FYI: No geckos were harmed in the writing of this part.
For the Scatterlings and Orphanages Africander Fiction Challenge by ludditerobot.
For all previous parts, go here.
Continued from Part 28.
As I prepared to make my escape under the cover of the noise and darkness, I heard Dave say, “Just so you know. We’re cool.”
Mr. Harris sounded very relieved when he said, “Good.”
The ungodly bright sunlight woke me far too early, especially given the abbreviated nature of my sleep the night before. I cracked open my eyelids and resolutely shut them again as my body protested against the weariness that weighed me down. Although I could usually get on with five hours’ sleep or so, I was exhausted. Aside from a night interrupted by dreams and eavesdropping, I had been constantly on the move for the past few days in unfamiliar environs; my mind was troubled by what I had learned of Mr. Harris’s situation; and I felt besieged from all directions.
The insistent sunlight, however, was more effective than an alarm clock. After tossing and turning with my eyes firmly closed for what felt like several hours, I mentally waved the white flag and got out of bed. With my eyes still half-closed in protest, I stumbled to the covered jug for a primitive version of my morning ablutions.
As I reached out to take the jug however, a most ghastly surprise awaited me. A giant lizard was perched atop the cover. I swear to you dear reader, it looked to me to be about 15 centimeters long. I screamed in surprise and, out of pure instinct, I snatched up the offending creature and threw it with all my might against a bare wall. It splattered into a squishy pulp from the force of the impact and then dripped and dropped in pieces to the ground.
My door was kicked in and I whirled around, still screaming mind you, to face the new attack.
Alexandrienne stepped over the threshold, but she froze upon seeing my hysterical state. Her eyes widened and she quickly held up her hands to show that she meant me no harm. I stopped screaming long enough to sag against the shelf that held the pitcher and basin as I desperately attempted to collect myself.
As the Slayer dropped her hands and her shoulders relaxed, Mr. Harris thundered into my hut. He smashed into Alexandrienne’s back with a “Whoooof!” The two of them shouted in a mixture of languages as they tumbled forward as a result of the surprise impact.
Too late I realized that Mr. Harris came bearing a rather large axe and I shouted, “Careful! Careful!” as the pair squabbled and worked mightily to avoid falling to the floor. Mr. Harris had sensibly dropped the axe as far away from them as best he could, but they still danced around the exposed blade in a way that made me almost certain that it would taste blood.
“Holy cats! What was that!” Dave exclaimed as he, too, rushed in to join the festivities. I noticed that he also came armed with an axe, albeit one that was smaller than the battleaxe Mr. Harris brought with him. He stopped short as he watched Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne attempt to untangle themselves. Radar squeezed past him to get into the hut. I was grateful that at least Radar was unarmed.
Mr. Harris and Alexandrienne managed to finally separate and recover their feet
I collapsed inward on myself out of sheer embarrassment.
“What happened?” Mr. Harris demanded as he swooped down to retrieve his weapon.
I pointed in the direction of what was left of the corpse. “Lizard?” I asked weakly.
The trio looked to where I pointed. Dave’s eyes flew wide open as he saw the mess. Alexandrienne’s glittering eyes fixated on the dead lizard bits as she coolly assessed the carnage. Radar’s mouth comically dropped open, but he quickly shut it and looked to Mr. Harris for guidance.
As for Mr. Harris, he seemed torn between amusement and exasperation. “So, let me repeat. What happened?”
I began helplessly pointing from the jug, to the splatter on the wall, then at the wall hangings, down to the lizard pieces on the ground. “I was going to — that is I — this lizard and — I think it was dangerous, see — and I — there was a lizard and —”
Mr. Harris’s one visible eyebrow lowered over his eye as he, too, fixated on the lizard mess. “I see,” Mr. Harris calmly interrupted.
Everyone in the room seemed to hold their breath, perhaps expecting Mr. Harris to explode with anger because I put he and his people on alert over the fact that the local wildlife had invaded my hut.
Mr. Harris suddenly grinned. To my utter shock, his stance relaxed and his expression was one of easy, friendly amusement. “You’ve met our local mosquito slayers, I see.”
