Sunday serialisation – Knight after Knight, 10.2

Knight after Knight250

In Knight & Deigh, Hannice Knight suffered a back injury that left him without the use of his legs. Sophie Deigh, physiotherapist and recent widow, devoted herself to supporting him.

As Hannice’s body recovered, he became ever closer to Sophie, and soon they found themselves in a relationship they had neither anticipated nor intended and for which neither was fully prepared.

A bump in the Knight followed Hannice as he juggled business, hedonism, marriage and ultimately parenthood.

Knight after Knight is the third and final part of the Hannice Knight story. Starting after the marriage of Hannice and Sophie’s only son, David to Jess, the only child of Jason and Noelani Reeves of Hawaii, it traces the Knight family’s progression through the generations.

Knight after Knight. Chapter ten, part two.

I joined Max and Sophie in the village after my call. The camper was parked outside the building where the chief and shaman had their offices and which also served as the main community hall for any meetings or functions that needed it. I opened the outer door and stepped inside.

“Hodi!” I shouted, remembering the convention. Few houses boasted doorbells or knockers, particularly in out-of-the-way villages such as this one; the accepted practise was to open the door and call hodi loudly enough to be heard around the house.

“Karibu,” Kanene replied. Karibu means welcome, and it is the usual response. Her voice seemed to be coming from the room on the right, behind a half-open door that bore a plaque announcing the office’s occupant to be Evaristo Nchimbi – Village Chief. I entered the office.

The chief stood and leaned over his desk to shake my hand. He was a tall young man, probably in his mid-twenties, and dressed in what I assumed to be traditional garb – a heavy-looking, full-length, floral garment that looked as though it took a long time to put on, topped by an elaborate, feather-festooned head-dress.

“Evaristo Nchimbi,” he said grasping my hand firmly, “You must be the famous Mr Hannice Knight.”

“Definitely Hannice Knight, Chief Nchimbi. Don’t know about famous, though.”

The chief laughed. “If not famous, then certainly well-respected by reputation, Mr Knight. Now the formalities are over,” he said, carefully removing his head-dress, “I can safely remove this. As I was explaining to your colleagues, I am more comfortable in western-style business attire, but the villagers expect their chief to look the part, hence my decorative but impractical clothing.”

“No need to explain, Chief Nchimbi. Hmmm… Nchimbi… don’t I know that name?” I asked.

“My father; adoptive father, actually; was Dr Kitwana Nchimbi. He ran the Jont Orphanage until his retirement. My natural parents died—”

“AIDS?” I asked.

“Actually, no. They were both workers at the orphanage and were killed in a road accident on their way back from the capital. As they had no real family left to look after me when they had to go away on business, I stayed with the Nchimbis. After they died, well, I just never left. Eventually, Kitwana and Makena legally adopted me.”

“And now you’re the village chief. Well, I’m very pleased to meet you, Evaristo.”

“Evaristo has brought us up to date on what’s been happening in the village and in the area generally since we were last here,” Max said.

“I understand this is your first visit, Mr Knight,” Evaristo said.

“Hannice, please,” I replied, “yes. I have been closely associated with the Jont Orphanage and met your adoptive father on a number of occasions. However, apart from a few business visits to Arusha and Dodoma, and one memorable trip to Ngorongoro, the quarter of a century I spent in Tanzania never took me more than a couple of dozen kilometres from Dar-es-Salaam.”

“A pity,” he said, “that was your loss.”

“I’m beginning to realise that. I know that, for many years, Max has taken a special interest in the problems faced by people with albinism, Chief. How is that working out now?”

“That’s a very good question, Hannice. The answer, I’m afraid, is mixed. When I was young, it is said that one of the nation’s most influential shamen issued proclamations that were binding on all shamen and which effectively outlawed the practice of using body-parts from such people in any spells, incantations, medicines or anything.”

“Would that shaman have been Afolabi Fonseca?”

“I don’t know the first name, but my parents often spoke of a Doctor Fonseca and the records confirm it. Had you heard of him?”

“I should say so. Max and I had business dealings with him over an extended period,” I said then, looking towards Kanene, “apart from which…”

“Afolabi Fonseca was my father,” Kanene said.

“You are the celebrated Kanene Fonseca?” he asked.

“Kanene Fonseca, yes; I am she. Celebrated? I think not.”

“Celebrated, yes, and revered. All the very best houses are inspired by the Kanene Fonseca Interiors web catalogue. Few of us can afford to have KFI people design our interior and furnishings, but almost everyone I know is in awe of the designs shown on the web site, and we do what we can to emulate them.”

“Would it be crass of me to compliment you on your English, Evaristo?” I asked, “Where were you educated?”

“The Nchimbis paid for me to be university-educated in England. They said it would give me the best start in life.”

“Where did you go?”

“Oxford, the African Studies Centre.” He pointed to a framed certificate in the wall behind his desk. I got up and went for a closer look, where I saw that Evaristo Nchimbi had been awarded the Oxford University’s BSc in African Studies. I signalled that I was impressed, and took my seat again.

“It looks to me as though your background suits you for a much more important position than village chief,” I suggested.

