The bus hurtled across the countryside, swallowing miles, and miles of hot tarmac under its belly. Most passengers were quiet, except for children who seemed excited to see trees and other objects race backwards. Some adults were reading newspapers, some tapping or staring at their phones, while some simply napped. Declan, a childhood friend of mine, was asleep on the adjacent seat. I had nothing to do but look outside and admire nature as I kept turning my prospects over in my head.
Declan had come home a fortnight ago to say hi to his parents and take a brief break from life in the city. We have been friends as long as I can remember but we separated after high school when he left with his uncle for the city. I had been there a few times to visit relatives and I admired their lifestyle. Everyone’s home had electricity, water taps in the house, TVs, and gadgets that made life more enjoyable. Life on the countryside was becoming too dreary for my liking. With my father’s demise three years ago, the responsibility of managing our vast farm had fallen heavier to me as a first-born. My siblings were still too young. Whilst I made enough money to get by and save some, Declan told me in the city one could make ten times more.
My mother was not happy with the idea when I first approached her with it. At first, she opposed it saying there was too much work at the farm that she could not manage alone. I promised to get her a farmhand before I left. She then resorted to saying how dangerous the city was. Declan helped me on this side, telling her that times had changed and that it is very safe lately. After lengthy deliberations, she reluctantly agreed to let me go but I had to promise to call regularly and keep her posted about my progress there. I immediately jumped and hugged her tightly, expressing my gratitude for her permission. I had to make sure she was completely comfortable with the idea. She had become sensitive after my father’s death that I never wished to subject her to any form of heartbreak, seeing her sad always gnawed ay my feelings.
I hurriedly packed a few necessities in a suitcase and took enough cash to see me through the first few months. Saying goodbye was the hardest part. My mother’s tears made it even harder. She made me promise to come home often.
“Will you bring me a car?” Billy, my 5-year old bother asked matter-of-factly.
“Sure thing Billy, I will bring you one that can move without being pushed.” I told him as he smiled widely.
“Me I want a doll, a beautiful Barbie with golden hair.” Sandy, our 3-year old last born said innocently.
“I will sweetheart.” I assured her, kissing her on the cheek.
I gave my mother an emotional hug and immediately turned away to the gate so that they could not see the tears that were welling up in my eyes.
“It will be okay buddy.” Declan assured me as he patted me on the back. We did not wait for long before a bus heading to the city pulled over at the bus stop. We jumped in and Declan gave some card to a man in what appeared like a pilot’s uniform and he swiped in twice on some device he held in his hands. We were lucky to get two adjacent seats in the middle.
A kid in the seat in front was staring at us intently. Declan made a face at him and he recoiled to his mother’s lap. After about two hours, the landscape started changing. Storied buildings started replacing trees and grass on the sides of the road. Our driver had to slow down because of the increasing traffic. As we moved closer to the city, buildings started becoming taller, roads became wider, and there were more luxurious-looking cars on the road. A short while later, the bus pulled up behind other identical buses. People streamed out, stretching and yawning. The city had changed so much that I could not remember anything from the days I visited as a child. There were new roads, some over my head, more elegant buildings, and glittering billboards everywhere. There was hardly a plant or soil anywhere. It was a concrete jungle. Declan signaled for a taxi and one pulled over by our side. The driver took to my suitcase to the trunk and we were off.
“Tinsville” Declan told the driver and he nodded in response.
The taxi driver weaved us about the traffic expertly and a short while later he pulled beside a row of identical apartments. I took out a few bills and handed them over to Declan to pay our fare but he shook his head and handed the taxi driver a card, which he proceeded to swipe in a device similar to the one the attendant in the bus had. We thanked the driver and got out. We went into the apartment and headed for a bank of elevators beside the lobby. Declan pressed a button and the door slid open.
“Eight,” Declan said to some panel and it immediately zoomed us up at a dizzying speed. The doors slid open in the eighth floor. We got out and headed to Declan’s house. He entered some digits to a panel on the side of his door. A blue light came up and he placed his thumb over it. The door clicked open. I was quite amused with how everything worked. He welcomed me into the house, drew the curtains, and showed me around. The kitchen, washrooms, the guest bedroom, his, and the door to a balcony.
