By: TM Blayte
Seeing as it is the first day of school, I’m expecting anything, or almost anything; except for my girlfriend to tell me we’ve committed the unforgivable crime.
I am walking out of the last class of the day, History, with my friends, talking as loudly as we can about the holidays, throwing in exaggerations about parties and exploits we had, when someone nearly knocks me over.
I look down, getting ready to produce a number of my favourite swear words, when the person looks up.
“Nom?” I ignore the smirks and comments as I give my girlfriend a long and extended kiss, right there in the middle of the nearly empty school yard.
Then she pushes me away. “We need to talk, Walt.”
“Somebody’s ass is about to get dumped!” Leo sings.
I shoot my best friend my meanest look over my shoulder, grab Nom’s hand, and drag her away. We do need to talk alright! She just made me look foolish in front of my closest friends. I never pull stuff like that in front of her friends.
Still grasping her hand, I look for an empty classroom. It’s not difficult to find. After all, there are only two grades left in schools.
When we are in an empty classroom, I spin to face her, making sure the look of annoyance I have perfected over the years is prominent. Then I see tears shining in her eyes.
“Nom?” I ask, losing momentum.
Then she says the words that are going to doom us forever. “I’m pregnant.”
I search in my mental dictionary of dirty words, and come up blank. It feels like someone pushed the floor away, and I’m falling, falling, and there is no ending to the fall. All I can think about are the news reports, the executions. The Herodian Hunts.
They all started sixteen years ago, when due to the constantly growing population caused by the immortal genetic mutation, the Population Regulations Act, PRA was introduced. It decreed that until further notice, child birth was illegal. Having a baby became punishable by death, for both the baby and the parents. As a matter of fact, we are the second from last group that will ever graduate from high school. We are the second from last teenage group there might ever be. Many call us the last children.
After the declaration, many people tried cheating the system. All I can say is it led to what people call the Herodian Hunts. After a stupendous effort, I finally get my jaw working again.
“Nom … Don’t mess around … You can get killed for saying that in public!” Hell, even the last novelist to write a pregnant character had been executed for inciting treason!
My warning just causes Nom to finally let the tears fall. Snap.
“How did this happen!” I sound as desperate as her tears sound upset.
I want to hold Nom. I want to comfort her, tell her everything will be alright, but I can’t bring myself to move. I’m trying to assess all my options.
“Can’t we … You know. There is a black market that still does it.”
When she looks at me again, there is fear mixed with the tears. Of its own accord, my body moves, and she is in my arms.
“It’s on record, Walt. I was feeling sick, and went to the hospital. The nurse decided to test me, just in case.”
Oh, snap. Oh, Snap!
“And she let you go?” A feeling of shame overwhelms me when I hear the fear in my own voice.
“She said by law, she will have to log in the information. But her machine wasn’t working.”
Okay. That buys us a few extra hours. “Let’s run away,” I say.
She doesn’t argue. She nods. I get the feeling she was planning on running, with or without me. I wait for her to calm down. The last thing we need is to attract attention. Thankfully, planning our escape seems to calm her.
We decide to drive to her home first, where she’ll “borrow” cash and some valuables from her mother’s safe. After that, we’ll cross the border into Mozambique. From Maputo, we can catch a plane to a country that is lax on Population control. Probably Saudi Arabia or Iran. So far, they are the only countries that ignored the UN resolution for Population Reduction.
With something of a plan in mind, we walk out of the classroom, and come face to face with police officers.
Still wearing a confident smile, I put my arm around my girlfriend’s shoulders, and nod at the officers. “Excuse us, officers.”
One of the officers steps forward. “Nomsa Moyo, Walter Coals. I arrest you for the crime of unlawful Child Conception.”
I stop, and look at Nom. She is looking back at me. Many scenarios are running through my head. Maybe I can do something crazy … Cause a diversion, and let Nom escape?
As if reading my mind, she shakes her head, and raises her hands. She is first to step forward, turn around and let the officers handcuff her. After that, it’s not like I have much choice.
I allow myself to be handcuffed, and loaded in the back of the car.
All eyes are on us as the car speeds out of the school yard. By now, the news has probably already spread.
“I’m sorry, Nom,” I tell her. I am not only saying this because I am, but because I need to make conversation, to keep my mind from wondering.
Unfortunately, our captors are not having that.
One of the officers, a severe looking Indian woman turns around: “Shut up. Or we do it for you.” She waves a gag threateningly in my face.
