their desks and felt like she should copy them but didn’t want to. Fortunately Nelson gave her an opportunity to get out of the office by asking whether anyone could go and get him a coffee if they were going to buy lunch.

“I have to go and get something” said Syafika, wording the sentence carefully to only make it sound like she didn’t have her lunch because she had a generous packed lunch in her bag.

“Great”said Nelson and handed Syafika a coffee cup.

Syafika was just about to ask Nelson what kind of coffee he wanted when he changed his mind and decided to come too. Syafika tried to not show her disappointment. She’d been hoping to do a quick walk around the Botanic Gardens, but how could she do that if Nelson came too? Then she had a brilliant idea. Syafika picked up her cup and as she and Nelson walked out of the office Syafika told him that her favourite coffee place was the café in the Botanic Gardens.

“There are plenty of good coffee places closer than that. The coffee there must be good if you walk all that way” commented Nelson.

“Maybe it is the walk that makes the coffee taste so nice” answered Syafika, carefully. She’d never actually had a coffee from the café in the Botanic Gardens.

As Syafika and Nelson walked through the gardens Syafika looked around as much as she could without making it too noticeable. Nelson was telling her lots of things about the work she would be doing but Syafika wasn’t paying much attention. She was waiting for an opportunity to ask about Christine because Syafika hadn’t found her to be a bully at all and couldn’t believe she would be corrupt either.

As they waited for their coffee orders, Nelson finally stopped talking long enough for Syafika to speak.

“Christine doesn’t seem to be the way you told me she was” said Syafika

“Maybe she isn’t” answered Nelson. “I don’t think you know her well enough to judge yet. Also, sometimes people say things to see how you respond, not because they are necessarily true.” As Nelson said this he put his hand on Syafika’s shoulder. Syafika glanced over Nelson’s shoulder as she tried to think of a response and saw that Anthony was sitting at an outside table and looking at them. Syafika smiled at Anthony before being distracted by Nelson, who was handing her her coffee.

When Syafika turned to look at Anthony again he was gone.

……

When Syafika and Nelson got back to the office everyone had finished their lunch and had started another meeting and so Syafika’s packed lunch went un-eaten. She didn’t have time to feel hungry though. The afternoon flew by, as the time was eaten up by one meeting after another. Syafika took lots of notes as she tried to make sense of what was going on. After the last meeting Syafika walked home as fast as she could. She wanted to call Fanta. There was so much to talk about!

“Where have you been!” said Rose as Syafika walked in the front door at home.

Syafika was confused until she realized the time. She was two hours later than usual and hadn’t called to say she’d be late. Then Syafika saw that Fanta and her sisters were sitting at the kitchen table.

“I tried to call you at work lots of times” said Fanta “but you didn’t answer”.

“Sorry” replied Syafika. “I had to move offices” and she realized she hadn’t asked whether she’d be keeping her old phone number, nor had she sat at her new desk all day.

“We were worried” said Rose.

“Sorry” said Syafika. “I had such a big day that I forgot about all the normal things”

“I had a big day too” said Fanta. “When I went back to work today I discovered the shop was closed and I don’t know where Lenny is”.

“On holiday?” suggested Syafika. Syafika was impatient to tell her stories so wanted to hurry Fanta up.

“No, the police were looking for him too. He’s officially a missing person” said Fanta. “And without Lenny, I don’t have a job”

Syafika was interested now. “What are you going to do?” she asked.

“I don’t know” answered Fanta. “Look for a new job I suppose. But I don’t know when or if Lenny will turn up again. And I’m not going to be popular with other agencies because nobody likes Lenny.”

Syafika didn’t like the sound of this. She could see that Fanta might end up with a job that made her less available. This made Syafika feel depressed and she no longer had the energy to explain her day. Fortunately Ruby was tired and asked Fanta if they could go home. Fanta explained that they’d been there for two hours and had already had dinner. Syafika and Fanta organized to meet for dinner the following night. Then Fanta and her sisters walked home.

Syafika watched Rose tuck Festus into his temporary bed on the sofa. The stairs were too hard to climb while his leg was still so sore. Syafika decided not to bother her parents with her work troubles that night. She said ‘Goodnight’ and went to have a shower.

Rose watched Syafika go and then told Festus that Syafika hadn’t shown any interest in dinner and hoped she was ok.

“So do I” said Festus, because he was feeling so powerless that all he could do was hope.

Chapter 57

Wednesday was a blur for Mamadou. He spent most of it in his head, walking around imaginary gardens, although he was vaguely aware of Ousman and Binta coming and going, and he remembered drinking a very nice cup of tea.

As the sun was setting, Ousman watched his father as he walked back and forth on the footpath outside the house. Mamadou frowned as he worked out the last details of his design. Then mosquitos started biting him so he came inside and worked frantically until midnight – drawing a bird’s eye view of the garden and the doing several sketches of what it would look like to be in different parts of the garden.

Mamadou woke on Thursday morning with a sense of purpose. He had done his homework. The plans for Rose’s garden were ready. By 8:00 am he was ready to go and drop them off.

“Where are you going?” asked Binta when she saw Mamadou heading out the door.

“To give Rose these plans. She needs them today” answered Mamadou.

Mamadou noticed that Binta was ready to go somewhere also. She was wearing a brown suit and nice blue earrings.

Binta had assumed that Mamadou would be looking after Ousman while she was at work, and only just realized that they hadn’t discussed it. She wondered how she should best explain the situation.

“I have work today” said Binta. “I’d assumed you would be looking after Ousman. He doesn’t need much looking after really, but he isn’t used to waking to find nobody here. What if you wait until he wakes up and take him with you to see Rose? It is still a bit early to call on Rose anyway”.

Mamadou understood. He realized he had a lot to learn about how things worked around here. He wondered at what age children were left to fend for themselves.  Mamadou watched Binta walk off down the street, then closed the front door and sat down to wait for Ousman to wake up. At 8:15am Ousman quietly opened the door to Ousman’s bedroom and slowly walked in, watching his feet as he stepped and treading as lightly as possibly on the floor boards. Ousman was still sleeping soundly. Mamadou looked at Ousman’s face. He could see things that reminded him of himself and of Binta, but at the same time Ousman was completely different to them both. Mamadou hoped that he’d be able to let Ousman be his own person.

Mamadou was sitting at the table looking proudly at his garden plans when Ousman woke up. It was 8:30am. Ousman ate a banana for breakfast as he and his father walked to Rose’s place. They arrived just before 9am.

“I think we might be a bit early” said Ousman. “Did Aunty Rose say to come this early?”

“No, she just told me she needs to have the plans today so I thought earlier is better” said Mamadou.

“Let’s check whether she’s up and about yet before we knock on the door” suggested Ousman. He wasn’t sure when Rose got up in the morning but he imagined she wouldn’t be ready for visitors before 10am.

So Ousman crept up the front steps and peeped in through the crack between the curtain and the window frame. He could see two figures in the lounge room and from the shape and the way they moved he thought they must be Rose and Amanda. They seemed to be having an animated conversation and he could hear laughing. He took a step back, walked to the door and knocked. Ousman thought he heard someone rushing up the stairs. Then Rose opened the door.

It took Rose a couple of seconds to compose herself when she saw Ousman and Mamadou. When she noticed the roll of papers in Mamadou’s hand she realized what the visit was for.

“Come in!” said Rose enthusiastically, giving Ousman a hug.

Mamadou was feeling nervous. He hoped Rose would approve of his garden design.

Rose unrolled the drawings and gasped as she looked at them. After looking at each of them she laid them out on the table so Ousman could see.

“Magnificent!” said Rose, when she’d seen them all. Ousman looked at Mamadou proudly. Mamadou smiled, but was still feeling nervous.

Then Mamadou explained how the garden tied-in with the house. How the greywater would be cleaned as it trickled through the series of ponds and how it could then either be sent to the greenhouse or along a channel he liked to call ‘the river’, watering the fruit and nut trees, flowers, berries and veggies as it wound through the garden, all the way to the frog pond in the back corner.

Rose giggled and explained that if India was there she’d probably know some term that experts used to describe such a system. Rose gathered up the drawings and they all went out to the backyard to see how the design would fit with the topography of the yard. Luckily for Rose’s budget, the land sloped downwards to where Mamadou wanted to locate the frog pond and it looked like it would be possible to gravity feed the whole system. Mamadou wanted to get started straight away and asked Rose for a shovel. Rose laughed and told Mamadou that they couldn’t start anything until Zikpi had been to film the ‘before’ scenes.

Ousman, Mamadou and Rose spent the rest of the day alternating between caring for Festus and creating a project plan for the renovations and garden. Ousman liked the way they had to work out how each step of the various jobs would fit in with the rest. Mamadou liked the way that it looked like he was going to be very useful. Rose loved being able to be part of a team, and Festus liked the way that Rose’s plans were going ahead despite his broken leg. He looked forward to being able to help though – he was glad that, according to the project plan, his leg would be better before the project was over. He imagined that the last few scenes of Zikpi’s documentary would show him working really hard to get things finished on time.

Chapter 58.

When there was a knock at the door John jumped. He wasn’t expecting anyone and so couldn’t help thinking that maybe the police had finally come to arrest him. He crept over to the door and looked through the peep hole. Phew! It was Fanta.

Fanta hadn’t slept much all night and when John saw her he could tell. He immediately started to worry that she might be about to break up with him and felt a bit like crying.

“Sit down, poor thing. I’ll make some tea” said John, and then he winced at how much he’d sounded like his grandmother.

As John stirred milk into the cups of tea he tinkled the teaspoons against the inside of the cups extra loudly, to cover the silence. Then he picked up the cups and turned to face Fanta. She was smiling.

“Phew!” thought John.

“Lenny has disappeared so I don’t have a job” said Fanta.

John took a little sip of tea and coughed. It was too hot.

“What do you mean ‘Lenny has disappeared’?” asked John.

“He ran away from the Police, I think.” said Fanta.

“Why?” asked John, but Fanta didn’t know. Neither of them would have been surprised if Lenny had broken the law though. He didn’t seem to care about being a good person.

“Do you want to work at the restaurant?” asked John.

Fanta laughed. She’d expected that John would say that. What worried her was that she knew waitresses didn’t earn enough to pay her mortgage.

“How could I say ‘no’ to that” answered Fanta. “But you know I would be looking for another job at the same time. I guess this might be what it takes for me to get a job related to my degree.”

“Fine” answered John. What he really wanted to ask was whether he could pay Fanta’s bills for her. But how could he word that offer without sounding condescending.

“My money is your money, you know” said John, finally.

“All of it?” asked Fanta, trying to look annoyed, but she was feeling happy.

And so John and Fanta agreed that Fanta would work at the restaurant for the weekday lunchtime shift when her sisters were back at school. Then it was time for John to set out for the restaurant. As they left the block of flats they noticed someone was putting up a giant sign out the front. It said “Expressions of Interest” and had a picture of the block of flats with the land dimensions marked.

“Looks like you might have to move” said Fanta. “Developers would love this site.”

John looked worried. He wondered how D’arby would cope with having to move while trying to finish his thesis. John would be sad to leave their little old flat.

Chapter 59.

When Syafika arrived at work at 9:05am there was a note on her desk to let her know everyone was in the meeting room. Perhaps someone had told her that every day started with a team meeting at 8:30am and she’d forgotten. Syafika could hardly remember anything that she’d been told the day before. She hadn’t slept well, probably because she’d been feeling hungry. Then when she tried to eat some toast for breakfast it had made her feel sick. Even a cup of tea hurt her stomach.

Syafika opened the meeting room door as gently as she could. All the chairs at the table were occupied so she stood at the back of the room and listened to Christine give a presentation, but she had no idea what Christine was going on about so she tried to work it out from the slides she was showing, but they were just as incomprehensible. Christine seemed to be giving them a maths lesson and Syafika couldn’t work out why. Syafika began daydreaming about Anthony coming to rescue her.

Then after the meeting Nelson rescued Syafika instead. He suggested they go for a coffee at the café in the Botanic Gardens. Syafika looked at her watch – it was only 10am – and couldn’t believe her luck.

On the way to the café Nelson asked Syafika how she was finding the job and whether she was enjoying it. Syafika admitted that Christine’s team was much more intense than her old one and that she was having trouble keeping up.

“I have an idea” said Nelson. “I am speaking at a conference on the Central Coast tomorrow. It starts in the morning and finishes on Saturday afternoon. Everyone is staying at the conference venue, which is a nice hotel near the beach. You should come too. It would give you a very good overview of our work and how it fits in with what other people are doing.”

Syafika nodded. She thought that going to a conference would be more fun than spending Friday at work but was a bit worried she’d fall even further behind if she missed out on what happened at work tomorrow. Nelson could see the indecision in her face and suggested she sit down and have a think about it while he ordered their coffees. This time they were going to be able to drink their coffees at the café – another luxury that Syafika had been missing.

When Nelson returned he was carrying a tray with two coffees (in real cups!) and two pieces of cake. Syafika decided at that moment that she would go to the conference tomorrow.

Perhaps it was because Syafika had a full tummy for the first time in days, but that afternoon at work went well for Syafika. She was able to pay attention to everything that went on. Christine even had some good news. They had been given a bigger budget and could afford to have two more people in their team. Christine emailed around the job descriptions and Syafika was excited to see that one of the positions was for a graduate and would suit Fanta perfectly.

………………….

When Syafika left work she went straight to Fanta’s place (making sure she called Rose to tell her first). Syafika had a printout of the job advertisement in her bag and was feeling excited. She imagined how nice it would be to have Fanta working with her.

As Fanta waited for Syafika to arrive she was also feeling excited. She was looking forward to working at the pizza restaurant for a while and was feeling more secure now that she knew that John would be there to help her if she needed it.

When Syafika knocked on the door of Fanta’s house she could smell something delicious cooking, probably pasta.

As Syafika and Fanta and Fanta’s sisters sat at the table enjoying a dinner of pasta, salad and a cold fruity tea they told each other about their days.

Syafika gave Fanta the job description. As Fanta read it she felt happy that Syafika and John were both looking out for her.

“You better stop telling me how hard Christine makes you work if you want me to apply for this job” said Fanta. Fanta read the job description and saw that it was something she was qualified to do, but then she read that it was full-time and realized she didn’t want a full-time job.

Syafika noticed that Fanta had started to frown.

“What’s wrong?” asked Syafika.

“Do you think I’d be able to do it part time?” asked Fanta.

“I don’t know” said Syafika. “I’ll ask Christine on Monday. But I think you should apply anyway.”

Fanta was feeling a bit slack for not wanting to work full-time. She wondered if it was lazy of her to want to be able to keep some of her time for herself and her sisters.

Chapter 60.

D’arby arrived home at dusk. As he approached the block of flats he could see something big out the front. He had to tell himself that it wasn’t reasonable to be scared because it couldn’t be a monster, but when he got close he realized that it was something monstrous. It wasn’t too dark for D’arby to be able to make out the writing on the “Expressions of Interest” sign, but even if it had been too dark to read it, he’d have known, by the shape of it, that it had something to do with the owner wanting to sell the building. D’arby wondered what John would think about it. D’arby was a bit scared that John would decide to go and live with Fanta and leave him to fend for himself. Without John’s income D’arby wouldn’t be able to find anywhere new to rent. D’arby hated feeling so helpless. “At least I can always go and stay with Jinabu for a while if things get really bad” thought D’arby and as he opened the flat door he began to imagine what it would be like to have to travel from Jinabu’s place to uni and back everyday.

D’arby didn’t often feel lonely when John wasn’t there but tonight he did, so he turned on the TV as he ate dinner. The only channel without ads was screening a live debate between politicians. D’arby couldn’t decide which was more moronic – ads or politicians, and he got up to turn the TV off, but then he saw something that made him change his mind. As the TV camera panned over the audience D’arby thought he saw Guitarman sitting in the front row. D’arby smiled, anticipating that something unusual may be about to happen.

And so D’arby left the TV on and watched the treasurer and then the shadow treasurer give long talks about what they were going to do for the country if their party won the upcoming election.D’arby wondered who they were talking to – none of the things they promised to do were particulary appealing to him and many were abhorrent.  When D’arby heard “More roads” he pictured more fat people and more hazy days. “When he heard “growth” he pictured more forests being chopped down, more land being dug up, more high rise flats packed with suicidal people and higher mountains of rubbish. Even “more jobs” made D’arby feel uneasy because he didn’t see how there could be more jobs without more work being needed and why was that good when most people longed to be able to have more time for recreation?

To be fair, the shadow treasurer did utter a couple of sentences that D’arby could agree with, like how we needed to reduce the gap between rich and poor, but when he explained how his party would do those things he lost D’arby’s favour again.

When the shadow treasurer had finished speaking the journalist who was running the evening came to the centre of the stage. D’arby wondered why she was wearing a headset and guessed it was because live transmissions need someone behind the scenes to be able to give instructions if something goes wrong.

“I’d like to thank both our speakers for being so passionate and also so concise – we are running ahead of schedule” said the journalist. “There is plenty of time for questions so….. wait…. I’m just being told that we will give the remaining time to a third speaker – a wildcard. Please welcome Dr Kaye.” And she started clapping enthusiastically.

The camera panned the audience again. People were clapping but didn’t seem comfortable with what was going on. D’arby wondered whether the major parties had stacked the audience. Then the camera stopped on Guitarman. He stood up and walked up the side stairs onto the stage.Instead of his usual white robe he was wearing an outfit that looked a bit like pyjamas because his shirt and pants were made of the same fabric. As Guitarman arrived at the microphone stand D’arby’s skin began to tingle.

Guitarman took a deep breath and scanned the audience. He smiled. Then he took another deep breath and began.

“First I acknowledge the traditional owners of this land – the Ngunnawal people – and pay my respects to their elders, past and present.

I hope I don’t sound insincere. I must admit my ignorance made me so scared I’d say something wrong that I copied what I’ve heard people say before.”

Guitarman paused. He seemed to be trying to decide something. Then he continued.

“Even though I’m scared of saying something wrong I’d like to add that I believe I have felt love for country and so I can imagine what it would feel like to have the place you love taken from you. I think it would strike me down forever and that I would never be able to forgive or be generous again. And yet the original custodians are able to share their land with us. Even when we stand here and outline plans for destroying it” said Guitarman and he turned to look at the treasurer and shadow treasurer.

It was the audience’s turn to take a deep breath. The journalist began walking towards Guitarman as if she was going to stop him talking but then she must have been given instructions through her earpiece to leave him alone and she walked back to her seat at the side of the stage. Guitarman noticed and smiled. Then he continued.

“We are part of this land. All of us. We cannot exist without it. That’s something we all have in common, rich and poor, right and left, crazy and sane.”

“Home is not just our house and family. Home extends down through the earth beneath these things and up into the sky above but also to the places around us and the things in them. It includes the clouds, the birds, the trees, the worms and caterpillars. And it includes us. This land would not be the same without us. Whatever we touch, we change. Wherever we walk we leave traces, no matter how lightly we try to tread. If nothing else, we leave a trail of exhaled air.”

“If I were Treasurer I would start by acknowledging this: That we are part of nature, that we depend on nature and that our very existence has an impact on nature. It can’t be otherwise.”

“And so if we are wondering what will be good for our economy, we need to consider what will be good for nature, and what will be good for us – for human society, because it seems we’ve somehow been tricked into serving an economy that is no good for us or our land.”

“Because somehow we’ve been conned into believing that we can generate wealth from nothing – that our wealth does not depend on the wealth of nature. That what happens in the economy has nothing to do with our land – that there need be no interaction. That we can have more and more stuff without hurting nature and that even if we hurt nature it won’t have a bad impact on our lives.”

“But lies only work for so long, because eventually the truth becomes evident.”

“Nature needs to feel some love from us. We have an impact on nature, we can’t help it. But that doesn’t mean that what we do must be bad for nature. There are people who manage to regrow forests, clean up creeks, repair erosion, build soil, bring back birds and bees to their farms. Where is the support in the budget for more of them? Why do they have to do all the heavy lifting while lazy money worshippers flick cash back and forth between themselves? I’d like to see fewer money worshippers and more tree worshippers.”

“Have you even looked at a tree lately” asked Guitarman, as he looked at the treasurer and shadow treasurer.

“They rise up out of the soil (the stuff lots of people call ‘dirt’ and try to avoid) and stand there in all weather, churning out the oxygen we can’t live without and turning sunshine into leaves, branches, fruit and seeds. Food for us and other creatures. Mulch for the soil. Wood for houses, paper for books.”

“They cool us in hot weather, protect us from the full force of the wind, and provide us with a place to climb up and survey the landscape from.”

The camera moved to the treasurer and shadow treasurer as Guitarman said the bit about climbing trees and the audience at home couldn’t help thinking that they didn’t look like they’d been climbing any trees lately.

The camera returned to Guitarman. He smiled then continued.

“We have incredible brains – perhaps far too powerful for the things we usually use them for – so let’s use them for something that’s never been done collectively before. Let’s stop worrying about a budget surplus and go for a nature surplus – the budget surplus will work itself out because money and budgets are all man made. We control them. We may think we can control nature, because we’ve seen that we can affect it. But it has nothing to do with control. We need nature.”

Guitarman paused for a while. People weren’t sure if he had finished or not. Someone started clapping. Guitarman gave the thumb’s up and continued.

“Don’t sit back thinking your say on the economy happens when you vote in the election. Everything you do has an effect. What do you spend your time doing? Is it good for nature without being bad for people? Or is it good for people without being bad for nature? If you can’t answer “yes” to one of those questions, don’t go back to work tomorrow. Quit. Sit home and work out what you can do that IS good for nature AND people, and then do THAT. And if you are one of those lucky people who already earn their living doing things that are good for nature and people, then your job is to support those people who are transitioning from the old economy to the new one. If your friend has quit their job and has no money, let them stay with you while they find a way that they can support themselves without undermining our future. Listen to their plans enthusiastically then give well thought through advice.”

Then the warning bell rang and Guitarman knew he only had one minute left to finish his speech. He took another deep breath, but didn’t seem as calm as before. He started speaking a little bit faster and his tone became more urgent.

“Don’t turn your nose up and people for looking poor. Wealthier people take more from nature than poor ones, even if they try to spend their money on eco-friendly stuff. Flashy office buildings and smooth roads don’t grow themselves up from the dirt. Nor do overseas holidays, posh schools or even high-tech hospitals. And how do you know whether that person in the street with scruffy shoes, a stained shirt and dirt on their face hasn’t started farming their backyard so they can give the money they normally spent buying food away to organizations that are working towards a nature surplus?”

The bell rang again to tell Guitarman he only had 30 seconds to finish.

“It is time to change our personal and collective aims. Instead of aiming to die rich, aim to give back more than you take – from nature as well as other people.”

Guitarman paused before his final two sentences but didn’t smile this time.

“Don’t be scared of taking that step into the unknown. We are all more adaptable than we think. Be scared of being too scared to do anything good.”

Guitarman bowed his head and the audience knew he’d finished. Then he turned to the treasurer and shadow treasurer and bowed his head again. Even though the things Guitarman had said had conflicted directly with the policies and collective wisdom of both major parties, the audience applauded loudly and enthusiastically. The camera scanned the audience and paused on the people who were showing the most emotion. Some people were even crying.

The treasurer’s staffers had already started playing back the video of Guitarman’s talk so they could transcribe it and would spend most of the night analyzing it before concluding that it was not just the words that made people respond so emotionally, but his sincerity.

Chapter 61.

Syafika slept well on Thursday night but had to get up earlier than usual so she could catch the 7am train to the Central Coast. She had to get a taxi from the train station to the conference venue and arrived at 8:30am – just in time for registration.

Syafika collected her badge and room key from reception then took her suitcase to her room. Syafika was pleased to find that the room had a bath, and that there was a good view of the beach from the balcony. She wished she was there for a holiday instead of a conference. Still, she was hopeful that she’d learn a lot at this conference and be able to feel more confident about what she was supposed to be doing at work.

Syafika was walking back to the foyer when the door of a room she was passing opened and Anthony came out. He smiled when he saw Syafika but then looked a bit scared. Syafika looked down at his name tag and noticed that it said “Lawrence Tucker”. Anthony must have noticed because he quickly explained that he was attending in the place of a colleague who wasn’t going to be able to arrive until tomorrow and that it had been easier to just take Lawrence’s name tag than to explain to the people at reception what was really going on.

