For BJ Maharaj, the most inspiring educator I’ve ever met, and the classes of MVSS 1988-1992.
The plane banks over the Bluff then, with its landing gear out, bypasses the city and Umhlanga. Mount Moreland sugar-cane fields, a pale reminder of their past, flash by. A small bump, and they are cruising towards the new terminal–King Shaka Airport. He’s last off the plane, uncertain of what to expect. He’s been away for so long; had alienated himself from his friends and family–glad to have escaped the only town in the world whose main street ends in a river…
Waiting for luggage, he watches the other passengers. Most are craning their necks, searching for families and friends or meet-and-greets. He doesn’t bother. There’ll be no-one to meet him. He hasn’t told anyone he’s coming home. He expects no welcome.
He grabs his suitcase, a Samsonite. It bumps against another. He murmurs an apology. The guy frowns, half-smiling. It’s Melvin, the class clown–grey now, with a lined worried face and two kids pulling at his pants.
“Daddy! Mummy’s waiting!”
He knows Melvin doesn’t recognise him in his expensive clothes, broader build and platinum-framed glasses. He’s changed too much. He rolls his bag and walks away.
He takes his rental car, an Audi, up the old beach road to Umdhloti. He smiles ruefully. If he’d told his parents and teachers years ago that he would be renting an apartment on the beach, they’d have laughed at him.
“My boy, you must accept your place in this world,” one teacher–Mr Munilall, had told him.
It wasn’t right upsetting the balance; a nobody from a dirt-poor family getting the highest marks in the year…
Maybe he should look up the old man and say, “Look sir; look how wrong you were.”
Only old BJ, that gentle wise headmaster, had believed in him and nurtured him. Now it was time to pay back that kind, spiritual soul.
He glances possessively at his laptop case. They would have to look really hard to find him here. He’d never told them his true roots, building up a life he’d have rather have had. They didn’t even know his true country of origin. Everyone thought he was British or Canadian.
The apartment is nice enough; your typical beach pad. The balcony overlooks the tidal pool. Some dolphins frisk in the winter sunset. It’s been a long stressful trip. He decides to call it a night.
Come breakfast, he looks for the Blue Lizard. It’s morphed into an upmarket deli-eatery. Over a hearty breakfast next to the large windows, he watches the waves break on shore.
Fortified, he begins the task of organising all the equipment he needs. First stop, his old hometown–Verulam.
He gets stuck in traffic just past Lotusville. Traffic! In Verulam! Not so different from Glasgow… Over on his right, the old Temple Valley landmark has been renovated. His grandmother lives nearby. He really should go see her, but what would he say, “Hello, Avar. I’m sorry I wasn’t here when dad died.”
He turns right onto Wick Street; goes past the old Town Board. It’s a police station now. He doesn’t recognise most of the shops. He drives around the block, past the Court House and onto the little back street where the old market used to be. He parks near the ‘new’ library. It hasn’t changed much except for a security gate at the entrance. He’ll walk to the computer stores and get the feel of the town again.
He can’t resist going to Mountview and having a look at the old neighbourhood. It’s strange. So much and so little has changed. Some flats look exactly as he’d remembered them with their breeze-blocks and red roofs. The houses have changed more; most with a roadside garage, some with huge extensions.
Her house hasn’t changed at all, still sitting plain and neat amidst the rest–so very much like her. On impulse, he parks the car and goes down. A dog barks a warning. He hesitates, his foot on the last steep stair.
He should go back, but the door is opening. A girl stares at him, fierce-looking. He doesn’t know her.
“What you want?”
“Does Aunty Premmi still live here?” He’s surprised at how foreign his accent sounds after hers.
“Who are you?”
He hesitates again. He hasn’t used his name in years. “I’m Trishnen, Prishni’s son.”
She looks him over, taking in everything. He shifts uncomfortably.
“Aunty Prishni’s son is dead.”
“Well, here I am.” His voice is dry. He recognises her now; the spoilt baby-girl who had never stopped crying–his cousin. He’s forgotten her name.
There’s shuffling behind her. “Who’s it, Krishni? Is Devan here?”
“No, ma. It’s some man who says he’s Aunty Prishni’s son.”
The door swings fully open.
“Trish! Is that you?” She runs out in her housecoat and slippers.
He’s moved to hold her hand before he knows it. “Aunty Premmi!”
They are both crying now, holding each other. She’s holding his face tenderly, peering through her cataract covered eyes. “Trish, lovey, where have you been. We’ve all been so worried about you!”
He stares at the muted sea, visible only as white-topped waves and spray in the night. His feelings are tumultuous. He hadn’t expected to be so overcome by emotions–to still feel for people who should have been strangers after twenty years but weren’t. Aunty had refused to let him go until he’d eaten both lunch and supper with them.
The word had spread quickly–Trishnen had miraculously returned. An impromptu family reunion blossomed, with cousins and a few old friends; some of them looking enviously at him. All had wanted to know where he had been? What had he been doing? Why hadn’t he called them…? His grandmother had held his hand, rocking happily next to him. He tried to answer them all, sticking to the truth best he could.
