Time has just gone by so quickly since I was last in touch. I'm afraid, though it's not such good news at the moment.
As you know I've been made so welcome here on Zandra and it hadn't ever occurred to me to question whether I belonged at all. But that has all changed in just one day. That routine referendum. Why do so many people want to leave the One World Community all of a sudden? What does that mean for Petri and me? Will they not want us anymore? Will they see us a drain on their resources?
It's all right for Kaleem. At least he looks a bit Zandrian. He is partly Zandrian.
Petri had been doing so well. But then she became ill quite suddenly. It was terrifying. She was obviously in so much pain - worse, I think, than ever before. Although Kaleem was with me when it happened, I really felt alone. We're away from home.
The wands didn't work. How could the wands not have worked? Had someone interfered with them? I'm really scared that somebody is trying to get at us. The doctor admitted that this kind of thing has happened a few times now.
I was glad Kaleem was there and that he took us to the medi-centre.
Doctor Joahnsa Brooken was brilliant. I'm not sure that she believed me, though, when I said that I had applied the wands to Petri. But she soon sorted her out, anyway. It was really kind of her to give Petri something to make her calmer before she started applying the meds.
It was all still very worrying, though. The doctor admitted that this kind of thing had happened a few times now. And she doesn't even trust all of her colleagues. What is happening here?
I'm really grateful to her, anyway. I'm going to go to her for the wands in future - not rely on a courier to bring them, just as she suggested. And I'll only take them from her, not from one of her colleagues.
It took Petri a while to recover, even after we'd got her home. Kaleem stayed with me. He was so kind and I was glad he was there. I hope he hasn't got the wrong impression, though. I do care for him and I know he cares for me and Petri. But I don't think we can ever be together again the way we were. Not after the way he left me. Not with me having to care for Petri.
Obek looked up through the leaves. The blue sky framed them perfectly. Now, the trees were covered in the orange fruit. Their experiment had been a success. Would the taste be right, though? Other small oranges were bitter. Was it the sunshine they lacked? The big juicy ones needed more warmth than they got here. Today was exceptional.
Well, just looking at them wouldn't get him a long way. He didn't want to go back and fetch a ladder. That might alert people to what he was doing. He would just have to climb the tree.
It wasn't that easy. The places where he could put his feet or get something to hold were few and far apart. The branches were thin and might not take his weight. A gentle breeze had sprung up. It was refreshingly cool but it made it difficult to balance.
At last though he could touch one of the fruits and even found a place to perch. The fruit fell easily into his hand. That was a good sign. It meant that it was ripe. He lifted it to his nose. Oh, yes. It smelt of oranges and there was something else as well. A hint of spiciness. Just a hint.
He started to peel the clementine. It peeled easily and the skin was so thin that pith came off with it. That would normally be a good thing but sometimes the flesh came off with the pith as well. Would they be able to make the skins a little sturdier?
He took a segment and put it into his mouth.
It was exquisite - sweet, juicy, orangey.
Yes, this is what they'd been aiming for.
He threw a dozen or so more clementines to the floor, scrambled down the tree, gathered up the fruits and rushed back to the mansion. His father must know of this as soon as possible.
"Well," said his father. "You have done extremely well. We'll need to expand the orchards now."
They had just returned from taking the first harvest to the market. Every single piece of fruit had sold at a good price and they'd secured orders for the following year.
Obek nodded. "I think we can even stagger the crop. So that we can produce them most times of the year."
"Good. Good. And you think you can manage that?"
Obek looked into his father's eyes. "I'm sure I can."
His father nodded. "So, tell me. How will you go about it?"
"Stagger the planting so that the fruit appears between early summer and late autumn."
"Will that produce enough?"
"Can we buy more acreage?"
His father stood up and wandered over to the window. He looked out across his field. "Do you think you can persuade old Tunkin to sell us some of his land?"
"I'm sure I can. And there's something else as well."
"The extra income we'd gain from being able to produce for more of the year would more than justify buying some greenhouses."
Obek's father turned back towards him. "Get all of this done, son, and you will be rewarded."
The year passed quickly. Tunkin had agreed at once to sell all of his 150 acres. Obek had offered him a good price and a share of the profits associated with the new land for five years. He had managed to build the greenhouses in time to use them for a winter crop and despite all of the money he had had to find and despite having to pay extra workers to help with the perpetual harvest, they had made three times as much profit this year.
Obek's father had decided to arrange a ball to celebrate. Obek found himself dancing with one of the most beautiful girls in the neighbourhood. He was annoyed when his father tapped him on the back. "We need to talk." He bowed to Penni. "Please excuse us. My son will rejoin you presently."
"Couldn't this have waited?" demanded Obek once they were inside his father's study.
"No. Business must always come before pleasure." He laughed. "Don't look so glum. That's only because then the pleasure is even greater."
Obek shrugged. Could it really be that important? He'd worked so hard, hadn't he? Didn't he deserve some relaxation? Besides, he was really making progress with Penni. He was sure they would become lovers very soon, and perhaps even more. He sighed. "Well what is it?"