“Lucky your colleague isn’t female then” said Syafika, imagining Anthony having to wear a dress. Anthony seemed relieved and smiled. Then a bell rang and over the intercom a voice called all conference attendees to take their seats in the hall. As Syafika and Anthony walked to the hall, Anthony asked Syafika if she’d like to go for a drink after the conference dinner. Syafika agreed, even though the thought of it terrified her.

Nelson was already sitting down in the hall when Syafika and Anthony walked in. Syafika thought she better take the seat next to Nelson. Anthony went and sat on the other side of the room.

The first couple of talks of the morning bored Syafika, despite her best efforts at concentrating. There was just too much jargon for her to be able to understand what the speakers were going on about. She began to wonder whether she had wasted her time by coming. Syafika looked through the conference program for any mention of Anthony before remembering that he was attending in place of Lawrence Tucker but Lawrence Tucker wasn’t presenting any talks either. Syafika looked at Anthony and saw that he was busy taking notes. Then she realized that she should probably be taking notes too, but she didn’t want to disturb people by rummaging through her bag to find a pen and so she sat there awkwardly until the end of the talk.

The third speaker was much more interesting to Syafika because she used some of the words that Syafika had been hearing in work meetings. Syafika was glad she’d been able to get out a pen in time. The speaker was explaining how criteria could be used to decide whether a project should go ahead or not. Syafika was interested because she’d always been confused about how the executives at work decided which projects would go ahead and which wouldn’t. From what the speaker was saying, the decision could all be boiled down to the numbers in a table. Syafika wondered how many executive jobs those tables could replace and smiled.

Nelson was the next speaker and his presentation followed-on suitably from the previous one. He explained how the government was going to use this ‘decision making matrix’ to make decisions consistently and how they were going to do even more – that to make the modelling behind the numbers consistent, all modelling used in decision making would be done by the same team – Christine’s team. Finally, Nelson explained how they were going to modify the criteria by multiplying them by an additional matrix of factors to make sure only really worthy projects could proceed. Syafika thought this was a great idea, until question time. The lady who’d been the third speaker asked Nelson to clarify how the additional matrix of factors was going to be used and asked whether, if it was possible to use it to make the criteria tougher, wasn’t it also possible to use it to make the criteria weaker and if they realized that they were really creating a loophole that allowed the Minister to use discretion in determining decisions when the whole purpose of the criteria was to avoid that. Finally, she suggested that if they wanted a way to allow the Minister to make the criteria even tougher, they should add additional criteria instead.

Nelson explained that the approach he had presented was only a suggestion, that they would be taking comments on board and that of course they only wanted to make the process stronger and more consistent and less open to political manipulation but that at the same time they needed to leave room for Ministerial input for the times when issues arose that the matrix hadn’t been able to forsee. He called it ‘future-proofing’.

Syafika thought again about what Nelson had told her about Christine on Tuesday and wondered whether all government decision making power had just been handed over to her new team. She thought it was a dangerous thing to let the same team that was in charge of the decision making matrix also be in charge of all government modelling.

Many hands in the audience were still raised when it was time to stop asking Nelson questions and have morning tea.

Syafika stood up and looked around to see where Anthony was, but she couldn’t see him. She wanted to tell Nelson how much she’d enjoyed his talk, but he was surrounded by people who still had questions. Everyone wanted to know more about how government was going to be using and modifying their decision making criteria – some because they wanted to know the implications for good decision making and others because they wanted to know how to get their developments approved.

Syafika went and made herself a cup of tea but when she took a sip all she could smell was coffee. Then she noticed that Anthony was at her side, holding a cup of coffee.

“Did you enjoy the talks?” asked Anthony.

Syafika told him how the first two had been beyond her comprehension but that she’d enjoyed the next two.

“I saw you with Nelson at the café the other day” said Anthony. “Are you working with him now, or friends?”

“I moved to the same team” said Syafika, choosing her words carefully. She wasn’t ready to explain how she’d had to move there because she was in disgrace.

Syafika didn’t pay much attention to the talks between morning tea and lunchtime. She was busy thinking about Anthony and what their after dinner drinks were going to be like. She started to feel nervous and almost wished she could go home.

By lunchtime Syafika was feeling really hungry. Plates of sandwiches were brought in and put on tables around the edge of the hall. Syafika wondered how many she could eat without looking greedy and she was just about to select her first sandwich when Anthony walked over and let out a disappointed sigh as he looked at the sandwiches.

“Sandwiches aren’t a real meal” said Anthony. “Let’s sneak off to the restaurant for lunch”.

Syafika didn’t really want to, but then she noticed Glenda selecting sandwiches from a nearby table and so she agreed.

As Anthony and Syafika walked upstairs to the restaurant Anthony said “Did you see Glenda? I’m glad to avoid her. Do you remember how I had to work with her before I left? She is very nosy and loves to gossip”

Syafika couldn’t help replying “I’m glad to avoid her too” which lead Anthony to ask why and before she knew it, Syafika was explaining what had happened to her at work that week. Anthony listened sympathetically, nodding a lot. He seemed interested to know all the details and so Syafika told him as much as she knew.

When Syafika finished her lunch she realized that she and Anthony had been talking for along time and looked at her watch. It was already time for the next lot of talks to start. The waiter must have known because when she came to clear the plates, instead of asking whether they would like any coffee or dessert she just asked whether everything was ok. Anthony smiled mischievously and said to Syafika “Let’s miss the first talk” and he asked the waiter for the dessert menu.

It was almost time for afternoon tea to start when Syafika and Anthony finally left the restaurant. As they walked back to the hall Anthony looked at the program and then said “I’m not really interested in the speakers this afternoon. I think I’ll go and have a siesta. I’ll see you later” and he walked off in the direction of his room.

Syafika wouldn’t have minded a siesta either, but was feeling guilty for already having missed three speakers so she walked quietly back to the conference hall. As she walked, she remembered that by now Zikpi would be at home filming the ‘before’ shots for the renovation program.

Chapter 62.

Rose had been up since 4am and was feeling exhausted, but at least the house was finally tidy. Mamadou and Ousman arrived as Rose made herself a cup of tea. Zikpi was due in ten minutes so they all had tea and discussed how nervous they were feeling. Festus was on the sofa, pretending to be asleep. He preferred Rose to think that he was sleeping than lying there watching her clean. He wished he’d been able to help.

There was a knock on the door five minutes before Zikpi was due. Rose opened it and there was India and standing next to her was a lady that must have been Zikpi. Rose invited them in and made them cups of tea. Zikpi had been visiting India while waiting for the film crew to arrive.

Zikpi wasn’t very interested in drinking tea. She started looking around the house, making comments and asking questions. Twice Rose had to ask her not to go upstairs because nothing was being renovated up there and Amanda was sleeping.

Ousman looked out the front window and saw a blue van pull into the driveway. Two ladies got out and started unpacking equipment from the back of the van.

Ousman opened the front door for the crew and as soon as Zikpi saw them she was instructing them on what to film.

After filming parts of the house and garden for about an hour, the film crew set up in the lounge room and filmed Zikpi interviewing Mamadou, Festus and finally Rose. Rose was feeling so tired by the time she was asked a question that she started crying and had to take a break to regain her composure.

Zikpi and the film crew left three hours after they’d arrived. Rose ran upstairs for a sleep straight away. Ousman and Mamadou wondered whether Rose was going to be ok. Festus told them not to worry and that they should just relax until Binta got there. Binta was coming over to make dinner and hear about the day.

Chapter 63.

There was only 30 minutes between the end of the talks for the day and the start of the conference dinner so Syafika rushed back to her room. She wanted to have a bath, or at least a shower, before the dinner and make sure she looked her best. When Syafika opened the door to her room she saw a folded piece of paper on the floor – someone had slid a note under the door. As soon as she saw the handwriting on the note she knew it was from Anthony.

“Have to go home early so no drinks tonight. Sorry. Call me when you get home.

A”

Underneath the writing was a phone number.

Syafika was disappointed but also a bit relieved. She carefully copied Anthony’s phone number into her address book before folding the note up and putting it in her wallet. Then she went and had a bath and worried about having to call Anthony when she got home. Thinking of home made her remember about Zikpi. She quickly finished her bath so she could call Rose before dinner.

Binta answered the phone and told Syafika that Rose had gone to have a sleep because she’d been exhausted by the day. Then Binta had to get back to cooking so she put Ousman on the phone.

“Syaf! Your house looks so beautiful today. There are bunches of flowers in every room and the floor boards are shining” said Ousman

“What did Zikpi think?” asked Syafika

“Zikpi kept saying how interesting everything was and how hard it was going to be to finish on time and under budget. She made your Mum cry a bit”

Syafika felt sad when she heard that and almost started to cry herself. How dare stupid Zikpi barge in and make Rose cry! And how awful of India for making it all happen in the first place. But Syafika didn’t have time to say those things. It was time for her to go to the conference dinner. She asked Ousman to let Rose know she’d called and that she’d be home tomorrow afternoon, then said goodbye and walked to the conference hall.

The hall had been set up nicely for dinner. There were long rows of tables set with white table cloths, cutlery, plates and sparkling glasses. There were candles burning and the overhead lights had been turned down low. Syafika was happy with the lighting. She knew that candle-light was flattering. Then she remembered that Anthony wasn’t going to be there and felt disappointed. All she could hope was that there was something nice to eat and that she didn’t have to sit next to someone annoying.

Chapter 64.

D’arby felt tired when he woke up on Saturday morning. His mind had been rushing all day Friday, but not getting anywhere. His thoughts had been been stuck in a loop. He’d think about having to move, then about how things would be so much better if he could just finish his thesis because he’d be free to look for work and have money to rent somewhere. Then he’d think about what Guitarman had said about not going back to work until you’ve worked out what you should really be doing. Then he’d start wondering whether he should keep going with his thesis at all and he’d start worrying that he was just wasting more precious time. Then he’d try to think what he should be doing instead and he’d return to the start of the loop after he concluded that he had to find somewhere new to live before he could do anything different.

D’arby had promised Jinabu he’d come and visit on Saturday and had been going to ride his bike there, but now he just didn’t feel like it. What he really felt like doing was getting back in bed and crying. It was probably something he needed to do, but not just yet.

As D’arby put his shoes on he wished the restaurant didn’t have to open today because if John could come with him to visit Jinabu it wouldn’t be such an ordeal. Now that the restaurant was open again D’arby didn’t see John much. D’arby usually left for uni before John got up and, apart from Mondays, John was at work before D’arby came home. D’arby was worried that John would move in with Fanta when their flat sold. They hadn’t been able to discuss the impending sale yet. D’arby decided he’d wait for John to wake up so he could talk to him about the flat and then he’d decide whether he still went to Jinabu’s or not. He could always get the bus if he didn’t feel like riding.

D’arby went to the kitchen, planning to make breakfast but when he heard John snoring he changed his mind. D’arby looked at John, who was sound asleep on the sofa bed. He didn’t want to risk waking John and making him cross just before they talked about what would happen when their flat sold, so, as quietly as he could, D’arby put on his backpack, took two coffee mugs from the dish rack and went to the café to buy egg rolls and coffees.

John was in the shower when D’arby got home. D’arby put the egg rolls on plates on the table and wondered whether they’d need cutlery. He put out knives and forks, just in case, then poured two glasses of water. D’arby heard the shower turn off so he called out to John “Breakfast’s ready!”

“Won’t be long” answered John.

D’arby sat down at the table and tried to be patient.

A few minutes later, John and D’arby were tucking into breakfast.

“Did you see the sign out the front?” asked John. “Fanta says the block will be knocked down for sure.”

“Yeah, I guessed as much” answered D’arby.

“Maybe we should look for somewhere new straight away so we aren’t competing with the rest of the people in the block” suggested John.

“We’d have to take a lease in your name” answered D’arby. “I don’t have any income”

“Ok” said John. “Why don’t we go and look for somewhere this morning?”. John thought it might be fun to go flat hunting. He’d never done it before.

“Phew” said D’arby. “I was worried you’d have decided to move in with Fanta”

John stopped chewing. He felt a bit stupid for not having thought of that.

“That would make sense, but I hadn’t thought of it. Fanta lost her job so could do with me paying her some rent. I hope she wasn’t hoping I’d suggest it” said John.

“What do you mean ‘Fanta lost her job’?” asked D’arby.

“Lenny ran away. Hiding from the police, Fanta thinks. Fanta can’t just carry on without him and assumes things won’t be ok even if he does reappear” explained John.

“How’s she going to cope then?” asked D’arby

“Waiting at my restaurant” said John, smiling. He felt good that he could help.

“That won’t be enough for her to live on, I’m sure” said D’arby.

John felt a bit offended, but was worried it was true.

“You should move in with her then” said D’arby.

John felt there was something wrong with that though.

“I don’t want to move in with Fanta because it is practical” said John. “If we decide to live together I’d want it to be because we wanted to, not because we needed to. And now that I think about it, she probably wouldn’t want me moving in with her. We’ve only known each other a few months and she’s a pretty cautious person.”

“Ok” said D’arby. He knew he should stop talking but couldn’t help it. He was curious and having a new idea. “How many rooms does Fanta’s house have?”

“Four” said John.

“So she does have a spare room then?” asked D’arby

“Two” answered John. “Her sisters prefer to share a room”

“We could both move in with Fanta then” suggested D’arby. “Then you wouldn’t have to worry about it being all romantic and serious. It would just be practical – her taking on boarders to help pay the bills. And you’d finally get your own room!”

John drank some coffee and thought about it.

“Maybe” said John. “If the topic arises I might mention you joking about the idea and see how Fanta reacts. But I’m still going to look at places to rent this morning. Are you coming?”

………………………………………………………………

A thick cover of clouds was rolling over when D’arby got on his bike to ride to Jinabu’s place. He waved goodbye to John and peddled carefully off down the street. John walked off in the direction of a flat that was open for inspection that morning. He wished D’arby was coming with him, but didn’t want to stop D’arby seeing his sister.

D’arby was feeling energetic after talking to John and he was happy to see the cloudy sky because it meant the ride wouldn’t be stinking hot.

When D’arby arrived at Jinabu’s house he was feeling good, apart from being really thirsty. Andrew opened the door. Jinabu and the baby were asleep, and Andrew was watching TV. He got D’arby a bit glass of tap water with ice in it. Then Andrew sat down and, without taking his eyes off the TV, asked D’arby how his thesis was going.

D’arby thought Andrew was being rude and that he should turn the TV off so they could talk properly. D’arby also didn’t like talking about his thesis. He’d been asked the same question by almost everyone he bumped into for the last few years and was sick of answering it.

“What can I say this time?” D’arby thought to himself. He thought about how he’d been going and realized that his thesis had actually been going well. There wasn’t much more to write. He felt a bit silly that he hadn’t realized it before. He’d been too busy writing to think about timelines.

Andrew was beginning to give up on getting an answer from D’arby when D’arby said “I think I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I will submit by the end of this semester.” As D’arby said this he calculated that there were eleven weeks left until then. To avoid talking about his thesis more D’arby asked Andrew how he and Jinabu were going.

“Pretty good” answered Andrew, “But sometimes I feel a bit down. I think it it’s because I’m too tired. I know that if I asked, I’d be able to work one less day a week, but I calculated that we wouldn’t be able to afford that without Jinabu going back to work and she doesn’t want to yet. I think I’ll be ok as long as I can find something to perk me up a bit. You don’t have any more of those pills do you?”

D’arby was confused. How did Andrew know about the pills? He wondered whether he’d forgotten about telling Jinabu about them, but he was pretty sure he’d never told her. He’d never told his parents either so it couldn’t be that they’d told Jinabu and she’d told Andrew.

“What pills?” asked D’arby – to see what he could find out.

“The ones you put in my coffee when we were staying at the farm” said Andrew. “You probably thought I didn’t see but I secretly watched you to see how you were making the coffee.”

D’arby looked at Andrew and smiled. He wondered what other things Andrew secretly knew and realized that he’d probably underestimated Andrew.D’arby opened his backpack and took out a plastic container out of the small inside pocket. He looked inside the container and saw that it had about 20 pills in it. For a second or two he agonized over how many he should give Andrew. D’arby was confused because the way the pills were supposed to work was permanent. Andrew shouldn’t have needed a second dose. D’arby wondered whether he should just tell Andrew that but he’d begun to wonder whether he’d been wrong all along. In his head, D’arby looked back at the data he’d collected so far – all the times people had taken the pills and what had happened. D’arby himself had felt no side-effects nor had he felt any effect at all. He’d assumed that was just because he hadn’t been addicted to anything. John’s result was instant and lasting and there were no side-effects that D’arby knew of. D’arby thought he saw instant results when Andrew took the pills but he wasn’t sure whether the effects were lasting. Did Andrew just think he needed some or had the effect worn off? He’d need to talk to Jinabu to know. John said he hadn’t noticed any changes in people eating pizza with pills at the restaurant but there wasn’t really a way of knowing if they didn’t know what people had been like before and couldn’t track what they were like after. When Syafika and Vincent took the pills there had been an instant result, perhaps – they’d agreed amicably that they would be happier apart than together, but it wasn’t very significant. D’arby wondered whether there had been any result at all.

D’arby handed Andrew the whole container and instructed “Don’t take more than four a week or more than two at a time”.

Andrew nodded. He put the container in his pocket and turned the TV off. “Want a coffee?” asked Andrew as he got up and walked to the kitchen.

D’arby said “Yes” without really noticing. He was too busy thinking about the pills in a new way – he had questions to answer.

Andrew kept telling D’arby about how he was going while they drank their coffees but D’arby wasn’t paying attention. He was trying to calculate probabilities in his head, and was impatient to talk to Jinabu. Fortunately for D’arby, the baby woke up and so Jinabu had to get up too.

Jinabu came in smiling and asked D’arby if he’d like to hold little Amadi. D’arby was happy to. He liked the name. But Amadi didn’t like D’arby holding him and started to cry.

“Why don’t you take him for a walk” Jinabu suggested to Andrew.

When Andrew and Amadi had gone, D’arby asked Jinabu how she’d been but didn’t pay much attention to the answer. He was impatient to move on to his next question.

“How’s Andrew been?” asked D’arby.

Jinabu stopped and thought for a little while. She was a bit offended when D’arby asked questions like that because she could tell he didn’t like Andrew, but she did have something interesting to say on the topic so she forgave him for asking.

“Actually, he seems to have changed. He has become quite reasonable – good at communicating. I think the main change is that he tells me what he is feeling as it happens, so we can discuss things. Before he’d stay quiet until things mounted up then explode and say awful things. He used to tell me how I should behave and what I should do. Now he tells me what he is feeling and about what he wants and so we can usually find a way to make us both happy, or at least neither feeling hurt.”

D’arby wondered how Andrew was able to communicate his feelings. D’arby didn’t usually know what he was feeling himself, or at least it was hard to know at the time – he could usually work it out a bit later.

D’arby nearly crashed his bike a couple of times on the ride home. He wasn’t concentrating on riding because he was too busy worrying about whether his pills actually worked. By the time he arrived home he’d decided that it was likely that his pills only had a placebo effect and he was impatient to discuss this with John.

Chapter 65.

On Saturday morning Mamadou woke when the birds did. Then he had to wait hours until it was a suitable hour to disturb Rose – now that Zikpi had filmed the ‘before’shots Mamadou was allowed to start working on the garden. He filled in the time it took for the sun to rise above the roof of the neighbouring house by drinking tea and drawing pictures of a waterfall and plants.

Ousman and Binta weren’t going to come with Mamadou to help this time. They were busy doing mathematics. Mamadou was happy that Ousman was so clever and that Binta worked so hard to help him, but he also felt uneasy. How was he going to fit into their lives?

When Mamadou arrived at Rose’s house she and Festus were busy discussing the house plans. When Mamadou remarked that Rose looked much happier than she had the day before Rose explained that it was due to the magic of having a nice long sleep and waking up to find the house sparkling clean and tidy. Festus was struggling to move around the house on crutches, but he also seemed much happier.

Rose took Mamadou out to the garden shed to show him the tools. Festus followed slowly and carefully.

When Rose opened the door of the garden shed Mamadou was amazed to find that it was larger and better equipped than some of the houses he’d lived in. There was a window, a sink and power points, a small fridge and an assortment of garden machinery and tools, bottles of fuel and oil, bags of different kinds of manure and potting mix. There was even a small table and chair.

“Wow! It’s good enough to live in – can I?” said Mamadou. Rose and Festus laughed but Mamadou had only half been joking. He could see where you could hang a hammock from the ceiling and thought it would be great to be able to spend all night and day in the garden.

“Now is there anything else you need? We should go to the garden centre to buy some plants” said Rose.

Mamadou definitely didn’t want to spend the rest of the morning at a garden centre. He wanted to get stuck in.

“I don’t need plants yet. I need to do some digging and shaping of the ground first” said Mamadou. He unrolled the garden plan and showed Rose where the stream that took water from the house to the pond was going to go. He also showed her the water feature in the middle of the pond.

Rose and Festus looked at the plan and then at the garden and then back at the plan again.

“You will need tonnes of rocks for the water feature, won’t you? I can organize a delivery. They can put them on pallets and unload them from the truck using a forklift” said Rose.

“You’ll also need to hire an excavator to dig the pond and to knock down that wall” said Festus and he pointed at the heavy wall made of sandstone and bricks with a doorway that lead from the manicured part of the garden near the house from the wilder part at the back of the yard.

Mamadou felt alarmed. He didn’t want all those machines.

“Not necessary” said Mamadou. “I’ll use a shovel and big hammer and I’ll reuse the bricks and stones from the wall to build the waterfall in the middle of the pond”

Rose and Festus looked at each other. They thought Mamadou was being silly but didn’t know how to say that nicely so they accepted a temporary defeat and anticipated that Mamadou would change his mind once he started working.

“Well what can we do to help?” asked Rose.

“Go inside” said Mamadou. He was trying not to sound rude but he really just wanted them to leave him alone to work.

The conference officially ended after lunch on Saturday but Syafika left at morning tea time. She was anxious to get home to see how her Mum and Dad were going. When she arrived at home she was relieved to hear laughing from inside the house. Rose and Festus were trying to make a nice lunch because they thought it was important that Mamadou had something nice to eat after all the digging he’d been doing, but then Rose had burnt the curry and Festus had dropped the salad on the floor.

“What would Binta think?” Rose had asked Festus. And that’s why they were laughing.

Syafika was happy that her parents seemed happy, and now that she had one less thing to worry about she remembered that she was supposed to call Anthony. So after greeting her parents she took her bags to her room and picked up the phone. She realized that she was breathing too fast and took some long slow breaths to try to calm down. Then she carefully dialed Anthony’s number. It rang, and rang and rang. Nobody answered and there was no option to leave a message. Syafika was disappointed but then realized that perhaps Anthony hadn’t been expecting her to call that early. She decided to try again after lunch and went to the kitchen to see if she could help her parents rescue some of the food.

Chapter 66.

When D’arby got home he found a pile of papers sitting on the table. There were leaflets with descriptions of flats available in the area and some rental application forms. D’arby looked at the leaflets and became alarmed by how high the rents were. Then he noticed that one of the rental application forms had been partially filled in. John’s handwriting was quite child-like and some words had capital letters in the middle of them. But what struck D’arby the most was John’s birthdate – according to the form his birthday was 1st January, which would have been a week ago. D’arby felt bad that he had never thought to ask when John’s birthday was and now he’d missed celebrating it. Then he wondered why Fanta hadn’t done anything to celebrate John’s birthday either.

D’arby set his alarm for 1am because he wanted to discuss the effectiveness of his pills with John when John got home from work, but D’arby needn’t have set the alarm. There was no way D’arby was going to be able to sleep when there were important questions he needed answers to. D’arby had almost made up his mind that his pills didn’t actually do anything, but because that was such a disappointing conclusion to make he kept going over the evidence again and again, hoping that he’d missed something that would allow him to change the conclusion.

