No Rush in Africa
Kudakwashe S. Mushayabasa
Despite the roaring aircon, sweat ran down the nape of Kuyana’s neck as she waited in her car for Gogo. Techno music pulsed in the mud-colored thirty-year-old vehicle that had once belonged to her father, a man who had spent his life trying to save the world.
The zappy music fell into the background as a radio broadcaster announced the time. Kuyana looked at the clock in the dashboard and gave a growling sigh. She was late for work, fifteen minutes late to be exact, which wasn’t entirely bad if there wasn’t a twenty minute drive to the Breathing Gym where she would drop off Gogo––her grandmother. And a twenty minute drive to the city for her to get to work, where she would sit in her cubicle answering calls from angry clients who weren’t happy with one of the company’s products. She stabbed a fist into the steering wheel and the car horn blared.
“This is a reminder of the G-SIC, that’s the Global Solar Invention Contest,” the radio broadcaster said as buzzing techno music played on in the background, “the deadline’s tomorrow––” Kuyana’s heart kicked. Tomorrow, she thought. The countdown to the day that she would submit her father’s invention was finally here. Although her father’s invention was as small as a wedding ring box, he had told her that it would save the world. That is how Kuyana had come to name her father’s life’s work the ‘Magic Box,’ because it was a small box that was going to save the world.
“This global contest is for solar powered among other renewable energy inventions, as well as technological inventions that help fight the effects of climate change. I’m sure that most of you are hoping that this year’s winner will come from the Motherland, and if we’re fortunate they’ll be the third African inventor to win the G-SIC. So fingers crossed. Last year’s winner was fifty-six-year-old Thomas Rodgers from the United States. His invention as we might all recall was the Techno Tree. It won him thirty-five million dollars, which is the same amount up for grabs this year––” The broadcaster broke off as metallic beats rose, fell, and then he went on. “This next hit is from Sahara, the song’s titled ‘Go Green’ and we’re playing it in honor of all our forward thinking inventors who continue to make this beautiful planet of ours go round.”
Sahara’s high pitched voice knocked against the techno beats. Kuyana dug a fingernail into the steering wheel, scratching the leather in time with the music. Looking through the passenger window she stared at Gogo’s farmhouse, a blue building with a gray roof. There were parts of the building where the blue paint had crawled off the walls in coils, baring the gray cement beneath the paint. She looked through the windows of the blue house for Gogo but there was no sign of her grandmother.
Another minute passed as the five in fifteen flicked into a six. Kuyana dropped her head to the steering wheel and the horn gave off its ugly cry. Lifting her head back up, she rubbed the sides of her head with the tips of her fingers and did the math in her head. With the two twenty minute drives she would be fifty-five minutes late, which was bad. Her bosses had started a policy of fining late comers, which enforced workers getting to work on time. Every fifteen minutes an employee was late three percent of their salary was deducted.
By the time Sahara’s song came to an end Kuyana had dug a small hole into the leather of the steering wheel and had broken her nail. She stabbed her fist once more into the steering wheel, this time she let the blare carry before removing her fist. The wooden front door with blue paint peeling off, leaving patches of black where the wood was rotting, remained shut, and the silver door knob stayed unturned. Grunting, Kuyana opened the car door to go see what was taking Gogo so long but stopped when she heard the wooden front door creak open. A small, old, ebon woman dressed in a bright yellow dashiki, sandals, a wide sunhat, and a clear-colored breathing nose plug, came out of the house with a wooden cane by her side. “I heard you the first time, you know,” Gogo said, wobbling to the car. “My ears might be old but they work just fine.”
Kuyana leaned over to the passenger’s door and swung it open for Gogo.
Gogo threw her wooden cane to the floor of the car, and her sunhat onto the dashboard. The wide brimmed hat had a logo on it. It was a picture of the earth but the earth had a crack in the top left, running through Somalia and Ethiopia. In the space of the crack sprouted out an Arkhig with dark green meaty leaves and purple petals in full bloom.
Kuyana watched her grandmother lower herself into the passenger seat and shut the car door. Gogo was already sweating from the exertions though her movements were slow and grueling to watch. Kuyana waited with her foot on the gas pedal, a name fitting an era when vehicles had been powered by fossil fuels and not the solar car era, yet calling it solar pedal sounded odd so everyone stuck to gas pedal. She watched her grandmother set the cane between her knees, straighten her dashiki, and place the sunhat neatly on her lap, items which were all made entirely of bamboo.
