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.
They park outside the library
“I didn’t know you could do that,” says Thuli, “use the car sound system. Or drive it.”
“I am developing many useful capabilities,” replies Mandla.
Thuli notices James gawping from the passenger seat. “Oh. James, I’m sorry, this is Mandla. He doesn’t usually appear in public. In fact, never. Mandla, say hello.”
“Hello James. Pleased to meet you.”
“Whatever,” grunts James. “Thuli, is your dad really such a big wheel?”
“Well…he’s quite a senior civil servant. He has money, but not world shaking amounts.”
“So…there’s no reaction force?”
“No,” Thuli admits, “But he has powerful friends. It might take a while but they’d come through.” She looks down at her hands, “To scrape what’s left of me off the sidewalk, I suppose…” and fights to contain the tremor creeping into her fingers.
“Stay with me girl,” growls James putting a hand on Thuli’s shoulder. “You did great! Fantastic… X-ray pics. Reaction force. …Flechettes.” James scowls, remembering that these last were Mandla’s contribution. And then, to distract Thuli, asks bluntly, “So, are you going to emigrate – go to the States, or England? You know, to escape the violence in South Africa.”
There is a long pause and James worries that Thuli is retreating into shock.
“I already live in a foreign country,” says Thuli softly, thinking of the neat lawns and flower beds, the sequestering razor wire and security gates of the house where she grew up and where her parents live. “And I already belong to a different future.”
“Yeah, I suppose you do – white collar, company car, twenty-one days annual leave, pension…” James pauses.
“The firm that’s cherry-picking me specializes in corporate finance. They’re grooming me for management track. So it’ll be a very fancy company car.”
“Uh, huh. So, are you going to run – from Freedom? And Lebona?”
“From you? And Bono…and all this?”
Thuli is still. James has time to notice the chirping of starlings, the receding rumble of a battered lorry, the squabbling of a brother and sister making their way into the library. When at last Thuli speaks her voice is haunted. “My father doesn’t approve of me being here.”
“You talked to him?” James’s voice betrays tension. “About Bono and me? And you, in Freedom/Lebona?”
“Mandla told him…” Thuli hesitates when she sees the sour look on James’s face. “Mandla meant well: he was concerned for my safety.” James is unrelenting and Thuli continues, “My father called me into his study and… Well, he asked me about the accident. Then he said that I should consider my future, and everything he and my mother had done for me: that I wasn’t to jeopardise it – ‘throw it away’, he said – because of misplaced guilt. He went on – I remember his words – ‘your sympathetic nature speaks well of you, and you are to be commended because of it, but you must realise that the world is overprovided with victims. And really, someone who is un-wearing is beneath your notice – a techno-savage.’” Thuli sees James flinch and holds up a hand: “Wait. He told me that he wouldn’t force me to break of my association with you but that he would let me see for myself – his words again – ‘how the luddite stupidity of rejecting twenty-first Century technology exacerbates the mindless poverty and degradation of the township’. And how he expects that I will come to my senses soon.”
James is aghast.
Thuli continues, “He was being unguarded; he wouldn’t normally say that. But, irrespective, I can’t accept his view of the world. I mean, you are all people; you, Bono, the children at the library, the community workers…” Thuli grinds her nuckles together and bursts out, “You’re my friend!” More than you know. “I can’t run away.”
James expels a long, whistling breath. “You are well and truly screwed. No, wait, I don’t mean that.” He takes Thuli’s fists in his hands and squeezes gently. Thuli looks up, startled, but James does not let go: instead he runs his thumbs over the back of Thuli’s hands, stroking, soothing. “Listen Thuli, I’ve been meaning to say this for weeks now: you need to step away from compliance – and from your father too, it seems – and find yourself. I don’t know where you’re going to go from here, but my door will always be open to you.” James grimaces, “And don’t worry about those gangsters. We’ll go see Tata Nyati, the taxi boss this afternoon. You’ve got a great story going: we just need to tweak it. When Nyati learns your dad is big wheel he’ll adopt you like his own daughter (and I’m sure that won’t hurt me either…). By the time you come back tomorrow those wannabes will be standing to attention when you sneeze.”
Thuli’s fists slowly unclench and she squeezes James’s hands in return.
‘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.