"Did you see the news about the outbreak in the earthquake zone Dad?"
Hank's daughter was on the phone. It was a fairly rare occurrence and when she did call, she never wasted time on salutations or small talk, often starting out like they where in the middle of a conversation.
"Nope – none of our TV stations picked up on that one", Hank replied. Nor had he expected them to – it was Ashes Test Cricket week after all, so something as insignificant as a cholera epidemic added to the already abject misery of some villagers in northern Pakistan was unlikely to get a mention.
"But I did get a news-flash from MSF this morning on the e-mail," he added. "I've sent off a sum." Hank was wealthy and could afford to be generous.
"Oh goodie," his daughter said. "You'll be paying my salary!"
Hank was not surprised. Camilla had studied medicine not to become rich but to make a difference and this was not the first time she had been posted by Médecins Sans Frontières amongst the neediest of the world. She was an expert on cholera management and her early involvement was unsurprising.
"Will Cathy be staying with Kamal then?" Hank asked. His daughter and her husband had been separated for several years, but they had a very civil relationship for the sake of their daughter. Cathy was born with serious health problems and it was probably only because both her parents were doctors, and very good doctors at that, that she was now completely healthy – if still very small for her 8 years. But the process had taken its toll on her parents' relationship and they had separated, but worked in the same city (at different hospitals) and could thus share in their daughter's upbringing.
"No, that's the problem Dad," Camilla said. "Kamal's not available. He went home to visit his folks for New Year and I can't reach him. I tried to call his sister to get in touch, but I obviously got nowhere with her."
Hank sighed. Kamal's sister had always hated Camilla with a vengeance. She never wanted her brother to marry a (nominally) Christian, thoroughly western, highly educated and liberated woman. She was close to the cousin who believed she should have had 'first dips' at Kamal and had actively been sabotaging the fragile marriage, urging her brother do divorce Camilla and relocate to Pakistan. Hank knew his son-in-law well enough to know that was not going to happen. Nor would Camilla take up with anyone else, but he despaired at the two of them not patching up their differences. It was mainly pride that kept them apart; they could be so stubborn.
"And?" Hank teased. He knew what was coming, but he wasn't letting his daughter off the hook that easily.
"Dad, could she stay with you?" Camilla was almost pleading. "Bringing her with me is not an option."
"Of course not," Hank agreed – shuddering at the thought of bringing a small child to a cholera-ravaged earthquake zone. "She is more than welcome, you know that. How do we work this?" With Camilla in the UK and Hank in Australia, the logistics were kind of daunting.
"Eh, we're booked on a flight to Sydney via Singapore tonight," Camilla admitted. "If you can pick her up in Kingsford Smith then I can get a flight back to Karachi 4 hours later."
"Short and sweet," Hank said with a laugh. He should have known his daughter well enough to know it was all planned. "I'd better book domestic flights right away. How is Cathy, by the way? Anything I need to know about?"
"Not really," Camilla said evasively. "We've been having a bit of toilet troubles recently, but I guess it is all about attention seeking."
"'Toilet troubles'?" Hank repeated.
"Yes, well, you know, being wet at night again," Camilla said, sounding exasperated.
"Not a problem," Hank said. "I know a thing or two about wet beds."
Camilla didn't comment. She had conveniently repressed the fact that she was in night diapers, or nappies as they are called in Australia, until after her tenth birthday. And Hank didn't press the point. He had solemnly promised his daughter many years ago never to tell anyone and he was a man to keep his promises.
The small girl's thrill cry of delight made everyone in the busy airport turn to look as she launched herself at the tall grey-haired man just outside the restricted arrival zone. She was very pretty with dark brown hair and eyes. She looked to be about 5 years old and the man easily caught her and swirled her around.
"Hi Pumpkin," he gushed. "It's so good to see you."
"I am going to stay with you while Mummy helps the sick people," she said seriously, clinging to Hank like lichen.