Gogo turned to Kuyana, pushing the clear-colored breathing nose plug further up her nose. It was an improvement from the nasal cannula in that it didn’t go round the wearer’s ears for it to be held into place. It fit into the wearer’s nose and stayed in place like a hooped nose ring. There was also the advantage of not moving around with a tank of oxygen; the nose plug filtered the air, feeding the wearer with the oxygen they needed.
“And then? What are we waiting for?” Gogo asked, looking down at her granddaughter’s foot twitchily tapping on the gas pedal.”
“Seatbelt,” Kuyana reminded her in a near shout that made Gogo’s hands jerk out of her lap in surprise. Instead of reaching for the seatbelt, Gogo stretched her wrinkled hand to the radio and switched it off. Agitation was knitted in the folds of her aged face and Kuyana knew that it wasn’t because of the loud techno music that Gogo disapproved of; it was because of how she’d spoken to her grandmother.
Gogo started to work on the seatbelt but her fingers proved inept as if it were her first time to fasten a seatbelt. She muttered to herself as she always did when she was trying and failing to do something.
Come on, Kuyana thought as she dug her fingers into the steering wheel. There was a moment when it seemed as if Gogo was about to click the seatbelt into the buckle but missed, which made Kuyana wring her hands round the steering wheel. It’s like watching her try to thread a needle. “Let me do it.” Kuyana leaned over to help her grandmother but Gogo swatted her hands away.
“I can do it,” Gogo protested, “just give me a second.”
Kuyana grabbed the tongue of the seatbelt from Gogo and clicked it into the buckle. “There. Now we can go.” She stomped on the gas pedal and the car lurched into motion, driving them out of the driveway and onto the hexagonal glass-covered solar paneled road, which charged the solar cars and the houses nearby.
They drove with the sound of the roaring aircon filling the car. Gogo’s hands sat in her lap round her sunhat while Kuyana’s eyes darted from the road to the clock with every passing minute. There was little traffic, which was the only thing Kuyana liked about the countryside. If she drove fast she could make the twenty minute drive to the Breathing Gym in fifteen. She pressed the gas pedal and felt a slap on her thigh.
“Mmmhmm, slow down,” Gogo said, slapping Kuyana’s thigh, “slow down.”
Kuyana groaned and let the gas pedal up.
“You’re always rushing, mwanangu. It’s just go, go, go with your generation,” she said with a hand cutting forward to put her point across.
“And with you everything is slow, slow, slow.” Kuyana stomped on the brakes and the car jolted to a stop. A red eye from a traffic light stared down at them. She dug her fingers into the leather of the steering wheel as a car with the logo of the cracked earth and Arkhig flower painted on the body of the vehicle, drove unhurriedly past them.
Gogo folded her arms and watched the car drive by. “Well, you know what they say, ‘There’s no rush in Africa.’” She chuckled.
Kuyana jadedly shut her eyes and shook her head. She, like her father, had always detested the adage. Although she could not say how the saying had begun, Kuyana had always felt that it encouraged Africans to be lax. It was the saying the SDM’s––Slow Down Movement–– followed. The SDMs were mostly made of the older generation but there were some in Kuyana’s generation and younger still who were changing over to SDM, a thing Kuyana swore that she would never do.
Her father, a self-taught electronic engineer, had been part of the Forward Thinkers, FTs for short. They, unlike the SDMs, believed that technology would save the planet from climate change. It was the group Kuyana followed and the group that often won the presidential seat, although last year they had narrowly won with the SDMs following closely behind with only six votes short of winning the election. Kuyana, like most FTs, blamed it on the younger generation; the teenagers who’d just turned sixteen and were now allowed to vote. They preferred the slow lifestyle of the SDMs and not the busyness of the FTs.
The traffic light turned green and Kuyana drove on. Her eyes darted to the clock in the dashboard and her stomach twisted as another minute passed. She’d done all she possibly could to get to work on time. She’d woken at three and had done all the farm chores that Gogo wanted done before leaving the house. She’d had her breakfast, showered, and was dressed by four. She then woke Gogo, set her grandmother’s breakfast, helped bathe her, and had dressed her by six fifty-five. Yet somehow they were still late.
Kuyana had spoken to Gogo on selling the farm and moving closer to the city, closer to the Breathing Gym, and closer to where Kuyana worked, but Gogo had spat at the idea. The city was what was making people sick, polluting the air with harmful radiations, which were killing bees, trees, and had made sparrows extinct. If Kuyana wanted her grandmother dead all she had to do was move them there, Gogo had once told her. And as for taking the bus to the Breathing Gym, Gogo had given Kuyana the excuse that she didn’t like public transport. “Besides,” Gogo had said with a grin, “it gives us more time to spend together.”
