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