Copyright 2001-2008, James J. Belcher. All rights reserved.
Never Bound Books
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Copyright 2004, 2005 James J. Belcher. All Rights Reserved.
Daryl Harding and the Quest for Dhwee
that Dhwee was big news in 2003, but very few know the real story, much less the
big secret behind it. Here’s how
It could be said
that it started with Daryl’s pimple on that Monday morning, the 1st
of September 2003, or his conversation with Dr. Penrith around 10:00am that same
day, or even his tasting from the almost-magical agar dish, but that would be
getting ahead of us. First, we’d
better talk about Daryl, his father and the trip to Zimbabwe.
Daryl never seemed a likely much-of-anything
because scrawny, pimply 19-year-old bookworms who drop out after earning their
secondary school diplomas aren’t given much credit or even much thought by
most of us. Back then, Charlie
Harding was a renowned retired cricketer, but now he’s mostly admired for his
role with the Australian Cricket Board (ACB).
His asthma-plagued son Daryl was the bane of his existence.
Perhaps Charlie would have seen things differently if Daryl had not won a
$15,000 prize from a lottery ticket given him on the occasion of his 18th
birthday and promptly withdrawn his application to the University of Melbourne,
where he had already been accepted for admission in the spring term.
Charlie said to Daryl’s mum Emily, “If he’s so all blamed smart and he’s
so liked by his teachers, why’s he acting like a jerk and dropping out?”
Emily had her usual response, “I dunno, Charlie, but maybe he has his
reasons.” [Charlie and Emily:
Haven’t a clue!]
Daryl tried to explain it to Charlie, “Dad, I’m not sure what I want, and
now I have the money to keep me going while I sort things out.
I guess I’ll buy a car or a ute or a caravan and drive around the
country, or then again, maybe I’ll just hang around here and think about
it.” Daryl conveniently forgot he
had no driver’s licence, since he never bothered to take the Vic Roads exam,
even after the school driver education course.
learned a lot about computers, not just the courses I aced at school, but how to
use the Net to learn just about anything. I
have a high IQ and practically straight-A grades, but I’m just not sure of a
heading. So I sit back and learn at
home, how to, where to, what to, why is, all the questions.
No, I don’t have a girlfriend and I could care less about cricket, but
I was head of the science club, vice president of the math club and quickly
accepted to uni, even though I didn’t go.
Something’s going to turn up, and when it does, I’m ready.
It’s got to be exciting and different, because I’m not about to spend
the rest of my life poring through engineering manuals, law books, medical
journals, financial records or computer science texts.
I don’t want to be another Charlie, and after all, I live in The Lucky
Daryl’s time was mostly spent playing on
the Internet with his laptop computer, a graduation gift his parents regretted
[Charlie: Staring at that damned thing all the time. Wonder what he’s looking
at – probably porno.][Emily: I dunno, Charlie, but maybe he has his reasons.]
When he wasn’t in his room with just the Internet for a companion,
Daryl would hang out with Ernie and Lou, a couple of chums.
His mates were neighbours before the Hardings’ move to Hampton two
years earlier; they had been school classmates most of their lives.
Mostly, they’d sit and talk in Daryl’s room, door closed.
None of the three ever seemed to be dating anyone.
In the past year, they went to a 24-hour rock concert once and spent a
couple of Saturday afternoons watching the telly together, beers in hand and a
footy game blaring, not cricket. Their
weekend entertainment generally consisted of a Friday midnight movie on the
telly, horror films for the most part. Ernie
and Lou were both in uni, apparently doing OK there, but it didn’t seem to
the rare occasion, Daryl would go over to Lou’s place, or at least that’s
what he told Charlie and Emily. Daryl
never went to Ernie’s; Charlie and Emily suspected Ernie’s parents figured
Daryl was a bad influence and prohibited their place as a meeting spot.
Lou would drive his parent’s car once in a while; Ernie had his own, an
old ute, and he generally drove the three.
Neither seemed to mind that Daryl didn’t have a licence and didn’t
drive. [Charlie: Haven’t those
three stooges got anything to do? Yeah,
our son is different – he’s the one who’s not enrolled in uni.]
had been hanging around the Harding household about a year before the ACB got
involved in the Zimbabwe controversy. Charlie
and the ACB had a series of test matches scheduled in Zimbabwe and a political
turn of events left a dictator known as Robert Mugabe in charge of the country
amid civil unrest, a clamour of vote-rigging charges and calls for international
sanctions. There were Australians
who demanded that the ACB cancel all matches on security grounds or as a
political protest, take your pick. The
ACB wanted to continue the matches, keep their valuable television contract
revenues and “just play cricket”.
the worrisome state of affairs, the ACB sent Charlie as an emissary to sort
things out. Charlie elected to take
Daryl along. No, he didn’t think
Charlie would suddenly come to life, but he wasn’t ready to test Emily’s
threat of divorce “if you leave me alone with that dropkick son of yours who
never picks up after himself.” Charlie
worked out a package deal where Daryl’s expenses were minimal, with the ACB
unknowingly picking up most of them (except airfare).