“You hungry?” He asked.
“Not very.” I responded.
He got some fruit juice and some rolls for both of us. He switched on the TV but there was nothing worth watching. He took a shower and I followed suit after he was done. He helped me set up the guest bedroom I would be using in his place. We then left for a place where he said he usually hangs out with his friends. He must have been very popular over there because all patrons new him by name. After greetings and introductions to some people, we joined some of his friends in a corner table.
“Decs, welcome man. How has your vacation been?” A man with a moustache and a ponytail addressed him from behind a cloud of cigarette smoke.
“Fine, fine Riggs, how are you and the boys doing?” He asked. This went on until he had exchanged pleasantries with all the four men on the table.
“This is Roy, a buddy of mine” He introduced me. I nodded in affirmation as I shook hands with each of them. They welcomed me and Riggs ordered some stiff drinks for us. After about an hour, Declan begged his friends to let us leave because we needed to get some rest. They agreed with a promise to catch up later mid-week. Nightfall had already set in but the street seemed to teem with even more people. There were lights everywhere that the concept of time seemed irrelevant. Declan got some groceries from a store near his apartment and we went back to his house. He prepared mashed potatoes, some tasty meat I did not recognize, and steamed vegetables. He then spelt the Do’s and Don’ts amid the meal. I helped him clear the table and did the dishes a short while later. We then watched the late night news. My head was getting a bit heavy, so I excused myself and headed to bed. I fell asleep almost immediately after pulling covers over my head.
Declan roused me at five the following morning. We needed to have an early start that morning because he wanted us to be at the HR manager’s office before other activities weighed him down. Each of us had a shower, then a quick breakfast. We then headed for a designated spot a few meters from the apartment, where a staff bus for the company he worked for would pick us. About five minutes later, a cool looking bus rolled over and stopped where we were. Declan, me and five other people got into the bus and it smoothly proceeded to its destination. Along the way, it made three stops and more people got in. The company was conglomerate of units that specialized in the manufacture of various brands of soft drinks, energy drinks, and mineral water.
The HR manager’s secretary told us he had not arrived yet. We sat in the lobby for about half an hour. I was nervous but Declan assured me there was no reason to be afraid. There were plenty of jobs available since the company had opened up a new unit and they were in the process of recruiting new staff. A short stocky man came in through the doors and Declan immediately shot up from his seat and greeted him cordially. I followed suit and the man grabbed my hand tightly looking me straight in the eye and laughing as if he had known me the whole of his life. He then proceeded to his office and we followed him. Declan introduced me to the man as he nodded enthusiastically, looking at me all the time. He asked what I did for a living and I told him. He asked for other information such as level of education, age, marital status, and the region I came from. I answered the questions truthfully. He then pulled out some paper and asked me to fill in the required information. This I did after which he instructed Declan to take me to some other office. This one looked like a doctor’s office. The man we found inside took my temperature, blood sample, as well as weight. He then instructed us to wait for about a quarter an hour as he ran some tests. Once the results were out, he gave us some document, which we took to another office down the same block. A sullen woman took the form without saying as much as a greeting and fed the details into a computer. She gave me a printout, which had details such as my full names, terms of employment, salary among other details. I went through it casually, signed, and gave it back to her. She made a copy of it and gave it to me. She then instructed me to wait in another room. Declan said the process was as good as over and left for his office with a promise to catch up later.
