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Ivor Hartmann


Ivor W. Hartmann

Hartmann is a Zimbabwean writer living between Harare and Johannesburg. He publishes, StoryTime, an African fiction ezine, and his fiction and non-fiction pieces have been published in various magazines. His short story, Earth Rise, was nominated in March 2009 for The Ursa Major Award. and Mr. Goop, (published here for the first time) was awarded The Baobab Prize for a work of fiction aimed at readers aged 12-15 years in March 2009.



 Mr. Goop

Tamuka hated Mr. Goop; it wasn't as if it was really his anyway. He had the unfortunate distinction of being one of those kids. The ones with poor parents, who could not afford to buy their children Geneforms of their own. Just this morning before class, in the translucent, dome-sealed playground, Tamuka had yet again been a victim. Well, at least he had not been alone this time: two younger kids and their inherited family Geneforms had also endured the playground circle of laughter and cruel taunts.    
Mr. Goop stood motionless outside the classroom; Tamuka could see its vague shadowy humanoid outline, through the frosted glass wall. The adult-sized Mr. Goop was too big to be allowed in the classroom. While everyone else in his class had their small — and very cute — Geneforms dozing on their desks, or sitting quietly on their shoulders, he had Mr. Goop standing outside.
Mr. Goop. Tamuka shuddered at the name, given to the Geneform by his grandfather, Manenji Zimudzi. A bad joke, Tamuka had been told when he had asked him. One that grandfather had made when he first bought it in better days, long before Tamuka’s father was even born, about it being a genetically manufactured lump of goo, which became a walking Mr. Goop. And the name had stuck. It would respond to no other, no matter how hard Tamuka had tried to train it.
Tamuka then thought of grandfather, alone on that mountain top in Nyanga, where they buried him last year. Tamuka wondered if grandfather was lonely up there, and vowed to nag his mother into going to visit him. The truth was he really missed grandfather; he was the one person who always had time for Tamuka, no matter the hour or problem. But during all the commotion that had surrounded grandfather's death; mother in floods of tears, father being strong for her, no-one had bothered to ask Tamuka how he felt about it all.
'Tamuka, what is the name of the English Isles' capital city?' asked his teacher, Mrs. Mudarikwa, breaking the spell of memories that surrounded Tamuka.
'London,' blurted Tamuka.
The class around him erupted in laughter. Mrs. Mudarikwa, a wizened old lady whose wrinkles probably outnumbered the dunes of the seaward deserts, motioned for silence. But then she gave him that look, the subtle one reserved for her brighter students who showed a slight disappointment, that always left Tamuka feeling very disappointed with himself.
'No, Tamuka that used to be the capital until… Who can tell me?' Mrs. Mudarikwa asked, once the laughter had subsided. A dozen eager hands shot up and she chose Tiny, of all people. Tamuka groaned inwardly. Tiny really was a small lad, not that it stopped him from becoming the ringleader in Tamuka's Geneform circle of humiliation.

Tiny glanced at Tamuka, a smirk plastered on his pixie face, then he turned a solemn face back to Mrs. Mudarikwa, 'The great floods of 2040, Ma’am, forced the permanent relocation of the English Isles' capital city from London to Birmingham.'
'That is correct, and can you tell me why the Great Floods occurred?' asked Mrs. Mudarikwa.
'In 2040 due to the exponential runaway effects of global warming,' Tiny replied promptly, 'the entire continental western shelf of the Antarctic caved into the South Ocean and melted. This created, in addition to the 70 meter rise by 2020 from the melting of the Arctic and Greenland continental ice shelf, a total 90 meter rise in global sea level and the loss of over 1,710,000 square kilometres of the Earth's low-land seaward areas,' Tiny smiled proudly. And at that moment Tamuka couldn't decide who he hated more, Mr. Goop or Tiny.


As Tamuka crunched his way home between the disused railway tracks, he fiddled with his oxygen mask. Mr. Goop followed silently behind him, and of course it didn't need a mask, gene-tailored as it was for the Earth's current environment among other things. Like being able to virtually live forever, Tamuka thought irritably. As with all Geneforms, Mr. Goop was of limited intelligence, but it certainly knew enough to sense Tamuka's moods, and remained a constant five meters away. Tamuka could feel Mr. Goop's quiet presence behind him, as he had his entire life. He could not in fact imagine what life might be like without Mr. Goop. Tamuka had no brothers and sisters, nor would he ever, with the one-child family law.  

In the low late afternoon sun, the rusted railway tracks shone like two lines of spun gold. On either side, Tamuka could see, through their transparent domes, into the rear of the rich suburban houses of this area. From where he walked, they all looked to him like big bubbles housing other dimensions of existence, which could only ever be glimpsed by peeking over high walls, and through bright laser security systems. From behind a row of thorny acacia trees that jutted from a dome to his left, he could hear the sound of splashing water and children's laughter. Unable to help himself, he leapt from the tracks, down into the thick vegetation, which thrived in the high carbon dioxide and low oxygen environment. He battled his way to the plastic-steel wall, leaned against it, and listened carefully.
Mr. Goop stopped walking and waited patiently in the hot sun. Tamuka closed his eyes and imagined the happy sun-soaked scene behind the wall; he could almost smell the chlorine in the water.
It scared Tamuka so badly that he jumped backwards, deep into a very dense and thorny wait-a-bit bush that he had already so carefully avoided. As Mr. Goop plunged off the tracks to get to him, Tamuka kept very still. He could feel blood starting to drip warmly, where the small needle-sharp thorns had painfully punctured right through his sun-screen coveralls and school uniform. Well it wasn't called the wait-a-bit bush for nothing, Tamuka thought. The trick was to keep very still and remove each thorn-studded, vine-like branch, one by one. The property had to belong to some really rich and important person, to have such a security system. Tamuka tried to stay calm, but his breathing was hard and deep, steaming up the clear oxygen mask. At least he had remembered to strap the vulnerable oxygen line underneath his clothes before leaving the school airlock. And so far, he could hear the steady hiss of the mask: no thorns had penetrated it. 
Mr. Goop reached Tamuka, its grey skin paler than usual, and began to gently remove the thorny branches, one by one.
Mr. Goop had done this before, Tamuka could see. There was no hesitation in his movements.
Tamuka was mentally racked by visions of armed and armoured men, jumping from fliers in the sky to capture him at any moment.
There was a measured haste to Mr. Goop's actions now; Tamuka could tell that it knew, in its way, what could happen if Tamuka was arrested.
The surface of the wall began to hum and several holes opened like pupil irises along the top. From these apertures sprung robotic necks with camera heads, which swung themselves around and whined into focus on Tamuka and Mr. Goop.
Faster now, and with no thought to the thorns that were scratching his own skin, Mr Goop started on the branches wrapped around Tamuka's head.
New holes opened along the wall and out popped several sleek, gun-bearing robot arms. Beams from their blue lasers roamed Mr. Goop and Tamuka's bodies like glowing beetles.
The last branch finally came free and Mr. Goop hauled Tamuka over its shoulder and sprinted up to the tracks. Though the countdown had ended, the robot cameras and guns continued to track them.
Mr. Goop did not stop when it made the safety of the tracks, or when Tamuka flailed to be let down, or even when its own breathing became ragged and its footfalls heavy. Tamuka lay helpless in its strong grip, wondering at Mr. Goop's reaction. Surely they were safe now.
Still, he had been twelve seconds from a fate possibly worse than death; the faster they went and the further they were, the better for him. Tamuka then had a flash of what might have happened had he not been with Mr. Goop. What use would a normal kid's Geneform have been, he thought? He would certainly have been arrested, or worse.   


Mr. Goop set Tamuka gently down by the front entrance to their apartment block, before collapsing in a heap. It gasped for air like a stranded fish, but just as Mr Goop did not speak, it did not sweat either — none of the Geneforms ever did. Digging for the remote digikey in his schoolbag, he looked upwards and squinted at the thin clouds whipping past floor one hundred and twelve. Their apartment was one of ten thousand in the government housing block. They were on the ninety-second floor. Just below the cloud-line, Tamuka thought grumpily, not that they could have seen anything anyway, set right in the middle of the block as they were, with no external windows.  Their block was officially called Tsvangirai Heights, after some ancient, long dead prime minister, back when this was a country, not a state, called Zimbabwe.
Tamuka found the digikey, pulled it out, and waved it at the thick glass doors. They swung silently open to the air lock chamber beyond. Tamuka ambled in slowly, giving the tired Mr. Goop enough time to rise and join him. If Mr. Goop was locked outside it would be denied access until a registered owner came to fetch it.           
As usual, there was no-one home when they arrived. After tending to Tamuka's cuts and scratches, Mr Goop opened a cup of Instacook noodles and set it out on the kitchen counter. Then it climbed into its capsule in the adjoining scullery and closed the hatch. It wanted to be left alone then. Tamuka stood in the kitchen and munched on the now steaming hot noodles, whilst absently staring out the fake windows.
Out there, if you believed the windows, it was a late summer day and a brisk wind blew leaves around silently. The wind swooped down from the thick European pine forests, just past their back garden fence. You could turn the sound on, even the smells with some of the newer models he had seen on display in the mall. You could also change the scene with those new ones. Not these ones though; these were all standard issue and came with the apartment. They had one built-in scene: Remote European Countryside. Throughout the whole apartment all you could see were these damn forests, cows in rough-walled fields and the odd blackbird. Not forgetting, never forgetting, the damn scarecrow in a wheat field outside Tamuka's bedroom window.
Ever since he could remember, he had been absolutely terrified of that damn scarecrow. That was before he was old enough to realise that none of it was real, or could ever be real anymore, not even in Europe itself. However, even when he had finally caught on, the irrational fear remained and he was even more scared than before. Eventually, against government policy, he had pinned up a large picture of an extinct puppy over the window. The picture was still there, and his parents let it stay, even though it would mean a fine if it was ever discovered. Tamuka vaguely remembered that the 'windows' had something to do with the psychological-well-being, of the approximately thirty thousand inhabitants of Mbare, which was his block's informal name.
Tamuka knew the unofficial name used to belong to a high-density suburb that existed here once, when this had been the capital city — not just the state capital city — Harare. The current Mbare was the first of the really big housing blocks to be built in the United States of Africa. The proper name for the block was an Arcology. Every basic need was met within the arcology, apart from their schooling. Tamuka wasn't sure exactly why school was outside Mbare, but it was also something to do with that psychological-well-being stuff. Inside Mbare was a huge interior mall, thirty stories high and filled with all the shops, cinemas, playgrounds, gyms, sports grounds, restaurants, nightclubs, lakes and parks one could ever need. Quite a few of the adults — including his parents — worked here too. Some had never left the arcology and were quick and proud to say so.
Although the idea of forever living in Mbare was not for Tamuka, he could understand why others could do so. It was, he supposed, like living in one huge close-knit village. People could know you and you them, for your whole lifetime. Families often made deals to move their apartments closer together. Tamuka's closest friend, nicknamed Chinhavira, was surrounded by no less than twenty apartments, all belonging to members of her extended family. They were strict traditionalists and her father Mr. Tonderai Mpofu, held a senior position in the Tsvangirai Height's People's Council. Chinhavira already had an apartment that was being rented out until she married. It seemed to Tamuka that she had no choice either in her parent's choice of apartment, or her future genetically-selected, arcology-born marriage partner.
Tamuka slurped the last of his noodles down, opened the atomiser by the sink and threw the cold cup inside. He flicked the lid down and it automatically locked in place with a vacuum hiss. A muffled bang came from inside as the cup was atomised and sucked away. Gone, forever. Like his grandfather, even if his parents said he was with all their ancestors, watching over all their living family.
'Can you hear me, grandfather?' Tamuka whispered, half expecting, half dreading an answer. The apartment remained silent.



His mother's call jerked Tamuka rudely awake on his bed, where he had fallen asleep while reading. He leapt up and tossed the digital screen-reader to the bed. Quickly, he wiped his face and straightened his clothes. It would not do for mother to know he had been asleep, on top of whatever else was obviously bothering her. He hurried out of his bedroom; if she had to call twice, there would be hell to pay.
Mrs. Kundiso Zimudzi was a formidable woman when stirred to the occasion. His father often said that it was this fiery quality, which had drawn him to her in the first place. But the look Tamuka got, as he rounded the corner into the kitchen made him wish his father had found another, less dangerous quality. Most people did not recognise the danger signs — distracted by her jet black eyes and slim elegant eyebrows, neatly shaven head and skin the colour of burnt wild honey. Her short body was fit and generously proportioned. Her bland grey domestic worker's coveralls was always touched with a bit of colour and individuality. Today, Tamuka noticed that it was in the form of a fake but beautiful golden scarab beetle brooch. All these attributes could — if you did not know her well enough, keep you distracted until she suddenly had you at her mercy. Tamuka knew her all too well.
'Perhaps you would like to tell me why Mr. Goop is in the capsule, and won't come out when I call?' she asked. She placed her hand on her hip and Tamuka's danger meter shot up about ten points. She hardly ever did that!

He took pains to be totally honest, and yet very careful. 'I'm not sure,' he replied tentatively, 'we had some trouble on the way home and Mr. Goop carried me; perhaps it's just tired…?' He turned away, trying to look anywhere except at his mother.
'Not boring you, I hope?' asked his mother lightly.

Of course what she was really saying was, if you don't look me in the eye right now and fully answer my questions, there's going to be hell to pay. He turned and looked her squarely in the eyes. It was no easy task.
Tamuka relayed the whole day's events in one long breath, and had to breathe deeply afterwards. His mother was silent, another rare thing; she regarded him carefully as though seeing him from a whole new perspective. Though she said nothing, her eyes glistened more, he thought, before she crossed the kitchen and enfolded him in a tight hug.
'Don't you ever be so foolish again, Tamuka' she whispered but held him even tighter for the longest of moments. And just then he wasn't a big boy of twelve, embarrassed by parental displays of affection. He was just a little boy who'd had a big scare. He cried a little and his mother hummed sympathetically while gently swaying from side to side.
'Your father is working a double, up at the air docks,' his mother said, after she slowly broke their embrace. She then bustled around the kitchen making dinner. Presently, she turned to him, 'Now hold on, what do, we have here?' she whisked out his father's blue lunch box, from behind her back. 'Methinks, young sir, that your father would be rather pleased to see this. Why don't you take it up to him?'
Tamuka wiped away his tears and grinned excitedly, 'But what about Mr. Goop?' He realised he hadn't even considered going without it.
'Don't worry about Mr. Goop, for now. You go on, and I want you back in an hour for dinner, that's one hour only, mister.' Tamuka turned and ran down the short hallway to the front door.
'And don't forget to put your coat on, it gets very cold up there after sunset', his mother called out after him.
Tamuka had forgotten, and dutifully put on the coat before slamming the door open, and then shut. What a day it had been so far, he thought as he eagerly ran down the corridor — from the morning's humiliation to the afternoon's ordeal... and now he got to go and see his father at work — without Mr. Goop. It was a strange feeling not having Mr. Goop in his shadow. A bit scary even, but he felt wonderfully grown up, just like a short adult really. He stopped running and a few people passed by. He nodded hello, and felt even more adult when they nodded back.


