Un­der The African Sun

The People's Friend - - Contents - by Jan Snook

SAN­DRA stared at Brenda, the new col­lege prin­ci­pal. “There are only twenty of them, and they’re all over eigh­teen,” she splut­tered. “Diane and I have taken stu­dents abroad on count­less ed­u­ca­tional vis­its – they are tourism stu­dents, af­ter all. We’ll be fine.”

The prin­ci­pal looked at San­dra over her glasses, shak­ing her head.

“These tourism de­gree stu­dents are mostly girls. I’m un­happy about so many in the charge of two women in Morocco.”

“But it’s booked and we’re leav­ing on Tues­day. It was all ap­proved months ago.” San­dra strug­gled to keep her voice calm.

“Even so, I’d be much hap­pier if there was a male mem­ber of staff with you. I’ve asked Charles Car­ruthers to ac­com­pany you, and he’s agreed.”

“So,” San­dra fumed to Diane at lunchtime, “we’ve got that new guy from the man­age­ment team com­ing with us. He’ll be no help at all. But he’s com­ing just be­cause he’s a man.”

“Is he the one who bored us all to death about the col­lege fi­nances at the last staff train­ing day? Charles some­one?” “Car­ruthers, yes.” Diane smiled.

“He might be OK. He’s good-look­ing.”

“Oh, no. Tell me I haven’t got a whole week of you flirt­ing to look for­ward to!” “I never flirt!”

“You do. All the time.”

The fol­low­ing day San­dra knocked on Charles’s of­fice door, forc­ing her­self to smile as she en­tered.

He looked up and waved her to sit down.

“I’m San­dra. I’ve brought you the itin­er­ary for the Morocco trip,” she be­gan. “I gather you’re com­ing with us.”

“Hmm.” He didn’t sound en­thu­si­as­tic. “I’ll look over your itin­er­ary this af­ter­noon and let you know.”

“Let me know what?” San­dra asked, be­mused. “You know. Ap­prove it.” San­dra gaped at him. “And I’ve writ­ten a brief­ing sheet for the stu­dents,” he said. “Would you like me to do the brief­ing, or can you? I’m a bit pressed for time.”

He reached into a desk drawer and handed her a sheaf of pa­pers.

San­dra scanned the sheet, her tem­per ris­ing.

“The stu­dents must dress

mod­estly,” she read aloud. “And you’ve put on a cur­few time! Do you think that Diane and I don’t tell them all of this?”

She con­tin­ued read­ing to the end, where he had signed his name. Un­der­neath, it said Group Leader.

“I was un­der the im­pres­sion that I was the group leader, hav­ing or­gan­ised the en­tire trip,” she said icily.

“It’s a mat­ter of se­nior­ity,” he said smoothly.

“I’ll see you at the air­port,” she snapped. “Tues­day, six a.m. sharp.”

“We’ll be start­ing our de­scent in a few mo­ments,” the pi­lot an­nounced. “I’m sure you’ll be in­ter­ested to know that Morocco is ex­pe­ri­enc­ing a heatwave.”

“Ex­cel­lent,” Diane mur­mured to San­dra, glanc­ing at Charles across the aisle. “He’s al­ready given me a lec­ture on dress­ing pro­fes­sion­ally.

“We should be wear­ing suits, ap­par­ently. Give me a break! Any­way, I look for­ward to see­ing how he gets on in his suit if it’s re­ally forty de­grees.”

The next cou­ple of days were taken up with trips to the foothills of the At­las moun­tains to ex­pe­ri­ence Ber­ber cul­ture, a desert sa­fari, lec­tures from the lo­cal tourist of­fice and a visit to a mosque.

Charles asked fre­quently whether the stu­dents were learn­ing any­thing, un­til even­tu­ally one of them asked why he didn’t come to any of the evening brief­ings at the ho­tel.

“I don’t need to hear San­dra or Diane telling you what time you have to be ready the next day, and to dress ap­pro­pri­ately,” he said dis­mis­sively.

The stu­dent laughed. “Come tonight. At seven o’clock.”