Dave and Radar relaxed with grins that mirrored Mr. Harris’s. Alexandrienne, I noticed, remained focused on the wall and the lizard bits. She even tensed slightly as she shifted slightly closer to Mr. Harris in a move that was clearly protective of him.
I admit that Alexandrienne’s reaction caused my heart to skip a beat.
“Geckos. They’re all over the place around here,” Mr. Harris explained. His voice remained light and friendly. Considering who was speaking, I found it oddly reassuring. “Hate to say it, but you’re going to find them scurrying everywhere. They stick to anything that has a surface. That’s why doc was so insistent that you keep the hut spic and span when you talked to him.”
I inwardly cringed over the fact that had yet to visit Dr. Mboto. “Ah, about that—” I began.
Mr. Harris continued. “You probably scared the gecko,” he nodded at the corpse, “more than it scared you.” He tilted his head and pointed vaguely at it, his finger circling the area in a lazily vague manner. “I think it’s kind of big to be an indoor gecko. Can’t tell since you smushed it pretty good.”
“It was at least 15 centimeters,” I protested.
“No more than 10, not that I can honestly tell. I’m just guessing by the amount of,” he paused as he closed his eye and shook his head, “gecko guts. It’s just a guess because, unh, what did you hit it with again?”
I could feel a sick grin cross my face. As I was empty-handed, I couldn’t very well say I had hit it with anything. “The wall?” I ventured.
Mr. Harris blinked and spared the mess a glance. He looked like he was desperately trying not to laugh. “Weeeeellllll,” he drawled, “that’s one way to do it. Effective. Messy, but effective.”
I could swear that I saw Alexandrienne take a slight step forward as she again shifted closer to Mr. Harris. Any closer, and she’d be grafted to his hip.
“I’ll admit that it probably was bigger than the usual house gecko,” Mr. Harris graciously allowed. “This hut’s been empty for a few days, so it probably moved in to escape the night cold and predators and figured it scored the jackpot. They’re mostly skittering around outside during the day, so it was probably on its way out the door when you caught it by surprise.”
“So they’re not usually inside then,” I said as I sagged with relief.
“Remember what doc told you about spic and span?” Mr. Harris said by way of reminding me of the talk I hadn’t yet had with Dr. Mboto. “These guys are the reason. The smaller ones kinda like hanging around indoors. It’s not like you see them all the time. They’re usually lurking in the corners or under the wall cloths somewhere. Sometimes you’ll catch a shadow skittering up the wall or across the floor, but that’s about it. They eat their weight in mosquitoes, I swear, but that also means gecko poop.”
Radar snickered in that way young boys have when they hear an adult say ‘poop.’
Mr. Harris shot him an exasperated look. “I’m trying not to say shit, Radar.”
An attack of the giggles overcame both Dave and Radar as Mr. Harris hunched his shoulders in embarrassment and blushed. “Unh, sorry Miss Swithin,” he mumbled.
I was startled to realize that Mr. Harris was attempting to treat me like a lady. Considering the rather nasty confrontation in his hut the day before, this took me rather by surprise. It was somewhat touching, in its own clumsy way. Had I not overheard his conversation with Dave just last night, I would’ve been inclined to put our earlier argument down to both of us being overtired and under stress.
“It’s quite all right. My delicate sensibilities are hardly injured,” I assured him. “I don’t suppose you know how to keep them out?”
“Sorry,” Mr. Harris said with a shrug. “Don’t worry. They’re usually pretty harmless and they don’t bite. Well, they can bite, but usually they just skitter off if you get too close. They’re not big on the attack if you’re larger than they are.”
“They’re not fond of attacking if you’re bigger than a bug,” Dave corrected.
“I’m not sure I’m fond of them getting into my things,” I admitted.
“I understand, but the best you can do is to not eat in your hut, check everything before you use it, and keep things sealed up as much as possible.” Mr. Harris nodded. “I admit, they can be a bit on the creepy side if you don’t expect to see them sitting on top of your stuff. First time I woke up to one of these staring me in the face, I screeched like a little girl and stomped on it.”
