Part II: Matatu in the A.M
“By the time the fool has learned the game, the other players have dispersed.”- Ashanti proverb
Vacant eyes stared past Ava and onto some unseen distance. Her mother, Charity, sat in a rocking chair in the common area near the staircase. She had been this way since Jamal’s funeral. Sometimes she cracked a smile. There was something very innocent and childlike about her smile, as if she didn’t have full control of her facial muscles anymore. These smiles were rare, coming once or so every month. Ava wondered what caused them and if they were a key to breaking her mother’s vegetative state. The doctor said there was nothing they could do for her. They are wrong, Ava said to herself. If I had the money, I could get you a Doc Bot to help you, mom.
Charity’s thin grey dreadlocks moved to reveal a label on her shirt. Hope House. Ava narrowed her eyes. She disliked that her mother and the other residents had to wear the same discolored black shirt and grey sweaters with holes in them. But the staff at Hope House said the uniform made it easier to track down any runaway residents. Ava really couldn’t complain. Everyone on welfare had to go here. Everywhere else had Doc Bots but those were expensive to buy and the Medical Programmers that operated them had the salaries of rockstars.
Hope House was an old, abandoned two-storey house that had been turned into a mental health facility for Ava’s neighborhood. There was one doctor who came by every other month, two nurses and one volunteer to look after the residents. It was no surprise, then, that residents went missing and could not be located for weeks. But Charity was one of the nurses’ favorite residents. She just stayed in the rocking chair all day, clutching in her hands a bloodstained basketball shirt, about big enough for a teenage boy. The only time anyone got a reaction out of Charity was when they tried to take that shirt away from her; they stopped trying when she bit a nurse in the ear.
“I’m leaving for the United Tribes of Africa tomorrow, mom,” Ava said to her mother, leaning in close to the rocking chair. Her mother blinked. “I won’t be able to come see you for a year, mommy, but I promise this is for you. I’m doing all of this for you, you’ll see.” Charity blinked again. Her child-like smile had vanished.
“Visiting hour is almost over!” barked a red-headed nurse who was sitting on a worn-out couch reading a magazine. She didn’t look up from her magazine. Ava was the only person that ever came for visits, so she knew it was directed at her. Another resident, around Ava’s age, ran past Ava screaming. The nurse put down her magazine and pursued him.
“I’m so sorry I have to leave you alone here for a year mom,” Ava said hugging her mother. She was a limp figure in Ava’s arms, but she stubbornly held onto the basketball shirt. Ava planted one final kiss on her mother’s cheeks and walked out of the building. She raced towards her apartment block. She didn’t like walking outside for too long when the sun was setting.
Ava’s neighborhood, Rockville Park, had remained largely untouched by all the massive developments in the rest of Atlanta. The super-trees, the giant tree-like structures that stood taller than the rest of the buildings with vines and hedges built into their walls to make the city more green, the fastest underground and overhead transporters, and even the Autonomous Flying Vehicle route were nowhere near her neighborhood. She had to take the old overhead trains that never ran on time and a bus that should have been decommissioned by the National Environmental Protection Agency to get to a zone with the more efficient air transportation. Not many people in her neighborhood had even been inside an AFV.
Rockville Park was made up of graffiti-filled apartment buildings sandwiched together, leaving no room for alleys after all the buildings had been extended five years ago to make room for more people. Ever so often, gunfire would erupt close by, police sirens soon after. Men with shifty eyes would stand at corners unbothered by the sound. The neighborhood seemed stuck in a different era, unable to progress with the rest of Atlanta. Ava closed her eyes and tried to hold onto the sounds she liked as she walked into her apartment; laughter as little girls played double dutch after school, little boys chasing each other with makeshift lazer guns, beauty salon gossip, hip hop and jazz booming from nearby speakers and the occasional rough squeak of a bed.
“You been seeing that crazy mother of yours again?” Darell remarked as Ava walked into her mother’s apartment. Darrell, her mother’s boyfriend around the time when Jamal died, still in his security guard uniform was seated by the kitchen table staring at his phone. He didn’t look up when Ava walked in. “She ain’t never coming back to us, you need to give up child.”
“Like you gave up on her?” Ava retorted heading to her room.
“I’m not the one leaving for another continent here,” Darrell said, eyes still fixed on his phone. “Your crazy mother needs-
“Don’t call her that!” Ava yelled. “You know what, I’m not going to fight with you on my last day here.”
“I called her crazy before she...before she,” Darrell’s voice broke, “before she ended up in that godforsaken place. I guess she just went and proved me right.” The last part was barely a whisper.
