Lusaka, Zambia August, 2011
The music was raucous, but it was always that way in African clubs. The beat of the drum—the backbone of village song—had been replaced in the cities by the throbbing insistence of electronic bass, amplified until everything around the speakers picked up the rhythm—people, beer bottles, even the walls. On Zoe’s first trip to the continent—a brief jaunt to Nairobi when she was six years old—her mother told her that Africa is the keeper of humanity’s pulse. It was a truth she remembered every time she stepped foot in a Zambian bar.
The place was called Hot Tropic, the club de jour in a city constantly reinventing its nightlife. The decor was all fire and glitter, neon lights flashing red against the walls and dazzling disco balls turning everything to sparkle. The place was packed with bodies, most of them African twenty-somethings, bouncing to the beat.
Zoe was seated at a table in a corner of the bar where the decibel level was slightly buffered. She was dressed in jeans and a Hard Rock London T-shirt, her wavy blonde hair pulled back in a clip. At the table with her were three African friends from work—two men and a woman. Most Saturdays Zoe hosted a barbecue, or braai, at her flat, and afterward those who had not satisfied their appetite for beer and conversation went clubbing. Tonight, the subject on everyone’s minds was the September election, pitting Zambia’s President, Rupiah Banda, against the aging warhorse Michael Sata, and the energetic upstart Hakainde Hichilema, or “H.H.”
“Banda is finished,” Niza Moyo was saying, her dark eyes aglow with indignation. “As is his party. They’ve run the country for twenty years and what have they given us? Mobile hospitals that take doctors away from the real hospitals; police officers that have no vehicles to investigate a crime; roads that only the rich can drive on; and corruption at every level of government. It’s a disgrace.”
Like Zoe, Niza was a young attorney at the Coalition of International Legal Advocates, or CILA, a London-based non-profit that combatted human rights abuses around the world. She was feistier and more outspoken than most Zambian women, but she was Shona, from Zimbabwe, and her father was an exiled diplomat known for challenging authority.
“I sympathize with your position,” said Joseph Kabuta, an officer with the Zambia Police Victim Support Unit. Solidly built with close-cropped hair and wide perceptive eyes, he reminded Zoe of the young Nelson Mandela. “But Banda is still popular in the rural areas, and Michael Sata isn’t well. Zambians don’t want another president to die in office.”
“The press reports about Sata’s health are overblown,” Niza rejoined.
“What I can’t figure out,” Zoe interjected, “is why you don’t throw out the guys with one foot in the grave and elect the best candidate. Everybody loves H.H. He’s a born leader and he has no political baggage. But everybody says he can’t win. Where’s the logic?”
“It’s the way people think,” said Sergeant Zulu—who everyone called Sarge. Strategically brilliant and compulsively affable, he was the lead attorney at CILA and the mastermind behind the organization’s campaign against child sexual assault. “In Africa, presidents are like village chiefs. People vote for the gray heads.”
“So what you’re saying is that reformers don’t stand a chance until the old guard dies?” Zoe asked. “No wonder progress is like pulling teeth here.”
Sarge smiled wryly. “Each generation has to wait its turn.” He held up his empty bottle of Castle lager. “Anyone else need another beer, or am I the only one drinking?”
“I’ll take a Mosi,” said Joseph, draining his bottle and pushing it to the center of the table. Suddenly, he frowned and reached into the pocket of his jeans. He pulled out his cell phone and glanced at the screen. “It’s Mariam,” he said, giving Sarge a quizzical look.
Zoe perked up. Mariam Changala was the field-office director at CILA and the mother of six children. If she was calling Joseph in the middle of the night, it had to be serious.
Zoe watched Joseph’s face as he took the call. His broad eyebrows arched. “Is Dr. Chulu on call? Make sure he’s there. I’m ten minutes away.” He put the phone away and glanced around the table. “A girl was raped in Kanyama. They’re taking her to the hospital now.”
“How old?” Niza asked.
Joseph shrugged. “Mariam just said she’s young.”
“Family?” Sarge inquired.
“Not clear. They found her wandering the streets.”
Zoe spoke: “Who picked her up?”
“Some people from SCA.”
“She’s disabled?” Zoe asked. “SCA” stood for Special Child Advocates, a nonprofit that worked with children with intellectual disabilities.
“Presumably,” Joseph said, throwing on his jacket. “Sorry to break up the party.” He gave them a wave and headed toward the door.
Zoe decided on a whim to follow him. Child rape cases usually appeared on her desk in a weeks-old police file. She’d never learned of an incident so soon after it happened. She tossed an apology to Sarge and Niza and weaved her way through the crowd, catching up to Joseph.
“Mind if I come with you?” she asked. “I’ve never seen the intake process.”
He looked annoyed. “Okay, but stay out of the way.”