Most of D’arby’s thinking focused on when John and Andrew had taken the pills because both had changed behavior as soon as they took the pills. D’arby had taken this instant change to be evidence that his pills worked but now that he knew that Andrew knew D’arby had put pills in his coffee D’arby needed to consider that maybe John and Andrew had only changed because they knew they were taking pills and so expected to change. What also distinguished the cases of John and Andrew was that they were both in stressful situations at the same time (John thought he’d been poisoned and Andrew thought his wife had run off to live with hippies). D’arby realized that he wouldn’t have been accosted by John if John hadn’t been near rock-bottom and D’arby wouldn’t have spiked Andrew’s coffee if he hadn’t felt Andrew needed it. So maybe it was the situation that made John and Andrew change, and not the pills.

If he was able to temporarily accept that his pills didn’t work then D’arby still had other questions to answer. Like why they didn’t work – was his initial idea wrong or was it the execution that was wrong? Would the pills work if the production process was tweaked or had D’arby misunderstood how they would affect the brain? Was it worth doing more work on the pills, or was the risk of being caught too high, and the chance of success too low?

At 1am John was still walking home. D’arby got out of bed when his alarm went off and went to watch the street from the living room window. As D’arby waited for John he realized something that cheered him up – people can change without pills! It was one of those revelations that seem enormous if they are had in the middle of the night or when you are tired. In the morning D’arby would realise that his night-time realization was nothing new and that triggering change was probably just as hard as coming up with pills that make people change, but for now D’arby was happy because he thought he’d made real progress.

It was only when D’arby saw John coming down the street that D’arby realized what this new information meant for John. It meant that John hadn’t been magically cured by pills. It meant that there was no permanent change in John – nothing to stop him from going back to his old ways.

When John opened the door of the flat he was surprised to see D’arby staring out of the window.

“Why are you still up?” asked John. “Are you ok?”

“I’m fine” answered D’arby. “I just wanted to say how sorry I am that we missed your birthday last week. I saw your birthdate on that application form on the table.”

“So you stayed up to say sorry?” asked John.

“Yeah” answered D’arby, and then he turned to go back to bed, but John had too much to talk about to let D’arby go.

“Don’t worry about my birthday. I don’t like to celebrate getting older so I don’t tell anyone when my birthday is. Do you want to know about the flats I saw?” asked John.

“Oh, yeah” asked D’arby, wishing he’d remembered to ask.

“First I looked at a place that cost the same as this one, but there was such a long queue of people looking at it that I had to wait half an hour to get inside. While I was waiting one of the neighbours came out of their flat and told me not to move in to the building because the ceiling always leaks and everything goes mouldy. When I eventually got inside I looked up and saw that the living room ceiling was covered with black mould and there was water dripping in one corner. It didn’t seem to put other people off though and when everyone else took an application form I got scared and asked for one too.”

“I hope there’s some better news coming up” said D’arby

“Sort of” said John. “The second place I looked at cost 30% more than this one, and from the outside the block looked ok, but the Real Estate agent didn’t turn up. I know it wasn’t that I made a mistake about the time because there were about 10 other people waiting too. Afterwards I walked to the office to ask what had happened and they said the place had already been leased”

Before D’arby could complain that that wasn’t better news John continued.

“So I went to look at a third place, even though it was way more expensive” said John, and then he paused to see what D’arby’s reaction would be, but D’arby just looked tired so John continued.

“I was a nice place, but nothing special, really just similar to this one. One bedroom, quiet street, small block. And for double the rent we pay now.”

D’arby looked shocked when John told him the price.

“Can we even afford that?” asked D’arby

“I do make more money than that every week, but there wouldn’t be much left over. We’d go from ‘comfortable’ to ‘struggling’ I reckon” said John. “I took an application form though. The agent said to get it in by Monday lunchtime”.

“I think we should talk to Fanta tomorrow” said D’arby. “She might be able to tell us whether we should wait and look for something better or take what we can before rents go up even more. It will also give us an opportunity to joke about moving in with her”.

“Ok” said John. He was glad D’arby hadn’t given up on his idea of them moving in with Fanta because the other option was looking pretty dismal.

Chapter 67.

On Sunday morning Fanta and her sisters were having a late breakfast when the doorbell rang. It was Syafika. She burst in talking about how she didn’t know what to do about Anthony because he’d told her to call him but wasn’t answering the phone. Fanta asked Syafika to sit down at the table and poured her some tea.

“Have a crumpet” suggested Fanta before asking Syafika whether she’d like a bowl of fruit salad.

Nancy and Ruby knew it was a good time for them to sneak out to the backyard to finish their tree house, leaving Syafika and Fanta alone to discuss the mysterious Anthony.

“Are you sure you have the right number?” asked Fanta.

“Yes, here it is, in his handwriting” answered Syafika, and she showed Fanta the note that Anthony had left her.

“Let’s try now” said Fanta. Fanta dialed Anthony’s number and put the phone to Syafika’s ear. It rang a couple of times then a robotic voice announced that the number had been disconnected and that they should check the number and dial again.

“I don’t understand!” said Syafika. “He told me call him when I got home from the conference yesterday, so I did but there was no answer. There was no answer any time I called yesterday afternoon or evening. And now the number is disconnected! How am I supposed to contact him now?”

“Don’t worry, he will probably call you” said Fanta

“No he won’t. When I don’t call him he will think I don’t want to talk to him and I’ll never hear from him again!” said Syafika.

“You will see him again” said Fanta. “You always manage to see him again”.

This calmed Syafika down a bit. It was true. Anthony had disappeared from her life a couple of times before and she always ended up bumping into him again.

“It’s like it’s fate” said Syafika.

Fanta felt she should respond but didn’t get a chance because the doorbell rang again. This time it was John and D’arby.

John and D’arby showed Fanta their rental application form and John told her about his flat hunting. Fanta was not surprised at what had happened.

“Should we keep looking or take this place while we still can?” asked D’arby.

Fanta thought for a few seconds. She already knew it was hard to be a renter but hadn’t really realized what it would feel like until now.

“I don’t think rents will go down very soon” said Fanta. “But at the same time it seems ridiculous to have to spend so much money. That’s more than I pay for my mortgage. Why don’t you rent my spare rooms instead. You can have them for the same rent you pay now.”

And so it was decided that John and D’arby would stop looking for flats and when they had to move, they’d move in with Fanta. Everyone felt happy with this decision, except Syafika. She felt left out, but she was still too absorbed with Anthony to sulk about it.

“Hey, can I ask you two your opinion on something?” said Syafika to John and D’arby.

Then Syafika told John and D’arby about how Anthony had asked her to call but then didn’t answer when she did call. But that wasn’t enough information and so Syafika had to tell the whole history of their strange relationship.

“I think you should watch out” said D’arby. “Anthony seems to be playing some kind of game”

“Yeah, love would be more straightforward, I think” said John.

This was not what Syafika wanted to hear.

“Can’t you think of a more romantic explanation” asked Syafika. “Like that Anthony has social anxiety or something”

“Maybe” said D’arby. “I don’t think I’m qualified to answer really”

D’arby soon regretted having drawn attention to himself while romantic relationships were being discussed.

“Why aren’t you qualified?” Syafika asked D’arby. “How many relationships have you had?”

“None” answered D’arby.

“Really?” asked John

“Really” said D’arby. He wanted to change the topic but couldn’t think how to.

“Why?” asked Syafika.

D’arby sighed and said “I don’t know why. Maybe I’ve just never met anyone I wanted to have a romantic relationship with”. D’arby didn’t like the incredulous looks he was getting and decided he wanted to leave. He looked at his watch then said “I need to go and work on my thesis now”.

John left with D’arby because he didn’t want Syafika to start asking him about his past relationships.

As Fanta closed the front door after John and D’arby she remembered something. She went and got the job application she’d written and took it to show Syafika.

Syafika was happy that Fanta had decided to apply for the job in her team at work – so happy she forgot about Anthony for a little while. Syafika read Fanta’s application and corrected the typos but otherwise thought it was very good.

“I hope you get the job! I think this application should get you the job. I think it is better than the one I did when I got my job” said Syafika.

“What’s the process? How do they decide who gets the job?” asked Fanta.

“I think someone from Human Resources goes through all the applications and removes any that aren’t complete. If there are still too many they probably have to pick out the ones they think best meet the selection criteria. Then they give the shortlisted ones to a panel and the panel interivews people and decides who is best.” said Syafika.

“Who do you think will be on the panel?” asked Fanta

“Not sure. Christine probably… and one other person from the team. They have to have someone from another team too – three people altogether, or at least there were three people on the panel when I applied.”

“Do you think Christine will like me?” asked Fanta.

“How could she not!” answered Syafika. She imagined how proud she would be to have her friend Fanta join the team.

Chapter 68.

On Sunday afternoon Mamadou carefully cleaned the tools he’d been using and put them back in the giant garden shed. The back door of the house was open and he could hear Binta and Rose talking in the kitchen. They were discussing details of the renovation plans. It was hard work to get things happening in the right order.

Before Mamadou went inside he had a look at the garden. He had made good progress. The wall was gone and the pond had been dug. The stream was taking shape too. During the week Mamadou would have to help Rose and Festus with the house renovations but next weekend he’d be able to get back to the garden and he’d probably be able to finish the stream and waterfall. Then the fun would really start because he’d be able to start planting.

Mamadou made a mental note to remember to work out how the water pump for the waterfall would work, and then he went inside. He was feeling pretty tired by now and hoped Binta was ready to go home. Rose and Binta were sitting at the kitchen table and had just poured cups of tea from a large pot.

“Where’s Ousman?” asked Mamadou.

“He’s playing chess at Beth’s place” said Binta. “Sit down and have some tea”

Mamadou was too tired to think much about who Beth was. He wouldn’t have minded some tea but he was scared to sit down. He thought if he sat down he might not feel like getting up again. He needed to get home and have a shower before he fell asleep.

“I might walk home. I need to have a shower” said Mamadou. Then he realized he was really hungry too and so he added “I’ll make something for dinner”.

As Mamadou walked home he was thinking about freshly cooked rice with spicy tomato stew on top.

After a shower Mamadou felt re-energised and got to work in the kitchen. Half an hour later dinner was ready. He looked at the time. It was a little bit too early for dinner so Mamadou washed the dishes and cleaned up the kitchen benches. He was so hungry by then that he didn’t care if it was rude to eat before Binta and Ousman got home. He decided to take advantage of their absence by eating dinner in front of the TV and sat down on the sofa with the remote control in one hand and his dinner in the other.

The usual channel Binta watched had lawn bowls on so Mamadou changed the channel. The next channel he looked at had a movie that looked interesting so he started watching, but pretty soon there was an ad break. Mamadou watched incredulously as a special cleaning substance that cleans dishwasher drain pipes was advertised. He shook his head and wondered who would be stupid enough to think they need the inside of drain pipes to be sparkling clean.

Next was an ad for a machine that sanded rough skin off feet. Then an ad for a box you stick on the wall that automatically dispenses poison to kill insects, with special emphasis on how lethal the poison was.

Mamadou was disappointed by the stupidity of what he was watching. He thought of all the people in the world who longed for what he was enjoying right now – good health, good food, a comfortable home and time to relax. How disappointing to think that when the people who were lucky enough to have what most people wanted spent their time relaxing their brains were assaulted by claims that they needed to fix an unending series of imaginary problems before they could really be successful (and happy).

Chapter 69.

After returning from Fanta’s house D’arby felt as if his brain capacity had grown, but he knew it was probably just that he no longer had to worry about where he was going to live. He suspected it would be more ‘normal’ for him to be worrying about whether he would like to live with Fanta and her sisters and whether the household would still be harmonious after he and John moved in, but instead D’arby was glad there was such a comfortable option. He wondered why anyone would choose to the cruel rental market if they had someone they could share with instead.

After John left to open the restaurant D’arby decided that instead of working on his thesis he’d indulge in an afternoon of thinking about other stuff. He cleared the table and got out some scrap paper, pens and a couple of textas he’d found lying around. D’arby was busy drawing complicated diagrams of money flows when the phone rang. It was Fanta, inviting D’arby and John to dinner the following night. D’arby wrote a note to John about dinner at Fanta’s and stuck it on the fridge. Then D’arby got back to thinking, and drawing, and more thinking. It was as if he’d connected his brain to an invisible network – thoughts kept pouring into his head and he had trouble getting them onto paper at the same pace as they arrived.

By the time it started to get dark D’arby had covered all his scrap paper in notes and diagrams, but more importantly he had changed his mind about lots of things. D’arby put down his pen and took a few deep breaths. He was feeling really tired suddenly but also scared that he’d lose his notes again, so he gathered up all the pieces of paper, put them into his backpack and set out to uni to scan and copy them.

When D’arby got to his building at uni he thought it seemed darker than normal. He opened the front door using his swipe card and when he got inside he realized that all the lights were out except for the emergency lighting. D’arby hoped that didn’t mean there had been a power cut because he really wanted to be able to use the photocopier. As D’arby walked upstairs to the photocopy room he thought he heard a door opening and closing, which comforted him. He didn’t want to be the only person in the building.

D’arby opened the door to the photocopy room and was pleased to see that the photocopier had power. He got out his pages of notes and spent a bit of time getting them into order and making them into a nice square pile. Then D’arby put the pile of notes into the automatic feeder, entered his pin number and instructed the photocopier to make a copy of them. The copier seemed to be taking much longer than usual to copy each page and D’arby became impatient. He also realized his bladder was full. D’arby didn’t want to leave his notes unprotected in the photocopy room while he went to the toilet, not just because he was scared someone might take his notes while he was away but because he didn’t want someone to wander in and see that he was using the photocopier for stuff that wasn’t directly related to his thesis, so D’arby stayed where he was and tried to relax by taking long and slow breaths as he waited. By the time the copier had spat out copies of all the pages D’arby was feeling much calmer, but still needed to go to the toilet.

D’arby gathered the pages together again, put them into the automatic feeder, instructed the photocopier to scan them and copy the file onto his USB drive then pressed ‘Start’. Scanning seemed to be taking a long time too. D’arby looked at the photocopier screen and saw that scanning was only 10% complete. D’arby felt a little bit more secure now he had a copy of his notes in his hands and so he decided he would go to the toilet while the photocopier finished scanning the originals – taking the photocopies with him as a precaution.

As D’arby walked along the corridor to the toilets he thought he heard the clicking sound of the swipe card mechanism unlocking the front door and then the sound of the front door opening. He walked faster, hoping nobody would go to the photocopy room before he got back.

When D’arby got back to the photocopy room the scanning had finished. D’arby gathered up the originals and put them into his bag, along with the photocopies. He was about to walk out of the photocopy room when he remembered his USB drive. He went to unplug it from the photocopier but found that it wasn’t there. He looked down at the floor to see if it had fallen out but couldn’t see it.

“I must have forgotten to plug the USB drive in” though D’arby. So he got his notes out of his bag, put them back into the automatic feeder of the photocopier and looked in the front pocket of his bag for a USB drive. The one he found was black with a green stripe. As D’arby plugged the USB drive into the photocopier he was thinking about the green stripe on the USB drive because he was fairly certain his USB drive had a red stripe. D’arby watched as every page of his notes was scanned onto the USB drive, then carefully packed his notes and USB drive into his backpack and walked downstairs.

As D’arby left the building he scanned the park on his left and noticed a figure standing under a lamp post in the middle of the park. D’arby knew his eyesight wasn’t good enough to make out much detail from that distance, especially when it was dark, but he couldn’t help thinking that it looked like Guitarman was standing there, smiling at him. D’arby thought about going over to see if his was right, but it would mean walking in the wrong direction and D’arby was scared of what it would mean if he was right. So instead D’arby gave a faint smile in the direction of to the person who could have been Guitarman and turned away towards home.

Chapter 70.

On Monday it was Beth’s turn to spend the day at Ousman’s place. Her father left her at the front door on his way to work and when Beth nervously rang the doorbell Mamadou was the first to open it. Beth seemed shy. She struggled to explain to Mamadou who she was and what she was doing there. Fortunately Ousman was up and soon came to rescue Beth. He took her to the kitchen to make her a cup of peppermint tea.

Binta was sitting in the kitchen writing a list when the phone rang. Binta answered the phone and as she listened to the person on the other end Mamadou noticed that her expression become worried.

“I have to go to work afterall” announced Binta after she’d hung up the phone.

Binta had told Mamadou that she had a week of holiday and was going to be looking after Ousman while Mamadou started helping Rose and Festus with the renovations. When Mamadou was more settled into helping with the renovations Binta would go back to work and Mamadou would have to take Ousman with him for the rest of the school holidays. Binta thought this was only fair – it wasn’t as if Mamadou was being paid to help Rose and Festus. Besides, it was possible that Ousman might even be a bit helpful. But now the plan had changed and Binta couldn’t take a week off.

Mamadou was a bit annoyed but then he noticed that it looked like Binta was going to cry and realized how disappointed she was that she couldn’t have a break from work.

“No worries” said Mamadou, trying to sound like a local.

Beth looked frightened when she heard about the change of plan. She’d been imagining that she and Ousman would spend a lazy day doing puzzles and playing chess. She didn’t want to go to Rose’s place with Mamadou because she didn’t know Rose or Mamadou and had no idea what it would be like.

Beth watched as Mamadou took a handful of fruit and nut mix from a glass jar and put them into his pocket. It comforted Mamadou to take a snack with him like that because it reminded him of when he was a boy and his Mum had put peanuts into his pocket before she sent him out to go shopping. Then Mamadou filled three water bottles and put them into a bag.

“Let’s go” said Mamadou to Beth and Ousman and so Beth followed Ousman and Mamadou out the front door and up the street. The trio was about halfway to Rose’s house when a galah flew down and landed on the fence next to the footpath. Ousman stopped and looked at the galah, then smiled and said ‘hello’ to it. Beth thought this was a bit strange but the galah seemed to think it was perfectly normal and it hopped onto Ousman’s shoulder. Mamadou remembered the fruit and nuts mix in his pocket so he took out some sunflower seeds and put them in Ousman’s hand. Ousman held his hand out like a plate for the galah and the galah ate the seeds thoughfully.

While the galah was still eating, a man came out of his front gate. When he noticed the galah he walked over, told them his name was Stan, and said to the galah “Back again are you?”. Then Stan told Ousman, Beth and Mamadou how the galah had turned up in his backyard a week ago. “I thought she was a pet who’d escaped so I took her to the vet, but all the vet could tell me was that she was a female and because she has no microchip or leg-bands she could be wild. So I took her to the park and let her go.”

Mamadou looked at Ousman, who was looking lovingly at the galah as it sat on his forearm. Mamadou could tell that it was going to be hard to separate the two. Beth seemed to like the galah too, but was a bit scared. “Will it bite me if I try to pat it?” she asked Stan.

“She likes tickles on her neck better” said Stan.

The galah seemed to have understood what Stan was saying because she tilted her head to one side and fluffed up her neck feathers. Stan showed Beth how to tickle the galah and then Beth had a go.

“You should keep her” Stan said to Ousman and Beth.

Mamadou suspected that Stan just wanted someone else to take responsibility for the galah but was pleased when Ousman asked him “Can I keep her?”

“What will your Mum think about that?” Mamadou asked Ousman.

“If she won’t let Ousman keep the galah, I will take it” said Beth.

The galah looked at everyone like she found them amusing, but kept sitting on Ousman’s arm.

Stan wished them luck and they continued their journey to Rose’s place. As they walked they discussed names for the galah.

………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………………

Zikpi had been at Rose’s place for half an hour. She’d been instructing Rose and Festus on how they had to try to ignore the film crew – to not look at the camera or microphone and to only acknowledge her when she had told them she was going to be in the shot. When Zikpi went out the front to help the film crew unpack the van she saw Mamadou and the kids (and the galah) approaching.

“Quick” said Zikpi “Get a shot of them arriving”

When Rose opened the door to Mamadou she was surprised to see he had an entourage with him. She assumed that the galah belonged to the shy girl and wondered who she was but thought it might be rude to ask and she could see she was being filmed so she just invited them all in.

Festus was sitting at the kitchen table with a teapot, milk jug and three cups in front of him. When everyone walked in he asked “Who have we got here?”

Mamadou explained that Beth was Ousman’s friend who was staying with them that day and that the galah had made friends with them on the way.

“I’m going to keep her and call her Aminata” said Ousman.

Rose tried to picture what Binta’s face would look like when she came home from work and saw a galah sitting on Ousman’s shoulder. “You will have to tidy up whenever Aminata makes a mess” she told Ousman.

Then Rose got two more cups out of the cupboard and Festus poured everyone a cup of tea while Rose explained the work plan for the day. They were going to start by demolishing the garage. It had corrugated iron walls and a tiled roof on a wooden frame. The iron and tiles were in pretty good condition but some of the wooden frame had started to rot. At Mamadou’s insistence they were to take care when they demolished it so as many materials as possible could be reused. By this time all the tea cups were empty so it was time to go outside and get started.

“Did you get all that?” Zikpi asked the film crew. She had started to think that this renovation would be the most interesting one she’d filmed.

“What are you two, sorry, three going to do? Do you want me to tell you how you can help or would you rather entertain yourselves?” said Rose to Ousman, Beth and Aminata.

“Help, if we can, don’t you think?” said Beth, looking at Ousman to see if he agreed.

“Yep” said Ousman.

“Ok. You kids can take these wrenches and start taking the sheets of metal off this wall – make sure you put gloves on first though” instructed Rose as she pointed to the garage wall that faced the house. Then Rose and Mamadou started moving the pieces of scaffolding that had been dropped off in the driveway by one of Festus’ friends. While this was happening Festus sat on a chair and watched. He thought it wasn’t really necessary to put up scaffolding just to remove the tiles from the garage roof, but Rose had insisted. She didn’t want any more injuries to happen during the renovation.

Ousman thought he and Beth looked funny in their giant gloves as they struggled clumsily with the wrenches. At first they didn’t even know which way to turn the screws to loosen them but Festus was able to give them instructions. Soon they were moving quite quickly and began to have races to see who could undo a row of screws the fastest. Aminata made herself useful by picking up any screws that were dropped on the ground and putting them in a pile under Festus’s chair.

Chapter 71.

It was Monday morning. The sky was cloudy but the air was warm and it was predicted to be a very hot day. Syafika was feeling nervously excited about going to work. As she walked along she was humming to herself. Would she be able to contribute anything to the morning team meeting now that she understood so much more of what the team was working on? Would she be able to go for a walk in the Botanic Gardens at lunchtime, and if she did, would she bump into Anthony there? Then after work Syafika was going to Fanta’s house for dinner with D’arby and John. It was meant to be one of their activism meetings but Syafika anticipated that the others would just want to talk about the plan for John and D’arby to move in with Fanta and that was something Syafika didn’t want to hear about because it made her feel left out. She felt like John and D’arby were stealing Fanta from her.

The closer Syafika got to work, the more anxious she felt. Her usual response to anxiety was to eat or drink something and so Syafika stopped at a cafe to order a takeaway coffee. As she waited nervously near the cash register for her coffee to be made Syafika noticed an elegant woman walk in. Syafika noticed the woman because she was everything Syafika thought she could never be – so neat, so clean and confident. She had sleek hair and very thin arms and legs. A bead of sweat began to run down Syafika’s face and as she wiped it off with the back of her hand Syafika noticed that the elegant lady had no signs of sweat or grease on her face – it was as if she’d just walked out of a fridge. Syafika watched as the woman sat down at one of the tables where a man was sitting with his back to Syafika. Syafika wished she could see the man’s face because she was sure he would be handsome.

Syafika’s coffee was ready and it was time to go but she didn’t want to go. She wanted to watch the couple at the table. So she sat down at another table and pretended to be looking for something in her bag while watching them. The waiter took their order over – two black coffees. Syafika took a deep breath because black coffee reminded her of Anthony and at the top of her breath she thought she could smell Anthony. She looked at the back of the man’s head again. If it was Anthony then he’d had a haircut, but it could be him. Then he turned his head slightly to the side and Syafika saw that it was Anthony.

By then Anthony and the elegant woman had each taken their mobile phones out. It looked like they were swapping phone numbers. Syafika had never before wanted to own a mobile phone because she thought they were a sign of unreliability and poor morals, but for a moment when she saw that elegant woman putting Anthony’s phone number into her phone Syafika wished she had one too.

