Note: This is a past-day event, i.e. a 'flashback' (start of even-numbered chapters time span events: 2,4,6, etc.)
It is the day before the last school year. As opposed to having previously been dropped at Blackwood with a limousine, my mum has opted to take me around this time. Yeah, I know what you're thinking - the supposed top guy at his school is going to be dropped off by mummy. Frankly, I preferred it as well.
I never seem to get to spend as much time with either of my parents anymore. I suppose after Daniel’s death, none of us seems to have any agency to live life with a sense of gratification. I help my mother put the last suitcase in the trunk. She finalises a couple of things with our security chief and head house help, before getting into the car.
The length of the pathway on this estate feels as if it could be a highway by itself, so unnecessary is its length. We finally approach the gate at the far south end wing. About five hundred miles from the estate we crossed the provincial border into the Free State Province.
Previously when I was chauffeured, the driver would usually choose a longer route. My mum seems to have chosen a different one. After a while, when I began to recognize a few of the landmarks, I realized why my mother took the shortcuts and routes she did. Whenever she used to drop off Daniel, the route she took always got her to the countryside quickly. Daniel used to love watching horses run in the fields; there was something majestic about them. In that instance, a horse ran about a hundred feet from our vehicle. My eyes shifted to it. And as the car covers the narrow country road of the Free State countryside, the horse disappears behind us in a fog. Momentarily, my eyes glide onto my mum’s face, but she keeps her eyes fixed on the road. And for a moment, perhaps I might have been delusional, but a smile appeared on her face. I honestly cannot remember when last I saw one of those on her face.
I tilt my head to the side of the 4X4's passenger door. I became cognizant of the fact that I might as well get a few hours of rest before we arrive at school.
I closed my eyes for a moment, and suddenly, the interaction with my dad the previous night at the dining table invaded my thoughts. The question my dad posed to me last night popped into my mind once more. His eyes pinned me down, almost as if he could stare a hole through me. “So, Erik – tell me, what exactly are your plans for this home stretch?”
“Oh, for fuck sake Erik, you attend the most prestigious school in the country, no screw that, in the whole of the sub-Sahara, and you do not have a clue exactly what is meant by a home stretch?’
“I know, it is just…” I set up straight, irritated by the sudden interrogation.
“So, if I understand correctly, you do not have any?”
“I would suppose that it would be the same as last year, dad. You should probably know this by now.”
“You will have to do better than that, that is not to my liking." He forced the words through his teeth.
“Last year came and passed. What are you doing this year?”
“Well for one, I am president of the student council and – “
“And what?” As obvious as can be, I did not respond to him. “Listen, if I had the same attitude, by doing the same things this year that I did last year, the competition would be way ahead of me, so much so I might as well make peace with the fact that I would have to close the doors of Gemstone-Glide.”
Gemstone-Glide. My dad’s mighty jewellery empire. His entire life revolved around toiling away at that place. He reckons that I should as well.
I suggestively shook my head. “I will take time out to think about it further.”
“You should have already. You have disappointed me honestly. I expected better from you.” He utters the words towards me in a manner that suggests I am one of the directors or senior managers at Gemstone. “You do realise that you are growing up, so bloody hell, get a spine for crying out loud. Stop continuing to carry on living and being like…”
It was then that my mum stood up to put her plate in the dishwasher, and left. Dad quit poking at me and laid significant expectations on me. There was a sudden shift in the atmosphere. The air around us became slightly unbearable to inhale. We all knew what he wanted to say.
Anyways, that was last night. Thankfully my dad is not here. It is just me and my mum now. I continue to make myself comfortable in my seat until we arrive at the school grounds in the next hour or so. The area around here has been significantly developed. Most of the surrounding areas are just farming fields.
As we approach the school terrain of forty-five thousand acres, you can see the modern architecture of the school building. The sporting fields as you look west are finely trimmed and neatly maintained, almost as if professional sports teams would come and play here.
Another twenty feet from the school you can see the hostels. All of them are named after influential people who made strides in their day. The likes of Salvador Dali, Isaac Newton, Nelson Mandela, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Erik Wilson. Okay, I might be lying about that last one. The last hostel is named after Jean-Michel Basquiat, the guy known for his raw gestural style of painting with graffiti-like images and scrawled text.
