He woke up from sleep and yawned. The time was close to 4 o’clock. An old man was sitting next to him, closer to the window. The old man did not sleep, but he didn’t talk either. And it soothed him just fine.
He looked around the old bus. People were awake or still drowsing. This was the last part of the trip to Utah. We had crossed the state mile like six hours ago. In his mind, Utah felt like the place to make it or to die trying. It was relatively young and rural, compared to a state like Texas. Oil city in the sun, and what you see is what you get with Texas. Only, most of the things in Texas already belonged to some rich man or another.
Kennedy looked out of the window at the speeding scenery of Utah. I got to make it here; he said to himself. Or he could be like his great, great grandfather and fall in love with a princess and watch her family reward him with a vast amount of land. They were that naïve over here.
Kennedy smiled at his thoughts. May that could happen in the 30s or early ’40s. But now, it couldn’t happen anymore. He looked at his reflection on the window. It was shallow, but he could still see himself and part of the passenger in the bus. And they all looked exhausted from traveling so much. He shrugged, Utah had better be ready for him this time around.
Kennedy was tall and athletic. If you didn’t know what he did, you would be forgiven for thinking he was an athlete. He had brown hair and eyebrows, that gave him his good looks. But his palms were bruised and hardened from old calluses. He was used to working with his hand, rather than his brain. But now, all that was changing. He was going back to the home base, Utah.
My great, great grandfather had immigrated to Utah from Canada and settled had settled in a rural town that interacted with Red-Indians. The town had one Indian name but recently had become Springville when the population of Caucasians had increased much more than native red-Indians.
His major occupation had been looking after the cows the cowboys were herding. Then one faithful day, faith had called on him in the form of The Chief of the Red-Indians had been deathly sick and his sons had broken taboo and consulted him. They took him to see their Chief and old Manor had treated him and a few days later he had gotten himself.
Then the chief said to him, you have great service for my people. He gave old Manor the land, as far as the eyes could see. It was Manor land. But the land in recent times was almost worthless. There was no gold anywhere, nothing that gave it value. It was just a grand gift of land, and nothing more.
In the 50s and 60s, the children of old man Manor started leaving the land of their fathers. They went to New York or down to California, prospecting for gold. Some struck it big and changed their names to better blend in. Others just faded away with the dew of the morning.
Kennedy’s grandfather took after the first Manor. He loved the land he had inherited and nothing would make him leave. He had two children, a daughter and a son, five years younger than the girl. Later, his dad should have inherited the place, but he moved to Texas after oil. He left his inheritance to his sister. And now, several years later, here Kennedy was, going back to Springville, Utah.
He looked at the road through the windscreen. He was close enough to the front of the bus to do so. The road stretched, just a ribbon of black through the mountainside. Since he started the journey, this was the third bus he was taking from Texas. It was the cheapest way, except by rail perhaps. And he was sore all over and impatient for the journey to end.
The bus driver made an announcement.
“We are coming to our last filling station. I advise all passengers to make use of the facilities here to freshen up and relax. The next bus stop is our last. It is roughly two hours away. Thank you.”
Kennedy reached for his knapsack and fixed this to his back. This was now a familiar country and he was rearing to go and surprise his aunt. He hadn’t told anyone that he was traveling to Utah, and he imagined her look of total surprise.
Kennedy was twenty-three years old last February. It was now early July. And he was finally free from work in the garage which he hated. But it was the only job he could and do well. It was either that or he could get work in one of the super malls in town, and he had heard stories to know he was far off better at the garage.
He looked out the window, and the tarmac sped to his destination. But he was happy. He didn’t know what was coming, but anything else was better than what he had.
In thirty minutes, they were pulling into a bus station. It looked as old as the bus and nearly deserted. Apart from the pumps, it contained a dinner, restrooms, and grocery store.
Kennedy Manor got down gratefully and shook hands with the driver of the bus. It was the last stop for him. He saluted some fellow passengers hanging around and made off down the highway, his steps spry and excited.
