Chapter 1 – Departure

On a sunny afternoon in mid-March in the year 2050 Leila was racing home along the raised bike path. Her silky dark hair flew in the wind as she tried to beat her personal best time home. Below her, self-driving cabs were buzzing along. The sky was an intense azure blue and the only clouds were hanging around the coastline on the horizon. Leila was almost 13 years old and on Thursday afternoon she normally met her friends to make plans for the weekend. But today she had to get home because Dad and her were going away for the weekend and she hadn’t packed yet.
Rocco’s parents lived an hour away on a small Farm that was surrounded by lush rainforest, rolling
hills, meadows and other farms and properties. Leila was excited to go. Grandma was taking her on an overnight trail ride and they were having a big family dinner on Saturday night. But some other
expectation had been building in Leila for the past week, something that she couldn’t quite place yet. Somehow things seemed to be in motion. She put the thoughts out of her mind while storing her bike in the bike room. Then she walked upstairs and into their apartment.
‘Hi Dad!’
‘Hey Leils!’ Rocco said from the lounge where he was plucking away on his guitar. Leila came in and kissed him on the cheek before throwing herself into one of the armchairs.
‘What are you doing Dad?’
‘Just practising.’
He put the guitar away and checked his watch.
‘Hossa, is that the time?!’
‘Yep.’ said Leila and added, ‘Sorry I’m a bit late, just got stuck talking with the others about the new courses.’
Rocco stretched his arms up and yawned. ‘Oh yes. How is everything going?’
‘Pretty good, I reckon. I’ll tell you later, ok?’
‘Cool. The cab will be here at 3.30. Are you packed?’
‘No, but I won’t take long!’
‘Don’t rush and forget things!’ he teased and Leila pulled a funny face at him, then she jumped up and disappeared in her room closing the door behind her.
Rocco got up more slowly and put his guitar on its stand in the music corner. Then he went to his room to finish the last of his own packing for their weekend away.
Rocco was just getting his backpack ready near the front door when his phone let him know that their cab was outside. No sign of Leila. He hadn’t heard a peep from her room, so he went and knocked at her door.
‘Come in!’
Rocco opened the door and looked around. Leila was packing her bag while finishing off a conversation on the phone. Rocco smiled at her; he felt pleased. They had had a series of heated arguments over the state of her room in the last few months but here it was, reasonably tidy with floorspace and all.
‘Yes, I know. I really need to go now. I call you over the weekend! Yes, thanks! Bye!’
Leila put the phone in her pocket and looked at her father.
‘I’m nearly ready, Dad. Manai just rang about some of the homework.’
‘All good, my sweet. I’ll be waiting downstairs okay? Looks good in here by the way. Want me to set Robert to do a clean in here?’
‘Yes, thanks Dad! I keep forgetting to do that.’ She beamed at him and added, ‘I won’t be long!’
Rocco couldn’t help but chuckle about his chaotic daughter as he went to the kitchen to set the robot. Teenagers! Not that he had been much better at her age! Then he checked around the apartment one last time, grabbed his bag and went downstairs. The cab was waiting patiently in front of the house. Rocco got in and leaned back in the seat. He wondered if he should get his phone out to do some messaging but decided to pour a drink instead. Lemon-lime-bitters for the both of them and just a little shot of Tequila for himself. He was going to start the weekend in style! He sipped his drink and looked around.
The street was quite busy with people jogging and kids playing in front yards and riding bikes around, cabs picking some people up and dropping others off. Rocco waved to Jill from next door who was walking her dog. The familiar neighbourhood sounds made Rocco feel relaxed and a little sleepy. He took another sip and closed his eyes for a minute.
Then the front door closed with a thud and Leila jumped in the cab.
‘Oh sorry Dad! Were you asleep?’
‘No, no. Just relaxing.’
Rocco straightened up and rubbed his eyes while Leila began rummaging through her bag.
‘I just want to check for my toiletry bag. Surely I packed it.’
