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Black Contemporary Fiction

Meeting his cousin Sebastian after so many years was an eye-opener. Initially, Simba had been unenthusiastic about hosting anyone who would have to share his creature comforts.

"It will be fun! You spend too much time on your laptop. Sebastian is so looking forward to coming to the city, and we were hoping you could get to know him better. After all, he is your first cousin!  Show him around for the two weeks he will be here."

"But Mum, I don't have anything in common with Sebastian! What am I expected to do with him?"

"I hope you will make him feel welcome. And don't be so melodramatic, Simba.  Anyway, it's too late to start getting cold feet. He's arriving at the bus terminus today, and as family, we have to meet him."

Mother and son parked away from the swarming crowds arriving from all directions at the busy bus terminus. As they leaned out of their 4x4 parked in the shade, Simba's mother spotted Sebastian and started waving furiously while unfurling a bright red and white banner that read, "Sebastian, Welcome!" It had been his mother's idea, and Simba was cringing with embarrassment, hoping no one was in the crowds who would recognise him. Otherwise, he would be teased mercilessly at school with friends wondering what he was doing in that part of town. Sebastian waited patiently as his bag was loaded into the car.

Sebastian was distinct with his bald shaven head, thick black eyebrows in a russet, reddish-brown face. He was slim and tall for his age in his scruffy well-travelled grey tracksuit and over his shoulder was a rucksack covered with football badges and inscriptions. Sebastian was coy as he settled in the backseat of the car, and a half-grin flitted across his face as he greeted Simba. Sebastian appeared overwhelmed at the warm reception.

"You only have one bag for your two-week stay?" said Simba, somewhat surprised.

"Is that all you are going to say to Sebastian after his journey from Kimberley to visit you?"

"Mum! You are embarrassing me! There is time enough for us to get to know each other. Remember, we are double-parked. Let's go home."

The trio left the terminus in the blazing heat. Sebastian tried to keep up with the front seat conversation. Mother and son remembered that Sebastian's command of English was tentative. If, however they spoke slowly, he could join in, especially since Simba's command of their mother tongue was embarrassing even to himself. In awe, as he stared out of the moving vehicle, Sebastian asked endless questions about what Simba regarded as mundane issues as they headed to the northern suburbs.

Sebastian, although tired, mentioned this was his second visit to the capital, so he had a lot to take in. "I was born here," said Simba, "so all this is nothing new! I have been down this road hundreds of times. I'm trying to imagine looking at everything through your eyes."

Sebastian was fascinated by the vibrancy of city life, the noise and recklessness of meandering rickety minibuses filled to the brim with homeward-bound passengers. Some drivers seemed to think there were numerous traffic lights to be ignored as long as there were no accidents. He pointed out women carrying bundles precariously on their heads, weaving through the traffic with babies tied on their backs and hands burdened with other miscellaneous items. He commented on the crowds queuing and squeezing into smoke-belching buses with axles under strain.

"This is our short-lived rush hour. Going to the high-density suburbs after work is a mission and the transport owners break so many traffic rules,  trying to ferry people," said Mum as she navigated a sharp corner.

"But isn't there a passenger limit? Don't the police do anything about all these overloaded vehicles?" said Sebastian.

Simba joined in," The traffic police are on the road, but they have given up. This chaos is a daily occurrence, and as long as there are no serious accidents, everyone ignores the mayhem. I bet if we stopped one of these overcrowded minibuses or kombis, we would find some policemen as passengers. They are just as desperate as anyone else to get home before dark."

The landscape changed as tree-lined streets became more expansive after crossing a railway line. The houses had transformed from corrugated tin-roofed shacks and run down multistory buildings near the bus terminus to mansions, enclosed behind security fences.  Arriving in front of an imposing electric gate, Mum said, "This is where we live. Welcome home!"

They drove into the yard, and Simba's smile became more relaxed as he carried Sebastian's luggage into the house. "I never enjoy going to the part of town we have just been to—no offence to you, Sebastian. Let me show you where you will be sleeping, not far from my bedroom. You are staying in the guest wing. Come!"

Sebastian entered his room and placed his rucksack on the floor. It was less than five hours since he left his family, yet he felt as if he had been through so many disparate experiences in one day. As he gingerly lay on the bed, afraid to cover the linen with the grime from his bus journey, he was still internalising the drive experiences through the city and now the luxury of his current room. He had taken in the massive house with multiple garages, the servants milling around the house, including a gardener watering the lawn. Even his guest bedroom was like a small studio flat tastefully decorated with hues of blue and green with an ensuite, a TV and a computer. At home, he shared the bedroom with two brothers who slept on a bunk bed. He started texting his parents on his old phone when Simba's head appeared around the door.

