Thriller

097: COS Party

Chelsi threw herself down on to the couch of the back porch of the Prov house.  “Hey Thomas, Janelle. How are you two?” Though they sat in the shade, the mid afternoon sun heated up the air enough, so that without effort small bits of sweat beaded up on the foreheads.

“Where good,” Janelle piped up. “How are you? How’s your site?”

“Well, when I came back from medical last week, my house was flooded, and the back portion of my roof collapsed.”

“Oh no,” Thomas chuckled, taking a swig of his drink. “Have you talked to Paige yet? Something like that happened to her too.  Like her walls broke.  It’s crazy, have her show you the pictures.”

“How is it now? Is it still broken?” Janelle squeaked.

Chelsi sighed, “My house is always broken.  But my host family came a propped the roof up some with sticks.  When it started slumping again, I went back and got another one of my friends to get some more sticks to give it a little more support.  It seems okay now, it not leaking any more than normal. We’ll see how it is when I get back.” Needing a drink, Chelsi stood up an made her way through the side door and into the kitchen.

The kitchen was a buzz with people peeling potatoes and cutting, chopping, shredding coleslaw components.  “Hey Chelsi,” Chelsi’s friend Tyler set down his knife and opened his arms for a hug.

“Hi Tyler, how’s dinner going?”

“Good, good, everything is going alright. When did you get here?”

“Just now, I had a horrible time finding transport so I ended up just calling a taxi. I also thought, ‘maybe I just shouldn’t come.’ But I knew I’d regret missing my own Close of Service party.” Even though Chelsi wasn’t officially closing, or ending, her service for another 15 months, she still felt a kinship to the other fellows in her intake who were leaving, and didn’t want to miss out on the tradition.  “I guess I could have walked, but I really didn’t want to be too tired by the time I got here.” With that she reached up on the cupboard shelf for a cup.  The vast number of people at the house meant her choices were limited.  She decided on a large stainless steel mug.

“No way! You need that energy for the mud pit later!” It was Oliver’s voice, coming up from behind.

“Oh my goodness, you guys really want ME to get in the mud pit? And do what?”

“We’re going to wrestle!” Oliver, cheerful as ever. Tyler laughed.

“Alright, we’ll see.”  Chelsi twisted the spout of a wine box on the counter and filled her cup.

 

The hot day slipped in to cool night.  All the while empty cups were refilled, and bellies were stuffed with fried chicken, mashed potatoes and coleslaw.  Chelsi was relaxing on the front porch with a few of the volunteers from the newest intake, when a ruckus of sounds drifted through the house from the backyard and into her ears.

“What’s that? What in the world are they doing back there?”

“I think that was Maddy defeating Oliver in the mud pit,” Victoria chucked. Chelsi had almost complete forgot about the mud pit. “I think that means I’m next, but I definitely don’t want to wrestle Maddy.” Victoria quickly downed the rest of her drink and stood up.  Curious, Chelsi followed suit.

“Are you going to get in the mud pit, Chelsi?” Jordan asked, remaining cross legged on the floor.

“I don’t know, will go down there, check it out.” Arm in arm Chelsi and Victoria made their way across the front porch, through the house and out in the backyard.  All the while whispering about potential wrestling mates.

In the poorly lit yard only about half of the people could be seen.  The others, covered head to toe in mud were catalogued against the night.

“Victoria, I think your next!” Tyler announced, being the first to notice the two women’s arrival.

“Okay, but I’m only going to go in if Chelsi goes in with me.”

“Fine, I’ve been convinced.” Chelsi smiled.

The two women removed nearly everything. Shirts, shoes, socks, skirts, watches, earing, so that when they were ready they had on nothing but their underclothes.  Holding each other’s hand for support, the two stepped into the pit together.  Chelsi hadn’t anticipated just how slippery it would be.

“Okay, rules,” Tyler announced. “Everything goes, but to win you need to pin both of your opponent’s shoulders for at least three seconds.”

Chelsi, not really sure what she was getting herself into, instinctively crouched down.  Her friend Victory was tall and narrow, so maybe if I get her below her center of gravity?

“On my mark,” Chelsi was aware of the small group that began to gather more closely around. “GO!”

It was harder than Chelsi imagined it would be. The mud was slick and any time either woman made an attempt to grab the other, the other would just slip away. They laughed and squealed some but had to remain mindful in order to keep mud from filling their mouths. It was difficult to say just how long they fumbled around in the pit for, but the two grew tired quickly, And Chelsi, having finally gotten a secure reach around the back of Victoria’s knees, was able to knock her off her feet and on to her bum. Chelsi was surprised by the strength of Victoria’s upper body, when she tried to push her back into the mud.  Chelsi nearly lost her advantage more than once, until Victoria’s arms tired, while Chelsi’s weight didn’t, and Victoria’s back and shoulders slid into the mud.

“ONE, TWO, THREE,” Tyler’s voice rang, and the crowd cheered.

Chelsi stood up, extending a hand to help Victoria, who took it with a smile. “You’re right, that was kind of fun. Thank you.”

“Yeah! Wow you’re good,” Victoria laughed.

The two friends carefully picked their way out of the pit, the crowd backing away to give them a wide berth.

“Alright, who’s next?!”

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086: TAZARA

​“GOD FUCKING DAMN IT!” Chelsi screamed as her body was suddenly lurched forward, buckling her knees and slamming them into the metal bench of the train’s third class passenger seating.  But no one could hear her over the train’s screeching.  She gripped the back rest of the bench and braced herself the oncoming halt of the train car.

As the trains pace quicken, the screeching soften so that Chelsi could hear her friend Jason’s wet laughter, “This mother fucking train! You just don’t know what the train’s gonna do!”

It’s true, in the truest sense of itself, Chelsi thought, gripping the bench tighter. It was hard to keep herself from relaxing. She knew, as soon as she let go the train would come to an abrupt halt, probably throwing me on to the ground.  And sure enough, in a matter of moments the train car’s wheels let out a deafening screech, and Chelsi was jerked backwards.  

Quickly, she relaxed her position and started re-stuffing her backpack before the train engineer decided to give ‘going forward’ another try.  “Neal!” Chelsi called over her shoulder.  “Are you still glad we decided to take the train back to Zambia?” She risked a quick glance over her shoulder to see his reaction.  

“Are you kidding?” A semi-smile was stretched over his face. “This is great.  We get to see the train derail, then we get to see it fixed. And look how fast and kind of efficient it’s getting fixed.” Neal took a quick glance at his watch, “We’re only a total of 18 hours behind schedule.  Had the train derailed another 30 kilometers further, in Zambia, we would have been screwed.”

“But so, do you think this means we’re leaving the dining car behind?” Jason asked with a serious thread of concern in his voice.  But before anyone could inject their opinion the train car door towards the back of the train slid open. 

“If you could all go back to your first class cabin now,” a portly Zambian sounding man instructed them. “We will be starting again soon, and the next stop there are dangerous people. You need to go fast, fast.” His last fast, fast was covered up by the sudden forward lurch and screech of the train, and Jason, Sami, Neal and Chelsi being nearly thrown on to the floor.  