His mother had cried down the phone, frantic that he would disappear again before she could fly down from Joburg; even as his brother Jaylen had been trying unsuccessfully to get her a flight that night. He’d promised her that he’d meet her at the airport the next morning. Jaylen had seemed happy, but wary–he had taken responsibility for their mother after their father had died; moving her to Joburg once her diabetes had worsened. Trishnen was surprised to learn he had two nephews and a neice. Should he buy them gifts?
Sighing, he draws the curtains. There’s work still to do–the most important job he’s ever done. He has to change the world. But he can’t break his mother’s heart again.
He keeps his promise, meeting her at the airport. She hugs him fiercely, unable to speak. He holds her just as hard, surprised at how much he still loves her. She seems to have shrunken with age; her eyes brighter than her sister’s–the result of recent eye-surgery. He spends the whole day with her; just the two of them. She wants to know everything. Does she have a daughter-in-law? Grandchildren? How did he live? Where does he live? Why’s he looking so tired? Wasn’t he eating well? He finds it easy to talk to her as he always had, having been closer to her than to his father.
It’s easy to explain to her he’d been too busy for relationships; that he has a good apartment in Glasgow but hardly uses it; that it had taken him over twenty hours to fly in from Glasgow and he hasn’t gotten much sleep.
“You haven’t changed a bit,” declares his mother, playfully thumping him, seeing past his age and affluence to her little boy. Maybe she’s right; he hasn’t changed a bit.
He’d unpacked his car at the beach apartment that morning, leaving all the equipment in the second room. His mother is staying at Aunty Premmi’s house. He’d dropped her off, staying just long enough for a cup of tea.
“Drive carefully, lovey. There are hijackers everywhere! Maybe you should stay the night here.”.
He declines. Aunty Premmi’s house is already crowded and he has work to do. “Next time,” he promises.
He drives cautiously, well-aware of the dangers. Then again, it’s second nature to him now. He has a few minutes of unease when another car joins the road from the Riyadh turn-off, following him to the M4. It turns towards La Mercy, leaving him alone on the dark road to Umdhloti.
They’re waiting for him at the apartment. Two men with guns. He wonders how they’ve found him so quickly…his first university degree, probably.
“Where is it?” demands the one with the brutish face. “We don’t want to hurt you, but we will if we have to.”
Trishnen doesn’t believe him. Once they have it, they would kill him. He knows what he’s up against.
His move is so sudden, they don’t have time to react.
He’s broken the one’s arm and knocked him unconscious. The other finds himself flying into the sliding door. His own gun knocks him out. Trishnen stands breathing heavily, suprised at his success. All those jujitsu classes… What was he going to do with them? He couldn’t call the police, not yet. That would prevent him meeting his objective. He binds them with cable ties, making sure they are as uncomfortable as possible, and locks them in the bedroom. He doesn’t have any time to lose now that they’ve found him. He has to finish things before they threaten his family.
It takes a few hours to get everything running satisfactorily. The server is up by 1am. The satellite links with back-ups follow by 2am. By 2:30am, he’s uploading to all the social, scientific and news sites. Three hours later, the university and educational networks are receiving his information.
Satisfied, he sleeps. It doesn’t matter what happens to him now. He’s fulfilled his destiny.
He wakes around noon. His mother’s calling. He can’t make out what she’s trying to say, his cousin Krishni’s excited screams drowning much of it out. Panic and fear grip him. Had they gotten to his family after all? Had he failed?
“Wait, ma! I’m coming!”
He reaches Aunty Premmi’s house in record time. Racing down the stairs, everything seems normal. He bursts through the door. “Ma! Aunty Premmi!”
Krishni’s dancing up and down, grinning inanely.
“Trish, what’s going on? Krishni’s been on the computer and is acting like a mad thing. She’s saying you’re famous.” His mother and aunt look puzzled.
He approaches Krishni and her tablet warily. “Let me see.”
He’s briefly impeded by his cousin giving him a bear hug and screaming, “You’re my hero!”
She has multiple windows open. Yahoo, Google, News24, BBC, Reuters…they’re all constantly updating his story. He’s given the world its salvation. There’s no way this can be suppressed now. It’s gone viral: how to generate your own electricity from two old magnets, some water, soil and a little heat. There weren’t many places left in the world where you couldn’t use the method. There weren’t many households, no matter how poor, which couldn’t afford it.
“What does it mean?” His mother is pushing her way to his side as he stands drinking it all in.
“It means he’s a hero! He’s saved the world! No more power cuts!” Krishni’s dancing again in the confined kitchen.
“Is this true, lovey? Is this mad girl right?”
Aunty Premmi’s looking at Krishni doubtfully.
Trishnen nods,“She’s right. Clean electricity shouldn’t be a problem anymore.”
“He’s saved the world!” Krishni crows again.
His mother starts to beam. “You always said you would. And you know, I never thought you couldn’t!”
She hugs him. Trishnen sighs with happiness. There is time now–for his family, for a relationship, to take his place in his family and settle into his own. They’ve all changed. So has the world. Now anything and everything is possible.
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