MC D’alton is an expat South African. She lives in the northern suburbs of Brisbane, Queensland. She is a retired nurse who runs after triplet boys while finishing her degree in Professional Writing. She will read anything she can get her hands on and also spends every spare moment writing. You can find MC D’alton at her website, on Facebook, and on Twitter (@mcdalton76).
It always rained on the TV when there was a funeral. But not in real life, not on that day, the first day of the darkest days of his life.
The sun shone bright as diamonds forcing the handful of grownups present to don their sunglasses and search for shade in the stark dust ridden cemetery. It burned down on his head, mocking him with fake happiness.
Six-year-old Toby Mikkleson stood alone beside the large hole which cradled the wooden box inside which his mother lay. Summer gusts sprinkled red sand on his well-worn trainers and blew even more up his nose. Tears ran streaks down his chubby little cheeks and his belly ached with loneliness.
Behind him stood the lady who had brought him from the children’s home. She was tall and cold. Cold like Mamma’s hand when he’d held it that night. He remembered her eyes as their light faded taking any hope of a good life with it.
Hope is a strange word. It’s one which manifests both the notion of something good, like a pot of gold at the end of the rainbow and something bad, the terrible disappointment when things simply don’t go the way we’d “hoped.”
Such was the indelible life lesson six-year-old Toby learned after the police dragged him screaming from the bloodied, limp body of his mother. Hope had deserted him; robbed his life of all her wonder and left him to fend for himself.
Mamma had always said that there could be no light in this world without Hope. Hope was all he had. It was his fairy godmother on a stormy night, his warrior in the dark when things went bump, his ice crème after a bad day at school. Hope was all he had left of his mother. But Hope was gone and like his memories of Mamma, it faded into the mist of forgotten souls.
Today he was fifteen. No longer a child, no longer the lost little boy, and no longer the bigger boys’ toy and punching bag. This morning he’d stood up to Thabo when the boy, a year older and three kids larger than he, had tried to dunk his head in the used toilette again.
He’d used every ounce of strength he owned and beat the fat bully of his foster home on number 15 Crescent Street into blubbering submission. He was also not going to stick around and wait for Thabo’s cronies to dole out their payback. No, he was done with this life. It was up to him to make his own luck now.
Toby jumped the fence of the dilapidated old house. His threadbare trainers slapping the sidewalk with glee. He’d lifted a few hundred Rand from his fat, smelly, foul-mouthed foster mother’s purse and safely tucked them in a pocket he’d sewn into his hand-me-down undies for just such an occasion.
With bloodied knuckles, he adjusted his well-worn cap on top of his unruly mop of sun drenched curls, tucked his baggy shirt in to the pair of jeans he’d grabbed out of Masingo’s drawer—it was the only piece of clothing which looked halfway new—and threw a glance back.
No one had seen him.
He swung his small kit bag over his shoulder and trotted down the sidewalk toward the nearest bus stop. The bag held his most precious possessions; his only possessions. A teddy Mamma had bought him on his fourth birthday, a hat signed by cricket legend Jonty Rhodes and a simple, cheap cricket bat he’d won in a school cricket tournament last year.
Cricket was his passion, arguably the only thing which made sense in his crazy, lonely life. This prestigious game, played in white, was his dream and his . . . no, not his hope, never hope, but it sure as heck was his companion and perhaps one day his meal ticket? He was good, on the verge of great. That was what his PE teacher said.
Toby stopped running when he was sure he was far enough away. Across the street stood a rusted old bus stop. He didn’t care where the bus went. All he cared was that it took him away, far away from the dingy, dank streets of Hillbrow. Away from the memory that he was a nobody, alone and worthless.
It was up to him and him alone to make his life better. He wasn’t sure how, but he would make his name in the world of cricket. He would succeed, but first he had to escape.
The six-o-six to Illovo pulled up and Toby reached into his back pocket for the nine-rand-sixty bus fare. Bus drivers hated giving change; only taxis used money anymore. The round, Vaseline-smeared face of the middle-aged female driver considered him. For a moment, Toby feared she might point one of her sharp, long, blood red fingernails in his face and call him a thief. But she didn’t. Her plump brown cheeks bulged as she huffed, “Hurry up will you.”