Charles was quiet dur­ing the brief­ing, and didn’t re­mon­strate when Diane in­formed him that she was tak­ing the stu­dents to a night mar­ket not far away and that they wouldn’t be eat­ing in the ho­tel.

“Will you be eat­ing here?” he asked San­dra.

San­dra sighed. She could feel her pre­cious free evening slip­ping away.

“Yes. Diane and I usu­ally have one evening each away from the stu­dents, other­wise we’re worn out by the end of the week.”

“I’m worn out al­ready,” Charles con­fessed. “Would it be an im­po­si­tion to ask you to have din­ner with me? Could we go out some­where?”

“I can’t leave the ho­tel in case one of the stu­dents needs to come back, or there’s some sort of prob­lem. If any­thing hap­pened to Diane

On a trip to Morocco, the last thing San­dra wanted was a chap­er­one!

the stu­dents would need to know where I was. We’re on duty twenty-four seven, re­ally.”

“Of course,” Charles said, em­bar­rassed, lead­ing her into the ho­tel restau­rant.

“I felt a bit of a fool at the brief­ing,” he said once they’d or­dered. “I as­sumed it was you do­ing it.”

“Dif­fer­ent stu­dents give a pre­sen­ta­tion ev­ery night on what we’re go­ing to see the next day. They spend weeks pre­par­ing them, but they need to add to them when we’re here. It can be some­thing as sim­ple as not know­ing a street is one way.”

“They plan the route?” Charles asked in sur­prise.

“They plan every­thing. It’s what they want to do – tourism man­age­ment. They do a huge amount of re­search.”

“I cer­tainly learned a lot,” Charles said. “I’m look­ing for­ward to to­mor­row af­ter­noon’s trip now. I’d bet­ter do some work here in the morn­ing, though. Will that be OK?”

It was the first time he had con­sulted San­dra on any­thing since they’d ar­rived, and she smiled.

“It’ll be fine. We’re off to the Medina. Diane gets the haggling bug as soon as she sees a mar­ket. You’re bet­ter off out of it.”

It was the first time she’d heard Charles laugh, San­dra re­alised. It was a nice sound.

“I’m go­ing up to the room to take these shoes off. They’re killing me!” Diane said the fol­low­ing day as soon as they ar­rived back at the ho­tel. “I’ve told the stu­dents they’re free un­til we leave for the desert bar­be­cue, so let’s hope we get a bit of peace. Look – there’s Char­lie.”

She pointed to their col­league who was sit­ting with his lap­top at a ta­ble in the ho­tel gar­den. At his el­bow was a cold drink.

“Go and join him. He likes you,” Diane added in a whisper, giv­ing San­dra a play­ful shove.

Charles looked up at the com­mo­tion. His face stiff­ened then relaxed slightly when he saw Diane head­ing for the stairs.

“You look ex­hausted,” he said to San­dra. “Would you like a drink?”

He sig­nalled to a waiter, and San­dra soon had a glass of iced tea, cov­ered in con­den­sa­tion and tin­kling with ice.

“How was the Medina?” he asked, shut­ting his lap­top. “Hot, I imag­ine.” San­dra rolled her eyes. “It would have been more fun with­out so many gig­gling girls. I mean, they’re great, just ex­cited. We did at­tract a lot of at­ten­tion.”

“At least they were cool,” Charles said with feel­ing. “It’s a good thing Morocco’s so relaxed and friendly.”

The waiter passed and Charles looked guilty.

“Should we have or­dered a drink for Diane?”

Some­thing in his tone made San­dra frown.

“Sorry, that prob­a­bly sounded rude. I find her a bit . . .” “Over­whelm­ing?”

His face split into a smile. “Some­thing like that.” “She’s gone to deal with blis­ters. She walked all round the Medina in stilet­tos. I couldn’t have done it.” She gave a sigh. “Diane is younger than I am, and much more in tune with the stu­dents. She’s en­thu­si­as­tic and . . .” “Loud?” Charles sup­plied. “She’s great, and the stu­dents love her, but she makes me feel very . . . sen­si­ble.”

