We called a stranger’s house home now. A stranger because other than his name, we knew next to nothing about the old man that had willed the house to my mother.
‘Esteban Carnossa,’ my little brother murmured beside me, ‘must’ve been one of them eccentric, rich old geezers.’
‘I heard that,’ my mother admonished us softly. ‘Whatever he was,’ she breathed as she looked up at the massive, elegant structure, ‘we should all be very grateful.’ She was right. There would be no more worrying about mortgages and utility bills. We hadn’t lived from paycheque to paycheque but that was only because of my mother’s very careful budgeting. There had never been any indulging of teen trends or lengthy vacations. From the little I’d heard the lawyer say, the maintenance costs of the property were fully paid for the next couple of years at least. Maybe those indulgences would start now, I mused, although I’ve never been one to follow fashion – it requires far too much energy – and being here felt like a vacation already.
I suspected my mother and brother were thinking along the same lines as we continued to stare at the structure. The outside walls were a dark cream colour that contrasted beautifully with the forest green roof. The style was very different from the surrounding properties but the tones seemed to complement its regal bearing rather nicely. Or at least that’s what my mother was sighing to herself.
‘So will it still be called The Carnossa Manor?’
‘I don’t see why we should change it.’
’You mean other than the fact that we’re not Carnossas?’
‘Your sarcasm is duly noted Samuel.’ My mother then turned to me. ‘Got your own two cents to add in, Tebogo?’
I shrugged indifferently. I’m not an enthusiast of change. I thrive on inertia. The fact that the move was to a different planet altogether made the prospect all the more nightmarish – no matter how grand the house. A vacation is one thing but this...everything would be new – the orbit, the atmosphere, neighbourhood, school, and the terrifying process of making new friends. How bothersome.
‘Shall we go in?’ my mother invited, blatantly ignoring my pessimism.
The inside turned out to be something of a revelation. Everything was done in white – everything. White walls, marble floor and ceiling. Even the furniture was white. Samuel snorted. ’And there’s still a question whether or not the guy had been crazy? Like giving this to strangers wasn’t bonkers enough.’
My mom clucked her tongue. ‘I told you already. He was a friend of your great grandfather.’ My brother and I merely exchanged a sceptical look while mom kept looking about in abject fascination. ‘A few changes in decoration should brighten things up.’
‘Brighter than this?’
She gave me a wry look and didn’t bother responding to my pithy remark. We moved upstairs, and since my brother raced ahead of me, ended up getting the largest room after the master one. Predictably, everything up here was just as bleached too. Wouldn’t last long though. My mother was much too fond of rainbows.
Although my room was relatively small compared to my brother’s, I liked it almost immediately. It was larger than any room I’d ever had. The bed was generously big, a feature I appreciated to no end seeing as it catered to my most essential pastime – sleeping. Dragging off the offensive white duvet, I crawled to its centre and snuggled into the orange quilt my mother had placed amongst my other (yet to be unpacked) stuff.
‘Tebogo, are you asleep?’
‘I am. Deeply,’ I mumbled when my mother let herself in. I felt the bed give under her weight as she lay beside me.
‘Do you like it here?’
No. ‘Yes.’ In the way of mothers, she wasn’t fooled.
‘Are you positively certain?’ She stroked my hair as she asked this.
‘Positively.’ I sensed she was about to fish for elaboration so quickly intercepted. ‘This Esteban Carnossa person, was he cra...uh mentally unstable or something?’ I’d overheard the lawyer say the man had had an extensive family all quiet capable of inheriting the house. A family he’d gotten along well with (and clearly shared his mental affliction considering no one had contested the will). I was genuinely curious about why the house had been left to us. My mother made a humming sound at the back of her throat so I knew she was considering my question seriously.
‘There’s actually been speculation over that for a long time now, before he died even. There are also those who believe he’d once been a space pirate in his youth – but it never was proved.’
That captured my complete attention, not to mention my curiosity. ‘Do you think it’s true?’
She kissed my forehead. ’Honey, it’s just stories. He was close to your great grandfather and one of the nephews even said there was a family rumour that all of this,’ she made a sweeping gesture with her hand, ‘is because of some bet they’d made in their youth.’
Getting up, she crossed to the door before regarding the white sheets sprawled on the floor. ‘You will put those away. Immediately Tebogo,’ she said in a stern voice, then closed the door firmly behind her. Yep, feels like home already. Knowing she’d be back before long, I left my warm haven and picked up the duvet. I fully intended on just shoving it out of sight so marched to the closet across the room. I dumped my burden unceremoniously in the farthest corner and turned to leave when I noticed a door at the back of the closet. It was almost invisible it blended in so well with the wall. Curious, I grasped the cold knob and turned it slowly. It opened soundlessly. I felt for a switch just inside and flicked it on to chase away the darkness. A stone stairway confronted me. I descended cautiously, my heartbeat a little frantic at this unexpected discovery. Once I’d finished my flight down, I easily made out another light switch and didn’t hesitate flicking it on. My breath caught. It was some sort of private office – or a study was more the like. Nothing here was the austere white that dominated the rest of the house. In fact, it was cosy and welcoming, almost like a secret meeting place, I thought when I took note of the five plush chairs arranged around a large oak table.
I suddenly smiled, elated by the realization that this place was now mine. The room had simple but elegant furnishings: a separate desk with drawers, a large glass cabinet full of old brandy and a spectacular telescope positioned by the high window. I approached this first. Wiping the dust away from the eyepiece, I repositioned the telescope to the window and took my first look. The sight was magnificent, something one might expect to see only in the most exclusive planetariums. The stars and planets of Zophomore were so clear, so close; it gave one the feeling of intimate acquaintance with a piece of the universe. It was a while before I tore myself away from the sight. I took the seat behind the desk and gingerly started opening drawers. I half expected something to spring out and sting my hand but nothing did. The drawers contained nothing but some rolled canvass and a platinum chain that had the letters ‘‘CC’’ engraved on a miniature disk. I circled the piece around my neck and left it there. Mine now. Curious, I took out the canvass and spread it wide. It was a painting. It caught my attention immediately because of its surrealism. There was a boy clutching the bars of some sort of prison. His eyes were a startling grey, so bright they were almost silver. Never had I seen a more serious face on a minor. The boy’s expression was so inscrutable that any attempt to read his mood would be like trying to discern emotion from fine granite – no frown marks, no laughing lines. His face was smooth marble and gave the impression of being incapable of contortion. My gaze was constantly drawn back to the eyes. The only alive feature really. They were...sinister, I decided. The face itself couldn’t be called handsome – memorable rather because of its stark contrasts. The background was a constellation of stars stained misty in some places by The Zopho Cluster. I thought it ironic – and suspected the subject shared my opinion as well – that he was locked behind free space. Then again, I thought after closer inspection, perhaps it wasn’t that he was locked in, but rather, locked out. Either way, it was a remarkable find. I was about to move on when I noticed a tiny inscription at the base of the painting. I would’ve easily missed it had I not been scrutinizing the picture so closely. The words simply read:
In friendship to destroy.
Disturbing words whose grave meaning I couldn’t even begin to guess at. They, along with everything in this room, made me wonder about the man who had once lived here. Perhaps Esteban Carnossa had been a space pirate. The idea was ludicrous. There were rarely, if any, pirates left in our galaxy today. The notion refused to die though, prompting me to come here every night and gaze through the telescope at the marvellous scenery. And always as I stroked my chain absently, I’d stare at the silver-eyed boy and think: I wish you could talk so that I may hear your tale.