Face-Time with Honduras

Every two or three days our medical missionary daughter calls from Honduras. She always calls in early evening as she sits on her north-facing front porch. She is enjoying a breeze which releases the heat of a humid tropical day without air conditioning. Initially she appears to be alone but as we talk the shouts of playing children are captured by the cell phone. Before her stretches a green swath of meadow shared with two other widely spaced homes. The site overlooks a steep slope down to the Caribbean Ocean. On clear days you can see the islands of Cayos Cichinos dim on the horizon. They are mystical, and reputed to be one of the most beautiful places on earth. They wink and beckon, just as Bali Hi beckoned in the Rogers & Hammerstein musical “South Pacific.” In the middle of the foreground, partially obstructing the view of the ocean, is a low growing spread-out knurled tropical fruit tree. A perfect climbing tree, it frequently sports several children in it branches. My daughter tells me that there have been times when the tree had a dozen children concealed in its twisted canopy. The children’s chatter is akin to that of a flock of birds gathered in preparation for migration. Occasionally one will drop out or hang head down momentarily visible, with legs hidden, wound around a low branch.

On three sides the site is flanked by steep tropical jungle ravines. Most often these steep narrow ravines with their dense vegetation appear as protective barriers of tree and undergrowth. Colorful tropical birds hop and squark among the leaves. If you stand on the edge and look down the ravine the bottom is dark; it is shaded into almost nocturnal gloom by the dense overhead canopy. Above this abyss Howler monkeys often visit as they rustle and leap from tree top to tree top. They eat the flowers, fruits and foliage. Sometimes this jungle threatens, epitomized when a male monkey begins to howl. He utters a noise reputed to be the loudest animal call on earth. It resounds over five miles. At other times a giant eight-foot-long Boa may slither into the sunlight. It comes to nab a free-range chicken kept, not so much for its egg laying capabilities, but rather to control the scorpion population. The ensuing battle is noisy and proves the end for both assailant and victim. After swallowing the chicken, the snake moves slowly and is target for a Honduran gardener who captures it with a noose around its head. The snake is proudly displayed and dragged off. The Honduran says that it goes home with him to become a rodent control guardian. I wonder if an alternative is that it will become someone’s dinner.

Our face time is periodically punctuated as my daughter hurls instructions to her children.

 “Josiah, don’t pick the watermelon. Leave it alone. It’s not ready!”

“Gideon, don’t’ do what I just told your brother not to do.”

“Madi, rescue the rabbit don’t let it get into the drainage conduit.”

I observe that my daughter looks tired. She confirms that she spent most of the night in the hospital, located on the other side of the ravine to her right. She was working to save a very sick baby which was born in a make-shift Honduran “taxi’ on the way to the hospital.  I can’t imagine how this was accomplished for the Honduran taxi is a glorified three-wheel motorcycle. My daughter goes on to add that during the first half of the night Isaac, her husband, joined a team administering to a lady who had been shot protecting her children and home. Apparently when her assailant arrived, she managed to lock the children in a backroom and then refused to give the thief money. She received four gun-shots.  The one to her head bounced off her skull, the one to her abdomen went through fat and missed organs, the one to her chest entered to the high right and went clean through diagonally to emerge without hitting an organ, the one to her arm also went right through. The medical team sewed her up and gave her blood from a matching donor on site.

My daughter sighs and goes on to tell me that the Corona virus has found them and that another Covid-19 patient managed to bypass their screening and arrive in the unprotected part of the hospital. By the time that this person was diagnosed much of the hospital staff had had contact. The horror continues as she tells me that their family has parasites which she is treating. I comment,

“Head lice – again?”

“No, not head lice, worms.”

“Yes, all children get pin worms from time to time.”

“No, not pinworms,” she sighs, “worms as big as this.” She holds up her pinkie. She goes on to mention a drug that she is administering to combat the worms.

“How does it work?” I ask innocently.

“They exit. When the intestinal environment is alien to them, they exit the anus. We found lots of them in the children’s shower.”