Alexandrienne’s head jerked just a little in Mr. Harris’s direction, as if she wanted to look at him but stopped herself in time. The movement of her chin was so slight, that as soon as I was certain I had seen it, I became equally certain that I imagined her reaction.
“Let’s just say I had a big talking to about that,” Mr. Harris chuckled. “You know. Because of the mess. I’ll spare you the lecture.”
I helplessly looked at the blood and flesh dripping down the wall. I had an awful feeling that I was going to find bits of gecko in the most shocking places for as long as I stayed.
“I’d move you to another hut until we were sure that we got everything cleaned up, but this is the only vacant hut we’ve got,” Mr. Harris said apologetically. “I don’t want to move you in with one of the Slayers until we get a chance to ask one of them if it’s okay for them to share quarters.”
“I understand,” I quickly agreed. I had far too much by way of sensitive material in my possession. I was not willing to chance one of Mr. Harris’s Slayers finding my documents.
“I’ll help you get this cleaned up. Let me just grab some rubber gloves, spare cleaning brushes, and clean cloths from Grandma’s storage and I’ll be right back,” Mr. Harris offered. He turned to his companions. “Show’s over guys. We got work on top of work to do today, so let’s move.”
This time Alexandrienne did look at Mr. Harris. As Dave and Radar left with barely suppressed laughter in their voices, Mr. Harris locked eyes with his charge. The moment lasted no more than a few seconds, but I got the distinct feeling that there was a silent argument going on between them. Mr. Harris’s eye suddenly narrowed, which prompted an angry snort from Alexandrienne.
“I will wash, then,” she announced as she turned to leave the hut.
I startled when I realized that outside of her accidental tussle with Mr. Harris when he collided with her, that I had not heard her speak at all.
When she exited the hut, I couldn’t resist commenting. “She is rather protective of you.”
Mr. Harris paused. Although his physically friendly stance did not alter, I sensed a wariness in his eye. “Protective is just part of her nature. She was like that before she got hit with the Slayer mojo.”
“You know this for sure?” I asked.
“Practically her middle name,” Mr. Harris easily answered.
“And what is her last name?” I asked sweetly.
The wariness became more overt as he regarded me. He suddenly shrugged, as if deciding there was simply no point in hiding it any longer. “Her passport says Harris.”
There was no disguising my shocked reaction.
Mr. Harris sighed. “I’ll spare you the part you say, ‘Well, that’s quite a coincidence there, Mr. Harris.’ I get all shifty-eyed as I say, ‘Why, yes, yes it is.’ And you say, ‘Am I to assume that Harris is a common surname hereabouts, Mr. Harris?’ Then I start sweating buckets as I go, ‘Why no, no it isn’t.’ And you say, ‘Well then, how did you just happen to find a Slayer by the name of Alexandrienne Harris? It must be a sign from above, I tell you.’ Then I hem and haw before running away never to come back. Until Ally hunts me down, plops her butt on the hood of the Toyota, and gives me a good talking to about not taking her with me. How am I doing so far?”
I was so taken up by his rather good rendition of an argument that we didn’t even have that I startled when I realized that he had asked me a question. “You do have a very good grasp of the next few minutes,” I ventured.
“Good,” Mr. Harris said with a weary tone. “So we’ll skip the fun part. Yes, I know her real name. No, I didn’t know it until recently. No, I’m not going to tell you because it’s not my thing to tell. Yes, Alexandrienne Harris really is on her passport. Which means, depending on the country and circumstances, I’ve either got an adopted sister, a 15-year-old adopted daughter, or a 15-year-old wife. Your choice.”
“Wife?” I squeaked.
“On paper,” Mr. Harris stressed. “Sheesh. What in God’s name did you think? It’s not like I can claim to be her cousin. I’m from PC-central California and even I can see that’s not going to fly.” He paused. “Unless we’re really, really distant cousins.” He brightened. “Hey! That might work! I could claim she’s from the New Orleans branch of the family. The confused looks alone might be worth it.” His expression dimmed. “Except too many people around here are armed, and armed people with confused looks are never a good thing. So we’ll just scratch that idea until we get a layover in Europe. Should be a good one to pull on the other travelers when we’re bored.”