Charles laughed. “Take this morn­ing,” San­dra con­tin­ued. “The stu­dents were at­tract­ing at­ten­tion, but so was Diane. The last straw was when two men of­fered me a camel for her. Like I was her mother! No-one of­fered so much as a goat for me!”

“That was the straw that broke the camel’s back, was it?” Charles asked, still laugh­ing. “Did you take it?” “Take what?”

“The camel,” he said se­ri­ously. “I know these no-frills air­lines charge ex­tra for ev­ery lit­tle thing. I just won­dered what would hap­pen if you turned up at the air­port with a drom­e­dary. It could sit be­tween us, I sup­pose.”

“Laugh­ing again?” Diane ap­peared, rais­ing her eye­brows at San­dra.

“I thought you were hav­ing a rest.”

“I was, but Katherine – one of the girls,” she added for Charles’s ben­e­fit, “has lost her purse in the Medina. Un­likely we’ll find it, but I’d bet­ter try. I’ll be back be­fore it’s time to leave for the bar­be­cue.”

“Why can’t they keep track of their be­long­ings?” Charles said, sound­ing like his old self. “Should we come with you?” Diane shook her head. “Some­one has to stay with the stu­dents. Maybe San­dra would stay and you could come?”

San­dra smiled be­hind his back. She was pretty sure a visit to the Medina with Diane wasn’t what Charles had in mind.

“You could go with the stu­dent, Charles,” San­dra sug­gested. “It wouldn’t take long.”

“So what’s the story?” Diane said the mo­ment Charles left. “He’s sud­denly very friendly to­wards you.”

“There’s no story,” San­dra said, blush­ing. “It’s taken him a while to re­lax, that’s all.”

“I’ll be in­ter­ested to hear how they get on,” Diane said, smil­ing. “I don’t think Charles speaks French.”

“He’ll be fine. But hot! I don’t think he’s brought any­thing cooler to wear.”

The talk turned to staffroom pol­i­tics for the next half hour or so, but was in­ter­rupted by a screech of tyres out­side.

Charles ap­peared in the foyer, white faced.

“San­dra! Help!”

“I don’t un­der­stand how it hap­pened,” San­dra said later when she and Charles were in the hospi­tal, wait­ing for news of Katherine.

“I was guid­ing her across the road. She hes­i­tated, so I grabbed her arm and a mo­tor­bike came out of nowhere and knocked her down. He must have been trav­el­ling too fast. I didn’t see him.” He was still white and shak­ing.

“The road out­side the ho­tel is straight,” San­dra said. “You must have been able to see him.” She paused. “You were look­ing the right way, weren’t you? You hadn’t for­got­ten they drive on the right?”

She saw the recog­ni­tion in his eyes of how it must have hap­pened.

A doc­tor in a white coat came out and ad­dressed Charles in Ara­bic. Charles looked at San­dra ques­tion­ingly.

“How is she?” San­dra asked in halt­ing Ara­bic and the doc­tor smiled and switched to a mix­ture of Ara­bic and French.

“Thank good­ness,” she said when the doc­tor dis­ap­peared again. “Katherine’s fine. A bro­ken arm, but that’s all. She’s very lucky.”

“You mean I am,” Charles said shak­ily. “What would have hap­pened if –?”

San­dra put a hand on his arm.

“But it didn’t,” she said firmly. “Katherine will be out soon, ap­par­ently. I’ll ring Diane and tell her every­thing’s OK. They’ll be on their way to the bar­be­cue.”

“I sup­pose she speaks Ara­bic as well?”

“We went on a course be­fore we started tak­ing stu­dents to North Africa. We do try to be pre­pared, you know,” she added mildly.

“I re­alise that now,” Charles said. “I’ll have a few things to re­port to Brenda when we get back.”

“What, that two women are not quite as use­less as you both thought? That we could per­haps have man­aged by our­selves?” San­dra asked, laugh­ing.

“Ab­so­lutely not,” Charles said se­ri­ously. “I shall tell her you need a man with you at all times. Even in the UK.”

“What?”

“But only if it’s me, of course.”

San­dra looked at him closely. Could he be blush­ing?

“I won­der,” he asked ten­ta­tively. “Could we start again?” n

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