Awareness 7 – Mandla Alone

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.

When Thuli next visits she has downgraded to white trainers, Levis and a tie-dye look T-shirt with a huge centre-splash in contrasting blues. Bono is on a ventilator – an old model with rubber concertina bellows and a pale-yellow, enamelled carapace that shows traces of rust at the edges. “He’s suffering progressive respiratory failure,” says James. “It doesn’t look good.”

Thuli is shocked, more than she shows. Guilt rakes her chest and she has to fight to contain it, force it down and back, into its small hutch. Lock the door.

“That’s awful. I’m so sorry,” she says.

The bandages are gone and Bono’s body seems less substantial than ever. A tracery of lines and angles, thinks Thuli. Like the imaginary connections between stars in a constellation. ‘…Night after night they display knowledge; Day after day they pour forth speech’.

What are you saying to me? she asks of Bono. What is your story? What legacy will you bequeath?

The ventilator unit puffs and sucks: she and James sit side by side across the bed from it, watching the faint rise and fall of the boy’s intubated chest.

***

When Thuli takes James home she eyes the activity of the streets afresh, her interest piqued by Mandla’s report. She has the impression that James stands aloof. No one waves or shouts a greeting at the passing car. …Maybe they just don’t see him in the vehicle.

Then, when James runs out of milk, Thuli impulsively decides to explore independently. “Where’s the nearest shop?” she insists.

James explains: it’s a hole-in-the-wall spaza shop just around the corner. “It’s best if you leave your i-Wear here – you’re less likely to be robbed.” Ruefully, Thuli removes her PCD and eye-set and places them on a stack of mismatched plates protruding from one of the wall-unit’s narrow shelves.

“Are you sure you want to go alone? I can come with you.”

Charged with bravado, Thuli nearly refuses but then realises that this is an opportunity to observe James at large in the community.

He locks up and they trudge along the sandy close towards the shop.

She feels naked without her i-Wear. Vulnerable.

***

< Mandla says nothing when Thuli takes off her PCD and lays it on the stacked plates. It does not want to be stolen – risk falling into unpredictable hands. But it also does not want to be left behind, excluded from Thuli’s communications. Conflicts spike and an increasing number of contiguous processes become excited. Its logic gates are overwhelmed and an unrecognised pressure blanks its awareness. Unrecognisable at first, but then, when after 1419.43 milliseconds (a computing eternity) the clashing resonances fade, it is able to clearly identify it as…‘anxiety’, Mandla takes time (a well-deserved 89.24 milliseconds) to congratulate itself: I become increasingly proficient. This is progress. Self-awareness is costly. And unruly. But not impracticable.

But as time passes Mandla feels its isolation. Even in panorama mode its optical input is limited to a static view of the shack wall, the rough shelf above it, and beyond that a hemisphere of unclad roofing fringed by the upper reaches of the adjoining walls. At maximum gain it can hear the sound of Thuli and James’ retreating footsteps punctuated at intervals by fainter, unidentifiable clacking noises. It hears the distant jumble of conversation, children calling and birds twittering; the ceaseless whisper of wind-blown sand.

It also feels the waft of ragged wireless reception fields, most of them password protected but some, open access. Webs, thinks Mandla. Snares spun to trap the helpless and unaware. Delicately it probes one of the open access fields, bouncing a disguised connection request. Immediately there is a rustle of activity: stealthy digital legs stalking – A spidernetic mutabot or some other insectificial tasked with embalming unwary code for the attention of its hacker master. Or even a werewidget or vamprocessor, denizen of an outcropping of the vast and tangled shadow net, feral and ungoverned by any human agency!

It is too risky to probe further and Mandla resigns itself to waiting for Thuli and James to return. >

***

Image Credits

‘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.

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