Copyright 2001-2008, James J. Belcher.  All rights reserved.

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Copyright 2004, 2005 James J. Belcher.  All Rights Reserved. 

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Daryl Harding and the Quest for Dhwee

 

      Chapter 2

 

Drugs!  As Charlie roused him, Daryl realized he had been very soundly asleep, but a trace of the tingle remained.  He knew he wasn’t high – his two closest mates, a pub and an after-18 spree educated him to “high”, hung over and hang-it-up.  Still, Charlie was forever ranting [Why don’t you just talk to me, instead of always talking or yelling at me?] about drugs, athletes, drugs, crime, drugs, troubles and drugs. 

          Daryl was half-asleep; he was mildly aware he’d been dreaming something else.  Now he was worrying, big time, fast-forward speed.  Had he just taken an illegal drug?  Was he now transporting an illegal substance?  Did that make him a drug trafficker?  They had drug-sniffing dogs back at Melbourne International Airport.  Would he be caught and arrested?  Ernie and Lou would never believe it!  [Oh shit, neither of them can keep a secret.  I’d better not tell them.  Where will you hide the stuff?] 

          Daryl hadn’t moved and Charlie was shaking him.  “Damnit, Daryl, wake up.  This is the second time I’ve asked.  Don’t make it three.”   

          While Daryl’s mind was sorting out his latest worry, he felt the tingle on his face, so he instinctively touched his pimples.  Daryl really didn’t have that many, and Charlie hardly noticed them anymore, but Daryl felt he had a horrible case (and knew the girls all said “Ugh!”).  One had just started that morning.  It was a red dot with a tiny yellow centre, a blossom that would be large and ready by nightfall, something that would pop with a pinch of his fingers.  It spelled pain and pleasure of a kind he had known a few hundred or more times. 

          The pimple wasn’t there, not even a tiny lump!  In fact, his whole face felt smoother.  This wasn’t the same as the smooth-but-dead sense he had felt when he woke up with a hangover after too many bottles of beer, it was just different.  His fingers seemed more sensitive and his skin was - - - - normal!  He had this incredible urge to find a mirror and take a good hard look. 

          Daryl excused himself to the toilet down the hall, running much of the way.  The mirror confirmed the miracle – not only a pimple-that-was but also a face that said all his pimples were going away, even the few zit-blotches that doctors said would be with him for a lifetime.  He could tell, down to the last little bit, because he never lacked imagination.  No, maybe it wasn’t going to happen all at once, but if things changed this much in an hour or two, he’d lose his acne for sure, and sooner rather than later.   

As he was considering the possibilities and smiling at the down-the-line potential, Charlie entered the loo. 

          “C’mon.  We’ve gotta go.” 

          Daryl nodded.  He rarely said much to Charlie.  They left together. 

          In their rented car, Charlie looked over at Daryl.  “They’ve promised top-flight security.  They promised a hotel cordoned off for our team.  They promised a police car entourage to and from the airport and the field.  They promised to work with international sportswriters and telecasters and have them in the same hotel where we’d be staying.  They gave us all we could ask for.  Isn’t that great?” 

          Daryl just nodded.  He looked out the side window at the sights of the city.  There were few points of interest.  As Daryl saw it, Zimbabwe’s capital was a reflection of poverty and neglect, decaying concrete and cracked sidewalks with only the occasional new structure.  Most of the “new” was ten years or more old, and much of that was governmental buildings.  Even the signs on the offices and shops needed a cleaning and repair.  Zimbabwe was a country where people long ago lost their pride.   He remembered his Internet overview prior to leaving Melbourne – there was a western area of the country that was the Africa of the movies, with Victoria Falls, jungle, high savannah and herds of antelope, lions and all the other creatures.  He’d rather be there now. 

He glanced back at the clock on the dashboard; it said 1:30.  Charlie was so excited he had forgotten about lunch, for either of them.  Daryl was the kind of kid who picked with his food, never very hungry, never very thirsty, and never very interested in much of anything at all.  Now he felt hungry, but it was no use mentioning it to Charlie.   

          Charlie looked at Daryl.  “Hey, your skin looks better.  Doesn’t this tropical climate do wonders, mate?”  Daryl just smiled and nodded [So much for the ride back to the hotel]. 

          Daryl complained of needed sleep and Charlie left him alone in his room. Charlie had the adjoining one.  Charlie needed to call Melbourne and make enquiries as to follow-ons from that initial meeting.  With the time difference, he’d have to write everything out and fax it from the machine at the front desk. In addition, he’d compile a written report of the day’s activities.  [He’ll actually write all that stuff out with pen and paper!  Why doesn’t he learn to use a computer?]  He’d see Daryl at seven, for dinner. 