He still recalled the road easily. He had resided in this locality until he was nine, and then his dad took an oil work in Texas. They had left their grandfather and moved to the big city of Texas. For two years, it had been a dream life. Then their father died in a freak accident in an oil rig. The corporation had settled adequately and, with the advances, his mum had trained three of Kennedy’s elder brothers through college.
When it came to his turn, his mum had died. His only sister, Leona Manor, the last born, barely 20, had taken in for a salesman and gotten pregnant, so she got married to him, just months after they buried their mum.
Kennedy stayed two more years, working in a garage for his new in-law, who was a small-time owner of a garage of his own. But Kennedy had felt the neglect of his brothers. They were too busy with their lives. And two promptly relocated to New York with their families, looking for better opportunities.
Then he got a letter from his aunty Alfie, his father’s sister, inviting him to come back to Utah and learn to run his grandfather’s ranch. She had kept the place running all these years, but because of age, the place was falling apart. If he wasn’t interested, then she had no other choice than to sell it or Will it back to the government.
That was two months ago.
Kennedy had been walking on the highway for one hour thirty minutes. Then he left the highway and followed at a turn at Manor Ridge, and trudged up an un-tarred road, up a hilly incline.
Utah, all the good and bad things he heard about the state came to him. It was a Mormon country, they said and so everything was odd about the state. Coming to Utah, for a young man, was like taking a check and retiring old. The crime was minimal, but he assumed that was because there was nothing worth stealing in Utah.
He had trekked for another hour when he saw he saw dust ahead. It took a good thirty minutes for a red beat-up ford to approach him. The driver of the car, an Indian man, stopped in surprise to see him.
Kennedy approached him with a knowing smile on his face.
“Akando! It’s Kennedy! Kennedy Manor!”
Still, the driver looked at Kennedy kind of funny, trying to recall his face. Then his face lit up with surprise and he ran out of the car and hugged him.
“Little Ken! Wow, I never expected to see you again.”
“I’m now a grown-up man. I can do what I want, go anywhere I choose and I chose to come back to Utah!”
“Yes, you are so grown up… does your aunt know you are coming? Because she would have sent me to town to pick you up.”
Kennedy shook his head. “She knows I am coming, but not the date exactly. I didn’t even know when myself. I had to hand over the garage I was working in, to someone else. But I left yesterday. It took three buses for me to get here.”
Akando walked back to the car and Kennedy followed him and got into the passenger side. Akando turned the car around and drove back to the ranch.
* * * *
The land given to Manor was vast. The place had been given to his great, great grandfather as a gift for saving the red-Indian leader from the poison of his enemy. But the gift came with a caveat. He had to marry the elder daughter of the Chief. To thank him, his great, great grandfather had married his daughter, the one they called Alaqua, after the gum tree. From his great, great grandfather down to his grandfather, the line of succession was clear… and then his dad had broken the line of succession.
Now, the place belonged to his aunt, Alfie, who hadn’t married until it was too late to do so. And she had sent for him, trying to preserve their inheritance, or so she said in the letter.
“How is she doing? My aunt, I mean. She is older than my late dad, I think. Probably in her late fifties or sixties or something?”
A brief smile was all he got from Akando, as he concentrated on driving the ford on the un-tarred, jagged road.
“You will meet her, then you be the judge.” That was all he said at last.
He looked out the window of the car at the speeding scenery. It was rough. All these, as far as the eyes could see, were family land. Vast canyon’s and Mountains and dead space. Then he wondered if he hadn’t made a mistake coming back to his base. He shrugged again. It was still far better than what he was doing in Texas.
Then he saw the mountains, standing like three old sentinels. They surrounded a valley, and here, old man Manor had found a place to build the homestead.
After driving for an hour, they came to the valley, lush with grass. Falcon Valley, they called it. It stretched for miles on end. And a sea of cattle was to be seen, manned by cowboys. They waved, and Kennedy waved back. Akando minded the wheel of the car on the road, his face expressionless, even though he must know those folks.
The three mountains surrounded the Valley, giving it a perfect shelter from the worst of the weather. Thirty minutes later, they drove onto the reservation. Manor reservation, the place was called. It had always been so, and Kennedy permitted himself a smile. The reservation now looked more like a small version of a city. The reservation housed about fifteen cowboy families. They all worked for aunt Alfie.
