UNDER THE MANGO TREE
NOTE: All the characters in this story are products of the imagination of the author and have no connection whatsoever with anyone bearing the same names. All the incidents are pure invention.
Events in the prologue to the story happened in Ofure village in Edo state, Nigeria. Here’s a link to the Prologue, if you missed it:
Now, the real story begins……
The Hatfield Gautrain station was bustling with rush hour commuters when he finally arrived there. He had risen early enough that morning, determined not to be late to the station. He didn’t want anything to prevent him from arriving in time for his interview appointment at the US Consulate in Johannesburg. He had laid out his suit, shirt, tie and shoes before going to bed and it took him no time at all to get dressed. He checked his folder for the last time to be sure that all the documents he needed were inside, locked his door, and stepped out into the early morning cold.
He cheerfully acknowledged the greeting of the guard on duty at the estate security gate who opened the gate for him.
“Sir, what about your car?”
“I took it in for servicing yesterday and the garage will only be through with it today,” he told the guard.
He would take a taxi from the front of the gate to Hatfield and hop on the first available train to Johannesburg, he thought. Standing just outside the gatehouse where he had a clear view of the road, he wondered why there were no taxis coming along. He had been standing there for at least fifteen minutes. His mind flashed back to the very first time he took a taxi in South Africa soon after he arrived in the country. A neighbour had told him to raise a finger to the sky as a sign to the taxi driver that he was a commuter. He stood in front of the house which was right along a major road and waited for over thirty minutes to raise his finger to any taxi that came along. But he saw no taxi. He went back into the compound to complain to the neighbour that no taxis were coming along.
The neighbour looked at him with a faint smile on his face.
“Are you sure? I thought you were long gone,” he said.
“What do you mean am I sure? Am not blind,” he retorted.
“But a taxi just passed now, as we speak,” said Thabo, the neighbour, the silly smile still on his face.
“Which taxi? That white bus that just passed?”
“Yebo, that is the taxi,” Thabo told him, his smile now growing into laughter.
In Nigeria where he came from, taxis are small cars, usually painted in specific colours. He had been looking out for something like that all the while, not Toyota Quantum buses like the one that just passed. Those ones are used for long distance travels. But he soon learnt that small commuter cars are called cabs in South Africa.
“Sir, it’s a bit early to get a taxi from here. It’s better to go to Solomon Mahlangu where you’ll find taxis going straight to town”.
The security guard’s voice brought him back to the present.
“Oh, thanks,” he said to the guard and started off on the half-kilometre or so distance to the highway. He could see taxis going both ways as he approached Solomon Mahlangu Road. It was a good thing he had woken up early, he thought, looking at his watch.
05:21.That was impossible! He had risen from his bed at 05:00 to the chime of his phone alarm earlier. How could it still be 05:21? He looked closely at his watch again, putting it against his right ear almost at the same time. There was no tick-tock-tick-tock. Behold, the damned thing had stopped working! He reached for his pocket to check the time on his phone. No phone in the right pocket of his trousers. He checked the left pocket, the back pockets (though he rarely put his phone there), patted the breast pockets of his jacket. No phone. Then he remembered.
He had a habit of playing music on his phone while in the bathroom. He had forgotten to take the phone from the bathroom windowsill where he usually placed it while having his bath. He could feel some tiny beads of sweat breaking out on his forehead. There was no way he was going to Johannesburg without his phone! He had stored in it some vital information he needed for his interview. He had already walked for some 8 minutes, he guessed, and now had to walk back home to get his phone. That would take at least another 15 minutes as his block was far inside the huge Equestria Estate.
The security guard saw him coming, noticed the frantic pace of his steps and the worried look on his face, opened his mouth to ask whether everything was okay, but closed it instinctively and simply opened the gate for him.
It was just as well. He was in no mood to be interrogated. By the time he retrieved his phone and returned to the front of the gate, it was 07:03. His appointment was for 09:00. He appeared to be in luck this time because a minibus taxi soon came along. He was already feeling hot under his jacket after the brisk walk home and back, and was contemplating how he would walk again to the highway. He promptly opened the front door and jumped onto the passenger seat beside the driver, with a “Good morning” which the driver responded to with an indifferent ‘Hi!’ He swung around to look at the inside of the taxi. There were only two passengers huddled on the back seat of the 14-seater bus. His heart sank.
Taxi drivers are known to take every measure to ensure that they have a ‘full load’; in other words, the full number of passengers on every trip. This one was not different. He slowed down and honked at every bus stop, every intersection and on every suspicion that any pedestrian in sight was a prospective passenger. By the time there were two more passengers left for the taxi to be full, he told the driver to proceed that he would pay for the remaining seats – which he did.
It took him under four minutes from the Hatfield Mall, where he alighted, to get to the train station. Still on a trot, card in hand, he meandered around the ticket queue that was fast extending to the entrance, swiped his card at the barrier and disappeared through the escalator to the tunnel.
“The next train to Johannesburg approaching, please keep away from the edge of the embankment and allow passengers to disembark completely before you embark,” came the impassive voice of the station announcer from invisible loudspeakers.
Thank God he had loaded his card the day before or he would have missed the train if he had to queue to buy a ticket, he thought. He looked at his phone as he lowered himself onto the nearest empty seat on the train. The time was 07:52. It would take the train about 40 minutes to get to the Sandton terminus. He browsed his phone to check for WhatsApp messages and settled to read the morning devotion message posted by his church every morning. That done, he quickly ran through the points he had saved in a documents folder as answers to likely questions at the interview, then plugged in his earpiece to listen to some music while he hoped the train would arrive at his destination at the expected time.
“Approaching Sandton. O.R. Tambo passengers, please change train at Sandton station,” came the announcer’s voice.
It was 08:36 when he shot out of the Sandton terminus to wave down the next available cab that would take him to the Sandton Drive offices of the US Consulate.
Was he early for his appointment at the Consulate? Find out in the next episode, coming soon.