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.
The following day, her car cleaned up and back on the road, Thuli visits James and insists that he accompany her to the Community Trust Library.
James resists: seeing as Thuli and her car are here, he argues, why doesn’t she drive him to the hospital to visit Bono?
But Thuli is inflexible: “You need something to distract you, and improve your standing in the community.”
Eventually she persuades James up the flagstone path and through the Library’s blue-painted single door. Inside are two long rooms: one filled with shelves of hardcopy books donated by altruistic patrons (Make that, ‘discarded’) the other furnished with stools and tables, some bearing desktop terminals (Antiques!) on which online books can be accessed. The aftercare session is about to start and school children begin to flood in. Thuli and James sign up to read to them. The community worker in charge is reluctant to begin with – the children are not to be disappointed by fickle volunteers, and there are checks to made – but Thuli and James persevere, helping in small ways and by the end of the afternoon James finds himself reading to forty mostly attentive boys and girls.
This sets a pattern that lasts for a fortnight: aftercare alternating with visits to the hospital and Bono.
James begins to go to the library by himself. His status in the community improves. People greet him en-route. Children interrupt their games to flutter after him calling, “Tata James, Tata James…” In his street the domino players begin to ask after his son. There are even exchanges that might pass for banter.
When the youths attempt to hijack Thuli’s car, it is unexpected.
Thuli is bottled up in the narrow close, collecting James. She has reversed in: she prefers to face the street and its careless pedestrians on her way out. So she sees the gang coming, bricks and knives in hand. Two have guns.
“Out, bitch,” howls her former admirer, his spittle-flecked mouth incongruous beneath tranquil, mirror eyes. He brandishes one of the guns, motioning towards her door.
‘Robo-Killa’, she remembers.
“Out!” he rages, reaching for the handle with his free hand.
One of his companions wrenches at the passenger door opposite in drug fuelled frenzy and the car rocks. Thuli twists, jittering.
Robo-Killa’s gun barrel batters against her window, reclaiming her attention. “I shoot you,” he howls.
The car is surrounded by gangsters, hands on the bodywork, shoving, rocking. Thuli feels the edges of her world begin to fade and darken.
And that is when what remains of the car’s AI decides to discharge the on-board tazer. There is a titanic crackle: Robo-Killa’s finger spasms, pulls the trigger, but the shot discharges harmlessly into the sky; half the gangsters are flung to the ground twitching.
The other half…
“We are too many,” announces their leader, chitin faced in his Androman style eye-set. “Get out of the car or we will kill you.” His voice is subterranean, final as the grave.
From deep within fury fountains: Thuli’s world brightens from grey to red. She flings open her door and steps clear. “You’re all dead,” she shouts. “Who do you think my father is? See this eye-set?” She points to her face: “It’s a Petronio Conti, worth a hundred times more than that knockoff shit you’re wearing. You think you can hide behind those lenses? You can’t. This eye-set has infra-red and x-ray capability. Your pictures are on the net already. And I’m compliant – you can see that, can’t you, you shit-heads? My cyber companion has already launched my father’s quick reaction force.”
“I HAVE. REACTION FORCE IS INCOMING, ESTIMATED TIME OF ARRIVAL, TWO MINUTES, TWENTY-FIVE SECONDS.” Mandla’s baritone resonates at top volume from the car’s hi-fi system. “THOSE SUPERSONIC DRONES ARE ARMED WITH ANTI-PERSONELL FLECHETTES, BRAS,” it continues chummily. “THREE THOUSAND ROUNDS A MINUTE. AND BECAUSE THE DRONES ARE SUPERSONIC YOU WON’T HEAR THEM COMING UNTIL THEY ARRIVE – WITH A REALLY LOUD BANG! IF I WERE YOU I’D GET OUT OF HERE VERY, VERY FAST. BEFORE YOU GET TURNED INTO GOBETTS OF FINELY SHREDDED HAMBURGER. INYAMA EGAYIWE!” To emphasise its point Mandla revs the engine and drops the clutch. The car lurches forward smacking chitin-face under the knee. But stops short of crushing a still twitching tazer victim.
Those on their feet turn and run: chitin-face hobbles after.
James rushes out of his garden gate and begins to drag bodies from the front of the car. “Let’s get the hell out of here!” he yells.
As Thuli drives, Mandla hums contentedly, “One nation, affirmation…,” its voice melodious over the car system. Thuli doesn’t have the heart to ask it to stop: it deserves its moment.
But then Mandla drops in a pounding beat and begins to vocalise at top volume as Thuli manoeuvres the car through narrow township streets and alleyways: “ONE NATION, AFFIRMATION, ONE NATION, YEAH!”
“Mandla, stop it. Please!”
‘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.