When Daryl agreed to pay for his airfare from his own savings account,
Charlie and Emily breathed a sigh of relief.
Of course, it took several promptings for Daryl to get a passport and a
debit VISA card (linked to his $15,000 savings account) and actually pay for the
airfare he promised.
turn, Daryl demanded that he could go his own way while Charlie attended various
meetings. Of course, without a
driver’s licence for their rented car, Daryl was more or less stranded, so
Charlie figured Daryl would bum around from meeting to meeting, waiting in the
reception areas and walking around the halls.
arrived on an Air Zimbabwe flight from Johannesburg on Sunday night local time,
having flown non-stop from Melbourne to Sydney, and then on to Johannesburg, one
of the longest scheduled flights on the globe.
Exhausted, they went to sleep soon after they checked into their hotel,
the Harare Hilton. Fittingly, they
slept in separate rooms, since Charlie couldn’t handle the sounds of Daryl’s
wheezing. It wasn’t Daryl’s
fault, but due to his asthma, Charlie and Emily insisted he keep his bedroom
door shut at night. [Charlie: A
dozen years of wheezing with no really serious attacks makes him a bloody
nuisance, what with the night time noise. He
sleeps through it all, God bless him, so it’s best for all of us, and
there’s no danger.]
two of them were feeling the effects of jet lag as Charlie and Daryl faced
Monday morning. They had gained
nine hours due to time zone differences, which meant they had been awake for 27
hours (not counting sleep on the plane) before their arrival at the hotel. Bleary-eyed and largely silent, the two of them began their
day with brekkie at the coffee shop. It
was standard Aussie fare, nothing special, and the two barely said a word.
Charlie was afraid he would get lost, so he studied the map given him at
the Avis airport office in lieu of his traditional morning paper.
Indeed, he managed to find his way without a problem to the large but
older office building where the first meeting was to take place.
this – the hotel, brekkie, the rented Ford Falcon, the roadway, the buildings
– was pretty boring to Daryl. As
he scoped out the lobby directory of the structure that housed the Zimbabwe
National Athletics Board (which Charlie called Z-NAB), it seemed pathetic,
hosting a hundred or more departments, none of which seemed to be related. It made him think of a rabbit warren, an endless series of
tunnels leading ultimately to nowhere in particular.
it happened, Monday was a newly declared bank holiday and Charlie’s
long-scheduled meeting took precedence, even as most offices in the building
were closed. The waiting room was
boring, so Daryl began a little exploration adventure, peeking through open
doors and out open windows.
first open door on the second or third hallway said “Robert Penwith, M.D.,
Epidemiology Division” and the large room inside looked like some Hollywood
movie producer’s idea of a 1930’s chemistry lab.
The man in the white coat with the scant traces of white hair upon an
otherwise bald head looked about eighty and was the only person Daryl could see.
Unlike the other faces, Dr. Penrith’s was white, something common in
Southern Rhodesia but not in the independent nation now called Zimbabwe.
stared at Daryl, who had walked through the door to check out the specimens,
labels and other paraphernalia in the spacious room that now held just those
are you and why are you here?”
his mind wandering in the soup of jet lag, barely heard the old man’s voice. The same words were repeated, only louder.
Daryl woke up and blurted out, “I’ll leave if you want.”
that’s all right. Who are you and
what are you here for?”
- - - Harding. From Melbourne,
Victoria. That’s Australia. Just lookin’. My
dad’s here about cricket matches between the two countries.”
a million miles and a million years away. I
don’t suppose you ever heard of malaria?”
not to talk about it.”
a disease, unknown in your world, still common here.
Africa-wide, malaria still kills a million a year, mostly children.
We’re analysing a new strain, one that killed off a couple of villages
a month ago. Small villages with
their own distinct people once, minding their own simple lives, for all I know
more or less the same for fifty or a hundred or five hundred years.
Then there’s no one left, all of them dead.
They were saveable, most all of them, and the difference was a thousand
dollars of antibiotics. I don’t
guess you ever thought about your National Insurance Card.”
don’t know what you’re talking about.”
I guess you wouldn’t. I’m
talking about government-provided medical care in all the Commonwealth nations
that are also developed countries. You
know, what’s it called in Australia?”
guess you mean Medicare, but Mum keeps the card.”
just take it for granted, don’t you?”
thought then answered. “I guess
so, but I’ve never been much sick.” [He’s
a few bullets short of a full clip, but humour him.]
course not, but you got immunized from the time you were born, and we have more
bugs here to get you sick.”
didn’t have a clue as to what the old relic was talking about.
He let the old man blabber on.
here, there’s no Medicare, no cards, no hospitals, and not many doctors with
much they can do about things. What
do you think about that?”
some, for the few, the lucky, the top brass in the capital.
Not much of anything you Aussies would call a hospital anywhere else.
What we call a hospital would be laughed at by doctors there, and you
take them for granted.” He stared
at Daryl, obviously waiting for Daryl to say something in reply.
didn’t want to say something, but he feared he had to break the silence. “Well, that’s not our problem, is it?” [Gotcha, you yabbering clown]
the first time, the old man smiled and his face showed a real expression.
