It was early morning, still dark, when Busi stirred in her sleep. In those moments before she was properly awake, she forgot that her gogo was not soundly sleeping in the bed on the other side of her curtain. She forgot that it was a weekday, and that she had not been to school for some time. She forgot about Parks, and she forgot about his wife. In those few precious seconds she even forgot about the baby inside her, almost ready to be born.

But then, as the roof creaked, and the metal walls of the shack shuddered, Busi opened her eyes and remembered everything. She lay still and alone beneath her blankets. She knew that there was no longer any milk or tea or coffee. She knew that there was only one cupful of mealie-meal left, and a dry crust of bread.

Busi sighed and rolled over. Maybe I will lie here for just a little longer, she thought to herself, closing her eyes and willing herself back into a deep sleep. She drifted off and dreamt of her childhood, when she was still happy and innocent, living with her mother, father and Gogo.

In the dream she was helping her mother with chores in the house. She was just old enough to boil the kettle by herself and she had made her mother a cup of tea. Her mother had forgotten to drink it. Not wanting it to go to waste, Busi picked up the mug and carried it to her mother in the yard, where she was hanging washing. But she tripped on a stone, spilling tea all over the clean sheets on the line. “Oh dear,” she was saying to herself in her dream, “Everything is wet, Mama. Everything.”

Busi sat up. The dream was over, but the dampness remained. Confused, she pulled back the sheets and blankets. She looked down at herself in alarm, jumping out of her bed and feeling the bottom sheet with her hand. Her wet pyjamas clung to her legs. Her sheet was wet to the touch.

Busi’s hand moved up to her mouth. “It can’t be,” she said aloud, racking her brain to remember everything the clinic sister had said to her. She looked up at the shelf next to her bed and rummaged through the books, pushing aside her school books to find the booklets and pamphlets she had been given at the clinic.

Finding a small booklet called You and your baby, she sat down again on her wet bed and paged through it quickly. At last she found the relevant section: “When your waters break it means that your baby will soon be born. You must immediately get help because your baby is no longer protected in the womb, and it must be born, by whichever means possible.”

Busi sat still for a moment. She felt stunned as she read the final line over and over: “… and it must be born, by whichever means possible.”

Suddenly she sprang into action. She needed to get to hospital urgently. Now! She grabbed her phone. She didn’t know what exam was being written, but surely one of her friends would be able to help her. She would have to send a PLEASE CALL ME – she had no
airtime. But her phone screen was blank. Of course. She hadn’t been able to charge it.

“Oh no,” she groaned. Should she go around to Lettie’s house close by? But what if Lettie wasn’t there? No. She must get straight to hospital. She dressed herself as quickly as she could, pulling on loose clothing, and noting that her “waters” seemed to have stopped flowing.

Busi locked her front door behind her and, clutching a small bag she had packed as a precaution a few weeks before, she began to walk quickly towards the taxi rank. She did not notice a neighbour in a red cap open her front door, watch her closely, and then close the door again.

Busi climbed aboard a taxi that was going towards the hospital. She breathed a sigh of relief as she paid the taxi fare. It was the last of the money from Parks. She thought about the return fare and calculated that the few coins remaining in her purse might just cover it.

The taxi seemed to take forever to get to the hospital. Every road on the route to the hospital seemed to be clogged with traffic. Busi leant back against the seat and took a deep breath. She felt anxiety mounting inside her, but she remembered how important it was to stay calm. Whatever happened, Parks and his wife should not know that her baby was about to be born. In her mind she imagined her baby nestling in Thandi’s arms, her red nails stroking its cheek while Parks looked on, smiling. No, thought Busi to herself, that could not happen! Not at any cost! She would have to give a false name at the hospital so that they could not trace her.

Eventually the taxi drew to a halt outside the hospital, and Busi stood up and made her way slowly to the exit. She climbed down onto the pavement and looked towards the hospital entrance. Strangely it seemed very far away, although she knew it was just an easy stroll.

She took a step forward, clutching her bag against her stomach. Oh, Mama, she thought in panic, where are you? She took another step, and then another. The security guard seated at the entrance looked up at her as she approached, then stood and moved towards her as an agonising pain gripped her tummy. She cried out, feeling her legs buckling beneath her, “Help me! My baby … my baby is coming!”