“I will probably be gone by the time you come back from work tomorrow,” Ava concluded, trying to sidestep the kitchen table to get to her room. Darrell suddenly got up from the chair and grabbed hold of Ava’s arm.
“It may not seem like it but I will miss you kid, you are the only thing left to remind me of your mother around here,” Darrell confessed. Ava noticed that his phone on the kitchen table still had a photo of Ava’s mom as his screensaver.
“You could go see her,” Ava remarked, removing Darrell’s hand from her arm. “I’m doing this for her. What’s your reason for not being there?”
“You think you are better than everyone here Ava,” Darrell declared. “That’s your problem. You think you are above Rockville, that’s why you couldn’t wait for this birthright trip to come along. Well in my day we didn’t have the option to run off to Africa when things got tough out here. We stuck around and worked with what we got.”
“There is something better for us outside Rockville!” Ava asserted. “You think this is the way we are supposed to live forever? Being gunned down and driven into rundown mental hospitals while everyone else lives in green towers and drives fucking flying cars?”
“How will going to Africa solve your problems? Huh?” Darrell questioned. “You ain’t never going to be African. Rockville is your home.”
“We can get out,” Ava said between gritted teeth. “I’ll prove it.”
“The African Dream is going to break your poor little heart and you going to know that I was right all along,” Darrell insisted. “But you’ve made up your mind. You’re stubborn just like her.”
“Anyways I have something for you,” Darrell continued. “It was your mother’s. I think she would have liked you to have it.” Darrell held a bracelet in his hands. It was a golden cuff bracelet; her mother liked to wear it when she was going somewhere fancy. “Something to remember your mother by when you out there.”
Ava accepted the bracelet with a lump in her throat.
“Maybe a year away from here will let you realize I’m not the bad guy here Ava. Go to your precious Africa, let’s see if it’s all that they say it is.”
The shriek of Ava’s Bitmoji woke her up at 1 A.M.. The Bitmoji Alarm automatically analyzed it’s owner’s sleep patterns and daily schedule and sounded without needing to be set. Ava cursed herself for not disabling the feature. Who the hell thought it would be a great idea to wake people up with the sound of their own shriek, Ava groaned to herself.
“Shut up Avamoji,” Ava groaned from underneath her covers as her bitmoji continued to scream.
“This is not an alarm, it’s an emergency call,” her Bitmoji said in-between shrieks. Ava jumped out of her bed and grabbed her phone. Her Bitmoji immediately went into sleep mode.
It was the Kuuya Kumba caller ID that flashed on her phone. Ava’s heart skipped a beat.
My ride to the U.T.A is at 9am, she thought to herself. Why were they calling so early?
With a shaky hand Ava swiped on her screen to accept the call. Orisa’s hologram appeared in the room.
“Har fa Ava, sorry to call on you so early.” Orisa said her voice filling the room. “We have a development that needs your attention.”
“What happened? What’s wrong?” Ava asked quickly, her stomach tightening.
“As in eh!” Orisa said putting her hands behind her head in resignation. “Unfortunately, your guide Uchi resigned oh. I’m sorry that it had to happen so near our trip.”
“What? Is everything okay with her?” Ava remembered all her video chats with Uchi. She was a bubbly young woman who said she had been a culture guide for a year. Ava thought she had bonded with her.
“She could not tell you herself but she wishes you a good trip,” Orisa said. “There is anoda person who is available to be your culture guide but he was already planning on leaving for the U.T.A at 3am this morning. Do you think you would be ready to leave at 3am? If that works for you, your new guide is Ayanda. You can review his record on file and his credentials to pilot a long distance Autonomous Flying Vehicle in the meantime. Apologies for the short notice.”
“Yeah, sure,” Ava said wiping her eyes and yawning.
“Are you all packed up?” Orisa asked.
“I only have a backpack anyway,” Orisa said grabbing her bag that was on the floor. “I just need to shower and then catch the train-
“Ayanda will be coming to get you in an AFV, he is on his way already,” Orisa said. “You can shower in the AFV.”
“Wait, there aren’t any AFV routes near my neighborhood, how will he get here-
“He has a Diplomatic AFV, and they are allowed to go off the standard routes,” Orisa said.
“Is my new guide someone important or something?” Ava said narrowing her eyes.
“I’m sorry for the inconvenience.” That was all Orisa gave in the way of explanation. “Ayanda is 2 mins away. He will be outside your window soon.”
“What?!” Ava said, finally shaking the sleep off. She was in a t-shirt large enough to be a dress. She ran to a chair to grab a pair of sweatpants as headlights flashed through her window momentarily blinding her. Ava blinked twice. The AFV didn’t look like any she had seen before. AFV’s were polished silver drone-like objects that gleamed in the sun with two wings that whirred and elegantly cut through the air and had glass suicide doors that opened slowly upwards. The AFV outside Ava’s window looked like a minivan out of a children’s coloring book. It was green, yellow, red, and blue with splashes of pink here and there. It stood outside her window shaking unsteadily.