We end the call when my daughter hears the distant roar of Isaac’s motorcycle as he returns from the hospital. It is time for their dinner. Once I might have envied her for the beautiful place where she lives; a place where children play outside. But then I wince as I reorganize that this place is laced with many silent horrors. It is good that she and Isaac are dedicated to a healing higher cause.

Cathedral View Tea Party

Clara stood at the end of the driveway up to the Boy’s School dormitory. She chatted casually with the other mothers who waited with her. It was a fresh spring day, and she felt happily at ease. She looked forward with pleasure at the thought that today, she and her two girls, were to go to Mrs. Hughes’ home for tea. She had invested the preceding week in coaching the girls in tea-time proper etiquette. They were ready.

Presently, the waiting parents heard the distinct sound of children’s chatter, with their high-pitched voices blending peacefully with the normal urban backdrop. Clara smiled for she enjoyed this noise, which always preceded the emergence of her children. When they appeared, walking calmly in a neat two by two crocodile, she was happy to see that her oldest seven-year-old daughter, and her best friend led the group. The others, in descending ages, followed behind; their teacher, Miss Derry came last. She leased one room of the boy’s dormitory to house her school. In its confines, she miraculously managed to take fourteen children of varying ages and turn each out at age eight with a sound knowledge of reading, writing, and fundamental arithmatics, including multiple tables up to twelve, all based on a foundation of Christianity, world history and geography.

When they arrived at the bottom of the drive Miss Derry gave a signal, and the children dispersed to their parents in an orderly manner. Clara took her two’s hands and began to walk toward the Cathedral and River Banks. As this was in the opposite direction from home Mary, her eldest, pulled at her hand.

“Mama where are we going?”

“You remember, dear,” Her mother stopped, and turned to look at her daughter in the face “I told you at lunchtime. We are having a special treat. We are going to have tea with Mrs. Hughes.”

“But I’m hungry”

“Mrs. Hughes will have food for you.”

“Yes, but” Mary looked at her younger sister for moral support, “but Mrs. Hughes’ food is yucky!”

“You are going to be good girls. I know that you don’t like her dry sandwiches and fluffy store-bought whipped cream cakes, but you have to pretend. We talked about this at lunch-time. I want you to think of it as a game. Remember that you will be able to eat all your home-cooked, tea-time favorites when we get home”

“But Mama?”

“Yes, you are to take one sandwich and, then if you wish, you can say that you aren’t very hungry when she offers the cakes.”

“But Mama,” her younger daughter interrupted, “we’re really hungry.”

“Don’t worry. Be good, polite little ladies, and earn a reward. Forget the store-bought whipped cream cakes, when we get home we will have another tea with of all your home cooked tea-time favorites.”

Clara took her girl’s hands and walked briskly to the end of the road where they paused at a low wall overlooking the wooded ravine of the River Weir, locally referred to as The River Banks. They turned left down South Street with its magnificent views across the river to the west end of Durham cathedral. Its grey stones were high lit with a warm pink glow. Half-way down the street they stopped at the Hughes residence with its huge bay window facing across the narrow street. It commanded a view of the West End Galilee Chapel flanked by the west end towers with the central tower further behind completing the classic image of this magnificent structure.

Mrs. Hughes ushered them inside to her tea-table which was tastefully set in front of the bay-window commanding the cathedral view. Clara glowed with pride as she watched her daughters daintily handle their bone china teacups with their wood violet decoration. She watched each of them take, and slowly eat, a sandwich gently pushing it a round on their violet-decorated tea plates. Things were going well.

Mrs. Hughes took the cake plate off its pedestal and offered it to Mary. Clara watched Mary’s face and gave an inner groan when she saw that Mary was about to speak. She caught Mary’s eye and gave an almost imperceptible shake of her head.

“No!”

Mary responded, in a confident voice, “Don’t worry Mama. I was only going to say a polite ‘no thank you,’ to the store bought, whipped-cream cakes.”