Yep, they are allowed to do that nowadays. When Nom speaks again, nearly ten minutes later, I’m trying to determine the officers’ ages. Ever since the Immortal age, where a genetic mutation caused everyone to become immortal, people stopped aging at 75. Whatever age you looked then, you would always look it forever. People now took gyms and healthy eating seriously. Up to 75. As a result, some ninety year olds looked to be in their sixties. Hell, the Indian officer, who looks to be in her early fifties could be 120, and her partner, an athletically built man who might be in his early thirties, might actually be over two hundred years old.
“Why are we leaving the city?” Nom asks.
I rip my gaze from the two officers, and look around.
“Shut up,” the command comes again.
But Nom is right. I know where the station in Port Mandela is. This is not it. We are on the outskirts of the city. As far as I know, where we are going is the Slovowood, probably the densest and most dangerous forest in the province.
Unhelpful thoughts find their way in my mind. What if, in this very moment, they are going to kill us, and leave our bodies in the forest? That would most likely save the government prosecuting money.
These thoughts continue to bother me, right until the car stops, and the engine dies. I look out, and see we are now in the middle of the forest. Trees, wild plants and a curious donkey here and there, are all we have for company.
Pointing her weapon at us, the female officer, who seems to be the senior of the two, opens her door. “Get out. Any funny ideas, I shoot. And don’t give me the old, clever line, “you are going to kill us anyway”.” She does a terrible mimicking of a cartoonish voice.
“Then I have news for you,” she continues, closing her door, and opening mine, just as her partner does the same with Nom. “I will kill you slow. Maybe just a leg … And an arm … Then I’ll leave you here for the lions and whatever calls this place home. Let’s go.”
With more strength than I initially thought her slender frame has, she pulls me out of the car. I land on my ass, and have to pick myself up, my body burning with embarrassment.
After removing our restrains, the two officers herd us before them, weapons less than a millimetre from our necks.
After what seems to be twenty minutes of aimless wondering, we arrive at a camp.
At first I’m not sure of what I’m seeing, when I observe fires, and men and women running about, some with logs and axes, and others with buckets of water. Then I come to a complete halt.
I’m seeing things I’ve never seen before. Scratch that, and say I’m not supposed to be seeing what is before my eyes. What is before my eyes right now, I’ve only seen in illegal movies.
A woman I’m sure is not much older than me is holding a toddler in her arms, while chatting to a group of friends. Not far off, in his own corner, a boy in his early teens is holding a baby with one arm, while feeding it something from a bottle with the other.
“What is this?” Nom gasps my exact thoughts. There are not supposed to be people in their early teens in most parts of the world, never mind toddlers, and babies drinking from bottles!
I turn to face the officers, but their weapons are gone. Both are grinning like crazy idiots, clearly enjoying our shock.
“Welcome to Colho,” the woman says.
“What the …” I try finding words to ask my question. “What is this?”
“That is not our place to answer,” the woman says. “We’ll leave you with the person who can answer your questions. We have to go back to the city.”
While her partner hopefully wonders to a fire where a White woman and three black men are roasting what appears to be an ostrich, the woman leads us to a small hut, built of a combination of wood and stone.
At the door, she stops, and faces us. It is then I see the fatigue in her eyes. “Good luck, children. Be strong. The road ahead is not easy; no will it get any easier.” With that, she strides away.
When she is gone, Nom and I look at each other.
“Walt,” she says in a small voice, “Do you know what is going on?”
I shake my head. “Whatever it is, I think we are safe.” Or as safe as we will ever be. But I don’t say that.
Instead, I pull her closer, and give her a long kiss. In that kiss, I hope I can explain all I am feeling at this moment.
“We are okay,” she whispers in my ear.
I’m about to say something, when the door is flung open. “Are you two coming in, or are you content eating each other’s faces outside my room? Trust me, it doesn’t look attractive.”
We let go of each other, and look at the figure standing in the hut entrance. It is a tall woman, with a combination of blonde and grey hair. Her body suggests an age in the fifties or sixties, but something in the lines on her face, her expression tells me she is older, as in people who were alive when it started over three hundred years ago. Maybe as old as England’s Queen Elizabeth the second, or Zimbabwe’s Robert Mugabe.
Turning her back, she beckons us in.
We follow her into what seems to be an office of sorts. There is a small table, with a computer on it. The screen is on, though I see no cables. It must be self-charging. There are a few chairs near the table, and one couch at the back of the hut.
