Busi looked out at the dark road. Her baby lay fast asleep on her lap, wrapped in her blanket inside Gogo’s coat. She shut her eyes and cast her mind back to the social worker’s visit to her school when she had shown them a DVD about something called a “Baby Safe”. Busi could remember it all very clearly, although at the time she could never, in a million years, have guessed that one day she would be in the same predicament.
Busi turned to the gaadjie. “Do you have a piece of paper?” she asked, glancing around at the other passengers in the taxi and adding, “and a pen?”
The gaadjie shrugged and shook his head, but a woman seated across the way from Busi took a notebook out of her bag, and tore out a couple of pages. She handed them to Busi, together with a pen.
“Enkosi,” said Busi, and she sat with them clutched in her hand.
She stared out of the window at the passing cars.
“You better use the pen quickly,” said the woman, shifting in her seat. “It’s not long before I get out.”
Busi nodded and looked down. Slowly, she began to write:
This is my baby. She was born yesterday. I am not able to keep her.
Please look after her for me. Please keep her safe. Please tell her that she has a mother who did not want to leave her. I could find no other way.
Tears splashed onto the page in front of her. Busi was grateful for the darkness inside the taxi, and she looked away, out of the window. She was still clutching the pen when the woman stood up and asked for it.
“Sorry,” said Busi, suddenly startled, and handed her the pen. “Thank you.”
Busi knew where the church was. She had even been there once, years ago. Before her parents left Cape Town Busi had been part of a church youth group. They had visited another group of children at that church. When the social worker showed the DVD at her school she had exclaimed, “Hey, I know that place! It’s called St Saviour’s Church!”
Busi closed her eyes and remembered for a moment how young and carefree she had been then. They had been given hotdogs and cooldrinks, and they had played games and had so much fun. She sighed deeply.
The taxi was nearly there. Busi felt a lump rising in her throat and her hands grew clammy. “Not far to go now, little one,” she whispered softly to the baby, still asleep in her arms.
For the first time Busi suddenly considered the possibility that the “Baby Safe” may no longer exist. She felt her heart constrict in her chest. “Please, God,” she said aloud, “please let it still be there.”
Busi remembered that in the DVD the “Baby Safe” was set into a wall of the church. It was like a large, silver drawer that could be opened. When it was opened a person could put the baby into the drawer and then shut the drawer again. The DVD had stated that the drawer was heated, so that the baby would be warm, and it was also ventilated, so the baby would be able to breathe well. The DVD had also said, very clearly, that the drawer activated some kind of alarm, and as a result someone would come, very quickly, to fetch the baby. They would take it away to safety, and they would look after it and give it everything it needed.
Busi stared anxiously out of the window, waiting for the church to come into view.
“She must have had the baby by now!” Thandi gabbled as Parks came into kitchen. “I tell you, it’s all happening, Parks. I’ve just got a message that she went off yesterday, early in the morning, and didn’t come back last night. What else can that mean?”
When he didn’t respond she went up to him and shook him. “Did you hear me? We’re getting our baby today!”
“OK, OK, Thandi,” he said. “But we don’t even know where she is.”
“We’re going to find her.” Thandi took away the coffee cup he had removed from the cupboard. “No time for coffee now, Parksie. We need to go.”
She revved the car as Parks pulled on his jacket and they sped off. “Careful,” said Parks nervously, as they narrowly missed a dog on the side of the road. Thandi kept her foot down flat on the accelerator, jumping red traffic lights and stop streets until they reached the local hospital.
“We’re looking for a girl called Busi – she’s my niece. She’s just had her baby and we’ve got lots of things for her. We must see her urgently!” Thandi shouted to the receptionist.
Parks groaned inwardly. They were just going to draw attention to themselves if Thandi behaved like it was a matter of life and death.
Unperturbed, the receptionist searched her list for what seemed like ages and then looked at them. “No Busi here.”
“She must be!” said Thandi in frustration. “She can’t be anywhere else.” She turned to Parks. “Where do you think …” But then she turned back to the receptionist, a pleased look on her face. “She is scared of her parents – maybe she gave a different name. I know she came in yesterday, so she must be here still.”
“The only young girl who came in yesterday was a girl called Thandi Mbethe,” said the receptionist.
“Thandi Mbethe – that’s my–” spluttered Thandi.
Parks squeezed her hand. “That’s who we are looking for,” he said smoothly. “Where is she, please?”
“She’s in Ward 24,” said the receptionist. “But you can’t go there now. It’s not visiting hours or anything. Hey!” she called after them, but Thandi had already rushed off, followed by Parks.
They darted down the passages, bumping into wheelchairs and stretchers and startling nurses who were unable to stop them. Breathless, Thandi pushed open the door to Ward 24. They scanned the beds.
“What are you doing here?” a nurse asked.
“Where’s Busi – I mean Thandi Mbethe?” asked Parks.
The nurse shrugged. “She left early this morning without even telling us. She’s gone.”
“No-o-o-o!” Thandi wailed.
“Come on,” said Parks, pulling his wife away from the nurse who was looking at her suspiciously. “She can’t be far. We’ll find her.”
Back in the car Thandi’s face looked severe. “It’s now or never. This is the last chance – for me, and for you, Parks.”
Parks’s mouth was dry with fear.