In the distance was what appeared to be one of those fancy British castle estates. It is where the last remnants of European monarchies send their children or grandchildren to receive an education.
Blackwood International College is an elite school for boys. The school was established about fifteen years ago by an oldie known as Claude Blackwood. The school was built with the aim and vision of 'needing to produce the business leaders of tomorrow.' As far as I know, every year our 'dear headmaster and principal,' Dr D. Paterson practically indoctrinates that vision into every student's head in the opening assembly.
What the poor man failed to disclose was that future business leaders would be building their empires from trust funds that daddy’s dearest left behind for them. Riches that are either earned or stolen.
One of the many golden rules here though. If you have money, keep your trap shut. We do not talk about it, much like we do not talk about wealth in any sense or corruption.
So that is about where I find myself right now, at B.I.C. The place is relatively new, in comparison to the other private and semi-private schools around in this area. It contains a waiting list that stretches across several highways and across several metropolitan areas that connect them.
If one were to carefully analyse that list though, one would discover that most of the entrance exemptions and baselines are near to impossible to reach for most candidates. It is a provision that exploits loopholes in the system. It keeps at bay what my dad would call ‘undesirables.’ This year Blackwood’s student body is only 320.
As I get out of the car to unload, my eyes scan the school terrain. As we walk along the pathway towards the reception area, my eyes glide over the designation board. There are the directions in which the offices and school buildings are situated, right up ahead. The swimming pool, the shooting range, and the tennis court. Rugby, cricket, soccer and hockey fields are located to your left. Somehow, I always scuffle when I see that: hostels and horse stables on the right.
My mum chose to take the elevator to the reception hall. As we approached the parking space, several cars had already taken up residence. Many of them shine in the morning sun. Listen, I do not tell you a word of a lie. I swear at least three-quarters of them are utterly fresh, almost as if they were taken out of the box right about this morning. Well, what do you know? New year, new wheels it seems.
As my mum and I approached the entrance to the reception hall, we were directed to fill in a registration form. Having filled in the form, I picked up my laptop, pulled the sling over my shoulder and grabbed my two suitcases firmly. My mum was approached by a parent and engaged in conversation. I looked in her direction and shook my head slightly to indicate that I would go ahead for the time being. She reciprocated in kind.
"Student Representative Council meeting tonight at seven o'clock." I heard Cedrick Lumbela, the vice president of the SRC say. He slapped one hand on my shoulder. “And dearest do try to be punctual, yeah,” he said sardonically.
“Wait…what? Who sanctioned the meeting?”
“I did,” he said with a base in his voice.
“What might be the reason? You do realise I was elected president right? I am sure you are aware of this by now.”
"Then I guess you should have called for it," he says with a frown on his face, then turns his back and walks away. I swear, I could grab him by the throat and…no, relax, I just cannot right now.
“Trouble in paradise?” someone behind me asks. Justin Goldberg, also known as Bill. A well-built dude who plays alongside me on the school’s first rugby team. He is also quite intelligent, contrary to popular belief. I suppose he always smokes so much that people often overlook him. Hence his constant smile.
“Nothing I cannot handle,” I replied to him.
“How are you doing, man?"
“Solid Bill, how about you?”
“I am cheese and chives baby,” he replies, bursting with laughter. I cannot help but crack a smile as well. “How are things looking? Are you ready for the last year of upstanding duties and mind-boggling?"
“Dude, I so wish it was over already.” I try to tighten my grip around the handles of my suitcase.
“Well, what do you know man, it will be in a heartbeat, then you will be packing those cases back into the trunk, and you would be able to dust yourself off from this place.”
"Wise words, my dear friend, very much so. I do hope you are right.”
Several other guys approached me to greet me and try to shake my hand, but I just nodded my head in response. I honestly do not have the strength right now to indulge any of them. There will be time later for further engagements. For now, I just need to get these cases into my room.
I headed toward House Basquiat, the seniors' hostel. My mum seemed to have caught up with me. It seems as though she managed to get away from whatever conversion she was trapped in.
“Give me one suitcase,” she says. “Thanks, mum, but it’s cool, I can manage.” Seriously, as much as I love my mum, I just cannot afford the spectacle of having the other guys see my mum helping me with my bags.
