When Cyan phoned to say the family decided to bury Eli on Saturday, Joel pretended he knew Eli had died. He didn’t want to say he didn’t know, and that nobody phoned to tell him his ailing cousin had gone. He accepted it as one simply accepts night after the sky had dusked.
He reaches for his old BIC pen and tries to remember what he wanted to write when Cyan phoned, but the words won’t come. His eyes stare vacantly at a blank page of his notebook until they burn. He blinks a little to return them to the light. Imagines Eli coughing and gyrating in the dawn of the winter solstice, in a blur of mist and little glories, fanning the morning fires and stirring the house to come feast on vetkoek and peanut soup.
He’s gone. That much he knows. A billow of smoke rises into the firmament, and the gods will know.
Water leaks from the tip of the old BIC pen to the blank page of Joel’s notebook. A rivulet of warm tears runs down his nose and falls onto the pen’s barrel where the word FINE is written.
He pulls clocks to pieces when no one is watching. Puts them back together to see if they work.
They never work.
Ruby left home on New Year’s Eve when village boys played cops and robbers with fireworks. He renamed her ‘Summer’ and prayed for her return. Waited by the kissing-gate as she did when he would leave for school. Watched the resident bird slacklining fences.
She never returned, and all the bones she planted in the backyard sprouted fever trees that whistle in the wind.
He pulls clocks to pieces when no one is watching. Wants to know how they work. Stops time many a time, wishing to pull the seasons back; wishing to return the swallow, the wren, the oriole, the green klaas of the hinterland.
Low Power Mode
A shoal of stray fish swims far from the sea. The blind fisherboy nets one more while the city of Gqeberha sleeps in the pearly glow of high mast lights. To see her, he holds her gently in cupped hands, feels the life beating out of her, feels all ocean gyres flowing out of his hands as she slowly dies. It’s a stifling dream, in a stifling unit—this cold plastic room poled up toward the sky.
A mix of thunder and rain stops, and the app shuts off, but a myriad of pop-up ads that come with it remain. Some do not close, so he’s forced to reboot his phone; he shouts at it irritably to restart so he can quickly go back to sleep. This happens each night he’s woken up from bad dreams. Dreams that often return erased memory and drive him to take anodyne. Empty blister cards shimmer on the bedside table. Some are scattered on the floor like curls of white sequined skin—illegal memory packs, whose transit from Mozambique has somewhat slowed lately. News that arrived with the last supply rumoured of watchers in Johannesburg being reinforced with new drones to combat illegal anodynes. Like illegal wiremen, users disappear in custody, their bodies found later floating waters below its hovering pod districts. The new world is covered with dreadful seas that invaded all land, making it hard for man to bury his sins.
The phone powers up, and the gauge reads Low Power Mode, with only twelve percent of life. He unplugs it from his wrist and places it on the Qi-table to recharge, knowing he will soon need enough of its power to restore his electro eyes.
The morning buzz of quadcopter taxis fills the autumn air, and wild wind falls from their propellers and rattles the pods, making the whole tenement yaw and hump in fragile places; blowing small bits of stone and debris from old buildings of Gqeberha, drumming them against the pod walls, waking the fisherboy from the little sleep he barely found.
He asks the pod for time but gets no response; he tries to read it from his phone but only sees darkness for his electro eyes are off. He imagines that it’s well past 05:00 owing to the songbird in the lower pod, who will not let up until it’s 06:00 when she would leave for work. When he reaches for the phone to initiate Qi powershare for his dead eyes, that’s when he realises there’s no electricity in the pod.
The Ministry of Energy, the author of Eskom’s demise, has captured all offices of the new republic. It nourishes years and years of ever bulging bellies by standing sentinel over all supply of clean energy. Load-shedding poor districts. Scrambling watchers day and night to seek and dismantle unlawful panels while taking from the people more taxes for less energy. Any small disruption in the flow of electricity means a wireman is tampering with connections, and the fisherboy has only a tiny window of time to scan the fourteen tenements in his part of the district, find the DNA, report it to the watchers. This season he works day hours, a much harder shift if he hasn’t acquired enough sleep.
As he sinks his head limply into the pillow and wonders how he will log his day without his eyes and his phone, the pod suddenly rings with soft beeping sounds of instruments powering on, returning to the district the lost orchestra of reliance.
He rises from the flatted pillow and painfully props it up so he can rest his aching back against the wall until the pod operating system is reloaded. In the symphony of it, he reclines, quietly so, not listening to the room’s machinery gearing up, playing back to life, but bravely staring at a tiny firefish swimming in the deep end of the dark.
About the Author:
Abbey Khambule is a Johannesburg resident. His work has appeared in Brittle Paper, New Contrast, Jalada Africa, Dye Hard Press, New Coin, DRUM, LitNet, Botsotso, Kalahari Review, Aerodrome, and The Johannesburg Review of Books (The JRB).
Feature image by ninikvaratskhelia_ / Pixabay