Another red light stopped them and another minute flicked in the dashboard. Kuyana’s eyes darted from clock to red light and then clock again.
“Staring at the clock won’t reverse it, mwanangu,” she heard Gogo say. “Just accept that you’re late.” Gogo stretched her wrinkled hand to the radio and turned it to the SDM station. Calming music filled the car, but all it did for Kuyana was rake at her nerves. Kuyana turned the radio off, and stomped on the gas pedal as soon as the light turned green. To anyone watching, it seemed as if Gogo was merely trying to calm her granddaughter down, but Kuyana knew better. Gogo was trying to convert Kuyana to the SDMs and had been trying for months.
As they drove they approached a green minivan that had a bumper sticker of the cracked earth and Arkhig flower. True to the SDM adage the minivan slugged in front of them. When Kuyana decided to go round the minivan, the green minivan suddenly stopped, nearly crashing into Kuyana’s car. Kuyana stomped on the brakes, slapped a palm on the horn, and yelled for the driver to get off the road.
“You do know that you can go round the minivan, don’t you?” Gogo said in a gentle tone that fanned at Kuyana’s rage.
Muttering to herself, Kuyana drove round the green minivan and saw the driver, a man, arching over to the backseat where a car seat was fastened and short chubby ebony fingers were reaching high. The man paid them no mind as they drove past him. And why would he? Kuyana thought, twisting the steering wheel. People out here don’t know how dangerous roads can be. There had been times when she’d come from work to find kids kicking a ball or playing jump rope in the middle of the road. The kids only moved out of the road when she hooted. They’d look back at her with cheery, oblivious expressions on their faces, and then wave at her before getting out of the road, only to rush back to their game once she’d driven past.
Gogo cooed at the sight of the man lifting the squirming baby out of the car seat. “Isn’t that a lovely sight,” she said and waved at the car, the sleeve of her dashiki flapping as she did. “A father taking care of his little one always is. Reminds me of your father.” The roaring of the aircon played for a while before Gogo spoke. “Your road rage is getting worse, mwanangu. You need to do something or you’ll be known as the mad black woman out here.”
“I’m the mad one?” Her brow creased as she pointed a finger at herself. “He’s the one who just stopped in the middle of the road,” she said, pointing a thumb over her shoulder to where the minivan was. “Do you know how dangerous that can be without signaling, or at least pulling off the road?”
“Oh please, not out here. There’s barely any traffic.”
Kuyana made a strangled sigh, twisted the steering wheel, and looked on ahead.
They came to another red light but this time Kuyana didn’t stop. The only traffic was a blue car coming at them from the right, but like most cars in the countryside it moved slow.
“Kuyana!” Gogo cried and slapped the back of her hand into Kuyana’s shoulder.
“What? You did say there wasn’t traffic.”
“But to run a red light?”
“But to suddenly stop in the middle of the road?” She gestured at the road with an open hand. “He just stopped right in front of us and didn’t bother to apologize when we drove past him, and I know he heard me hooting. He might have a screaming baby in the backseat but I’m sure his ears work just fine as your old ones do. How am I wrong for running a red light in a practically empty road?” She pressed her hand to her chest and then slapped it back on the wheel of the steering, curling her fingers tightly round the wheel as she drove on.
“You don’t know what was happening in that man’s car. The baby probably needed immediate attention,” Gogo said in a taut tone.
“Needed immediate attention?” Kuyana narrowed her eyes. “Really, like for what? A diaper change?”
“I don’t know.” Gogo shrugged with irritation knitted back in the folds of her face. “The baby could have been choking on something for all we know.”
Kuyana’s eyes glanced over to the rearview mirror. The green minivan was still parked in the middle of the road. She snorted. “Oh please, Gogo,” she said a little too loudly.
The sound of the roaring aircon followed as they drove. Gogo’s face remained knit with irritation. “You know, I don’t appreciate how you’ve been speaking to me lately.”
Heat drained from Kuyana’s face. Kuyana could admit that she’d been short with her grandmother a few too many times that week. “I’m sorry, Gogo,” she said, loosening her grip on the steering. “This is my fourth time this week of getting to work late, which means my salary will be way less than what I usually bring in.”
