THE GREEN BRIEF­CASE

Mikey’s mys­te­ri­ous brief­case con­tains a valu­able se­cret for his sis­ter’s fu­ture

DRUM - - Chill Out -

MY BROTHER and I have been liv­ing alone in this four-bed­room house for three years now. Ever since my aunt passed on, he’s been the head of the house. And I’ve played the part of the lit­tle sis­ter.

As the man in charge, he’s been re­spon­si­ble for tak­ing care of all the house­hold fi­nances. My brother is job­less but some­how he’s man­aged to keep our home lit on those dark win­ter nights. Our taps have never run dry. And our tum­mies have al­ways gone to bed with some­thing in­side them. I’ve never asked him where he gets the money from – I wouldn’t dare.

“Good morn­ing, Mikey,” I greet him as I make my way to the kitchen. “Would you like a cup of cof­fee?” I keep a bright smile on my face as I try to gauge what mood he’s in.

“No,” he replies sharply be­fore get­ting up and leav­ing the table.

“You should have said, ‘No thank you’, Mikey. Didn’t they teach you any man­ners at school?”

He doesn’t find that funny, and as usual he dis­ap­pears be­hind the door of his bed­room.

Some­times it’s hard to un­der­stand my brother. I don’t think any­one re­ally knows him, not even me, his sis­ter.

Some­times we sit to­gether in the evenings watch­ing tele­vi­sion. I chat and laugh about the pro­grammes, but it feels like I’m watch­ing alone.

His eyes glaze over and wan­der off into the dis­tance. I feel like he’s a stranger – my own brother. I don’t know any­thing about him – only his blue di­ary knows what kind of a man he is.

All I know is that ev­ery time I go to school, he vis­its his se­cret friend and re­turns at 6 pm. And, he never leaves home without his green brief­case.

IT’S Fri­day af­ter­noon and my friends and I are dis­cussing our up­com­ing ma­tric fi­nals. “I’m so stressed out,” No­musa ad­mits. “My mother will lit­er­ally kill me if I fail.” “No par­ent would mur­der their child for fail­ing ma­tric. If your mother kills you, we’ll do a ma­ter­nity test,” Zolani laughs.

The light mood changes when they ask me about my plans for next year.

I’m not wor­ried about the ex­ams – I’m one of the top stu­dents in my class. I have dreams – and they’re big­ger than where I find my­self to­day.

My brother is some­how man­ag­ing to take care of me now, but I’m fairly sure he won’t be able to send me to var­sity.

“Where is he?” Zolani asks. “Your brother?”

I turn away as I re­alise I’m ashamed of him and our cir­cum­stances.

“Yes, where is Mike and his fa­mous brief­case?” No­musa nudges me. “What’s in that brief­case any­way?”

“How am I sup­posed to know?” I re­spond, feel­ing a bit de­fen­sive now.

“He’s your brother,” No­musa con­tin­ues. “Don’t you get a bit cu­ri­ous? If I were you, I would sneak into his room when he’s out and see what he’s hid­ing in that thing.

“Maybe you’ll find guns and knives, or worse. Yoh! Good luck my friend, I hope you don’t turn out like him. Your brother’s a psy­cho.”

Those words hit me hard. Th­ese are sup­posed to be my friends. How could they talk about my Mikey like that?

That brief­case be­longed to my late un­cle, and I think he car­ries it around be­cause it re­minds him of the love they shared. But per­haps I should have a look in­side . . .

IT’S a typ­i­cal win­ter storm, and the rain lashes against the win­dows. All the stu­dents are in the class­room but I’m feel­ing alone. I no longer hang out with my so-called friends. There’s no teacher in the room, and the noise lev­els are ris­ing. I re­move my­self from the clam­our and stare at the old man who’s been work­ing at our school for a few years now. See­ing him bat­tling in the rain makes me feel sad.

“Why don’t they tell him to come in­side and fin­ish later?” I ob­serve to the girl sit­ting next to me.