"Erik, just look at how heavy you are carrying these suitcases. Then at least give me your laptop." Knowing how persistent she can be, I just shook my head, dropped a suitcase, and held out the ladder bag that contained my laptop in it to her.
I honestly do not mean to sound as if I am ungrateful, or complaining. My mum is actually very kind. She seemingly wants what is best at all times. She is a very emotional person. I suppose I get that from her, especially in those moments when I am alone in my thoughts and reminisce about Daniel. So, when she offers to help where she can, her heart truly shows. And although for the most part, it might not appear that way, I also want her to have the best.
To be real for a moment. I am a bit heartbroken for my mum. I know for a fact that the moment she has wrapped up helping me here and helped unpack she will have to go back to that huge property in Sandhurst. There, she only has the television and the house staff to keep her company. My mom is always so supportive of my dad when he needs to attend a work function. Or a ladies' meeting along with the wives of super-rich imbeciles.
“Hey Erick, how are you doing? You seem to be struggling a bit with those cases, huh?” I hear a voice at the entrance to House Basquiat say. Nico Steward, vice principal and deputy headmaster of Blackwood International. "I hope you haven't been slacking off these holidays. We still need you for athletics. Luckily though, your strength lies in the 100 meters, not that of pushing weights.”
The broad smile on my face, which is as false as they come, I responded: "You don't have to worry about that, Sir." I kept the fake expression on my face, which I reserve for moments like this when I encounter educators and have to interact with them.
The moment we entered the room, my mum opened up the window. She has something for the fresh air. “Would you rather not switch on the aircon, mum?” I pointed to the remote that hangs against the wall.
She obliged, closing the window and switching on the aircon. For a moment in silence, I stared at her as she helped me unpack. All of a sudden, I noticed her hands shaking. “And then, what’s up?”
She let out a sigh and looked at the wall. “Your dad,” she said after a while of silence. "He does love you, but he is not necessarily that difficult on you. You know this to be true, right?"
She turns her head at me and I can see the heartache in her eyes. “I just hope that you do not sink like Daniel…”
“Mum, it is okay. I am doing okay. Everything is and will be fine,” I said, pulling her into my arms and giving her a firm hug. She looked at me with a look of relief in her eyes. "Here you go". Pulling out of her bag a couple of hundred bills.
“Mum!” I cried annoyingly. “You do know that I get pocket money, right? This is not necessary.”
“Well, I know, but it’s always handy to have some on hand,” she shrugged.
After that, the unpacking continued. My mum wanted to do it, so I just allowed her to, since it seemed to bring her some pleasure. I carefully closed the door to avoid attracting attention from the other guys.
While mum was busy unloading my luggage, I took a stroll down the hallways, past the bathroom I have to share with three of my neighbours. There is one for every set of four dorms on the seniors' floor. Compared to my previous years with one communal bathroom, I find it quite convenient. Though, if I had the option, I would have much preferred a personal one. The hallway is quite long. I walked until I reached the formal lounge that was reserved exclusively for seniors. The space is primarily used for receiving guests. The lounge reminds me a lot of my dad’s study. Thick red mats, ladder seats and dark wood panels against the wall where some of the modern paintings hang. It is a space that is not very much to my liking, so it will see less of me.
The informal lounge - also known as the hangout - is right next to the formal lounge. The interior is outlined with a huge plasma television, a DVD player with amazing surround sound, a small library and comfortable couches on which you can just chill. Occasionally, the pressure of school can become a bit too much for you, so this can be a nice getaway.
Unlike on the other floors for other grades, there is no study room for seniors. Every guy on this floor studies in his own room. Seniors are supposed to be a responsible bunch. We are also granted the benefit of not having to be constantly checked on, the way other grades are being inspected. However, if you slack, embarrassment will follow you like a shadow. This is because you find yourself having been 'demoted' when you join the eleven graders in their study room.
“Erik!” I hear my mum calling.
“I was wondering where you were."
“Sorry, mum. I was just taking a stroll around the floor. Lower grades are prohibited from coming up here, so we never got to know what the fuss was all about the previous seniors were making.”
“Would you mind retrieving the cooler from the car? We forgot to take it out. I packed some drinks and snacks for you in it.”