“Is this going to fly us all the way to Africa?” Ava asked raising her eyebrows incredulously. Orisa chuckled. “No offense, but I thought Africa was all advanced now, I thought your AFV’s would look more like…you know…spaceships…UFOs?”
“Of course it will get you to the Continent in no time!” Orisa exclaimed. “Our AFV’s are somewhat unorthodox. We modelled them after Matatus, the old informal public transportation minibuses that were used by most Old World African countries.”
“Yeah, well, this….Matatu…looks like its about to drop out of the sky any minute now,” Ava said doubtfully. It looked like the type of vehicle to eject exhaust fumes. The color scheme on the vehicle was hurting her eyes; she had never seen anything so colorful. “I don’t have a death wish and I don’t want to be fined by the Carbon Police. What was that new law? Every passenger in an environmentally unfriendly vehicle is fined right?”
Ava opened her small window. A figure rolled down the Matatu’s window and waved from inside.
“I’m so sorry for the early call, there is usually no hurry in Africa, but I must get back to my duties as soon as possible, ” Ayanda said to her with an embarrassed smile as he opened the vehicle’s front door. The door opened in the same way that ground vehicles did. It was so odd to see on a flying vehicle. “Could I come in?” Ayanda jumped into the fire escape, squeezed through Ava’s window and landed in her room.
“Hey Orisa, nice to see you again,” Ayanda said with a smile, as if he were greeting an old friend. “I’m glad they assigned Orisa to you, she is the best hologram at Kuuya Kumba.”
“Don’t listen to this one, basket-mouth with a quick tongue oh,” Orisa said shooing away his compliments with a hand. Ava didn’t know it was possible for a black hologram to blush until now.
Ayanda was the color of space, dark but everything around him lit up you couldn’t notice anything else but his bright energy. He had thick shoulder-length dreadlocks like Ava’s mom, except that while hers were grey at the roots, his were tinted a gingery brown at the ends. He was wearing white sneakers, denim jeans and a Basotho traditional blanket over his shoulders that made him look like he was draped in a comfy robe. Ayanda’s muscles peeked out from underneath the blanket and Ava nearly laughed out loud at his deliberate coolness. He adjusted the blanket quickly to cover his upper body. The blanket was maroon with elaborate leaf patterns on it. He looked like high fashion meets street couture.
“My name is Ayanda,” he said extending his hand. “I feel really terrible to have to rush your trip.”
Ava ignored his hand. She cupped her hands as if she were waiting for rain to fall into her hands and brought them over each other. She clapped her cupped hands over each other, the sound was sonorous in the small room.
“Wakadini? I’m going to live among the Shona people, I might as well start greeting like them,” Ava chuckled nervously as she went into a brief curtsy. She felt awkward curtsying in her sweatpants and baggy shirt. “You don’t need to shake hands for my benefit, let’s do it the Shona way.”
Ayanda took a long look at her and smiled. He had a big encouraging smile that made his eyes shine. Nodding his head, he withdrew his hand. He then cupped his hands together and bowed to her.
“Ndiripo,” Ayanda said in response to the greeting. “Wakadini zvako?”
“Ndiri…”-Ava stammered through the word for “I’m fine,” she couldn’t quite get the ring of it during her Shona language lessons with Uchi- “…po.” She appreciated that Ayanda let her finish getting through the word without attempting to correct her.
“Ndafara kukuziva,” Ayanda said . I’m pleased to meet you. “You’ve mastered the traditional greeting very well, I think you are going to charm all The Elders.”
“That’s the plan,” said Ava with a nervous giggle. She wondered what the Elders would be like.
“But if you want to impress the young people this is more modern,” Ayanda said going into a fist bump. “Ndeip.”
“Ndeip?” Ayanda said confused, meeting his hands in a fist bump.
“It means ‘What’s up?” Ayanda said with a smile. “You’ve got everything for the trip?” Ayanda asked looking around. Ava became conscious of how small and messy her room was. She nodded.
“Your carriage awaits then, madam,” Ayanda said doing a very terrible impersonation of a British accent, motioning towards the window.
“Ewww, please don’t do that again,” Ava said and they both laughed.
“Your Matatu awaits mwanasikana,” Ayanda said as Ava climbed through the window. “Handeyi Ava.” Let the journey begin.
The Crossing is a micronovel in the genre of Afrofuturism written in honor of Black History Month. It will be published in excerpts every second Wednesday.