Clara smiled and was about to turn away when Mary took a breath and forged on:

“Anyway, I know that you promised that when we get home we will have a real tea with of all our home-cooked tea-time favorites.”

Confumbulum – a short story

The little girl, Terry, looked up as her mother lent over to serve scrambled eggs onto her plate. Although she was seven-years-old she was a skinny little thing who looked more like a five-year-old. She wore dirty green corduroy play shorts topped by a green sweater. Her clothing was dirty. She sat next to her nine-year-old sister who was clad in identical, equally dirty clothing. They had spent a joyful day playing outside in a wild garden making dens from branches, cut grass and leaves.  Both girls sat on newspaper covered chairs, so arranged by their mother to protect the chair seats.

Just as the scrambled egg was about to be served onto her plate Terry made her proclamation;

“Mummy, I don’t like scrambled eggs.”

“Nonsense” responded her mother “you have always loved scrambled eggs. I’ll give you one spoonful. You can taste and remember that you love them.”

“No Mummy, I don’t like scrambled eggs!” Terry was emphatic. She looked at her sister who was about to proclaim that she, also, didn’t like scrambled eggs. Their mother intervened and glared at the older girl mouthing the words.

“No, you don’t.”

The older girl kept quiet.

Their mother rasped to the older girl, “You eat your eggs and show Terry how good they are. I’ll also put some on my plate.”

“As for you,” she glared at Terry, “eat your toast while I go to the kitchen to see if there is anything else for you to eat.”

She returned with a look on finality on her face and announced with a flourish,

“Confumbulum, especially for Terry.”

Terry looked at the pink food, with the consistency of scrambled eggs. She stared while it was being served onto her plate.  If her mother hadn’t looked so stern she might have declared another dislike. Instead she accepted the honor of a special food and  murmured “Confumbulum” as she ate.

 

 

 

THE CANDY – a short story

Please forgive my posting this Halloween story way after October 31st. My excuse is the prolonged and enjoyable visit by my daughter and family. They live in Honduras, so we don’t get to see them very often. The grandchildren 2, 5 and 7 are a handful of restless motion. Image grandparents run ragged!.  Apart from the tardiness of this post the following story has no relevance to the Honduras invasion, – I mean visit.

“It is a pity, Joe thought, “she’s a such a sweet child.”

He stood in the hall that Halloween night watching the family’s preparations. He was fully prepared in a sinister black Frankenstein costume. His new wife Susan, handed him three Halloween-wrapped orange bags filled with mini Snicker Bars. He tore them open and poured their contents into a wicker basket. They looked decorative with their brown wrapping and bold blue letters announcing “SNICKER”. He placed the basket in the hall close to the front door in readiness to hand out to ‘Trick or Treaters. He watched and waited while his wife, Susan, and his step-daughter daughter, Lisa, changed into their Halloween costumes. He paused to listen to the child’s happy voice, and slipped his hand into his pocket to touch the three laced mini Snicker’s bars which he had prepared, in secret, shortly after their marriage. “Yep,” he thought, “it is a pity but can’t be helped.”

When Lisa bounded downstairs in her fairy costume she ran up to Joe and gave him a loving hug. He lifted her up and swung her around, “Fly fairy, fly” he said. Their contact further eroded his resolve for her bubbling nature touched him. Momentarily he rationalized that perhaps the insurance money wasn’t worth it, but he quickly dismissed the thought. Everything was ready, and he had the insurance documentation hidden in the bottom of his desk drawer ready for him to “find” at the appropriate time. He told himself that “This is no time for sentimentality”.

They ate pizza for a hurried dinner and then took to the streets. It was a balmy evening full of fellowship and neighborliness. The one time in the year when everyone took to the streets and greeted each other with comradery. Joe was glad to see that several houses gave out mini Snickers bars. He managed to slip two of the bars from his pocket into unsuspecting children’s pumpkin tote baskets. He hated to do it but this had to look like the random work of a malignant terrorist / mass murderer without any specific target.

