This story is by Anita Howard and was part of our 2016 Winter Writing Contest. You can find all the Winter Writing Contest stories here.
Don’t you hate it when you get dragged around by your parents, ‘cos they think you’re too young to stay at home or go to boarding school?
My parents are divorced. Dad is a pilot flying all over the place. I’ve been up in the cockpit, it’s real cool. ‘Cos of his flying, he can’t look after me. My sister Alice, she’s twelve and my brother Sven, he’s fifteen; they both go to boarding school in Sydney, Australia. It was better last year when Alice travelled with us, we’d have so much fun and she was real good at meeting people. She’d just walk right up to kids we didn’t know and say, ‘Hi, can we play?’ She’d even work out how to say it in their language so they’d understand. But now it’s just me and Mum, for another three months and a year, then I can start boarding school. My name’s Chris and, just between you and me, I’m not sure I want to go.
Mum’s a doctor, part of a travelling medical group. She’s forever on crusades for the poor, and I always get dragged along. Last week I was in Dili, Timor-Leste, a place that’s hot like here, but wet. I felt damp and sticky all the time. First thing in the morning was okay, but by lunchtime you felt you’d just walked out of a shower, and never felt dry. Then the rain started. They need to come up with another word for the stuff that falls, it’s like all the clouds opened up and let all their water out at once. I looked up the thesaurus on my computer to find words that were better than rain and found these; deluge, flood, cloudburst, drencher and barrage.
Now I’m here, sitting in a tent, in a town I thought was made up. Doing school work. Yeah, you did read right, school work. See, I don’t go to school most days, I have school online. Sometimes I go to an international school. Depends on which country and city we’re in and where Mum’s working. It’s hard to make and keep friends. I mean face-to-face friends, not online friends.
I have to write this diary every single day.
We arrived in Timbuktu at 11:00pm. That’s the place I thought people made up, you know, for silly songs and places to threaten to send you to. Timbuktu is in a west African country called Mali, sort of under Morocco. It’s real hot here so planes only fly at night, when it’s cooler. Sand is everywhere. Everything you eat has a grainy texture, even spaghetti. And I thought I had an ocean-load of sand in my swimmers when that giant wave dumped me. Nah! Here I’ll be wearing sand clothes. Ha ha NOT!
Ali, a local doctor’s son, let me help his uncle make mud bricks; they’re a mixture of mud, clay and straw. Most houses in Timbuktu are made from them. Ali told me later they can also have camel poo in them… (I’ve come back and added this after the following events).
I slopped the mud mixture into the moulds. Ali took off the moulds, leaving the mud brick to dry. One time I missed the mould and dumped mud on Ali’s head. Ali threw mud at me, catching the left side of my face. Then we had a huge mud fight; we got mud everywhere, in our eyes and mouths. Yuck! We were having so much fun and made so much noise that Ali’s uncle noticed.
‘Ali!’ he shouted. Ali pulled my right arm.
‘OK, I’m coming.’
We walked past mud houses with big carved wood and metal doors. Camels and goats nuuuuurrred or bleated. They stank, like sports change rooms.
‘Where are we going, Ali?’
‘Into the desert, to have fun and make noise.’
We walked under the sun, the cold mud forgotten. Eventually Ali dropped onto the sand under some palm trees. He grabbed my leg and toppled me over. I twisted, my leg escaped and I wrapped it around his body. We wrestled until we lay back panting. Ali was a good sparring partner, being the same size. Exhausted, we slept.
* * * * *
‘Ach!’ I spluttered, trying to move my head from side to side. Sand, in my clothes, ears, mouth and up my nostrils. What? Where? How? Questions raced through my mind. Am I still in Timbuktu? I remembered Mum’s warnings about the sand storm. We must have fallen asleep before the storm. Or maybe I’d been knocked unconscious. I couldn’t remember.
I tried to stretch and turn over. My heart thumped as I gasped for air. I twisted backwards and forwards, swinging my arms and legs to free myself from my prison. Gradually the sand released me. I shook myself like a wet dog to get rid of every grain. Sitting up, I looked around; nothing but sand. I listened; no sounds. My fingers explored in all direction and found lots of grains. I focused on my breathing; a calmer mind might help me make more sense of what happened.
Then I remembered …
‘Ali!’ I sent my fingers diving, searching into the sand. No Ali. Where was he?
I crawled forwards then dug and pushed the sand, searching for any sign of Ali. Nothing! My whole body trembled. My heart felt as if it was about to burst from my chest.
A gush of wind blasted, raising grains of sand and thrusting them into my face. They hit with such force, reminding me of a tetanus needle, but more like thousands at the same time. I yelled ‘Help!’ but the harsh wind swallowed my voice. I gasped, coughed and spat air filled with sand and dirt. My eyes stung with grit and my mouth was dry.
Around me the thunderous thrusting of sand thumping onto sheets of different fabric, thwack, roared and rumbled across roofs, groaned and swished through the still-standing trees. Sounds of people and animals screaming. Clank and crash of metal hitting metal, and thud of timber slamming into bricks as the wind whooshed past my ears.
What on earth was happening? Is this the wind storm Mum described?
I put my face between my knees and wrapped my arms around, hoping the wind would soon stop. I stayed like this for what seemed like ages, until there was silence, and the air was still.
* * * * *
I tried to work out where Ali might be. Had he left me? Or was he still out here? ‘He must be somewhere,’ I whispered.
My fingers raked through the sand, pushing armfuls to the right and the left. Next, my fingers once again dived searching and probing for Ali. I sat back on my heels to catch my breath, then pushed and searched in one direction, then another, moving slowly from one area to another.
‘Ali, where are you?’
My fingers were digging and reaching into the deep sand. One finger touched something solid but soft.
I swiped and pushed the sand, faster and faster. Must find my new friend. My fingers touched a body! Ali? Ali!’ I brushed sand from my friend’s face. I lowered my face down to Ali’s and turned my head, placing my ear near Ali’s nose and mouth. I held my breath, wishing for a sound from Ali. I picked up a faint ‘Ah.’
I rolled Ali onto his side and gently thumped his back, removing further sand that had gathered on his face. ‘Breathe, Ali, please breathe.’ I sat back on my heels and thought, ‘What should I do?’
Ali coughed and spluttered. I reached out my hand to touch him. He grabbed my hands and placed them on his forehead, just above his eyes.
‘Yuck!’ I said, withdrawing my hands. Sticky stuff flowed down into Ali’s eyes and onto his face. I felt sick, then turned my head and vomited.
Ali needed help, now! But, but how could I help? I didn’t even know where I was. I wanted to blink my eyes and be transported back to our tent, playing cards with my Mum. Instead, I felt like I couldn’t breathe and my whole body shook.
‘I’m only a kid!’ I screamed. ‘What can I do?’
‘Ahhhh,’ Ali groaned. He must be in pain.
‘HELP! HELP! HELP!’ I said
We couldn’t stay here; Ali needed help. I took some deep breaths, reaching down to help Ali stand up, but he was limp. I grabbed one of Ali’s arms and pulled it over my left shoulder, then grabbed his other hand and held it under my right arm.
We fell into the sand.
The journey back took forever.
I could hear the nuuuurrr of the camels and the bleats of sheep. Then I smelled…
Never thought I’d be so happy to smell poo!
But I was.