The sun was already setting by the time Luyanda turned his steps up the driveway and towards his house in Brackenfell Heights. The journey back home had taken longer than he had expected. He’d gotten onto an old rusty hoverbus that broke down every twenty minutes. Eventually all the passengers had forced the driver to stop and call another one to come and pick them up. He started thinking of what he would tell his parents if they asked him why he’d been so long. A thought flashed through his head, and he froze in his tracks.
“Msiza, call Jabu.” A few seconds later, his best friend’s lean, pock-marked face appeared on the holographic display of his pod.
“Yo man? How’d it go? Were you able to find her?”
“Why? What happened?”
Luyanda quickly brought him up to speed.
“That sucks, man. So what are you going to do now?”
“I want to get a job so I can pay off this woman.”
“Why not just ask your parents?”
“I can’t do that, dumbass. You know how they feel about the whole birth parent thing. What if they start asking questions? I don’t need that stress. Besides, this is—,” he hesitated, as he searched for the words. “This is my thing,” he blurted out. “I have to do it without them. I don’t know. You know what I mean, right?”
“Yeah, sort of. So, what’s the plan?”
“I guess I’ll have to look for something once I register. A student job or something.”
“Those are hard to come by.”
“Don’t be a pessimist.”
“I’m being a realist.”
“Anyway, that’s not why I was calling. Listen,” he continued, “I told my parents that you and I were going to varsity to check things out. So, in case it comes up—”
“Sure thing, bro. Got you covered.”
“Thanks, man. I’ll see you tomorrow on campus?”
Luyanda ended the call. He went around the back, entering the house through the kitchen.
“You’re home! I was wondering why it was taking you so long.” Maddie, his mother, pulled out a casserole from the oven and kicked the door shut.
“The place was bigger than we expected. There was more to see.” He slipped off his backpack and tossed it on the counter. Maddie picked it up and hurled it at him.
“Not in my kitchen.”
Luyanda shook his head and cracked a grin. A tall, bulky man stalked in.
“Is that pot-roast I smell?” Luyanda’s father reached for the oven door.
“Hands off, Devon!” Maddie smacked his arm away. “It’s lamb. And if you keep checking it, you’ll make it take longer. That domestibot of yours almost destroyed it.”
“But luckily Miss Chef Extraordinaire was here to save the day.” Devon reached down and gave his wife a peck on the cheek.
Luyanda always wondered at how different his parents were. Maddie, his mother, was short, skinny and pale, with long, blonde hair and blue eyes. Devon on the other hand was tall and burly, with a bald head, thick beard and a deep tan. He sat down beside Luyanda and ruffled Luyanda’s hair.
“When are you going to cut that afro of yours? Or are you still planning on getting dreadlocks?”
“You’re just jealous because you’ve hardly got any hair to speak of,” Maddie said. “You can do whatever you want with your hair, my boy.”
“So, are we having a special dinner to celebrate our son’s first day at uni, or what?”
“It’s technically not my first day, “Luyanda mumbled. “It’s only registration and orientation -”
“Plus, he went there earlier today.” Maddie pulled a bottle of salad dressing out of the fridge.
“Maddie, stop it! How do expect Marjorie to learn anything if you do everything for her?”
“I can’t believe you named a robot after your sister, Dev.”
“They’ve got the same personality.”
Maddie groaned and rolled her eyes. Devon grabbed the bottle and put it back in the fridge.
“Marjorie, please get the salad dressing from the fridge?” The little robot standing in the corner whirred to life. It zoomed across the kitchen floor, extended an arm, pulled out the bottle of salad dressing, and placed it on the counter.
“Great!” Luyanda beamed. “She’s learning.”
“I wanted the Greek dressing. Not the French,” Maddie scowled, putting the bottle back in the fridge and pulling out another one. “These domestibots are making us lazy. So, did you learn anything new on campus?”
“Yeah.” Luyanda put on his brightest smile. “We found out where we need to go tomorrow. At least we won’t get lost.”
“Yes, you’re right,” Devon nodded. “I remember back in my time how packed the orientation days used to be.”
“That’s because in our times everyone did actual degrees. There wasn’t much of this virtual lecture stuff going on.”
“Yes,” Devon concurred. “I’m so happy you’re one of the few that signed up for physical lectures on campus and not online classes. If everyone’s marching in one direction, go in the other, that’s what I say. You’ll see how it will pay off in the future when your university buddies will help you get a job. All those silly conversations in the corridors and coffee shops will be some of the best networking you’ll ever do. I actually can’t wait to see my old campus tomorrow.”
“So, are you guys really going to come with me?” Luyanda frowned. “You know it’s not necessary, right?”
“We’ve had this discussion already, Lu,” Maddie said.
“I remember my parents went with me,” Devon nodded sagely, a faraway look playing in his eyes.
“Same here,” Maddie added. “And I was very glad that they did because they helped sort out my registration issues. In those days, their computers just couldn’t handle the number of students enrolling.”
“My point exactly,” Luyanda sighed. “Those days. It’s almost the twenty-second century. And you yourself said they’d be fewer people registering because—”
“It’s not that bad, son,” Devon interrupted. “We won’t embarrass you, I promise. After today, you won’t see us again at school with you. Unless of course you get suspended or something.”
“No child of mine is ever going to be kicked out of college. If you did, I’d kill you.”
Luyanda grinned. “I won’t have time to get into any trouble, mom. I’ll be too busy working.”
“What? Working? This is the first I hear of this.”
“Yeah, I want to start racking up job experience. Besides, I can’t keep relying on you guys for money for the rest of my life.”
“True, true.” Devon grabbed a carrot off the counter and chomped into it. “The boy’s getting wise.”
“I know you want to be independent.” Maddie shot Devon a dirty look. “I was the same when I was your age. And so was your father.”
“No, I wasn’t.”
“Yes, you were. But,” she continued, turning to Luyanda, “I think it’s important that you focus on your schoolwork. A student job could end up distracting you.”
Luyanda’s face lit up. “I have an idea,” he said. “How about we experiment? I work this semester, and if I fail any exams, then we call it quits. How’s that sound?”
“Let’s see if you land something first, son.” Devon stood up. “They’re not that easy to come by nowadays.”
“Jabu also gave me a solid dose of pessimism. I mean, how hard can it be?”
“How about we cross that bridge when we come to it?” Maddie said. The oven chimed. “Dinner’s ready.”
“Great.” Devon polished off his carrot. “I’m starving.”
In a few minutes, Luyanda had scoffed down his dinner and packed away his plates in the dishwasher.
“What’s the hurry?” Devon asked.
“I’ve just got to finish something.” Luyanda rushed off to his room.
“Msiza,” he said, slamming the door shut behind him.
“Yes,” the sing-song voice responded.
“What student jobs are available at UAC?”
“One moment, I’ll check,” Msiza replied. “Okay,” she piped up, “There’s nothing right now. But here could be something on the first week of school. Should I let you know?”
“Yes, please,” Luyanda said, as he got undressed and stepped into the shower. Ten minutes later, he lay sprawled in bed, waiting for sleep to drift over him. Only one thought was on his mind. Elsie Dalibwayo. Zone C. Rochester. He was going to get that student job, come what may, and nobody would stand in his way. Not even his parents.