“No, damn it, you’re right there.
It’s ours. I just
succumbed to DWS. I bet you don’t
know that term, do you?”
shook his head, and waited.
“Developing World Syndrome, or Developing
World Stupidity, as I see it. Expecting
someone else to pick up the bits, never imagining we could do it ourselves.”
The old man relaxed a trifle and Daryl let down his guard.
“Well, I’m Robert Penrith, Dr.
Penrith to you and I’ve earned both an M.D. and a Ph.D. in microbiology from
Cambridge. I don’t suppose
you’ve been to university, have you?”
Daryl shuddered a bit, reminded of his election to discontinue his
studies. Dr. Penrith was waiting
for an answer.
The seconds were like hours, so Daryl blurted
out. “I was accepted but deferred
Now the doctor’s face was a scowl.
“Waiting for what? Godot?” Daryl didn’t even know Godot was a who and not a what, much
less that Waiting for Godot was a
famous theatrical production by an equally famous author.
“Maybe I’ll go to uni when I get back.”
Now the old face was pleasant again, then
resigned, perhaps a curious trace of philosophy written on it.
“Well, you’d better, if you’re to use your head for something
better than to bounce a ball off it. And
maybe, even still, you’d be unable to do much.
At least I can reason much of what happens, even if I can’t correct the
Daryl look back at the sign on the door, which
was still open, like the windows and the bare breeze and the sweltering heat.
“What’s epidemiology?” [Change
the subject. Let him do the
“As I said, something of which you have only
the barest idea in Australia, the science of epidemics, of health problems that
rapidly spread to infect large populations, generally very serious diseases.
Here, my hands are full, with little my staff and I can do but estimate
body counts for the WHO, the World Health Organization of the United Nations.
We forward reports regularly, if that means much.
At least the world can know.”
Daryl’s barely interested mind was diverted
to something closer at hand, a small plastic container with a wet lump of
something that looked like manure. He
pointed. “And this?”
“There’s a story behind that, which by the
way is a petri dish, sometimes referred to as an agar dish, with a portion of
Daryl looked closer.
“It’s got tiny yellow flecks on it.
What are they?”
Dr. Penrith walked over and looked at the
specimen. “I see what you mean.
Pollen I guess, common this time of year, most of the year really.
But that’s probably not important, at least if one were to believe the
stupid story an aide told me about it.”
“You see, that specimen in the agar dish
came by way of an old man, at least sixty, who claimed to be over a hundred and
forty years old. He was the last survivor in one of the two villages I talked
about. He claimed it was camel
dung, a food only eaten by the chiefs of his village, supplied by his shaman,
what used to be called a witch doctor. He
claimed to be the last of the chiefs because an early injury prevented him from
siring children. He passed away
while my aide was conducting his work at the village, this supposedly
140-year-old man. Stupid story,
For Daryl’s part, he was curious.
“What’s so stupid?”
“First, people don’t live to a hundred and
forty, anywhere. Second, attaining the age of sixty is relatively rare for
natives in the jungle, with seventy very rare.
Third, there aren’t camels within three thousand kilometres of here,
but my assistant reported that the old man spoke in an arcane dialect except for
the one English word “camel”, which he repeated. Claimed he got the word from an Englishman named Stanley,
Stanley who I don’t know. Fourth,
it’s ordinary antelope dung, and eating antelope dung isn’t healthy.
Go ahead, taste it if you don’t believe me.”
To his amazement, before the doctor could stop him, Daryl did just that. He took the top off the agar dish, stuck his finger in the dampish lump and licked it.
Dr. Penrith was flabbergasted.
“You damn fool kid. If
your parents can’t teach you better than to eat shit, you don’t belong in a
university, you need to work on a garbage truck.
Get out!” He meant it and
Daryl retreated to the door, only discovering during that brief retreat the
taste sensation that would change his life forever.
he was closing the door and looked back, Daryl saw the old man stare at him,
point and then collapse to the floor. As
he fell, his mouth was open, as if he were trying to talk.
Perhaps there was something strange in the way Daryl looked just then,
we’ll never know. Daryl rushed
back into the lab through the half-closed door and briefly hovered over an
apparently dead body, just an instant before it happened.
he felt the full impact of what he had tasted.
Whoosh! It was a tingle, but
much more. It was ears popping, a
tiny explosion inside his head, and more still.
To Dr. Penrith, it was shit; to Daryl, the “camel dung” was dynamite
stuff. Daryl grabbed the dish,
stuffed it inside his pants pocket and ran out the still unclosed door and
through the empty hallways, back to the waiting room of the office where Charlie
was still behind closed doors, meeting with his Zimbabwean counterparts.
Daryl pretended to be bored, reading some old magazines about things he
didn’t understand and could care less about.
The taste kept with him and the tingle got
even more pronounced, so Daryl was understandably worried his facial expressions
would give him away. He tried to go
to sleep, which wasn’t difficult, since there was no receptionist or other
person in the waiting room. The
heat was stifling and the silence was deafening.
Anyway, he must have succeeded, because Charlie woke him up an hour or
two later. Daryl wouldn’t exactly
know – he never wore a watch.