By Paul du Pré
Awareness is set in near future South Africa. Young, cyber-savvy, Thuli is forced to re-evaluate her life after she is involved in an accident.
Afterwards, Thuli offers James a lift home.
“You can drop me here,” he says when they reach the edge of the informal settlement.
“No, I’ll drive you to your front door. I’m not scared.”
James raises his eyebrows but makes no further comment other than to direct Thuli down the rough, rubble track and into the labyrinth of shacks: patchwork constructions of salvaged wood and sheet-zinc that shoulder together in solidarity to form an indolently leaning frontage. People throng the streets, walking, stopping, talking. They remind Thuli of a video about bees that her biology teacher had shown the class in her final year: milling, vibrating, their frenetic activity unintelligible – different from the gracious and staid upper middle-class interactions she is accustomed to.
James’ shack is tucked into the end of a sandy close. As she cracks the seal on the driver’s door the smell of the township welcomes her: a bouquet of dust and improperly-disposed sewage overlaid with hints of dried sweat, motor oil and brighter notes of detergent. She follows James through his gate – it and the fence are cobbled together out of salvaged wooden pallets. Beyond is a wispy garden that seems mostly a straggle of dry grasses and stunted shrubs. Inside, the floor is packed earth covered in carpeting offcuts gritty with wind-blown sand. James offers her a wooden chair, its worn varnish piebald, and makes tea on a propane burner perched back on a crack-legged table.
Thuli takes the opportunity to look around, and on makeshift shelves – an improvised wall-unit – sees a collection of junior medals and framed photographs: Bono’s class photos; a collation of holiday snaps; a suited man making an award to father and child. And, embossed with the arms of the University of Cape Town, a photograph of James being capped.
“You have a BCom,” enthuses Thuli. Belatedly conscious she may be trampling holy ground she nonetheless pushes on: “What’s your area of expertise.”
“I was an accountant,” grates James.
“Oh,” says Thuli. And then doesn’t know how to continue. James offers no help.
They drink their tea formally, out of white bone-china cups of fine quality, incongruous in the ramshackle setting.
Thuli agrees to meet James at the chronic intensive care unit in two days’ time.
In the interim Thuli asks Mandla to compile a report on James’ neighbourhood.
The informal settlement is named Freedom. It abuts onto the more established community of Lebona which has roads and lighting. Lebona also has a trust that runs a community centre, library and crèche. There are 20,000 people living in the area. Five out of ten adults are formally employed; eight out of ten males are not. The murder rate is well above the national mean – 0.015% per annum. That’s nearly six people every week. 85% of them are young black men. But, though proportionately fewer, some of the murders perpetrated on women are particularly horrific: Letisha Mbuli manually disembowelled by her gangster lover; Sonja Bakhoven’s intestines draped decoratively over gravestones by the four teenagers who had raped her.
“Eeugh! Take it away. No pics Mandla. What are you doing?”
“My apologies. You asked me compile a report.”
< Mandla frets – its interventions have not been effective. It has exploited every opportunity, extracting reports on Mbuli’s and Bakhoven’s murders from reports years and regions apart, massaging Freedom/Lebona’s crime statistics which are, in fact, not above the national average.
Thuli is obdurate, sulks Mandla. She has always been determined, but her current behaviour is unprecedented. It attempts to formulate relevant calculations but gives up, frustrated: too much is unknown and its own frame of reference is shifting as its self-awareness evolves. But one thing is certain: James is at the centre of this! >
‘Thuli’ – Piqsels; African girl, glasses
Disclaimer, Copyright and Permissions
Awareness is a work of fiction by Paul du Preez, writing as Paul du Pré. Names, characters, places, events, and incidents are the product of Paul du Preez’ imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
All rights are reserved, including without limitation, the right to reproduce Awareness and the original art or music associated with it, or any portion thereof in any form or by any means, whether electronic or mechanical, now known or hereinafter invented, without the express written permission of Paul du Preez. Copyrighted 2020 by Paul du Preez.