In memory of Ontlametse Phalatse (25/03/1999 – 12/04/2017)
Onti stirred to the sound of hydrogen transport trucks rolling past her bedroom window, chewing up the dirt road as they trundled through Soweto. She swung her legs over the edge of her single bed, lit the stubby candle that she’d stuck to her wooden desk while doing her homework the night before, and squinted into her free-standing cupboard for her school uniform.
“Onti, I better not find you snoring in there!” Her mother bellowed down the dark passage. The earth’s coal had dried up in 2028, and the power plants closed a year later. Only the rich were able to buy solar energy pods for their homes. The rest reverted back to candles for light and wood fires for warmth and cooking.
“Yes mama! I’m almost dressed,” Onti returned. Miriam shuffled into her daughter’s bedroom and planted a warm cup of freshly brewed rooibos tea on the wooden desk. Onti took two big sips, kissed her mother on both cheeks, and rushed out the front door – into the chilly early morning air.
“You forgot your lunch, Onti!” Miriam shouted from the bedroom window, but she was already aboard a transport truck headed for Soweto High School.
Onti, named after Ontlametse Phalatse, arrived at school and headed straight for class – passing a group of boisterous boys playing with a holographic projector. It depicted a short man dressed in old clothing, and they were excitedly asking him questions about life before the extinction. School passed in a blur for Onti, and before she knew it she was walking out of the front gates.
The transport trucks were nowhere to be seen. She decided to walk the 3 kilometres home, passing Alfie’s Corner Shop about half way, when a window poster caught her eye.
“You look like you want to win a ticket to Earth 2!” Alfie, the shop owner, stuck his head out the door. Onti knew about the Earth 2 competition, but refused to believe that she stood a chance.
“How can I get one?” she asked, almost sarcastically.
“$10 gets you a lottery slip. Choose your numbers, and if you hear them spoken during the draw tomorrow morning, you’ll be on your way to a new life in the stars…” He swooped his hand over his head in an arch and let the moment linger.
Onti stepped inside, handed over two $5 notes, and randomly selected her six numbers. Alfie digitised them, punched in her ID number, and handed Onti the receipt. She gave it little thought, shoving the slip into her bag as she hit the pavement – her home, she thought, would always be on this Earth.
Muriel had vowed to give Onti a better life than she had. That’s why she got up before dawn each morning, made her daughter a cup of tea, packed her school lunch, and spent the rest of each day waiting for her to return home.
“Onti, it’s time to get up my angel!” Muriel paused, straining to hear sounds of someone getting out of bed. Onti blinked a few times, then wiped the crust from her swollen eyes. She dreamt of paradise; a land filled with the brightest green vegetation and air so fresh, it tasted sweet on the lips. She turned and saw the lottery ticket sitting on her bedside table – six numbers that could change her life forever.
Muriel switched on the kitchen television, she liked to watch the morning news, shooting glances as she packed Onti’s lunch for the day.
“Up next, your winning Earth 2 lottery numbers!” A human-like figure declared from the screen. Androids had taken over those sorts of jobs years ago, freeing the “real” people up to work on building new homes, schools, hospitals and farms. Onti dragged herself to an upright position, grabbed the ticket, and walked through to the kitchen.
“…and the lucky numbers are…”
Onti stared out the window, not really interested in the android on the screen.
“…six…four…nine…” Onti glanced down at the slip of paper. Her first three numbers matched. She whipped her head around and glared at the announcer.
“…seven…two…” Onti could barely believe it. One more number and her life would never be the same again. Please let it be a six, she thought as she pressed her thumbs into her curled fingers.
“…six…” Confetti burst onto the screen. Onti was speechless. The numbers were an exact match, and Onti was about to embark on a journey to the proverbial far, far away.
Onti had heard about Earth 2, the mysterious inhabitable exo-planet discovered just outside our solar system in 2020. By 2034 NASA had established a Venus Project start-up on one of the continents. It proved successful, and in 2039 they began shipping people to Earth 2; starting a new population.
An hour after Onti’s six digits were announced, a NASA representative called. He explained that he was on his way to fetch them. It’s really happening, she thought to herself. NASA arrived at 3 p.m., took them to O.R. Thambo International, and they were on their way to the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida by 3:45 p.m.
The flight was long, and Onti slept most of the way. Upon arrival, they were shuffled into a hydrogen transport truck which took them directly to the launching bay.
“Sorry about the rush ladies,” a tall man with a thick American accent said, “but we’re on a tight schedule with this launch. We’re going to get Onti into her suit and on the ship ASAP.”
Onti’s heart sunk. She didn’t realise that her mother wasn’t joining her.
“Is my mother not coming with me?” She asked the tall American, hoping she was wrong.
“Oh, they didn’t tell you? Your mom’s here to see you off, Sweety.” The American smiled delicately, but failed to keep Onti from bursting into tears.
Muriel grabbed her daughter tight, and held her in a warm embrace. Onti felt better, but the thought of being without Mama scared her more than anything ever had before.
“You are the chosen one Onti,” Muriel whispered, “the first South African to win an Earth 2 ticket. Did you know that?” She grabbed Onti’s face with both hands and smiled at her. “Go and make us Africans proud, Onti. When you were born, the sangoma told me you would change the world. This is your chance to make a difference!” She separated from her daughter and went to fetch the suit from the locker. Onti slipped into her suit, as two officials entered the room.
She gave her mother one last hug before being ushered out of the changing room. A small 3 wheeled car took Onti to the launch pad where a gigantic rocket ship stood at attention. Another two officers assisted her up the twenty stairs and into the vessel. There were at least fifty other people in it; all from different parts of the world. Onti was the only South African in the group, but their warm smiles made her feel comfortable.
The launch was scary. The rocket fuel jets on either side of the module roared like a thousand lions, and lasted for at least ten minutes. All of a sudden everything went quiet, and small objects that weren’t tied down began to float around.
“Is there an Onti here?” The female voice came from a door to the right, and the woman pronounced it ON-TEE.
“I’m here,” Onti replied. The lady floated into the passenger module, using rings fastened to the walls to navigate.
“I have a letter for you, Sweety. Your mom asked me to give it to you when we were officially in space. I promise nobody has read it.” She handed the folded foolscap page to Onti, smiled broadly, and returned to her post through the doorway.
The handwriting was familiar to Onti, and she began to read as tears slowly filled her eyes once more…
My darling Onti,
I am filled with both excitement and sorrow as I write this. You are sleeping next to me on the plane, and I can’t help but cry as I look upon your beautiful face. You are my proudest achievement, and I wish your little brother could be here to share in this joyous occasion.
When they said we should stop drilling for oil, we didn’t listen. When they said we were destroying the O-zone, Asizange siphulaphule! When they said our plastic is destroying the oceans, we continued to pollute it. We brought this destruction on ourselves, and we have learnt our lesson. Now you have the opportunity to do things differently on your new home planet. Don’t let those in charge forget the mistakes of the past. It is up to you, my love, to be better than we were.
You are our light in the darkness, hope for all who have lost it, and proof that Africans are truly capable of greatness. Go forth, go strong, and remember that you, my darling daughter, are an African!
All my love,