Letters from Uganda

  • Round: Books: 5 Page Challenge

  • Genre:
    Fiction: Mystery, Romance
  • Submitted: August 23, 2011


Status: Elevated to Round 3

  • Want it elevated: 67%
  • Publishing Pro Rating: Under review.
  • 2%


  • 6%


  • 25%


  • 56%


  • 11%


% want it elevated


5 Page Challenge

Pages 1-5 | Extended Sample


After losing her parents and husband, Gray Whittington had little reason to get up each morning until a co-worker convinces her to volunteer for a relief effort in Central Africa. Not only is the third-world way out of her comfort zone, but so is the dangerously handsome engineer in charge.

Pages 1 - _



It was sweltering, as it had been for an entire week. The window unit in my small classroom seemed more efficient at holding up stacks of old text books than cooling anything.  My students melted in and out of consciousness, too hot to care about the discussion, and thankfully, too listless to chat with one another. I leaned against the front of my desk as was my habit when prying answers out of them.

“Okay guys, we’re focusing on chapters twenty-eight through thirty-eight. I know it’s miserable in here, so just bear with me.”

I shifted uncomfortably at the edge of the desk hoping the perspiration dripping down my thighs wasn’t leaving obscene wet spots on the back of my linen skirt. I plodded ahead with the lesson plan, perhaps less enthusiastic than my kids.

“Why don’t we start with the river crossing? Does anyone want to take a jab at why it’s significant?” I fanned myself with a paperback copy of Faulkner’s As I Lay Dying thinking I might die from the heat.

 Students stared, eyes glazed and clueless. Some peered out the window, some at the floor, anywhere to avoid eye contact with me. A few gave up the appearance of attentiveness altogether and slumped over their desks. Robert Pilman lounged at the back of the room, spindly legs jutting into the aisle. One arm rested on the countertop behind, and his fingers absently twirled a faded globe on the shelf.

“Does anyone know what happened when the Bundrens tried to cross the river?” I projected over the drone of two box fans blowing hot air from one corner of the room to the other.

Two heads snapped up, and one hand shot into the air.


“Um, they dropped the coffin they were carrying? That’s really all I remember Ms. Whittington."

“I see."

And I did. I saw we were getting nowhere. The last week of school was a moot exercise. With grades due the next day, anything I assigned was busywork and my students kne wit better than I did. Suddenly exhausted, I surrendered.

“Here’s the deal.” All eyes were finally on me.

“We will delay discussion until Monday; however, you now have an assignment for the weekend.” Groans echoed off the open windows.

“A two-page bio on Faulkner by next class period. You're dismissed.” 

            The once lifeless bodies magically sprung up with renewed vigor, teenagers who had looked on the verge of dehydration and fatigue a second earlier now had all the energy their age usually afforded. As the room emptied, the atmosphere cooled by several degrees. Then a movement at the back of the disheveled rows caught my eye-- a spinning globe. I sauntered toward it, hypnotized by the motion then placed my hand upon the smooth surface.

            When I lifted my hand again, Africa was revealed in bright atlas green. I traced a ribbon blue representing the Nile, following it south until my finger dipped into Lake Victoria. I read the word stamped there-- Uganda. My hand tingled unpleasantly.

I returned to my desk determined to ignore the violent images suddenly flooding my brain. Plopping into my desk chair, I yanked open the drawer where I hid my purse, retrieved my wallet, and distracted my tortured mind by imagining what awaited me in the cafeteria.

The aroma of disinfectant and canned corn wafted through the halls. The cafeteria buzzed with noise and excitement, and by some miracle the very students who were once incapable of speaking in complete sentences were presently shouting at the top of their lungs. I moved through the line as quickly as humanly possible then slipped out a side door. When I reached the staff break room, I pondered the sign by the door. It read Teacher’s Lounge in large, block lettering. Amused by the notion that teachers ever had time to lounge, I pushed open the door.

            Tanya, my close friend and co-educator, waited at one of the small round tables.

“Hey, you’re early,” she said smiling. Our lunch schedules overlapped by fifteen minutes, so she spent the last half of her break with me, while I spent my first half with her.

“Yeah, my kids were brain dead so we cut out early. If maintenance doesn’t get that stupid unit fixed, I’m gonna drown in my own sweat.”

            She laughed. I set my tray on the table and marveled at how much food was spread before her.

“Wow, you’re taking this ‘eating for two’ thing seriously, aren’t you?”

“Naturally,” she said, mouth full. “The way I figure, this makes up for all those years of dieting. I’m finally empowered to over-eat. It’s great.”

Tanya was amazing. I studied her profile as I began eating; her belly pooched enough to prevent her from pulling all the way up to the table. She was adorable, and deserved a happy pregnancy after all the years she’d been waiting and wanting. A little pang of envy furrowed my brow, but I shook it off. My time had come and gone without me even realizing it.

“So, you ready for the big trip?” she asked around a mouthful of chocolate cake.

“I guess. Ready as I’ll ever be,” I lied. “I have a few errands to run and it might be nice if I found the will to clean my house before I left. I wouldn’t want the kitchen entirely covered in mold when I get back.”

            She smirked. She knew how compulsive I was, and that the word mold was code for two dishes left unwashed in the sink. She also knew I wasn’t ready and probably never would be. The trip was all her doing anyway, and though elated about her pregnancy, I wished it hadn’t forced me into taking her place.

            She had been scheduled to travel with her husband Ron, an engineer. His corporation regularly deployed teams to any number of foreign countries, both paid staff and volunteers.  According to Tanya, they carried out humanitarian efforts like digging wells, designing clinics, and improving living conditions village by village. She and her husband were bound for Africa until this February when she discovered she was pregnant. My eyes wandered to her baby bulge again and then to her antique silver wedding band.  

            Since this was her first-- a baby they’d tried seven years to conceive-- the happy couple chose to stay close to home. Ron secured a replacement within the company easily enough, but Tanya had trouble finding a substitute. Distressed by the fact I hadn’t travelled farther than my backyard in four years, she became convinced that fate chose me as her stand-in. It then became her personal crusade to get me out of the house-- way out of the house, as it turned out. She wouldn’t take no for an answer and fervently insisted no skills were necessary, other than my inborn ability to teach. “After all,” she’d preached on countless occasions, “that’s all I could have offered.”

            Resisting her overtures only spurred arguments like, "How can you pass up a paid-in-full chance like this?" I knew she was right, and after an appropriate amount of sulking, I conceded. When I asked exactly where in Africa her answer left a hollow ache in the pit of my stomach-- Uganda.


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