Derek leaned on a white Woo Securities Range Rover at four o’clock in the afternoon, his gaze on the arrivals exit. He’d skimmed the file Peter had handed him, so he knew he was looking for a petite Korean woman with long straight black hair. He couldn’t believe they were doing this. His frown deepened when a short Korean woman emerged wearing high shoes and a short green summer dress. She carried a matching bag, and talked rapidly into her phone. Gods, they were going to need to stop in the city to get her practical clothes.
Damn it, his father loved putting him in situations he couldn’t handle. How could his father let this happen? His team would have managed just fine without an added burden. And this woman was going to be a burden. Just looking at her—
“Excuse me,” she said in a soft voice that startled him.
When had she reached him?
He met startling brown eyes that reminded him of caramel.
“Hello?” she said again, looking at the logo on the side of the car. She held out her hand to him and smiled. “I’m Jade Sang. Are you the one waiting for me?”
He nodded and took her hand.
Slender, soft, she gave him a firm handshake, and he decided she was stronger than she looked.
“Luggage?” he said, opening the passenger door for her. He looked back expecting to see a porter following her.
“Goodness, no,” she said getting into the car and patting the green bag she carried. “I have everything I need right here. Shall we?”
He closed the door and hurried around to the driver’s side.
“You didn’t tell me your name,” she said when they were on their way out of the airport.
“Derek Woo,” he said.
“Nice to meet you, Mr. Woo,” she said staring at her phone with a frown.
“Please, call me Derek,” he said.
She glanced at her watch just as her phone rang.
He turned on to Mombasa road headed to the main city.
Jade answered her call and he found himself listening to her side of the conversation.
“I’ve landed,” she said. “I’m fine; the security company guy picked me up as promised. Is your man waiting for us? I don’t want any delays. As far as I know, the convoy leaves at 4 a.m. in the morning. I know…I’m not expecting any sleep…please just keep me updated. Thank you, Tao. Yeah, yeah, I’ll call you later.”
She ended the call and shoved the phone into her bag. “We have to make it the UNHCR offices in Westlands. There is a man waiting for us with the security documentation we need. If we miss him, this will turn into a nightmare. The UN has grounded flights to Dadaab.”
He nodded surprised by her take-charge attitude. He’d expected a simpering socialite especially when he’d read that she was Dr. Min’s arranged-marriage fiancée.
She sat back in her seat and let out a tired sigh.
“I can’t believe this is happening.”
When she didn’t elaborate, he felt compelled to ask, “Can’t believe what is happening?”
She looked at him as though surprised he was there. When she didn’t answer, he frowned.
“Goodness, please call me Jade. What did you ask me just now? I’m sorry; I have so many things on my mind. I’m half-afraid that we’ll get to the UN offices late and find that man gone. When I think of the traffic we’re going to meet the moment we hit Haille Selassie Avenue, and then on to the next roundabout. I’m afraid I’ll go crazy.”
He couldn’t blame her. Traffic was a nightmare during rush hour. He gave her a small reassuring smile. “We’ll make it.”
She nodded, though he could see she didn’t believe him. Instead, she sat with her bag on her lap, her fingers clenched tight as he drove as fast as he could on the busy highway. The moment they hit the main city, they both groaned at the gridlock. Her cell phone buzzed and she tensed reaching for it.
“Tao,” she said her tone slightly strained. “Do you have any news?”
Traffic was at a stand still so he watched her instead. She had her eyes closed, as she listened to her caller. Her left hand bunched the fabric of her dress as she gave a soft gasp.
“How is he doing?” she asked. “How bad is Jihu?”
Derek frowned. She was shaking slightly and he worried she might break apart. His blood ran cold at the thought of a crying woman when they were stuck in traffic.
God please don’t let that happen.
He glanced at her again. She’d opened her eyes; they were red, worried, but no tears. He breathed in relief when she took in a deep breath that seemed to calm her.
“Good, okay,” she said, her tone stronger than she looked. “We’re stuck in gridlock. Please convince Will to wait for us. We’re doing the best we can.”
She ended the call and sat staring at her phone.
“Are you alright?” he asked tentatively.
She nodded. She let out a heavy sigh and nodded to the still cars around them.
“I wish we could fly over all these cars.”
He chuckled. She turned to look at him and he winked. “We could click our heels together, and suddenly we’ll be in Westlands.”
When she didn’t crack a smile, he continued, “You can be Dorothy, and I’ll be Toto.”
She laughed then. A sweet musical sound that dispelled the shakes, and brightened her face, he stared. She had a beautiful laugh.
“Much better,” he said when he could make words. “I was afraid you were going to break apart there.”
“You’re a bad joker,” she said wiping her eyes, “Dorothy and Toto, really? Is that the best you can do?”
He smiled. “It got you thinking of something else.”
“Are you this complicated with your other clients?” she asked.
“I don’t get pretty clients like you,” he said, as traffic started moving. “I meet terrible people, in terrible places, this is refreshing. What do you do, Jade?”
