“You look worried,” said the apprentice. “Is there something troubling you, Boss?”
Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni sighed. “I have an unpleasant duty to do,” he said. “I have to go and speak to some bad mechanics about their work. That is what is troubling me.”
“Who are these bad mechanics?” asked the apprentice.
“Those people at First Class Motors,” said Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni. “The man who owns it and the men who work for him. They are all bad, every one of them.”
The apprentice whistled. “Yes, they are bad all right. I have seen those people. They know nothing about cars. They are not like you, Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, who knows everything about all sorts of cars.”
The compliment from the apprentice was unexpected, and Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, in spite of his modesty, was touched by the young man’s tribute.
“I am not a great mechanic,” he said softly. “I am just careful, that is all, and that is what I have always wanted you to be. I would want you to be careful mechanics. It would make me very happy if you would be that.”
“We will be,” said the apprentice. “We will try to be like you. We hope that people will always look at our work and think: they learned that from Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni.”
Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni smiled. “Some of your work, maybe …” he began, but the apprentice interrupted him.
“You see,” he said, “my father is late. He became late when I was a small boy – just that high – very small. And I did not have uncles who were any good, and so I think of you as my father, Rra. That is what I think. You are my father.”
Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni was silent. He had always had difficulty in expressing his emotions – as mechanics often do, he thought – and it was hard for him now. He wanted to say to this young man: What you have said makes me very proud, and very sad, all the same time – but he could not find these words. He could, however, place a hand on the young man’s shoulder and leave it there for a moment, to show that he understood what had been said.
“I have never said thank you, Rra,” went on the apprentice. “And I would not want you to die without being thanked by me.”
Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni gave a start. “Am I going to die?” he asked. “I am not all that old surely. I am still here.”
The apprentice smiled. “I did not mean that you were going to die soon, Rra. But you will die one of these days, like everybody else. And I wanted to say thank you before that day came.”
“Well,” said Mr. J. L. B. Matekoni, “what you say is probably true, but we have spent too much time standing here talking about these things. There is work to be done in the garage. We have to get rid of that dirty oil over there. You can take it over to the special dump for burning. You can take the spare truck.”