She presses the side of her face against the sleeping baby, is she breathing? She grips his tiny hand tighter. “Okay,” she says to herself, “my daughter is still breathing and my son is still moving.” It was something to midnight, less than 15 degrees and somewhere past where-the-hell-am-I and what-the-hell-am-I-doing.
She tried to put as much distance between them and that place as she could. Torn between the need to escape, to take her kids and get the hell out of that house, away from pitiful stares and unwanted remarks and the need to keep them safe and warm.
She chose the former whilst overcome with a wave of liberation and fled. Adrenaline soon turned to regret when that first July wind hit her exposed face. If she just kept walking straight she would reach the station – she was sure of it. She walked the long walk in silence, surrounded by a constant cloud of white as their warm breath condensed the angry air around them. This gave her time to think.
The usual thoughts took their designated seats in her mind. Thoughts about how she’d married too young or she’d left her family too soon. She missed the warmth of her childhood: the cup of coffee in the hand made tin cup, warm cokes in the record shop and so much laughter. It was as if she never lived a day in winter because her memories were all rose tinted and sweet smelling. So untouched by the problems of reality: political up rise, poverty, apartheid, all played out quietly in the background of her beautiful childhood.
They reached the oasis that was the train station, all her muscles relaxed as the kids lay sleeping. She was a frail figure bearing the load of two tiny people. “Ma’am, there are no more trains tonight.” Every limb in her body froze, unsure of which thought frightened her more, being murdered on the train platform or being stuck here till morning. “Ma’am did you hear me?” a man appeared from the darkness. His figure was large and muscular and his face looked like tough leather, decorated with scars and the faded reds and greens of a tattoo that once told the story of his struggle.
She was frozen in place, “You can’t stay here, it’s freezing tonight. What are you doing here by yourself? Where are you headed?” She couldn’t tell whether the questions were coming from this man’s mouth or from her own mind. “I’m going to Retreat.” She said and mentally kicked herself for being so honest.
“I have a taxi, I’m done for the night, let me take you where you want to go.” She refused politely; her fear was evident as the man approached her. He came so close she could smell the smoke on his breath. He thrust his hands forward so fast she barely had time to think; he then gently picked up the sleeping boy placing his head on his shoulder. She got into the back seat and caught a glimpse of something shiny and metal in the driver’s seat door. He had laid the boy on the reclined front seat.
She didn’t remember giving her address; she must have because before she knew it they had stopped in front of the little yellow house. She was unsure of her surroundings for a second. He turned around in his seat and said “House keys.” He then held out his hand waiting for the keys. She hesitated at first but thought of her son who was out of her reach. She handed him the keys and with one swift move he lifted the boy from the chair and headed to the house. She nearly flew out of the taxi and followed him towards the house.
He opened the door, walked straight to the first bedroom, opened the bed, and with all the tenderness of a midwife, tucked him in. He turned to face her now, his huge posture towering over her and asked, “Are you breathing?” She hadn’t realised that she’d wasn’t. She took a deep breath.
“OK, you’re breathing. You should put the baby down.”
Wordlessly she went to the next bedroom and laid her baby down in the crib. You are safe now, no matter what happens she thought as she stroked her baby’s red cheeks.
“I don’t know how to thank you…” but she realised she was speaking to a ghost. She thought she heard the taxi driving away, so she hurried to the front door but she was staring into the darkness of an empty street. “Angel,” she whispered into the cold night one last time before locking the door behind her.