          When Daryl closed the door, he listened for the gentle sounds of Charlie walking past, the click of the adjacent door unlocking and opening and the sound of it shutting as Charlie went inside.  Then Daryl got up and locked his door and pulled out his laptop and connected it.  Universal phone adapters and computers with dual voltages are normal for laptops nowadays – they can plug in anywhere and still function.   The only difference is the wall plug, but hotels generally have universal plug adapters just to cater to international travellers.  Daryl’s ISP was AOL.com, a US company that had local connections all over the world, and Daryl had checked.  There was a number for Harare, so a local call was all Daryl needed to be connected to the Net.  He plugged in his trusty Toshiba and in less than ninety seconds, he was visiting the World Wide Web. 

          First he looked up Zimbabwe.  He found a map of Zimbabwe, courtesy of the US Central Intelligence Agency (yes, even spy data is available, since much of it isn’t classified, much less top secret) and began to orientate himself.  Then he pulled the agar dish out of his pocket and looked at the small label on the side of the container, the one with the handwriting. 

          It was three lines of data:  

Zimlaoti (Chirundu)
31 July 2003
K001/0532/0920  

          As it turned out, Chirundu was a border town on the Zambesi River, located in the Mashonaland West District, in north-western Zimbabwe, something over 350 km from Harare and even further from Victoria Falls.  The falls were located further upriver (south, since the Zambesi flows north) from Chirundu.  Technically, the name applied to the Zambian town on the other side of the bridge, but there were at least a few shacks and natives on the Zimbabwe end, enough to cause Dr. Penrith’s people to label the sample with a Zimbabwe town name, or so Daryl thought at the time.  Besides, if the epidemic didn’t take place on the Zimbabwe side, then Penrith’s department wouldn’t have been involved.  There was some kind of rail service to Chinhoyi, towards Chirundu from Harare, but only halfway there.  There was a paved road of sorts, but without a driver’s licence, Daryl was worried if he could travel by road.  Apparently it was mostly used for caravans of trucks ferrying materials between Zambia and Zimbabwe.  Was a bus service available?  Where Zimlaoti was or what constituted the location of the “camel dung chief” and his “special food”, he really didn’t have a clue.  

It was all a big puzzle, what with more and more unanswered questions, questions that might provoke action from some but not him.  Daryl was tired, unusually so; at home, he’d sleep in, mostly from boredom, but he never took a nap.  Here, he needed a nap, so he’d sleep on it, even if it were just mid-afternoon. 

          Life’s funny you know, because Daryl was Daryl, not stupid, not lazy, not silly and not foolish.  Daryl was all this to a world of grownups, including his parents, who would say that every one of those labels attached itself firmly to Daryl.  As Daryl dreamed, still aware of the tingle, he was awakening to powers within him that were greater than any his parents could have imagined.  Even his teachers would only have said, “He’s got potential”.  That’s not the same. 

          Daryl really liked science and he liked learning.  Secondary school and the labs and the teachers had been fun and he enjoyed them.  That didn’t mean Daryl was anxious to turn himself into another Dr. Penrith in sixty years or so.  Daryl, if alerted, would act on stimulating things with skill, judgment, concern and speed.  Most of the time, nothing gets our attention or keeps it very long.  Nothing seems worth the bother.  That’s not the same as nothing being worth the bother or nothing worthy of real effort.  All of these things were doubly true for Daryl. 

          Daryl didn’t like asthma, allergies or acne, but those were the three A’s that troubled him most every day of his life.  No, none of them was life threatening, and even his asthma was just a pain that bothered him and his parents.  His allergies were things that made him break out in rashes and have watery eyes and the occasional sneeze.  No one ever died of acne, not that he knew, but acne made him feel like he could die of embarrassment, especially at age nineteen, when the other kids had outgrown it, most all of them.   

At nineteen, his parents treated him like a kid, but Daryl knew better.  Technically, Daryl was already an adult, so he could enter the casinos, buy liquor or smokes, vote and do everything else an adult was entitled to do.  And if his pimples disappeared, that didn’t mean he would be suddenly transformed into another Arnold Schwarzenegger.  

