Busi changed the baby’s nappy and carefully dressed her in the tiny babygro. Then she kissed her sweet-smelling head and lay down with her again. She cuddled her for the rest of the evening. When the nurse came to take her back to the nursery, Busi wouldn’t let her go.
“She’s my baby and she stays with me,” Busi said fiercely whenever a nurse came near her.
Mostly the nurses were too busy to bother with her. “Just make sure she doesn’t make a noise and disturb the others,” was the response from most of them.
For most of the night Busi lay with her baby girl nestled in her arms. She couldn’t stop staring at her, examining her tiny fingers and her tiny toes. It was a strange mixture of emotion she felt. She was overcome with love, but at the same time she had never felt such responsibility, and it frightened her. Her head swam with thoughts about what she should do. It was like she kept going down the same dead-end street and could not find an answer.
As she lay there cuddling her daughter, a long-forgotten memory surfaced. Years ago a social worker had come to her school. She had been there to speak about teenage pregnancy. Thinking back, Busi thought how foolish she and her friends had been, wolf-whistling and giggling every time the lady had tried to talk to them about sex and pregnancy. Still, Busi had tried to listen, even though the boys in particular had been making so much noise. “Always use condoms,” the social worker had said. Busi remembered how she had wanted Parks to use condoms. Why on earth had she believed him when he had said she shouldn’t worry – that everything would be all right?
Busi ran her finger over her baby girl’s black hair. “How sweet you are, my daughter,” Busi whispered to her. “I will never let that woman have you. Never.”
Busi closed her eyes and must have dropped off because she saw Thandi’s face before her. She was looking straight at Busi and smiling – a horrible, sneering smile.
“You see,” said Thandi to Busi in the dream, “I always said that what was his was also mine.” And then Thandi turned her gaze away from Busi, to something she was holding in her arms. In her dream Busi followed her gaze and saw what it was that Thandi was looking at. It was her baby girl! Thandi’s red fingernails were stroking the baby’s cheek, leaving scratch marks.
Thandi looked at Busi again, pulling her lips back in a grim sneer as she said, “You see, she is mine now …”
Busi woke up with a start. “Oh, my baby girl,” she whispered close to her baby’s ear, “what am I going to do?”
Busi thought of her empty shack, with its empty shelves. And then she thought of her gogo, lying somewhere in this same hospital. She was certain she would never see her again. She was dying, Busi knew it.
“Gogo can’t help me now, baby girl,” whispered Busi, the tears streaming down her face and onto her baby. “She can’t help me now.”
Busi could barely bring herself to think of her mother and father. She could hardly picture their faces any more, they had been gone for such a long time.
“I love you, little girl,” whispered Busi again, her tears still flowing freely, “but there is no one to help us. No one at all. Forgive me. I’m sorry. I’m sorry.”
The baby yawned, and stretched, and shut her eyes. Soon she was fast asleep. She knew nothing of the world and its hardship.
Busi could not stop her tears. Then she remembered something else that the social worker had said to them that day. She had told them about something mothers could do if they could not look after their babies for any reason. It was a way to keep their babies safe from harm. Lying there in the darkened ward, Busi made a decision.
Pulling the hospital blanket up to her chin and moving slowly and quietly so as not to attract attention, she slipped out of her hospital gown and pulled on her clothes. She decided to keep the warm blanket that her baby was wrapped in, promising to return it some day.
Then, waiting until she could see no nurse around, Busi got out of her bed, leaving a pillow plumped-up beneath the bedclothes. She clutched her sleeping baby close to her chest and walked very quietly to the entrance of the ward. Far down the passage she could hear voices but, for the moment, there was no nurse in sight.
Busi dashed across the passage and down a flight of stairs. She opened her gogo’s large coat and pulled it around the sleeping bundle in her arms. Busi walked quickly. She had no idea where she was, but soon she saw signs pointing to the entrance of the hospital, and she followed them.
It was now nearly 5 a.m. Busi knew exactly what she was going to do. She managed to slip past the dozing men on duty at the hospital entrance and then she was outside, in the cold and dark of the early morning.
Out on the street taxis were already picking up commuters on their way to work. Busi was relieved to find that her remaining money was still in her purse in the pocket of her coat. She hailed a taxi and was grateful when one stopped and she could clamber into the cosy warmth inside.
The gaadjie sucked air in through his teeth and whistled low when he saw Busi’s small baby held fast against her breast.
“Where to, Sisi?” he asked gently, looking at her kindly. Busi looked at him gratefully as she told him.
“Keep your money,” he said, taking Busi by surprise. “Let her have her first ride for free.”
Busi bowed her head in gratitude and sat down. She looked out at the dark streets and blinked back the tears. I must be strong now, thought Busi to herself. Now is not the time for tears. I have to do this for you, my darling daughter.
And then the taxi swerved out into the main stream of traffic. Busi did not look back.