"That's right sweetheart," Camilla said. She had now caught up with her daughter, pushing a trolley with a large amount of luggage. "Granddad will look after you." She embraced her father too. "Thanks for helping out."
Hank smiled. A widower and semi-retiree, he certainly had the time. He saw his only child and grandchild much too rarely, so he was happy with this opportunity. He occasionally did consultancy work, but not much in the summer – and most of it he could do from home. "Any time, for however long," he said with conviction.
"When will you come and get me again?" Cathy asked her mother
"I don't really know," Camilla admitted. "It depends on how long it takes to stop the disease."
"Will I have to go to school while I'm here?" Cathy demanded.
"Hardly," her grandfather laughed. "It's summer holidays here you know. School's out for many weeks."
"Silly, it is Christmas Holidays," Cathy laughed.
"Sure is," Hank replied. "But down here we have Christmas in the summer."
They had a meal together in the airport before Camilla had to check in again for her flight back to Karachi and Hank and Cathy transferred to the domestic terminal. Hank noticed that Camilla constantly urged Cathy to go to the bathroom – something that obviously pained the girl. Even as they hugged their farewell hugs, Cathy was urged to remember a toilet stop before the flight.
"She does go on a bit about it, doesn't she?" Hank said conspiratorially when they walked towards the transfer train.
Cathy looked up at him shyly. "I guess..." she faltered. She'd had a small accident on the interminable flight from London to Singapore so perhaps her mother had a point.
The flight to Canberra was on a small turbo-prop with no direct access from the terminal, so as they were boarding they went outside for the first time and the heat of the Australian high summer hit Cathy like a brick wall. "It is summer," she exclaimed. "I thought you were only teasing."
Hank laughed and explained all about different seasons on different hemispheres. During the flight he explained a lot about Australia, including its unique and not always harmless wildlife. The noise in the small aircraft, and the excitement of it all, kept Cathy awake, but once they had landed in Canberra, found Cathy's bags and Hank's car, Cathy was visibly flagging. It was only mid-morning, but her internal clock said late evening and before they were even out of the parking house she was fast asleep.
She woke up long enough when they arrived at Hank's house on the other side of the Australian Capital to take in the strange sounds and smells outdoors and to appreciate the pleasant room that was to be hers for the next while. "It used to be your mum's room when she was a girl," Hank said.
"Uh huh," Cathy said. Hank stripped her down to her underwear, tucked her in and tip-toed out of the room. Cathy's last conscious thought was how nice the bedding was – very pink and very girlish and pleasant smelling. There was a crinkling noise when she moved, but before she could work out why she was out of it.
Hank returned a little later and unpacked Cathy's suitcases, transferring her clothes to cupboards and drawers. It was all so small – and much too warm for the season. 'Miss perfect organizer must have forgotten about Australian summers', Hank chuckled to himself. He would have to do something about Cathy's wardrobe quickly.
Hank didn't want Cathy to swap day and night, so he intended to let her sleep until mid-afternoon, tire her out with some activity and hope she could then sleep a normal night's sleep. Kids usually get over jet-lag easier than adults anyway, so he wasn't concerned. He was working on a consultancy report in his office and kept an eye on the clock, deciding it was nearly time to wake up Cathy when a pitiful cry was heard from her room. Hank rushed in and found her sitting up in bed crying inconsolably.
"What's the matter Pumpkin?" he asked. "Did you have a bad dream?"
"No," she wailed. "I, I, I wet the bed." Indeed she had. The bedding was drenched.
"Is that all?" he asked. "I thought something had happened to you!"
He picked her up, carried her to the bathroom and started running a bath. "Bubbles?" he asked and held a bottle of strawberry scented bubble soap to her nose."
"Yes please," she whispered shyly.
He added the soap, frothed it up to a generous layer of foam, stripped off her wet underwear and plunked her in the bath. She sighed with pleasure.
"Nice, isn't it?" he said with a smile. "Can you promise me not to fall a sleep" he asked.
She nodded and he left her alone for a while.
.... There is more of this story ...