Thierry stands beside a small fire he has made in the gathering shadows behind the church.
He seems hunched over completely unaware of us as we approach.
‘Thierry!’ The headmasters voice makes him jump.
‘Sorry Headmaster,’ he straightens up replying in an unsteady voice ’These empire maths books are completely out of date. I’ve put some new ones in the library about African mathematics by Thierry Zomerhund.’ Thierry catches his breath with an almost silent sob. The buttons of a small priests cassock are beginning to melt and shrivel up in the flames.
The head indicates the burning robe ‘Was that yours?’
Thierry nods his head ‘It was made for me to wear as father O’Mallys curate’
‘Mbabzi interjects. ’But you are only thirteen.’
‘Yes. I only wore it in the other churches in Nansana. I’m tall for my age so nobody over there realised. I even wore it when we went to the border. I wore it on the trai…..!’
‘On the train?’ Mbabzi was now standing right beside him. ‘Was that on the Lunatic Line by any chance?’
Thierry flinched. ‘ N-no…. Maybe….’
Thierry said the headmaster kindly. ‘Tell us the truth.’Mr Mbabzi is from missing persons. Did you go down to Mombassa on the festival train?’
Mingling with the plumes of smoke from the fire is a smell of fear. Thierrys shirt has spreading sweat stains despite the cooling evening shadows.
‘O’Mally took me. He loves trains. We were going to stay with a friend of Bishop Raith…….but I …we lost him on the train so I came back to Kampala.
‘We?’ Mababzi asked gently staring into the dying fire. ‘Who else were you with?’
‘No one…. but there was a man…….’ Thierrys stands between them his voice trails off. Mbabzi and the Head look at each other. Tall though he is Thierry is not quite as tall as the two men standing either side of him.
‘I think I need to ask you a few more routine questions.’ Mbabsi nods at the Head. ’ I know it’s getting a bit late but could we use your office Headmaster?’
‘Yes yes Lets go to my office with Mr Mbabzi here then I will walk down the hill and let your mother know whats happening.’
‘I don’t want Ma to know anything yet sir, you won’t tell her anything will you? I want to tell her in my own way.’
‘No no theres nothing to tell her at the moment. I’ll just say you’re talking to the man she met this afternoon.’
‘You saw my Ma?’ He looks round at Mbabzi for a moment as if he cannot take in what is happening.
‘Yes she told me about your school being here.’
‘Don’t tell Ma I’ve burnt it.’ He bends down and pokes the melted buttons and cloth in the embers with a stick. An acrid plastic smell emanates from the smouldering fire. ‘She made it for me but I couldn’t wear it in our church here anyway — the others would have made fun of me’
Two tears slowly roll down from Thierry eyes. He feels a confusing mixture of fear and relief. He uses his sleeve to wipe them away from his damp chin.
‘Lets go to my office’
As they walk towards the school cicadas begin their loud engine revving at the edges of the school grounds. In the darkening sky lightening flashes on the broken horizon.