Syafika realized that she had to leave the café before Anthony noticed she was there because she didn’t want him to see her distress. So she rushed off to work, making it just in time for the morning meeting. Syafika didn’t pay attention during the meeting though. She was too busy keeping tears at bay and wondering about things. Syafika wondered why Anthony was having coffee with the elegant woman. She wondered whether Anthony was in love with the elegant woman already or whether there was still time to stop that from happening. But the thing that hurt Syafika the most was Anthony had given the elegant woman his mobile phone number when he’d only given Syafika his landline phone number (and that number didn’t even work).

At lunchtime Syafika did manage to get out of the office and walk in the Botanic Gardens. Her reason for walking there had changed though. She didn’t expect to meet Anthony there, or even want to. She just wanted to go somewhere where she could cry without anyone at work seeing or hearing. As soon as Syafika got through the gates of the gardens her tears started flowing. At first the tears stayed inside her sunglasses and Syafika thought she might get away with impersonating someone who was fine and just enjoying a lunchtime walk, but then the tears started escaping the sunglasses and running down her cheeks. A couple of ladies carrying containers of salad noticed that Syafika was crying and asked if she was ok, but they didn’t really want to get involved with Syafika’s troubles and so when Syafika told them she was ok they were satisfied and left her alone.

Syafika looked for somewhere to hide because she didn’t want to have to spend the rest of her lunchtime fending off strangers who were uncomfortable when they saw someone crying. Syafika realized she’d have to leave the path. Feeling grateful that she’d worn sensible shoes, Syafika squeezed between two bushes and sat down on some freshly laid mulch with her back against a large tree. If Syafika peeped between the branches of the bushes she could see people walking past on the path, but they didn’t seem to be able to see her. Syafika was so pleased with her spot that she was no longer feeling sad enough to cry. She decided to try and relax instead. She rested her head against the tree and looked up at the shapes the canopy made as the wind moved the leaves. Then the tears started again. Syafika felt well and truly sorry for herself and cried for ten minutes or so before being distracted by the sound of someone running along the path. Syafika peeped through the bushes because she wanted to see what sort of person went running on such a hot day. When she saw that it was Anthony, and that he had somehow managed to undo his haircut Syafika shook her head at how ridiculous that was. Then, before she could really think about what she was doing, Syafika was up and running after Anthony. She didn’t want to catch up with Anthony. She just wanted to see where he went. The trouble was that Anthony could run faster than Syafika and so Syafika had to take a couple of short cuts through garden beds to keep sight of Anthony. Syafika laughed as she jumped over a low hedge of azaleas and hoped the Ranger wouldn’t see her.

Anthony ran a complicated path around the botanic gardens before sprinting uphill towards Government House and then stopping to stretch. By then Syafika was so out of breath that her throat was sore, so when she saw that Anthony had stopped to stretch she stopped running too, but kept walking towards Anthony. After Anthony finished stretching he left the gardens through the gate behind Government House and crossed the street. Then he went into a block of apartments that overlooked the harbour. Syafika couldn’t follow Anthony inside, but she didn’t have to go inside to know that it was strange that Anthony could afford to live there.

Chapter 72.

Fanta was happy on Monday. She’d sent off her job application the night before and so was anticipating that she’d hear back about it that week. Although Fanta was not confident that she would get the job, having an application in the pipeline gave Fanta hope for the future.  Fanta was also happy that John and D’arby were going to move in to her house. She’d been losing sleep over how to pay the bills, but with D’arby and John paying rent she wouldn’t have to worry anymore.

Ruby and Nancy were helping Fanta sort out the spare rooms. The room her aunt and uncle usually stayed in was in the best condition. It had a comfortable bed and the wardrobe was empty. Fanta had decided that when her aunt and uncle came to visit next time she would give them her room and squeeze in with her sisters, who had a spare mattress that they put on the floor when their school friends stayed.

The other spare room was less inviting. It had no furniture and there was a pile of cardboard boxes in the corner. The boxes had old clothes, books and toys that needed to be given away.

Ruby threaded a clean curtain onto the curtain rod while Nancy tied some boxes onto a two-wheel shopping trolley and Fanta put some other things into a backpack. Fanta had the backpack on and Nancy was pulling the trolley towards the front door when the phone rang.

Fanta answered the phone and was delighted to hear that she’d been shortlisted for the job. As Fanta agreed to an interview the next day she created a mental list of people she could ask to look after Nancy and Ruby while she was at the interview.

Chapter 73.

When John woke up he felt happy because it was his day off. John was even happier when he realized that D’arby was there. D’arby was busy at the kitchen bench and John began to anticipate a nice breakfast, but as he watched he realized that D’arby was just making some kind of coffee drink. D’arby poured hot coffee from a saucepan through a tea strainer into a jug full of ice. Then D’arby added a splash of milk and poured out two glasses of what he called ‘iced coffee’. As John sipped his glass of the bitter drink he longed for sugar and whipped cream.

“Did you see the note on the fridge?” D’arby asked John.

“Yep. I’m looking forward to dinner time” answered John.

“Why aren’t you at uni?” John asked D’arby. John had begun to hope that D’arby would head off to uni soon so D’arby wouldn’t know if he poured the rest of the iced coffee down the drain instead of drinking it.

“I’m taking the day off to refine some thinking” said D’arby.

John had no idea what D’arby meant, but guessed that he wouldn’t be leaving the house for a while. “What thinking are you refining?” asked John.

“About combining banking and money with renewable energy” answered D’arby and he walked to the bedroom to get his bundle of notes. He was keen to explain his ideas to John.

John quickly tipped his coffee down the sink and had started rinsing the glass by the time D’arby got back.

Then the phone rang. It was someone from uni. They were wondering where D’arby was.

“Oh no!” said D’arby. He’d forgotten that there was a special event on that morning where PhD students could meet potential employers. D’arby evaluated what he was wearing and decided to quickly get changed. Then he ran all the way to uni.

After D’arby had gone John made himself some toast and while he ate it he sat at the table and looked through D’arby’s notes.

When D’arby arrived at uni he ran straight to the drawing office, which had been transformed into a kind of gallery for research. There were research posters up on every vertical surface and all the PhD students and post doctoral researchers were standing near their posters looking serious.  D’arby was relieved to discover that his friend Cate had put up his poster for him. He sat down near it and tried to get his breath back. But D’arby didn’t have much time to recover before an intimidating couple approached him. When the woman looked at D’arby he felt like she could see right into his mind. It made him feel naked and he wanted to hide. The man at her side looked unimpressed with the research he could see around him, but as he approached D’arby he gave him a hint of a smile.

“I’m Rudnika and this is Leopold” said the woman and she shook D’arby’s hand firmly. D’arby introduced himself and turned towards his poster. He was about to start explaining his research when Rudnika interrupted him.

“We already read your poster” she said. “We want to talk about something a bit different”.

Leopold handed D’arby his card and explained that they were from a new bank that also supplied renewable energy and were looking for someone with impeccable character who wanted a challenge.

Then Rudnika explained that what they were attempting to do was so revolutionary that it needed to be kept top secret and that if he joined them he needed to be as discreet as if he were dealing with state secrets.

Leopold then told D’arby that the application process involved him sitting a number of tests and that he would need to consent to a background check.

“Are you interested?” Leopold asked D’arby.

“Yes” said D’arby. He didn’t know if his heart was still racing because he’d run all the way to uni or because this opportunity sounded like just the thing he wanted to be doing next. D’arby couldn’t help looking over his shoulder and wondered how much Guitarman had to do with Rudnika and Leopold.

Chapter 74.

At lunchtime it was very hot, but that didn’t stop Mamadou from doing a bit of work in the garden while everyone else lingered over their cups of tea. While Mamadou was at the back of the yard he noticed that the western boundary fence was leaning to one side. He walked over to the fence and gave it a shake. It wobbled. Mamadou could tell that the supporting posts were rotten.

“Hello, who’s that?” said a voice from the other side of the fence.

Mamadou looked over the fence and saw a short lady who reminded him of a tortoise. When she saw Mamadou she got a bit of a fright.

“What are you doing in Rose’s garden?” asked the Tortoise lady.

“I’m Mamadou. I’m helping with the renovations” said Mamadou. “Who are you?”

“I’m Gina” said the lady. “I live here with Penny” said Gina, gesturing behind her to Pennny, who was sitting at a little table under an umbrella. Penny was taller than Gina and had long, silky silver hair.

“This fence is rotten” said Mamadou.

“Yes” said Gina. “I need to talk to Rose about getting a new one. But first I want to know what you are building behind the fence. Is it something I will want to see, or should I make sure the next fence is much taller?

“I am making the most beautiful garden you will ever see” said Mamadou. “So beautiful you won’t want a fence at all”

By the time Rose and Festus were ready to get back to work Mamadou had made friends with Gina and Penny and they’d decided that the next fence would be easy to see-through – probably just steel posts linked with wire.

During the afternoon Mamadou kept asking Rose questions about Gina and Penny. He was excited because they’d told him that if they liked the garden he did for Rose he could do their garden next. He was already imagining an archway linking the two gardens.

At the end of the working day the garage had been dismantled and sorted into different piles of materials. Most of the garage was going to be reused and even the concrete slab was going to stay. Festus was very glad at the good start they’d made but he was nervous because they were still waiting for Council Approval to build the new bathroom. Festus decided to take a gamble and put in the new plumbing while they waited. Zikpi was glad because this risk taking would add drama to the story.

As Mamadou, Ousman and Beth walked back to Ousman’s house they were all feeling very satisfied with the day they’d had. Aminata seemed satisfied too. She was riding on Ousman’s shoulder and making various noises that were similar to the sound of a garage being dismantled.

Binta’s day at work had been terrible. She’d discovered that she was most likely going to lose her job and that she’d find out for sure in the next week. Binta was scared about what would happen if she did lose her job and couldn’t find another soon. She couldn’t wait for Ousman to come home so she could give him a cuddle.

Binta was drinking a glass of water when she heard the front door open. Ousman was the first to get to the kitchen and he still had Aminata sitting on his shoulder. Aminata was thirsty and when she saw Binta’s glass of water she became excited and started bobbing her head up and down.

Ousman quickly got a bowl of water for Aminata because he didn’t want her to try to drink some of his mother’s glass of water. Binta watched and didn’t say anything. She liked how Ousman was taking care of the galah and she predicted that Ousman was about to ask her if he could keep it. Then Binta looked at Mamadou and could tell that he wanted Ousman to keep the bird.

While Aminata was drinking water from a bowl Binta gave Ousman a cuddle and asked him what the bird’s name was. Ousman was excited to be able to tell Binta the whole story.

Beth smiled as she watched Ousman telling his Mum about Aminata. She couldn’t wait to tell her parents about her day. Beth’s Dad was late picking her up and it upset her. Everytime her Dad neglected her for work she felt abandoned and being with a family that spent time together made her even sadder because she could see the lovely things her family was missing out on.

When Beth’s Dad finally did arrive Beth gave Ousman a big smile and thanked Mamadou and Binta with a cheerful voice, but as she walked out the door a couple of tears escaped.

As soon as the front door closed Binta gave Ousman another cuddle and told him that he was a lovely kid.

“Will we have leftover stew for dinner?” asked Mamadou hopefully. He was really hungry.

“Yes. If you cook some rice, Ousman and I will prepare some greens and we can eat dinner in 15 minutes” said Binta.

“Why are you sad?” Ousman asked Binta as they washed broccoli. He could tell his Mum was close to crying and hoped it wasn’t because she didn’t like Aminata.

“I think I’m going to lose my job” said Binta.

“You will find another one, won’t you?” said Ousman.

“One day” said Binta. What she didn’t say was that she was worried that before she found another job they would run out of savings and not be able to pay the rent anymore.

Mamadou had overheard Binta’s news. “Don’t worry. You must own this house by now. You don’t need much money if you own your house.”

Binta felt embarrassed as she explained to Mamadou that she was renting the house and didn’t own anything. When she was younger she had been keen to buy a house as soon as possible and had saved a large deposit. But then she’d become a single mum, and when she decided that she wanted to cut back on work so she could spend some of the week with baby Ousman, Binta had discovered that there was a stupid idea ingrained almost everywhere that you only deserve a ‘serious’ job if you are willing to commit at least 40 hours per week to it. For Binta this meant she had to be happy with a series of precarious and not well paid jobs, often with gaps in between. During each gap Binta’s house deposit had been eroded a bit more until the idea of buying a house became just a daydream.

“What about your inheritance money?” asked Mamadou. He was only really asking because he was feeling guilty – he realized how much Binta had given up so she could have Ousman. Binta’s parents had died in a car accident not long before Mamadou had left Australia. They’d left Rose and Binta their house but not much money.

“We didn’t sell the house” said Binta. “We have rented it out to the same family ever since.”

Mamadou didn’t suggest to Binta that she move into her parent’s house because it was far away and he didn’t want to live there. “Maybe it is time to sell that house and buy your own” said Mamadou. Then rather stupidly had added “Before you get too old.”

“I don’t want to sell the house!” said Binta. “Half that house wouldn’t be enough for a house deposit around here anyway, not now.” Binta was cross with Mamadou now. She thought that instead of making suggestions he should be asking more questions – there was so much he needed to catch up on.

Binta was quiet during dinner. Aminata ate some of Ousman’s food and then climbed to the top of the bookshelf and fell asleep, with her head tucked under her wing.

Mamadou went to bed as soon as he had finished eating. He was feeling depressed because he couldn’t help Binta.

Ousman washed the dishes without having to be asked because he knew his Mum was feeling sad and angry, and because he still wasn’t sure whether she would let him keep Aminata.

Chapter 75.

As Fanta was preparing dinner she explained to Ruby and Nancy that she had to go to a job interview the next day and that they were going to stay with their friend Tony while she was at the interview. Tony lived in their street. He was older than Ruby but younger than Nancy. His parents were not really friends of Fanta’s but she did like them, and they often took turns walking the three kids to or from school. Tony’s Dad Malcolm would be taking them all to the park while Fanta went to the city for her interview. Ruby was happier with this arrangement than Nancy was. Nancy had been hoping to go to visit one of the girls in her class, but when Fanta reminded her that the flying fox in the park had been fixed Nancy stopped complaining. She loved playing on the flying fox.

“Why are we just having salads for dinner?” Ruby asked Fanta.

“Because it was a very hot day and on hot days a lot of people don’t like eating heavy food or hot food” answered Fanta. But as Fanta answered Ruby she started to doubt her decision to make three different salads for dinner, plus fruit salad for dessert. There was no time to change anything though, because the doorbell rang.

John and D’arby had arrived and it was as if they’d been able to anticipate Ruby’s uncertainty about salad for dinner because they’d brought some bread rolls and butter with them.

“The flat felt so much like an oven today that I decided I may as well make some bread” explained John as he showed Fanta the bread rolls.

The smell of the bread made Ruby and Nancy excited. Then the doorbell rang again and this time it was Syafika. While Syafika was getting settled and Fanta was getting everyone a cold drink Ruby and Nancy came up with a cunning plan. They requested that they be allowed to take their plates of dinner to the backyard. They said it was because they wanted to enjoy the cool change that had just arrived, but really it was so they would be able to flick any bits of salad that they didn’t like off their plates and into the garden.

Everyone was quiet until Ruby and Nancy had taken their dinner to the backyard. Then everyone started to talk at once. Fanta managed to be the first to get her story out, which was convenient because her story was the shortest.

“I have a job interview tomorrow – for a job in the same team as Syafika” said Fanta. She couldn’t help adding a big smile to the end of the sentence. She was very happy.

Even though Syafika was feeling exhausted by her distressful day this news made her smile too.

“I knew you could do it!” said Syafika “And they must like you a lot to have called you in before the closing date for applications”.

Syafika stopped talking just long enough for John and D’arby to be able congratulate Fanta then insisted that everyone listen to what had happened to her that day.

 

“Before you start – I’ve been wanting to know all day – what did Christine say about working part time?” Fanta asked Syafika.

“Oh no! I forgot to ask” admitted Syafika. “I’m sorry!” Syafika was sorry but she didn’t feel too bad about having forgotten. She thought that what had happened to her that day was more than enough of an excuse.

“That’s ok” said Fanta, pretending it didn’t matter. “It might be better if I don’t know anyway. If Christine had said she wouldn’t consider part timers then I’d have a hard time turning up to the interview.”

Fortunately Syafika’s story of Anthony and the disappearing haircut was so interesting that Fanta forgot about her job interview and D’arby and John forgot how urgently they wanted to share their own news.

“Really?” asked John. He had started to doubt that Syafika’s stories about Anthony were true.

“Why would Anthony disguise himself with a wig?” asked D’arby.

“I wish I’d been able to see you running after Anthony!” said Fanta.

The four were still discussing Anthony when Ruby and Nancy came inside with empty plates and asked if they could have some fruit salad.

When everyone had a bowl of fruit salad in front of them the discussion started again.

Fanta, John and D’arby thought that Syafika should keep away from Anthony because he could be a criminal but Syafika wanted to do some more spying on him. Syafika pretended she was taking their comments on board but secretly she had decided that she wouldn’t be satisfied until she knew what Anthony was up to.

John was chewing on a chunk of watermelon when he remembered that the meeting was meant to be for discussing activist stuff and so he mentioned that while he’d been waiting for the bread to rise he’d read D’arby’s notes about combining banking and renewable energy and thought that was something they should try to get started.

“I don’t think that’s such a good idea for us” said D’arby. “Wait until you hear about my day and then you will understand.”

John was confused and a bit angry. He had put a lot of effort into understanding D’arby’s notes and was just beginning to feel confident that he knew what D’arby was talking about. He began to suspect that D’arby didn’t really want anyone else to be able to understand his ideas because he wanted to be the only one who was the expert. Luckily John took D’arby’s advice to wait before he said what he was thinking.

“At uni today I was asked to apply for a job working for a new bank that wants to do just what I was thinking about” said D’arby. “I don’t know if I should even be telling you this though. They want me to do some tests first and if I get the job then I won’t be able to tell anyone about the stuff I’m working on”

“Why not?” asked Fanta

“They say it is because it would upset a lot of powerful people… all the powerful people actually”

“Well what are we going to do then?” asked John. He was cross that everyone else’s lives seemed to be turning into spy novels and he wanted to be a part of the action. “And what happened to us developing your special pills D’arby?”

The tone of John’s voice made D’arby cross too – so cross that he forgot to think twice before he said anything.

“The pills don’t work” said D’arby.

“What? Yes they do. I’m living proof” said John.

“I used to think that too” said D’arby. “But then I looked at all the data and saw that the pills only have a placebo effect. You just thought they worked, but really you changed on your own.”

As John listened to D’arby the back of his neck tingled. If what D’arby was saying was true then it meant that John had achieved something really significant. But it didn’t make sense.

“Why didn’t I feel sick or crazy then?” asked John.

“I don’t know” said D’arby. “Maybe because you believed you had been cured instantly your brain was able to trick you into feeling fine. I don’t know. All I know is that the pills didn’t cure anyone else of anything. Have you seen them fix anyone else?”

John tried to think of another example but couldn’t and had to answer “No, but what if there was something different about me. What if they do work but only in certain circumstances?”

All John’s questions gave D’arby an idea.

“What if I hand over all my research to you, and you work out whether the pills work and if you find that they don’t work, you can work out why they don’t work and then maybe you will be able to fix them so they do work” suggested D’arby.

John was happy to accept D’arby’s offer. He was flattered that D’arby thought he would be able to continue the research and delighted to think that he might be able to help other addicts.

When dinner was over John and D’arby walked home in silence, but it was a happy silence.

As Syafika walked home she was looking forward a shower and sleep, but also to the next time she chased Anthony around the Botanic Gardens. She was disappointed that John and D’arby hadn’t wanted to be involved like they had been when she needed help with Vincent, but decided it didn’t matter because Syafika thought she’d prefer to do the spying herself.

When everyone had gone home Fanta encouraged her sisters to go to bed so that she could practice answering imaginary interview questions but in the back of her mind the question she was really worrying about was how to explain that she only wanted to work three days a week.

Chapter 76.

On Tuesday morning Syafika put some running shoes in her work bag and then became frustrated as she looked through her clothes because she couldn’t find anything that was both suitable for running in, and flattering. In the end she chose comfort over appearance because Anthony ran so fast that she wasn’t in danger of getting close enough for him to be able to evaluate her outfit. Syafika had to power walk to work to make it in time for the team meeting and was sweaty when she arrived.

At the end of the team meeting Christine announced that she and Nelson were interviewing applicants for the jobs that morning. Syafika was so excited that Fanta would be coming into the office that she couldn’t concentrate on her work. Syafika kept looking at the door to see if Fanta had arrived, and it took an email from her old boss to distract her from watching out for Fanta.

Syafika’s old Executive Director Leah had never had much time for her and so when Syafika saw an email invitation from Leah for a coffee and chat that afternoon she was concerned. Syafika realized that Leah must have just returned from leave and wondered what Leah thought of her shameful departure from the branch. Syafika wrote a reply saying she would come to coffee and had just hit the ‘send’ button when she noticed that the elegant woman from the café was walking into the meeting room with Christine, Nelson and a man Syafika recognized as being from Human Resources (She tried to remember his name and thought it might be Douglas).

Syafika started sweating immediately. Not only was the elegant woman competing with her for Anthony, she was competing with Fanta for a job. Syafika forgot where she was and swore out loud. Fortunately nobody seemed to notice because most people liked to wear headphones when they were at their computers. Syafika kept watching the door of the meeting room and in half an hour the elegant woman came out. The elegant woman wore a confident smile as she walked out the door. Syafika decided that she hated her and narrowed her eyes as she watched her go.

Christine emerged from the meeting room not long after and went to get Fanta, who must have been waiting in the foyer. Fanta waved to Syafika as she walked past. Syafika thought Fanta looked nervous, but Fanta also looked beautiful. She was wearing a dark blue dress and had her hair in an intimidatingly complicated layered bun.

Syafika noted the time that Fanta and Christine went into the meeting room. She wanted to know exactly how much time Christine gave Fanta, because she imagined that if the interview went longer it would mean that Christine liked Fanta better than the elegant woman.

Thirty five minutes later Christine and Fanta came out of the meeting room. Christine looked happy but a bit tired. Fanta still looked nervous. Syafika didn’t know what to think. She couldn’t wait to find out from Fanta what happened in the meeting room. Christine walked Fanta out and came back with a man who looked a bit old to be a graduate and so Syafika hoped that he was being interviewed for the team leader position.

Syafika’s phone rang and she was surprised to hear Fanta on the other end. Fanta was calling from a pay phone outside the building.

“How was it?” asked Syafika.

“Mostly good” said Fanta. “Christine and the other two seemed to like me and were talking as if the job was mine until I told them that I only wanted to work two or three days a week.”

“What did they say?” asked Syafika.

“Christine told me that things move fast and that if I wasn’t there every day I would have trouble keeping up” said Fanta. “And Nelson said that nobody else works part time. But Doug said that it was possible to work five hour days instead of fewer days.”

“I hope Doug can convince Christine and Nelson then” said Syafika.

“I guess it depends what the other candiates were like too. Have you seen any?” asked Fanta.

“There was one before you but I don’t think Christine liked her as much as she liked you” said Syafika. She was about to tell Fanta that the other candidate was the elegant woman who had met Anthony in the café, but when Syafika looked to her left she noticed that Bronwyn wasn’t wearing headphones and was worried that Bronwyn was listening to her conversation with Fanta. “I’ll tell you more tonight” said Syafika. “Want to bring your sisters for dinner?”

Two more candidates came and left before Christine, Nelson and Doug stopped for lunch, but Syafika had stopped paying attention. She’d been busy getting work done so she could go to the Botanic Gardens at lunch and still have time for afternoon coffee with Leah.

Syafika knew there were some showers and change rooms in the building but had never been there so she asked Bronwyn where they were. Bronwyn rode her bike to work so she was an expert in the facilities and was happy to take Syafika to see them.

“I saw you wave at the second candidate this morning” said Bronwyn as she and Syafika walked down the back stairs to the ground floor. “Is she your friend?”