“She’s 15,” I pointed out.
“We think. Not a hundred percent on that,” Mr. Harris said. “She could be 14. She could be 16. She’s not entirely sure. We split the difference.”
“She looks 18,” I sputtered.
Mr. Harris delicately cleared his throat. “I don’t know if you noticed, but we’re in a country where the average lifespan is 49. Some of those 49 year-olds look older than Grandma who’s pushing 60, which is practically ancient. As for you and me, we’re right in the middle of our midlife crisis years.”
“You’re missing my point,” I said in frustration.
“You haven’t actually made one,” Mr. Harris calmly countered.
“How is it proper for a 23 year-old man to have a 15 year-old wife?” I said.
“I’ve seen 14 year-olds that look like they’re legal drinking age and are already married with a kid on the way,” Mr. Harris said. “Bunmi’s just turned 17. Her husband’s 19.”
“You’re being obtuse,” I snapped.
Mr. Harris grinned. Why he found my statement amusing, I had no idea. “I know this looks bad. Believe me, I know. I can be pretty stupid sometimes about this kind of thing, but even I know I’ve got some explaining to do.”
“So do it,” I said.
“She wouldn’t tell me her name when I found her,” Mr. Harris said. “She didn’t have any family and I think she managed to get the word out to her friends not to volunteer her name to me. All I can tell you is that I tried like hell to get her to tell me, but she wouldn’t. Second we left her country, she informed me in no uncertain terms that her name Alexandrienne Harris.”
“And you let it stand,” I said flatly.
“Hell, no,” Mr. Harris said. “We went round and round about it. She wouldn’t budge. As far as she was concerned she had a new life, which meant a whole new name. Problem was, she decided that she liked mine. When it came time to get her a passport, I was stuck with the name she gave me. So she’s got passport, fake birth certificate, and all kinds of forged papers with that name on it. Legally speaking, that is her name and there isn’t anything anyone can do about it.”
I somehow doubted that Mr. Harris argued the point as forcefully as he could have. No doubt he was flattered beyond words that his Slayer took his name for her own. It could have been worse, I supposed. He could have made her change her name to Anya. I felt I should count my blessings that he didn’t.
“Look, I’ll admit that Ally can be handful,” Mr. Harris said. “But you’ve got to pick your battles with her. I tried arguing her down on every point, but beating my head against the wall would’ve been a more productive use of my time. There are some arguments that I’m not ever going to win with her, just like she knows there are some arguments she’s never going to win with me. It works out. In the grand scheme of things, the name issue isn’t that big of a deal.”
“Is the Council aware of this state of affairs?” I asked.
“Giles knows,” Mr. Harris said. “After I told him the name she gave me I got a round of, ‘Oh dear Lord, there’s two of you.’ Followed by a lot of jokes.”
I somehow highly doubted that Mr. Giles found the situation at all amusing. “This is not a joking matter.”
Mr. Harris bounced on the balls of his feet with a grin. “I trained him well in the way of weird humor. Hell, I had him playing Dungeons and Dragons the night before an apocalypse and complaining about the fact that he was dwarf in the game. Besides, look at it from his point of view. The comedy potential in the cases of mistaken identity alone is hilarious. If it were someone else, I’d be laughing hysterically, too.”
“I fail to find the humor,” I grumbled.
“Your problem is you take things way too seriously,” Mr. Harris countered. “Some things are serious, but at some point you’ve got to find the funny in the little stuff or you’ll go crazy. Relax, okay? Before you slay another gecko.”
“I’m ‘comedy potential,’ then,” I said stiffly.
Mr. Harris spared a glance for the remains of the gecko and bit his lip in an effort to kill what was no doubt braying laughter. “I’ll be right back with some stuff and help you get started cleaning this mess up.”
Once Mr. Harris departed, I hustled over to my bags and checked them. The force of the impact most likely had scattered the gecko’s remains about my hut. I breathed a sigh of relief to see that they were clean. I then went to the jug and basin and inspected them as well. Aside from some splatter on the shelf, these also were relatively clean. Thankfully, my befouled hands were dry when I washed them the night before, so evidence of my unfortunate incident was also absent.
I threw a despairing look at the gecko remains before pouring out the water into the basin. Mr. Harris had failed to mention he’d bring soap and water and I suspected that I would be expected to provide both.
I looked around my hut and said to the invisible geckos, “If any of you nasty lot are curious, take a lesson from your fallen comrade. If I find any of your benighted number in my things, rest assured that a worse fate will befall you.”
“Befall whom?” Mr. Harris said as he swanned back into my hut with the promised brushes, cloths, and rubber gloves.
“No one,” I grumbled.
“Threatening the local wildlife doesn’t work. I’ve tried that.” Mr. Harris stopped and he stared at my shelf. “Unh, why are you using holy water to wash?”
“What?” I sharply asked.
“The covered jug. Holds holy water.”
“How was I supposed to know that?” I asked. “And why on earth would you put a jug of holy water in my room?”
“Hello? Middle of an Islamic country? Remember? Getting a supply of the stuff requires travel on my part. All the huts have a jug full of it so the girls can load up on ammo when there are vampires afoot,” Mr. Harris said.
“This is hardly an appropriate container,” I argued.
“My fault,” Mr. Harris easily said as he dropped everything to the floor. “I didn’t get a chance to give you the in-room tour, not that there’s much room to see. I know it’s not the greatest way to store it, but at the time I started doing it, covered jugs was the best way to go. I run down to one of the very, very few Catholic churches in Dogon country once every other month with a couple of gallons of water to get them blessed so we can refresh the blessed part. In between, we just keep the jugs topped off with regular well water.”
“This works,” I said skeptically.
Mr. Harris shrugged. “Giles says I might be overdoing it with the refreshing the blessed part of the equation, since once you’ve got a pool of blessed water it pretty much stays blessed. I guess it’s based on the ‘blessed springs and wells’ theory, which I totally don’t get. Since this isn’t exactly a spring, and water has a habit of evaporating in the dry season, I figure better safe than sorry. I’d hate to splash a vampire and find out that my ‘holy water’ only made them wet instead of giving them an acid burn.”
Strangely enough, Mr. Harris’s reasoning actually made sense to me. “How am I supposed to wash, then?” I asked.
Mr. Harris blinked. “Wow. Doc must’ve been really out of it yesterday if he forgot to issue you one of his scrubbed and sanitized water skins.”
Oh dear, I thought. Here it comes.
I was about to confess that I had not met with Dr. Mboto when Mr. Harris finally noticed my bed. Or rather, he noticed what was not hanging over my bed.
“Where’s the mosquito net?” he asked.
“I, unh, took it down.”
“Took it down,” he repeated flatly.
“I trapped mosquitoes in with me and I couldn’t — there were so many, see, and it seemed I couldn’t kill them fast enough and—”
“Sit down and shut up,” Mr. Harris said in a dangerously low voice.
I so quickly sat on the mudcloth-covered bench that I barely had time to register that I had unthinkingly followed his order before Mr. Harris spoke again.
“You didn’t actually visit doc yesterday, did you?” he asked with quiet menace.
In that moment, I understood how it was possible that Mr. Harris had terrified eight Slayers and Sister Ig when he lost his temper. There was no trace of softness in his face or voice, nor was there any mercy in his eye. The dark shadow of fury had settled about him like a cloak. It occurred to me that right at this very moment Mr. Harris could easily cross the room and snap my neck without a twinge of guilt.
What’s more, I was almost afraid that he could manage to expertly kill me before I could so much as move to defend myself, even though I was faster and stronger than he ever could hope to be.
Yes, dear reader, when Mr. Harris’s temper breaks and he is furious beyond description, he really can be that terrifying. As Alexandrienne has told me more than once, when Mr. Harris transforms into ‘Alexander the Great’ the most you can do is ride the back of the tiger in hopes that it won’t decide to maul you in the process. You may be able to talk him down, but you best hope you have right on your side if you try because he will eviscerate you if you don’t.