When they returned to the house Lisa poured her spoils including Joe’s contribution onto the coffee table. While she negotiated with her mother on what she could eat immediately several groups of boisterous groups of teens with their pillowcase totes rang their doorbell “Trick or Treat”. Joe and Susan took turns answering their calls and proffered their basket of candy. Joe was getting anxious as he endeavored to keep track of the doctored bar. Lisa sorted the candy into four piles, one for her mother, one for her new step-father, one for herself, and one as a tithe for the church. Joe nudged the laced bar into Lisa’s pile. “May we eat one now?” asked Lisa. Her mother nodded and all three tore open a Snicker’s bar. The doorbell rang to the sound of “Trick or Treat” from yet another boisterous group of teens. “Can you get it?” Susan asked Joe, “and then, let’s turn off the porchlight, no more trick-or-treat tonight.”

Joe was reluctant to leave the table at this critical moment but did so. When he stood up, somehow Susan’s foot got in the way and he tripped, knocking the coffee table sending some of the candy onto the floor. By the time that he got back to the table Lisa had retrieved the items and the coffee table looked rearranged as it had been before the interruption. They ate their snickers bars. Joe thought his candy to be rather bitter but put this down to his anxiousness, he smiled at Susan and Lisa and ate.

Joe wasn’t sure how quickly the poison would work. He sat watching for Lisa to show signs of distress. He was annoyed at himself when he began to sweat hoping that this didn’t give him away. But, when he felt a wave of nausea, he realized that he must have ingested the laced bar. He threw up and shouted to Susan, “Call 91, I need an ambulance.” Susan called. She sent Lisa outside to hail the ambulance down. Then, she gently wiped his brow. As he passed into oblivion, he heard her whisper in his ear, “Sorry, dear, I also have a hidden insurance policy!”

CHAT WALKS a memoir

Today I post “Chat Walks” which is a short personal memoir. It is offered as a quick read to atone for my last two long “Bobby Shafto” posts.

Every summer we visited my maternal grandparents who lived in a small village south of London. Probably to get us out of the house, my grandmother frequently insisted that we accompany my Grandfather on his daily walk. This consisted of a ramble around the village green taken at a slow pace for he stopped to greet everyone we encountered. He was on first name basis with them all. Each exchange, true to the English, began with the weather and went on to hold his attention for several minutes. I named his walks his “Chat Walks.” The name stuck! Soon my grandmother took to rising from the breakfast table with the words, “Jimmy, time for your Chat Walk, take the grandchildren!”

 

THE CAMPING TRIP

This one is under 300 words, and  so I classify it as  flash fiction.

Amanda listened, wide-eyed, to her elder brother’s report about his Boy Scout’s camping trip. He spoke of s’mores, ghost stories, flickering flames, camp-fire cooking, the aroma of wood smoke and the beauty of the stars. His discourse gave Amanda and her younger sister images of a cozy home-from-home, little wonder that Amanda begged her parents to give her a tent for her tenth birthday. 

When the tent arrived, Amanda requested a camping trip. Her parents weren’t excited by the thought of an out-of-town excursion, and hit on the idea of a camping trip in their premises. The weather forecast was good, no rain predicted.

Their father arrived home on the day of their camp to find that his daughters had already managed to erect their tent. They were blissfully playing house with an assortment of dolls and stuffed animals. He and their brother set up an adjacent tent. They cooked hot dogs on a portable BBQ and roasted marshmallows before a chimaera.

When it was time to sleep their mother kissed the children and told them that she was going inside to her very own comfortable bed. She invited anyone who wished to follow her indoors. An hour later, her son joined her. He explained that night sounds of coyotes, and distant traffic was eclipsed by his loud snoring father.

“Two fifths,” said his mother “Three to go.”

At midnight, the girls woke up with a shock for it was raining and wet inside their tent. They gathered up their wet toys and ran into the house.

“Four fifths,’ said their mother, “One to go.”

Before joining the family inside, their father, woken by the kafuffle, ran to the garage to turn off the irrigation system for the girls had pitched their tent on top of a lawn sprinkler.