In England, I often arrive late for school. When I wake up, a sense of panic always fills me. The morning will be filled with adrenaline and frantic footsteps on the landing. Now, I am usually awake at dawn. In the mornings of rushing to school, I may have missed out on seeing the beauty of a rising sun. Or is it that an African sunrise is more exotic and full of fire? The sun is a splash of violent red rising steadily above the dry terrain, illuminating the trees and animals of the land. Every morning, after Daddy leaves, I curl up in my hammock, my face towards the window. I am always breathless by the view.
After the sun has found its place in the sky, I rummage through our trunks to find a spare hammock. Daddy has said that Richard is going to stay with us for two weeks or so, before moving near the project site. I hang the hammock in a corner where an oil lamp is. Maybe he loves to read at night.
Before preparing lunch, I am instructed to study for at least two hours. I can never escape education, wherever I go. Daddy insisted that I continue my studies, as he didn’t want me to be left behind. Since I have only brought one book for reading pleasure (which I have finished), school books accompany me in the dullest hours of the day. I thought of textbooks as pleasurable entertainment when I arrived here. My only duty here was to bring Daddy lunch. Other than that, I am free to do whatever I wish.
Today, there is a bit of excitement. Daddy is taking me to a nearby port to welcome Richard. When Daddy first told me of his partnership with Richard, I was doubtful of the man’s intentions. Why would a rich British man travel to Africa to personally help workers build a new water system? I have never told Daddy about this. That is why I am eager to take a look at him today.
The sun is blazing. That means it is noon. Due to our carelessness, we have forgotten to bring along a suitable watch or clock. Daddy’s battered silver watch is barely ticking, but he still wears it because it is Mama’s gift to him. I cook some rice and eat half of it. The rest is wrapped and delivered to Daddy. The rice was given to us by an old man and his grandchildren. He had thanked Daddy repeatedly for his work and shoved the pail of uncooked rice into Daddy’s arms. Daddy tried to return it to him, explaining in Hausa that he was merely doing his job. The old man waved his hands in the air dramatically and led the children off, shouting ‘Na gode!’ which means thank you.
I walk under the hot sun, my eyes blinded by sunlight. Sweat trickles down the back of my neck down to my back. As I reach the project site, where a little tent is set up, I am already exhausted. Daddy greets me with a kiss on my cheek and opens the container. He shovels the rice into his mouth hungrily. There are two other men in the project site, both African. Daddy leaves some rice and gives it to one of them. He then offers a piece of bread he saved from breakfast to the other.
‘That was excellent my dear.’ He says and pulls out a handkerchief to wipe his brow. I notice a little red line running along his finger. I grab his hand and look closely. It is blood.
‘It’s just a small cut, its fine Ellie.’ He says and pries my fingers off his hand. He casually wipes the blood onto his cotton shirt and grins at me. I am too upset to smile back.
‘When did this happen? You should’ve wrapped it. It’s unsanitary!’
‘Oh stop being such a worrywart. It happened a few minutes before you arrived. I intended to use my handkerchief to wrap it.’
I pull out my own handkerchief and give it to him. He thanks me and kisses me again. I head home with the empty container and continue studying.
Daddy and I are walking slowly to the port. It is about five o’clock (or so I think). According to Daddy, Richard’s ship has arrived. We squeeze against the crowd who has come to gather supplies and try to find a brown haired Brit. Somewhere along the way, I lose my way. Trying not to panic, I silently pray for Daddy to take me by the hand.
A hand wraps with mine. I am startled. I whirl around and say, ‘Daddy…’ only to find a stranger holding my hand. He is about the same height as Daddy, with tousled brown hair and gray eyes.
‘Are you Nathan’s daughter?’ he asks. He’s British, I think silently. I nod slowly and ask if he is the elusive Richard. He laughs and says yes. ‘I’m Richard Jaxon, your father’s partner, as you know. So where is your father?’ I shrug, suppressing the urge to speak. I still have my doubts about him so I want to keep my guard. He suggests that we go find Daddy together. I do not respond, which he takes for a yes.
The number of people is dwindling as dusk arrives. He releases my hand and walks beside me, his eyes darting around to find Daddy. He tries to ask me about my age and where I go to school. But I do not answer. I only hope that he would not tell on me to Daddy about how impolite I am.
‘Why am I elusive?’ he asks, stopping in his tracks. I look at him surprised. He grins at me and repeats the question. ‘You asked if I am the elusive Richard. Why is that?’ This time, I am forced to answer.
‘Well, it’s because Daddy talks about you so much.’ I say, carefully choosing my words. He shakes his head. ‘I do not think that’s the answer. Am I that mysterious to you?’
I do not want to answer, but he is looking hard at me. I dislike him more now. I look ahead, ignoring his stare and see Daddy. I shout and wave my hands. Daddy smiles and runs up to us, extending his hand to Richard. They chat for a while, before deciding to go home. When Daddy turns to lead the way, Richard walks beside me.
‘You would have to answer me sooner or later.’ He says, soft enough for Daddy not to hear. I ignore him and walk faster to Daddy, wrapping my arms around his. I hate him, I hate him, I hate him!