I turned and set down the stairs, where I encountered an odd face I could not place among the other guys.
I have never seen him before. Dark hair has not been shaved in a while. His face seemed strangely tense. For quite a while his eyes were fixed on me from underneath his dark eyebrows. He walks down the hallway, carrying a laptop bag over his shoulder. In one hand he holds a piece of folded paper along with a sports bag, and in the other hand, he has a backpack.
I can easily spot a newbie. Well, I’ll be dammed! His dad must have connections in high places, completely out of this world that an admission got finalised this late.
“Hey man, please humour me. Are you sure you are on the correct floor?” I asked when I caught up with him from behind.
“I am sure I can count just about fine,” he says with a grin across his face, while his eyes remain fixed on me.
Mmm, trouble I see. This guy seems like he’s going to be a thorn in the backside.
“Sure, no doubt, but can you count to five? This floor is reserved for seniors only.
“You need no more than zeros and ones,” he said.
I frowned perplexedly at him, not knowing what exactly he meant by that. I can see that he knows that I am aware of that.
“Who are you exactly?” I asked.
He remained silent for a while and just continued to stare at me. “Stevens. The name’s Gregory Stevens.” He then turns and continues walking down the hallway.
I thought to myself, for now, he can walk away, for sure, but we will surely see each other again. Perhaps later this afternoon still. For a newbie, he has quite an attitude about him. We cannot tolerate that. I will ring up a couple of my guys and we’ll sort him out once. That is exactly the same way we will be sorting out the newly arrived eighth graders.
We will quickly loosen up any uptight arse.
Note: This is a present-day event, i.e. (continuation of odd-numbered chapters time span event: 1,3,5, etc.)I firmly gripped the half-burned note in my hand, staring for quite a while at the continuous flashing of the wording on Gregory’s smartwatch. I notice that his running shoes are missing. Then he must probably still be running. I am very much aware that he is fanatical about it. He could run for hours on end in the morning. Sometimes even in the afternoon. Interestingly, he is known to be punctual. So, for the time I have come to know him, he has never been late. It concerns me somehow. Did something happen to him? I try not to ponder too much on the matter. But like a blown-up ball that bounces back when you try to push it down underwater, it keeps popping up in my head.After a while, I subconsciously shrugged my shoulders. Knowingly so with the surety that he might return at some point. Perhaps even with a good tale to tell. Who the heck knows?I decide to leave Greg’s room,
Note: This is a past-day event, i.e. a 'flashback' (continuation of even-numbered chapters time span events: 2,4,6, etc.)The first day of my last school year has been rolling like a long boring flick. Some of the other guys are up quite early already. For once I feel like just sleeping a bit longer for a while. I was not provided that leisure. Bill came knocking on my door and woke me.“Come on Erik, surely the student president should be setting an example for the other guys,” he says sarcastically.“I was not the one who elected myself into office. I shall choose to sleep if I wish,” I answered him sleepy“Oh, thee high and mighty,” giggled Bill. “President, vice president, of the student council. You bunch were likely business transactions, were you not? Contesting to see whose dad could give the school’s budget the best financial boost? Not to speak of those badges on your blazers that were pinned on your chest, is the bloody quotation you will be wearing throughout the year.”“F
Note: This is a present-day event, (continuation of odd-numbered chapters time span evennts: 1,3,5, etc.)It is Friday morning, the day after Greg’s disappearance. The television in the hangout blurs in the hangout. Something about Avian influenza that caused two deaths in England is being broadcast. I am bewildered about the fact as to how the Avian flu has its origin in Hong Kong but had spread rapidly toward the West: The Middle East, Italy, Frans, and England. Even parts of North Africa have been affected, and case there has been detected as well.Gradually the sound of the television fades as the voices in the hostel hallway amplify. It appears as if it is the voices of teachers. Some of the seniors gather in small groups in the hallway.“What the heck is going on?” I ask one of the guys that are in reach.“Gregory has not yet returned,” he said.“Mr Steward, along with a couple of other teachers are in his room.”“Sorry guys,” I say as I forcefully try to get through the crowd t