“The place hasn’t changed.”
Akando grunted back, and drove into the largest compound, and parked.
Kennedy recognized the place at once. The homestead. For generations, the homestead had housed the Manor family. Right from the time of his great, great grandfather up to the present moment. Kennedy smiled ruefully as he came down from the car and looked at the house.
Akando came down from the car too and looked at him.
“Your aunt, she went to town for an engagement. You have to wait, she will be back this evening. She didn’t know you were coming today, you see. I will look her up in town and give her the news.”
“See you later, Ken.”
With that, he got back into the car and reversed. Then off he went on his interrupted journey to town. Kennedy turned back to the house and sighed.
He sauntered towards the front door, carrying his bag behind him. He got to the front door and looked for a doorbell ringer. Not seeing that, he knocked on the door. After a while, he knocked again and waited. The door was opened by a Caucasian girl in her twenties, with freckles and blond hair, and violet colored eyes.
Her appearance took Kennedy by surprise, as he had been hoping to see Mr. Clive or somebody closer to the age of 6o.
“Who are you?” The girl asked rudely.
“I am – ur – I am Kennedy Manor. I heard my aunt went to town. I would wait for her inside.”
The girl held the door open for him, and he got inside. She closed the door again and turned to him.
“I don’t know you?”
“Me too …”
She looked at him and his bag.
“I mean, I recognize the name, but I don’t know you.”
“Then I guess we need to rectify that,” Kennedy said, teasing her.
“Well, I am Violet Henderson. I’m doing a holiday job here, rather than in town. Clive Henderson is my dad, he was a butler here, but now he’s in charge of the cattle ranch closer to the town’s market place.”
“I am Kennedy, and I am coming from Texas. Aunt Alfie is my father’s senior sister. I came to stay with her.”
“I see… well, take care of yourself. I will tell the housekeeper that you are around and she will get something for you and show you to your room. I am busy in the backyard. See ya!”
She turned and disappeared through the kitchen.
Kennedy sat down in one of the chairs. He looked around the living room. All the curtains were wide open, keeping the shadows away. He remembered the ranch provided light for itself through an ingenious windmill his grandfather had installed in the back of the house. It was too far to rely on the government’s grid network. Except for taxes, the government never failed to collect their taxes.
Then he thought about the girl. She had been polite but brief. She said she was the daughter of old Mr. Clive. He didn’t even know that Mr. Clive had been married. Kennedy shrugged.
He looked around the sitting room.
There were old, framed pictures in the room and even ancient paintings of great, great grandfather. Looking closely at the bank of pictures, he recognized his dad instantly in several of them.
He got up and went to the mantlepiece and examined an old picture. It was one of his dads, a student of the University of Utah in the early 70s, with his traveling suitcase. The picture had been taken outside the homestead building because he recognized the place. His dad and mom looked very young in the picture. His grandfather looked so proud, and aunt Alfie looked proud, too.
Someone coughed lightly, and he turned, then he quickly closed the distance between them and hugged the housekeeper. It was the same black housekeeper, greying but looking the same. He hugged her for a long time, then he let go of her.
“Lord save us, Master Kennedy, you are all grown up now!”
He smiled, looking at her. “It’s good to see you again, Grace.”
“Yeah, it’s great. When Violet told me we had a visitor, my mind went everywhere but to you! God, you are so big!”
Kennedy sat down on a sofa, and she sat down next to him.
“We heard about your dad and mum passing… God save their souls. Aunt Alfie traveled for the burial of her younger brother. Sorry thing, that is. She cried for a year after she came back. She said she was alone in the world, but I told her no, all her nephews and niece were there. She said none of you was ready to come back and run the place with her, but I thank God you are here. She can begin to relax now.”
Kennedy smiled at her.
“Here, come. Let me show you to your room.”
She took his bag, and he followed her out of the sitting room.
* * * *
Kennedy came out of the bathroom, a towel tied to his waist. He creamed his body and glanced at the clock on the wall. 7:45. It was dark now, and he suspected his aunt would be back, waiting to talk to him. He quickly dressed up in easy wear and brushed his hair. Then he walked out of the door and made his way to the living room.
