The darkness was heavy. And the silence would always bring out the nightmares of mass graves and decomposing flesh. 2020 and the years that followed weren’t the best. Sure, the economy was at its strongest point in a long time, R5.00 to the dollar, there were advances in technology and even an underwater hotel off the coast of Cape Town.
Death is what made Siyanda a multi-millionaire, because death is where he got his start in life. But he had to focus and forget about all of that because he was still at work. Siyanda hated this part of his job, but he hated the part that would come next more. A blinding mixture of yellow and white light appeared out of nowhere, and without time to adjust his eyes, Siyanda was already on the move.
“Have you ever found yourself feeling sad for no particular reason? Only to realise that you’re missing the company of a person you can no longer enjoy. Even more so when today, they’d be turning 10 or even 60. I know that feeling all too well.” Siyanda sniffed. “Well, I’m here to tell you to worry no more,” he continued, brushing his hand against his cheek, “because I am about to revolutionise the way you think about your loved ones.”
As soon as the last syllable left his mouth, there was cheering and confetti, people break dancing on graves, choreographed coffins and costumed tombstones.
“With the government making the construction of new graveyards illegal and exploiting those in mourning with price hikes in methane tax, leave it to me, the defender of those who are no more with our new range of funeral products.” He said, a hand over his heart. “Introducing the Everlasting.”
The sound of a choir filled his ears along with a harp in the background.
“Why remember the deceased on their birthday when you can remember them every day?” He said, towering above the dancing coffins. “With our newest range of products, we’re able to make that happen. So come on down to Shange’s Memory Emporium, where we never, forget a loved one.” He gleamed, cheeks strained.
“And cut!” A director yelled from a chair. “OK, from the top.”
“Nope,” Siyanda spoke after taking a swig of water. “I’m done. Use take 19 or 27. I’m happy with those.”
It might have come off as a suggestion but everyone in the room knew it was an order.
“Mr Shange Sir,” Jade chimed as she relieved her boss of water. “Your meeting with the doctor is in an hour, should I reschedule?”
“Which one of those PHD money grabbers is it?” He asked as he headed for the door, assistants following from behind with luggage.
“Oh, the traditional one sir.”
“Reschedule. How long does the train from Cape Town to Pretoria take?”
“Two hours, but our flight leaves on the hour.”
“Cancel it. I can’t use my phone on the plane and it’s 2044!” He sighed before disappearing into a convoy of electric cars.
Jade typed away furiously on her virtual keyboard as she joined him. The train was delayed but they managed to arrive in Midrand on time. Siyanda headed straight for the office. Even though he had 54 stores around the country, this one would always be his favourite because it was his first. Sure it was in the city centre, a deviant from all the other locations in the self-made cities previously known as estates. Not long after his arrival, Siyanda paused to stare at a lady in the foyer below, thus marking a stopping point for his AI that transferred his voice into notes.
“Welcome,” he said extending out a hand and a smile filled with overcrowded teeth. “How can I help you?”
“The one and only,” placing a hand on his chest. “Anything to drink? We’ve got tea, coffee anything really.”
“Vivian, please tell Jade to get me some bottled water and the usual for me, thanks,” he shouted.
The AI acknowledged his request and the two of them sat down with the woman’s attention still on a figure behind Siyanda.
“Ah yes. My late grandmother. May her soul rest in peace,” he wiped away a non-existent tear.
“Then why is she standing like that?”
“That’s the best way to remember her, with her hands on her side just before she would tell me to do this and that or hit me over the head with something.” He smiled.
“Then I came to the right place.” The lady smiled. “My husband died and …”
“We’ve got a fantastic set of products. Gogo over there is part of our basic package, just a hologram obtained from any photo. Then we have our no more tears package, from there we’re able to give Gogo over there, or anybody you’d like, basic movement and give any words of comfort you so wish in their voice.
“Yeah,” he sighed. “All we need is a video or audio clip and we can replicate the sound through our voice recognition software.”
“I want you to bury my husband.”
“Wait, what? Come again. I’m sorry?” Siyanda said before choking on his own spit. “I can’t do that. Look, lady, I run a clean legitimate legal business. Only three things are guaranteed here in South Africa: death, taxes and rape. And unless you are here to tell me how to benefit off the latter, then I believe our conversation is over.”
“I wasn’t asking. Let me say this in a way you will understand.” She said bringing her face closer to him. “You will bury my husband.” She whispered in his ear before writing a memo on a holographic notepad, stood up, turned on her heel and left.
“Vivi, why the hell did you take down her message?”
“It was requested by you in order to increase customer convenience.”
“Screw it, I’m going home. JADE!”
“Yes sir,” she said between gulps of air.
“Rent me those mobile office thingies, you know the one with inflatable furniture and what not. So I can at least get some work done on my way home.
Siyanda flipped the switch as his door whooshed open. He expected the lights to light up his way as usual but nothing happened.
“What the kak?” Siyanda stood there, perplexed, surrounded by nothing but darkness. “Since when does this house get load shedding? What’s the whole point of buying a solar powered penthouse if I can’t get the lights to work?” He said, walking blindly into his home, searching for an alternative power source. “Vivi?” He shouted, before cursing under his breath. “Stupid government and its policies. Why the hell does an AI need a day off?”
“I agree,” a voice called out from the darkness before a flashlight turned on. There was a pregnant pause before Siyanda cleared his throat.
“Yes, it is.”
“What are you doing here? And why don’t I have electricity?”
“Did you not get my note?”
“Oh well, it matters not now since I’m here. Like I told you, Mr Shange. I need you to bury my husband.”
“I can’t, like I told you … it’s illegal, I have family commitments, I can’t go to jail and besides, I have a bad experience with graves.”
“Mr Shange, I’m aware of your, shall we call it, phobia of physical graves. Was it due to the civil war and your family’s involvement?”
“How do you know about that?” Siyanda became rigid as what he thought he had buried seemed to be unearthed before him. “Who are you?”
“The civil war wasn’t that long ago you know. 10 years isn’t a long time, you know. Correct me if I’m wrong but weren’t you fighting against the Zulu’s being isiZulu yourself?” she spoke softly with the flashlight directly under her chin.
“What do you want?”
“I’ve already told you.” She sighed. “I want you to bury my husband.”
“It was his dying wish,” she said twirling the flashlight around in her hand.
“But who is he? Who are you? And why me?”
“Vivian can we have the lights please,” And as her request finished, the lights came back on, with a soft hum. “Look, if you want the knowledge of your participation in the civil war to remain confidential, than I suggest you find yourself a shovel or spade. Whichever one is used to dig or you’ll find yourself in some very hot water Mr.” She said, as she stood up, preening herself before she left. “By the way, you’re out of sugar.”
The darkness was heavy. And the silence would always bring out the nightmares. Siyanda hated this part of his job, but he hated the part that would come next more as he began filling up the grave with sand. Just as he wiped his brow with a dirty palm, a blinding mixture of yellow and white light appeared out of nowhere, and without time to adjust his eyes, Siyanda was already knew it was over for him and he didn’t need the sirens that echoed in the distance to know it.