The passages of Groote Schuur were stark, naked and shiny. The eerie silence only ever punctuated by the ding of the lift down passage as it reached a requested floor, then the doors rumbling open. The three of them were the only ones in the passage. It was 2:45am, the hospital was empty, save for the sick and the staff. Ubu had curled up on a bench, sleeping, resting her head on KIlly’s lap. Voel was sitting across them on the floor; one leg stretched out straight on the cold tiles, the other leg bent with her elbow resting on it to hold her head up. They had been there for hours. No one had come to tell them anything about the baby.
On one cold winter night, he just wouldn’t stop vomiting. He was still only 2 weeks old, a tiny mess of puking and hysterical crying. The three of them didn’t know what to do. They were all aware of the risk of taking the child to the doctor. But it was something none of the had brought up. It was an unwritten acceptance that…well, when the time comes they will do the right thing, but, they all secretly wished that it would never happen. The baby was theirs, their life, their redemption. He was their worth and purpose. His wellbeing was now the only thing that kept them going.
That night, however, they knew that they couldn’t help him. After 2 hours of nonstop crying with nothing soothing him, Killy simply looked at Ubu in the eye, for a long time, and said, “wrap him nicely, let’s go”. She didn’t say where they were going but, they all knew where they had to go.
Groote Schuur hospital was a 20-minute walk from where they lived and it was 10:30 when they arrived at the emergency ward. They shuffled into the automatic doors, towards the reception desk. Ubu held the baby tightly against her chest. Killy found two chairs for herself and Ubu to sit on. One lady moved from them and sat 3 rows away. Voel stayed by the door. Everyone in the room became tense. The handful of people at receptions threw menacing stares at the trio. Ubu had never found herself on this ‘side’ of life. She had never been a ‘thing’, before, except to her mother. Her eyes darted around trying to avoid contact with the disgusted faces around them. She felt dirty, filthy and unwanted. “Don’t look at them”, commanded Killy, sitting with the poise of a dutchess.
“NEXT!” belched the plump, coloured receptionist. KIlly stood up and walked upright towards the desk. “Hi”, greeted Killy. The lady was a deadpan stare. “The baby is sick”, said Killy. “He has been vomiting the whole night and…”
“What is the child’s name, ma’am?” cut the receptionist lazily, clicking her pen but not writing anything down.
Oddly enough, Killy had never thought of that. Neither of them had thought of that. The question froze her. She turned and looked at Ubu. Ubu was at a loss and gripped with fear. The baby’s crying was growing louder and louder and more distressing. Killy looked at Voel. Voel just stared back, then looked out into the night.
“Ma’am, what is the baby’s name?” barked the receptionist. Killy stared at her.
“MA’AM IF YOU DON’T…”
“His name is Kana!”
The receptionist glared at Killy suspiciously, tapping her pen against the desk. The other receptionist had also been sitting on the counter a few meters away, sipping tea. She promptly picked up the phone while staring at Killy but Killy didn’t notice. The baby was now in hysterics, crying like a baby shouldn’t cry. The receptionist scribbled something in a blue file and then asked one of the attendants to usher the three women and the baby through the swinging doors. A doctor had come and took the baby to go examine him. The three of them sat on a bench in an empty passage.
That was hours ago. One of the cleaners who was polishing the floors with that spinning machine came and sat next to Ubu. An elderly lady with kind wrinkles on her face. She leaned over to Ubu, reaching out and taking Ubu’s hand into hers. “Have you done umsebenzi for the little one?” she asked, with a warm smile.
“Have you spilled blood for him?”
Ubu simply stared at the lady. They all did. They old lady realized that none of them understood what she was talking about. “A white chicken. For the ancestors. It is the only way.” She spoke the words while panning across the passage, looking at them straight in the eye. “Kuzolunga”, she broke an old chicky smile, got up and left through the swinging doors.
The doors flapped in and out as she disappeared down the other side. Then the doors swung back wider; it was the plump receptionist lady. She walked in and stood in front of the doors. Two policemen walked in behind her. She spoke some words to the policemen and then, she pointed at Ubu, Killy and Voel.