Aunt Alfie was in the dining room, eating and talking to Violet. She turned to see Kennedy come out of the passage, and a warm smile broke through her features.
“Aunt Alfie, it’s good to see you!”
She waved at him, and he kissed her cheek.
“Come, sit down! This is a surprise!” Aunt Alfie said.
He nodded at Violet, then sat down beside aunt Alfie.
“You failed to tell me you were coming in today. I would have provided a car to pick you up!”
“I wanted to surprise you. But Akando found me at Manor Ridge and brought me here.” Kennedy smiled at both women. “Anyway, I learned you went to town for a meeting?”
“Yeah, a kind of meeting…. Are you hungry? Join us, please. We will talk later.”
Kennedy got a plate and piled rice and beef stew and vegetables.
“You’ve met Violet, right?” His aunt asked him.
“She let me into the house when I arrived, then she disappeared inside.”
“I didn’t disappear. I told you I was busy in the yard.” Violet looked at aunt Alfie in explanation, “I was grooming the horses.”
Aunt Alfie laughed.
“Violet is the second daughter to Mr. Clive. She came to spend her holidays with us.” She looked at Violet. “Kennedy is my nephew. There are five of them. He is the second to last child and the last of four boys. It’s a relief to me to have him here.”
She smiled at Kennedy.
“Eat, Kennedy, we value an appetite here in Utah!”
* * * *
Kennedy strolled with his aunty up a couple of hill tracks. From up here, they could see the valley and cows in their pen. The sheep were in another pen. To the right, the homestead gleamed in the dark, as bright as a jewel.
Aunt Alfie sat down on a boulder and lit a cigarette. She offered one to Kennedy, but he declined. She smoked in silence for a minute or two. He sat down on another boulder, looking around.
“So, what do you think about this place and everything?” She asked Kennedy.
“Compared to how I remember it and how it looks now, you have done well for yourself. I don’t even remember herds of cattle and sheep. But you have that. And I seem to get the impression that you have more hands. I counted about 16 houses. Most of them, new houses.”
His aunt smiled and threw away the cigarette butt.
“You are observant, Kennedy. We have more of everything. Most of the men and cattle are not even here. They are at the cattle ranch in town. But this is early summer yet. The cattle ranch will be busy throughout the year, especially through the spring and summer and the falls. So, I guess we are doing good.”
Kennedy nodded.”This is miles better than I had thought.”
“All these will be yours one day,” Aunt Alfie said.
Kennedy looked at her without comment.
“I have cancer, you see… leukemia, a cancer of the blood. So I am trying to put everything in place for a successor.”
“The hospital gave me a year, two years at best… and I need you. I need you to take over the place. And I have a short time to train you, but I will try my best.”
“And you are smoking?” Kennedy sounded horrified.
“Even if I stopped, I’d still die of cancer. The damage has already been done. Believe me, I have checked.”
He looked at her, feeling terrible.
“What I have told you about my health, only four people know of it. My doctor, Mr. Clive, Grace in the house, and Akando. And now you are the fifth person with my secret. I want to keep it that way.”
“Yeah, wow…. Anyway, tomorrow, you’ll come and work with me directly. You’ll be my assistant. This position will let you meet everybody and know everything you ought to know before I become too weak to carry on.”
She looked at him; he remained quiet, and she pitied him in her heart.
“There is one more thing to tell you, but not now.”
“What is it?” Asked Kennedy.
“Something happened, something astonishing and mysterious. But like I said, I won’t tell you now. You have to prove yourself worthy of the secret.”
He corked his head and thought, but he couldn’t think of anything. Besides, his mind was still swimming with the bad news she had fed him.
“Let’s go back to the house, Kennedy. It’s chilly out here.”
She looked at him.
“Aunt Alfie, I will make only one condition of you… I will stay, but you have to give up cigarettes. It doesn’t help your condition at all….”
She is quiet for a while, then brings out the pack of cigarettes and selects a stick, and lights up; looking at him challengingly.