“Yep” answered Syafika.

“Which position is she trying out for?” asked Bronwyn

“Graduate” said Syafika.

“Phew” said Bronwyn “Because I applied for the team leader position. My interview is after lunch”

“I hope you get the job” said Syafika. She meant what she said. Syafika thought it would be wise for Christine to give Bronwyn the team leader position because otherwise she might lose her. Who would want to stick around in the team working for another team leader if you’d failed to get the job?

“Thanks” said Bronwyn. “I hope your friend gets the other job. What’s her name?”

“Her name is Fanta. She would be perfect for the job. She’s clever and very wise. But she only wants to work part time. Do you think Christine would agree to that?” said Syafika.

“I think it would be up to the new team leader, actually” said Bronwyn. “They would be responsible for allocating work between members of the team”

“Would you agree to let her work part time if you get the team leader job?” asked Syafika.

“Yes” said Bronwyn. “I like people who know what they want. Most people just copy everyone else. But it would mean interviewing for someone else to do the rest of the hours. We have been allocated a full time position so we’d be stupid to not try to fill both halves of it. It will be a struggle to get projects done on time otherwise. It is a pity Fanta didn’t apply with someone else so they could fill the position together”

“That’s a good idea!” said Syafika. “I wish I’d thought of that earlier. If Fanta doesn’t get the job I will feel like I let her down”.

“Don’t be silly. You can’t think of everything” said Bronwyn. “You will feel better after your run. I need to go and have lunch now, so I’m not hungry in the interview”

Syafika looked at her watch and calculated that she had to be back in 40 minutes if she wanted to have time to have a shower before heading back to her desk. She got changed as fast as she could and was soon jogging up the hill to the Botanic Gardens.

Syafika was puffed by the time she got through the gates of the Botanic Gardens, but it felt good. She stopped to walk for a little bit, telling herself that she was doing this for fun, not for exercise. Syafika wondered where Anthony started his run. She thought it was likely to be the place he’d ended it last time and so she followed the path that led towards Government House. The trouble was that even if Syafika was right about where Anthony started his run, she didn’t know what time he started, or whether he started at the same time everyday or even whether he went for a run everyday.

When Syafika got to Government House she hid behind a hedge and looked out for Anthony. She looked at her watch and saw that she needed to be back at the showers in 30 minutes. She decided to wait another ten minutes for Anthony before giving up and just going for a walk. Ten minutes later Syafika reluctantly stood up and started walking towards the cafe. She thought a treat might help make up for the disappointment of not seeing Anthony. Then Syafika remembered that it was all downhill to the café and decided she may as well run there. Syafika felt silly when she ran. It wasn’t something she was used to doing and she imagined she must look very awkward. Syafika had a laugh at herself and by the time she reached the café she was feeling very happy and very sweaty. A small group of runners was ahead of Syafika in the queue and they all ordered salads for lunch, so when it was Syafika’s turn to order she chose a fruit salad instead of the slice of chocolate cake she’d been thinking about.

Syafika looked at her watch as she left the café and realized she’d have to choose between eating the fruit salad now and running back to the office to make up time, or walking back and eating the fruit salad at her desk after her shower. She decided to compromise and quickly ate a couple of mouthfuls of fruit salad before closing the container tightly and jogging back towards the gate closest to work.

Syafika couldn’t make it all the way back to the gate before she had to stop and catch her breath. Syafika could hear her heart beating but she could also hear something else. There were familiar voices speaking on the other side of some large bushes. Syafika peeped between the bushes and saw Anthony and Nelson. They seemed to be having an argument.

“I can’t change her mind” said Nelson. “Christine doesn’t like Celine”

“But if the other girl only wants to work part time surely that rules her out!” said Anthony

“Not in Christine’s eyes” said Nelson. “Anyway, we have to decide on the team leader first and then the team leader will get the final say”

“I know! What if Celine agrees to fill the other half of the job?” suggested Anthony.

“Ok. That might work. But now we need to worry about what the new team leader wants” said Nelson.

“I’m sure you can sort that out” said Anthony. “You know how important this is!”

Then Anthony ran off and Nelson started walking towards the gate.

Syafika wanted to follow Anthony but when she looked at the time she knew she had to follow Nelson instead.

Chapter 77.

Anthony was more worried than angry as he ran away. He was under a lot of pressure at the moment and he knew that if he made any mistakes his life could be ruined.

When Anthony ran past the spot where Syafika had been hiding the day before he smiled as he remembered how Syafika had followed him on his run. Anthony had taken an extra long and convoluted route just to make sure Syafika really was following him. He had enjoyed being chased by Syafika but wasn’t sure if it was just another one of her games or if she really thought he hadn’t noticed her.

Anthony decided he’d probably need to call Syafika soon because she might be able to tell him things that Nelson wouldn’t. Thinking of Syafika made Anthony feel happy, and he smiled. When Anthony realized he was smiling it made him remember how dangerous it was for him to interact with Syafika.It wasn’t unusual for him to develop a fondness for people he had spent a lot of time watching, but with Syafika it was worse than usual. Anthony didn’t feel in control of his actions when he was near Syafika. He kept forgetting he was meant to be working. If he made a mistake and told her too much he would be in real danger, and so would she. And Anthony wasn’t sure how much Syafika knew. Sometimes she seemed clueless but other times he thought he could see in her eyes that she knew everything and was just pretending she didn’t.

Chapter 78.

When Syafika went back to her old office to meet Leah she noticed that everyone else was back at work but her old desk was still empty. Helen and Julie came over and asked her how her new job was and soon everyone was milling around her, but Syafika wasn’t sure how much anyone knew. Nobody showed her any sympathy so she wasn’t sure if they had just decided not to mention her having had to leave in disgrace or if they had been told she’d decided to leave instead of being forced to. Syafika thought Helen and Julie might be a bit cross with her, but wasn’t sure. She hadn’t been close to Helen or Julie since they abandoned her in the pub.

Leah came out of her special office in the corner and suggested to Syafika that they go out to a café for coffee.

“What happened?” asked Leah as soon as she and Syafika had settled down at café table.

Syafika wished she’d been given a narrower question to answer. She didn’t know whether Leah wanted to know the sequence of events or whether she wanted to know why Syafika had stuffed up. Syafika decided to give her the sequence of events – she didn’t understand how she’d stuffed up anyway.

So Syafika told Leah about the phonecall she’d received and the email she’d sent in response. And then about how Glenda had come for her a couple of days later but Christine had rescued her and had told her that Joe had made some kind of mistake and blamed her for it.

“Joe was meant to be looking after you while I was away” said Leah, in an exasperated voice. “I’m sorry” said Leah.

Syafika hadn’t been expecting this. She started to cry.

Leah gave Syafika some tissues and patted her on the shoulder. When Syafika had calmed down Leah asked her how her new job was going and told her that if it had been up to her Syafika wouldn’t have had to move. Leah explained that she’d told Syafika’s team that Syafika had chosen to move and hoped that was ok.

When the coffee was all gone and it was time for Leah and Syafika to get back to work Leah handed Syafika her card saying “If you ever need my help please call me.”

Chapter 79

It had been a productive month. Mamadou and Rose worked well together and the renovations were ahead of schedule. The new bathroom was almost ready. That day they’d been doing tiling. As usual, Mamadou had found a way to turn someone else’s rubbish into something magnificent. A couple of days before they had gone to buy tiles, but when they arrived at the shop Mamadou had insisted he first go around the back of the shop to check out the skip bin he’d noticed. Instead of buying any tiles they’d gone home and waited for night time, then gone back to the shop to take tiles out of the skip bin. Festus had felt nervous as he waited in the van while Rose and Mamadou walked back and forth from the bin to the back of the van with boxes of assorted tiles. He kept imagining that a security guard would appear and shine a torch into his eyes. But nothing like that had happened and eventually Mamadou and Rose had closed the back of the van and squeezed in next to Festus for the drive home.

When they’d gotten home, even though it was getting late, Mamadou had insisted they unpack the tiles and see how they looked together. When Festus saw that each box of tiles was different and that a lot of them were broken he felt disappointed, but then he looked at Rose and saw that she seemed delighted by the prospect of turning this pile of rubbish into something useful. When Mamadou left at midnight the dining room floor and table were covered with tiles arranged in various patterns.

In the days since then they’d been busy recreating those patterns on the walls and floor of the new bathroom, and that afternoon they’d finished.

As Mamadou and Rose tidied up the tools Festus hobbled out to the mailbox. He put his hand in and pulled out a bundle of envelopes. He was worried that one of the envelopes would contain bad news from Council. They’d been carrying on as if they had building permission and Zikpi had been filming it all but Festus knew that it could end in disaster. As Festus made his way back inside his leg started to ache.

Festus handed the mail to Rose and asked her to open it. Rose flicked through the envelopes and discarded all but one. Festus watched her open it. Rose read it quickly then started smiling.

“It’s ok!” said Rose. “We are allowed to build what we’ve already started building!”

Festus realized he’d been holding his breath and let it out in relief. He noticed that his leg had stopped hurting.

Rose realized that it was probably a good time to talk to Festus about something she’d wanted to mention for a couple of weeks.

“You know how Binta has been without a job?” Rose asked Festus.

“Yeah….” said Festus. He was always impatient to know where questions like that were going.

“Well I was thinking that I could give up my craft room for Binta” said Rose.

“What?” asked Festus. He didn’t understand how Rose giving her craft room to Binta was going to help Binta earn a living, unless she meant that Binta was going to start selling things she’d made.

“I mean, what if Binta came to live with us?” said Rose.

Festus understood this but not how it would work. Surely Rose didn’t mean just Binta, but Ousman as well, and then what about Mamadou?

Festus looked to see where Mamadou was before he started talking. When he saw that Mamadou was out in the backyard and too far away to hear he asked Rose “Where will Ousman and Mamadou go?”

“Yes, it isn’t ideal, but maybe Ousman can share with Binta, and Mamadou can live in the shed” said Rose.

Festus couldn’t help laughing and didn’t realise that he was speaking too loudly when he said “Mamadou can live in the shed? What if he wants to share with Binta?”

Rose looked worried. She realized that it was likely nobody would be happy with her plan and it made her feel sad because she’d just wanted to help.

Mamadou had heard Festus laughing and suggesting he live in the shed and so he’d come inside.

“I would like to live in the shed, actually” said Mamadou.

Chapter 80

Binta opened the kitchen cupboard and was confronted by Rose’s set of indistinguishable tea cannisters. As Binta tried to guess which canister contained the Earl Grey tea she made a mental note to stick discreet labels on the cannisters so she wouldn’t have to play this game everyday. Binta, Ousman and Mamadou had moved in with Rose a couple of days ago and Binta still felt a bit awkward but things were generally very good. Ousman and Binta had their beds in the back room upstairs. The wardrobe was half full of Rose’s craft materials but Binta didn’t mind. Squashing into the house with Rose reminded Binta of when they’d been kids. Binta liked feeling like a kid again because she hated the weight of responsibility she felt when she realized she was an adult and mother.

While Binta made tea, Rose and Mamadou were sitting at the kitchen table but Festus was outside in the rain. Mamadou smiled as he listened to the rain falling on the roof. “That sound is better than gold coins falling from the sky” said Mamadou.

“What?” asked Rose.

“You can’t buy rain” explained Mamadou.

It was a Monday afternoon in March and to celebrate the last day of work on the renovations they were having a special afternoon tea. Zikpi and her film crew would be coming to film the next day and everyone was going to be proud to show her around because it had all been done on time and under budget, and best of all, the result was amazing.

Mamadou’s garden had been finished before the house, and the plants were thriving. There were already plenty of green vegies ready to pick. As the rain fell Mamadou was imagining the roots of plants drinking it up and the leaves being washed clean. He knew that tomorrow the garden would be looking lush.

Festus had told the others that he was out in the rain to check for leaks in the guttering but really he was standing and watching the stream that Mamadou had built. He wanted to see what happened as it filled with rainwater and flowed through the yard to the waterfall. Festus looked over his shoulder to check that nobody was watching him before he walked over to the waterfall. He was secretly amazed by the water pump Mamadou had built. Festus moved the handle up and down a few times and as he did this water was pumped from the small pond at the bottom of the waterfall up to the tank hidden behind rocks at the top of the waterfall. Festus stopped pumping and watched as water trickled out of the tank and ran down the waterfall, ending up back in the pond at the bottom. As rain ran along the stream into this pond the height rose and eventually water started flowing out of it and continuing down the little river to the big pond at the back of the yard.

Festus took a deep breath and exhaled slowly. He could feel rain running down the back of his neck. Festus couldn’t believe how the yard had changed in the last couple of months. The small trees Mamadou had planted and the tiny river he’d dug made Festus feel like a giant standing in the countryside. Festus the giant turned and walked into the house, passing the tiny fields of vegetables that Rose had planted all the way up to the back door.

Chapter 81

D’arby had always imagined that when he submitted his thesis he’d be handing in a bound copy and so when he discovered that all he had to do was upload the file he found it a bit underwhelming. Still, as D’arby left uni after doing the upload of his thesis he felt like he was floating instead of walking. Then he realized he’d started walking in the wrong direction – he’d been headed to his old flat instead of to Fanta’s place. D’arby felt sad that he couldn’t go home to the old flat to celebrate this huge milestone and so he decided that he’d walk past the flat anyway, before going ‘home’ to Fanta’s.

The block of flats looked so sad behind the temporary fence that had been put up around it. It was as if the building knew what was going to happen to it. D’arby started crying, and as he walked to Fanta’s place he made a note to avoid walking down his old street for a couple of months so he could avoid seeing the building being knocked down.

When D’arby got back to Fanta’s place there was nobody there. D’arby wondered where John was because it was Monday and the restaurant was closed on Mondays.

D’arby sat down near a window and stared out at the garden. He suddenly felt empty and very tired. D’arby calculated that he’d only had 12 hours sleep in the past four days and decided to have a siesta.

Just as D’arby was drifting off to sleep the phone rang. D’arby struggled to get up and answer the phone but was glad that he had. It was Rudnika and she wanted to tell him about the plans for his first day of work tomorrow.

D’arby wondered why he’d agreed to start his new job without taking a break to recover from all the last minute stress involved in getting his thesis ready for submission, but it was too late to change things now. D’arby wrote down the time and place he had to meet Rudnika tomorrow and then went back to bed.

Chapter 82

Syafika, Celine and Fanta were all heading to the Botanic Gardens for lunch, but only Syafika was wearing running clothes. Celine and Fanta were coming with her, but instead of running they were going to have a nice lunch at the café, then walk back with Syafika.

As Syafika started jogging away from Syafika and Celine she hoped that this time she’d see Anthony. It had been months since she’d seen or heard from Anthony and she was beginning to doubt she would ever see him again. But Syafika knew that her regular running trips had not been wasted. Instead of getting puffed after a couple of hundred metres, Syafika could now jog around the gardens for the whole of lunchtime if she wanted to, and she noticed that she was able to run much faster. Syafika thought it was sort of funny that since she’d become determined to spy on Anthony she’d only caught sight of him once, but she also considered her running scheme to be a kind of spy training and it comforted her to know that if she finally did come across Anthony she would be better prepared than ever to follow him on his run.

Syafika sprinted up a slope to see if she could make it to the top. When Syafika made it to the top of the slope she turned around and ran back down again, enjoying how effortlessly she could run downhill and how running made her feel graceful. Syafika remembered the first time she’d run down that slope a couple of months ago and how silly she’d felt. It made Syafika smile. She was really happy when she was running.

Syafika jogged towards the shadiest part of the gardens where there were lots of windy paths to follow. As she turned a corner she caught a glimpse of a runner disappearing around the next corner. Syafika had chased runners around corners many times in the last couple of months only to find they weren’t Anthony, but this time Syafika knew it was him.  She sped up and was able to get close enough to be sure it was Anthony. Anthony turned his head enough for Syafika to worry he might have spotted her, but he showed no sign of having noticed her and so she continued her persuit.

When Anthony took the path that led to Government House Syafika guessed that he must be at the end of his run and she slowed down because she anticipated that he would soon stop to stretch, but he didn’t. Instead Anthony turned down a side path that headed back towards the café. Syafika sped up and was almost close enough to reach out and touch Anthony by the time they were at the café. Then Syafika saw Fanta and Celine sitting at an outside table and she remembered she was supposed to meet up with them to walk back to work together. Syafika stopped running immediately and looked at her watch. It was time to stop running. Syafika watched as Anthony disappeared around a corner, and then she walked over to Celine and Fanta.

“You run fast!” said Fanta. Fanta was amazed. She’d never imagined that Syafika would run so well. Fanta desperately wanted to confirm that the man Syafika had been chasing was Anthony, but because Celine was with them she couldn’t ask.

Celine was feeling confused.  She’d seen Anthony run past too, only she knew him as Lawrence. Celine wondered what Lawrence was up to and hoped he hadn’t been spying on her. Celine also thought it was suspicious that Syafika was running so close behind him.

Chapter 83

Syafika was just about to leave work when her phone rang. It was Rose.

“I know you usually go to Fanta’s place for dinner on Mondays but could you please come home for dinner tonight? We want to have a nice dinner together and then talk about what is going to happen when Zikpi comes to film tomorrow” asked Rose.

Syafika couldn’t help groaning. She wasn’t looking forward to tomorrow. Zikpi had insisted Syafika be there for the final filming and Syafika was cross about that because it meant she had to take a day off work. Also, Syafika had been looking forward to seeing Fanta that evening because she wanted to talk about what had happened at lunchtime. Syafika had once imagined that she and Fanta would be able to have lots of nice chats at work, but it had turned out that opportunities for that were rare because work kept them both so busy. They couldn’t even walk home together because Fanta usually had to leave work early to pick up her sisters.

Syafika paused while she made a quick plan in her head. “Ok. I will come home for dinner but I am going to pass by Fanta’s house on the way home. I will be about an hour and 15 minutes” said Syafika.

After Syafika hung up the phone she ran downstairs to get changed into her running clothes. She had calculated that if she ran to Fanta’s place she’d have enough time for a decent chat about Anthony before she had to leave to run home for dinner.

When Syafika arrived at Fanta’s house she was puffed but happy. She’d managed to get there as fast as she’d hoped. Syafika took some deep breaths while she waited for Fanta to answer the door.

“I’m glad you are a bit early” said Fanta when she opened the door. “D’arby is cooking and wants an early dinner because he has to start his new job tomorrow”

Syafika had to try to control her expression because she felt like scowling. She hadn’t run all the way there to talk about D’arby.

“I can’t stay for dinner – Mum wants me at home to plan for tomorrow. I just ran here so we could have a quick chat about what happened at lunchtime” said Syafika.

“Ahh, ok” said Fanta and she came outside and closed the front door so she and Syafika could talk in the relative privacy of the front yard.

“You did see Anthony, didn’t you?” asked Syafika.

“Yeah, I guessed that was him. Who else would you bother chasing?” said Fanta.

“What did you think?” asked Syafika.

“I thought you were an amazing runner” said Fanta.”But didn’t he notice you were chasing him? I think I would notice if someone was running so close behind me”

Syafika felt a bit embarrassed. She answered “I don’t know…” but really she did know. She’d just realized that Anthony had known she was chasing him, and must have also noticed the last time she did it.

“Celine seemed to notice too” said Fanta. “When you went to get changed she kept asking me questions about you and about whether you knew someone called ‘Lawrence’”.

“Ah ha! So Anthony must have been pretending to be Lawrence when he met Celine in the café that time” said Syafika.

When Syafika started jogging home from Fanta’s house she was feeling a bit embarrassed that Anthony had noticed her running after him, but it was also thrilling to think that they were both playing a secret game. Syafika had a chuckle and ran a bit faster.

When Syafika crossed the road in front of her house a car came roaring along the street and beeped the horn as it almost hit her. This made Syafika really cross. Her street used to be quiet but recently there had been a lot more traffic. Syafika made a mental note to be more careful crossing the road there in future, and to make herself feel happy again she ran up the garden path and bounced up the front steps.

The house was looking very tidy and Syafika initially wondered why, but then remembered it was all for Zikpi. Syafika had so far avoided being filmed for Zikpi’s documentary but she knew she couldn’t escape it tomorrow. As Syafika changed out of her sweaty running clothes she had a little daydream about Anthony turning on the TV and seeing her strolling happily in her beautiful back garden.

When everyone had finished eating dinner Rose explained the timetable for the next day. It sounded like it was going to be a long one. Zikpi and the film crew would arrive at sunrise and they would stay as long as it took to get good footage and interview everyone.

“They won’t interview me though, will they? I’ve had nothing to do with it” said Binta.

“I don’t know” answered Rose.

“You can hide in my room if you like” offered Syafika.

Binta looked like she was going to say thank you but the phone rang and she was sitting closest so she got up to answer it instead.

It was India on the phone. She’d called to tell them that the first episode of Zikpi’s show was about to be broadcast and that they should turn the TV on.

So everyone moved to the loungeroom and sat down while Ousman found the right channel.

At first it was enjoyable to watch Zikpi’s show. The episode was about a couple renovating an old house that was in such bad shape that it could apparently collapse at any moment. Everything was respectable at the start but then it started to feature more of the couple arguing than of the work they were doing to stabilize the walls.

“You two didn’t argue infront of the cameras, did you?” Syafika asked Festus and Rose.

Rose assured Syafika that they hadn’t but realized that the footage of her crying would probably make an appearance.

Syafika looked at Mamadou. He looked appalled.

“I don’t like Zikpi anymore” said Mamadou. There was silent agreement from everyone else in the room.

The rest of the program was predictable. The couple managed to save the house and at the end of the program they looked reasonably happy together.

Syafika looked at Mamadou again to see if she could tell what he was thinking. When she saw Mamadou’s devious smile she started looking forward to what might happen during filming tomorrow.

Chapter 84.

John and D’arby had been living at Fanta’s place for about a month but John still wasn’t used to waking up in his own room. And it was so quiet that it made him feel lonely.

John rushed to get dressed so he could see Fanta and D’arby before they left for the day.

D’arby was drinking coffee and looking out the window when John walked into the dining room.

“I’ve got something for you” said D’arby and he handed his library card to John.

John was very happy because he knew this meant he could access all the journals he needed to continue D’arby’s research on special pills. So far all John had been doing was reading the papers D’arby had already collected but he knew there was a lot more out there. John noticed that the card didn’t expire until the end of the year and was determined to become an expert by then.

Fanta was just heading into the kitchen to make breakfast for her sisters when it was time for D’arby to leave for work. John thought D’arby looked nervous but very happy as he set off down the street.

John was feeling hungry but sat patiently at the dining table, waiting for Fanta to finish what she was doing in the kitchen. He’d learnt that there was only room for one person in the kitchen at once and was careful to not get in Fanta’s way in the morning because she had so much to do to get her sisters off to school and herself off to work.

Ruby and Nancy came into the dining room and sat down at the table. Ruby had a hairbrush in one hand and was looking a bit cross.

“What’s wrong?” John asked Ruby.

“I have a big tangle at the back of my head and Fanta doesn’t have time to untangle it and Nancy hurts too much when she does it” compained Ruby.

John stood up behind Ruby’s chair and looked at Ruby’s hair. It was the most tangled thing he’d ever seen, but he’d seen Fanta untangling it before and so John pretended he knew what to do. He went and got the squirt bottle full of homemade ‘de-tangler’ and got to work. Ruby was silent as John worked, which he took to be a good sign because she usually complained when anyone touched her hair. John kept working while Ruby ate her breakfast and by the time she needed to go and clean her teeth her hair was looking presentable.

Fanta gave John a big smile when she saw Ruby’s hair. And John was still smiling back when the three of them had left for school and work.

John looked at his watch and calculated the time he’d need to leave the library in order to open the restaurant in time for lunch. Then he picked up D’arby’s library card and headed towards the uni library.

There was a roaring sound whenever the automatic sliding doors of the library opened. John enjoyed walking through them. He tried to hide his nerves as he approached the barrier gates. All the security at the library made John very nervous. John used D’arby’s library card to open one of the gates and was feeling so excited when he made it through them that he had to suppress the urge to jump up and click his heels together.