'Thanks son,' murmured Tamuka's father as he man-handled a small crate into position inside a much larger one. Tamuka placed the lunch box in his father's work bag which hung on a nearby hook. In the dim light of the cavernous warehouse underneath the rooftop runway, his father, Mr. Tapiwa Zimudzi, sweated profusely. It ran down in sheets over his enormous bare barrel chest, staining dark his light green labourer's coverall, which was knotted at his waist. Standing at over six foot eight, his father was as huge as his mother was diminutive, one of his arms alone was as big as both Tamuka's legs put together. Tamuka had sometimes heard laughter, when they all walked together in the mall, but normally all it took was one look from either of his parents to shut that person up. His father had a square face and blunt, craggy features, and could not really be called handsome — until he smiled. He too sported a clean scalp, one that shone like a polished cannon ball, and was just as hard, Tamuka thought.
'Tamuka, are you here at all, son?' asked his father as he hefted another heavy crate.
'Sorry father, it's been a long day,' Tamuka said, hanging his head.
'So I heard from your mother,' his father said. He paused for a moment to gently lift up Tamuka's chin. 'Look, it's not like I don't know how rough it can be for you at times. I do remember what it's like to be twelve. Now, this kid that's been bothering you… Tiny is it?' Tamuka nodded gravely, and his father continued. 'Have you thought that perhaps Tiny has never been alone without his Geneform, and yet here you are now without Mr. Goop.' Tamuka's eyes widened as he realised what his father was saying.
'That's right, here I am, alone!' Tamuka said, hatching the beginning of a verbal attack that he could use at the next taunting session.
'You got it, Kiddo. And if you are wise, Tiny might just never bother you again.' His father said and ruffled Tamuka’s short spiky dreads as he ambled past.
'You must understand how important school is, Tamuka,' he said while wrestling with what seemed like a very heavy crate. 'When your mother and I were growing up there was no schooling, only day to day survival. Now when I was twelve I—'.
'—was in a mass exodus that crossed the seaward wasteland deserts, walking five thousand kilometres to return to the homeland of our ancestors, during which time you met mother. Yes I know the story,' Tamuka cut in impatiently, still plotting exactly how he would aim his verbal darts.
His father unexpectedly burst out laughing, and soon had Tamuka in a fit of sympathetic giggles, although he was not altogether sure why his father was laughing. Their laughter attracted a glare from a management type, standing over a computer terminal at the far end of the warehouse. His father choked his laughter down to snorts of air through his nose, but grinned happily at Tamuka, before he resumed working. Eventually their laughter died down to a long comfortable silence, in which Tamuka just watched his father at work. As always he marvelled at the way his father seemed to effortlessly, flip up the crates, and position them within the larger crate.
Tamuka knew those crates were probably very heavy, he'd never managed to budge one. They were all shapes and sizes. His father had once explained to Tamuka, that in his mind he held a map. One that he created by first looking carefully at the smaller crates designated for the larger one. He then played a quick game in his mind. In this game he played every possible combination of smaller crates to fill up the larger crate. When he won the game with the best possible arrangement of small crates, he had a final mind map. This meant, added to his immense physical strength, he loaded up the crates with an incredible speed and efficiency that kept him gainfully employed.
His father's job like his mother's was a position normally reserved for Geneforms or the rare and expensive robots. His mother cleaned apartments, capitalising on those who could not afford either, while his father was assigned to deal with items requiring special care during packing, such as the delicate but heavy ion metal sculptures that were the specialties of the Mbare artistic community; or anything to do with Mbare's Mayor, the shady Mr. Isaac Gondo. So his father was never lacking for this type of work, and it afforded him some liberties since he was nearly indispensible. Liberties such as Tamuka being allowed to be here while he worked, without much objection from his manager. Still, Tamuka knew, the wages were hardly great, and his parents struggled each month on their combined income to pay the mortgage, something they had both taken pains to explain to him at various points in his life. Mostly as the final No, when he incessantly nagged them about having a Geneform of his own.
'I think you'd better think about going home in a bit, Tamuka,' said his father. 'It's best not to make your mother wait too long. Even today.'
'But father!—' Tamuka started, and he wanted to protest further, but his father simply looked at him briefly. And saying nothing he said, it's time to grow up son, not too much just a little, enough to show you are worthy of our trust. So Tamuka kept quiet, and his father carried on packing crates. Timing it carefully, Tamuka quickly nipped in, hugged his father and then scampered off. He thought he could feel his father's glance and loving grin warm on his back. But he did not need to turn around; it was enough to just feel it there.


Mr. Goop wasn't looking at all well when Tamuka got back to the apartment, its skin was even paler, almost translucent. It still refused to come out of its coffin-sized capsule, but at least the hatch was open.
'See to Mr. Goop,' his mother said from the kitchen, 'Before you even think about having dinner.'
At first Tamuka just stood near Mr Goop's capsule, but when he saw tears roll down Mr. Goop's expressionless face, it all fell into place. Tamuka immediately crawled inside the capsule with Mr. Goop, something he had not done for years. It was much smaller than he remembered. But he managed to eventually wriggle his way into a snuggle, on top Mr. Goop's chest. Once there, he lay still and waited for Mr. Goop's reaction.
With a slight sniffle, Mr. Goop wrapped its arms around Tamuka, just like it had done many years previously. Tamuka sighed happily. He realised that it had been afraid for his life. For Mr. Goop truly loved him, in its own special way. The idea of losing Tamuka must have been a great shock, and followed by the strenuous sprint to get Tamuka home and safe, Mr. Goop was simply tired and upset.
Tamuka felt quite adult, not only for realising what ailed Mr. Goop, but for being adult enough to put another's feelings above his own, and take the best course of action to help. His mother poked her head in and smiled at them.
'Dinner on the table when you want it,' she said and left them alone.
Tamuka had the notion that this was probably the last time he would be able to fit into the capsule with Mr. Goop, so he decided to enjoy the moment a little longer, and right then he felt as if he would burst with his love for Mr. Goop. And one day probably, he dreamily mused, so would his own child.
But perhaps sooner than that, Tamuka could ask to go to school without Mr. Goop.

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