After a little more rummaging she tipped out most of her bag, then shook her head, ‘No, it’s not there. I’ll be quick!’
She hopped out of the cab and ran back upstairs. Rocco chuckled and shook his head, looking at the mess Leila had made in the cab in less than 30 seconds. Still smiling, he turned his attention to the board computer.
With wireless communication everywhere, evidence had been building that the huge increase in wifi was having a negative effect on mammals’ brain waves. So a few decades ago the human community had decided that there should be some places free from it. In cities, these ‘wire-free zones’ included the specially insulated cabs. Many people disliked the old-fashioned touch screens in cabs, yet Rocco preferred them over the modern, hovering hologram screens.
He checked the weather forecast for the weekend (around 24 degrees, with possible afternoon showers) and entered their destination. While he thought about their last visit to Maleny, he remembered to change their route to go past his favourite bakery on Green Edge Road and get some cake for afternoon tea. The 100 kilometre trip should take them about an hour and a half in the weekend traffic. Then Rocco flicked through the entertainment selection for what seemed like a long while. He had no idea what he felt like. Silence, even?
The thud of the front door startled him once again, then Leila opened the cab door.
‘Got it! Sorry I took so long. I met Silka in the hallway, and she asked all these questions!’
Rocco flinched on the inside but kept a straight face and just said, ‘Yeah Schatz, no worries.’
Then he pushed the cab’s Start button and the vehicle hummed to life, gliding away through their street to link itself with other vehicles on the main arterial. Leila began to repack her bag when Rocco took a deep breath in.
‘Sorry I took so long, Dad.’
‘Oh don’t worry! It’s okay, sweetie. There is no rush really, it’s just me. I can’t wait to be out of the city these days.’
He put an arm around her and pulled her close, kissing her hair. Leila snuggled against him, closing her eyes, feeling her Dad’s calm breathing, hearing his steady heart-beat. They just sat like that for a few minutes, feeling comfortable, a strong unit.
The cab emerged from a tunnel and Leila straightened up and stretched her arms out, yawning and squinting at the sudden bright light.
‘So tell me about school, what’s been going on?’ Rocco asked and Leila was instantly awake, her eyes sparkling.
‘There are quite a few excursions coming up and Manai and I are doing a big history project at uni!’
‘Oh yes, you’re with the big kids now!’ Rocco commented and Leila nodded excitedly.
‘It will be a big year!’ Then she suddenly looked serious and said in a quiet voice, ‘How about you, Dad? What happened at work?’
‘Ah, nothing really.’ Rocco replied and laughed at some irony that only he could see, but it came out pretty weak. He sighed and added, ‘You know that battery design we’ve been working on?’
Leila nodded. She enjoyed listening to her Dad talking about his work.
Rocco went on, ‘Well, just yesterday we hear that some students in Mali have figured out a super-efficient version and theirs will go into production right away. Simply amazing design!’ He shook his head. ‘They’ve come up with it during a school project and we’ve worked on it for months! You know I’m always stoked for new stuff that blows all else out of the water but this… So much work for nothing! It’s frustrating!’
He took a deep breath, calming himself down before adding, ‘And that’s why I haven’t been to work in two days. I just needed a break.’
Leila was thoughtful. She didn’t see her Dad frustrated like this often, but since her brother Blu’s visit from South America a few months ago she had noticed that he was more tense and preoccupied all the time. She could only guess how much he still missed her Mum. Well, they all did of course.
‘So, Dad, why don’t we stay at the Farm a bit longer?’
Rocco pondered that for a moment, then smiled at her and gave her a big kiss on her cheek.
‘That’s a blast idea daughter! You can do your study from there and I can have some more time off work!’
Leila was happy that he liked her idea. She loved to lighten his mood, so next she slapped his knee and said in a thick London accent that she had picked up from drama class, ‘Well then, Sir, we are calling for an extension of our autumn holiday in the country manor.’
