A dirty brown smog lay over the city, like an unwashed blanket. The early morning sun peeped over the Drakenstein mountains, casting a soft glow over the waking city.
Ghabeer looked out of the window of seat 3A, business class, British Airways flight 248 from London. Seeing the familiar outline of Table Mountain always made him feel right back home. Even after all the years living in London, New York and Amsterdam, coming in on the early morning flight always put a smile on his face. The thick layer of pollution over the Mother City reminded him of the industrial area in Salt River that his mother worked in, at the old Brickfields road mill back in the 60’s. She had put away something of her tiny pay packet every week, to ensure that Ghabeer would one day get an education and she was determined that he would not fall into the same trap she had, already a pregnant teenager, a dead end job, and no other prospects. Working as a seamstress at the old clothing factory, she pursued every avenue she could, to make sure that the fatherless Ghabeer would one day make it. Thinking back to his mammie now, Ghabeer felt the prickle of a tear in his left eye, and absently wiped at it.
The Boeing 767 banked sharply, giving him a view of the False Bay coastline, as the huge airplane lined up for landing. Mentally pulling himself together, he braced himself for the welcome party that would be waiting for him at the International Arrivals hall at the newly revamped Cape Town International airport. He allowed himself a small smile, which one of the young stewards misinterpreted completely, remembering how that first government tender had set the company up for the success that had followed after 1998.
The huge metal bird touched down without any effort, the sound of the Dunlop’s not even making a sound. Within a few minutes, the plane had taxied to its designated spot at the new arrivals terminal. Ghabeer stood up as the plane came to a deliberate stop, braced himself slightly, and reached up to open the overhead storage compartment. Grabbing the Louis Vuitton bag with his left hand, he pulled out his iPhone and turned it on with his right thumb, quickly scrolling through the messages. He never ceased to be amazed at how many emails he missed while on the London to Cape Town flight, secretly wishing the airlines would get with the program. Mentally, he made a note to raise the latest Wi Fi technology at the next board meeting, and assign some more funds to research and development. Placing the bag on the seat next to the aisle, he straightened his trousers, brushing off some invisible crumbs. An old habit ingrained over years of long distance travel, he quickly checked his pockets again, feeling the bill fold in his left pocket, and the much used leather bound passport in his inside jacket pocket. By now his growing impatience to escape the womb of the airplane had become slightly infectious, with other business class passengers also standing and expecting the doors to be opened quickly. One of the reasons he allowed himself the luxury of flying business class was the last minute boarding and quick exit that it allowed. For some reason, the smallest delays agitated him, as well as the knowledge that half of Salt River and Mitchells Plain would be waiting for him in the arrival hall. He sighed, absently looking at the Rolex on his right wrist, noticing the shining crown on the bezel, the slow sliding mechanism of the second hand, the minute hand pointing to the number 12 on the dial.
The cabin doors opened, letting in a gust of fresh air. He felt his ears pop and crackle loudly, the sudden loss of cabin pressure normalising his hearing again. Absently, he heard the air steward welcome them to Cape Town, proclaiming the outside temperature as a warm 18 degrees, and the forecast for the coming day as fine and mild, with a brisk south easterly. Typical October weather. He picked up his bag, and strode out of the 767 with a brisk stride, ready to take on the day, not noticing the man in the seat just behind business class staring at him intently. Fixing his tie with his free hand, he continued walking towards customs, eager to be done with the formalities…
Boeta Cassiem sat in the drivers seat of the opulent Jeep Grand Cherokee, Limited Edition. He fiddled with the window switch, trying to adjust the window to the right height, then gave up suddenly. Secretly, he yearned for the old days, when windows had manual winders, and he could get the opening just right. Out of years of habit, he felt for the pack of cigarettes in his top pocket, finding instead the pack of Clorets mint gum he had replaced the Peter Stuyvesant’s with a few weeks back. He tore at the little red line around the cellophane wrapping, frustrated now, desperately wanting to get to the little green minty gums inside the pack. The quick tear strip steadfastly refused to budge, forcing the old man to scratch at it with his thick weathered fingernails. With an abrupt gesture, he flung the unopened pack of gum through the window, and watched the green box sail elegantly through the air, hit the edge of the waste bin, and drop on the ground alongside it. With another deep sigh, he opened the door and climbed out of the SUV, seeing the approaching khaki clad traffic official out of the corner of his eye. Stooping down with some effort, he retrieved the errant pack of gum, putting it back in his top pocket, preparing to fight the packaging again a little later. He hurried back to the Jeep, sinking into the luxurious grey leather seat, just as the approaching traffic cop reached him. He started the car, revving the engine, smiling at the sound of the V8 resonating in the confined space of the pick up point in the parking garage. The sound had the desired effect, with the roving traffic official now moving on to another waiting victim, this time a young lady in small silver Toyota Yarris, just a few bays down the line. Boeta Cassiem shook his head, thinking again how the times had changed. He tapped his fingers on the leather bound steering wheel to the tune of a new song playing on the radio, humming the words quietly, the catchy chorus talking to him. Perhaps subconsciously, he put his right hand on his chest, feeling his irregular heartbeat, echoing the words of the song – Hand on My Heart, noting the artist, an up and coming youngster called Matt Roux. He looked at the exit ahead of him, waiting for his passenger to arrive, craving a smoke now more than ever. His old wheezy lungs reminded him again why he had kicked the 40 year long habit, the absence of the constant pressure on his temples another gentle reminder why the cigarettes were slowly killing him. His thoughts now more focused, he felt less agitated knowing that the new partnership was pushing ahead, the merger talks almost a done deal, and Mr Nkosi arriving this morning from London to sign the contracts. The road to the merger had been fraught with many difficulties, mostly due to the intensity of the due diligence requested by Nkosi. A lawyer by profession, Nkosi was buying into a new arm of the business, now moving into Venture Capital. With cash drying up faster than a puddle of water in the Kalahari, the Technology start ups in Cape Town were desperate for funding, and were often prepared to give away huge equity. Nkosi, and his unlimited funds from the Veterans fund and access to political cash was the perfect partner for Lipshitz and Liebenberg, two guys desperate to get in on the EE action. A lengthy courting period resulted in the two firms joining up on trial joint venture deal, with all the partners raking in millions, the course for the newly formed LNL Corporation agreed and plans in place for even bigger things to happen. Boeta Cassiem really couldn’t care – he was due for his retirement in less than 12 months, a solid pension plan he religiously contributed to quietly waiting. Then the money that still lay in his late wife’s bank account was also there, and some income from the flat they had bought in Claremont would also help him retire comfortably. But deep down, he was worried. He had been in this game for too long, and had already seen the signs. Sudden late night shifts by some of the junior clerks, and the usual water cooler ‘skinder’ kept him up to date with what was going on on the 3rd floor. Copies of documents were being scanned, then systematically destroyed, shredded, the paper being sent to the basement furnace. Someone was making sure that a paper trail was being eliminated, and that could only mean one thing – someone was up to no good. The old man had seen it all before, but this time something was different, something set off his gift of discernment, his innate ability to smell a rat.