He dumped the exact amount into her cash register and took a seat in the middle row, at the window.
The doors closed with a sigh and the bus jolted forward when someone hammered on them. The driver chided, stopped and opened the doors, “What now?” She leaned out of her seat then shook her head. “Damn Tsotsi’s throwing stones again.”
A young girl hopped up the steps, smiled and swiped her traveller’s card. The driver took off before the doors closed properly shaking her head as she muttered something to herself.
Toby couldn’t help but stare. Walking toward him was the most beautiful face he’d laid his eyes on in forever. Her short, platinum, pixie cut accentuated fine ears from which dangled a thousand silver rings and diamante studs. Her eyes a bright, bold green and her lips as red as fresh picked spring strawberries.
“Can I sit here?” She pointed to the open seat beside him. All Toby could do was nod. She giggled, the sound like the flurry of an angel’s wings.
Her soft apricots and peaches scent wrapped itself around him, comforting him like Mama’s arms once had. A funny tingle stirred in the centre of his being, but Toby pushed it away. Good things only happened to the lucky ones.
He turned his head and stared out the window.
“Where you off to?” Her voice like the delicate feet of an August breeze prancing from one sycamore leaf to another.
Toby looked to where her fine-boned finger pointed at his bag, then looked back out the window. Great, a nosey parker.
“Is that a cricket bat?”
He squished his eyes shut and bit his bottom lip. Why was she asking so many questions? Couldn’t she just play on her phone like all the other ignorant, self-absorbed humans on this bus?
“Well?” She pushed for an answer.
Toby shifted so his body faced her, intending to give her a mouthful about staying out of other people’s business when he froze. Her name tag read—Hope.
Her malachite gaze entranced him.
“So you’re on your way to Wanderers?”
It struck him like one of Thabo’s gut punches. Illovo. That was where Wanderers’ cricket stadium was situated and if memory served, it was where the junior cricket league try outs were taking place. Today!
“Of course you are. A strapping young boy like you? I’m also heading out that way. I work at the kiosk. Got a part time possie there because of my bro. Dale McAvoy? Do you know him?” Excitement fluttered from her like a crisp spring gust.
A bucket of ice cold water upended on his head? This girl, she was like fairy dust on an overcast day. Toby clutched at his chest. In all his life, of all the bad turns and all the wrong people—now life decided to lead him to this point. To offer him a break on a silver tray, right here, now, where he sat beside the sister of THE Dale McAvoy, the Protea’s best fast bowler since Alan Donald!
“Agh, I knew I shouldna said anything. People always go quiet and check me out with a crooked eye when I say that, but it’s true, I swear, hand on the Bible.”
Hope cocked her head and squinted her eyes. She pulled a Chubba Chubba out her pocket, ripped off the wrapper and shoved the bright pink lollipop into her mouth.
“You weren’t heading to Wanderers, were you?”
Panic surged through Toby’s veins and froze in his lungs. This was it, just when he’d thought his luck had changed.
Hope smiled and offered him a Chubba Chubba, “Relax man. I’ll get you in,” she winked and shoved her skull candy on her head.
Toby stepped off the bus, his heart revved like a V8 engine without oil. In one hand, he held a Chubba Chubba, in the other, his kit bag. The bus had stopped out the front of the magnificent stadium. Toby watched as throngs of young boys and girls, clad in their cricket bests, streamed in through the large front entrance. Hope hopped off in front of him and ran through the gate, disappearing between all the excited bodies.
“Come on then!” Her white cropped head poked out from a small side gate.
Toby choked back his fear, gripped his Chubba Chubba, and his kit bag and followed the platinum-haired pixie through the gate and into the stadium. Awe swallowed him whole as he took in the green pitch, the neatly trimmed lawn, the thousands of seats in the stands, and the practice nets. Even the air smelled different inside, like wood and sunscreen, leather and sweat.
“Come on, I don’t have all day, you know.”