They came to a toll crossing where white letter ‘T’s’ appeared across the road. When they drove over it a ka-ching sounded and a robotic voice thanked them for paying the toll fee. And there goes another percent of my money.
“I’m sorry,” Gogo said in a softer tone. “I’m the one who made you late. It’s just hard when you get old, you know. Joints hurt, you get weak, and your world starts to slow down.” Gogo chuckled as if it didn’t bother her but Kuyana knew it did. When Kuyana had been younger her grandmother had done everything on her own, running the farm singlehandedly and effortlessly under the beating heat of the sun. “I think it’s high time you moved out to the city.”
“And leave you?”
Gogo turned away, looking out the window to a gold forest of towering bamboo trees that whipped past them. The countryside heavily depended on bamboo trees because of their resilience in droughts. They were also good for food, clothing, and made sturdy furniture. Most of the furniture at the farm house were from SDM furniture shops as gifts to Gogo for being a long term bamboo wood provider.
Gogo kept her gaze out the window without responding to Kuyana’s question. What could she say? She was sixty-five and a lot of things had begun to get difficult for her. The logical step was to get a care aide to help her but Kuyana’s job was barely keeping them afloat. And even if putting Gogo in an old people’s home was an option, which it was not although it was no longer culturally frowned upon, Kuyana could not afford that either. Just leave me be… leave me… at… my farm, Gogo had once said between strained breaths because the subject always worked her up. Go… to the fast city life, go… to the… world of… Forward Thinkers and leave me. There were many times Kuyana had thought to do just that but when her anger passed she remembered that Gogo was all the family she had.
Kuyana’s mother had died from heart difficulties that had begun after giving birth to Kuyana in the heat of the September sun. When her mother had passed, Kuyana had been left with Gogo and her father who later died from heat stroke when Kuyana was fifteen. Sweat snaked down her back as she recalled the day she found him stiff, chest, and arms sprawled atop the table in the garage where he’d worked on his invention that was meant to save the world from climate change. That was when Gogo became more than a grandmother to Kuyana, she became her mother and father. Kuyana’s entire family was enclosed in an old woman with weak lungs.
She caught Gogo in the corner of her eye, flapping the neck of her dashiki, letting air in to dry the sweat on her neck. “I’ll move once I win the G-SIC. And with the thirty-five million dollar prize we can get a care aide for you.”
Gogo kept her face to the window and went on flapping the collar of her dashiki.
Kuyana turned the radio back on, returning it to the SDM station. Forest sounds played, and it brought a smile to her grandmother’s face.
The radio broadcaster announced the time. It was midmorning, which meant that Kuyana was an hour and fifteen minutes late. Kuyana wrung the steering and growled, Gogo chuckled and flapped the collar of her dashiki, her eyes still looking at passing bamboo.
“We have a special guest today on our show,” the broadcaster said in a proud African twang that felt a little forced––stretching vowels and stressing on consonants. “We have Professor Xuthi on our show today and he’ll be telling us about the Arkhig test.”
Professor Xuthi, the SDM leader who had run against the country’s current president, had promised a country that would find better ways of cleaning the atmosphere, provide free fresh water, free education, and affordable housing. It hadn’t sounded bad at all, but Kuyana knew how stringent the SDMs could be. Professor Xuthi was the type to ban the eating of meat as well as put an end to technological advancements. He’d often spoken against the G-SIC, claiming that most of their winning inventions were harming the earth. Unlike Kuyana’s father and the FTs who believed technology would save the world, Professor Xuthi believed that it was Mother Nature who would save the world.
His voice came on, thin and reedy, “The Arkhig plant as we all know survives entirely on carbon dioxide and gives out drinkable water through its leaves, which the SDMs have used for years to harvest drinking water for the country. It also does something very interesting that few people know.”
“And what’s that Professor Xuthi?” the broadcaster asked, with a heavy click on the ‘X’.
“I’ll tell you. It can tell us if a gadget or machine is throwing off harmful radiation into the atmosphere. As we’ve learnt from history, radiation from things like the cellphone towers that had existed back in the twenty-first century was the cause of the extinction of a certain bird called the sparrow. Harmful radiations have also dramatically decreased the population of bees and we all know how important bees are in pollinating plants to help plants reproduce. These same kinds of radiation are also the cause of certain species of trees dying off, which we know the planet cannot afford to lose. And so if you put a potted Arkhig plant next to a gadget or machine throwing off radiation and leave it there for as short as six hours, it will start to die.”