Chapter 85.

D’arby had given himself 40 minutes to walk the 2.5 kilometres to work because it was in an area he was unfamiliar with and because Rudnika had stressed the importance of him being there on time. She’d actually instructed D’arby that there was a 6 minute window in which it was acceptable to arrive – from 8:27am to 8:33am, but because D’arby had been half asleep when he’d heard this he had only registered the message that he be there on time, and not the details about the 6 minute time window.

As D’arby walked he held the map he’d drawn on a scrap of paper and because he was feeling nervous he kept checking the map, even though he’d memorized the route.  D’arby was nervous because he didn’t want to disappoint but he had no way of gauging whether he was going to be able to do the job well, and he really wanted to do it well because he could see it was going to be important.

When D’arby turned into the street of his new workplace he noticed that the back of his neck felt cold. He thought he heard someone say “Careful!” but there was nobody in the street. Then he noticed a galah sitting in a tree. The Galah looked D’arby in the eye and raised its crest. Then another galah launched itself from a tree on the other side of the road and flew past so close to D’arby’s head that he ducked.

D’arby turned around to check that there was nobody behind him and looked up at the windows of the houses in the street to see if anyone was looking out, but he didn’t see any faces. Then he looked at his watch and saw that he was 15 minutes early. He continued to walk along the street until he was outside the address Rudnika had given him. It was the second of a group of five terrace houses that were bordered on one side by a laneway and the other side by a small park. The only indication that D’arby was at the right place was a small brass plaque next to the front door saying “RenewBank”. None of the other houses in the street appeared to be businesses and D’arby wondered whether Rudnika had started the business from her house. D’arby wondered if this was why the job application process and testing had all been done online – to hide the modest nature of the business. D’arby looked at his watch again and saw that he was ten minutes early so he walked back to the little park and decided to sit down and wait until 8:29am.

As D’arby sat he looked around him. The back of the park opened onto a laneway and D’arby wondered whether the park had once been another terrace house because it looked like it was the same size as the other houses in the street. D’arby looked across the road at the houses that faced RenewBank and he thought he noticed the curtains move in one of them, but there was no other sign of anyone being home. He listened for sounds of life and could hear the faint sound of music, but couldn’t tell which house it was coming from.

At 8:29 and 45 seconds D’arby opened the front gate of RenewBank, walked up the steps and rang the doorbell. Rudnika answered the door almost immediately and shook D’arby’s hand warmly, then ushered him inside.

Rudnika took D’arby upstairs to meet Sonia, who seemed to be working at four computers at once. D’arby felt like asking lots of questions but Rudnika seemed to be in a hurry and told D’arby to come with her so she could show him his desk. She showed him to the room opposite Sonia’s and gave him a piece of paper then put her finger to her mouth, indicating that she wanted him to not say anything.

The curtains of the room were closed and so D’arby had to strain his eyes to read what was on the paper. It said “Do not say anything or ask any questions. This building has been bugged. When I say something just answer ‘Ok’ and then follow me”.

“So here is where you will be working” said Rudnika. “The computer is all set up and ready to go. Here are some reports you should read. They will probably take you a week to get through. I need to get back to my desk now because I am expecting a phone call. My office is downstairs – please come and have a chat in an hour. The bathroom and kitchen are downstairs too.”

Then Rudnika motioned for D’arby to follow her and they crept downstairs and into a room full of bookshelves. Rudnika went up to one of the shelves and slid it aside to reveal a hidden door. D’arby looked at Rudnika and raised an eyebrow. She was pleased that he seemed to think this was exciting.

Rudnika opened the door and when they had both walked through she quietly closed it. D’arby realized that they were now in the house next door. Rudnika took D’arby down the hall to the kitchen and closed the door.

“We can talk now” said Rudnika. “Would you like a quick cup of tea before we leave for the real office?”

D’arby tried to say “Yes” but his words seemed to have dried up so he nodded. There were so many questions he wanted to ask that he was having trouble getting any of them out of his brain.

“We have about ten minutes.  Ask me any questions” said Rudnika as she made the tea.

“How do you know next door is bugged? Who would do that? How do you know this buiding is safe? What if there are cameras watching you too? Why would anyone believe that you are working next door if there’s nobody there to make any noise? What does Sonia do?”

Rudnika laughed and gave D’arby his cup of tea. D’arby was pleased that it was black without sugar and wondered how Rudnika knew that was what he liked. Hers had milk in it.

“Sonia is very busy all day pretending to be many people at once. She will have to pretend to be you too now. When we get to the real office I will need you to record yourself saying lots of words and phrases so Sonia can use them to make the fake D’arby have a conversation with the fake Rudnika in an hour. Sonia checks all three buildings for bugs and cameras every morning. It is difficult to pretend to be working here everyday when really we work somewhere else, but it is worth it because while they are busy listening to this building here we have control over what they think we are doing – we can throw them off track” explained Rudnika

“Who?” asked D’arby

“That’s a tougher question. The people watching us from across the road are spies for hire so are probably working for one of the big banks, or maybe for all of them. We aren’t sure who is listening to us though” said Rudnika and then she quickly drank the rest of her tea.

“Please wash the cups while I check that the coast is clear” said Rudnika. While D’arby washed the cups he watched Rudnika open one of the kitchen cupboards and turn on a set of monitors that were hidden inside. There must have been cameras watching the side and back lanes as well as the front of the house. D’arby realized that this building was next to the side lane.

Rudnika showed D’arby the monitor showing the back lane and pointed to the upstairs window of the house on the other side of the lane. D’arby could vaguely see someone moving and Rudnika explained that there was often someone there watching the back door of the official office next door and that sometimes she went out and sat in the backyard there to give the spy something to look at.

Then Rudnika carefully checked the view of the side lane. There were no windows overlooking it and nothing seemed to be happening there.

“Don’t talk until I say” said Rudnika and they walked to the back door of the house. It opened onto a covered area, and there was a screen blocking the view from the house across the back lane. Rudnika picked up two bicycle helmets that were hanging on the wall and handed D’arby one. There were two bikes leaning against the side fence and D’arby noticed that there was a gate in the side fence that led onto the side lane. Rudnika opened the gate and rode out, across the side lane and away along the back lane. D’arby followed, trying hard to steer the bike straight and hoping that they didn’t have to ride on any busy roads.

The real office of RenewBank was in the next suburb. It was above a café and had a roof garden. D’arby couldn’t stop smiling as Rudnika showed him around. Leopold was there too and there were two other new employees called Carol and Valentine.

As promised, D’arby’s first task was to record himself saying lots of different things. Rudnika took D’arby to a small sound-proof room and pointed out that he wasn’t going to have time to create a comprehensive library of recordings but it would be enough to make it sound like he was working at the official office that day. The recordings were put on a USB drive and sent by bicycle courier to the Official Office, where Sonia quickly created a convincing conversation between Rudnika and D’arby. Then D’arby had to continue recording more words and phrases, and he had to repeat many of them while pretending to feel different emotions. At the end of the day he was still not finished and realized he’d have to spend at least the next day doing the same thing.

When the working day was over Leopold and Rudnika reminded D’arby that he was not to tell anyone about what he was doing at work or where the real office was. Rudnika gave him a key to the official office and told him that tomorrow he could let himself in and then they would repeat the trip they’d made that morning but that after that he could make the trip on his own because Rudnika preferred to get to the real office a bit earlier.

“What time do Carol and Valentine arrive at the official office?” D’arby asked. He was wondering whether he’d be able to ride with them sometimes.

“Carol and Valentine aren’t official employees” explained Rudnika “So they don’t have to pretend to work at the official office. They just come straight here”

This news hurt D’arby but he didn’t say anything. As he and Rudnika rode back to the official office D’arby wondered whether his job was going to be a real one or whether he was just a decoy. He desperately wanted to know what Carol and Valentine were going to be working on. He’d wanted to talk to them that day but they hadn’t been there at lunchtime.

Rudnika and D’arby snuck back into the official office the same way they’d left and then D’arby was free to leave by the front door and walk home. As he walked he felt really sad. He’d had such a strange and exciting day but he wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about it.

Chapter 86.

Although Syafika had been expecting that she would feel cross after having to get up so early, she was actually enjoying how peaceful everything was at that time of day. She went out into the backyard and looked up at the sky to watch it change colour as the sun came up. Aminata seemed to like this time of day too. She flew out of the back door and sat in a tree. Ousman and Binta came outside soon after.

Then the door of the garden shed opened and Mamadou came outside. He had a big smile on his face and was carrying a cup of tea. This made Syafika smile too.

The peaceful start to the day ended as soon as Festus opened the door for Zikpi and the film crew. Zikpi had a clipboard with a list of things she wanted to film that day and as Zikpi started explaining the schedule Binta went and hid upstairs because she really didn’t want her moving in with Rose to become part of the story about the renovations.

It was interesting to see the look on Zikpi’s face when she walked out into the back garden. Of course she’d been there when the garden was being created but her focus had been on the house because her show was about houses, and Zikpi wasn’t experienced in looking at garden plans and predicting what a finished landscape would be like. When Zikpi first saw the backyard her normally serious expression softened into a look of wonder and her cheeks developed a rosy glow. It was as if time had reversed and Zikpi had gone back to being a child. Instead of barking orders to the film crew, Zikpi walked around slowly and quietly and the only noises that came from her mouth were surprised inhales each time she discovered a new feature of the garden. When Zikpi had taken everything in she turned around and, with a wobbly voice she said “I’ve never seen anything so amazing! So beautiful! Such a paradise!” and the clever film crew captured it all.

Zikpi seemed to really be enjoying herself for the rest of the day, and Mamadou took full advantage of Zikpi’s good mood. Everytime he had an opportunity to speak infront of the camera Mamadou said something mischievous. He made it clear what he thought of typical renovations and the materialistic lifestyle that shows like Zikpi’s usually promoted. But it wasn’t really Zikpi’s mood that made her let Mamadou speak his mind. It was because he was living his message.

Zikpi had filmed many people who talked about sustainable lifestyles or passion for art or nature but, possibly because it was so unlikely for someone to succeed in coming to Zikpi’s attention without them being an expert in self promotion, Zikpi had found that commendable sentiments and impeccable manners were often an insubstantial layer on the outside of a mean and competitive core – like a poisonous snake wrapped up in a piece of velvet. Because of the circles she mixed in, Zikpi also hadn’t come across many people who would have maintained their passions if they hadn’t made them comfortably well-off and so the novelty of a person who had a pure and open agenda meant that Zikpi couldn’t hear enough of what Mamadou had to say. Zikpi did not find Mamadou charming but she wanted her viewers to hear his message.

Festus and Rose also did well infront of the camera. Festus was surprised by how much he enjoyed showing Zikpi how all the plumbing worked – how rain water ran to the tank and then was used for washing people and clothes and then how the dirty water was cleaned and used again as it made its way through the garden. When Zikpi asked Rose how the whole renovation idea came about Rose told the truth and admitted that she didn’t even know what a greywater system was before India started talking about how important they were and that everything had flowed on from there because it had made Rose decide to try to make her home self-sufficient before India could.

Filming finished earlier than expected and Binta came out of hiding as soon as she’d heard that the cameras had been packed away. Then everyone had a nice late lunch together before Zikpi and the crew left.

After lunch Syafika went to have a siesta to catch up on the sleep she’d missed out on by getting up so early. Everyone else retreated into quiet corners to relax too. An hour or so later everyone was up and moving around again and Rose announced that she was going to the beauty salon, as a treat for having survived the renovations. As Syafika watched Rose leave she realized that her Mum hadn’t been to the beauty salon for months and guessed that it was because she hadn’t wanted to spend money while Festus was unable to earn any money.

A bit later in the afternoon Syafika decided she would go for a run. She hadn’t been for a run near home before and so it was exciting to plan about the route she would take. Syafika decided on a circuit that took in a couple of local parks. The first park was a quiet one and Syafika enjoyed being the only person there. She ran a couple of loops around the park, running on the grass rather than the path and passing under the shade of as many trees as possible. When she left the park Syafika noticed that a change of weather was blowing in and enjoyed the way the wind cooled her down.

The second park Syafika ran around was much busier because it was close to a train station. It was never empty because some people lived there. As Syafika ran along the path at the top of the park she thought she noticed Rose walking through the park and thought that was strange because her beauty salon was in a different direction. Syafika’s first impulse was to run over to her Mum and find out what she was doing there, but then Syafika remembered that she was unofficially a spy in training and decided to instead watch her Mum from a distance and see if she could work out what was going on.

Syafika followed Rose, making sure she stayed about 20 metres behind. There was a group of people walking just behind Rose who would provide Syafika with some cover if her Mum happened to turn around.

Then Rose stepped off the path and started walking over to the fence where there were a couple of tattered tents. A lady came out of one of the tents and Rose spoke to her briefly then handed her something before walking off towards home.

Syafika kept following Rose, but as she passed the lady outside the tent Syafika sneaked a look at her and saw that she was holding a small bundle of $50 notes. The lady was looking a very happy but also a bit shocked.

Chapter 87.

As Syafika walked to work on Wednesday she kept thinking about her Mum. Syafika hadn’t mentioned to Rose that she’d seen her give money to the lady who lived in the park. Instead Syafika decided that next time her Mum said she was going to the beauty salon she would follow her. Syafika was impatient to find out what was going on but she was also excited to think that she might be able to find the answer without having to ask. Syafika suspected that her Mum never went to the beauty salon and that instead she walked around looking for someone to give the money away to. It made Syafika proud to think that her Mum had this extra dimension of kindness.

When Syafika arrived at her desk she noticed that Celine had beaten her to work so she checked the time. It was only 8am. Syafika wondered why Celine had arrived so early that day, because (just as Anthony had requested) Celine and Fanta were sharing the one role and so they each worked only 3.5 hours per day. Fanta would be there during school hours and Celine usually did the same. Christine had even been persuaded to move the team meeting back to 9:30am so that Fanta and Celine could attend.

A bit later Syafika was engrossed in some reading when Celine came over and asked if she’d like to go out for a coffee before the team meeting. Syafika felt uncomfortable around Celine and looked up to see if Fanta had arrived yet so she could suggest Fanta come too, but Fanta wasn’t there.

As Syafika agreed to coffee with Celine she tried to sound enthusiastic. Celine lead the way to the coffee shop where Syafika had seen her meeting with Anthony (Lawrence). As they walked, Celine kept asking Syafika questions. Celine asked what Syafika was working on, how long she’d been working there, what the other people in the team were like and then moved on to more personal topics. By the time they arrived at the café Celine was asking Syafika if she had a partner and as they ordered their coffees Celine volunteered that she was also on the lookout for a boyfriend.

“What’s your type?” asked Syafika. She was hoping to find out whether Celine had a romantic interest in Anthony.

Celine paused to think before she answered “Someone brave who thinks for themselves. And someone who is genuine. I hate it when people try to trick me”

Syafika wondered whether that was a good description of Anthony and decided that Anthony probably wasn’t very genuine – although he didn’t seem to directly try to deceive Syafika he had always been evasive and she realized she hardly knew anything about him.

Then Celine asked Syafika what her type was and Syafika struggled to find an answer. Eventually she managed to say “Someone who I can have good discussions with and who likes me the way I am”.

“That’s easy!” Celine exclaimed. “Good discussions are something you can initiate, and making someone like you the way you are is easy too”.

“What? How can that be? How can you make someone like you the way you are?” asked Syafika.

“It all comes down to making them feel good about themselves when they are with you. There’s almost a formula for that” answered Celine.

Syafika wanted to know the formula but she was a bit skeptical and so she said “How do you know people don’t just like you anyway because you are so good looking? I bet what works for you won’t work for me”

Celine laughed and rolled her eyes. Celine had noticed that the waiter had looked at Syafika a few times so she thought she’d use this to her advantage.

“I will teach you and then you will believe me” said Celine. “When the waiter brings our coffees over I want you to smile and then observe him. I need you to be able to tell me the colour of his eyes and any distinguishing features of them. You will need to keep him here a while so you get time, so ask him a question – an interesting question that he is likely to have something to say about. And when you pick up your coffee to take a sip make sure that you wobble the cup so a little bit spills into the saucer. Then laugh at yourself – don’t get annoyed. And smile.”

Syafika thought this was stupid but she decided that a good way to show Celine she was wrong was to do what Celine asked and have it fail. So Syafika decided to make it look like she was taking the instructions seriously.

At least Syafika didn’t have to pretend to smile – she was so happy to see the generous sprinkle of chocolate powder on top of her cappuccino that she couldn’t have stopped herself from smiling. But Syafika remembered she couldn’t take a sip yet. She looked the waiter in the eye and asked him what the best and worst things about working in the café were. The waiter looked surprised because he’d been expecting a question like what the cake of the day was. He was happy to answer though and Celine nodded because she thought Syafika had asked a good question.

“Customers are the best and the worst thing” said the waiter, and he started telling the story of the day a customer had fixed the coffee machine when it broke down in the middle of the morning rush.

Syafika noted that the waiter had blue eyes but knew that wouldn’t be a detailed enough description to satisfy Celine so she looked harder and saw that around the pupil his eyes were slightly golden and that there was a ring around each iris that was almost black but probably really a very dark green.

As Syafika went to pick up her coffee she did as Celine had instructed and spilt a little bit of coffee into the saucer.

“Oops” said Syafika, and she smiled to herself.

The waiter smiled and would have told Syafika about his worst customers but he was called over to the cash register because the queue of people wanting takeaway coffees was growing longer.

While Celine and Syafika drank their coffees Syafika impressed Celine with her description of the waiter’s eyes but Celine was disappointed that Syafika hadn’t noticed other things she thought were important, like which hand he’d used to serve the coffees, whether his top or bottom lip was larger, what he smelt like, the shape of his earlobes and how the length of his upper arm compared to the width of his shoulders.

“You didn’t tell me to look for all those things!” complained Syafika. “And what is all that information good for anyway?” Syafika was beginning to think that Celine might be playing a trick on her.

“If you do the observation well you will see the effect for yourself” said Celine.

It was time to leave the café and go to the team meeting. The waiter was still operating the cash register when Celine and Syafika went to pay, but he didn’t continue his stories because the man operating the coffee machine was the owner of the café and he would have heard. Instead the waiter looked at Syafika and asked if they’d enjoyed their coffees. To buy Syafika time to make the rest of her observations, Celine gave an exaggerated description of how nice her coffee had been and described the flavours she’d been able to pick out and asked where the coffee beans were grown. While this was going on Syafika was looking at the waiter’s mouth, ears, arms and shoulders. Then she leant forward slightly and took a deep inhale.

When Syafika and Celine had left the café Celine said “So?”

“Right handed, bottom lip was slightly bigger, he smelt like cinnamon, his ear lobes were triangular and his upper arms were about 75% as long as his shoulders were wide” said Syafika. “How did that make him like me?”

“What’s that note in your hand?” asked Celine.

Syafika looked down at what she had thought was a receipt but it was really a handwritten note on a scrap of paper. It said “I hope you come back soon”. Syafika looked at Celine carefully because she still felt like Celine might have been tricking her and suspected that the waiter might be in on the trick too, but there wasn’t time to interrogate Celine because they had to rush back for the team meeting.

Chapter 88.

D’arby finally finished recording his voice just before lunchtime on Thursday. He couldn’t wait to start his real work. He was pleased to discover that a desk had been prepared for him in the same room that Carol and Valentine worked and hoped that meant he’d get to know what they were working on.

In the past couple of days D’arby had decided that he’d be happy working for RenewBank even if he was just a decoy, as long as he knew that the business was doing good things. D’arby was going to meet with Leopold after lunch and learn what his work was going to be.

Valentine invited D’arby to the rooftop garden for lunch with him and Carol. D’arby had eaten his lunch alone in the recording room the last couple of days and had been feeling very lonely so he was happy to accept the invitation. D’arby also had lots of questions he wanted to ask.

“How long have you both been working here?” said D’arby as soon as he and Carol and Valentine had sat down at the table in the rooftop garden.

“Two weeks” said Valentine and Carol added “Me too. We started on the same day. We don’t get to do such exciting stuff as you though – sneaking in and out of the official office must be fun.”

“It isn’t that exciting after the first couple of times” said D’arby. “I reckon it will eventually become a bit of a bore, like having to change from a train to a bus on the way to work. And it will eat into the time I have for my real work”

“It isn’t a waste of time though. It is valuable to be making the people who are spying on RenewBank think that we don’t know about it. It protects our work from their interference” said Carol.

“Yeah, I know” said D’arby. “What are you two working on?”

“Nothing much” said Valentine, with a chuckle. “Just building a model of the economy, financial system and energy supply”.

D’arby’s eyes must have started sparkling with excitement.

“Eventually we will use this model to fine-tune the business plan” said Carol. “Leopold keeps talking about how important it is to prevent perverse outcomes in the transition from the current system to a new, better one.”

“It all sounds so ambitious!” said D’arby. “And so exciting! Are you allowed to talk to anyone outside work about it?”

“No way!” said Carol and Valentine at the same time.

“We can’t let anyone know what’s coming because if the banks and energy businesses knew what we wanted to do they would try their best to stop us. Leopold and Rudnika have identified lots of places where we are at risk.”

“What is the plan for RenewBank anyway? What’s this ‘better system’?” asked D’arby.

“The exact plan will depend on the modelling results but roughly the plan is to create a new, stable alternative currency and a bank that uses this currency and that only renewable energy customers can use. RenewBank will also build and run renewable energy projects and everything will be customer-owned. What makes this so dangerous is that all the modelling so far indicates that doing such a thing will destabilize the big banks and the non-renewable energy generators. So we need to find a way that doesn’t crash the economy before RenewBank can get big enough to support it” said Carol.

“I can see the reason for renewable energy, but what’s the point of the alternative currency?” asked D’arby. He thought he knew the answer because the plan was close to what he’d been thinking about, but he wanted to be sure.

“Not to make money, for sure” said Leopold. “Everything will be customer owned. The point is to force the move to renewable energy and to create form of money that isn’t based on debt. Leopold and Rudknika want to do more than that, but that’s the main aim. I guess they also want to pull the rug out from underneath the people who’ve made themselves rich at the expense of everyone else and especially those who’ve been corrupting our democracy.”

D’arby smiled. He was happy that Rudnika and Leopold could be so confident in such a wild plan, but at the same time he wondered how they could pay everyone’s salary without the business having any income so he asked Carol and Valentine whether they knew how they were being funded.

“Rudnika sold a couple of properties she inherited to pay to get everything started” said Valentine.

D’arby smiled again. It was scarier to be part of something that was self-funded because there wasn’t that reassurance you get when someone is so convinced in your plans that they give you their money. D’arby had many more questions he wanted to ask but Leopold came up onto the roof because he was ready to show D’arby what he’d be working on.

Leopold showed D’arby some databases and spreadsheets he’d started that he wanted D’arby to continue working on and he explained how they fitted in with what Carol and Valentine were working on. All three were adding details to different parts of the model and in a month or so they’d run scenarios using the complete model. After that it would be an iterative process – using the model to discover weaknesses and then improving the model and looking at the effects of different assumptions.

D’arby was so impatient to start working on the model that his fingers started drumming on the desk. Leopold suggested he start by reading a document that explained the work done so far and then there was a spreadsheet to finish and lots of pieces of research were needed to fill in gaps in the model.

“Any questions?” asked Leopold.

“What work is the official D’arby at the official office doing?” asked D’arby.

“Something similar, but all wrong. We are leaking a model that shows that RenewBank must stay small in order to work and the currency aspect will just be Loyalty Points. Hopefully that keeps people off our backs” said Leopold.

D’arby felt like the afternoon disappeared. He was so engrossed in his work that Rudnika had to remind him to go home by pointing out that Sonia couldn’t go home until D’arby had left the official office.

“What’s the earliest I can arrive at the official office tomorrow?” asked D’arby

As Rudnika told D’arby that Sonia would be ready for him to arrive by 7:30am she made a mental note that finding another person to share Sonia’s job should be given high priority. Sonia had said that she didn’t mind the long hours but Rudnika knew that it was not sustainable and if Sonia got sick Rudnika would have to close the official office and D’arby would have to stay home.

