Crossroads Timothy de Wet
Eyes pry open. Slowly, reluctantly, they adjust to the lack of light. Her hand flails through the darkness, reaching, peering for the switch. Found. She flicks it on, off, on again. Nothing. Darkness remains. The tap-tap-tap of falling rain knocks on the shack’s tin roof, an unwelcome visitor letting the inhabitants know of his arrival. The walls are damp; the faint scent of mildew fills the air.
The small child, lying alongside her, coughs. Wracking, painful and phlegmy. He groans, but does not utter a word; his deep, pneumonic wheeze does that for him. She feels his forehead. Hot, too hot. This fever is not responding to the ginger, Grand-Pa or Panado’s palliative effects. This will not be cured through bed rest; not in this dank box they call a home. She emerges from under the covers, her feet descend, they touch the ground. Wet.
She wades over to the kitchen table. The faint scratch of a match is followed by the dull hiss of the lit gas lamp. Its yellow glow warms the room, an antithesis to the dingy and damp surroundings. Its light reveals the full scale of the damage. The unwanted visitor has breached the fortifications, his pathway is revealed by drops trickling down, down the wall.
She rouses the boy; too busy fighting his bodily battle to complain. She dresses the mannequin of her son, he vaguely attempts to conform. Dressed, she leaves him hunched over the bed as she dresses herself. Clothed, unprepared, they leave the house. The mother watches helplessly as her son struggles for each and every breath.
They traipse through the mud; their shoes progressively getting painted a darker, murkier brown. Slowly, so slowly, they trudge. Not too long. Soon he will be able to rest his oxygen-starved limbs. The taxi-sanctuary draws near. He is weak, but they have made it. Now the distance is greater.
The gasping wheeze continues throughout the journey, its rhythmic repetition a pathogenic metronome. The mother peers through the window, eyes glazed over, oblivious to the multitude of passing vehicles. Gradually the looming red Tygerberg appears in the distance. The square, imposing mountain-like hospital strikes fear in the boy, he shivers in reluctance. Mother and son stoically prepare for what is to come.
They move, trance-like, through the doors. The boy struggles more and more with each breath. Patients line the walls. They sit. They wait. “Help him! Help my son!” the mother cries, her supressed maternal instincts suddenly flowing freely. A nurse peers from behind the counter, her eyes examine the boy. “Fill in the form. Wait in the queue.”