Professor Xuthi gave an affirming hum. “Depending on how strong the radiation is, the Arkhig will begin to die. The leaves and petals will become brittle and turn a brownish gray. Sometimes it may not show any external changes, especially if the radiation is weak, but if you cut it open you’ll find rot inside. What I want to leave with the people listening to this is that SDMs are not anti-techno. No. We have inventions like the FTs but what we focus on is that it doesn’t negatively affect the environment in the long run. That is why we test products in a controlled environment for years before sending it off to the public.”
“And the FTs don’t do this?”
“No, they don’t. They focus on the next new invention and as long as it does what they intended it to do they ship it out to the public, not caring of the consequences it might have on the earth. And if you notice most advancements, historically, didn’t care much for the effects or didn’t know about them, and this is why we as the world have found ourselves in this climate change predicament we’re currently in. I’m not trying to sound political here. But what FT is doing is it’s going up against Mother Nature with all their technical advancements, a sort of man against nature, if you would. But what they don’t realize is that if nature loses, we lose too.”
Gogo smacked the back of her hand into Kuyana’s shoulder. “Ha, did you hear that, mwanangu?”
“And that is what SDM is all about,” the professor said, “slowing down and thinking things through. There is no need to rush if we want to get it right.”
Kuyana dropped Gogo off at the Breathing Gym and changed the radio station back to FT. Techno music pumped in the car as she drove into the city where hordes of cars were crammed. Kuyana did not care for the congestion in the city but she still preferred the city life to the countryside life. Everything in the countryside was slow and hard to come by, but in the city with all the gadgets and all the inventions, all anyone needed to do was press a button and their needs were met. Well most of their needs. There’s still a need for a button that can clear traffic, she thought.
A giant billboard hung over the road, its bright lights flashed as it welcomed visitors into the city and the FT’s logo––a picture of the earth with mending made of a sheet of metal fastened into place with bolts and nuts––spun on the billboard. Techno music pulsed out of vehicles, and blaring car horns vied against one another. The only pollution in the city Kuyana could admit to were the people behind the wheels.
Thomas Rodger’s invention of the Techno Trees, which people had come to call TTs, ran along the roads. The TT’s were shaped like fan palm trees and the soaring silver leaves covered the roads from the searing sun while the metal trunks absorbed the air, filtering out harmful gases and giving out clean air, doing what trees did but at a faster rate.
Kuyana pulled into the parking lot at work and fumbled for a reason as to why she was late until she decided that the truth would be good enough. Her SDM Gogo was to blame. Her bosses might pity her for being stuck with a backward thinking extremist. As it turned out, Kuyana’s bosses did pity her for dealing with a SDM relative but it wasn’t a good reason for being late so her weekly salary was cut.
“There you are,” a voice came.
Kuyana turned to find Tawana. Like Kuyana, Tawana had come from the countryside but with no living family left in the countryside he had managed to escape to the city. He wore a navy suit that had African prints in a darker shade of navy. His suit was a smart-suit; it was wirelessly connected to a gold wristwatch that he wore on his left wrist. The wristwatch controlled the heating and cooling system of Tawana suit. He looked down at his gold watch. “Late as ever.” He crinkled his nose and gave her a measuring look, which made Kuyana look herself over. Her garbs weren’t as impressive as his or the rest of the staff in the office. All anyone needed to do was look at her to know that her clothes were made out of bamboo. A material Gogo would remind her was as strong as steel and soft as silk. “And it protects you from the sun’s UV rays. Why, back in my day it was more expensive than most designer clothes.”
At lunch Kuyana sat at her desk with her face in her hand while she patiently listened to a woman rant on about her pocket fan not working.
“What are you doing? It’s lunchtime.”
Kuyana looked up and found Tawana holding a brown paper bag to his chest. A mouthwatering smell of braai beef came from the brown paper bag. Kuyana gestured a finger for him to give her a minute and spoke to the customer in the gentle tone Gogo used on her when Kuyana was angry. She ended the call and hoped that her tone had irritated the caller as it normally did her when Gogo used it on her.
“You should take a break.” Tawana dragged a chair over to her desk, pulled out two braai beef sub-sandwiches from the brown paper bag, and lowered into the chair.
“I’m trying to make back the twenty-one percent I lost this week.”
Tawana crinkled his nose. “Yeah, I don’t see that happening.”
He laughed and handed her a sub-sandwich. “Here, this will make you feel better.”
“Thanks,” she said as she unwrapped the sandwich. “I don’t know what I’d do without you.”
