Full of Possibilities Chapter One

Full of Possibilities Chapter One

by Diana Polisensky

A Delay

The alarm sounded. Dr. Sunny Rubenstein quickly pulled his trousers and jacket on over his flannel pajamas. In the last thirty days he hadn’t had one uninterrupted night’s sleep. But at last, tonight, after many disappointments, he was going to welcome George Hyde-Clarendon, a locum—hopefully in time a partner—who was arriving on the 2.01 train from Bulawayo. From the kitchen door, he called nanny in to take care of the children and slipped out.

The night sky was clear and bright with stars as he freewheeled down the steep hill of the unlit village of Umzimtuti that was really just an appendage to the Cheetah Gold Mine. Entering the station circle, he parked, slammed the car door behind him and hurried in.

The last vestiges of the recent visit by King George VI and his family, to thank the people of Rhodesia for the disproportionate contribution they had made to the War effort, were still in evidence.Red, white and blue bunting were still wrapped around the two entry pillars of the Dutch-gabled station. Strings of scalloped Union Jacks hung from one corner of the brightly lit station portal to the other.

Sunny marveled again that, out of one man’s personal fortune, a thousand miles of rail had been forged into the heart of a nameless Africa fifty years before for his Queen. Rail would always be the country’s umbilical cord, but never clamped and cut. At birth it had slid off the belly of the Great Dyke to accommodate the Cheetah, which boasted the richest ore in the world—one ounce of gold for every ton of ore crushed. To feed the mine and village, rail delivered the essentials of arsenic and milk, mercury and meat, machinery, mail and medical supplies.

The train was late again; he need not have hurried. Leaning against the lamp post, he reached into his pocket and extracted a pack of cigarettes and offered one to Station Master Sivewright as he approached.

“Late again?” he said.

Accepting the cigarette and the light that followed it, Sivewright said, “I’ll say. You know the engine driver of the afternoon goods train is not averse to stopping in the middle of nowhere if he spots game to shoot for the pot.”

“It’s highly irregular.”

“Although they are highly respected, engine drivers are not well paid. It’s one of the unofficial perks of the job.”

“That shouldn’t affect the night train.”

“I hate to say it, but this time the delay’s serious.”

“Serious?” Sunny drew heavily on his cigarette. The tip glowed red.

“The train’s delayed a whole day.”

“Another day! I can’t wait another day to share the burden of work.”

“Remember the exceptional rains we’ve had?”

“I haven’t forgotten the whole trainload of passengers we put up for a week because the floods washed the bridge away. Umzimtuti did itself proud.”

“Agreed, Doc. We did put on a jolly good show—not least on the medical side, especially your arranging for a measles family on board to be teamed up with a local family in the same predicament.”

“The town’s folk do muck in when the chips are down.”

“Your wife did a sterling job entertaining the kids—the adults, too.”

“Very kind of you to say so. But what’s that got to do with a delay now?”

“Those rains. They’ve spawned a massive plague of locusts that are heading north and crossing the railway line at Somabula this afternoon.”

“They’re cold-blooded, so they don’t move at night.”

“The afternoon goods train crushed so many insects on the tracks that its Garratt lost traction and stalled. The line can’t be cleared until the swarm has completely passed. The mixed night train, of course, blocked behind, is probably exposed too.”

“When’s the line going to clear?”

“The swarm’s rolling from the south and is estimated to be about thirty miles long. It’s going to take quite a while for it to pass when it gets going again in the morning. A lot depends on the prevailing wind. A heavy gray cloud envelops everything with a kind of whirring snow.”

“Snow? I wouldn’t know. The furthest north I’ve been is the Horn of Africa during the war … none of it’s exactly snow country. In all that travel I never experienced a locust swarm.”

“Think 60 million or so locusts in less than half a square mile. The East African desert swarms are reportedly much bigger—covering up to 400 square miles. But our red locusts are still a force to be reckoned with.”

“I thought Rhodes’s answer to rinderpest was the invincible iron horse. I can’t believe a lowly insect has stalled our mighty steam engine!”

“Doc, it’s like this—our rail’s narrow gauge was chosen for economy.”

“It seems to have served us well enough—no major accidents in our history.”

“The disadvantage of narrow gauge is that the train’s liable to tip over on the curves.”

“I thought that was why we built our rail straight,” smiled Sunny, crushing his cigarette stub under his foot.

“Doc, curves are unavoidable here and there. The problem was anticipated, hence the articulated Garratt engine.”

“Why a problem now—of all nights?” persisted Sunny.

“Well, you see, the tractive weight reduces as the water in the front tank and the coal in the rear bunker are used up simultaneously, reducing the weight on the wheels and making slippage possible. This was anticipated in the design stage and an additional water tank was added to the rear, so it’s not normally an operational issue—notwithstanding crushed locusts liberally lubricating the rails.”

“What bad luck—tonight of all nights! Consolation is, I suppose, locusts don’t carry disease.”

“Doc, the locusts devour everything in their path—and I mean everything. The vast grasslands of the Somabula Flats are going to be ravaged. There will be lean times ahead for those ranchers—and famine for the subsistence farmers in the Native Reserves.”

“Hopefully government will truck food into the Reserves. The last thing we need is a lot of emaciated pot bellies to add to our troubles.”

“Once the swarm has passed, a clean-up crew on a pump trolley from Gwelo will mop up the line and Rhodesia Railways will be back in business.”

Sunny turned to go.

“Doc! Not expecting you at this ungodly hour, I almost forgot! Two overseas crates arrived for you yesterday on the goods train. I did ring your nurse and leave a message.”

“I’m not expecting anything.”

“They’re stacked safely in the baggage room.”

Stepping in, and reading the bill of lading, Sunny said, “I do declare —Lady Shirley has come through for me!”

“Lady Shirley?”

“Fancy that! Remember when the entourage of the London-based Sun Gold Mining Company that owns the Cheetah came out for a safari months ago?”

“You bet I do—dress rehearsal for the Royals. We rolled out the red carpet for them.”

“At the mine manager’s dinner party, the wife of the chairman promised me anything I wanted after I had delivered twins while they were, by chance, touring the Cheetah Native Hospital. I asked for a modern theater table and Boyle’s anesthetic apparatus.”

“Doc, where’s your imagination?”

“At the mine’s Native Hospital. These will make all the difference to the scope of surgery I can tackle—just what the doctor ordered! I’ll let P.Q. Oosterhuizen, the Native Compound Officer, know first thing in the morning.”

“No rush,” said Sivewright.

“P.Q. is my right-hand man in the theater. I’ve trained him as my unofficial anesthetist. Couldn’t do without him. He’ll be tickled pink.”

“Your man will be on the train this time tomorrow.”

“Actually, I’m expecting his whole family.”

“Everything will be back on track tomorrow.”

“I’ll pardon the pun,” Sunny chuckled.

But, as he turned to leave and wave goodbye, he thought soberly, everything’s conspiring against my connecting with George Hyde-Clarendon.

Full of Possibilities

By Diana Polisensky
Retail Price for Print: $19.99
Print ISBN-13: 978-0996688956
Retail Price for eBook $9.99
eBook ISBN-10 0996688951