When all had recovered the portly Zambian man gave them one more “fast, fast,” before exiting the car. Their group followed closely behind, with Chelsi at the rear.  They reach out and steadied themselves using the back of the benches, when Neal turned around asking Chelsi to go back and make sure nothing was left behind.  

She was double checking under the bench, when she heard the train car door slide open behind her.  Looking over her shoulder she saw another Zambian man, a short skin one, compared to the portly gentleman of before. Righting herself, Chelsi made her way towards him and the exit to the car. 

“Mad ‘am, I just want you to give me,” he started.

But Chelsi cut him off, “No, I’m giving you anything.”

“But mad ’am,”

“No!” She yelled, and the whole train car went dark.  What did he mean when he said ‘there are dangerous people at the next stop? It had been a long time since Chelsi last felt uneasy in Zambia.  When the train pulled out of the tunnel, Chelsi pushed past the man standing and front of her and hurried to the back of the train to be with her friends.  

She reach first class cabin number six and pulled back the door. “Oh look! It was nice of them to remake our beds.” Chelsi surveyed the small cabin; two bench-bunks against either wall with a short table between, and above one more bunks above each lower bench-bunk. Laid out across the tight leather bound foam of each bunk was a blanket, bed sheet and pillow. “Neal can you help me get this up there?” Chelsi motioned her hand to the luggage compartment above the door way.  

“Sure,” and he stood up, relieving her of backpack, hoisting it above his head and into the alcove. But before he could properly regain his seat, he was jerked back into it by the stopping of the train car.  Chelsi’s shoulder was slammed into the door frame.  

Jason laughed, “God damn, it was not like this when Tyler and I took the train last time.”

“What do you think that guy meant when he said ‘there were dangerous people’ at the next stop?” Sami ask push the blonde strands of her hair out of her eyes.  Just then there was a sudden thud that shook the floor, but distinctly different from the lurching and jerking of the train so far.  Chelsi peered out, down the hallway, to see 200 kg worth of rice sacking being pushed into the train car by a Zambian man on the train platform.  

“Holy moly you guy, you’d better see this,” and Chelsi left the cabin doorway for the window just across, Jason, Sami and Neal closely behind.  Hanging their heads out the window they could see a people mobbing the train cars at the head of the train, pushing all sorts of goods through the doors and windows; mattresses, bags of maize and mealie meal, boxes of dishwares, baskets of fish.  

Neal turned back towards his friends from the window, “good thing that guy came by and told us to get out of there fast!”

“Looks like we’re not in Tanzania any more Toto,” Chelsi sighed. 

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074: Gloomy

Laura seated herself on the couch of Chelsi’s small sitting room.  Chelsi meanwhile, moved about in the dimly lit house, replacing the candles in their holders.

“Tomorrow, first thing, I need to call the canter and remind it to pick up at least 15 people from the parking lot of New Shoprite.  The canter is too small to fit all 30 of them, so it’ll have to make two trips.”

“So what is it you need to me to do?” Laura asked.

“From you…” Chelsi paused to collect her thoughts.  Everything that she had been working so hard for was coming to acumination tomorrow.  Tomorrow, when thirty, nearly perfect strangers will be showing up to the spend week, expecting to learn about the environment and have their basic needs met.  Chelsi felt secure in the environmental education part.  Even if everything went awry she felt confident she’d be able to carry on seamlessly with sessions.  It was the caring for everyone’s needs.  She worried how long the tomatoes would keep, whether the campers and adult mentors would readily accept sleeping on reed mats, how they would manage carrying water from the well or after sunset without electric light.  It was unprecedented, the venue Chelsi and her Lunda counterpart Tyler, had selected for this year’s Camp TREE, Teaching Respect for Everyone’s Environment.  ‘The village will be cheaper.  Arrange with the teacher to let the campers sleep in the school block. Reed mats are only 25 kwacha each. Plus, there’s no rules about where you can and can’t dig.  I think there should be lots of digging this year,’ Tyler had reasoned with her.  ‘And we wouldn’t have to limit the number of volunteers who can attend,” Chelsi added, remembering last year how she was unable to attend because the camp was held in a National Park, where space limited and costs was exponentially higher. ‘And camp in the village can be a whole five days of sessions, since we won’t have to spent half the time transporting people around the province.’  To the two of them at the time, the advantages of their scheme seemed untouchable by the shortcomings. But now every weakness was highlighted in Chelsi’s mind, even with every mitigation she could think of in place.

“From you, I mostly need emotional support,” she confessed.  “I’ll be fighting the desire to run and hide when I see that big blue canter roll up with the first group of kids.”

Laura chuckled, not distastefully though. “I’m just imagining the canter pulling up and you hiding behind a tree!”

“Seriously though! Big groups and loud noises make me anxious.  And what it Camp if not a large group of children, and what are children if not noisy?” having just finished lighting the candles, Chelsi threw her exacerbated self in to her easy chair.  She now wondered if her anxieties would have been lessened if Camp was being held anywhere else but her own house.  Tulip then broke her train of thought, having jumped into her lap with a purr and attempt to suckle her arm.

“You’ll be fine!” Laura reassured her friend. “You’ve been working really hard and everything looks to be in order.  Tomorrow morning we have to what? Bring the reed mats over to the school block, roll them out.  You said the mosquito nets are already organized, they just have to be strung up.  Toiletry kits and notebooks have to be set under the nets.  The welcome banner has to be hung…”

“We need to fill the tipy taps,” Chelsi continued, “and hang the chitenges on the bathas and toilets…”  A wind blew up over the walls, under the roof causing the candles to flicker.  “The pots and tomatoes need to be brought to Gladys, so she can start dinner sooner rather than later.”

“You said Tyler and Rider are coming with the rest of the veg and some buckets of chicken?”

“Yeah,” Chelsi replied with a sigh.

A more substantial wind now blew through the house, nocking some lose grass from the roof.  “Do you think it’s going to rain?” Laura asked.

“I don’t think so, but I wouldn’t mind if it did.  It’s been so hot, and I’d rather it rain now than during Camp, where I don’t have any place to shift activities inside.  It’s drizzled a bit a few times so far, but nothing substantial like in Mwinilunga.” Just then, as if on que, the sharp sound of rain drops hitting the tin roof of her porch reverberated through the house.  “Well, speak of the devil…” Chelsi stood up, Tulip spilling out of her lap, and pushed aside on of the curtains.  “It’s probably just a short, passing thing.” When again, on que the ferocity of the rain doubled.

“Well, I’m glad you were able to get this new roof put up.” Laura commented, looking up.

“Right?” Chelsi started to move about the room, her arms outstretched feeling for any offending leakage.  When she crossed in to the bedroom she paused.  If she was still she could feel a light mist surrounding her body.  She looked around for the possible source. “You want to come in here for a minute?” She called to her friend.

Laura relinquished the rest of the space on the couch to Daisy and entered the bedroom.  “It’s like a mist almost.”