“Oh please, I’m just nice to you because I know something that the idiots in the office don’t.”
Kuyana bit into her sandwich and closed her eyes, savoring the taste of mayonnaise mingling with the Chakalaka marinated braai beef. “And that is?”
“You’re going to be a millionaire soon.”
“Shooosh, not too loud.”
Tawana giggled, looked round the partly empty office. People were sitting in groups and chatting as they had their lunch. He turned back to Kuyana. “Well a thirty-five millionaire to be precise.”
She beamed at the thought.
Tawana leaned in and asked, “What will you do with thirty-five million dollars?”
She drew the sandwich from her mouth and looked down at the braai beef sub-sandwich. “I’d buy a lot of beef sandwiches.”
Tawana laughed. “No, seriously.”
“I’m serious,” she said, nodding her head with narrowed eyes. “I’d also get Gogo a care aide to help her around. Those carers that come with their own cars so they can take her to the Breathing Gym.”
Tawana crinkled his nose and groaned.
“You still think Breathing Gyms are a scam?”
He rolled his eyes. “Doesn’t everybody? It’s much like the Heart Gym and Heat Stress Therapy Centers. People are capitalizing on climate change illnesses and opening up businesses that promise to reverse the effects climate change has had on their health. But still an aide would help you get to work on time.”
“Well with the money I could finally afford a place out here. I’d also get a new car with a working aircon, a car that wouldn’t cost as much as mine does at the tolls.”
“Well the old ones don’t charge as well as the new ones do on the solar roads so…”
“So they punish me for having an old car?”
“Your car’s a hoarder and you know it. It takes up way too much electricity to get going. Anyway the list of things you will spend your millions on. You were talking about getting new clothes, I believe?”
She jadedly closed her eyes and then opening them she raised an eyebrow. “Yes, new clothes, no more bamboo clothes.”
“Good. Cause I get itchy just looking at you.”
“Bamboo fabric doesn’t itch.”
“You sure?” he said, looking at her clothes and scratching his arm.
“I’d also pay off my student loan.” Kuyana paused as she thought on the overwhelming amount she still had to pay. “I’d get a headstone for my father. Tractors and those new farm equipment for Gogo, as well as fix up the old farmhouse.”
“Why bother? She’s sixty-five and she––” Tawana stopped as he realized what he was about to say.
But Kuyana didn’t mind, Tawana’s flagrance was one of the things she appreciated about him. “And she won’t be here for long? Well besides fixing up the farm to make Gogo happy, the farm could bring in a bit of money too.”
“Oh please, you sound like my countryside parents.” He pulled out an Arkhig water bottle from the brown paper bag, unscrewed, and swallowed.
“You can’t deny that they’re doing well.”
“Farm life is hard and slow. City life is easier, faster, and has better financial benefits. The SDMs might be doing alright for now but not as well as the FTs, either way with the way things are going, poor rains and increased dry hot seasons, farming will soon be a thing of the past. All nature in Africa as we know it will be burned to cinders,” he said with a crooked smile.
“That would be horrible for all of us. Why are you smiling?”
“Cause the FTs will save the day with more TTs and I hear the labs are cooking up synthetic crops.”
“And what do you think about the Arkhig test?”
Frowning, he shook his head. “What about it?”
“Professor Xuthi says that most of the G-SIC inventions are killing birds, bees, and trees.”
Tawana rolled his eyes. “Climate change, not the inventions. That’s what’s killing the environment. And as a people we really need to stop planting and keep inventing,” he said and took another swallow of water.
“But can’t we do both?”
He dropped his shoulders. “For now, I guess. But with how things are going with the droughts and all, we might as well just focus on inventing. Mother Nature is weak, but technology, ah, is strong.” He grinned, lifted a fist, and took another swallow of water.
When the day ended, Kuyana drove to the bus stop near the Breathing Gym where Gogo usually waited for her. Gogo was sitting on a bench with her cane between her knees and her sunhat on her head. She waved at Kuyana as Kuyana stopped the car by the bus stop. Gogo lifted herself off the bench with a little more ease than she did in the morning. It came to Kuyana that whenever she came to pick Gogo up, Gogo’s movements were less grueling to watch. She wondered if Tawana was wrong about the Breathing Gym, Heart Gym, and the Heat Stress Therapy Centers. And if he was wrong about that, what else could he be wrong about?
Driving back to the countryside, the roaring of the aircon filled the car, Gogo’s head gently bounced to one side as she slept in her seat while Kuyana’s mind was on her father’s Magic Box.