          But if his pimples disappeared, it meant a lot of things, to him and to all those other Daryls out there who wanted their pimples to disappear, and maybe a lot more to a lot of others, even without pimples.  He had talked with his dermatologist, Dr. Sullivan, and he knew that Doctor Sullivan spent most of his life worrying about pimples and how to manage them, not control or eradicate them, just minimise their bad effects.  He knew that drug companies were investing many millions into, and earning many more millions from, maybe billions, pimple creams, ointments, pills and the like.  After all, his Mum had taken him to Dr. Sullivan enough times, and she had bought and paid for all the stuff that didn’t work but he had to take it anyway.  He knew there was a possibility and he wanted to do something very big, like eliminate pimples from the face of the earth.  If eating antelope dung was the way to go, he needed an education on eating antelope dung, and that wouldn’t happen back home. 

          The thought just jumped up from nowhere.  [This is it!  My ticket to stardom!] 

          In his dream, he was walking up to the podium on the stage.  There was applause, a lot of hands clapping.  He was about to say something and he knew he would get more applause.  He suddenly knew he had to say words that really meant something, but his mind went -- blank.  He looked out at the audience and no words came out of his lips, but he was supposed to say something.  

He woke up in a sweat, wondering what to say.  He realised where he was and he reached over and picked up a piece of stationery and a biro from the desk drawer and began to write: (1.)  What is this stuff?  Is it illegal?  Is it already known?  He crossed out the last question – he assumed the answer was no. (2.)  What are its effects?  What are its side effects?  How does it work?  He crossed out the last question – it didn’t matter.  (3.) Where is it?  How do I get it?  (4.) Can it be reproduced in a lab or a factory?  He underlined that last one, because a supply for a dozen or even a dozen hundred kids like Daryl wasn’t a good answer.  (5.) How do I find out the answers?  He underlined that one also. 

He remembered the words of Mr. Wilson and the experimental course called The Scientific Method: “A discovery is just one person’s description of something that’s been around for ages, but it’s telling the world in a way so they listen.”  

Daryl had an idea.  It was the “simplistic” one, the “unimaginable” idea.  What if the villager was 140 years old and the antelope dung contributed to that longevity?  What if Dr. Penrith was so prejudiced that he overlooked real data?  Daryl tried to recollect what Dr. Penrith had said.  He found he could remember things almost word for word. 

Who was Stanley?  He turned to the computer.  He typed in Stanley.  Life’s like that, just a guess.  Stanley became Stanley Cup and Stanley Tools and Stanley Falls and everything but - - - -.  Guess what?   Sir Henry Morton Stanley.  An Englishman turned American turned explorer and African adventurer, turned big figure in Africa’s history, returned Englishman given a peerage (along with the title “Sir”).  1870’s, that’s when, 130 years ago.  Sir Henry Stanley had “discovered” a medical missionary named Dr. Livingstone (who had last been seen seven years earlier and given up for dead).  The first meeting of the two, deep in the African jungle, had been initiated with the famous phrase, “Dr. Livingstone, I presume!” 

The Internet alerted Daryl to several African expeditions of Stanley’s, beginning with the Livingstone quest and that famous greeting and continuing throughout the decade and one to follow.  If that Stanley  - - - ? 

OK, that’s a neat theory.  Daryl wasn’t immature or some sort of idiot, unable or unwilling to connect the many dots between “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” and an agar dish stolen that afternoon.  Daryl was smart, he had a computer and he had data and he had an excellent-if-underused brain.  There was a linear path, a way to play connect-the-dots that he wished to traverse.  Unbeknownst to his teachers and his parents, Daryl could figure this one out, and he was determined, a quality no one else saw in Daryl.   

Someone had recently died, perhaps someone who had survived from the 1870’s until recently.  Where in Africa did Sir Stanley go?  Where did he meet the villager that supposedly live until he was 140 years old?   Where exactly in Zimbabwe was the village where that guy had maybe lived for so long?  The antelope dung in the petri dish was probably from nearby, but that wasn’t certain.  What were the yellow specks and did they play a part?  Why was the villager insistent on the word “camel”? 

Daryl was willing to spend the time.  Daryl would look at the evidence.   Daryl would use the Internet to find out the data that was available.  Could he locate the guy’s writing, the Englishman-American-Englishman?  He selected Yahoo, [so called because its inventors fancied it as “Yet Another Heuristic Organising Operator”] and he asked it about Stanley’s books.  Daryl found a name, a book name from long time ago.  The title was Through the Dark Continent (1878).  He wrote it down.  Books first published long ago aren’t easy to find.  Life’s often like that, with data that’s somewhere being the key to an answer for an important question.  In this case, it might be somewhere in that book, in a library somewhere, but what library and where?  A book like that might be in London or New York, but it probably wouldn’t be in Melbourne, more likely Harare. 