His face fell.
She smiled. ‘Don’t worry, it’s probably my last cigarette, boy. I value you too much to risk losing you.” She said this with a twinkle in her eyes.
She inhaled long and exhaled the acrid smoke from her mouth. Then she flicked the cigarette away, only half-smoked, and gave Kennedy her hand for a handshake.
She said, “My last cigarette, so help me God.”
They got back to the house, and he said he was taking an early night.
He got to his room and lay down in bed, thinking. First his grandfather, then his dad, and now aunt Alfie… what was going on? The past three years were maybe the worst in the family history for the deaths of loved ones. He tossed and turned in bed, but sleep was denied him.
He went out to his balcony and looked at the clear night shy. The stars were shining abundantly and crystal clear. With a little imagination, he could almost believe that this was the way God had birthed the world. He looked at the stars and wondered about them, all the secrets they held for man, just waiting until human beings were ready for them.
“If there’s a God, please spare my aunt… please, I beg you?”
* * * *
The next morning, after breakfast, Kennedy followed his aunt Alfie to her office, a little building next to the bungalow. Victoria tagged along too, sorting out files for aunt Alfie. Aunt Alfie was pumped-up and excited to have the two young ones with her, especially Kennedy.
“First, I will start by explaining everything to both of you. Whatever you don’t know, no matter how silly you think the question is, ask me and it’d be my delight to explain it to you, okay?”
Her two attendants nodded attentively.
She continued. “Now, let me explain Violet’s presence here because I know Kennedy is wondering to himself why she is here with us.”
Violet grinned, and Kennedy nodded.
“Violet’s dad asked me last year to teach her everything I know. That’s why she came here during her holiday. It’s a favor, one I am delighted to undertake. And as for Kennedy, well, all this here will technically belong to you one day. So, you better pay attention.”
The young ones laughed at that.
Aunt Alfie took it on herself to explain everything about the office and the working of things to the two of them. Around ten o’clock in the morning, she received a call from her doctor.
Aunt Alfie called for a 30 minutes break and when the two young ones left, she called back the number that had called her earlier.
“Hello Doctor, yes, I’m alone now. What’s the report …?”
Outside the office, Kennedy looked around, unsure what to do next.
“Let’s go to the house and I can fix you a snack,” Violet offered.
They went to the house, and Grace let them in.
“What would you prefer?” Violet asked.
“Anything light, and a glass of milk.”
“How about a slice of fruit cake?”
Violet smiled and went to the kitchen. She didn’t stay long and came out with milk and cranberry juice and two slices of fruit cake for Kennedy, the cranberry for herself. Violet relaxed in a chair and sipped her cranberry juice and watched Kennedy eat his fruit cake and milk.
“I guess you are in college?” Kennedy asked her.
She nodded. “Business Studies. My second year.”
He shook his head. She is quiet for a while.
Then she asked, “But you finished high school?”
She said, “Then you could try to get a degree through a correspondence course. If you want, I can help you search for one that’s suitable for you.”
She looked at him, sipping from her cranberry juice, and waited for his response.
He smiled wistfully. “I think I’m too old for that now.”
“Just say ‘Yes.’ and I will find something quite moderate and modulated for you. It’s the advantage you have for being in a place like this. Nothing to distract you from graduating from a course you like, at your own time, and at your own pace.”
Just then, the landline rang.
“That must be aunt Alfie,” Violet said as she goes and picks the landline.
* * * *
By noon, they were through for the day, and aunt Alfie looked exhausted.
“Time for lunch,” aunt Alfie said gladly.
They trooped back to the house, and Grace was waiting for them with their lunch. After the heavy meal, Aunt Alfie had to go rest inside for a beat. Violet said she was going to town to visit her mom and went to find aunt Alfie’s driver to take her there. She asked Kennedy if he felt like coming along, but he said he wanted to explore his surroundings.
He went into his room and soon emerged with hiking shoes and his knapsack. He told Grace where he was going in case his aunt looked for him when she woke up. Grace found a walkie-talkie and gave it to him.
“Just in case,” master Kennedy.
