Busi tried to stay calm as two nurses came running towards her, pushing a wheelchair. They positioned it next to her and hauled her up into it. Busi held onto her bag with one hand and onto the armrest with the other as the nurses pushed her towards the hospital reception at breakneck speed.
An overweight man in a white shirt stood over Busi with a clipboard. When she did not immediately reply he bent down and shouted into Busi’s face.
“Thandi Mbethe,” said Busi.
It was the first name that popped into Busi’s mind. Thandi and Parks. Their faces swam before Busi for a second, then she forgot everything as she was gripped, yet again, by excruciating pain.
The orderly asked Busi some more questions between the contractions, and she lied in her answers to every single one. No one must know I am here, was all she could think, no one. Fear gripped her as tightly as the contractions that seized her body. Parks and Thandi must not know that I am here. They mustn’t know. They mustn’t know.
The same nurses who had wheeled her into the hospital instructed her to remove her clothes and get into a hospital robe. Then they assisted her rather roughly onto a hospital bed and wheeled her into a ward. She was vaguely conscious that there were other women there. Some of them were screaming.
Busi clutched at the sheets and called out to a passing nurse. “Help me,” she cried out pathetically. “I can’t do this! I don’t want to do this!”
The nurse stopped for a second and cast a disinterested eye over Busi.
“Well, my girl,” the nurse said coldly, tapping Busi’s thigh with the cold palm of her hand, “you have no choice in the matter. You had lots of fun putting that baby in there, didn’t you? Well, as you are finding out, it’s not so much fun getting it out. Is it?”
Busi cried out in pain, and reached out for the nurse’s hand. “Stay with me,” she begged, “Please stay with me.”
The nurse pushed Busi’s hand away. “What are you thinking?” she said coldly. “That I have only you to attend to? You still have a long way to go. Get on with it.” And with that the nurse walked off.
Busi lay back against the pillow, and took a few deep breaths. For the moment the pains had passed.
“Oh, Mama,” said Busi softly, beginning to cry, “why didn’t you come? Why didn’t you come? Oh, Gogo, why did you leave me?”
The tears rolled down Busi’s cheeks as she prepared herself for the overwhelming contractions that she knew would come again soon. And when they did, one after the other, in a seemingly endless cycle of pain, she cried out and sobbed. There was nobody there to comfort her.
Busi’s baby was born later that day. She sighed with relief and exhaustion as she heard the doctor say, “It’s a girl,” and then she reached out her arms to receive her new baby.
Busi looked down at the little being cradled in her arms. She was tiny and wrinkled with a lot of black hair plastered against her head. It would take a while to sink in that this little child was now hers. The baby’s eyes opened and Busi stared deeply into the dark black pools. New life. She felt a rush of love and wonder.
A nurse urged her to begin feeding and Busi put the baby to her breast, like she had seen so many women do. The baby nuzzled, and then latched onto her nipple and sucked.
“No problem with feeding this one,” said the nurse, and moved on to the next woman.
Busi’s daughter drank her fill and then the nurse took her back to the nursery. Without her warm presence, Busi suddenly felt flickers of fear and loneliness again. Where was her grandmother? Where was her mother? She wanted to show them her baby. She began to cry, but even crying felt like too much effort. She sank into a deep sleep.
When Busi woke up she was gripped by a fear that her baby was gone. She sat up with a start and cried out, “Where is she? Where is my baby?”
“Thula wena,” said a nurse, who was busy with another patient in a bed across from Busi. “She’s in the nursery. Be quiet or you’ll wake everybody.”
“I want her,” said Busi, sitting up and swinging her legs to the floor.
“You stay where you are,” said the nurse, frowning. “You’ll get her later when it’s time to breastfeed. It’s nearly supper time for you. Eat first.”
Busi lifted her legs back onto the white sheets, and told herself to be calm. But her eyes looked wildly around the ward, as if Parks and his wife might appear at any moment.
Her stomach growled and she realised how hungry she was. She had not eaten for nearly two days. The smell of food that wafted down the shiny, tiled hospital passageways into the ward made her mouth water.
Busi ate every morsel of the stew that was put in front of her. She was so ravenous that she didn’t mind the fatty bits of meat. It seemed to her that no food had ever tasted so good. When she was finished she pushed her tray away and slid her bare feet down onto the cold tiles.
“I’m ready to see my baby now,” she said to the nurse who was handing out the food. “Where is she?”
“In a minute, in a minute,” said the nurse, and then, seeing that Busi was very determined, she called out to another nurse, “Hayi, this child wants her child. Bring it to her please.”
Busi stood in the middle of the room. She clutched her hospital robe around her. Already she was feeling stronger. She looked around the ward. There was a little cupboard next to her bed. She walked slowly towards it and opened it. Inside were her clothes and her bag containing a few things for the baby. She unzipped it, lifting out the clothes her gogo had given to her. She had not shown any interest in them at the time; she had not even asked where they came from. They weren’t new. And anyway she had not wanted to look at anything to do with the baby.
Now she lay the little babygro on the hospital bed and stroked it gently. There was also a thin baby blanket and two nappies. So little, thought Busi to herself, so little with which to begin life. She had always thought that her mother would be there when the baby came, and that she would provide for them. What a fool I was, she thought.
She looked up to see a nurse bringing her little baby girl to her. She reached out and took her, gently. Then, holding her tightly in her arms, she bowed her head to kiss her daughter’s little wrinkled face. The baby began to whimper and Busi lifted her to her breast and started feeding her, closing her eyes as she did so. Lost in the present moment, she forgot about everything else.