Zoe followed him into the chilly August night. Thrusting her hands into the pockets of her jacket, she looked toward the south and saw Canopus hanging low over the horizon. The brightest southern stars were visible above the scrim of city lights. Joseph walked toward a rusty Toyota pickup jammed in between cars on the edge of the dirt lot. Only the driver’s door was accessible. Zoe had to climb over the gearshift to reach the passenger seat.
Joseph started the truck with a roar and pulled out onto the street. Since Hot Tropic sat on the border between Kalingalinga, one of Lusaka’s poorer neighborhoods, and Kabulonga, its wealthiest, street traffic on a Saturday night was kaleidoscopic, a colorful blend of pedestrians, up-market SUVs, and blue taxi vans crammed with revelers.
“How did the people at SCA find the girl?” Zoe asked as they left the club behind.
He stared at the road without answering, and she wondered if he’d heard her. She observed him for a long moment in the shadows of the cab. She knew almost nothing about him, except that he had been a police officer for over a decade, that he loathed corruption, and that he had recently completed a law degree at the University of Zambia.
She spoke his name to get his attention. “Joseph.”
He twitched and took a breath. “One of their community volunteers found her,” he said. “A woman named Abigail. She saw blood on the girl’s leg and called Joy Herald.” Joy was the director of SCA. “Joy called Mariam at home.”
“It happened in Kanyama?”
He nodded. “East of Los Angeles Road, not far from Chibolya.”
She shuddered. Kanyama lay to the southwest of Cairo Road—the city’s commercial center. A patchwork of shanties and cinderblock dwellings, most without toilets or running water, it was a haven for poverty, alcoholism, larceny, and cholera outbreaks. In an election year, it was also a cauldron of political unrest. But at least Kanyama had a police post. Chibolya was such a cesspool of lawlessness that the police avoided it altogether.
They left the well-lit neighborhoods of Kabulonga and headed west along the wide, divided highway of Los Angeles Boulevard. Skirting the edge of the Lusaka Golf Club, they took Nyerere Road through a tunnel of mature jacarandas whose dense branches slivered the light of the moon.
“Were there any witnesses?” she asked.
He sighed and shifted in his seat. “I have no idea. Are you always so full of questions?”
She bristled and thought: If I were a man, would you be asking? She considered a number of barbed responses, but in the end she held her tongue. CILA needed her to build bridges with the police, not wreck them.
Five minutes later, they passed through rusting gates and parked outside the pediatric wing of University Teaching Hospital, the largest medical facility in Zambia. Zoe climbed out of the cab and followed Joseph into the lobby. The air in the room was pungent with bleach. She saw Joy Herald, a matronly Brit, sitting on a bench with an elderly Zambian woman and a girl with mulatto skin who looked no older than ten. Zoe’s heart lurched. The child’s innocent eyes, framed by epicanthal folds, flat nose bridge, and tiny ears, revealed her extra chromosome.
She had Down syndrome.
Joseph spoke. “Where is Dr. Chulu?”
“He’s on his way,” Joy replied.
“Has the child been examined by anyone else?”
Joy shook her head. “The doctor’s assistant is collecting the paperwork.”
Before long, Dr. Emmanuel Chulu walked briskly into the lobby, his white medical coat billowing behind him. A giant of a man with an owl-like face and a deep baritone voice, he was the chief pediatric physician at UTH and also the founder of a clinic for the victims of child rape—“defilement” in Zambian parlance.
Dr. Chulu spoke to the old woman first, mixing English and Nyanja, the most common indigenous language in Lusaka. “Hello, mother, muli bwange?”
The woman returned his gaze but didn’t smile. “Ndili bwino.”
“Are you a member of her family?” he asked.
The woman shook her head. “I am Abigail, the one who found her.”
The doctor knelt down in front of the girl and gazed into her eyes, his large frame utterly still. The child was rocking back and forth and humming faintly under her breath. “I’m Manny,” he said, searching her face for a sign of recognition. “What is your name?”
The child’s hum turned into a moan. Her eyes grew unfocused and her rocking increased.
The doctor spoke to her in a number of different languages, trying to make contact, but she didn’t reply. “Hmm,” he said, visibly perplexed.
Zoe fingered her mother’s ring, empathizing with the girl. She couldn’t imagine the physical pain the child had endured, but she understood the horror.
All of a sudden, the child’s moaning diminished, and her eyes focused on Zoe’s hands. It took Zoe a moment to realize that she was looking at Catherine’s diamonds. She slipped the ring off her finger and knelt down in front of the girl.
“This was my mommy’s,” she said. “Would you like to hold it?”
The girl seemed to think for a moment. Then she reached out and clutched the ring to her chest. Her moaning ceased and her rocking grew less agitated.
Dr. Chulu looked at Joy, then at Zoe. “Ms. Fleming, right?”
Zoe nodded. “Yes.”