"Haven't you washed yet? Mum will be calling us to eat soon. I'll give you ten minutes."

Sebastian spent some time negotiating how to operate the shower and debating what to wear. Everything he had packed now appeared faded compared to his surroundings. Soon he heard a bell, followed by a discreet knock.

"Hie. That's Mum's supper bell. She runs this place like a boot camp! Let's go and eat, and then we can make plans for tomorrow."

Following Simba into a dining room laid out for supper, Sebastian realised life was more formal than home. He was very conscious of his cousin's watchful eye while working through an array of cutlery. Sebastian sampled some of the unfamiliar dishes, secretly wishing it had been a simple meal. He, however, knew he had to do justice to the food cooked in his honour; otherwise, his aunt would be offended. Trying not to overthink what he was eating, Sebastian gulped water between mouthfuls to drown the strange tastes.

"Before we discuss tomorrow's plans, how is everyone at home? I have not been there for some time. I'm so busy trying to maintain the life your aunt and cousin have become accustomed to," said Simba's father.

Sebastian liked his uncle, a spitting image of his father, the older of the twins. He knew the story of how his uncle and father went their separate ways soon after completing high school. His father had decided to stay at home farming on the family plot, while Simba's father went to university and began a successful career as a lawyer in the city. Simba had reaped the benefits of his father's success, including attending a private school, while Sebastian was enrolled at a missionary school within his father's means.

There was a sense of nostalgia as Sebastian shared amusing stories of life on the farm, the erratic harvests and a life of toil. He explained how his mother sold produce to a local boarding school, trays of eggs, cabbages and other vegetables in season. Simba realised how his life compared to Sebastian was running on parallel lines, just like their fathers. Yet, although looking overwhelmed by the surroundings, Sebastian continued relating his amusing stories involving his siblings as if it was a never-ending adventure.

Once in his bedroom, Simba realised that, unlike his cousin, there was a flatness about his life. Despite his complaints about his father being strict and constantly repeating his mantra about being a self-made man, Simba realised he could have been born the son of his father's twin. His birthday wishlist now seemed extravagant in hindsight; a boat cruise on the river with his school friends, a brand new Audi for his school run. He couldn't remember when he last shared stories with a sense of achievement or with Sebastian's awe of city life. Simba realised that he had a sense of entitlement, unlike Sebastian, savouring the opportunity to stay with his more affluent relatives.

Two weeks was a short time, and soon Sebastian was talking about going home to help out his family before returning to boarding school.

"Since we are driving Sebastian back home over the weekend, why don't we all stay overnight? I'm sure your brother would appreciate the time with us," said Mother.

It was clear that the trip had not been discussed beforehand. Simba's father agreed somewhat reluctantly without wanting to sound dismissive as he muttered under his breath about cancelling his golf.

"I can housesit while you are away," said Simba.

Sebastian looked taken aback, "You don't want to come and meet my family?"

 "I am sure Simba would love to come," said his mother." The house will be safe. What is our security company for?"

Simba felt pressganged, with no other option. The return journey, which had taken Sebastian five hours, took less than two in the 4x4.   As they arrived at Sebastian's homestead, family members came from all directions and their excitement at seeing their city relatives was tangible. The two brothers greeted each other with a bear hug as Sebastian was surrounded by his siblings, curious to hear about his city adventures. Simba helped his mother offload the groceries from the car as Sebastian's mother exclaimed at the extravagance of their generosity.

In a low voice, she said to Simba, "It's a good thing that you brought so much because we have been struggling for some time. The harvest wasn't as good as we had hoped, and all our savings have been set aside for Sebastian's school fees. Did he tell you he is doing so well at school? Someday he will also be a lawyer like your father."

After supper, the families spent the evening sitting around an open fire reminiscing about the two brothers growing up in the village and how they had walked a round trip of ten kilometres to school. They talked about their old school friends, herding cattle and making wire toys. Their never-ending amusing stories of mischief echoed through the evening hours till the embers died away.

Just before midnight, the families dispersed to their sleeping quarters guided by their oil lamps. Simba camped on the floor, sharing a bedroom with his three cousins. Only then did he realise that this had been a memorable evening, no TV, no internet,  no electricity but family companionship he had never fully appreciated before.

August 13, 2021 07:31

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