At home they had their supper in silence as Kuyana’s mind kept reeling on her father’s invention. The Magic Box drank up all the harmful gases in the air and converted it into electricity. They had worked together on it in the garage starting early in the morning and stretching into the dead of night. Kuyana’s father hadn’t been like those fathers who’d focus on their work and ignore the other aspects of their lives. He had involved Kuyana, teaching her all he’d taught himself. And he’d done it with a smile. That had been what had carried her through the years of working on her father’s invention, the memory of his warm smile, shining down on her. When he died, Kuyana promised herself that she’d get the Magic Box working and she’d submit it to the G-SIC on behalf of her father.
Working on her father’s invention had been an ordeal. She knew only what her father had shown her. The rest Kuyana had to learn on her own through trial and error, and from online books. The work would have been much easier if she’d done an engineering program at University but the engineering tuition had been expensive and the student loan she’d qualified for hadn’t been enough. So Kuyana had settled for a marketing program and was stuck in a career she didn’t much care for.
Gogo had once told her of how the world had changed when fossil fuels had been banned and everyone’s attention was on saving the dying planet. There had been some who genuinely wanted to save the planet but most cared about what they could get out of it. “That was when the world had gotten expensive,” Gogo had said sorrowfully, “a bottle of water costs twenty-five dollars for goodness sake. And it will cost more once the Arkhig plant goes extinct from all that radiation in the city.”
Gogo had also told her of how green inventions started to pop up nearly every day, promising that they would help save the earth. Hashtags of going green stormed social media. Bug eating had become the in thing. Instead of beef burgers, flying-ant burgers and other insects replaced the meat diet as people tried to phase out cattle ranching because it affected the Ozone. Recycling clubs were formed as well as tree farms. But it didn’t last. The phase of hashtags of going green dwindled, and so did the eating of bugs. But the popping up of new inventions continued. People preferred gizmos cleaning the earth and fixing what damages climate change had done on earth than planting trees and eating bugs, it was easier.
“I’ll do the dishes tonight,” Gogo said, picking up her plate and Kuyana’s plate off the table.
“You don’t have to, I can do it,” Kuyana said with a yawn.
“Don’t you need to do a few touch ups on your father’s invention? I know that tomorrow’s the big day.”
“The touch ups are done.”
“So you’ve tested it out and it works?”
Kuyana set her elbow on the table, propped her head up with a hand, and nodded sleepily.
“No harmful side effects,” Gogo said, turning her back to Kuyana as she began to soap the dishes.
Kuyana knew where the conversation was headed. Her grandmother had been working up to this conversation for months. Kuyana stood, scraping the legs of the chair on the floor. “I better head to bed. I’m exhausted.”
“I don’t think you should send that gadget out to the G-SIC just yet,” she heard Gogo say as Kuyana made to walk out the kitchen.
Kuyana turned back to Gogo. “Yeah? Why?”
“You heard Professor Xuthi. It needs to be tested first for a few years before you send it out to the public. Why don’t you send it to the SDMs instead, have it checked, and then enter it into the contest, knowing that your invention doesn’t negatively affect the earth.”
“My father wouldn’t have wanted his invention in the hands of the SDMs. And no FT would wait as long as a gadget does what it says it does and causes no immediate harm.”
“But didn’t you say that it wirelessly connects to devices in order for it to charge them with electricity.”
“Yes, that was how father had designed it and you know that. Besides, radiation killing trees and animals is just speculation.”
Gogo turned to face Kuyana. Her face had gone slack in the way it usually did when she wanted to persuade Kuyana out of something but didn’t know how. Drops of soapy water frothed on the floor, dripping from her wet cupped hands that she held before her. “So FTs say. It’s––” Kuyana raised a hand, cutting Gogo off, and began to laugh, which made Gogo contort her face. “And now?”
Kuyana shook her head. “For months you’ve been trying to convert me into the SDM ways and you think I haven’t noticed? I’ve been getting to work late and losing money because and I quote, ‘You hate public transport and you want to spend more time with me,’ when a few months back you were going to the Breathing Gym by bus.” Kuyana watched her grandmother drop her hands to her sides, the foam in the soapy water on the floor had cleared, leaving a puddle of clear water before Gogo’s feet. “I’m not waiting. Tomorrow I’m submitting my father’s invention that I’ve worked my butt off for the past fifteen years. And if there are any side effects, I’m confident that the generation to come will find a way to solve them. As for now it will have to do. I’m a FT and we don’t sit on our hands like you SDMs, watching years on end pass by as we test inventions in a controlled environment when the world needs solutions now. Also we need the money.”