The room looked like a classroom, with seats for about two dozen people, desks and a giant black screen on the front. After close to half an hour, two men came in, greeted me, and took seats. Thereafter people trickled in until the room was a half full. A man in a white dustcoat came in, greeted us, and pressed a button on the giant screen to turn it on. He then operated a hand-held device, the size of a smartphone, and charts appeared on the screen. We spent the rest of the morning learning about the various production processes in the company and the type of machines used. In the afternoon, we were assigned into various fields depending on factors such as education and skills. The little training I had in chemical analysis landed me the role of testing finished products for chemical properties. My role was to ensure they met the minimum requirements the company had set. Further training would take place the following day. I called Declan and informed him I was free to leave. He had about two more hours so he sent me some pass code I would use to open the door. The staff bus dropped me and a few other people at the point it had picked us earlier. I made my way to the apartment, got to the elevator, said “eight”. It zoomed me up to the eighth floor and I proceeded to the door. I entered the pass code on the panel but it would not open. I called Declan and informed him of the predicament. He confirmed that he had deactivated the finger print scanner and resent the code but it would not open. He asked me the door’s number. I texted him “658.” It is then that he told me I was in the wrong apartment. I needed to move one block further. I felt really stupid and left hurriedly lest someone found me and thought I was a burglar. At the right apartment, the door opened without trouble and I sighed in relief. I called my mother and informed her how I was doing so far. She was happy to hear I was fine and had got the job without much trouble.
The rest of the week was typically about polishing my knowledge on how to test products for various properties. The following week the real work started but it was not very demanding as the process was heavily automated. My work was to take samples of the soft drinks at specified intervals, squeeze a few drops into a machine, press some buttons, and check the values on a monitor. If they were satisfactory, I would give a signal that all was good and packaging could go on. If the values deviated from the norm, the process halted and corrections made. The first month flew by without much trouble. I received my first pay and could afford my own place. Declan helped me find a suitable one-bedroom house. We started seeing each other less but spent most weekends together.
At work, I was developing feelings for Lacy, my supervisor. She was a lovely outgoing lady. She would spend most of her time at my station before moving to other areas. Her shift ended earlier but she always waited for me and we would leave together. We started dating and before long, she started seeing me at my place. She would spend two or three nights at my place but this increased until she literally moved in. The closet was full of her clothes and shoes. Declan was happy for me but cautioned me to be careful because he heard she used to be the HR manager’s mistress. I asked her about this and she assured me that it was long ago, and that she really did not love him. We were head over heels in love and I intended to take her home to meet my family soon. She did not speak much of her parents and I did not want to push her. Maybe they were not on good terms. She had a sister who was ever drunk. She would occasionally lend her money to sort out personal issues but I suspect she ended using most, if not all of it, on drugs. Lacey occasionally sent money home to support her younger siblings who were still in school. Perhaps this was the reason she was ever short of cash, despite the handsome pay she received at work.
At the end of the third month, our unit of the company had a bonding retreat. We played some team sports such as canoeing, tug-of-war, among others. In the evening, we were treated to a gala affair. Drinks were free flowing and there was a lot of food for everyone. Lacey was in my company most of the day, our relationship was now an open affair and we were OK with that. Late into the night, the HR manager staggered to where we were and asked Lacey for a dance, she politely turned him down and he was obviously hurt with this. However, this did not deter him, he proceeded to say how much he used to love her and what she was losing in leaving him. He then asked me to excuse them for a minute but I was boiling with jealousy and rage now and told him I would not. After some time, he left, hurling insults as he staggered away. That night Lacey said that she could not accompany me to my place because her sister was in her house and she had to check on her. So we took a cab to her place, I saw her to her door and then left for my place. I was over the limits with my credit card and so had to pay in cash. The cabbie was reluctant to take cash but I told him I had no option. I pulled a wad of crisp notes from my back pocket and gave him twice the amount I was supposed to pay. He took the money smiling and drove off. As I was stuffing the rest into my pocket, I felt a sharp pain on the back of my head. I fell headfirst and hit the concrete painfully. I do not remember what happened next because I woke up in a hospital bed.
Declan was by the side of my bed when I opened my eyes.
“Where am I, what happened?” I asked blinking painfully to keep the harsh white light away.
“Relax, you are in a hospital, you are going to be fine.” Declan said as he pushed me back to bed.
“Hospital, what happened?”
“You got mugged. You’ve lost a lot of blood but you will be ok.” He answered.
“Where is Lacey, does she know?” I asked.
“She’s on her away. I’ve just called her.” He replied.