The woman indicates for us to take chairs. She sits in front of the computer, and regards us with a level stare.
“Welcome to Colho. In case you are wondering, it stands for the Cape of Last Hope. I know, I know. We are kilometres away from any town in the Cape Republic, but I think it started as a joke.
My name is Kate Moyane. I work to establish places like this all over the world. So far, we have eleven encampments here in Africa, ten in the Americas, and five in Europe. We plan on starting up a little something in Asia and Australia pretty soon.
Now, your story?”
For the next five minutes, Nom tells our story, with only occasional additions from me.
Moyane nods when we are finished. “Your nurse logged in the information, after giving you time to escape. I doubt anything was broken, you owe that man or woman your lives. When she entered it, Adrika and Thabo intercepted the message, and snatched you before the authorities.”
Moyane nods, as if agreeing with herself. “By this time, I’m sure they are looking for you. They won’t look here. They don’t know we exist. Anyhow, most fugitives try crossing into Maputo, where they can catch a plane or ship to Saudi. I’ll put my wealth when I was a teenager, they are watching the border with Mozambique.”
I exchange a glance with Nom. We decide not to mention Maputo had been our plan two seconds before her people seized us.
Moyane gets to her feet. “Now, if there are no questions, you should mingle with the campers. Report to Max, first thing tomorrow for your duties.”
“I have a question,” Nom says.
“Not that we’re not grateful, or anything, but by opening more of these establishments, aren’t you encouraging people to break the law?”
Moyane smiles. “I am. That’s the whole point, Sweet Thing.”
Sighing, Moyane sits back down. “I trust you all did biology at school? You know this new immortal thing has shortcomings. One of them is internal aging. The magic, or whatever it is only kicks in at seventy-five, when most people can’t have children anymore. If we let them have their way, seventy to a hundred years from now, no one will be able to give birth.”
I shrug. “Why should that be a problem. We are overpopulated as it is.”
“How can I put this? God has a sense of humour … Nature enjoys giving humans the middle finger, every now and then, take your pick. But when something our bodies cannot resist comes along? What if it becomes possible for us to die without someone slicing off our heads? How will we renew our race again?”
The first sign of something being wrong are all the helicopters that landed near the camp nearly fifteen minutes ago. The second is the presence of Kate Moyane in my tent.
I find Moyane standing in the tent, looking down at Nom. Nom lies back on a mattress, our week old daughter, Tinashe, fast asleep next to her.
“Walt,” Moyane says as soon as I finish observing the sight. “I’m glad you are here. I trust you have observed the helicopters?”
I nod. “I was just finishing my patrol shift when they arrived. You went out to meet them. Not enemies, I presume?”
“Correct. Not enemies. Our camp has been discovered. I don’t know how. The authorities are gathering a team as we speak. The helicopters are moving us to the Mutare camp until further notice.”
“When are we leaving?”
Moyane looks down. “We are not leaving, Sweet Thing. Some are staying behind.”
I frown at her. “Why? Is it the space?”
Moyane’s gaze still doesn’t meet mine. “That, and cover. If they find no one when they get here, they’ll continue the hunt, and endanger other camps. The United Nations might even start an international hunt. They must find people when they get here.”
I take a moment to process this news. It makes sense.
I nod at the woman. “I understand. I volunteer to stay. They,” I point at Nom and my daughter, “Should go with you.”
“The baby can come,” Moyane says. “The two of you can’t.”
“She needs her mother!” I can feel my temper rising. Is this woman out of her mind?
“I have made my decision.” There is now a slight edge to Moyane’s voice. “Everyone under sixteen is coming with. Also, anyone with unique skill … Medicine, technology, etc. It’s bad enough we’ll be trespassing on the charity of another camp. Giving them additional human resources is the least we can do. I’m sorry.”
I look at Nom. I’m guessing Moyane had given her the news before I came in. Her mind is already made up. She nods.
Getting up, Nom passes me our daughter for the last time.
In the few remaining seconds, I try to memorise as much of her peaceful face as I can.
“We’ll find you, Tinashe,” I tell her. “I promise you, we’ll find you again. We love you.”
I give her back to her mother, who passes her on to Moyane.
“I’m sorry, I truly am. I never meant to sacrifice anyone, but it must be done. I was there, and played a major role in the genetic manipulation. All I can say is sacrifices were made back then by people I loved. I guess sacrifice sometimes has to be the order of the day.
If you ever survive, get out of the country. If you know where to look, you’ll find us.”
