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14 Mar 2008 09:00
With every passing SABC weather bulletin, Simon Gear looks more like Graham Hart. Standing that close to all those weather systems does nothing to slow the ageing process, and each time he shaves his hair for the cancer shavathon, a little less grows back.
Regardless, Simon did nothing this morning to explain why the air in Jo’burg is hot and heavy in a way it should only be in Durban.
The robots are down at the intersection of Empire and Louis Botha. And everywhere else. This is the edge of the city, it’s a weekday morning and it’s a mess. But a quiet one.
A year ago, when this kind of thing didn’t happen all the time, we would’ve gone mad—the low-slung Opel Astra with blacked-out windows, the 1400 Nissan bakkie with the too-tall driver leaning forward in his seat, trying to dry the sweat off the back of his shirt, the taxis, their drivers and the packs of people inside—but now, we are unnaturally calm.
The front edge of Hillbrow looks down on the intersection, shrugs its shoulders and wipes its brow with the back of its hand. Hillbrow has been eating chaos for breakfast for some time now.
I’d be calmer if the guy bleeding in the passenger seat would stop crying like a baby.
About half an hour ago, my friend Daniel took the term “hand blender” too literally and experienced the appliance’s power and push-button convenience in a new and unexpected way. On the thumb of his left hand. Now, the dish towel he’s wrapped around it won’t be good for anything other than mopping up plum juice.
Daniel was watching CNBC Africa while making himself a breakfast smoothie with mango, papaya and flaxseed oil.
A pretty girl in a business shirt cut like a corset explained sulkily that the economy is going to shit. She sashayed aside to make room for a series of graphs that ran so low the TV nearly tipped off the stand.
Daniel, an importer who cares very deeply about the relationship betwixt the rand and dollar, was so hypnotised by the glamorous amalgam of breasts and bad news that he noticed too late his thumb had stopped the blades from spinning.
I figure that it’s going to take forever to get to the kind of hospital people-like-us go to, so I head for Johannesburg General. We get there a ruler’s length at a time.
Casualty smells like pee and disinfectant. Red lino floors, neon lights, some of them flickering.
Daniel is taken behind a powder-blue curtain, brown in some places. He tries to swallow his whimpers as he goes. In the far corner, somebody throws up. In the corridor, a doctor snaps at a nurse. Behind the front desk, a nurse snaps at a doctor.
This is not Grey’s Anatomy. This is Dickens does Jozi.
Sister Semelane is a large woman with hair like a helmet and gold-rimmed glasses. If a truck could wear a navy blue cardigan, it might be mistaken for her. Which is why I don’t argue when she tells me very calmly to take a seat next to the nurse’s station. She takes a seat behind it.
That’s when I see the boy a few paces ahead of me on a gurney. Four or five years old in a brown, checked short-sleeve shirt and his underpants. He’s distressed, breathing loudly, but still far less agitated than a kid should be when there’s a bit of femur sticking out of his leg. He looks like a car hit him. I guess one did.
Damn, I cry watching Happy Feet. And not the stoic, manly cry, a single tear running down my cheek. The ugly cry that has me flagging people out of the room, wailing: “Please! I don’t want you to see me this way.”
Recently, Hillary Clinton, in her bid to become leader of the free world, has been crying after losses, after victories, after lunch.
Not this kid.
The doctor, a tall German, says to him: “Josiah, if you don’t help me get this needle into your arm, I’m going to have to poke you twice.”
Josiah takes a deep breath. He stretches his arm out and looks straight ahead.
“That’s a brave little boy,” I say, turning to Sister Semelane.
“Haibo,” she says, barely looking up. “Black kids don’t cry.”
Daniel steps out of his cubicle, smiling, a little embarrassed, thumb bandaged and splinted into a permanent thumbs-up.
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