“I work with the Seren Foundation,” she said. “Until two months ago, I was a case worker in Arsal. Now, I’m on desk duty in Mombasa.”
“You’re the guys who’ve started grassroots projects to get communities educated. It was the first logical project I’ve heard since I came here.”
“Why do you say that?”
“Most NGOs and Foundations fund groups in these regions. They go to an area, and pour money to fund groups of fifteen or whatever in the hope of lifting poverty. When they leave the area and come back a year later, those people they funded are still in poverty. It is a raging cycle that doesn’t help anyone.”
Jade put her bag at her feet and shifted in her seat to look at him.
“That’s why we started our grassroots projects. Two months ago, I met these amazing pair of twenty-year-old ladies in Lamu. They make rugs that would rival Persians, so beautiful. I had them join our project where we taught them the basics of business, and advertising. The other day, they came to my office to let me know they had an order of one thousand rugs from a company in Nairobi. It made me happy. They’ve gotten three other ladies to help them make the rugs, so they’ve created jobs. Their families will be okay.”
“Did you give them start-up capital?” he asked.
“We gave it in increments, working from business registration, getting licenses, since they had a product; we helped them buy enough materials to cover orders for a while. We’ll see how they manage their funds. Once a team or individual is part of the Seren Program, we monitor them for three years. When they make it through the three years, we get them to mentor newcomers. Have you heard of Tamani Candles?”
“Yes, they’re always advertising on local television.”
“They’re one of our success stories. Four guys who got a candle-making machine. They went through the program, and didn’t look back.”
Traffic let up and he took a by-pass that would lead him away from the main city. He would cut through upper hill and find his way through back roads to Westlands.
“I think you love your job,” Derek teased her, happy to have distracted her.
“It’s great to see someone make use of the knowledge you give them. We’re not just handing them money, we’re teaching them what to do with it, and to multiply it. When they get it right, it changes a whole community. That’s really powerful, you know.”
“Was it what you wanted to do?” he asked.
“Well,” she frowned and shook her head. “I’m not sure I ever knew what I wanted to do. I joined the Grassroots Project months ago. Before that, I was in Jordan working with people who’d lost everything. They’re not ready to think about growing communities, just going back home.”
“Refugee camps,” he guessed.
She nodded and he caught the shadow that passed over her eyes. He knew what those shadows meant. Jade Sang had ghosts of her own.
Her phone buzzed and he concentrated on shortcuts to Westlands.
“How long ‘til we get there?” she asked him.
“Ten minutes,” he said.
“Please wait for us,” she said into her phone. “We’ll get you home if that’s the problem.”
She met his gaze as she said that and he gave her a confirmation nod.
“Thank you.” She ended the call and let out a soft sigh. “If he stays, I’m keeping his number. My friend Tao says he’s a good guy, but you never know with these things. I’ve been burned before.”
“First time I landed in Nairobi, I paid five thousand shillings for a taxi ride into the city,” he said.
She laughed. “Jeez, you must be the type not to ask questions. It’s always been about one thousand five hundred.”
“Hey, the cost made sense. That’s around sixty dollars, right?”
She snickered. “You must have had a newbie look.”
“You’ve never had that happen to you?” He gave her a skeptical look when she shook her head. “You’re lying to me. Mzungu always get cheated the first time.”
She grinned at the Swahili name for white foreigners. The locals had called her that more times than she could remember.
“I did my homework on money,” she said.
“Typical,” he teased.
“You must keep receipts and balance your check book every week.”
“Don’t you?” she asked.
Did he have time?
Well, lately yes, but he’d rather build a deck than sit down to crunch numbers.
“Who burned you?” he asked.
“You said you’d been burned before. What did you mean?”
She shrugged. “I trusted a woman to deliver documents for a friend of mine who was stuck in a police station. The woman even charged a fee. Anyway, she took her time, and arrived the next morning. My friend had to spend the night in a Kenyan holding cell. It wasn’t a good experience.”
“What was your friend doing without documents?” Derek asked with a frown.
“She was at the wrong place at the wrong time.”
Jade breathed a sigh of relief as they turned into the UNHCR building. The moment they parked a tall black man came running to them and Jade got out of the car.
“Are you Will?” she asked.
“Yes,” the man said with a wide smile. “You must be Miss Sang. I was anxious because I need to get going and I didn’t want to leave without meeting you.”
“Rush hour traffic on Mombasa road,” Derek said in explanation for their lateness and instantly got a look of understanding from Will.
Will handed Jade a brown envelope. “These permits should get you through the checkpoints. If you’d waited, there is a convoy leaving tomorrow afternoon—”
“We can’t wait,” Jade shook her head. “We’re late as we speak.”
“Very well,” Will said. “You have my number, call if you run into resistance.”
Jade thanked Will for waiting for them. Will wished them a safe journey before he hurried back into the building. Jade hugged the envelope and turned to him. She let out a soft sigh then shivered. It was getting dark.
“I forgot to book a hotel,” she said in a tired voice.
Derek stared at her and before he knew what he was saying, he heard his voice.
“You can stay with me.”
Thank you for reading…to be continued..