As D’arby walked home that evening he felt happy and excited but also frustrated because he hadn’t been able to take any work home with him and he realized that he wouldn’t even be able to make notes at home.

When D’arby got home Syafika and Fanta were deep in conversation about someone calle Celine. D’arby realized he was really hungry and had a look in the kitchen so see if anything was cooking. It looked like Fanta had been interrupted while preparing dinner so D’arby washed his hands and then continued chopping ingredients while reading the recipe that Fanta had left on the kitchen bench.

Chapter 89

Gina and Penny had meant it when they’d told Mamadou that he could do their garden next, but first they wanted him to replace the fence and were happy with his idea of including a wide gate with an archway over the top. The fence was going to double as a trellis and Mamadou planned to plant tasty things along the boundary because he liked the idea of Gina and Penny bumping into Rose and Festus when they all came out to pick some boundary berries or climbing beans.

When Gina and Penny saw Mamadou knocking down the old fence they came outside and walked over to him. Mamadou tried to not look annoyed when he saw them. He liked Penny and Gina but when he was in working mode he didn’t like being disturbed.

“Hello” said Gina. “I know you don’t want us to stop you when you are busy but I’m afraid I need to talk to you about money”

“I don’t want any money so no need to talk about it” said Mamadou. Mamadou didn’t want to have to put a price on his work or to have to do invoices or keep tax records. He’d rather not get paid.

“Don’t be silly” said Penny. “You have a family. We can’t make you work for us and not give anything back”.

Mamadou just wanted to design and build the garden and he’d rather do it for free than have to deal with the money side, but it was true that he should be helping Binta pay for things.

“I know you aren’t interested in doing the calculations for a quote so we want to pay you by the hour. And for materials, of course” said Gina. “I got some quotes from other people so I could get an idea of what a fair hourly rate is and I’ve written it all down and put it in this envelope. I’ll leave it here on this fence post and let you get back to your work. Please come and have a cup of tea with us when you finish for the day”

Mamadou nodded and pretended he was getting back to work but as soon as Penny and Gina had gone back inside their house Mamadou went inside to find Binta. She was looking at job ads on her computer and she didn’t look very happy. Mamadou wondered whether it was a good time to talk to Binta, but he decided to try anyway because he didn’t want to have taken a break from his work for nothing.

“Will you do the paperwork for my garden business?” Mamadou asked Binta.

Binta looked at Mamadou and it took a couple of seconds for her to absorb what he’d just said. It sounded like Mamadou had decided that he would be building many gardens. “Ok” said Binta. She was a bit worried about what it would be like to work with Mamadou but she did think it was a good idea for him to try to make money from his gardens and it made sense for her to help him now that she was out of work.

“Good” said Mamadou and he handed Binta the envelope saying “Gina gave me this. Please will you arrange everything to do with money and just let me do the gardens? And pay yourself, of course”

Binta was happy to be able to stop reading job ads. After she read what Gina had written, Binta’s first impulse was to follow Mamadou outside and ask him to answer all the questions that had just popped into her head, but then she realized that what he wanted was to not have to think about any of the things she wanted to ask him about. So instead Binta started making a list of all the things she’d need to sort out so Mamadou could charge money for his gardens. It was pretty long list because Mamadou didn’t even have a bank account.

Chapter 90

Fanta woke up before her alarm went off and wondered why. Then she noticed noises coming from the kitchen and realised that John or D’arby must be having breakfast.

On balance Fanta was happy that John and D’arby had moved in, but there were some things they did that annoyed her. Waking her up too early was one of them, and another was that they introduced a lot of unpredictability into the house. When it had been just Fanta and her sisters Fanta had been in control of what they were going to be doing or eating and what was cleaned and when and how it was done. Now there were three adults in the house Fanta was having trouble keeping track of what was going on. She might come home and find the washing had been done, or she might find that the bathroom had been cleaned instead. Sometimes D’arby would go shopping and buy ingredients to cook dinner and sometimes he wouldn’t. Sometimes John would make bread before he left for the restaurant and sometimes he wouldn’t. This week John hadn’t made any bread because he’d been busy at the library. What this meant for Fanta was that she couldn’t plan ahead, and that made her feel anxious.

There was a long list of things that Fanta did like about having John and D’arby around though. Some of her favourite things were that John would help get her sisters ready for school in the morning and that D’arby would wash the dishes after dinner.

Nancy had also been woken up by the noises coming from the kitchen. She got herself dressed in her school uniform and then went into Fanta’s room.

“It’s a school day! Get up!” Nancy told Fanta.

“Go and see who is making all that noise” said Fanta to Nancy.

Then Fanta got up and got dressed for work.

D’arby was opening the front door to leave for work when Fanta appeared.

“Why are you leaving so early?” asked Fanta.

“I like my work so much that I want to get there as soon as the office opens at 7:30am” said D’arby. “See you tonight”

After D’arby closed the front door behind him Fanta went to the kitchen to make some tea and found John and Nancy there making pancakes.

“Surprise!” said John. “You are up early. I thought I’d have everything ready before you got up”

“You and D’arby were being too noisy” said Fanta.

“Sorry. That’s not good at all. I’ll be quieter next time and I’ll tell D’arby too” said John. “Go and sit at the table and read the paper and I will bring you tea and pancakes in a minute”

Fanta smiled and did what John had suggested. Fanta smiled again when she saw that it was an old weekend paper that John had put out for her, but it made sense because they hardly bought papers. The news headlines on the front page of the paper made Fanta feel depressed so she turned to the colour magazine at the centre of the paper. It was about real estate. Fanta felt a bit nostalgic looking at it and realised that she hadn’t had to think about selling houses for months. Fanta opened the magazine and looked at some house ads and started laughing. Something funny had happened – either Fanta had forgotten how things were or they’d changed a lot in the last couple of months. The advertisments for houses all included prominent pictures of the agent responsible for selling the house, as if they deserved to take credit for the house. The pictures were amusing too, because the agents seemed to be trying to look like the stereotype architect – by wearing skivvies or glasses with ridiculous frames and being photographed in black and white in unnatural poses or creepy lighting.

Fanta started reading an article about an interior designer renovating a tiny flat and trying to make it good enough to replace the Australian Dream of a house and garden. It made Fanta feel very guilty and she was glad when Nancy and John interrupted her by serving breakfast.

Chapter 91

When Syafika woke up on Saturday morning a shower of rain was just finishing and so she decided she’d have breakfast in the garden to enjoy the freshness in the air.

Syafika walked out into the garden carrying her breakfast on a tray. She had a towel across her shoulders that she was planning to use to dry the outdoor table and chairs with. Syafika sat down and was pouring herself a cup of tea when Rose came out into the garden and sat down at the table with Syafika. Syafika noticed Rose looking at her breakfast with a critical look on her face.

“What?” asked Syafika.

“Would you like me to poach you some eggs to go with that toast?” said Rose. “With all that running you’ve been doing you need to eat more protein”

“Lots of herbivores are really good runners” said Syafika.

Rose wanted to tell Syafika that she was being silly but decided to hold her tongue because she wanted Syafika to be in a good mood for her next question.

“You are coming to India’s birthday party this afternoon aren’t you?” said Rose.

Normally Syafika would have wanted to avoid a party at India’s house, but this time she was interested in going because she thought there might be suitable strangers there that she could test out Celine’s tricks on.

“Ok” said Syafika.

Rose smiled and watched Syafika drinking tea. Syafika was listening to water trickling through Mamadou’s garden.

“Has India asked Mamadou to build her a garden yet?” asked Syafika

“No” said Rose. “Why?”

“I bet that’s her plan. I bet that at the party she will corner Mamadou and organize everything. She’ll make sure he has just started working on her garden when Zikpi’s episode about our place airs on TV, so that whenever anyone talks about how great our garden is she can tell them that she’s getting one too”

“That won’t work” said Rose. “Mamadou’s doing Penny and Gina’s place next and our place is episode number 6 in Zikpi’s so when it airs in another 5 weeks Mamadou will still be working on Gina and Penny’s garden”

“Does India know that?” asked Syafika.

“Probably” said Rose. “She and Penny have afternoon tea together sometimes”.

Syafika thought for a while and then realized something. “Well if it isn’t the garden then India will be asking Dad to do a greywater system or something” said Syafika. “She can’t let an opportunity like this go.”

Rose smiled because it amused her to know what Syafika had been thinking about, then Rose smiled again when she imagined how annoyed Festus would be if India insisted he do some work for her. Then Rose got up and went to do some gardening. She was going to make India a portable herb garden in a basket as a birthday present.

After breakfast Syafika got a book and went back to the garden. This time she sat down near the pond. Before she opened the book she had a look for frogs because Ousman claimed he’d heard some croaking coming from the pond during the night. Syafika didn’t see any frogs but she did see a blue dragon fly.

Syafika had been in the garden long enough to have read a few chapters of her book when she saw Ousman come out into the garden carrying a cup of tea. He knocked on the door of Mamadou’s shed and waited. Mamadou came outside and squinted in the sunshine. Syafika realized that Mamadou mustn’t have had any breakfast yet. She knew he’d been working on a garden design for Penny and Gina and hoped he would either finish before India’s party started or take a break from his work so he could go to the party. Syafika knew that Ousman was looking forward to going to the party because he’d been talking excitedly about how India was hiring a chocolate fountain.

“Thankyou” said Mamadou to Ousman. “Come in and look at my drawings of Penny and Gina’s garden”

Syafika tried to get back into reading her book but she couldn’t concentrate because she was so curious about what Mamadou and Ousman were talking about inside the garden shed. Then Syafika realized that it was an opportunity for her to improve her spying skills, so she put down her book and crept over to the shed. Then she put her ear to the shed and listened.

“How will that work?” said Ousman.

“I will use the water pressure in the pipe to push the water through this coil of black pipe and then this tap will control the flow to the outdoor shower” said Mamadou.

“Did Penny really ask for an outdoor shower?” asked Ousman.

“It will have a modesty screen all the way around” said Mamadou. So it is perhaps not strictly outdoors, but more without a roof. Penny said that she wants the garden to be full of cheekiness and laughter”

“Where does the used shower water go?” asked Ousman.

“See here” said Mamadou. Syafika imagined he was pointing to his drawing. “This is where it gets funneled into a pipe that goes to water the garden”

Syafika jumped when she heard the back door open and quickly moved her ear away from the shed. Then she dashed over to get her book and was walking inside when she saw Binta coming outside. Aminata was sitting on Binta’s forearm.

“Have you seen Ousman?” Binta asked Syafika.

“He is in the shed” said Syafika.

Aminata flew off and landed on the roof of the shed. Her claws made an awful scratching sound on the roof so Syafika hurried inside, and on the way she noticed that Rose was in the greenhouse.

………………………………..

Syafika was getting changed to go to India’s party when she heard music start playing. Syafika put her head out of her window to try to determine where the music was coming from and wasn’t very surprised when she realized it was coming from the direction of India’s house.

Syafika put on her shoes and waited at the bottom of the stairs for her mum and dad to come down. Ousman and Binta came down first. Aminata was sitting on Ousman’s shoulder.

“Is Aminata invited to the party too?” asked Syafika.

“India put her name on the invitation” said Ousman.

Syafika looked at Binta for confirmation.

“India thinks Aminata is a good conversation starter” said Binta.

Syafika wondered what Aminata thought of India.

Festus, Rose and Mamadou were soon ready to leave and as everyone was walking out the gate they met Penny.

“Isn’t Gina coming to the party?” Rose asked Penny.

“She is, but she hasn’t finished making sweet potato chips. She promised India she’d bring some, but they take so long to make. I hope she gets to the party before it ends” said Penny, and then she gave a little laugh, as if she was trying to make sure that everyone knew she was half joking about how long Gina would take to make the chips.”

Penny couldn’t help noticing the basket Rose was carrying on her arm. She’d planted thyme, oregano and rosemary in it.

“India is going to love that!” commented Penny.

India’s house was five houses down, on the other side of the street. As everyone crossed the road Syafika noticed that there were cars parked along most of both sides of the street that day, and it made the street so narrow that there was only room for one lane of traffic.

There was a sign on the front door of India’s house instructing guests to take the path down the side of the house to the backyard.

Just as Ousman started walking down the side of the house Aminata changed her mind about going to the party and flew off in the direction of home.

“Do you think she will be ok?” asked Ousman

“I’ll just check she has gone home” said Binta. “You go and enjoy yourselves”

As Ousman watched his mum walk off towards home he looked like he wanted to follow her, but then he noticed everyone else was heading towards the backyard and he felt compelled to follow them instead.

India had positioned herself close to the entrance to the backyard so she could welcome everyone as they arrived. Syafika felt a bit intimidated when she saw how many guests were there, and realized that the extra cars parked in the street were probably all owned by people at India’s party.

As Penny predicted, India was delighted by the herb basket. “Thank you! So beautiful! So clever! So useful!” said India and she put the basket on her arm. As Rose watched India’s response she realised how much she appreciated a person who was able to be genuinely thrilled by being given a present. Rose realised that it was not really about what was being given (although the right present would make it easier!) but about being touched that a person had thought about you and wanted to make you feel happy.

India insisted everyone get themselves something to eat and drink and gestured towards one side of the yard where, presumably, tables of food and drink were what a crowd of people had huddled around. When Ousman asked Syafika to help him find the chocolate fountain she realized that the thought of a chocolate fountain excited her just as much as Ousman so they took off together, weaving their way through the crowd of guests.

When Syafika and Ousman saw people carrying skewers with chocolate coated strawberries on the ends of them they new they were close to the chocolate fountain and it was finally revealed when a couple of large men moved off in the direction of drinks table. The fountain had three tiers, with the size decreasing as they went up. The melted chocolate overflowed from the top layer and ran into the second, then over the edge of the second layer into the bottom layer, where it must have been pumped back up to the top again. A couple of small children were hanging around the fountain and both had chocolate smeared on their faces and clothes. Syafika noticed that Ousman seemed pretty grown-up in comparison. Ousman smiled as he skewered a strawberry and then let the waterfall of melted chocolate stream over the strawberry. He enjoyed the process so much that he gave his strawberry to Syafika so he could do another one for himself. Syafika was about to protest that she’d like to do her own, but changed her mind when she looked at Ousman’s expression because it reminded her of herself when she was a child.

Syafika and Ousman were enjoying their chocolate coated strawberries when Rose came over. Rose looked worried and insisted that Syafika and Ousman come with her immediately. They were soon rushing down the street in the direction of home and Syafika didn’t know what was going on but could see Festus and Mamadou infront of them, and Penny infront of them.

A car sped down the street and Syafika wondered whether it was rushing for the same reason that they were, but it wasn’t. Up ahead Penny was so distracted that she didn’t notice the car and it hit her as she crossed the street. Syafika sprinted towards the accident, hoping that Ousman hadn’t seen it. Festus stood in the middle of the road and put his hands up to stop traffic. The driver of the car got out and vomited in the gutter.

Syafika knelt down beside Penny and saw that she was breathing but she was bleeding from her forehead and arm. Suddenly Rose was there next to Syafika. She took Penny’s hand and told Syafika to call an ambulance and make sure the firebrigade was on its way.  Syafika stood up and saw Binta rushing towards her while talking on their cordless phone. Binta had already called 000 and was coming over to pass instructions on to Rose. Syafika was wondering why Rose had mentioned the firebrigade, but then she glanced towards Penny’s house and noticed a large plume of black smoke rising from the back of it.

Syafika stood up as tall as she could and watched the smoke. She guessed it was coming from the kitchen. Penny and Gina’s house was really half a house. When Rose and Festus chose their house they thought they’d enjoy living next to the grand house on the corner block, and for many years they did. But then a couple of years ago the corner house had sold to a developer who decided the quickest way to make some money from it was to divide it into two smaller homes and build a fence down the middle of the yard. Penny and Gina’s half of the yard contained much less than half the house – their section was single story but the part of the house on the corner had two stories and a lovely upstairs verandah.

Syafika looked around for Gina but couldn’t see her and was worried. She ran and knocked on the door of Penny and Gina’s house and yelled out to Gina but there was no response. Then Syafika realised she could access Gina’s backyard from their backyard so she ran home and was just opening the front door when she heard a loud smashing sound. Syafika turned and saw that there had been another accident in the street – a car had turned into the street and crashed into the back of the queue of cars that were stuck because the road was still blocked by the car that had hit Penny.

By now a crowd had started to gather so Syafika assumed someone else would check on the people who’d just been in a car crash and she ran through the house and out into the backyard to see if she could find Gina.

“Gina! Gina!” yelled Syafika.

“She’s here” replied Mamadou.

Gina was sitting on the grass in her backyard and Mamadou was hosing her down. Syafika could see a large burn on Gina’s leg.

“I was going to try to put out the fire and then I found Gina needed the water more” said Mamadou.

“Good” said Syafika. “Keep doing that until the ambulance arrives”

Syafika ran back to the front of the house and announced to Rose and Binta that Gina was in her backyard and that she had a bad burn and probably needed to go in the ambulance too. Syafika noticed that Festus was telling cars who’d come down the street from the direction of India’s house to reverse back-up the street and go another way. Then Syafika saw Ousman standing nearby looking terrified so she led him inside tried to get him to sit down, but Ousman didn’t want to sit down.

“There’s a fire that needs putting out” said Ousman and he ran out to the backyard. Syafika followed and they found another hose and started spraying water at the flames that were coming out of Gina’s kitchen window.

Syafika thought she could hear sirens in the distance and it comforted her to think that help was on its way.

A few minutes later two paramedics came into the backyard and assessed Gina. Then they took her to an ambulance on a stretcher. Syafika left Mamadou and Ousman to fight the fire and followed Gina’s stretcher. There were two ambulances and they’d been forced to park a little way down the street because there was still some traffic blocking their way. Festus looked very frustrated.

Fortunately nobody had been seriously injured in the second car accident but the drivers were having trouble manoeuvring their cars out of the way. Some quick-thinking neighbours had used outdoor furniture to barricade off the end of the street so no more cars would try to turn into it.

Syafika wondered where the fire engine was. She couldn’t hear one coming.

“Is the firebrigade on the way?” Syafika asked Binta.

“Yes” said Binta. “I checked and they are but they keep getting stuck in traffic”

Syafika looked up at Penny and Gina’s house and could see flames coming from the roof. She realized that the house would probably be ruined. The people who lived on the other side of Gina and Penny had come out of their house and were very distressed because they knew that their side of the house would probably also be damaged by the fire.

It was a relief when the ambulances turned on their sirens and drove off, but now Syafika was starting to worry that the fire was going to destroy two houses and possibly spread further.

“I’m going to the backyard to help Mamadou and Ousman with the hosing” Syafika told Binta.

Binta didn’t like the idea of Ousman firefighting and so she followed Syafika to the backyard and insisted that Ousman let Syafika take his hose.

“Is Penny going to be ok” Ousman asked Binta.

“I hope so” said Binta. “I think Rose and India are going to the hospital to comfort Penny and Gina”

Binta and Ousman watched as Rose and India walked up the street and got into India’s car. Festus was watching too.

Then Ousman heard a siren, so he ran up the street to tell India to stay where she was until the fire engine had made it into the street.

When Ousman saw a police car coming down the street he was very disappointed, until he realised that there was a fire engine behind it.

Chapter 92.

Lately John had been waking in the middle of the night with a sense of dread. During the day John usually managed to feel hopeful about the future, or at least the short term future, but when he was alone in the dark John could only see disasters in the future. He worried that one day a detective would come to the door to arrest him for all the stealing he’d done. John also worried that one day Fanta would realise that she was too good for him. Then there were the worries that John had for everyone because, like D’arby had said, the people making the important decisions in the world didn’t seem to care about the future. John worried because the weather wasn’t right, he was worried because the world was being turned into a rubbish dump, and he was worried because hardly anyone seemed to care about what would happen beyond their next meal, shopping trip, drink or cheap holiday. John worried that he wouldn’t be able to cope with all the loss he could see ahead.

As well as his relatively rational worries John was worried because a familiar feeling had returned and was getting stronger. It was a feeling of incompleteness and longing – a feeling of needing something, but not knowing quite what. It was only when this feeling returned that John realised it had been missing ever since D’arby had given him his special pills. John suspected that it was this feeling that had been the source of all the trouble in his life but he was too frightened to tell anyone about it.

John was in the kitchen when the phone rang on Sunday morning. He was still feeling the dregs of his night time anxiety and so he rushed to answer the phone faster than was necessary.

It was Emily on the phone and she wanted to know when she and Tim could come to visit John. John’s anxiety began to rise. He didn’t want Fanta to ever meet Tim.

“What about tomorrow for lunch?” suggested John.

Fortunately Monday lunch suited Tim and Emily and John was congratulating himself on having picked a time when Fanta would be at work when he noticed that Fanta was looking at him.

“That was Emily. I’m having lunch with her and Tim tomorrow” said John, because he thought Fanta must have been waiting for him to tell her about his phone call.

“Why does your family make you so anxious?” asked Fanta.

John realised that his hands were shaking and started laughing nervously.

“It isn’t healthy, is it?” said John and he paused so he could decide how to answer. He definitely didn’t want to tell Fanta that he was scared that if she met his brother Tim she would think that John was the inferior brother, but John realised that there was another thing about his family that made him anxious and he decided to talk about that instead. “I have disappointed them so many times. I am desperate to have a good relationship with my family but I don’t know how to and I am terrified that I will let them down again. I know that their love is conditional and that I may not always meet the conditions.”

Fanta put her hand on John’s shoulder. She wanted to say something but was too busy trying not to cry. John didn’t need Fanta to say anything though because he really just wanted to feel understood, and he did.

After about a minute Fanta managed to say “I find what you say so sad. And I think it is because I have felt something similar”. Fanta was about to tell John about what had happened to her when she was younger, but the phone rang again. This time it was Syafika and she needed to tell Fanta about what had happened the day before.

John left the room so Fanta could talk to Syafika but even from the kitchen he felt like Fanta was next to him. John looked around the kitchen as he tried to remember what he’d been doing before the phone rang but he couldn’t remember because he was too busy noticing that the connection he was feeling to Fanta had reduced his craving for something more. John wondered if that was a clue to preventing a backward slide into addiction, but realizing that he needed Fanta made John even more scared that he would lose her.

Chapter 93

When Rose went outside on Sunday morning she discovered that a crowd had gathered to inspect what was left of the building next door. Rose noticed that amongst the crowd were Victoria and Graham, who owned the larger part of the building. Rose could hear Graham telling the crowd that they’d been underinsured and wouldn’t be able to afford to rebuild. Rose hadn’t had much to do with Victoria and Graham but she felt sorry for them. However, Rose was more concerned about how Gina and Penny were.

When Gina woke up on Sunday morning she wondered how she’d managed to get to sleep at all because her leg was hurting, and she was scared to move it in case it made the pain worse. Gina wanted to go and see Penny, who she knew was on a different floor of the same hospital, but Gina didn’t think she’d be able to walk.

Gina had the urge to brush her hair and wished that someone would bring in her hairbrush and some clothes. She would have been pleased to know that Rose was already at the hospital. Rose was downstairs with Penny, who was in intensive care. Penny wasn’t saying much, but she kept asking for Gina. It was as if Penny didn’t believe it when people told her that Gina was ok and wanted to see it for herself. Rose wondered whether she’d be able to bring Gina down to see Penny and went to ask someone.

When Rose appeared in the doorway of Gina’s room she was accompanied by a man with an empty wheelchair. His job was to take patients where they needed to go.

Gina forgot about her leg being sore and plopped herself into the wheelchair. She felt like telling the man pushing her wheel chair to hurry but thought that might be a bit rude, so instead she just leant forward.

Penny was waiting in anticipation when Rose and Gina arrived. The man pushing Gina in her wheel chair delivered her to the room and then left. When Rose saw Penny and Gina holding hands she thought she should leave too, so she offered to get some tea. Neither Penny nor Gina wanted tea but they insisted Rose get herself some. Rose said she’d be back later and wandered off, looking for stairs or lifts.

