A healthy person who begs for food is an insult to the generous farmer~ Ghanaian Proverb
Ava’s strongest memory of her father was the day he left. Memory is a weird thing, Ava thought as her toothbrush slowly crept into the inside of her jaws. It’s bristles were running out of power. She made a mental note to leave it in the sun to recharge when they landed. Do I have more of my father in me? she wondered, looking at her high cheekbones in the mirror. Her mother had deleted all the photographs of him and there was nothing online,not even an archived Facebook profile. The only thing she had left of her father was the slave collar around her neck. She stroked her neck, pausing over the bruising where the metal grazed her skin.
“May I have your attention please, may I have your attention please,” a miniature hologram cooed as it appeared on the edge of the sink, followed by a beeping noise. The hologram, no bigger than a doll, had on green slacks, a black blouse and a red headwrap. She wore a tag on her blouse. U.T.A Impi, Border Security Division. “You are now entering U.T.A airspace. All non-residents of the U.T.A must proceed to wear the Visitor’s Anklet before landing.” The hologram disappeared.
Ava removed her collar and applied some shea butter around her neck. She then put a layer of yellow ankara fabric over the collar. Jamal had a better memory of dad, she thought as she locked the collar back around her neck. But now, even the memory of her brother was fading. There is something about forgetting someone: they wither away limb by limb until all that’s left is bare bones. A skeleton of distortions. It must have been a Sunday when their father left, but she couldn’t be sure. Ava was six, in a sky blue dress with frills that made her look like a bird. Her mother had put a rainbow of beads in her braided hair. Jamal was in his best (and only) suit, he couldn’t wear a tie because of the collar but his face shined with vaseline; he was just thirteen. Dad said goodbye before they left for church; they never saw him again. He fixed Jamal’s tie and played with Ava’s beaded braids. Ava could remember a large scar on his palm, but it was so long ago that she dismissed it as another distortion.
Rinsing her mouth, she put Jamal and her father out of her mind. She opened the door that led to the front seat of the Matutu where Ayanda was reading a dusty-looking book. The cover of the book was in N’ko ߒߞߏ, the ancient writing system of the West African Peninsula that all other U.T.A tribes had adopted and adapted to their own languages. She picked out certain letters like ߟߐ and tried to put them together to decipher the title.
“The com…pl…ple…te…complete…,” Ava said as she struggled to read from right to left as her previous guide had taught her. “Te…Te…Teachings of Chiwoniso: Healing & Herbs.”
“That’s impressive, I only fully mastered N’ko when I was 12,” Ayanda said putting down the book. “My whole family thought I was illiterate and hopeless! Not many people, even those who grow up in the U.T.A can grasp N’ko.” The autopilot sign was flashing on the screen besides him, and next to it flashed Visitors Anklet in bright red letters. Ayanda tapped on the screen and an ankle bracelet materialized. It had two transparent beads with something blue flashing inside them.
“It’s a monitor,” Ayanda said, noticing Ava’s curious stare. “It’s for your safety. It monitors your vitals and location so that you have a safe stay here. If you are in danger,, the Impis or Doc Bots can be dispatched to you immediately.”
“So it knows where I am all the time?” Ava asked raising her eyebrows. “Is that why I didn’t need a passport for this trip? This ankle whatever is pretty much it?”
“You won’t even notice it’s there!” Ayanda said with a chuckle, his dreads falling over his shoulder as he chuckled. “The U.T.A is the only place in this world that has achieved open borders, but homecomers are asked to wear the bracelets until they choose to be permanent residents. Ready to put it on?” Ayanda said with a smile.
Ava took it into her hands and slipped it onto her right foot. “Wow, this really feels like nothing is on there.”
The Visitor’s Anklet sign stopped flashing.
“What were you reading?” Ava asked sitting down in the passenger seat next to Ayanda. There were clouds around them, fluffy things with patches of blue in between.
“Research,” Ayanda said with a nervous smile as he stood up to retrieve something from a transparent compartment. It was a bottle of juice called Mazoe. The labels on the packaging were in N’ko characters too. “I’m training for…well, this is what I want to do…I want to heal people the old way.”