This was my first taste of the experience and, sadly for me, I was clearly in the wrong. Just how in the wrong, I was about to learn.
“When I told you to visit doc yesterday, I wasn’t just making a funny,” Mr. Harris said in that same deeply angry voice. “There are a lot of little things in this corner of the world that have one goal and that goal is all about killing you. I’m not just talking about the biggies like HIV, or the famous ones like malaria, understand? There’s trichinosis, which can leave you blind. There’s yellow fever. There’s hepatitis, meningitis, sleeping sickness, Dengue fever, river blindness, plus many, many more, and all of them can be yours for absolutely free. That’s just the stuff that you can get from bugs, as in mosquitoes and flies. We won’t even get the level sick you can get if you eat the wrong thing, drink from the wrong well, or pour your bottled water in a glass of ice made from the local drinking supply, because that’s a whole new level of horror show.”
He didn’t shout. He didn’t make any threatening moves. He just stood in the middle of my hut with his feet firmly planted on the ground. However, his fury swirled around the confined space like a living thing. It snarled and snapped in a way that made me feel trapped and exposed to danger. I didn’t dare leave, but I feared staying put.
“The level of bad is bad enough that even the biggest and best immune system is going to get kicked in the teeth,” Mr. Harris said in his low voice. “You’re my responsibility while you’re here and you’re my responsibility if you get sick or die. Step one in keeping you alive and healthy is getting the talk from doc. Even Slayers aren’t safe on the health front, so you better take me seriously when I tell you something that’ll keep you healthy.”
“Impossible,” I burst out.
Mr. Harris’s eye narrowed and his frown deepened, as if he were furious that I dared interrupt. “Excuse me?”
“Slayers don’t get ill from viruses or bacteria. Their hardy constitutions—”
Mr. Harris’s nasty grin forced me into silence.
“Miss Swithin, do I have to explain Buffy Summers to you?” His voice was quiet, dangerous. He was making it clear that I had just entered a minefield.
As it appeared he expected an answer, I cautiously assayed, “I know who she is.”
“Back in Sunnydale, she got sick. Very sick. As in, ‘need to be hospitalized’ sick,” Mr. Harris said quietly. “Know what put her out of commission?”
I shook my head.
“The flu,” he answered. “The common, everyday flu. Do you understand?”
He had to be making this up, I thought. I had never heard such a thing.
“I can see from your face that you’re not buying. Not surprised. Seems they forget to tell you a lot of little facts when they hand out the Council’s manual for how to be a know-it-all about things you don’t actually know about.” Mr. Harris seemed to be looming larger as he said his. “Since I’ve never actually read the manual, I can only just tell you what I’ve seen with my two eyes, well, one eye. And do you want to know what I know?”
“When a Slayer is overstressed, overtired, overworked, overwhelmed, and over-everything that would send the rest of us into a rubber room, they can get very sick,” Mr. Harris stressed with a hiss. “Slayers can get all kinds of infected under the right conditions — and we’re talking your average, everyday bugs, not just magic, demon poison, or anything supernatural. Slayers can stay infected and become carriers without showing any sign of ever getting sick. Now, granted, whatever they get usually doesn’t kill them. They usually recover very fast, faster than your average human. Sometimes it’s just a blip, like an attack of the runs, and it’s over.”
I fought the urge to cringe as I remembered my own embarrassing predicament that sent me to the village latrine.
“I know this because I collect a lot of Slayers and a lot of them don’t actually have happy stories,” Mr. Harris said. “Sometimes, me and Ally have to do a grab and run job. So, what we have on our hands is a Slayer who is overstressed, overtired, overwhelmed, and over-everything. Sometimes she’s even scared out of her mind. Plus, we’re taking her from a part of the continent where she’s built up an immunity to the viruses and bugs that want to kill her and taking her to a whole new part of the continent with a whole bunch of unfamiliar viruses and bugs that are ready to party. More than half the time we walk into this village with a sick Slayer who needs some kind of medical attention. Are you following me, Miss Swithin?”