“I know, right? You think it blowing in from over the walls?”

“Ummm,” Laura looked about equally confused.

“Or ricocheting of the tin sheets, and then over the wall?  It kind of feels like it’s coming from that side.”

Laura twisted up her face, “I think it’s just coming down from the roof.”

“Pshh, the roof is brand new,” she moved back in to the sitting room in protest, only to have a large drop of rain splash over her head.  Outside the strength of the rain redoubled, inside a little private rainstorm was taking place.  Chelsi’s inside wrenched.  A quiet scream of anger and frustration escaped her.  “Fucking Kaonde roofs.  What short straw I pulled, not being a Lunda.”  Her soured temperament fell back on cursing the age of stereotypes of her tribe.  Meanwhile, rain was puddling around her.  The smell of sad, wet dog filled the air, and Daisy’s ears drooped with a whimper.

After a few moments, when Chelsi had collected herself, she set to work protecting all matter of things that she could of importance.  “I guess it’s good you have all these big plastic buckets,” Laura commented, helping her.

“Yeah, well.  This is one of the reasons.  And if I didn’t have all this stuff for Camp….”  Fucking camp, and all its blasted stuff, she thought now. “Camp’s cancelled,” she announced to her friend.

Laura, having finished packing up all the things they could started unpacking her tent.  “What do you mean? Camp’s cancelled?”

“If there was ever a reason to cancel camp, this would be it.” After all, to Chelsi, completing Camp had seemed like an unsurmountable challenge, and now it would be.

Laura was exercising the fullest extent of her empathy, but wouldn’t indulge Chelsi’s dramatic flair.  “You know, sure, the whole life you have been building for yourself in Zambia, is being ruined, but it could be worse.” Chelsi lightly glared at her friend, her now idle hands reaching for the bottle of Royal Kingston on her kitchen bench. “At least you are home, so you can protect what things you can.”

“And good thing you’re here with me,” she interjected, “so first thing tomorrow you can help me put up the plastic lining of my roof.” Taking a strong pull from the bottle, she ended sourly, “Not how I wanted to spend the morning before camp…”

“You can sleep in the tent with me if you’d like,” Laura kindly offered.  And with that Chelsi started to pack up her bad mood.

“Thank you.  The rain outside does sound to be letting up too.” Though inside it still seemed to be pouring around them.  “The old roof still would have been much worse.” She almost chuckled, imaging how absolutely horrid it would have been to be under the old roof.  “That one would have likely collapsed on us.” She made her again idle hand busy again help Laura with her tent poles.  “Then Camp really would have been cancelled.”

“Or you could be in Neal situation, with no roof at all.

“Really?! How’d he manage that?”

“After months of trying to get his village to come and replace it, he felt it last resort was to just remove it himself and move out till they fix it.”

Chelsi laughed, “I might have been the one to give him that advice.”

“I think a lot of people did.”

“Ironically too, because exactly one year ago is the day I move out of my house to have it refitted.”

“See! And look how far you’ve come!”

The two friend smiled amidst the rain, and crawled into the tent.

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072: Colosseum

Chelsi’s champion strode out on to the front porch of her house.  The tuxedo colored kitten was a mere seven weeks, but confident in his stride.  Upon his appearance small group of village boys, Giddie, Willie, and Kingston, let out a squeal from their seat on the bench.

Look, look!” Willie said to the others.  “Ka ka push.”  All their eyes widened, like it was the first cat they’d ever seen.  Chelsi watched them from her seat at the edge of the porch.  She was sure their gleeful nature wasn’t false, but this was far from their first interaction with a cat.  After all, this is my fourth cat, Chelsi thought to herself, regretfully remembering the demise of the previous three.  And I know Mike had at least two cats at some point during his service.

“Jizhina?” Giddie asked, fixing his round, dark eyes on Chelsi.

“Ka ka push? Ka Tulip.”

“Tulip, Tulip, Tulip,” the three boy practiced between themselves.  Tulip paused to clean one of his paws, and Chelsi wiggled her fingers at him to get his attention.

“Giddie, Giddie!” Kingston exclaimed, grabbing the attention of his friend.  “Those small animals we found today, where are they?”  Giddie’s face beamed with a smile and he leaned forward, tugging on the string of his toy truck.  The truck, made of discarded plastic and wire, rolled towards him on its bottle top wheels.  A really engineer that one could be someday, it was clear to Chelsi that Giddie was the best toy car maker in all the village, and every day nearly he was pulling about a new style.  When the truck’s rolling came to a stop, Giddie gingerly picked it up and from the back compartment plucked up toy baby dormice.

“Crickee,” Chelsi said with some surprise, “it’s even got passengers today. Mwatanna pi?”  Chelsi didn’t fully understand the answer, but gathered that he found the nest out in the bush by his house.  She continued to watch with great interest as to what the boys had in mind next.  When just then Giddie dropped the two round, fuzzy grey bodies on to the cement and nudged them towards Chelsi’s kitten.

The baby dormice were too young to make any meaningful get away.  One wiggled its undersized legs, pushing itself on its belly to the corner by Chelsi’s door.  Its litter mate squeaked.  The less intelligent move, Chelsi noted as Tulip’s ear perked up in its direction.

To some surprise, Chelsi was not immediately overcome with moral outrage at the activities that were unfolding before her.  First, not that the infant mice were disturbed from their nest, nor that they had then been pulled around by a child in a toy truck all day, and not now, seeing that the boys intention were to watch this baby on baby animal battle, hoping no doubt for it to end in the bloody demise of the dormice.

Tulip started towards his first contender.  When the kitten pressed his nose in the plump body of the mouse it let out low chirt chirt chirt sound.  Tulip, surprised, recoiled.

What could I say that the boys would understand…? Not much, she decided.  She knew the children went in to the bush on necessity, looking for food and that mice, particularly dormice, were not off the menu.  Not to mention mice, particularly dormice, are a grievous house pest. Better food for the kitten.

Tulip had revised his approach to the protesting dormouse and was now slapping it with his paw.  With every slap, the baby dormouse let out a squeak, chirt chirt chirt.

The boys were pointing with interest, discussing the play by play amongst themselves.  And as Giddie had noticed the second baby dormouse trying to escape, he picked it up and deposited it in to his chest pocket.

I do want the kitten to learn to eat mice, Chelsi reasoned with herself, putting the best spin on the current circumstance that she could.  That why I keep trying to keep cats.  The truth was, just one week without a cat and her house was overrun with mice and rats.  She thought about the last rat she saw, not a few days before, just after returning home with Tulip from Mwinilunga.  Chopping vegetables for dinner that night at the table, she heard a rustling in the thatch of her roof.  When she turned to see what it was, a giant rat was jumping out of the grass of her roof on to the top of her wall. She could still vividly recall the green glisten to its eyes.

Tulip continued batting the baby dormouse with his paw.  The few attempts he had made to lower his head the baby dormouse had bit him on the nose.