“I agree,” he said, “and I intend to go further, but one step at a time. I am only twenty-six years old, Hannice. For my next steps, I want to be a regional politician by the time I am thirty and a member of parliament by forty.”

“And what is your ultimate goal?”

“What else? President,” he said emphatically.

“That is a big ambition,” Kanene said, “but here’s a deal. Get in touch when you have a seat in Dodoma. I will personally come and oversee the design of your home.”

“That’s a deal,” he said.

I brought the conversation back on track. “You said that the situation with people with albinism is mixed. Care to elaborate on that?”

“After Dr Fonseca had issued the instruction, there was a notable reduction in killings and mutilations. That lasted for a few years, but it’s starting to creep back up again. What hasn’t changed is the attitude of ordinary people to albinos. Many parents who give birth to a baby with albinism still reject the child. In a number of cases it’s the father who wants nothing to do with the child, forcing mother and baby out, often condemning them to a semi-feral existence or worse. The lucky ones find a place for the child in an orphanage or with a family that already has such children, whereupon the mother returns to her home.”

“Were your parents—”

“Albino? No, but they were already working at the orphanage when I was born, so I didn’t suffer the way many do.”

“And your condition has never been an issue for you?” Max asked.

“I wouldn’t say never. I was raised and educated at the orphanage, so that was fine. There were a few incidents at Oxford, but they were minor and there weren’t many of them.”

“What kind of incidents? Were they to do with your albinism or your race?”

“A bit of both, I suppose. Some of the other black students took a while to accept me because of my albinism. One or two implied that I shouldn’t join black-only activities, that I was practically white. That hurt. Also, I had to have special provision to protect me from the sun and to get the lighting right for me – you know that albinism brings other troubles with it, one being vision problems?”

“Yes,” Max said, “I’m aware of many of the problems your condition brings with it.”

“Well, some kids didn’t like that I had what they saw as special treatment. That all blew over after there was a visit from an outfit called—”

“Under the Same Sun, by any chance?”

“Yes, Max, Under the Same Sun. As part of a module on minority groups within an African community, they gave an illustrated talk on albinism, its causes and effects. They didn’t pull any punches, either. They spoke at length about the persecution, the maimings, the killings. Sat at the back, I could see how uncomfortable it was for some of the black students, and listening to their questions, it was apparent that they thought all of the stories were just that, stories. The speakers didn’t single me out, which was good, but I was approached by a lot of the students afterwards and asked to give them a talk about my background, my condition and my future as I saw it. I had no problems after that. I think what changed their opinions more than anything else was when I compared albinism with diabetes or HIV – not in terms of its ultimate effect on those living with it, obviously, but in terms of the extent to which all three conditions cause you to modify your lifestyle, to look carefully at your choices every day, and to need understanding and acceptance from the community at large. Some of the students were diabetic and at least two were living with HIV. They all admitted that they neither sought nor received any special treatment beyond what their condition demanded and they all became my champions. Further discussions revealed more parallel groups: people on the autism spectrum, people suffering from anxiety and other mental challenges and more. By the end of the course, we all had an appreciation of and empathy for our fellow human beings in all their conditions.”

“And now you want to get into politics to enable you to achieve in the general public what you did at university?”

“Amongst other things, yes.”

“Well,” I said, handing him our card, “we’d like to help you in any way we can that’s compatible with our mission. Although not a charity per se, we are non-profit, self-funded and ask only for our reasonable and necessary expenses for any work we do.”

“What do you want of me?” he asked.

“We came here wanting nothing,” Max explained, “but having spoken with you, we’d like you to be our man-on-the-ground in this area.”

“And that involves…”

“Simply let us know when you see a situation that needs or would benefit from our help. I’ll email you full details of our backgrounds, mission and capabilities once we get back to Dar.”

“For friends of my parents, how could I possibly refuse?”

We shook hands and left Evaristo to his duties. As we closed his office door behind us, I heard him mutter to himself, “How about that? Doctor Fonseca’s daughter…”

With that meeting under our belts, the rest of the week became little more than a sightseeing tour.

On the return flight, I asked Max, “What did you make of Evaristo Nchimbi… really?”

“It’s well outside my area of competence,” she said, “but I think we’ve just got a future Prime Minister and maybe even a future President on board.”

“More than that, Max, the first Prime Minister and the first President with albinism.”

“And he knew my father,” Kanene said.

“Knew of him, Kanene,” Max said, “I’m not sure he ever met him.”

“Maybe not, but he knew of him and revered him.”

“And through him, he has a respect for you that is greater than he had before he knew who you were.”

“I’m not sure I like that.”

“Why not?” I asked.

“Because I am Kanene Fonseca, Interior Designer, and I want to be known and respected as that, not as Afolabe Fonseca’s daughter. You should understand that, Hannice. Weren’t you once seen as no more than your father’s son?”

“I was, Kanene, and it took a lot of work to be recognised for who I was, rather than for who my father was. But, like you, I did it through hard work and showing that I could do the job. By the way, I thought your offer to do up his home when he becomes an MP was inspired.”

“Thanks, it was. It was inspired by my determination to be accepted and respected on my terms, in my own right.”

“It worked,” I said, “and I hope you know that Max and I will back you to the hilt.”

“Thank you, Hannice. I really do appreciate it.”