“Like herbalism?” Ava said, looking at Ayanda as the Matatu drifted ahead. “I read….I mean, there isn’t much information available online about it since everything about the U.T.A is such a secret…I read that only a select few were allowed to do that craft now…the Mhohoro?”
“M’hondoro,” Ayanda corrected. His cool was gone. He squirmed a little in his seat. “It’s why I have to get back so soon. I can’t miss the Naming Ceremony, it’s tomorrow. The Naming of the next line of M’hondoros.”
“There are only six of them at a time in each tribe right?” Ava confirmed.
“Yes! You will get to see it all tomorrow!” Ayanda exclaimed. “You can come to the ceremony with the rest of my family.”
“It’s really nice that you family is hosting me on such short notice,” Ava said.
“They can’t wait to meet you. They love homecomers,” Ayanda said. “My dad is a great cook. He is braaing tomorrow after the Naming Ceremony to welcome you home. You will love his grilled zebra, not mention his ostrich!”
“Braai?” Ava repeated a little confused.
“Ahh sorry sorry, you haven’t been exposed to all the lingo yet!” Ayanda said smiling again. “It’s what you would call a barbecue.”
He paused for a second, and then grinned mischievously. “Wanna see something cool?” He tapped the screen and the Matatu shot up into the air.
“What are you doing?” Ava asked as they flew higher and higher, the seat belt automatically strapped itself around. The Matatu stopped suddenly in the air.
“This is called the Sky Lookout Point,” Ayanda said, pointing downwards. “Look down there.”
Ava looked outside; brown and green patches of land were visible in-between the clouds. She could make out the outline of the continent. She gasped. The horn of the continent and the northern chunk were split from the rest in what looked like a jigsaw waiting to be completed. Not too far behind the horn were other U.T.A islands like New Madagascar.
“That must be the Fashamo Ocean that was created when the continent split!” Ava exclaimed taking out her phone and snapping photos. “It’s amazing. I’ve seen maps but seeing all the different islands in U.T.A is just crazy,” Ava said, taking out her phone and snapping photos. She couldn’t help repeating herself: “This is really amazing.”
“Have you heard of the story of what happened?” Ayanda asked. Ava shook her head.
“A long, long time ago. Africa was wasting away and there were no signs of any change for the better. People wondered: how could the world’s richest continent be home to such poverty? Africa endured centuries and centuries of misfortune, people drowned in unforgiving oceans in search of better lives while their leaders lined their pockets and perpetuated the vicious cycle. It seemed to get worse with each new day. It was at this moment that a child was born. No one quite knows if it was a boy, a girl or both, nor from where exactly in Africa this child came maybe it was from everywhere. We call this child Mwana wevhu, child of the soil. Some say mwana wevhu was from Southern Africa, some say he or she was a Horn African. Others say Northern. The West Africans were certain the child grew up somewhere near Old World Senegal. No one knows for sure. What we do know is that this young African child grew up in a poor village, suffered through malnutrition, civil war and disease throughout its life. Tired of this life, Mwana wevhu decided to end it all by hanging itself from a tree outside the village. Mwana wevhu cried to the ancestors for forgiveness and for them to ease the pain. In the child’s dying moments, it cursed the ancestors and the gods for abandoning Africa to squalor. As Mwana wevhu took one last breath, the earth cracked open where the tree stood. It is said that beneath that tree was where the true African god had been trapped in the earth by the gods of other nations. When the earth cracked open the Africa god was released from prison, escaping through the cracked earth leaving it’s tears from years of seeing its people suffer to form an ocean as its spirit escaped back into sky. It was when our true god, the god M’wahari, was freed that things turned around for the continent.”
“Wasn’t it just plate tectonics?” Ava said before she could stop herself.
“I know I say this as I sit in a flying car made possible by tech, research and development,” Ayanda said, “but science doesn’t explain everything.”
Ayanda tapped the screen and the Matatu began to cruise downwards to land.