I closed my eyes and lapsed back into another world of darkness. A moment later, I came to and Lacey was by my side with a bouquet of flowers. We embraced for a while and chatted until the doctor asked them to leave, as he wanted to check on me. Declan, Lacey and two other colleagues left with a promise to come check on me later. The doctor said I was lucky to be alive. I was hit with a blunt object at the back of my head. The consequent fall resulted in a gash on the side of my head that resulted in much blood loss. I stayed in the hospital for another week. Declan came and helped with the discharge process. He took me to his apartment to recover. Lacey came in to see me after four days. Apologizing she had not come sooner. After a further week, I reported to duty only to find someone else had taken my place. I went to the HR manager’s office to sort out the issue but he said his hands were tied and there was nothing he could do at that moment. He promised to look into the matter and would get back to me in a few days. I was entitled to some payoff for the sudden termination of my contract. This was remitted to my account.
I was broken, I knew getting back the job would be difficult, especially after what had happened at the party. Lacey was sorry to hear of my laying off and promised to help me find another job, and so did Declan. I blew the payoff on alcohol. My days were empty and my life had come crashing in an instant. Initially, Lacey came to check on me occasionally. Her visits diminished with time until she stopped coming altogether. She changed her cell phone number and moved to another neighborhood. This hit me hard and I sunk farther into depression. I tried looking for another job but my limited education and lack of experience in other fields proved costly. After 2 months of not paying rent, my agent could not take it any longer and kicked me out of the house. I stayed with Declan for a while. He was now married. One evening he politely asked me to travel back home and wait until he could get me another job. I agreed but did not travel home immediately. It would be too embarrassing after the promises I had made my mother and siblings. I sold the little belongings I had to a thrift shop. I intended to look for odd jobs to keep me going for a while. Initially I spent the nights in parks but this almost got me arrested. I joined some homeless junkies in a subway and stayed with them for a while. One night while loitering in the streets, a group of junkies I knew sped past me shouting “Police, Police!” I immediately took off in their direction. Some officers appeared on the opposite side, effectively sealing our escape as those from behind were now close. I attempted to elude them by crossing the street but it was too late. One of them kicked my feet from behind and I tripped.
We were booked for loitering with intent to commit a crime. I tried to explain that I was not a criminal but they would have none of it. I neither had a job, nor a place of residence—the odds stuck against me. The police remanded us to await formal charges and a trial. After 2 days, they released those of us without any criminal record. I did not have any money with me. I approached an elderly police officer and told him what I had gone through and he sympathized with me. He gave me some money for food and hitched a ride for me in one of his friend’s trucks. I spared some of the money and bought a Barbie doll and a toy car. I could not bear to face my younger siblings without what I had promised them. The trucker dropped me near our place and I thanked him earnestly. I was so weak that I could not be able to walk properly. My mother was in the front yard, worry written over her face. At first, she did not recognize me but once she did, she raced forward in her frail legs. I could not run, so I just ambled forward and fell into her arms. We cried in each other’s embrace for a while. Declan had told her I left he city for home and she was dying with worry after not seeing me for a full week. My younger siblings appeared from the backyard and came forward screaming “Roy, Roy!” Billy asked for his car and so did Sandy her doll. I pulled the gifts from the pockets of my dirty jacket and handed them to each. More tears streamed from my mother’s eyes. We went to the house and my mother prepared a delicious meal of chicken salad. I ate gluttonously but no one seemed to mind.
“Am so sorry mum” I said, barely able to control the sobs that rocked me.
“It’s ok son.” She said engulfing me in another embrace.
“I’ve made mistakes, but I will find another job mum. I will make it up to you.” I said.
“I have a job for you right here.” She said matter-of-factly, looking at me straight in the eyes. She went over the mantelpiece, picked some keys, and gave them to me. I could not believe it. The keys were for an old Massey-Ferguson tractor that had broken down a few years back. We had tried to revive it several times in vain.
“Go give your old mule a test, tomorrow we begin work on the farm.” She said smiling. I ran to the backyard, ripped the canvas cover from the tractor, and jumped into the driver’s seat. I inserted the key into the ignition and turned it anxiously. The old engine coughed to life. Dark smoke billowed from the exhaust pipe as I pressed on the gas. My mom and siblings waved in excitement as I reversed and drove the tractor onto the dirt track. I stopped it, jumped off, and embraced the three of them mumbling my thanks.
“Welcome back home.” My mother said tearfully.