Tulip’s probably never really eaten anything live before.  This kitten had come from her friend Oliver’s house, about 30 km south of Mwinilunga.  At the time she had gone to see him and retrieve the kitten Oliver was caring for: two dogs, seven puppies, a cat, six kittens and a flock of improved laying chickens, though thankfully those were not also sharing his house.  But Oliver is a dutiful keeper and Chelsi was sure all of his animals had been plumped on its most appropriate animal feed. And with so much food about there would have been no need for Tulip’s mother to hunt.

When there was the sound of soft bones being crushed, one of the boys let out a gasp breaking up Chelsi’s train of thought.  She reigned in thousand mile stare, and focused on her kitten.  Tulip had finally mustered up his courage and had gone face first, mouth open, at the tiny fuzzy body.  Bright red blood began to bead-up on its grey fur.  With the last of its fight there was a furious chirt chirt chirt. 

It makes sense now, why animals are so attracted to squeaky toys.

Tulip pressed down with his paws and gnawed with his needle like teeth.  Shortly thereafter the incessant chirting ceased.

The boys, still perched on the bench giggled.  As the first mouse disappeared inside the kitten, Giddie revealed the second one.  The human beings attraction to blood sports can’t be denied, for even Chelsi had a hard time looking away now.

The second baby dormouse sat stock still, hoping not to be noticed.

Like two beasts in the colosseum.  Chelsi watched at Tulip followed his blood covered nose towards the second little dormouse.  Or more like the lion and a Christian martyr. 

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067: HIV

Some of the young women of Chelsi’s HIV club crowded around the bench where one of her game participants had just taken a seat.  But Chelsi didn’t notice at first.

“Alright! So our game of the baby elephant and lions, what did the baby elephant represent?” She took a rhetorical pause. “The baby elephant is our body. The Mother elephants protecting the baby elephant is our…?  Immune system! The Lions are,”

“Germs!” One of the secondary school boys shouted before Chelsi finished.

“Very good! And once we’re sick with HIV, what happens to our immune system? Our immune system is weakened.  Remember, we removed some of the mother elephants, then it was very easy for the lions to attack the baby.”

Soon the commotion on the far bench under the tree became great enough that Chelsi couldn’t help but notice.  She took a few steps towards the group of young women. When the group saw her approach the parted ways revealing a young women in a brown dress and bright red knee. Chelsi felt an unexpected surge of adrenaline. “Shit,” one of the other students had been trying to rip up a dirty chitenge into a bandage. “You lions, you are too aggressive.” She turned back towards her bag on the other side of the church yard. Grab some Kleenex, an alcohol pad, gauze, gauze, gauze, where are you? Quickly squirting some hand sanitizer on her hands, she went back over to the bleeding student.  The other woman starting to try and fashion a bandage with the chitenge.  Chelsi politely pushed her aside.

“Here,” Chelsi handed her the clean tissue.  The women rarely spoke during sessions, so it was hard to gauge their level of English, but the young woman seemed to instinctively know what to do with the tissue.  She started blotting around the wound.

Peace Corps had made it abundantly clear that volunteers were not to be giving out medicines, but bandages are pretty benign.  And Chelsi wouldn’t have, except that she felt partially responsible; it was her session and she wanted to help her students.

Chelsi ripped the foil top off the alcohol pad and held it out.  She didn’t want to touch it, but her student just looked at her, not understanding the gesture.  Of course she’s never used an alcohol pad. Reluctantly Chelsi removed and opened the pad holding it up over there wound. She could see where the blood was starting to ooze out of the woman’s skin again.  Come on, she thought.  The woman replaced her fingers with Chelsi’s, but instead of applying it directly to the wound she wiped around it.

“No, you have to wipe the wound itself.” Chelsi said, but her student just looked up at her with a grimace. She knelt down and move the woman’s hands around so the cloth pad was over the wound again. “Alright, this is going to hurt, but it’s good for you.” The young woman let out a shriek when Chelsi pressed the pad on to the wound with its crumpled up wrapper.   As soon as Chelsi stood back up to prep the gauze the young woman removed the pad.  Blood started up again quickly.

Chelsi passed off the fold gauze and fumbled with the tape. “I don’t have any medical tape. But this should work for now.” She stretched out a length of duct tape and snipped it.  She slapped it over the gauze, over the wound of the young woman’s knee.  Not the prettiest, but better than a dirty piece of cloth.  She signed, her students face was still twisted up in pain, but she tested out her knee and everything otherwise seemed to be alright.  Chelsi looked around to the rest of the benches.

Students who hadn’t crowded around to watch were packing up their things.  “Thank you for coming everyone.  Same place next week.  We’ll be talking about transmission.” Chelsi, thinking she was in the clear, suddenly felt her stomach knot up into a ball. Fuck.

A few of the students who hadn’t yet departed returned the benches to the inside of the church. Chelsi gathered up her bag and books and called her dog.  The rest of her students went left down the road, she went right.

“That was really dumb,” she confessed to Daisy.  Chelsi scoured her hands for open cuts and scrapes. Far and away the most common way a volunteer would contract HIV is through unprotected sex.  And Peace Corps had hammered that home. Condoms where spilling out of every crevice of Chelsi’s house. She had no use for them, but Peace Corps just kept sending them. What I could have used was a pair of rubber gloves… HIV is of course transmitted through blood to blood contact.  But even if I had gloves, would I have remembered, or thought to put them on? She felt for her honesty; probably not. 

The knot of anxiety in her stomach loosened slightly. She sighed, content with the condition of her hand.  But you have to be more careful.

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056: Dove Run

“Damn it,” Chelsi ran down the over grown path to the dove house. Why? Why are you so careless! She thought to herself.  Ever since his mate had disappeared, James, a big, grey aggressive male, had been doing his best in tending to his chick.  But Chelsi had to admit, he was lacking the touch of experience. Where his mate used to enter the nesting box for feedings, James insisted on remaining the porch so his chick had to perch precariously in the doorway, and stretch it’s neck all the way down to it father.  And having now lost its balance the two doves were falling from the house in a frenzy of flapping wings.

“NO Daisy! Stay there.” She scolded the dog who came bounding after her ready to play.  She knew Daisy’s intentions would not have been to harm the baby dove now sitting on the ground, but just one playful pounce from the dog would be the end of it.  James, after overcoming the startle of hitting the ground, flew back up on top of the house. Distracted for a moment by the abandonment of his father, Chelsi figured she would be able to make a quick rescue, but the nose of her dog burst into her field of vision. She grabbed her quickly by the scruff of her neck.    Refocusing on the descending danger, it let lose a few startled chirps, found its feet and took off towards the brush.

“Stay there Daisy!” the dog whimpered, not used to being left out.  The brush made the chick safe from the dog, for now, but another danger lurked just beyond.

James cooed an alarm call to the remaining doves, which were already perched atop the thatch of their house intently watching the scene below.

