It was Euripides and his family that came that morning to take me to school. Hearing the horn sound again, I frantically searched for my Action Man.
Euripides was my new friend, and it seemed only natural to call him Newripides instead.
Running from the front porch and down the drive I saw Newripides’s older brother (which made him five or six) looking out of the back seat window. Following my reasoning I waved to Oldripides.
It was only the second time I’d been in the doctor’s car. Its leather seats smelt of polish and it was hot, wedged in the back between Newripides and Oldripides.
“Do you like your new Zambian home?” the doctor shouted back as we rattled along the dusty road. Dad said they came from Greece but Newripide’s mum didn’t much look like Olivia Newton-John.
I nodded. It was much bigger than the house we had left behind in Belfast. Eagerly, I pulled Granny’s leaving present from my rucksack – my new Action Man. Newripides and Oldripides beamed with excitement. They clutched their Action Men, the number of our forces swelling to three.
Suddenly the car slowed and just ahead I could see three men waving their arms high in the air.
“Out …get out of the car,” a towering Zambian soldier shouted, his wild menacing eyes staring through the dusty rear window.
I looked at Newripides who was sitting beside me, then turned to Oldripides. Our eyes bounced between the angry soldier outside the car and our miniature army. Action Man definitely looked smarter, neater than the man that began to hammer on the roof of the doctor’s car.
“Boys,” Newripidise’s mother said in a quivering voice, turning round to look at us all from the passenger seat, “Stay close to me and be good.”
I looked out at the soldier, his dark figure outlined against the bright African sun. He wore the same green clothes as our soldiers, and he had a rifle too.
I wondered if he was angry because we were late for school. I could have explained. The house was new and full of boxes. I couldn’t find my Action Man and it was impossible to leave without him.
That is why we were late for class.
“Do as mummy says,” the doctor said quietly, opening his door and glancing back at us. We were almost there and I thought I could hear Mrs Turner ringing the bell across the dusty plain.
I followed Newripides, closing my eyes as the wind whipped up the dust. The breeze was hot, and it stung my eyes. Outside, I cautiously opened them, left then right, staring down at the soldier’s shoes. They were odd. Not like Action Man’s new shiny boots …but different. One was scuffed brown leather and the other a trainer. Oldripides had seen them too and we glanced at each other, trying not to laugh.
I remember thinking how it was just like the role call at my new school, where we all lined up, hiding our Action Men behind our backs. The soldiers looked at us, two leaning back against their jeep.
“Papers,” one of them demanded, rubbing his hand over his short dark hair. It was just like Action Man’s.
The doctor gave him some papers and I wondered if he had homework too.
When the soldiers looked inside the car, Newripides stared at me with big frightened eyes. I was bursting to tell him it would all be OK. At home we had lined up for the soldiers as-well. Only back it Belfast it was raining and the soldiers wore matching boots and I wondered what they were like where Newripides came from.
“You’ll be back before you know it,” Granny had told me, her eyes gleaming as she gave me my present, “and if you look after him, he’ll look after you.”
I grasped my Action Man even tighter, each of the three of us hiding our Swat team members behind our backs.
When they opened the boot I was surprised at the size of the doctor’s lunch box. It was much larger than mine and I couldn’t help but stare, making the soldiers turn their eyes on us.
But before they could say a word, a line of dust that rose from the earth – we all looked towards it, spinning into the air as a jeep flew towards us.
“The Captain’s come,” the angry man said. The other soldiers pushed themselves away from the car, standing straight.
The Captain was different. He had boots and long trousers, the sleeves of his shirt rolled up, just like Action Man’s. He opened the doctor’s lunch box and rattled the little bottles, the other soldiers drawing near at the curious sound.
“Doctor man?” the angry soldier questioned, glancing between him and Newripide’s mum, her long black hair loose over her shoulder.
The Captain nodded.
It was then that the angry soldier caught my eye and turning to face us said, “What you have there?”
We held our Action Men up high, surprised to hear a terrible cry from the soldiers who gripped their rifles and wailed into the wind. They ran from the car, a high pitched squeal coming from the angry soldier who ran the fastest.
“Stop,” the Captain ordered, a strange babbling from the fleeing men carried in the wind.
Leaving the doctor the Captain strode towards us, crouching down, his eyes level with mine. Wrapping his enormous hand around Action Man, a large white smile cracked his dark face and he winked at me. Turning, he sighed, saying,
“Well now doctor …you’ve frightened my men away with your shrinking medicine,” his deep voice, crystal clear, his English perfect.