It didn’t take Gina long to work out that Penny was in a worse condition than her. Penny had broken bones and lost lots of blood, and had been operated on. Penny and Gina swapped versions of what had happened but still had lots of questions. Nobobdy had told them how much of their house had been damaged and they wondered where they would go when they were discharged from hospital. By the time Rose got back Penny and Gina had so many questions that they were glad to see her.

“How bad is the house?” asked Gina.

Rose had been expecting that question and decided to not to drag out the bad news.

“The whole building was destroyed, not just your part. So you will have to decide what to do next. Everyone hopes you will rebuild because we don’t want you to move away. I’ll help you sort out the insurance and India wants you to stay with her when you get out of hospital” answered Rose.

Gina and Penny were both very disappointed to hear that news. Penny moaned and started to remember all the treasures she’d had that were now lost.

“But the fire was only in the kitchen” said Gina.

“Yes, but it had spread everywhere before it was put out” said Rose.

“I am the worst neighbour in the world” said Gina. “Graham and Victoria will hate me. The fire didn’t damage your house too, did it?”

“No, our place is fine” said Rose. Rose decided that she wouldn’t mention that Graham and Victoria were underinsured.

As Rose was leaving the hospital she bumped into India. India had been busy making plans for Gina and Penny and had brought them some clothes and a big basket of other things they might need. Rose felt bad that she hadn’t thought to bring anything like that. India promised to visit Rose that afternoon and then rushed off to Penny’s room.

Chapter 94.

John had a hellish Sunday night. His body seemed restless and it ached if he tried to lie still. He moved about so much in bed that the bottom sheet came off and became twisted around him. John must have fallen asleep a couple of times because he managed to have some bad dreams. In his dreams John was trying to get away from something or someone and was feeling extremely guilty. Sometimes he was driving a car, sometimes riding a bicycle and sometimes walking, but always along a quiet country road with the sun setting on his left.

John desperately wanted to get outside and stretch his legs but waited until 5am because he thought that was about as early as you could go out without raising suspicion. John was careful not to make any noise as he got dressed, and he closed the front door very gently. It was still dark outside but there were a few people around, mostly runners. John remembered how much fun Syafika seemed to be having now that she’d become a runner and he decided he should run too so he dashed down the street. The pavements in the area were old and unpredictable and so John had to pay attention to where he was putting his feet. To add to the challenge, there were spaces between street lights were it was completely dark. John took short, quick steps and concentrated on how his feet were moving. John had so much fun that for a little while he wondered why he didn’t run everywhere, but then he became puffed and sweaty and had to stop running.

John wondered what to do next. He didn’t want to go home until it was time for Fanta to get up. John decided that the university grounds would be fun to explore at this time of day so he headed that way, but when he realised he was on the street of the flat he and D’arby used to live in John instead decided to go and see it first. D’arby had told John how a fence had been put up around the block of flats and that he expected it would be knocked down soon. When John arrived there he saw the fence but the building was still standing. Attached to the fence was a large, friendly-looking sign. The sign was just close enough to a street light for John to have a go at reading it. It said something about a housing cooperative and that the building was going to be renovated. There were contact details on the sign so John tried to memorise them. He couldn’ wait to tell D’arby that the block of flats wasn’t going to be knocked down, but it was still too early for anyone to be up at home so to kill some more time John ran into the university. John noticed that the paving of the university was much more predictable so he started running as fast as he could and then stopped to walk and catch his breath. He did this quite a few times before he noticed that the sky was starting to lighten. Then John started walking back home. As John walked along he realised that while he’d been out running he’d forgotten all his worries.

John was glad to turn into Fanta’s street because his legs had started to feel heavy, but he was startled to see a man coming out of the gate of Fanta’s house. In the half-light of early sunrise John thought it might be D’arby leaving early for work, but when he got closer he realised that it wasn’t. The man hurried across the road, got into a car and quickly drove away. John tried to memorise the numberplate but only got the first half of it.

When John got to the doorstep he found a small parcel on it addressed to D’arby so he picked it up and took it inside.

D’arby was putting on his shoes, which meant he was about to leave for work. Nobody else was up yet so John had to be quiet, even though he was very excited.

“A man left this parcel for you. I saw him leaving as I came up the street” whispered John. “Do you think it might be a bomb?”

It took D’arby two seconds to comprehend what John had just said, before he looked at the parcel and shrugged.

“What was it about the man who delivered the parcel that makes you suspicious?” asked D’arby.

“Well, it was so early and he drove a car not a van. He wasn’t wearing a uniform either” said John.

D’arby wondered what he should do. If he hadn’t been working for RenewBank he probably would have just opened the parcel, but because of the top secret work he’d been doing, and the deception he had to keep up everyday about what he was working on and where his office was, D’arby had become suspicious. He didn’t think it likely that the parcel was a bomb but he did think it likely that the parcel was meant to cause some kind of mischief. D’arby thought about the timing and wondered whether whoever left the parcel was hoping that he would take it with him to work so he considered leaving it at home and opening it that night. However, he didn’t want to risk leaving a parcel that might be dangerous at home in case it harmed someone there. D’arby was annoyed at being delayed by this conundrum and decided to compromise. He put the parcel in his backpack and set out. He planned to stop and open the parcel when he was halfway to work.

Chapter 95

Aminata paced up and down along the sill of the front window for 15 minutes after Ousman left for school. Binta wondered whether Aminata hoped Ousman would sneak back home and she suspected that Ousman would have liked to. Ousman had seemed disappointed that he was going to miss out on going to the hospital that day.

Mamadou came inside carrying a roll of drawings of the garden he’d designed for Gina and Penny. Binta didn’t think that Penny or Gina would be very interested in building a garden when they didn’t have a house anymore but Mamadou was confident that once they saw his design they would want to start straight away.

There was another barrier to Mamadou starting his gardening business though. Binta had discovered that not only was Mamadou’s visa temporary, but it also didn’t allow him to work. Binta thought that was very mean and hoped that they could get the conditions changed.

Mamadou wasn’t as upset as Binta. He didn’t mind there being a barrier to him earning money and he was determined that it wasn’t going to stop him from building gardens. He could see that Binta was upset though and realised that she’d been looking forward to running his business.

At the hospital Mamadou and Binta found Gina sitting next to Penny’s bed. Gina and Penny were happy to see Binta and Mamadou, and Penny was extra pleased when she noticed that Mamadou was carrying a roll of drawings.

“They discharged me this morning” said Gina. “But I don’t really want to go… I can’t go home and I don’t want to leave Penny”

“Tell her not to worry about me” said Penny. “I’m going to be out of here soon too… in a few days”

Mamadou was very pleased with this news. He’d been really worried about Penny. Mamadou wanted to show his drawings but thought it was too early in the conversation.

“India has been working hard to create a kind of home for you at her place” said Binta.

“Yes, I should show appreciation for what India is doing for us” said Gina. “What if you take me there when you leave? If I return to our street with company it won’t be as painful”

Mamadou and Binta were happy with this suggestion, and Penny tried to look happy too, but inside she was sad that she had to stay behind in hospital. To take her mind off this she asked Mamadou to show her his drawings.

Gina looked over Penny’s shoulder as she unrolled the drawings. There were ten pages. The first page was a garden plan and the next 8 pages were views from different angles and drawings of some of the details, including the outdoor shower. Penny and Gina made approving noises as they looked at these pages, but it was the final page that they found really exceptional. It was of a cute little house that was almost completely hidden in the garden.  The door and some windows were visible but the roof was covered in garden.

“You’ve designed us a new house too!” said Penny.

“Yes. I hope it isn’t too soon to start thinking about what you might build. I hope I haven’t gone too far. This is what the house of a real garden lover should look like”.

“I would love to live in that house” said Gina.

“So would I” said Penny. “I would hate to move to a normal house now that we have nothing to put in it. It would feel so empty. But this little house would be so cosy and comfortable.

Mamadou looked at Binta and was happy to see that she was smiling.

Chapter 96.

When D’arby was about halfway to work he sat down on a brick wall, took the parcel out of his backpack and examined it. It was in one of the carboard boxes that they sold at the post office and it had stamps on it, but D’arby couldn’t see a postmark.

D’arby rattled the box but it didn’t make any sound. D’arby sniffed the parcel, but it only smelt like cardboard.

D’arby wondered for a minute whether he should take the parcel to Sonia and get her to open it, but decided against it. Although he was a little bit worried that it might explode or contain a listening device, D’arby thought it most likely was that the parcel was meant to be seen by him on his own.

There was stickytape holding the box closed so D’arby cut it using a key. Then D’arby gently opened the box. Inside there was a white envelope and inside the envelope were photos. The photos were of people entering and leaving the secret RenewBank office plus some photos of D’arby at his desk and of everyone having lunch in the rooftop garden. D’arby could easily see the significance of these photos – they meant that someone knew where the real RenewBank work was being done, and who was doing it, and if they knew that they could know more. What D’arby didn’t understand was what the motivation was for sending him the photos, and then it occurred to him that there might still be a note hiding somewhere in the box or envelope. D’arby shook the envelope and out came a folded-up piece of paper. The note said:

“I was commissioned to find out what RenewBank is really up to, and I did. What will RenewBank pay me to keep this quiet? I will contact you tomorrow with payment details”

D’arby put the note and photos back into his backpack and continued walking to the official office. The sense of urgency D’arby felt made him want to run but he knew there was no point getting to the office before 7:30am so he walked, and tried to calm himself down by concentrating on his breathing.

At the official office D’arby calmly followed the usual security procedures and Sonia didn’t notice that anything was wrong, but as soon as D’arby was on the way to the secret office he rode his bike as fast as he could, and managed to arrive at the secret office just before 8am.

Nobody else had arrived yet so D’arby had to wait. He went to his desk and looked at the photos and tried to work out where they’d been taken from. Some were taken from above and some were on street level so D’arby guessed they must have been taken from different levels of a building across the street. D’arby looked out the window and saw that there was a ‘For Lease’ sign in the building directly opposite. Then he looked down and noticed that Rudnika and Leopold were both approaching the office. D’arby ran downstairs to meet. He showed them the photos and told them how they’d been left for him by a mysterious man early that morning.

When Carol and Valentine arrived Rudnika gathered everyone together around the meeting table. After D’arby explained what had happened and everyone had looked at the photos it was time to decide what to do.

“I think we need to move the office today” said Leopold. “If we do it before whoever took the photos shares them with whoever commissioned them then things might be ok.”

“Yes, we should move today, but we also need to find out who took these photos and who they were taken for” said Rudnika.

“Can’t we just see how much money they want? It might be cheaper to pay than to move” said Valentine.

“We could pay, but how do we know that will be the end of it?” said Rudnika. “And how do we know they won’t tell anyone else about us?”

“Why would someone try to sell us photos they had taken for someone else?” asked Carol.

“This is why we need to find out who did this” said Rudnika. “Then we will know what we are up against. But first we need to move and we need to make sure nobody manages to follow us.”

Rudnika packed the photos and the note back into the envelope and postbox and put it into her bag.

About an hour later a moving van arrived and everyone had to help load all the RenewBank stuff into it. Then the van drove away and Rudnika took everyone to a café down the street to discuss what was going to happen next. Rudnika had organized for the van to disappear into a busy industrial area, where their stuff would be moved to a different van and taken to the new office. The new office wasn’t far away. Rudnika told them the address and made everyone memorise it because she didn’t wany anyone to write it down. Nobody was going there today though. For the rest of the day they were going to investigate how someone had managed to find out where the secret office was, who had found out and why they’d done it. They brainstormed for ways to find answers and then divided the tasks up and set off. D’arby and Rudnika were going to work together, Carol and Valentine were another team and Leopold was going to work on his own. D’arby was pleased with this because he wanted to get to know Rudnika better and because the first thing they were going to do was investigate the empty building across the road. Rudnika was sure that the ‘For Lease’ sign hadn’t been there on Friday.

D’arby was expecting that Rudnika would pick the lock so they could sneak into the building and have a secret look around but instead she lead the way to the Real Estate agent that was managing the property and pretended that she was interested in leasing it.

The agent was a man called Ross who tried to get them to come back at 3pm because that’s when he’d organized to show another potential tenant around. D’arby had suspected that something like that might happen and turned to Rudnika to see how she would deal with it.

“That’s unfortunate” said Rudnika. “We have a tight deadline and need to decide on an office space by 2pm today. If you think that showing us the office before 3pm is a waste of your time then you must not be very confident that we will want to lease it, which is fine because my colleagues are looking at other places this morning so we will just take one of those instead.” Then Rudnika paused for a couple of seconds before handing her mobile phone to D’arby and saying “Can you please call Valentine and let him know that if the Bourke Street office is ok that we will go with it”

D’arby didn’t really know how to use the phone and he definitely didn’t know how to call Valentine so instead he called the number of his old flat and wondered how many times he should let it ring before pretending that Valentine had answered.

“If you do that you will miss out on a great office space” said Ross, who was trying to sound calm but gave away his anxiety by speaking too fast. “It feels unfair to show it to you before the person booked in for 3pm, but it is my duty to get the best tenant for the place so I will get the keys and take you there now”

When Ross turned away to go and get the keys Rudnika winked at D’arby. D’arby gave Rudnika back her phone and smiled. He was glad he hadn’t had to deal with Ross on his own.

As they walked down the street towards the vacant building Ross pretended to be friendly and asked lots of questions but even D’arby could tell that Ross was just trying to find out what sort of tenants they’d be. Rudnika gave polite answers but soon took control of the direction of the conversation by asking Ross about the previous tenant and why they’d left.

D’arby could tell that Ross was trying to think of how to put a good spin on his answer. “Lawrence ran a successful investment business and I was going to enjoy having him as a tenant” said Ross. “But his mother became sick on Friday and he had to leave in a hurry to go and look after her in Perth”

“The owner must be in a hurry to lease the property then, after the sudden loss of rental income” said D’arby. He was hoping the question would annoy Ross.

“Well, actually Lawrence paid the rent in advance for the whole 5 years so there is no pressure to fill the building for another 4 years and 11 months” said Ross, sounding a bit smug.

D’arby was feeling pretty clever for having tricked Ross into giving away how long Lawrence had been in the building.

Ross unlocked the front door and while he was disarming the alarm Rudnika watched but D’arby started looking around. D’arby took note of the view from the downstairs windows and was sure that this was the building where the photos of people entering the RenewBank office had been taken from. He was keen to see the view from upstairs and so didn’t pay much attention when Ross started explaining the facilities downstairs. Rudnika was more interested. There was a bathroom and kitchen downstairs and she wanted to see them both.

D’arby watched Ross and Rudnika walk into the kitchen and then he rushed upstairs. There were two windows that faced towards the Renewbank Office. D’arby noticed that one had a dusty window sill and the other didn’t so he looked out the window with the clean sill. He could see into the office where he, Valentine and Carol had been working and there was also a clear view of the roof garden.

“It is a nice view, isn’t it?” said Ross.

D’arby got a bit of a fright but tried to pretend he hadn’t.

“There is a lot of dust” said D’arby and he ran his finger along the dusty window sill.

“I haven’t actually been in here since Lawrence left but I will forgive him for not having taken time to clean when he was so worried about his mother. If it is an issue I can organize for a cleaner to come through before you move in” said Ross.

“Ok” said D’arby and he looked towards the stairs, wondering where Rudnika was.

Ross noticed and said “She’s using the bathroom”.

D’arby doubted that Rudnika was really using the bathroom and realised that he should try to keep Ross busy.

“Do you know how old the building is?” asked D’arby.

“Not sure exactly” said Ross. “More than 100 years old though. But the owner had the wiring and plumbing redone a couple of years ago and there aren’t any leaks”.

D’arby asked a few more questions and Ross dutifully answered before Rudnika came upstairs.

“Thank you Ross. This is a very nice space” said Rudnika. “I need to talk to my colleagues to find out about the places they have looked at before I can apply for this place. I will get back to you in 30 minutes. Will you be back at your office then?” asked Rudnika.

Ross looked at his watch and said “Yes. Don’t waste any time though. 2pm is approaching fast.”

Rudnika smiled then turned and hurried downstairs. D’arby said goodbye to Ross and then followed Rudnika.

When they got outside Rudnika put her arm out to attract a taxi and she and D’arby hopped in. D’arby was surprised when Rudnika asked the driver to take them to the police station, but he didn’t want to ask what was going on infront on the taxi driver.

When they got out of the taxi infront of the police station Rudnika said “I have a friend here who is going to help us. You wait outside and I’ll be back in 10 minutes”.

D’arby didn’t like standing out the front of the police station because the people who came and went tended to glare at him. Fortunately Rudnika returned as quickly as she’d said she would.

“What’s going on?” asked D’arby.

“I lifted some fingerprints and a friend is going to check them” said Rudnika.

“How did you do that?” asked D’arby. “And won’t your friend get into trouble?”

“Make-up and stickytape, and no he won’t get into trouble because he is investigating identity crime, and I bet the person spying on us didn’t use their real identity” said Rudnika.

Chapter 97

John was feeling pretty tired by the time Fanta and her sisters were up but he made toast, tea and hot chocolates for breakfast anyway, and tried to be cheerful as he did it.

“What’s wrong?” said Fanta as soon as she saw John. “You look so tired”

“I couldn’t sleep so I went for an early morning run” said John. “It was fun at the time, but now I just want to go to sleep”

“Too bad your family is coming for lunch then. What are you going to cook?” said Fanta.

John looked at Fanta blankly for a second before he remembered that he’d organized to have lunch with Emily and Tim that day and he hadn’t even thought about what they were going to eat.

“I don’t know” was all John could say.

“Doesn’t matter, as long as you make some of your lovely bread” said Fanta.

“Yes! Good idea!” said John and he quickly looked in the cupboard to see if there was any flour and while he was doing that the toast burnt.

It was fortunate that Fanta, Ruby and Nancy were in good moods and just laughed at the smoke that was coming out of the toaster because it helped John control his anxiety. John managed to finish making breakfast and they all had a nice conversation as they ate it. After Fanta and her sisters left John made bread dough then investigated what was in the fridge and pantry as he tried to work out what to make for lunch.

By the time John had made pumpkin soup and bread for lunch, a cake for dessert and had washed the dishes it was almost lunchtime.John was glad that he’d kept busy all morning because it stopped him from worrying about what he and his brother and sister would talk about.

When everything was ready John waited out the front for Emily and Tim to arrive and he actually felt quite happy when he saw Emily’s car park out the front. John even stayed happy when he saw Tim get out of the car and he realised that he was hoping that he and his brother and sister could be close again.

During lunch John could tell that Tim and Emily approved of where he was living and of the food he’d made for them.

“When will we get to meet Fanta?” asked Emily.

John had no answer to that question and tried to change the topic but Emily insisted that Fanta and John come to visit her soon.

“That won’t work” said John and he explained that his only day off was Monday and Fanta had to work on Mondays.

“Surely you can get someone else to look after the restaurant one Saturday or Sunday! You work that out and let me know a date that suits – soon!” said Emily.

John pretended to agree but wasn’t intending to do as Emily had suggested.

John thought Tim was being a bit quiet.

“Are you ok?” John asked Tim.

Tim smiled, remembering how John had always been able to read his mind when they were kids.

“Maybe Emily already told you that while I was here at Christmas my business lost a lot of money and I had to sell it? For a while I told myself that I didn’t care and tried to enjoy being here, pretending I was just on a long holiday, but really I’ve lost my direction. I enojoyed running my factory so much that I can’t find anything else interesting. I have no idea what I should be doing with myself”.

Emily hadn’t told John about Tim losing his business. John’s first feeling at hearing this news was relief that Tim was capable of failure too, but John also felt sorry for Tim. “What does Dad think?” said John, and as he asked the question John felt guilty because he realised he hadn’t spoken to his father since Christmas. John had hated Christmas Day. He’d felt so left-out at the family Christmas and ever since he’d been trying to forget that it happened.

“Dad wants me to take over one of his restaurants. He says it is only fair – because he gave you a restaurant for Christmas. I guess that’s what I should do, at least while I work out what else I should be doing, but if I’m honest I’m a bit scared that if I can lose one business I can lose another” said Tim.

John looked hard at Tim and wondered if it was possible that he really believed what he was saying. John had always thought that he was the only one in the family who thought like that.

“I’m capable of losing anything but I haven’t lost Dad’s restaurant… not yet anyway. You will be fine!” said John.

Tim seemed a little bit more cheerful but John could tell he wasn’t convinced. John was a little bit worried at the idea of Tim also having a restaurant because it could become a competition to see who ran their restaurant best and John didn’t want that kind of stress. John knew his Dad had accumulated a few restaurants but didn’t know how many or what they were. He wanted to ask about the restaurant Tim was going to be given but he didn’t want to risk sounding jealous. Then John had a great idea.

“Why don’t you have a go running my restaurant this weekend while I go to dinner at Emily’s? Then you won’t be so scared when Dad gives you your own restaurant” said John.

Emily had been thinking of inviting Tim to dinner at the same time but was happy to accept this arrangement if it meant she got to meet Fanta sooner and so it was arranged that during the week John would teach Tim all about the restaurant and then on the weekend Tim would run it on his own while John had some time off.

As soon as Emily and Tim left John realised how exhausted he was. He sat down in a comfy chair and desperately wanted to have a sleep but knew there was a terrible mess that he should clean up before Fanta and her sisters got home. So John struggled out of the chair and to wake himself up he did a silly dance where he shook his arms and legs.

Chapter 98

D’arby was feeling really excited at 3pm when everyone gathered at the library to share what they’d found out. Rudnika had just hung up her phone after speaking to her friend at the police station and D’arby could tell that she’d received some enlightening information. Leopold also looked excited and Rudnika must have noticed because she asked Leopold to report first.

“Here is the rental application and ID that our spy used when he applied for the lease” said Leopold as he placed a pile of papers on the table. “He calls himself Lawrence Long. I tried calling the phone numbers listed but both the home phone and mobile numbers have been disconnected so I went to the address he listed as his residential address, which was a flat not far from here. It was empty. The neighbours said that they hadn’t seen anyone living there since the previous resident moved out, which was months ago and she definitely wasn’t Lawrence. The best thing is that I have a picture of Lawrence because his rental application included a copy of his Drivers License.”

“Great work!” said Rudnika.

D’arby was also very impressed but also very curious. “How did you get that file?” D’arby asked.

“It is probably better if you don’t ask” said Leopold.

Leopold’s answer made D’arby a bit cross because he really wanted to know how Leopold had got the file, but D’arby tried to hide is annoyance and looked at Rudnika to see what she would do next.

“What about you two” Rudnika asked Carol and Valentine.

“We decided to ask around all the nearby photo printing places and discovered that the photos were printed at the place closest to our office. The person who printed them called himself Lawrence and he printed them on Friday. He paid by cash, unfortunately, so that’s all we could find out from the photo place” said Valentine.

“Then we thought we should have a look through the bins at the back of the building Lawrence was spying on us from” said Carol. “And we found some things that might be useful”

As Carol was was speaking Valentine placed a plastic bag on the table and started taking things out of it.

“Ten identical disposable coffee cups suggests that Lawrence drinks two coffees a day. From inspecting the inside of the cups we’re pretty sure he drinks black coffee. We couldn’t help noticing that there are five brown corrugated coffee cups and five black ones so we checked out what kind of cups all the cafes around here use. We found the café that uses the black cups and it isn’t far from here but there are no cafes within two kilometres that use the brown corrugated coffee cups. We reckon that Lawrence must have bought himself a coffee on his way to work each day and that he must have travelled at least two kilometres to get here” said Valentine.

D’arby was very impressed, but there was still more rubbish in Valentine’s bag.

“These scraps of paper have notes written on them, which might be useful. We haven’t had time to have a good look at them yet, but we did notice that the word ‘Syaf’ is written on a few of them” said Carol.

Valentine then showed everyone some other pieces of rubbish and explained their significance, but D’arby had stopped listening because he realised the word ‘Syaf’ might be short for ‘Syafika’.

Finally Rudnika explained what she and D’arby had discovered at the building where they’d been spied on from, but by then everyone already knew that the spy called himself Lawrence. Then Rudnika told everyone what her friend at the police station had told her: The real name of the person who had spied on them was Anthony Lawrence and last year he’d spent a five months in gaol for forgery.

Advertisements

9 responses to “Catch-up with The Inklings

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

w

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: