A Lodi Christmas
Copyright© 2019 by AA Nemo
Gone is the romance that once was so divine
Tis broken and cannot be mended
You must go your way and I must go mine
But now that our love dreams have ended
What’ll I do when you are far away and I am blue, what’ll I do?
What’ll I do when I’m wondering who is kissing you. What’ll I do?
What’ll I do with just a photograph to tell my troubles to?
When I’m alone with only dreams of you that won’t come true, what’ll I do?
Anyone observing the couple leaning shoulder to shoulder against the wall across from the boarding gate for the Alaska Air flight to Sacramento, would take the tall, slim, dark-haired teen, and the tall dark-haired thirty-something man for father and daughter. The fact the pretty long-haired girl had a café au lait complexion, and could be a relative of Queen Nefertiti, while the man was a deeply tanned Caucasian, would most likely cause little notice in these days of mixed marriages and blended families, especially on the west coast of the US. Furthermore, any observer would note they had the same posture and mannerisms, and if they were close enough, would hear the same patterns of speech, which would identify them as natives of southern California. The couple was even dressed similarly - both wore jeans, ankle boots, heavy wool sweaters and khaki-colored Nomex flight jackets. Mostly, an observer would see the deep affection each held for the other as they talked quietly while watching the ebb and flow of travel-weary passengers through the long concourse that held the boarding gates at the Orange County/John Wayne airport.
Jonas Kaufmann made a face as he sipped some particularly dreadful coffee while watching the crowds of people that surrounded them. “Damn, they have some nerve calling this swill coffee.” He deposited the cup in a nearby waste container and sighed, “What I wouldn’t give for a cup of freshly brewed Nyeri Ichamara.”
His daughter, Kesi, turned slightly so she could look at him, and said with a smile, “I tried to warn you about that coffee, and you owe me a dollar.”
“Just because we’re 15,000 kilometers from home doesn’t mean you can swear without paying up.”
“Damn’s not a swear word anyway. These days it’s just an expression.” He tried to hide a smile.
“Now you owe me two dollars!” she giggled.
Smiling, they turned their attention back to the crowd. It wasn’t as if they were particularly curious, they watched out of a sense of self-preservation. For over ten years he’d been in the military in one form or another and had served in places where the people were openly hostile or where terrorists hid among the populace, looking for crowded venues to create chaos. Sometimes, it was simply the fact that the criminals in those places wanted something he had, or thought he had, or figured a foreigner might be an easy target. He knew that there was little chance of thieves or terrorists in this relatively secure place, but years of necessary personal safety paranoia had created an ingrained situational awareness which had saved his butt more than once. Over the past five years he’d passed this knowledge on to Kesi.
After a couple of minutes she turned to him, and this time her expression was serious. “We’re never going back to Kenya are we?”
He shook his head and spoke to her softly and reassuringly. “There’s no reason to go back. We’re together, and that’s the most important thing. I know you want a place to settle – we both do. We’ll find that place – a place where it’s quiet and the people are friendly. There are lots of places like that here.
He paused for a few moments and then went on. “When I came to Kenya five and a half years ago I set some pretty lofty goals for myself, and my command, and even though I didn’t get everything done, it was time for me to leave. Major Nyamai was more than ready to take over.”
He took her hands. “Want to know my greatest accomplishment in those years?”
She nodded, watching him closely with her expressive hazel eyes.
“You - an orphan girl named Makena, who captured my heart, and became my daughter Kesi.”
Her eyes glistened as she moved close and hugged him tightly.
“I love you Daddy.”
“And I love you Princess.”
They stood that way for a couple of minutes. Then she stepped back, hunting for a tissue in the pocket of her flight jacket.
Kesi wiped her eyes. “Maybe that place is in California. Grandpa Mike and Traci said we could stay with them until we get settled, and I really enjoyed our visit, especially getting to know Christy and Emma.”
“I know, and I enjoyed it too. It was nice getting to know my dad again, and meeting Traci, but he has his new family and adding a couple of people to the household for the next few months would quickly become a strain. Plus, I’m not sure I want us to settle in southern California, but I promise wherever we end up we’ll see them often.”
Kesi digested his words. “I really like Christy and Emma, and they said they always wanted a little sister.”
“Technically, they’re your Aunts.” Kesi smiled slightly. In Kenya an ‘Auntie’ was an older lady and often not a relative, just a close friend of the family. Eighteen year old Christy and sixteen year old Emma hardly fit that description.
“They definitely wanted to keep you around, if nothing else to have fun using you as a life-size dress up doll - using my credit card. I don’t know how many more hits it could take from those two and Traci taking you shopping. Several merchants in Lake Forest probably decided to take early Christmas vacation after your shopping sprees!” Jonas grinned, letting her know he was teasing.
She smiled in return. “Well, I did need a few things, including warmer clothes, and there were all those pre-Christmas sales...”
Jonas laughed. “And a very large suitcase just to carry that new wardrobe!”
Kesi gave a fake pout. “You said they all looked good on me.”
“And they do. You’re worth every penny.”
She gave him a brief hug and put her head on his shoulder, as she leaned against him.
Serious again, he asked. “Are you going to miss Kenya?”
She looked up at him and after a bit of thought, shook her head. “I’ll miss Sergeant Mwangi, and Sergeant Kimani, and Chalky, and of course, our 172.”
“No surprise there. You and Sergeant White practically rebuilt that plane from the ground up.”
A couple of years ago Jonas had discovered the Cessna, covered by a tarp, parked in the back of a decrepit hanger at an abandoned airstrip north of the coastal city of Kismayo, Somalia. Kenyan forces had moved into that area in pursuit of al-Shabab, and he and his helicopter squadron were flying support. Someone had done a poor job overpainting its original white with a mixture of desert sand and some darker squiggles in an attempt at camouflage. There was no visible registration number and no documents.
Sergeant White, Chalky to his friends, Flight Sergeant RAF retired, got it running, and Jonas had flown it (heart in his mouth) 200 air miles to Forward Operating Base (FOB) Wajir in northeastern Kenya, where the helicopters were assigned. The manufacturer’s serial number showed it was built in 1986 and registered in the US, and then sold to some (now defunct) holding company in 2010. How it got to Somalia was anyone’s guess. With registration fees paid, the plane became his, and it soon sported a Kenya registration number along with a coat of gleaming pearlescent white paint set off by red pinstripes and a bright metallic red tail.
“I’ll never forget our first flight.”
“Yes, and I’ll never forget the look on your face that morning in the hangar when you saw what was painted on the nose.”
Kesi got a far-away look in her eyes and said softly, “Kesi’s Dream.”
He’d become her instructor, and on her thirteenth birthday – just six months ago - she had soloed. Most of the personnel from the squadron had turned out to greet her when she stepped out of Kesi’s Dream. There was a roar of approval when Jonas removed the Velcro name patch on the left breast of her flight suit and replaced it with a patch that had her name and Kenya Air Force wings.
“Yes, Kesi’s Dream. We had some wonderful adventures in that little plane. I wish we could have crated it and brought it along, but we’ll find another.”
She looked at him and seeing the sincerity in his eyes, just nodded.
Her eyes suddenly narrowed as her light-hearted mood evaporated. “But I won’t miss FOB Wajir, with its blowing dust, heat, mosquitos, scorpions and rats.”
She seemed hesitant to go on, obviously distressed. “Most of all I won’t miss watching you fly off to who knows where, wondering if you’ll be hurt...” Kesi touched the place on his left forearm where under his jacket there was a long jagged scar. “Or if you’ll ever come back ... leaving me an orphan ... again.” This last was said softly but with a sob as she pressed herself against his chest to be quickly encircled by his protective arms.
I knew she worried, but we never talked about it. Kesi was always on the flight line, smiling, and giving each aircraft commander a parade-ground salute just before lift-off. She and her salute became a talisman, and she never missed a day regardless of the hour or weather. She was also the first one to the helicopter when I returned, standing by with a large olive drab insulated metal container, filled with her own concoction of iced tea and tropical fruit juices. She’d bring it out in that beat up Radio Flyer wagon that she’d scrounged somewhere and repainted bright yellow. The yellow paint was complemented by flower appliqués. Even the couple of times I was hurt, and it was always minor, she never said a thing. She’d just follow me to the base hospital and sit stoically while Doc Koinet patched me up. The only exception was last January when I returned, bloodied, bandaged, and late, from the mission to the Congo.
“No more combat for me, Princess.” he said soothingly into her hair.
Trying to lighten the mood he said, “Maybe when our visit to Grandma Anne in Lodi is over we’ll take Grandpa Mike up on his offer, and then look for a home overlooking the beach. I’ll retire and sit on the balcony all day getting fat drinking beer and watching the girls go by in their bikinis!”
Kesi smiled faintly and released her grip, but only slightly, as she again reached into her jacket pocket for a tissue. She looked up at him while dabbing her eyes. “You will not. You have to find a job to keep me in the manner of a princess!”
Little do you know Princess that we could probably afford just about any home overlooking the beach in any part of California, and I could retire and we would never have to worry about money.
“Well there is that, but the only thing I’m good at flying helicopters and light aircraft.” He rubbed his chin thoughtfully for her benefit. “I know. Since you’ve already soloed in a 172 maybe you could get a job as one of those traffic reporters and support us. God knows there’s enough traffic in California!”
“Nice try, but I checked already, and in the US you have to be 16 to solo and 17 to get a pilot license. So that means you’ll still have to support me for three and a half more years!”
“Now we’re up to three dollars.”
They both chuckled. The storm had passed.
They watched the crowd for a few minutes and Kesi finally asked, “Do you remember the first day we met?”
He grinned. “Vividly.”
“You do? I thought you were too important to take notice of me.”
He laughed. “Five and a half years ago - my first day as the commander of the helicopter squadron - and I was having dinner in the Officers’ Mess with the commander of FOB Wajir and the Air Marshall for the Kenyan Air Force. You came to the table with a tray as big as you and set it up on a stand and served us as professionally as any waiter I’d ever seen. And you were dressed in a cut down, perfectly pressed, Kenya Air Force camouflage uniform – no boots though – just sandals.”
She nodded, obviously thinking about that day. “They just didn’t have military boots that small.” She paused. “I was pretty nervous, but Sergeant Mwangi said your table was my responsibility. I’d already heard all about you – the big tough Marine aviator who was going to get the Hueys operational and train the pilots and get the new hangers built and go looking for al-Shabaab in Somalia.” She grinned. “I almost spilled the nyama choma and kachumbari in your lap!”
“That would have been unfortunate.” He said dryly.
“Yes, it would have. Cook had been working on the nyama all day.”
He smiled as he recalled that day. As a newly arrived foreign officer in the Kenyan Air Force he’d just reported to Forward Operating Base Wajir near the border with Somalia. Kesi was maybe seven or eight at the time – that was just a guess since she didn’t have any documents when she was found two years before. She was just one of the countless kids across Africa who was orphaned. The four horsemen of the apocalypse roamed freely across much of Africa and their legacy was millions of orphans.
Jonas had asked about her. According to Sergeant Mwangi, the man who ran the Officers’ Mess, she’d just appeared one day. How she got through the razor-wire topped, double row chain link fence, and past the constant security patrols was a mystery.
Sergeant Mwangi explained his theory, “Major, she was starving and sick, and I think the angels were taking her to heaven when they flew over this desolate place and decided she was just the right person to bring joy to all the people here, so they left her outside my Mess.”
Because of her sunny disposition and her ability to make even the most grizzled veterans laugh, Mwangi had named her ‘Makena.’ It was a name used in his tribe for ‘one who brings happiness.’ Other members of the mess would occasionally refer to her as ‘Makena ya yatima.’ He found out that ‘yatima’ was simply the Swahili word for orphan.
She also had a rare talent in playing the nyatti, the native Kenyan stringed instrument which was strummed with both hands. It looked like a combination of a drum and a harp. About a year ago she’d taken up the guitar, and displayed the same talent.
No one knew where she came from, or who her family was. Located in eastern equatorial Africa, bordering the Indian Ocean, Kenya is a crossroads for many peoples and cultures. From her features she was probably a mixture of Egyptian and south Asian, with some English thrown in.
Fortunately, Sergeant Mwangi was a kind-hearted family man, and had agreed to take her in ‘temporarily.’ He had several children of his own and his wife had drawn the line at bringing one more home, so he fixed up a place in a storage room at the Mess and put her to work. By the time Jonas arrived she was a fixture, indispensable to the operation of the Mess. At least, that was Sergeant Mwangi’s opinion. And because of her sweet disposition and unflagging work ethic, the officers didn’t mind adding a little to their Mess bill each month to keep her.
By the time Jonas had been at FOB Wajir a few months, Makena had become an important part of his life too. When she wasn’t working in the Mess, she became his self-appointed assistant – bringing meals to his office, or to the flight line - she had an uncanny ability to find him anywhere on the sprawling base. She’d take his clothes to the laundry, run errands, or gladly do any of the dozens of things that saved him time.
She seemed to have only two speeds, full on and stop. He marveled how she could keep it up in the constant, equatorial 90-plus degree heat. One time he’d mentioned that he needed a large scale map of the border area of northeastern Kenya/western Somalia. His Kenya Air Force assistant, Sergeant Absco Kimani, put in a request though channels, but cautioned it could take weeks. Two days later the requested map miraculously appeared on his office wall.
Makena soon found a replacement for herself at the Mess, explaining to Sergeant Mwangi that she was just too busy, ‘helping the Major.’
One day, soon after, he’d returned to his quarters, a small concrete block building with a sloping metal roof, and found her moving her few belongings into the place.
Puzzled, he asked, “Makena, what’s going on?”
She’d given him one of those looks that women excel at when dealing with the opposite sex, especially when the opposite sex has not discerned the obvious. “Moving in,” she replied, as if that explained everything.
There was an anteroom just inside the door and she’d set up there. The room wasn’t very big but big enough to hold her folding cot, a small battered chest of drawers with peeling paint, an equally battered military foot locker, and a folding wood tray table. On the tray table was an ancient-looking, round, wind-up alarm clock, and a wood-framed photo of Jonas and Makena standing in the evening sunshine next to a UH-1. The photo commemorated her first flight.
Makena had been on the flight line, as usual, late one afternoon with her yellow wagon, when he had come back from a routine resupply mission to Kenyan troops in Somalia. One of the newly arrived pilots was ready for a familiarization flight of the local area, so on a whim, he had pointed to Makena and told her to get aboard. Her expression went from shock, to happiness, to serious in the space of a couple of heartbeats. His crew chief smiled broadly as he strapped her into one of the canvas-covered seats in the cabin and got her fitted with a headset. For the next thirty minutes every time he looked over his shoulder he saw an ear to ear smile.
The photographer captured her in her neatly pressed camouflaged uniform, her straight dark hair much shorter than now, and Jonas in a sweat-stained khaki flight suit, his close-cropped hair matted from being under a flight helmet all day. Her yellow wagon was next to them, and both held a large red plastic glass. The photo caught them grinning at each other as they touched glasses in a toast to her first flight.
That began her love affair with flying, and from then on she’d be in his aircraft, assisting the crew chief, as long as it was a training flight, or a pilot check ride. A spiral notebook became her logbook, where she kept meticulous notes about each flight. Her first long flight was 307 air-miles to Moi Air Base in Nairobi. One time they’d flown south to FOB Lamu on the coast, and she had stared wide-eyed when the Indian Ocean came into view.
Not only did she move into his quarters on that memorable day, but she also announced, from then on her name was to be, ‘Kesi.’
Puzzled, Jonas asked her about it, and she had simply explained she liked it better than Makena. He accepted her decision. It was a pretty name after all, and she had not chosen the name Makena, even though it was accurately descriptive.
When she had announced her new name to Sergeant Kimani, she had great difficulty stifling a laugh. When Kesi was off on her next errand he had asked Kimani, “What’s so funny about her new name?”
“Major, in Swahili it means, ‘born at a time of great trouble for father.’”
“What? I don’t understand.”
Kimani explained, “It seems she has chosen you to be her father, and Makena is an orphan’s name. She doesn’t see herself as an orphan any longer, and in her mind the months you have been here have been very difficult for you ... her father.”
And just like that he had a daughter.
The legal adoption took a great deal longer, but with a Nairobi barrister and packets of dollars to overcome obstacles, such as the fact he wasn’t married, the adoption went through. So ‘Makena ya yatima’ became Kesi Makena Kaufmann (He had persuaded her to keep ‘Makena’ as her middle name), and because of the Child Citizen Act she would became an American citizen the day she arrived in the US.
She was as indispensable to him as she had been to Sergeant Mwangi and also became a fixture at his office. Kesi was affectionately known as ‘Kidogo Meja,’ or ‘Little Major.’ Sergeant Kimani went out of her way to include her in running the office and also provided a treasure trove of school texts. If Kesi wasn’t running errands, or flying with him, she was at a table in his office studying.
Soon, Jonas found himself her tutor and most evenings they would sit together in his office, which was air-conditioned as opposed to his quarters - and go over the lessons he’d assigned the previous day. English and Swahili are the official languages of Kenya, and they taught each other the two languages. Kesi, ‘you may no longer call me Makena,’ had a decent grasp of English but it was mixed with Swahili words. Eventually they made a pact that one day they would speak only English and the next only Swahili. Kesi was a knowledge sponge and her grasp of spoken and written English (along with every other subject she attempted) quickly outpaced his abilities with Swahili.
Sergeant Kimani, educated in England, who spoke English with a ‘BBC’ accent, was quite amused as she watched him struggle with Swahili, especially since all of the officers in the helicopter squadron, and most of the NCOs spoke excellent English. But he persevered, and by the time he’d been there five years his Swahili was quite good – but not as good as Kesi’s English.
“She sounds as American as you do,” Kimani commented one day. “She’s even got the idioms down.” He’d laughed because early in the teaching process Kesi had made a list of those he used, especially those involving baseball, and had quizzed him about them.
From somewhere, Kesi had acquired a large world map which took up part of one wall in the outer office where she and Sergeant Kimani had their desks. Kesi was fascinated by geography and one evening she stood in front of that map, hands on hips, and very seriously announced, “It’s 15,607 kilometers from Nairobi to San Diego, where you grew up, and one day I’m going to go there.”
He remembered how she had beamed when he’d replied, “We’ll go together.”
For her ninth birthday – she had chosen July 4th – he presented her with a laptop. She was stunned. She had already become computer literate using the computer in his office or at times his personal laptop, but those times were limited because those machines were often tied up with the running of the squadron and keeping their ten UH-1s operational.
With the laptop and internet access at FOB Wajir, suddenly the whole world opened to her.
His musings were interrupted when she asked, “Do you miss her? I mean Doctor Amélie.”
He nodded. “I knew you didn’t mean Erica.”
Kesi shuddered theatrically. “That mbwajike!”
“Even in Swahili, you owe me a dollar.”
She reached into the flap-covered pocket of her flight jacket and pulled out three ones and tried to hand them to him.
“That’s for this time, and the next two times I call Lieutenant Commander Erica bitch Yang, a mbwajike! She’s like some evil Lucy Liu.”
He laughed, “And what have you got against Erica, other than she’s a condescending, selfish, narcissistic, mbwajike, treats you like a child, and calls you ‘the brat’ behind your back?”
She grinned as she put one of the dollars back in her pocket. “That pretty much covers the bases. Guess you noticed.”
“Pretty hard not to...”
“Why is she so obsessed with you? In the last two years she’s been to FOB Wajir seven times, always with a bunch of Brass from AFRICOM or some VIPs from Washington. And they always have to have,” here she did a pretty credible imitation of Erica’s voice, “‘Major Kaufmann’s expert briefing.’ I thought she was the one who broke the engagement with you.”
Erica Yang, now Lieutenant Commander Yang of AFRICOM, located in Stuttgart, had been Jonas’ fiancée when they graduated from the Naval Academy ten years before, but she put her military career advancement ahead of everything else, including him.
“She did. We were supposed to get married right after graduation, but she kept putting it off. She got a plum assignment to the Pentagon and I was sent to Florida for helicopter flight training. One day she called and ended our engagement – her only explanation was that it was too soon in our careers to get married, especially with the uncertainties of assignments and all. Within a few months she married some Admiral’s aide.”
“She’s married? She doesn’t act like it, especially around you.”
“No, within three years she’d jettisoned the Admiral’s aide, but only after she’d secured an early promotion to lieutenant and a prestigious assignment to CENTCOM in Florida.”
Jonas suspected the marriage had been a calculated move, and when he’d heard about the divorce coming on the heels of the selection for promotion and new job, he felt his suspicions justified.
“So what does she want from you?”
He shook his head. “Maybe she thinks she made a mistake ten years ago, but I doubt it. With Erica everything is about her.”
“It was her mistake, but you benefitted.”
“No doubt in my mind. I was crushed when she broke our engagement, although, I admit, I wasn’t really surprised. Now, the more I see her the more I’m convinced I dodged a bullet.” He reflected for a moment. “Actually, just before I came to Kenya she tracked me down. We’d had no contact in five years and all of a sudden she strolls into my office at Marine Corps Air Station Cherry Point, North Carolina.
“When I stood, she hugged and kissed me like there was still something between us. I have to admit that she’d grown more beautiful since I’d seen her last. She was wearing a perfectly fitted white uniform with skirt which showed a lot of leg and she’d obviously put a lot of effort into her hair and makeup that morning.”
Kesi rolled her eyes.
“I’d learned my lesson though, with Erica beauty is truly only skin deep. At that point she announced she could get my discharge expedited and she had the perfect job for me as a civilian intelligence analysist, working with her at CENTCOM.
“Since I couldn’t fly as I was awaiting discharge, I was assigned all the lousy jobs like supply inventory, Mess officer, range safety officer, and perpetual duty officer. She probably figured I’d jump at the chance, but I was not the least bit tempted by Erica, or the job, and I told her so. She was shocked, and clearly offended that I didn’t appreciate her efforts.”
“Guess it was a good thing she didn’t have a Samurai sword like O-Ren Ishii.”
He looked puzzled for a few seconds until he got the reference. “So that’s why you called her ‘an evil Lucy Liu.’ You shouldn’t even know about O-Ren Ishii, much less Kill Bill.”
“It’s part of American culture...”
“R-rated Quentin Tarantino films are hardly what I’d describe as ‘American culture’ ... and where’d you see that anyway?”
She shrugged, looking a bit chagrinned. “It’s on the internet,”
“Wait, why do I suspect Christy and Emma had something to do with it? Maybe a little tradeoff for teaching them insults and swear-words in Swahili?”
Even under her light caramel complexion, he could see her blush.
He tried unsuccessfully to look stern. “Yes, I know about that.”
She looked down. “I was trying to teach them a bit of Swahili and they asked...”
“So if they’re ever in the market in Wajir and someone tried to cheat them, they’d know how to respond?”
Kesi grinned. “Exactly, it would be very helpful.”
Jonas shook his head and had a hard time hiding a smile, as he imagined blonde Emma, and red-headed Christy, haggling in the teeming and often chaotic central market of Wajir.
“No more R-rated movies, okay?”
She hung her head and tried, without much success to look contrite. “Okay, guess it will just be The Princess Bride from now on.”
She smirked. “As you wish.”
It was his turn to roll his eyes.
They were silent for a few minutes. Finally, she turned to him, this time with eyes filled with sadness. “When you saw Erica that time in North Carolina you were being discharged because you were hurt in Afghanistan.” It was a statement, not a question. Kesi had seen the scars, especially the surgical scar around his left shoulder.
He nodded. It was common knowledge he’d flown attack helicopters in Afghanistan, but he never talked about his injuries or his several tours there, much less that he’d been medically discharged.
I tried, without success, to land my shot up Cobra on the side of a hill. One of the skids collapsed and we went rolling. Fortunately it wasn’t a big hill and there was no fire, and fortunately my copilot/gunner was only a little banged up and was able to get me out.
“Yes, it’s just I had some trouble with my left rotator cuff after they repaired it - my range of motion wasn’t up to Marine Corps standards.”
“I’ve never seen you have trouble flying.”
“I don’t, but for the US military, if you can’t pass a flight physical you can’t fly.”
Kesi brightened. “I guess that’s lucky for me, because then you got to come to Kenya and be my father.”
Jonas took her hand. “Lucky for me too.”
She hugged him. “But no more combat.”
They returned their attention to the crowded concourse. Eventually he resumed their discussion of Erica. “My only mistake was telling her that as soon as my discharge was approved I was on my way to the Kenyan Air Force. As upset as she was that I turned her down, I didn’t expect to see her again, but three years later she gets assigned to AFRICOM and starts coming to Kenya.”
Jonas ran his fingers through his close-cropped hair. “What does she want? That’s a good question. I can’t imagine how I could add anything that would benefit her career.”
Kesi pulled out her phone. “Hey Siri, what’s the distance in kilometers between Santa Ana California and Stuttgart Germany?”
“The answer is, “Stuttgart Germany is about nine thousand four hundred forty-eight kilometers as the crow flies.”
Kesi grinned. “Maybe we’ve escaped!” She gave him a mock serious look. “Unless you told her where we were going.
“Not a chance!” He laughed.
“So we may never have to see Erica again?”
“I hope not. She’s pretty resourceful, but maybe she’ll take the hint.”
Kesi shook her head. “This year she visited in March and September, despite your relationship with Doctor Amélie.”
Jonas thought about that. “Right, I was spending all my time with Amélie.”
“Remember that time in March when you dropped us at a refugee camp just across the border, and when you came back Amélie had to be helped to the helicopter because she’d twisted her ankle?”
She and Doctor Amélie Paquet had become friends. When Kesi had expressed an interest in field medicine, Amélie had started including her (with Jonas’ permission) with her Médecins Sans Frontières team that was working in the refugee camps across the border in Somalia.
“When we got back to FOB Wajir you walked around to the passenger compartment and lifted her out of her seat, and she was telling you to put her down, but you ignored her and you took her in in your arms like a baby.”
He grinned. “Yes, we were laughing our heads off – you too - and then Erica appeared with some congressman in tow. The look on her face was priceless. They’d never met, but somehow Amélie figured out that I’d had a relationship with Erica in the past, so she put her arms around my neck, and started in with that ‘mon héros’ business.”
“And you just gave Erica a smirk and said, ‘Hello Commander,’ and then carried Amélie all the way to the base hospital.”
“I did not smirk.”
Kesi just gave him a look.
“Anyway, it was kind of fun to put her in her place for once.”
Kesi grinned. “Good thing she didn’t have a sword!”
“And when she visited in September you and Amélie were pretty much inseparable and you even insisted that Amélie give part of your briefing on the situation across the border. What do you think she’ll do when she finds out you’ve left Kenya?”
“Nothing, I hope. Maybe after the September visit she has finally figured out there is no future with me.”
“Maybe being half way around the world is enough.”
After a few moments reflection, Kesi continued, “I really miss Amélie ... I remember the day she showed up at FOB Wajir with the rest of her medical team. Even after that long trip in a truck from Nairobi, she was anxious to get across the border and start helping Somali refugees.”
“That’s right. They were with the base commander, who announced they would be permanently stationed at Wajir for their work and we’d be supporting them.” Jonas smiled. “She insisted on a briefing right away.”
Kesi nodded. “She told us Médecins Sans Frontières had pulled out of Somalia because the place was just too dangerous for their teams, so they were to be based in Kenya, as close to the border as they could get.”
Her pronunciation of ‘Doctors without Borders,’ makes her sound just like Amélie. It’s amazing how quickly she picked up French, working with Amélie’s team.
“Everyone was surprised when she recognized you and asked about your arm. You hadn’t told me you were treated by a beautiful Swiss doctor.”
He nodded thoughtfully. “No, when I got back from that mission to the Congo I didn’t think I’d ever see her again ... and you were a bit upset.”
Kasi looked down, and said softly, “Yes, yes, I was. All the other helicopters came back and Lieutenant Odinga was flying the Cobra, Lieutenant Mobutu was dead, and Sergeant Bustani wounded...”
She looked at him, obviously fighting tears.
“But they told you I was okay – that I had to go to Mombasa?”
“I wanted to believe them, but when I watched them take Lieutenant Mobutu’s body out of his helicopter I started to cry. And then, when I saw all the patches over the holes in your Cobra, I just knew you weren’t really okay. Lieutenant Odinga didn’t want to tell me about your arm, but he finally did. He kept saying you were okay, and it was just something minor, and you would be back soon, but I got pretty upset. So, when you got back late that night, and got out of Lieutenant Matiangi’s Huey with your arm bandaged and blood all over your flight suit, I just lost it. I tried to be strong for you but I was so worried...”
He wrapped his arms around her. “It’s okay now. I’m safe, you’re safe, and I’m not flying off to dangerous places any longer. Plus, thanks to Amélie, my arm’s good as new.”
No one, especially someone so young, should have to experience the things you have.
They were quiet for a bit and he released her, but they still stood close together leaning against the wall. Changing the subject, he asked, “How about that time we flew Kesi’s Dream down to that lodge on the Serengeti? My favorite photo is the one of the two of you, when you were bottle feeding those orphaned lion cubs.”
Kesi wiped her eyes. “That was a wonderful trip, along with the one to Lamu Island. Those beaches put California to shame and the water was so warm and clear, and you and Amélie taught me to swim.” Kesi paused staring into the distance, and then said, “She was always very kind to me. I wish she didn’t have to go back to Switzerland. She’s in love with you.”
Jonas nodded. And I with her. It hurts when I think about her, and I can’t shake that look of sorrow and resignation she wore when we said our goodbyes in Nairobi. I wonder how long she’ll haunt my dreams.
“Sometimes that’s just not enough. She had her daughters to go back to.” She’d not invited Jonas to join her, or even visit, even though they had become friends and then lovers and shared much over the months since they met.
“Kesi, most women want stability and a guy who comes home each night, not some banged up helicopter pilot whose future hardly meshes with hers.”
She nodded sadly, knowing full well that she shared those strong yearnings for stability and security. The fact Jonas was no longer going to be involved in combat operations was a great relief.
“Her daughters aren’t much older than I am, and for the year she was gone they stayed with their dad. She told me she missed them every day, but that there was such a terrible need in Africa, she thought that for just a year she could come and help.” Kesi paused thoughtfully. “I admire her ... the thought of you being away for a year...” She brushed a tear.
Amélie’s decision had hurt him, although intellectually, he knew what was possible in Kenya wouldn’t work in Geneva. She had a successful surgical practice to go back to, and her daughters. She had also hinted that perhaps it was time for her to try to get back together with her ex. Her daughters’ electronic communications had been full of all the wonderful things they were doing with ‘papa,’ and Jonas knew her ex kept up regular correspondence with her, filling her in on their activities and including pictures.
Kesi looked up at him. “Has it really been two weeks since we said goodbye to her at Nairobi airport? It seems like yesterday.”
I don’t want to think about that day.
“Yes, it has, but we’ve been pretty busy.
“Our stopover in Washington DC, was pretty much non-stop - you had to see everything, and the Museum of Flight twice.”
“I just wish you could have been with me more, but you had all those meetings at the Pentagon.”
“True, but you figured out the Metro pretty quickly and went exploring on your own.”
“I would have preferred to have you with me.”
“I know, and I would have preferred to be with you, but I figured taking the time to brief those people at the Pentagon might save some lives.”