It had been a few hours since Chelsi had seen Norbert, her black, blue eyed kitten, and she knew the brush beyond the bird house had been a popular place for cats to hang out.  Daisy was lying down now, and though Chelsi was not sure she would stay, she could not wait much longer.  She turned and stepped gingerly into the brush.  She stooped down to see if she could see the chick beneath the small branches.  When there seemed to be nothing to see she rustled the brush hoping it would flush. Nothing.

Her mind raced with confusion, I just saw it! How far could it have gone? Her heart began to race but she tried to beat it back and prepare herself for loss.  When the chick betrayed it’s position with a soft cry for its father.  It had made it much farther than Chelsi had assumed.  She stepped to bring it back into arms reach, but as she did so the baby dove jumped to its own feet and started off further into the brush.  Its legs were short and clumsy by it spread it’s undeveloped wings for balance and began far faster and more agile that Chelsi could have ever imagine.  The little chick was able to scurry away from her every step. “Come here you little bugger!”

Following it deeper and deeper into the brush, she imagined different ways she might be able to grab it without braking one of its wings.  She thought maybe I’ll just chase it until it tires and stops, then ridiculousness of her situation flashed though her mind as an image. Yup, she sighed, thankfully no ones around to watch. But she wasn’t alone she remember when the sound of crunching leaves got louder and louder.  The chick was just leading Chelsi around a tree when it stopped frozen in front of the nose of her dog.

“Daisy! Leave it!” and in a heart pounding moment Chelsi scooped up the startled dove and hugged it to her chest.  The body of the chick thumped.  Chelsi relaxed. All together, they started back to the dove house.

James sat beside his box, anxiously awaiting the outcome.  He cooed a few times when they came into view. “You have to be more careful!” she scolded the single father, after depositing his chick back into the box.  It scurried back on to the nest.

Chelsi heard a soft meow from under the dove house. She looked to see Norbert flicking his tail back and forth, “Have you been sitting there all this time?” But Daisy pounced on him before he could answer and with a blink they bounding back in to the brush to play.

James' Chick

James’ Chick, snug in its nest

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054: kovwa ka kabwa

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Ka Kabwa, Ka Daisy

First and foremost, I have to wash the dog, Chelsi thought, looking down at the dusty animal sprawled at her feet.  A few bloated ticks were visible through her hair, meaning that there were at least a dozen more hiding. “Because you’re going to want to sleep on the bed now that I’m home, and I can’t let you in this condition.” Daisy made a few more wags of her tail and sighed.

They were out in the front yard and Chelsi could hear some rustling in the grass. “Mwabuuka,” came a soft high pitch voice.  She looked around, already knowing whom it was.

“Twabuuka,” she replied. “Mwabuuka?”

“Nabuuka! Mwabuuka!?” the same voice came again and giggled.

“Ba Gillie, mwaji pi?” There was more giggling and a hard rustle in the grass.  A little girl in a ragged green dress came tumbling out, all laughs.

“Mwabuuka!? She smiled with little teeth and glittering eyes under a head of patchy hair.

“Twabuuka,” Gillie came running toward Chelsi until Daisy stood up to greet her too.

“Ah! Obewa!” She screamed.  Daisy half-heartedly turned still wagging her tail.  Daisy never understood why everyone didn’t want to be her friend.  Seeing the Chelsi had accepted Gillie on to her compound four other children started to creep up her path.

She saw them, and looked directly at them she called “mwabuuka!?” Gillie giggled again, as did the other children as they responded. “Nafainwa kovwa ka Daisy. Mwakeba kukwasha?”  Gillie nodded her head. Chelsi gathered up her basin, chitenge towel, flea & tick shampoo, harness and cup. She closed the curtains, locked the door and started up her path with Gillie clutching her leg. Daisy danced around them excited to go for a walk.  “Mwaiyia?” she asked the other children.  “Twakovwa ka Daisy.” They didn’t respond but followed her dutifully back toward the road and they started off towards the well.

They picked up more children as they went, the train growing ever longer.  Daisy was the engine out in front.  Chelsi the conductor and children as cars, tapering back according to their size till little baby Kennedy, who was trotting along as the caboose.

The official community water source is a shallow dug well, about 50 meters in front of the community school and a five minute walk from Chelsi’s house.  Over the hole was a waist high cement cylinder, centered on a dais. Two hand carved beams supported an iron crank for hulling up the humble yellow jerry can once it was full with water.  The tether for the jerry can to the crank was always changing, as they wore out and broke.  Now it was a rope, when she arrive last year it was chain. One day she arrive to find it was engozhi; the inner bark of a tree found in the forest, the village’s traditional rope. And still some days she arrive to find no tether at all and so went without water.

The children squabbled over who would get to hold which washing item while Chelsi cranked the well.  Daisy went wandering in to the tall grass unaware of her impending bath.

“Ka Daisy, Kaji pi?” Chelsi asked the children after filling the green basin.

“Atwe,” one of the older girls point the neighboring compound. Now Chelsi could see her dog’s ears pointing up in the grass.

“Daisy, Daisy,” Gillies older brother tried to call her over.  Of all the children, Patricki was the only one who was truly unafraid of the dog.  He was no more than three feet and nothing but skin and bones, but Chelsi often caught him trying to pick up Daisy and carry her away with a big smile on his face.

But, by now Daisy knew what she was in for, and wouldn’t be coming on her own.  Chelsi walked over and scooped her up.  Setting her down by the bucket most of the children took a big step back. One let out a small screech. Daisy was then buckled up in to her harness, so she couldn’t make a dash for it and liberally doused with water.

The flea & tick shampoo was bright pink with a picture of a dog and a cat on the front.  Yet still, more than once, other Zambian women had asked to use it on their own hair.  ‘No,’ she would have to tell them repeatedly ‘It will make you ill, it is only for animals. See?’  In contrast the children stood silently as squeezed out the soap on to the rump of her dog.

“Mwakwasha?” she asked, rubbing it in to a lather.

“Eee mwane,” some of the girls responded.

“Alright then, iyai. Iyai.” She motioned them so come closer. “Iya, iya, iya.” The brave ones came closer with a giggle.  “Okay now,” Chelsi took the hand of one of the girls and rubbed it in to the lather on Daisy’s rump.  When Chelsi let go she pulled her soapy hand away with a giggle. Still a few of the children reached out on their own. First with a finger, then their whole hand.  “Alright, there you go!” they looked up with wide smiles and big eyes.  Chelsi squeezed out more soap.  The younger, shyer children soon drifted over and when Chelsi next looked up from washing Daisy’s front legs even Gillie was lathering up Daisy’s tail.

Alright! What a big step for them! Never in her entire service did she think most of the children would willing touch her dog.

“Kaji mweshika.” One of the girls pointed to Daisy’s shivering back leg.  The crowd of children was blocking out the sun, and the breeze wasn’t helping.

“Okay, everyone take a step back,” she used her arm to motion them away.  With a few splashed of water she was rinse clean.  “Mwacinda chitenge?” Chelsi point at the chitenge towel that the children had discarded in the furry of scrubbing.  It was eventually passed over. She rubbed it over Daisy as she tried to shake herself dry.  Her harness was unclipped and once she was deemed free all of the children took two big steps back or clung to Chelsi’s legs.  Child-sized steps I guess it’ll be then.