Rocco nodded, lips pursed, then smiling a thin-lipped Victorian smile, making elegant gestures and answering in an equally thick accent, ‘Your wish is my command, your Highness!’
Then they giggled and shared another big hug.
‘I love you, Leila!’
‘I love you too, Dad!’
Father and daughter settled into a comfortable silence. Rocco turned on his radio station, ‘The Old School’, put his feet up and gazed out of the window. Leila plugged in her phone to message Manai and surf the net.
Transport had come a long way since the wasteful industrial age with its massive environmental impact. The electrified world traffic network used small rechargeable batteries that were recyclable and had ranges of thousands of kilometres. Extensive public transport systems catered for most circumstances and in Australia, cabs were the closest thing to personal cars. Self-driving, self-cleaning and ordered on demand from depots spread all around the country, cabs were for those travelling outside the public transport network. They came in different sizes, and vehicles going to similar destinations linked up and ran part of their journey together before finding other travel clusters. The communication between all traffic on the road ensured swift travel and very few accidents. While many different systems for traffic management were trialled around the world, the ‘zip-train’ was one of the most popular to date.
Rocco, however, at present had no mind for the great achievements humanity was celebrating. He was hurting and starting to realise that it was not just going to go away. Since the sudden death of his wife Solange two years ago, life just felt bitter. A chore.
He was struggling. His work, the absence of his son who was a musician and travelled the world, the running of their small household. He often felt that he didn’t know how to go on or what to do next. He knew he could talk to his friends and parents, but he also felt like the time for talking was past. He was tired of burdening others. Instead, he tried to push on and felt like Leila was his rock. She made him laugh, made him feel better, gave him a reason to get up and have breakfast in the morning. She often surprised him with her maturity. His kids were growing up, finding their strengths and passions, dealing with the loss of their mother in their own ways.
And me? Rocco Dargus? What about myself?
After the accident he had been to healing sessions and counselling. That had helped for a bit. Then he had more or less enjoyed a short partying stint involving lots of alcohol and drugs. That hadn’t helped for long. Then he had escaped through his work and now it had been over two years without her. It was dawning on Rocco that he had not properly dealt with Solange’s passing. He had tried to just power on with his life.
And life had gone on relentlessly. Days went by now where he didn’t speak to anyone of Solange, but not one of them passed without him thinking of her, missing that spark that had glittered in her eyes the day they met and that he longed to see every day thereafter.
The other night his best friend Thorben had asked him when he was going to start dating, but Rocco couldn’t bear the thought; he felt like he would be betraying Sol. That made him think of Silka. She was the mother of Leila’s best friend Manai and their apartment was across the hall. While Rocco was glad that they had moved there last year to share parenting duties with Silka and some of the other parents in the complex, she was almost constantly flirting with him, teasing him and actively trying to make him feel awkward. Her and Manai’s Dad didn’t live together but were still friends – with many benefits. Their relationship was open wide and on more than one occasion she had told Rocco about her colourful sex life. Now he felt watched every time he went outside their door and deliberately timed leaving the house so that he would not meet her on the stairs. One time she had answered the door in her bathrobe with a pained expression on her face. ‘Stiff neck!’ she had explained and asked whether he would give her a massage. He felt embarrassed just thinking about it, especially as he had just shaken his head and mumbled around like a school boy.
‘Hit it!’ Thorben had said but he just wasn’t in the mood for that, especially not with his daughter’s best friend’s mother. She wasn’t his type, anyway. But why hadn’t he manned up and told her straight out that he wasn’t interested?
So I’m fleeing from that, too.
He looked out of the window. They were nearly at the bakery. Parks, gardens and rooftops were lush and green, sprinkled with vibrant colours. People were going about their business. Life was bustling all around him.
But his own life still felt stale, uninspired.
He realised now that had just been playing strong for his daughters, his family and friends and ultimately himself.
The cab pulled into the bakery’s underground cab park.

—————

Wanna read on???
Chapter 2 – The Farm

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