“We need the money?” Gogo shook her head, and jabbing a finger into her chest said, “Look at me. I can’t breathe without this thing stuck up my nose.” She pulled out the breathing plug. Her chest heaved and she placed a shaky hand onto the kitchen table for support. “Look at what fossil fuels has done… to our world. You lost both parents to a world that focused… so much on producing more, never caring of the damages it would… later… bring…” Gogo said between strained breaths, her voice croaking as she spoke. Tears flooded her eyes. She raised her chin to the ceiling and fixed the breathing plug back up her nose. Gogo turned to the windowsill by the kitchen sink and picked up a potted Arkhig plant, moved back to the kitchen table and set it down. Gogo kept her eyes down on the Arkhig plant. “Don’t be on the wrong side of history, mwanangu. Leave a better earth for the generations to come. Not an earth they’re supposed to clean up after us.” She turned for the sink and went back to washing the dishes.
Kuyana stared down at the plant, snorted, and looked back at Gogo who was now rinsing off the dishes. “And if my father’s Magic Box gives off harmful radiation, I’m supposed to… what? Give up on his invention?” Grinding her teeth, she spoke through clenched teeth, “That would feel like I was betraying him.”
Gogo looked over her shoulder at Kuyana and shook her head, “I didn’t say give up. If my son’s invention gives off harmful radiation then you fix it so it won’t.” Gogo turned back to the sink. “I lied when I said that the man who stopped in front of us in the morning reminded me of your father. I don’t know if you noticed but he looked to be as old as me. He also wore a breathing plug. Go and test your father’s invention, mwanangu, for the sake of the next generation, so they can live long enough to raise their children.”
Cheery, oblivious faces of the children who played in the middle of the road came to Kuyana, waving their tiny hands at her. They too had most likely lost both their parents to climate change illnesses and were living with their grandparents. Begrudgingly, she snatched the potted plant off the kitchen table and headed to the garage.
Kuyana couldn’t say when it had started but she had felt it growing inside her. The doubt. As much as she wanted to place the blame on Gogo, Kuyana had been second guessing her father’s invention for some time. She knew that it was an ingenious invention that needed to be shared with the world, but if it would cause the extinction of plants was it really worth sharing? Then again, if I don’t enter and win there’s always another FT whose invention will win with a device that most likely gives off harmful radiation.
Don’t be on the wrong side of history, came Gogo’s voice.
Kuyana pushed the garage door in and it swung open with a creak. There in the darkness of the garage sat the Magic Box on the table where her father had taken his last breath. She walked up to the white box and touched a hand to it. It made a swishing noise as it turned on. A ring of neon blue came on as it lapped up all the bad gases in the air. The light in the garage flickered on as the Magic Box powered it. She looked round the garage where she’d spent her childhood, teenage years, and most of her adult life. Kuyana set the Arkhig plant beside the Magic Box and went to bed.
When morning came Kuyana rushed to the garage, her heart stiff and bulging in her throat. She pushed in the creaky door and her eyes fell on the potted Arkhig.
It was alive.
Its meaty leaves were green and the flower still possessed its deep purple. A small smile inched across her face, but fell when she remembered what Professor Xuthi said about weaker radiations affecting the plant from within.
Kuyana slowly crossed over to the plant, sweat beading her brow. It was morning and already hot but she knew that the beads of sweat had to do with nerves. Standing over the Arkhig plant she picked up a screwdriver, plucked off a leaf, placed it on the table, and made an incision. For a heartbeat Kuyana had stopped breathing. When she saw the contents of the dissected plant her hands trembled. She let the screwdriver fall, clunking to the wooden table. The garage door creaked behind her but Kuyana kept her eyes on the cut leaf as tears blinded her. Blinking the tears away, she watched as a green-black discharge oozed out the leaf.
“No,” she said, cocking her head to one side while her eyes stayed on the leaf.
Gentle arms wrapped round her. “You’ll eventually find a better way, mwanangu, a safer way,” came Gogo’s voice. “After all,” she said with a small chuckle, “there’s no rush in Africa.”
Kudakwashe S. Mushayabasa (she/her) is a Zimbabwean and lives in the city of Bulawayo famously known as the city of Kings and Queens. She holds a B.A. in Publishing Studies. “No Rush in Africa” is her first published story.