Toby followed Hope and the pair made their way around the edge of the stadium to the cloakrooms. There were two parts to the large indoor player area. One where all the boys and girls found their separate change rooms and lockers to prepare for their day of intensive training with the best South Africa had to offer; the other was for the Proteas.
“Wait here,” Hope put up a hand before she slipped into their cloakrooms. Toby wanted to warn her that perhaps it wasn’t such a good idea. But maybe she’d done this before?
Moments turned into minutes as the black arms of the white-faced clock on the far side of the passage shifted. Doubt rose like the incoming tide of a hungry ocean. His hand tightened around the straps of his kitbag, the other lifted the Chubba Chubba to his face. What was he doing here? Sweat trickled down his temple and neck. Fear pooled in the pit of his stomach before it pushed up his gullet.
How silly he was to follow some girl off a bus and into Wanderers. Hope was obviously pulling his leg. She was probably sitting inside, laughing her head off with all the players, as they joked about the poor little orphan waiting outside.
Why would anything good ever happen to him? He was a nobody. An orphan who Thabo had made clear was worth nothing more than a bliksem bag. Everything that had been good in his life was buried in that casket in the Brixton Cemetery.
His feet shuffled this way and that as his eyes searched for a way out. He had to leave before someone found him and dragged him back to that house. Toby spun full circle on the spot, the walls closed in, and his lungs cramped as they strained for air. His muscles tensed and blood drained from his head, painting black spots across his vision.
Voices exiting the Protea’s cloakrooms grabbed his attention. Toby swung around and took off running straight into a tall, solid body.
His lollipop went flying in one direction and his kit bag in the other.
“Sorry, Sir . . .”
“Hey, young man . . .”
Toby looked up into the grass green eyes of Dale McAvoy. His legs turned to mush and he sat flat on his bum.
“You okay there, my boy?” The tall, fair haired, fast bowler stretched out a hand.
“Ah, yes, I ah . . . Where’s Hope?”
South Africa’s number one fast bowler retracted his hand and frowned, his gaze darkened. “Are you kidding me?”
“No Sir. I met her on the bus and she said. . . .”
Dale wiped a hand over his face, then looked to the side. He knelt and picked up the Chubba Chubba, “This yours?”
Toby nodded. “She gave it to me.”
He held out his hand and Dale dropped the lollipop in it before Toby hugged it possessively to his chest.
The cricket player sat on the floor beside him, smiling at the unopened lollipop.
“It was her favourite. You catch the six-o-six from Hillbrow to Illovo?”
“Uh, yes.” Toby searched for an exit as he stood. Something was odd. He needed a way to make a quick exit before any authorities were called.
“Do you have a minute?” Dale dusted himself off as he stood.
Toby stepped back looking this way and that.
“You’re not in trouble.”
He looked up as Dale blinked away a tear.
“Look, it’s a long story . . .”
“Okay.” He would give the bloke a chance to explain. He didn’t know why, but perhaps it was some of that pixie dust Hope was sprinkling around?
“Where is Hope?” he asked again.
“This way,” Dale took Toby upstairs to the players’ lounge where he offered him a Coke. “I am sorry. But Hope . . . well she . . . it’s five years today.”
Toby froze, soda can in mid-air. Hope was dead? He slumped back into his chair. That explained a lot. Only a ghost, a figment of his imagination, could be that kind to the likes of him. He’d sent out a desperate plea when Thabo had beat him up for the umpteenth time and Hope had answered. But how would a ghost help him any?
“I was six when Mamma died.” He didn’t know what else to say.
A sad smile slid across the cricket players face, “She found you on the bus?”
“She lived for those who were lost. She believed she was Wonder Woman. Always out to save the world and all those in it. That’s what cost her her life,” Dale stood and stared out over the field dotted with excited young players.
“Momma always said there’d be no light in the world without Hope.”
Toby Mikkelson stood at the podium. In his hands was the plaque for Sportsman of the Year.
“I dedicate this plaque to my best friend and his sister, Hope. You who took a chance on me many years ago. You reminded me, no matter how dark the days may get, hope never abandons us.”
Toby thanked his audience and fellow players before returning to his table. His wife, with her swollen belly smiling proudly up at him. Beside her, his best bud, Dale McAvoy.