Moena saw the old man sitting in the 4×4, and recognised him instantly. Over 40 years had passed since she had last seen him. Dressed in her all black Abaaya, her preference to wear the traditional Muslim garb based more on convenience than out of any religious necessity, Moena viewed the world safely from behind her veil. At first, a long time ago, the stares of passers by used to bother her. Now, the hot summer days were more of an inconvenience, and she relished the comfort of wearing the traditional outfit. Time had been cruel to her, ravaging her youthful good looks – first with an almost incurable eczema, and then later on a rare liver disorder caused white patches to breakout on her hands and face. Her eyes however, remained a startling grey, a reminder of the father she had never known and a too willing mother looking for fun out on the town. Seeing him after all this time, and here today of all days, came as a shock to her system. She sat down on the smokers bench next door to the entrance, safe in her veiled world, sure that no one would see her pale face, all blood drained from it. Cassiem! After all this time! and here at the airport of all places! Conflicting thoughts were running a marathon in her mind, 42 kilometers of disparate thoughts, tumbling into a rage of emotions. Unsure and uncertain of what to do, she steeled herself. Taking a deep breath, and practicing the technique she had seen on Oprah a few weeks earlier, she told herself to not panic. Breathing deeply still, she stood up, and walked calmly and slowly to the parked car. Just as she was about to call out to Cassiem, she saw the well dressed black man cross the pavement, and open the back door of the Jeep, casually throwing his bag in the back. He said something to Cassiem, who nodded earnestly, started the car and proceeded to reverse out of the parking area. She noted down the number plate – LL 6969 – WP, just happy that it was an easy number to remember. Turning back to the entrance of the airport, her breathing finally normalised again, she hurried to the International arrivals, once again happy to be welcoming her son back home. Walking into the newly revamped waiting area, Moena looked at the arrivals notice board and saw that the British Airways flight from London had landed. She looked around and saw the growing group of people similarly dressed in black, some wearing veils, others wearing headscarves and one or two dressed in European clothing. Some of the younger girls stood round, playing with their Blackberry’s and texting God only knew who, while others stood in awe of the unfamiliar surroundings. A trip to the airport was a treat, and the younger children made the best of it, with regular trip to the overpriced sweet shop. A sound resembling the cackling of geese emanated from the group, lowering a mere fraction as Moena approached and dying to a slight whisper when she gave them The Look. Her troops now surrounding her, an army of black clad women, they attracted the usual scrutiny from passers by, most opting to walk the long way round to avoid the somberly covered group. A few men stood to one side, dressed in a mixture of Arab dress and western clothing, all wearing the traditional Muslim headgear. An air of pregnant expectation hovered over the crowd, the return of one of their own, back from his overseas success, a guiding light to the community, and beacon of hope, and hopefully a provider of some basic handouts to the closest family. None of this mattered to Moena – Ghabeer was her son, and that was all that mattered. Her one and only son, eight daughters, but only the one son, the only one who had the grey eyes, the fair skin, the straight hair. A mystery to the family, written off to luck and an old wives tale, Moena alone knew who the father of the boy was, and that the time had come to tell him the truth.
Ghabeer walked through the sliding doors to a heroes welcome. The crowd who had gathered to meet him on arrival broke out in song, chanting verses from the Quran, thanking God for the safe arrival of their brother, their uncle, their hope and savior. Ghabeer smiled at them, allowing the adoration to wash over him, while inwardly cringing at their touch. These people still clung to the old ways, and they felt they owned a piece of him. All he wanted was to get to his hotel and relax on the king size bed, order some room service and prepare for his meeting later that today. Sighing inwardly, his family duty taking precedence over his business ambitions, he waded through the mass of people before him, to where Moena stood, an island of dignity among the chaos around her. Pushing gently through the crowd of family and friends, he reached his mother, tears now coursing down his face, he embraced her warmly, crushing her small body against his, enveloping her in his strong arms. She reached up with both hands to touch his face, letting her veil slip to reveal her tear stained face, kissing him on both cheeks in the traditional manner. ”My Son, My Son”, she chanted…