"I want you to take over the clementine business completely. I wanted to discuss it with you now so that if you agree I can make an announcement tonight."
"You mean be totally in control? Make all the decisions on my own?"
His father nodded. "Even how to spend the profits. A word to the wise, there, though. Yes, you should pay yourself well and in the future you may have a family to consider as well, but at the rate this is all going, the clementine orchards will make so much money that you won't know what to do with it. Some, of course, will be invested back into the enterprise, but you must think how to use the rest responsibly. We'll discuss this again in a year's time. Well, are you up for it?"
Obek nodded enthusiastically.
"Good. Now I suggest also you just get on with it." He grinned at Obek. "And go on. Ask the girl."
Two announcements were made later that evening: that Obek was to take over completely the running of the clementine orchards and that he was engaged to the lovely Penni Mendat.
"Why are you looking so worried? I'm fine. The baby's fine. Do you want to feel him kick?" Penni took Obek's hand and placed it on her belly.
The baby obliged. Yes, it did seem like a boy. He was certainly very strong. Obek smiled at his wife and then drew her into an embrace.
"There that's better," she whispered.
Oh, he wanted her so much. The huge belly did not put him off at all. If anything he found it arousing. Then he remembered. He pulled away from her. Yes, he was so lucky to have her in his life and soon there would be a child as well. Might he soon lose all means of supporting them? Would his father take the clementine project away if he couldn't find an answer to that question he'd asked a year ago?
"Oh, come on tell me." She rubbed his arm.
Obek sighed. "I've got to find a good use for all of the profit we're making."
"I take it we are still making a good profit?"
"Oh yes." It was good. It was unbelievably good. The project was just growing and growing.
"Well then. Stop worrying. You'll think of something. Maybe take on a new enterprise. One that is good for everyone." She stepped forward and kissed him. She stroked his cheek. "You look so tired sweetheart. You should go and get some rest."
Obek nodded. That wasn't a bad idea.
He found a pleasant spot in one of the orchards that wasn't being worked today. There was already a hammock strung between two of the trees. He climbed into it and shut his eyes. The sun was making the almost ripe clementines release their scent. The bees buzzed and a gentle breeze cooled him pleasantly. It was all very soothing and gradually his eyes closed.
Something stirred Obek from his nap. There was a crick in his neck and he couldn't work out where he was at first. Then he gradually remembered going to the orchard. Some half-formed dreams came back to him. There were people in fine clothes, grand buildings and more and more clementines. Everyone was going about their business so purposefully. There was excellence and perfection here.
He was aware of a voice calling him. "Master Obek, Master Obek. Come quickly." It was his former nanny, Silvana. They'd reengaged her to help look after the new child.
He jumped from the hammock and ran towards the old lady. "What is it?"
"It's the baby. The baby's on its way."
Nothing else mattered now. Please let this baby be all right. He was arriving three weeks early.
They both hurried back to the house.
"I don't think he is premature, you know," said the doctor. "If anything, I think he's a month overdue. Look at his hair and fingernails."
Penni smiled at Obek. He understood exactly what she meant. Young Tomik must have been conceived the very first time they'd made love, when the pressure of the wedding arrangements had become too much and they could contain themselves no longer. Not during the honeymoon as everyone had assumed.
"Anyway, there is no need for you to be transferred to the hospital. Everything is fine."
"Just as well," said Silvana, sniffing. "We always managed without hospitals in my day. Nasty places. Full of germs." She frowned and stared at Penni. "That was very quick for a first time. Are you sure you're not hiding anything young lady?"
"Silvana!" Obek tried to sound cross but he really wanted to laugh.
"Now then," said the doctor. "There's no reason why a healthy young woman shouldn't give birth easily. It's more natural really." He patted Penni's shoulder. "Well done, you."
Obek gazed at his son and wife. They were perfect. Then it became clear to him what he must do. He would set up an institution, an order, perhaps, that would enable others to gain this sort of excellence.
Penni touched his arm lightly. "What are you thinking?"
"That I know exactly what to do with the clementine profits."
So he started to outline his plans whilst she fed the baby. He realised after a while that his son had stopped sucking and that Penni was snoring gently. He stroked her hair. Poor love. The birth may have only take four hours but it must have been exhausting: Tomik was a big boy.
About the Peace Child Series:
Everything about Kaleem marks him out form the rest: the blond hair and dark skin, the uncomfortable cave where he lives and the fact that he doesn’t know his father. He’s used to unwelcome attention, but even so he’d feel better if some strange old man didn’t keep following him around.
That man introduces himself and begins to explain the Babel Prophecy – and everything in Kaleem’s life changes forever.
Gill James is published by The Red Telephone, Butterfly and Chapeltown.
She edits CafeLit.
She writes for the online community news magazine: Talking About My Generation
She is a Lecturer in Creative Writing and has an MA in Writing for Children and PhD in Creative and Critical Writing
See other episodes: https://www.cafelitmagazine.uk/2022/12/sunday-serial-house-of-celmentine.html