Daisy meanwhile took off to roll in the dirt.

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038: Stupid Smartphone

Ahhh!” Chelsi exclaimed in frustration at her phone.  Whenever she tried to check her email, Peace Corps favorite way of keeping in touch, the screen of her phone went dark and she had to hold down the power button to boot it back up. “I hate this!”
Chelsi had purchased her first smartphone ever after arriving in Zambia.  She felt reluctant at first, seeing as how she had made it all that time in the States without one while everyone else she knew there was glued to the glow of their screen.  ‘How is it then that I would need one in Zambia, where there isn’t even WiFi?’ she reasoned aloud with her friend Rachel.
‘You don’t need WiFi,’ Rachel explained. ‘You can use data. To check your email, facebook, write your blog.’
‘Woah, how do you get data?’ She was a novice, what was for sure.
While standing in the MTN, mobile network store, the point she was convinced that she would be best off purchasing a smartphone, she picked out a phone that factory made, sported a rubbery casing and a screen size about half of what her peers had selected.  I need to adjust slowly, she thought.
Over the course of the past year she had cultivated a complex love/hate relationship with the device.  This was a hate streak.
Chelsi was waiting on time sensitive email responses from her program manager about teaching a rabbit harvest workshop in Mafumbwe, and a co-worker from her time working with Forest Service about an anti-malaria/ bat house project she conceived a few weeks before.  Also in her email were the directions to register for an international absentee ballot for the 2016, instructions so kindly handed out by Peace Corps, two weeks before the applications are due. 
The purple LG globe glowed once again on her screen.  Her heart raced and her palms sweat, “please work.”
How had it come to this? How has this little itty, bitty machine come to be such a powerful force in my life that it can throw me in to such an emotional state!
“Yes, there is the ability to place and receive calls, both under the necessity of an emergency and for the general emotionally uplifting conversation with a familiar voice form home. But still…” The screen changed to a hue of pink. Among cotton-candy clouds, an elephant floated in the background, topped off in a bright red party hat. The phone felt through its innards to bring up what it can recall to the screen. She knew it wasn’t the same, but viscerally she felt the same way she figured she would if she were comforting a dear friend with epilepsy, or maybe narcolepsy. “Seeing as I use it to keep in touch with family and friends, here and at home, chat, post my blog, I would feel incredibly lonely without.” And not just without friends, but news from NPR, podcasts that keep me company when I work out in the yard, books as I eat dinner, movies while I lie in bed, drinking tea, falling asleep
After giving it a few moments to collect itself she knocked in the passcode to bring her into the machine, to her home screen.  She smiled when she was greeted with the sleeping face of her tiny puppy, resting on her pursue; the blue background a sharp contrast to the previous pink.  The icons blinked, first little green android monsters, than the more familiar shapes denoting different apps. 
Chelsi held her breath as her phone searched for network.  Moreover, if I had to replace it, it would take a while before I could afford it. Probably. The phone she had now, she had paid 800kw when she bought it in Lusaka, using American currency she had brought and converted for that purpose.  The Kwacha had lost a third of its value since she arrive the previous year; and yet for some unexplainable reason everything on the market increased in price by half, or sometimes doubled. 
A few little white bar popped up at the top of her screen. She let her breath out, she felt hopeful. She switched on her data and refreshed her email. 
“That’s it, I’m done.” She declared, walking into her bedroom, thrusting the phone with the pitch black screen on to her bookshelf.  “Just one more of a number of examples as to why we can’t have nice things.” She let the frustration out with her voice. “Zambia.”
‘Yeah, you’ll go through like a dozen phones while you’re here,’ the voices of by gone Zambia volunteers echoed in her head. Chelsi wasn’t giving up though, just putting it way for now.  After all, she knew that she usually predicted the pain of a future loss to be worse than it actually was when it came to pass.  “If it really is done for, I’ll feel better about it in a day or two when I revisit it.  And if not great.” She looked down at her darling Daisy, lying on her mat up against the wall. Her curly tail started to thump against the floor when their eyes met. Chelsi smiled

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036: Ginny the Cobra Killer

Chelsi had stopped by the house of her friend and fellow volunteer Ginny on her way to town for the month of January.  Ginny, a LIFE volunteer focused on spreading agroforestry practices and improved gardening techniques, had asked her to visit and give a small lesson to newly established fish farmers in her village. Chelsi enthusiastically accepted the request, relishing the opportunity to talk about fish and experience the villages of other volunteers.
The two women started the morning sitting and chatting under the small veranda of Ginny’s house. “But how great would it be to look out and see impala, like right there!” Ginny waved her arm, gesturing to grass lawn just beyond her porch trees to the side of her house.
“Yeah,” Chelsi couldn’t lie.  The lack of mammalian fauna was putting a crimp in her experience of living in Africa. “But I still see some pretty cool things sometimes. Mostly reptiles and amphibians, like there’s this little frog, maybe the size of a half dollar, and it has a bright red body with blue legs and yellow-ringed green spots all over its back.  I see it in my garden sometimes, but once while I was trimming it I saw it perched in the thatch of my roof.” She paused to think, “Or have you seen the really round brown one?  I dug it up in my garden one time. I thought it was some kind of nut, even when it started secreting a milky substance. So I picked it up with my hoe and that’s when I noticed it had a face!”
“You know too, there are hornbills around here.  I can hear them calling just before dawn.  If you look in the bird books they tell you that you can only find them in national parks now; that they’re rare.  But they’re not, they’re out there.”
“What! Do you think there’s any by me?!” What a wildlife revelation it would be if there was! Chelsi thought to herself.  It would be a real good reason to get out of bed before 10. “Where do they live around here?”
“There’s a kind of grass area just over there.”
“I have a kind of wetland, grassy area just across from my house, do you think there are any there?”
“I don’t know.”
“What do they sound like? Or you know what, you should just come spend the night at my house, and in the morning you can listen for them calling, then we can go looking for them!”
“Yeah, alright,” Ginny nodded a bit aloof.  She was staring out over her grass lawn.  Chelsi wondered if she was distracted by the imaginary impala.
“Hey, speaking of backyard safaris, look at that.” Chelsi had barely detected the movement at the edges of her vision.  Under a broad leafy plant, no more than two yard in front of them, a small snake slithered.
“What?”
“Under the plant there.  It’s a little snake.”
“Where?” Ginny bobbed her head, trying to bring it into view.
“Just there,” Chelsi point. “In the small space between the two plants on the end there. There, it’s looking at us now!”
“Oh, okay I see it now. And that’s the other thing. The people here, they are always killing the snakes.”
“And the chameleons.” Zambians believe that chameleons are bad luck, deadly. More than once a member of Chelsi’s community had come to her saying that Daisy hadn’t long to live because they saw her pull one of the reptiles from the bush and eat it.  “Whenever I see chameleons, or even snakes in the road I always stop and encourage them across more quickly, knowing that the next person to come long will stone them to death.”
“But the snakes I sort of understand. There are a lot of really deadly snakes here.” They watched the little critter turn away from them and start to smell-taste its surroundings. 
“But so many of them are just so small, and when I see them they’re generally trying to get away.”
“You know, it funny that you spotted that snake under there, because I stick my hand under there all the time, to clean out the weeds and stuff, you know.”
“See! This is probably one of the friendly ones then.” Chelsi proclaimed. “This probably isn’t the first time it’s hid out under there.”
“Look, it moving.” They watched as the little snake slipped out from under its cover, heading across the front door path toward Ginny’s side lawn.  “Should we follow it? Get a closer look?”
“Yes,” but her words were caught in her wind as she sprung from her chair.
The little snake couldn’t have been  much more than a foot long.  Its scales were black and shiny.  Chelsi and Ginny closed in on it; no more than a yard away now, Chelsi’s head closer as she bent to get a better look.  The little snake turned its graceful head back towards them, looking intently and Chelsi noticed, as it reared up, that its under belly, just below its head, was brushed with yellow creating a reverse pattern of black spots; just like a Clown Trigger fish, Chelsi thought, as the pattern began to rapidly expand.
“Nope, that’s a cobra.” Ginny’s voice was stressed with acute urgency. “We have to kill that one.”
Chelsi straighten up in just enough time to see Ginny disappear into her house. Having relieved themselves of their threatening posture, the cobra too collapsed its hood and began on its way again.
“Are you sure there aren’t any non-poisonous cobras?” Chelsi called looking back at the snake; taking what would be its final breaths of life.  “Or other snakes with hoods.”
“No…” Ginny re-emerged, weapon in hand.
The cobra stopped again when it saw that its audience had double again. Ginny raised the blade of her hoe, high above her head and brought it down on the snake with a thwack.
Having missed the snake recoiled, reared up, hood spread. But Ginny was quick in dislodging her hoe from the soil, bringing it up half as high this time, she split the snake in two on the second swing.
For a few moments she continued dividing the snake in to pieces before making an attempt to mix it in to the soil, burying the head. As she registered the threat to their lives dissipating, Ginny’s mixing of the soil slowed and she took several deep breaths. “Oh my god, that was scary.”
Chelsi beamed at her, “Look at you, Ginny, cobra killer! I wish I had had my camera. We could have gotten that on film.”
“Yeah, right, that would have been cool,” she laughed starting to relax.
“But you better believe I’m writing about this to the folks at home. And from now on you’re being introduced as Ginny the cobra killer.” Chelsi paused, “I also see now why Peace Corps encourages us to keep the area around our houses cleared of grass and debris.” She thought about the jungle that was her yard. “I guess I know what I’m doing when I get back to my village.”