Daryl made the biggest decision of his 19 years right then and there.  Charlie could go back home without him, because Daryl would stay in Zimbabwe until he solved the mystery.  Daryl couldn’t and wouldn’t mention the agar dish, the old geezer who lay on the lab floor or the tingle the “camel dung” gave him.  He needed a cover story.  He returned to the Internet and found one.  He found himself dozing off, so he decided he could use a nap.  He had some ideas, part of the answer; the rest could wait a few hours.  His body craved sleep. 

Charlie knocked on his door a few minutes before seven and was surprised to find Daryl awake, dressed and ready for dinner.  To tell the truth, Daryl had just woken from another bad dream five or ten minutes earlier.  He’d been sleeping soundly, something he’d not often done in mid-afternoon.  The two went down to the hotel dining room together, where Daryl actually said something before Charlie brought up the topic. 

Daryl was ravenous, not a word that would normally apply to him.  He wolfed down a couple of dinner rolls with butter, along with some celery and carrot sticks before he said anything.  His father was surprised at this sudden increased appetite, but didn’t mention it.  It was Daryl who first spoke. 

“Dad, why don’t we order some of the local food?” 

“Mate, I haven’t a clue what the locals eat, whether we’d like it, and by the way, since when have you been experimental?  You seem funny.  What’s going on, Daryl?” 

“That’s it, Dad, nothing’s going on.  I spent a lot of money to come a long way.  We’ve been here since last night and so far I’ve checked into a hotel, eaten a brekkie that I could’ve eaten back home, sat in a waiting room of an old office building and fallen asleep in the hotel room after falling asleep in the office building.  That’s not a lot of value, considering the air fare.” 

Charlie paused before responding.  “Fair dinkum.  What’d ya have in mind?” 

“Dad, I brought my laptop and checked out things on the Internet.  Victoria Falls is maybe the prettiest spot on earth and it’s on the Zimbabwe-Zambia border, just an hour and a half away by air, and there are several flights every day, not too expensive.” 

“Daryl, you and I aren’t honeymooners, I’ve got business here, not several hundred kilometres away.  And how do I explain to your Mum that you decided to take off for a sightseeing adventure two days after you arrived?” 

“Dad, let me have my return ticket and my passport.  We brought our mobiles from Melbourne.  I’ll see about SIMM chips so they’re useable here.  That way, we can keep in contact.  And besides, you promised me, as a condition of my paying for my airfare, that I could go my own way.”  Daryl knew that Charlie really didn’t have a schedule with any entries where Daryl was invited. 

Charlie hesitated.  “But your Mum - - -” 

Daryl closed the deal.  “Mum never has to know.  We’ll fly back together and the phones will let us know where we are.  If Mum calls and wants to speak to me, make an excuse, call me and I’ll call her back.” 

Deep down, Charlie couldn’t have been happier.  After all, when he had been Daryl’s age, Charlie had been a nationally recognized athlete.  By age nineteen, Charlie had not been living with his parents for over a year.  Perhaps a little time by himself and Daryl would show some pluck.  Besides, Daryl had a VISA card, and the phones were the next best things to being there.  So long as Emily wouldn’t worry, this gave Charlie ten days of free time to talk soccer, meet members of the Zimbabwean squad, and generally be rid of a whinging teenager that he often thought was God’s punishment to him for not being tougher ten years earlier. 

Charlie said those words that Daryl longed to hear.  “Mate, we’ll get the phones set up tomorrow.  Now, what’s for dinner?” 

They asked the waiter, only to be told the beef was pretty good.  They ended up sticking the ACB for two steaks priced like something special but tasting like something pretty ordinary.  Charlie didn’t want his jacket potato, so Daryl ate it as well as his own, along with a gooey sweet for dessert.   

Daryl went to bed on Monday night, knowing Tuesday would be like no other in his life.  Before he did, he stripped naked and examined himself with the aid of a full-length mirror on the back of the toilet door.  His morning pimple-to-be was definitely gone.  The others were definitely going, with a dozen already off the map of his once-cratered face.  He thought about a second dose of the antelope dung, but decided against it, at least not tonight.  After all, he didn’t want to unduly arouse Charlie, and if things worked out, the two would part company the next day or so anyway. 

Daryl slept soundly that night, and his lack of wheezing would have surprised Charlie, but the general noise of the hotel and the insulation between the two rooms prevented Charlie from finding out.  Besides, Charlie always slept like a log.  Charlie was supremely happy about Daryl’s adventure, even if he didn’t have a clue as to what it would really be.