Turning, she walks out, taking our daughter out of our lives, maybe forever.
When she is gone, Nom and I clutch each other. She is crying. At first, I wonder how if her face is buried in my chest, is my face getting wet. Then I realise I’m crying too. We hold each other, not letting go. Refusing to let go. It is as if by holding each other, we can fill the void of a little girl who is a combination of the two of us.
We stay like that, maybe for centuries, who knows. We don’t move. Not when Moyane is giving some speech outside. I can hear her voice, though her words are meaningless noise. Not when the helicopters take off.
When the police arrive, the real police this time, they find us still holding each other in the same tent our daughter was born.
“And thus, it is evident the two defendants lied to the authorities. They swore, the record claiming they had a baby was false. Yet, upon examination, the hospital investigators discovered clear marks of birthing a child.
For this selfish and reckless crime of Resource Deprivation, in accordance with the Population Regulations Act of 2384, I demand the death penalty for both defendants.
Thank you.” Satisfied with herself, Prosecutor Sanet Oosthuis resumes her seat.
Our own lawyer, a short and passionate man named Edrich Jantjies, pulls together his notes.
I know how he is going to play our defence. I doubt it will work, but the effort is worthwhile. He goes on to attack the authorities, claiming it was their negligence that led to the pregnancy. He brings forth documents that prove the hospital had given Nom an incorrect procedure during the mass sterilisation period.
I find myself relaxing. Not because we have a shot at victory, but because we are going out with a damn fight.
As Jantjies reaches his conclusion, Nom passes me a note.
I look down at it. All it reads is: “I’m sorry.”
I’m about to write back, asking clarification, when Jantjies gives it to the entire court.
“With regard to Mr. Coals, the only thing linking him to this supposed crime is running off with Ms Moyo. Here however, is a statement by Ms Moyo, clearly stating she never had intercourse with Mr Coals. The only reason he ran with her, was to protect her, as a friend. She was under the impression the world would be a dangerous place for a pregnant individual, and needed a friend she could trust”
I look at Nom with so much fury, I’m glad my rage has robbed me of words. We’d had this discussion, when Jantjies suggested it. I’d refused. Somehow, the two had gone behind my back and planned it all.
When Jantjies is finished, the judge calls for recess, before delivering the verdict.
“What the bleeding hell, in the name of snakes were you thinking!” I hiss as soon as the court empties.
“I’m sorry,” she says, returning my own glare. “I didn’t see the point in both of us dying.”
I laugh without humour. “You think that will work? Nom, please!”
Jantjies decides to intervene. “It might. Without a baby, and dna, they can’t link you to the crime.”
I punch the table with my fist. It hurts, but my anger is worse. “They are not stupid! Honestly, Nom! You think I can watch them take a gun and … And …”
“Execute me,” she finishes. “You have to.”
“Have to! Have to!”
“You are the one who promised our daughter you would find her, Walt. If she can’t have both of us, at least one of us. It could have been me, but it’s you. You should keep your promise. For Tinashe’s sake.”
I’m about to point out that I said “we” would find her. But then the court starts filling up again.
A few moments later, the judge returns.
She waits until everyone is seated, before reading out the verdict.
“For a week, this court has carefully considered evidence presented by both parties. After consulting with my associates, I’ve arrived at a decision.
Walter Emanuel Coals. Please rise.”
On shaky legs, I stand, and clutch the table for support.
“Without dna evidence to prove your part in the crime, charges of illegal conception against you are dropped. However, you did aid a fugitive from the law’s justice. Now considering your age, and lack of a criminal record, I sentence you to a month in prison, and two months of house arrest. You have served twenty-nine days while waiting for this trial to end. Therefore, your house arrest period starts two days from today.
Ms Nomsa Precious Moyo, please rise.”
Stunned, I fall back in my chair. Nom flashes me a wide smile as she stands. The smile stays on, as the judge reads her sentence.
“Ms Moyo. You knowingly or unknowingly became pregnant. After which, instead of approaching the proper authorities, you decided to have an illegal birth.
I am supposed to sentence you to death. There are, however, mitigating circumstances. Your Sterilisation doctor clearly made a mistake.
Until such time as an enquiry is established to investigate the events of that operation, I order you remain in custody, pending a sentence.
This court has spoken, by the power of the Emperor, and by the Will of God.”
During the entire announcement, her smile, her beautiful smile, that reminds me of our daughter; that smile, that reminds me of better days, never fades.