“CILA hasn’t sent a lawyer before. Our good fortune to have you.” He looked around. “Has anyone seen my assistant? I can’t do the exam without the forms.”
At that moment, a young Zambian woman emerged from a door labeled “Administration,” holding a clipboard and a stack of papers.
“Nurse Mbelo, just in time,” he said, taking the clipboard. He looked at Abigail. “Mother, Officer Kabuta needs to ask you some questions, but first he needs to witness the examination of the child. Can you wait?”
“Ms. Herald,” said the doctor, “I presume you and Ms. Fleming can handle the child.”
The intake room was small and poorly ventilated. The fluorescent light cast by two discolored bulbs created a haze at the edge of Zoe’s contact lenses. After seating the girl on a narrow table, Dr. Chulu began the examination. His touch was gentle and his bedside manner as tender as a father with a daughter.
Zoe leaned against the wall and watched the doctor’s face as he conducted the exam. She found the sterility of the intake room unnerving, as if the medical procedure, in its sheer scientific orderliness, could sanitize the rape of its obscenity. She searched Dr. Chulu’s eyes for a shadow, a cloud in his professional calm, and felt empathy when his jaw went rigid. He placed a swab he was holding back in its clear container and sealed it in a plastic bag.
It was stained with blood.
The process of sample collection took thirty minutes. Afterward, Nurse Mbelo wheeled a robotic-looking instrument called a colposcope to the bed, and Dr. Chulu used the built-in camera to photograph the girl’s injuries. The child endured the colposcopy for less than a minute before she rolled over and began to make a loud vibrato sound—part cry, part groan.
Dr. Chulu looked at the nurse. “How many images did you get?”
“Five,” she replied. “All exterior.”
The doctor conferred with Joseph. “Do you think it’s enough for the Court?”
“I’ll sign the report,” Joseph replied quietly. “The magistrate will listen to us.”
Dr. Chulu nodded and turned to Joy. “I need to keep her overnight to monitor her. But I can’t put her in the ward without knowing her HIV status. I need you to keep her still while I conduct the test.”
“Do you have any music?” Joy asked. “It might soothe her.”
The doctor gave her a puzzled look. “I have a CD player in my office.”
“I have an iPhone,” Zoe interjected, taking it out of her pocket. “What about Thomas Mapfumo?” she asked, referring to the celebrated Zimbabwean artist.
“Try it,” Joy said. “Your ring worked like a charm.”
Zoe selected a song from the album Rise Up and pointed the speaker toward the girl. At the sound of the traditional Shona thumb piano the girl’s protests lost their shrillness and she began to bob her head with the rhythm.
Joy looked at Dr. Chulu. “Do what you have to do.”
The doctor reached out for one of the child’s hands and cleaned the middle finger with a cloth. He put pressure on the fingertip and pricked the skin with a lancet. The girl stiffened, but the doctor held her finger firmly, dabbing drops of blood with a pad before collecting a sample in a vial. He handed the vial to his assistant who placed a drop in the window of the test display.
“Non-reactive,” the nurse said.
“At last some good news,” Dr. Chulu replied. “Get me ten-milligram bottles of Zidovudine, Lamivudine, and Lopinavir in suspension and some pediatric Tylenol.”
Nurse Mbelo returned a minute later with the pain medication and what Zoe guessed were antiretrovirals—ARVs— designed to prevent the transmission of HIV.
Dr. Chulu looked at Joy. “If I give you the medicine, will you administer it?”
Joy nodded and helped the girl to sit, speaking softly in her ear. “I have some juice to give you. I need you to open your mouth. I know you can do it.”
When the doctor handed her the first medicine dropper, Joy showed it to the girl and then gently inserted it between her lips, squeezing out its contents. The child swallowed the liquid easily. Joy repeated the procedure with the remaining three droppers, all of which the child took without complaint.
She understands medicine, Zoe thought, feeling a surge of affection for the girl.
Dr. Chulu took Joseph aside and Zoe joined them. “I’ll contact Social Welfare in the morning,” he said. “I need you to find her family.”
Joseph nodded. “I’ll go to Kanyama tomorrow. Someone will know her.”
Zoe took a deep breath, debating with herself. “If it’s all the same to you,” she said, “I’d like to stay with her tonight.”
The doctor stared at her. “That’s not necessary. We can sedate her if we need to.”
“I understand,” she said. In truth, she had deep misgivings about spending hours in the sickness-laden air of the admissions ward, but she couldn’t imagine leaving the girl alone after the trauma she had suffered.
Dr. Chulu smiled wearily. “If you want to give up sleep, I’m not going to stop you.”
Excerpted from The Garden of Burning Sand by Corban Addison. Copyright © 2013 by 2013 Regulus Books, LLC.
First published in Great Britain in 2013 by Quercus, 55 Baker Street, 7th Floor, South Block
London, W1U 8EW.
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