The sun was rather vicious that day but, despite the heat, Vincent knew he had to carry on shovelling the dirt. “We need to finish this today!” yelled the project manager in a rather condescending tone while he supervised his team’s work. The crew of M&R Construction were busy digging trenches along the main road for new pipes that had to be placed as part of the expansion plan of the city’s sanitation system.
A well-dressed man passed by the construction area. One hand holding his suit jacket and a smoothie while the other hand held his phone up to his ear. A small crack in the pavement caused him to trip and unfortunately spill his smoothie partially on Vincent. “Sorry mate” the man said casually, attempting to make some recognition of the inconvenience he had caused. Vincent barely took note. He gave the man a wave, signalling that all was well and they both continued their respective tasks. Vincent was not a man who liked to make mountains out of molehills and on this particular day, he had a little bit more to worry about than a spilled beverage.
Vincent was a young Zimbabwean who had relocated to South Africa two years ago due to his country’s falling economy. He found work with M&R as a digger, one of his only available opportunities for work, despite being a holder of a medical degree. It was unfortunate but it was also a reality, as it is for many young people in the world today. He had relocated with his father. His father was too old to work anymore and provide for his family. They lived in Joe Slovo informal settlement, where Vincent had to commute every day, via taxi and train, to get to work in the city centre of Cape Town. Earning a salary of about R2000 a month and having dependants both living with him and in his home country, Vincent felt the weight of the world sitting on his shoulders daily.
Today Vincent and the crew were required to work rather late. It was at 9pm when they heard the tires screech, the loud horn and deafening collision of metal. Vincent turned to see what exactly had happened. At the intersection, about a block away, two cars had collided. By the looks of things, Vincent could tell that one of the drivers had gone through a red robot and crashed into the driver’s side of another vehicle. The crew members and a few onlookers rushed to the scene. One man got out of one of the vehicles, but no one got out of the other car.
While the project manager dialled for emergency services, Vincent and some men rushed to the cars. Vincent opened the passenger side door of one of the vehicles and noticed the injuries on the man inside; he was unconscious. After inspecting the man briefly, he noticed that blood was still coming from around the man’s midsection and it was rather excessive. From Vincent’s experience in medical school, he guessed that the man had a traumatic aortic rupture due to the location of the wound. He knew the man’s chances were not good. He got assistance from the crew and got the man outside and placed pressure on the wound in an attempt to stop the bleeding. It did help. The EMTs arrived and got the man into the ambulance, looking rather pale. The ambulance rushed off and the project manager decided to let everyone go home for the night.
A few weeks passed and Vincent forgot about the incident. About three months later, when Vincent arrived for work in the morning, he found the project manager chatting with a man and they called him over. The man explained who he was and that he was the man Vincent had helped on the day of the accident. The man wanted to thank Vincent for assisting him and he also wanted to know how Vincent, this regular roadside digger, knew how to limit the bleeding when he assisted him. Vincent explained that he had obtained a medical degree prior to coming to South Africa and how his circumstances led him to work for M&R.
At the end of his explanation, both men looked at each other in astonishment. The project manager could not believe he was unaware of Vincent’s story. In complete silence, they both seemed to agree to never judge a book by its cover.