Note: This is a past-day event, i.e. a 'flashback' (continuation of even-numbered chapters time span events: 2,4,6, etc.)On the quad between the five hostels, there is another water drainage pipe that runs along. It is this iron lid which Cedrick now removes. The metallic sound reverberates through the night. By the windows of the hostels, the rest of the guys stand and look on. They know exactly what is going on, they too went through this.I notice Gregory standing somewhere between all the other guys, while we wait for the eighth graders on the other side. While it appears that he might be standing amongst us, he seems at the same time distant. Arms folded. His eyes intently fixed on the dark hole in the ground.Shadows stretch long dark stripes over the paving. Voices banging against the buildings.We wait, breaths held until... the first pale fingers were folding over the edge of the manhole. Cedrick held out his hand, took hold of the eighth grader’s, and pulled him out. The yo
Note: This is a present-day event, (continuation of odd-numbered chapters time span events: 1,3,5, etc.)By Saturday morning, the news had spread like a flu epidemic to the lower grades. Everyone tries to get information out of the seniors, but because they don't really say anything, the guys make up their own stories. I am on duty in the Basquiat dining hall. Just wander around there listlessly, wishing the bunch would now eat and walk their free-range eggs and other organic food."They got him, guys. For Gregory." an excited voice behind me. I turned around quickly. "Hung from a tree. His tongue so out -" I grabbed the grade-eight guy by the shoulder. Hard. "Where do you hear?" "By Jones," he says, quietly startled. "Who's Jones?"He pointed with his finger. I felt anger take over my body. It's so bad that for a moment I just had to pause and breathe. Calm down. "Tell Jones I will pull his tongue out if he spreads such rubbish again."I walked outside and sat down on the staircase i
Note: This is a past event, i.e. a ‘flashback’ (continuation of even-numbered chapter time span: 2,4,6, etc.)'“What? Are you crazy?" I asked. "Where would I have tried to hack by now?" Gregory Smiled timidly. "Close the door behind you. The Realm of Cyberspace awaits..."Dark words, choking with excitement. Realm. Just the sound of it makes me want to get goosebumps. As if it's Daniel announcing "Hey, bro, we're going to try a new extreme sport. What do you say, are you in?"Gregory turned back to his laptop. "Let me show you. I've been trying to hack this one," he says. "It's a travel agent's website. I ran a show to check for CGI weaknesses and-""Wait, CGI... like the shows they use to make special effects for movies?"Gregory shook his head. "No, it's something else. This CGI is "Common Gateway Interface." It just refers to the way apps on a web server talk to a surfer’s browser.""Why are you doing this?""I'm looking for a place to come in. You can see the company on the other
Note: This is a present-day event (continuation of odd-numbered chapter time span: 1,3,5, etc.)The email slips into cyberspace like a bullet from a silenced pistol. Quiet and deadly. Right on target. The sports day was barely over when I saw a car coming towards the school. The only one arriving, while the others are driving away. I can't be sure if it's them, but a squirm pulls through my body, making my neck hair stand on end. And I wonder... Is this a reporter from one of the news newspapers?There is great excitement in House Basquiat's corridors. Blackwood College crushed Lockwood Boys High. In the Hangout, someone starts playing a rugby CD very loudly. Yeah, no, money can't buy good taste either.I was just aiming towards my door to go for a walk around the other floors, seeing if everything was alright there when JT and Bill came rushing on. They bundled me back into my room. "Hey, my dude, you should have seen it," Bill says, his arm around JT's neck and his fist in the air.
Note: This is a past event, i.e. a ‘flashback’ (continuation of odd-numbered chapter storyline: 2,4,6, etc.)That's the day after I saw Gregory hack the travel agent's system. And the first morning Gregory came to wake me up. "While Zeus, the ruler of Olympus, lies sleepily folded in Hypnos' wings, his son Heracles' ship runs aground on Kos again today," he says."What the hell?" I asked through sleep."Never mind. Move your arse and get up," he replied. I open one eye and lift myself on my elbows. Gregory is in his workout clothes. Sweat gleamed on his body."Are you crazy? Have you gone jogging already?" I asked."Always. The only time to think clearly, so early in the morning. Come on, get a move on, it's almost time for breakfast."The day drags around. At the behest of Doc, I must accept the SRC over their "deplorable discipline." Mr Steward showed up halfway through the meeting. Spying on us, as if we didn't know. "Would you like to add anything else?" I asked until I finished m