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018: Quiet as a Mouse

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One of more than a dozen mice that habe met their end in Chelsi"s house

It’s been about a week since Chelsi’s return from IST (In Service Training) and vacation at Lake Malawi.  Upon her initial return home she had noticed some changes; the yard was cleaned up, there was not thatch everywhere, some of the bushes in the back that the goats were destroying were ripped out, the roof for her chim was covered in thatch! though it was still on the ground, some of the old rotten fence posts were gone. It looked better though not much had changed. 
Daisy was not sitting on the porch waiting for her as she had hoped, but was second to greet her after Trigger, Daisy’s dog friend, came from across the compound to greet her first. Being gone for so long, almost four weeks, also posed great threats to the things inside of her house, almost more that the outside.  In that time termites could have eaten her entire library, mice could have chewed through her food bins, ants could have then taken away any remaining content. Not to mention the inside of the house be covered in a layer of dust so thick from the thatched roof she could see mouse tracks across her table.  But all and all she was pleased to find just about everything in good shape.  There were no ants and no unusual termite activity.  The mice were being no more mischievous then usual and by all accounts her mice were pretty tame. 
They pooped just in two corners making it easy to sweep up, so far they had not chewed through any of her food containers, though one once gave a good try at a peanut butter jar once.  After a little rearranging of her things they no longer found their way into her produce basket. If they did create a ruckus it was usually due to her error.  Once shortly after posting Chelsi had forgotten to put the cheese back in the plastic basket, and all night she listened to the rustling of the plastic wrapper without realizing what it was before she woke up.  The experience had taught her one other thing, though Zambians were not particularly fond of cheese, apparently  mice, no matter their country of origin lived up to the stereotype.
There was one other thing that made Chelsi’s mice unique. Unlike the reports from many of her volunteer friends, Chelsi’s mice were easy to catch.  If she heard a mouse at night while lying in her bed she could have it eliminated by the morning of the second day.  A clean house and a well-placed trap was all she needed.  She was more careful now about leaving food unprotected, no more rustling of plastic wrappers, but the mouse would still make noise as it move around the house. So, she would lie still and listen.  Was there a rustling of thatch? Was there a gnawing sound by the food bins? Could she hear feet running across the wooden handles of her tools or table? If there was a squeak that means there are two.  The next night she would place a trap where she heard the mouse spend most of its time and almost without fail, before she would even fall asleep she would hear the powerful SNAP of the trap closing around its prey. 
She remembered the pride she felt when she caught her first one, shortly after she first moved in.  She had taken the whole set over to her show one of her host sisters sitting in the chinzanza just next hers. With Chelsi beaming, her host sister had taken the trap from her hand when Chelsi offered it to her.  She freed the limp little body from the trap and stroked it with both of her hands.  The fur was soft and clean, the little mouse had taken good care of itself, she thought.  What happen next though surprised her.  Wilson, her host sister’s son, who could not have yet been four, wandered over to see what they were up too. When he had come close enough, her host sister extended the mouse towards him in one cupped hand.
Muja?’ she asked; ‘you eat?’
The little boy nodded his head vigorously, scooped up the little mouse and ran off towards the next chinzanza over where the fire was already going.  Her host sister smiled and handed the empty trap back to Chelsi, who accepted it and went back to her house.
Zambians eat mice, people eat mice, she knew that. But she had never thought of it happening quiet like that.  She thought about the children, who she had met on her brief visit to Eastern Provence back in February, that had trained her hosting volunteer’s dog to catch the mice in the fields  and bring them back live, or plumped up dormice being served up in European antiquity. A mouse that had be crush in a trap though did not seem as appealing somehow.  Subsequently, all mice, and there have been very many, have been bequeathed to Daisy, who will eat them slowly and most disturbingly over the course of three or four days. 
Dealing with mice, both dead and live, where just part of daily life in the village and it had not bother Chelsi, until one incident just the other week. 
It was the second of a pair of mice that had moved in during her long absence.  They had made a nest together in the thatch of her roof and were no doubt responsible for the chewed up ant traps she found scattered around and missing probiotics from their blister pack.  No wonder they are so regular, Chelsi had thought to herself as she swept up the piles of poop in the corners shortly after returning. The first of the pair, a male (a vast majority of the mice she caught in her house were male), had been pretty simple.  She heard the rustle in the thatch, so they would mostly be getting around using the tops of the walls, but unlike most of the mice that came through the roof, these two were using the back wall instead of the front.  Not a problem, Chelsi cleared a little space on the top of the back wall and that night, SNAP! A clean kill.  The little female mouse was a little more clever, and evaded the trap the next night.  Chelsi had heard her chew on the bait, interact with the trap, and then abandon it shortly after. 
“Alright, perhaps if I just turn it a little this way. When she comes from the corner she feel like the trap is something she just has to get around. And more like some she’ll want to investigate more closely.” Daisy, sitting on the floor next to the stool looked up at Chelsi wagging her tail as she talked.  “We’re done eating, there’s no food left. Kafwako.” Daisy harshly huffed some air out her nose and walked back out into the night.  Now that she had grown a little and exhibited responsible night time behavior, Chelsi gave her more freedom to come and go from the house before they go in to bed.  She looked at her watch, 20:20, which would be in another hour or two.  She pick up and put away all the pots and dishes, bathed, read her book some then under the mosquito net with her pup.  Her eyes were closed but her ears were open, waiting for the SNAP. 