“Haibo! Let him work. It’s his job. We want our school clean on sunny and rainy days, don’t we?” she barks at me.

I’m shocked into si­lence – we sit here in the warmth and safety of our class­room, as sweat and rain drips down his frag­ile, old body.

As the down­pour be­gins to lose its force, my thoughts re­turn to the let­ter I re­ceived this morn­ing from the uni­ver­sity. It’s been burn­ing a hole in my pocket all day. I need to be alone so I leave the class­room and make my way to the back of the school. Cau­tiously, I open the en­ve­lope. “Con­grat­u­la­tions Ms Thandi Dube, you’ve been ac­cepted at the Nel­son Man­dela School of Medicine . . .”

I can’t con­tain my plea­sure and start jump­ing for joy, but some­thing knocks me off my balance. My foot has hit some­thing hard hid­den in the grass. It’s a brief­case – a green one – and it looks ex­actly like my brother’s.

In my con­fu­sion, I don’t no­tice the old man – he roughly grabs the case away from me. His big, floppy hat and sun­glasses might cover his face, but I can tell he’s an­gry. He turns his muddy back on me and walks away be­fore I have time to re­spond.

I head home to tell my brother there’s a copy­cat out there. I can’t men­tion my uni­ver­sity ac­cep­tance. He wouldn’t be in­ter­ested.

TWO weeks later, an­other stu­dent stum­bles across the old man’s brief­case just as I had. She man­ages to smug­gle it away to her group of friends. With an un­ex­pected turn of speed, the old man dashes over to re­trieve his prop­erty. The stu­dents taunt him and refuse to give it back, but again and again he grabs and pleads for its re­turn.

In the con­fu­sion, the man’s hat and glasses go fly­ing and the mys­te­ri­ous fig­ure in over­alls is revealed for all to see. I can’t be­lieve my eyes.

The old man who has picked up my chip pack­ets when I care­lessly threw them on the ground, who has toiled in the sear­ing heat and soak­ing wet, is none other than my brother.

The whole school seems to be watch­ing. And they all want to see in­side the brief­case.

Earth swal­low me now, I shud­der in shame. I can­not bear to look.

Only one ob­ject falls from the case, and my agony fades as a di­ary – Mikey’s blue di­ary – hits the ground.

“Read it,” my brother turns to me. “Read it and when you’re done, you know where to find me.”

I take the book, grab my bags and run from the school grounds. I col­lapse on the near­est park bench, and even­tu­ally pull my­self to­gether and start read­ing. I can’t con­tain my tears. My un­cle had wanted Mikey to fol­low his dreams to be­come a lawyer, but their plans were use­less in the face of his death. In­stead my brother has sac­ri­ficed his wishes to take care of me.

He dis­guises him­self as an old man to hide his em­bar­rass­ment of work­ing at the same school he once at­tended as a pupil.

For the past three years my brother has saved as much money as he could so I can go to uni­ver­sity.

He writes that he loves me more than any­thing on earth and he’ll make sure I have ev­ery op­por­tu­nity to reach for the stars. He says he doesn’t want me to know how he does it, but he wants me to have the free­dom to suc­ceed.

I run home as fast as I can, straight into the arms of my great­est sup­porter.

Mikey calms me down and says he’s go­ing to con­tinue work­ing at school, but he has also made ar­range­ments to study on a part-time ba­sis.

“I won’t need to hide any more, as every­one now knows who I am, so that means I can leave my green brief­case at home. My dirty over­all will fit per­fectly well into a plas­tic bag.”

“Oh no, Mikey,” I smile up into his kind face. “That wouldn’t be right. You see, a med­i­cal stu­dent has a lot of heavy text­books and I’ll need a strong bag. I’ll be the one us­ing this green brief­case from now on.”

We both laugh long and hard for the first time in years.

‘I would sneak into his room when he’s out and see what he’s hid­ing in that thing’

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