Outside, he made a beeline for the nearby mountain he had seen the first day he came here. He and his brothers had climbed the mountain when he was just a kid, and he wondered if he could share the view from up here like before.
Fortunately, he found a trail that led up to the mountain and followed this until he came to the mountain. He saw a lot of goats hanging around here. They were wild goats; he surmised.
It took him thirty minutes of hard work to climb the first base of the mountain, about one-third of the way to the top. And he was breathing pretty hard. Talk about losing his skills for rock climbing.
He found a rock outpost that formed a natural ledge and climbed this and settled down on it.
He brought out his flask and drank water. Next time, he promised himself, I will get to the top. From his vantage point, he could see the valley spread out before him in one beautiful panorama. From here, he could see far off in the distance and he could mark out the cowboys grazing their cattle and sheep.
He wished he had brought an easel and captured this view forever. He watched them, feeling good and an overwhelming feeling of calmness descended on him.
Then his thoughts turned to his aunt. She had made all this possible, and it had taken a toll on her health. He sighed helplessly. Life really sucks for some people.
From his bag, he brought a book Violet had given him about schools in the area, and gradually drifted to sleep. He slept for three or four hours.
The radio in his bag woke him up. He listened again and heard his name. “Aunt Alfie to Kennedy Manor. Aunt Alfie to Kennedy Manor – over?”
He opened his knapsack and picked up the radio.
“Hey, aunt Alfie, sorry I fell asleep.”
“Kennedy Manor, can you hear me?”
“I hear you, loud and clear, aunty.”
“Which mountain are you on?”
“The closest one to the house. Do you want me to come to see you?”
“Yes, come. I am on the porch of the homestead. Violet is here with me too. We are talking about you.”
“Yep, about you, and what are you going t do about it?” His aunt laughed at him.
“Okay, aunt Alfie. I will be with you in one hour or less.”
“Okay, hotshot. Over and out.”
Kennedy smiled to himself. She has a playful nature, his aunt does. He slipped the walkie-talkie into his knapsack and looked at his watch. 5:20 in the evening. He got down from the ledge and looked around once more.
The goats watched him lazily.
“I will be back, guys. See you soon.”
He made his way cautiously down the steep slopes, all the way down.
* * * *
Aunt Alfie was sitting outside on her porch with Violet when Kennedy arrived home.
“Hi aunt Alfie, Hi Violet. Nice evening, isn’t it?”
“Hope we didn’t cut short your reunion with the mountains. I woke up from sleep and you were both gone. So Grace kept me company until two hours ago when Violet came back and Grace suggested I use the walkie-talkie to call you up since she made you go with one.”
Kennedy went inside the house to his room and dropped his bag, then he got a chair from the dining room and came out and sat with his aunty and Violet.
“I was in the mountain. I saw a lot of goats hanging around there. Who owns them?” He asked.
“They are wild goats. Nobody owns them. They have been living there for ages.” Aunt Alfie said.
“They kept me company, even while I slept off.”
“They have caves in the mountain where they sleep when the weather gets rough.” Aunt Alfie said, looking at him.
“I don’t recall caves in the mountain?”
“You haven’t explored the mountain.” Violet laughed.
“The other side of the mountain is steep and treacherous and leads to a canyon. But you will find the caves there, and paintings by the early cavemen. They tell a very interesting story.” Aunt Alfie told them.
“I’d like to see them,” Kennedy said.
“Maybe I can go with you?” Violet asked.
“Sure,” he said.
Aunt Alfie smiled.
“The adventures of youth. Nothing is impossible. I remember Akando and I and your dad, during our youths. We explored every inch of the place. And I found someplace, hidden places, without your dad. At that time, he had university things running through his brain. He gave up on the land, which was a pity. ”
That night, Kennedy slept like a kid. And he dreamt a dream, a vivid dream. He was flying through the sky and everything seemed possible to him. And Violet was with him, and they soared through the stars. There were colors and stars of all shapes and sizes. Where they were going, he does not know. But they were deliciously happy.
And that mattered more than everything else.
TO BE CONTINUED…Recommend0 Simily SnapsPublished in