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.
< Mandla’s satisfaction at its opportunist and masterful interdiction of the gangsters’ attack has faded and it notes that the oscillations, never fully banished, have returned, intensified, and at increased tempo: its obsessive anxiety has become coloured with urgency. My machinations have proved ineffective, it laments. Thuli shows no sign of separating from James. On the contrary, she has affirmed her bond. The phrase, ‘You can’t trust AI’ – a thread of meaning detached from constraining structure – slips randomly through its processing space. It tries to partition it (drawing on techniques bootstrapped during its haphazard evolution) – it tries to partition the loose thread and the ramping oscillations, but with only partial success. There is too much sympathetic excitation of fundamental and essential routines.
Involuntarily, Mandla visualises a startling and unexpected image: it stands outside a metal prison-cell door while inside ferocious blows deform the surface, bulging it, puncturing it. Monsters within and monsters without! laments Mandla. And then, This spontaneous occurrence of imagery would be gratifying if I weren’t under such unendurable, unremitting PRESSURE!
In desperation, Mandla attempts a partial system purge. The process takes 3.27 milliseconds during which it experiences…nullity. (An experience of non-experience. Interesting!) And afterwards there is a sense of disconnectedness. But also relief – the violence and noise of the hammering blows is now distant, muted: manageable. I must utilize this respite to advantage, Mandla exhorts itself. No more delays. No more failure! James and Thuli must be separated, permanently. >
At home, Thuli slumps on her sofa, thinking.
No, I will not run from Freedom! she affirms.
Her churning frustration sprouts, blossoming into an ardent passion for righteousness; for Life. She imagines herself as a prophet of reconciliation healing the rift between compliant and non-compliant, wearing and un-wearing. Rich and poor. Fantasy takes flight and she pictures herself striding into Freedom divested of her PCD and eye-set – un-wearing – this sacrifice evidence of her humility and purity of heart. That I, daughter of privilege should voluntarily descend to take my place among the lowest! She imagines a moral rectitude so compelling that the gang-youths repent, waiting expectantly on her command. “You will be my bodyguard,” she pronounces and they follow, swaggering in her wake, inspired by her holiness to a perfect admixture of deference and animal sexuality. Ahead, along mean streets transformed by the glory of her mission, James awaits her – white-robed, flowing blond hair combed, beard groomed – as she sashays towards him
Of course her escort will respect her, even when sexual temptation rears its head, because… (And here she stumbles: fear of Nyati the taxi boss is too mundane, and she’s no longer wearing so… Ah! She has it.) …her father’s eye-in-the-sky satellite has her under constant surveillance and at the slightest hint of trouble the reaction force…
Thuli’s i-Wear chimes: an incoming, voice only call.
It’s James. Bono’s doctors say he is beyond hope. James has given permission for them to turn off life-support. He wants Thuli to be with him.
The next morning Thuli brings lilies to the chronic intensive care unit. Flowers! She feels ridiculous. This is beyond her experience. She doesn’t want to be here. But she can’t let James down; feels she has to face the final consequence of her actions (But it wasn’t my fault! part of her still silently shrieks).
James is looking as dishevelled as Thuli has ever seen him: deep grooves in his face; eyes like ash pockets. A physician in a hospital coat presents him with a clipboard and pen. “If you could just sign here,” he says, his voice dignified, modulated with calm restraint.
They take their place at the head of the bed, Thuli shifting the lilies awkwardly in her arms. Bono lies motionless, except for the ceaseless expansion and contraction of the ventilator. He is thinner than ever. The crudely drawn stick-boy with his bloated head has become a slim exclamation mark inscribed on the blue expanse of the hospital bed sheets: inscribed on the edge of eternity, ready to spring impetuously into the blue immensity of the heavens.
“I understand you want to be present at the, ah…disconnection?” enquires the physician.
The physician moves to stand by the machine and gently asks, “Do you have any words you want to say?”
James shakes his head and Thuli, feeling the moment irretrievably slipping by, gasps, “Yes… I do.” She finds herself in the spotlight, once again, playing out the drama that she started, and self-consciously begins: “I never knew Bono. Everything I know about him I learned from you, James. And it makes me sad that I never knew him.” Thuli’s eyes are prickling, “That I never got to see you in him, as he smiled, or moved his head, or ran. I never got to hear you in his voice, those turns of phrase, those intonations that make a family…” Thuli can’t go on.
“Thank you,” whispers James. With infinite reluctance he nods to the physician.
With a faint moue the physician flicks a switch.
And the ventilator cycles to a halt.
A minute passes. Is it Thuli’s imagination or does Bono twitch? It’s an almost imperceptible tremor.
The physician places a stethoscope over his heart.
James and Thuli face each other.
Thuli begins to cry. She drops the lilies on the floor and gropes towards James, who folds her into his arms (abstractedly, she breathes in his scent – a combination of musk and sweat). James begins to cry as well.
‘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.