Her mind startled awake to the sound of metal crashing to the floor.
“Squeak! Hiss hiss hiss,” came a few moments later.  The sound had woken Daisy too, and was now scooching herself closer to the head of the bed. 
“Hmmm, that was strange,” her voice haze. She rubbed the dog on the top of the head.  In the fog of her mind she constructed picture of what must have happened.  She pictured the trap up on the wall the mouse caught by the tail.  She entertain the idea briefly to get up and verify the scenario. Only bad things come from getting out of bed before the sun come up, she thought thinking back to her experience with the impazhi.  She heard just a few more squeak before she drifted off again.  I’ll deal with it in the morning. 
“Rustle, rustle, crinkle,” the sound of thin plastic, like a plastic bag. Maybe there’s three of them? She thought, still refusing to open her eyes.  No that can’t be right… But how it is making that sound? She imagined that the mouse had somehow been able to free itself and in an act of revenge have veraciously chewed through her food contains. Where else would it have found the plastic food bags? If it had chewed through the bins, there would be nothing that Chelsi could do about it tonight, but still she could imagine what had happened and could not sleep with insistent rustling of plastic.  She pulled the mosquito net out of the bed frame and got up. 
Fumbling in the dark, she found the light on the wall and switched it on. The light stung her eyes as he plucked it off the wall and carried it in to the next room.  Alright, it has to be over here… looking around, the only plastic bag left out was the one her 5 liter jug of cooking oil was in.  Surprisingly enough the animals never messed with it.  So why now? Chelsi thought.  She mentally prepared herself for what she might find: a mouse with a mangled tail, trailing blood… Damn it.
The little beast screeched.  Just next to the cooking oil container on the floor, the trap sat up right. The mouse was strapped like it was a passenger on the roller coaster of death; the safety bar securely fastened across its lap, its paws reaching into the air, waiting for the downhill wind, screeching at the top of its lungs.  Until it stopped, leaning forward it began to gnaw on its hind feet. Little bits of blood dribbled down it leg.
Chelsi was no stranger to ending the lives on animals. It’s not a difficult thing to do, I just have to do. She psyched herself up.  You can’t leave it like that. It’s suffering too much. She reached to the top of the wall where her one remaining leather glove sat. I wonder why Peace Corps Medical Office didn’t get us training on handling rodents. She wondered this often, but especially now with this one still up and fight. People in Zambia are still catching Plague, not to mention Hanta Virus. She reimagined being fitted for a respirator at university before being allowed to handle rodents in the field.  She them remembered having been bitten by a squirrel. Okay, you just have to do it. Just grab its head and pull. She conjured up the feeling in her hand and reached out with the leather glove on.   The mouse abandoned the gnawing of it and reached out to her fingers with its mouth open.
“OW!” she exclaimed for the third time.  “Fine, if you want to stay like that! I’m not going to deal with you.”  She was tired, and even with the glove the bits hurt.  She picked up the trap from the back end.  The mouse stretched for her fingers squealing. Unlocking the door she stepped outside.  It would still be dark for another four hours.  She would stay in bed for at least another five. She put the setup on the dish rack where the dogs would not get it before she got up.  It’s not being easy, but it doesn’t deserve that. And maybe it’ll just die on its own. She did not look back as she returned to bed.

“Daisy, DAISY STOP.”  Every morning, between six and six thirty Daisy scooted up the bed so her head was on the pillow and deliberately stretched out her legs so her paws punched Chelsi in the face.  Every morning. Sometimes multiple times. Normally she would just throw the dog off the bed, put out some food and prop open the door before getting back under the covers for another hour or two.  But the mouse for the night before was still on her mind.  So today, as she rose she put on some cloths and follow the dog outside. 
She looked over at the dish rack.  The little mouse was slumped forwards, ants were crawling on it face, dangling off its nose.  I totally forgot about the ants.  But it looked dead.  She reached to free the body from the trap.  Daisy sat, waiting for her treat.
“EEEEK!” the little beast burst to life, chomping its ant cover teeth towards her fingers.
“Damn it.”  She looked around. Most Zambians have been up for at least an hour at this point, and many of them were already on their way to their farms.  But she spied one of her host sisters milling out the chinzanza next to Chelsi’s. It’s because I feel animals that evade the most deadly of circumstances should be allowed to continue living in peace. She stretched her inner self, looking for the reason why she was struggling to kill this mouse.  She loitered around a bit trying to decide what to do. All the while glancing over at her host sister.
Alright, I gatta just take care of this.  She pick up the trap from where the mouse could not reach her and carried across the compound.  The little beast remained slump over for the journey.
Mwakonsha kukwash?” Chelsi extended the trap towards her sister. She probably thinks I’m an idiot. “Kechi nakonsha ne.” Her sister looked from her to the trap. And what a way to say good morning, having realized she had forgotten the all-important ceremony of morning greetings. Her sister reached out to take the trap, and as she did the mouse sprang back to life. Her sister jumped a little in surprise but was otherwise un-phased.   She picked up a stick lying nearby, leaning over with the trap just on the ground, but still in her hand she WHACKED, WHACKED, WHACKED it on the head. I really am an idiot. I should have thought of that. I could have done that.
Feeling totally defeat, Chelsi accepted the set as it was handed her.  “Ba Daisy, kaja?” her host sister asked.
“Yea, she eats them,” Chelsi replied, freeing the body from the trap.  To go along with its bloody back paws, one of its eyes was now hanging out of the socket.  “Sit!” She dangle the mouse by its tail.  Her puppy backed up, bending her hind legs but her tail was wagging so furiously her butt was not really touching the ground. “Sssit.” Chelsi trying once more, Daisy butt planted more firmly on the ground. Good enough, she dropped the mouse into her mouth and Daisy ran off.
Twasanta,” Chelsi thanked her sister.  Washed her hands and got back into bed.

Categories: Horror, Nature, Thriller | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments

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