It is the moments that we share together that make us more human, or less.
10 tiny fingers. 10 tiny toes. 2 tiny ears. 1 small nose. Soft, shallow breaths. A tiny heart beating strongly. Ubu could not help but marvel at the baby she held in her arms. How all of creation is captured in such a small body. That the very kingdom of God belongs to such. It dawned on her that a baby was more of a happening than…a person. The embodiment of… something. Something immensely beautiful, heartbreakingly fragile and intensely powerful. Something that was us, all of us, yet beyond us. She had bathed the baby with a 2lt bottle of mineral water that Voel had found, using an old t-shirt for a face cloth. A nearly empty tub of scented baby Vaseline.
It was late into the second night since the baby had arrived. Ubu was watching the baby falling sleep. Voel was stoking the fire. Killy had not returned since earlier that day, after her emotional breakdown. None of them were sure if she was going to come back or not. They had never seen her like that, so broken.
Eventually Ubu passed out too. Voel tried to gather as much scrap wood and boxes as she could around the shops near the KFC. But she dared not go far. She would not leave Ubu and the baby for more than a few minutes at a time. Neither was she able to sleep much. But drowsiness did get the better of her.
She was woken up by the baby crying. It was a harrowing cry, for one who had never heard it before. A heart wrenching scream that sent Ubu into a panic. “I think she’s hungry, Voel”. Voel was at a loss. She wasn’t sure what babies ate. Ubu, in her new baby daze, had not even thought of what the baby would eat. She started crying too. Voel looked around their ‘home’, but she knew that nothing they had was suitable for the baby. “She needs milk…” said Ubu, trying not to let her tears fall on the baby.
Voel, conflicted by having to leave them to go find milk and knowing she was not supposed to leave them alone, she was distraught. She hesitantly walked to the end of the passage towards the street. It was late in the night and dim glows of light fell from streetlights to stave off the darkness. The streets were hummed into a lull by the distant cars. She could hear the chatter of the other sex workers as it echoed from some streets away. She took a few steps into the street, not sure which direction to go. The shrieks from the baby did not help her think any clearly. She turned down the street towards an intersection, where the traffic lights blinked red. She walked slowly, so not to get too far, too quickly. She wasn’t sure what she was looking for, what she was hoping to find or what she exactly she was scared off. Each step she took, the baby’s cries grew fainter. She kept walking, slowly.
She came passed one of those small swiveling rubbish bins on the side of the street. She noticed the pale yellow tint of a tin of NAN powder milk for babies inside the bin. She rushed to it, scattering rubbish around as she dug it out. The was a few spoonful’s left of the powder left inside, the relief overwhelmed her. Just then a car pulled up next to her. There were two occupants in it and they got out and walked towards Voel. It looked like those rich boys from used UCT, up the road. They sounded drunk and troublesome. “HEY baby, how bout you show us a good time? We will pay good money”, the one said. “This one looks like a freak, bra! Just like I like them”, the other one quipped. Voel’s anxiety quickly dissipated when one of them reached out to touch her. She slammed the big tin of NAN against his side temple, cutting him deep. The other jumped back in utter shock. The victim fall back on the pavement bleeding heavily, mourning profanities. “FUCK! Ok, ok, we’re sorry! Ok? Jeez…”, pleaded the other one as he picked up his friend and bundled him into the car and sped off.
Voel was grunting heavy breathes and anger. When the car took a corner, Voel looked at the tin of NAN, it was dented, blood dripped from the bottom edge and, it was open, yellowish powder strewn around the pavement. She frantically dropped to her knees to try to scoop up as much of it as possible. After some time, the tin had a few spoonfuls of a mix of milk powder, dirt and small rocks in it. She stared at it. A tear rolled down her cheek. She slammed the tin against the rubbish bin. Over and over again. She dropped the tin and held on to the rubbish bin with both hands. Tears streaming down her face, cars flying past assaulting her with bright lights. Eventually she picked up the tin and started walking.
The walk back seemed longer than when she left, even though she walked slightly faster. She realized, as she neared the passage, that she couldn’t hear the baby anymore. She picked up her pace and panic gripped her. The closer to she got, the quitter it seems to get. She started running. Faster and faster, she ran. She turned a corner into the passage and it was still quiet. She stood at the entrance of the passage, frozen. The dented tin fell out of her weak, defeated fingers as she looked into the passage. The tin made a loud clanging noise. Ubu, sitting on the mattress holding the baby, turned her head towards Voel, she gave her ‘big sister’ a glowing smile. Killy, sitting next to Ubu, turned around to look at Voel. Next to Killy were two large tins of NAN baby milk powder in a Shoprite plastic bag. There was a big yellow flask next to Killy, it was open and steam from the hot water inside it was ghosting out. The baby was stuffing himself with a bottle of warm milk. Killy held up a scrunched up brown paper bag from KFC and gestured to Voel, “fresh, just like you like it”, she said, with a smile.