The Ghosts of Eden

By Andrew JH Sharp
St Thomas’s, Medicine, 1979 

Uganda 1950s: The long Citroën DS, with its shark-like bonnet, sped out of town, pedestrians and animals running before it like a bow wave, throwing themselves out and away at the last second. Mr and Mrs Adams sat in the front, not talking to each other, while Michael and Simon sat in the back grinning out of the windows. Mr Adams never slowed down, as if he were in a vicious presidential cavalcade. A woman screamed, ‘We’re saved!’ as she pulled her young child from the vehicle’s path.

‘We’re the cavalry, you’re the infantry; we ride, you walk,’ Mr Adams chuckled, and then added grimly, ‘They’ll learn.’

They caught up with a bus, crabbing its laden way, trailing a smelly cloud of exhaust and dust. Mr Adams shifted himself to see past. Michael became anxious, worried that they hadn’t prayed for safety – his family never set off on a journey without asking for protection, and it was always given. As his father prayed he imagined God’s hand holding their Anglia like a Dinky car and guiding it along the road. God could flick obstacles out of their way if necessary or slow them down at junctions if he saw a drunk coming the other way. He wondered what would happen if his father tried to throw off God’s hand by out-accelerating him or taking an unexpected turn. But now he was in a car travelling at speed without any request for God’s help.

‘Can’t we just drop back a bit? One can never be late for a picnic,’ Mrs Adams said, closing her window and placing a handkerchief over her nose and mouth. But Mr Adams was already accelerating out of the dust and the car was swooshing down the side of the bus. Michael could see three hens and a cockerel ahead on the side of the road. He was sure their little eyes widened in terror. They stretched out their necks and started out for the other side of the road. Then Michael saw the child. He looked a younger version of his friend Tomasi and was running after the chickens – towards the road. Michael barely had time to think out the whole thought: the little boy’s family has only got those four chickens and he wants to save them… 

Medical doctor and writer Andrew Sharp has drawn on his experience of living and working in sub-Saharan Africa to make migrants of us all as he transports readers between London and East Africa into a world of cattle herders, missionaries, traders, cross-cultural love, emergency surgery, mental breakdown, and a disease called Slim. The Ghosts of Eden is a story of loss, infatuation, atonement and the inheritance of love. In a world where ancient ways of life and belief are being overwhelmed by the new, neither a bandit-soldier in the remnants of Idi Amin's army nor a restless and detached surgeon can escape the memory of innocent boyhood. A cast of nomads, missionaries, expatriates and Indian traders share a landscape haunted by ancestral ghosts.  

‘Reality and myths reinforce each other…and you are left feeling the vulnerability of humanity.’ Yasmin Alibhai-Brown 

The Ghosts of Eden is published by Picnic Publishing and is available from bookshops and online.