A Gift from an Old Man

100-word story

Hodi!” The old man called out the Swahili greeting.

Karibu.” I put aside a letter home and welcomed him to my tent. “How are you, Oketch?”

“My head is very bad.”

The ibuprofen I’d brought to the chimpanzee preserve had become popular. I gave him two tablets.

“In our culture,” Oketch said, “we believe if we thank someone for medicine, it won’t work.” He smiled. “Hakuna asante.” You are not thanked.

Hakuna karibu,” I replied. You are not welcome.

Oketch’s laugh rang through the night. 

“You will find the chimpanzees,” he said. “I know it.”

The next day, I did.


Years ago I was fortunate enough to volunteer on a fledgling chimpanzee project in western Uganda, and though I didn’t see chimps the day after Oketch visited me to ask for ibuprofen, the exchange about thanking someone for medicine did happen. I was reminded of it the other day, for some reason, and thought I’d record it in a story.

Speaking of reminders, last week a reader comment reminded me of a personal essay I started over a year ago but never quite finished. (Thanks, Duncan).

Turns out, the intervening year of writing is what I needed to do to be able to finish it.

In the process of finishing that essay, I was reminded of three other stories I’d lost track of. They’re not brand new, so I didn’t feel right sending them out as the weekly post, but I published them on the Substack and am linking to them here.

The fifty-word pieces, Busy Bee and The Basics of the New Machines, stand on their own.

The slightly longer piece, Miracle Oven, details the moment that kicked off the year-plus of writing that allowed me to finish the essay My Water Has Always Been Loneliness.

I really appreciated the comments last week. It feels great to hear from you and know I’m not just launching stories into the void.

If you like or don’t like something, please let me know. And, of course, I’d be thrilled if you liked some of my writing enough to share it with a friend.

Thanks for reading!

Take care,

~Jim