“Yes, sir,” I quietly said.
“And just in case I need to drive home just how dangerous this situation can be, Liwaza is HIV positive,” Mr. Harris said.
“What?” I startled.
“Doesn’t show any signs of infection, but she is,” Mr. Harris said. “Doc’s keeping an eye on her, but it’s there in her blood coasting along.”
“Then she shouldn’t be here,” I protested. “Between her state of mind and the physical danger she poses—”
“I agree, but short of sending her to Inverness, I’ve got nowhere else to send her,” Mr. Harris said flatly. “So, I’m going to tell you what I’ve drummed into the head of everyone in this village: if Liwaza is hurt, sick, bleeding, or acting violent, back the hell away. You go get doc, Sue, or me if I’m around and let us deal. Doc’s got a tranq gun on standby that we’ll break out if we have no choice. We’ve all got supplies of rubber gloves and surgical masks in our huts, so we’re as protected as we can be. Don’t assume that you’ll be safe. You probably will be okay, but there’s no point in taking a chances.”
“If she gets an opportunistic infection and falls ill—” I began.
“We’ll deal when the time comes, even if it means calling in the Council,” Mr. Harris said. “But you’re missing the point. The point is, if a Slayer can get infected, anyone can get infected. Not just by HIV, but anything. That’s why everyone — human, Slayer, or a one-eyed, one-horned, flying purple people-eater, I don’t care — who stays here gets a full health workup and the health and safety speech from doc. No exceptions. I don’t care who you are or how safe you think you are. Do I make myself clear, Miss Swithin?”
“I — yes, sir,” I said.
“Now, since I think you’re the type that’s going to need things beaten into your head, I’ll give you a preview,” Mr. Harris said. “Staying healthy and safe means you put up your mosquito netting and leave it there. It means shaking out all your clothes and shoes before you put them on just in case something buggy or creepy crawly decided to move in while you weren’t using them. It means taking your multivitamins every single day to make up for the nutrients you aren’t getting. It means cleaning your hut regularly. It means not eating food or drinking drinks where you’re not sure of the source. It means not eating in your hut and bringing plates, cups, and whatever else has touched your food to Grandma right away so it can be properly cleaned. It means keeping up-to-date on your immunizations. It means when anyone is injured, you put on the rubber gloves before you help. It means religiously wearing DEET and covering up no matter how hot it gets. It means making sure you cover the latrine as soon as you’re done using it. It means washing your hands with antibacterial soap right after that. It means taking your prophylactic malarial medications — and I really stress this particular point very, very much because malaria mixes well with no one. I’m sure I’ve missed a lot things, but I’ve just given you the highlights.”
I mutely nodded.
Mr. Harris suddenly moved, crossing the space to me in two long strides. His sudden approach startled me so badly that I cringed backwards. He loomed over me, using both his height and size to thoroughly intimidate me.
“I will give you 20 minutes to wash up in your holy water bath and get dressed. As soon as that 20 minutes is up, I expect to see you moving your ass over to the medical tent to have a nice, long chat with doc and Sue,” Mr. Harris said through clenched teeth. “I will time you. If I don’t see you outside in 20 minutes, I will come back, grab you by your hair, and drag you over to the medical tent if I have to. Do we understand each other, Miss Swithin?”
“The gecko,” I gulped.
“Fuck the gecko, Miss Swithin. Doc first. Then you get to scrub dried gecko guts off the walls. On your own.” He added with a sneer, “If you need motivation, you can even pretend you’re beating my face with the brush when you clean up your mess.”
“Twenty minutes,” I responded through clenched teeth.
“Good,” Mr. Harris snapped. He then turned and stomped out of my hut.
I didn’t bother to wash, and instead simply threw on my clothes from the day before. I was out the door within 10 minutes. As I crossed the open space to the medical tent, I saw Mr. Harris standing in the doorway of his hut. He was watching me with the threatening eye of a hungry wolf.