The following morning Mandi walked along the long corridors of Dora Ngiza Hospital, the only hospital in the township. It was an old, dilapidated building that certainly didn’t represent health or wellness. Visiting hours would end at two o’clock, so she had plenty of time to complete her task.
Mandi hated hospitals. The smell of sickness and death nauseated her. She spotted a young nurse walking towards her.
“Excuse me, I’m looking for Ward 5,” Mandi enquired. The nurse chewed, popped her gum and pointed down the hall, explaining the directions.
“Thank you Sisi, I think I’ve got it,” replied Mandi, walking on.
“Hello, I’m looking for Mr Sibusiso Nyathi,” she said to an unpleasant-looking nurse sitting at a desk near the entrance to the ward. The woman didn’t answer Mandi, but rudely pointed at the row of beds to the left and carried on munching a meat pie. Flakes of pastry stuck to her chin and upper lip, and she put out a fat pink tongue to lick them off.
Mandi stared at her, fascinated and disgusted.
She turned away, her heart hammering in her chest now that she was so close. She felt her pulse race as she approached the first bed.
Could this be him? The figure lying under the covers looked dark, frail, and very sick. She looked at his patient folder – it wasn’t the right name.
There were other visitors in the ward. Fleetingly, she thought of how many people would be bidding farewell to loved ones in the near future. There were mothers and sisters and brothers and uncles, all trying to cheer up patients who had probably very little chance of recovery.
I can’t think about other people’s problems now. I need to make sure that they don’t pick up that I’m searching for an unfamiliar face.
Abruptly, Mandi’s phone rang. She paused, startled. Now was not the right time to take calls, but it was an international number.
She answered awkwardly, whispering, “Hello.”
“Hi baby, it’s me.” It was Themba, calling all the way from New York. “I can’t chat for long. It’s costing me an arm and a leg.”
Mandi’s face lit up as she looked around, embarrassed but blushing. She walked over to one side of the room, covering her mouth and the microphone as she spoke. “I’m so happy to hear your voice. How are things that side?”
“Good good, but it’s raining hectically here. The whole security team is having a ball. We’ve joined another American squad over this side, so the load is lighter. We take shifts. Anyway love, I just wanted to say that you’ll be fine. Please don’t stress about the baby too much, okay. I’ll be back soon. We’ll try again.”
“Thanks baby. I actually needed to hear those words. You have no idea.”
“So, what are you doing?”
Mandi stuttered back. “Just visiting a friend in hospital, nothing much.”
“Okay my angel, I’ve gotta go. Take care. Love you.”
“I love you too boo. Hurry back.” She cut the line.
The coast was still safe. Visitors were attentive to their own loved ones, unmindful of her. Mandi moved on to the second bed.
The occupant definitely wasn’t who she was looking for; the patient was a young albino man, coughing his lungs out.
When she got to the third, her heart nearly jumped out of her chest. It was surely him! He’d lost a lot of weight and his complexion had turned much darker. Regardless of this, Mandi would never forget any of their faces, even after so many years. Trembling and anxious, she grabbed his patient folder to make absolutely certain.
Mandi looked around the room. She had to take this chance; this was a ward where everybody was focused on their own problems.
She moved closer to him, right up to his face; he was asleep. She scrutinised the face she’d hated for so long – the face that had haunted her for years. He had lost most of his hair. His skin was drawn and mottled with patches of raw sores around his eyebrows. He was emaciated and weak; signs of dried spittle had settled around his cracked lips. If it had been anyone else, she would have felt a deep pity, but for this man she felt nothing.
All his drugs and medicine were placed on the table next to him. She wondered whether to leave or to finish her task. He’s dead anyway, she thought.
She hadn’t imagined he’d be that critical. It wasn’t the way she wanted him to go out – death from illness. She wanted to be the cause. She wanted to be the source of his misery and end.
Mandi looked carefully around the room again and then unobtrusively hid him from onlookers with her body.
With a shaking hand, she pinched his nostrils closed. Her palm and other fingers covered his mouth, shutting it tight. Her anxiety converted to rage as tears fell involuntarily on to the coverlet. She couldn’t look at him, and she certainly wasn’t crying for him.
Her heart raced as she too struggled to catch her breath. He wriggled his feet and let out a slight moan.
“Die, you swine. Just let go!” she whispered.
She continued shutting off his air. The moans and groans got louder. She didn’t care. He needed to be completely quiet before she’d release him. She pinched tighter.
She felt him becoming slack, unable to fight her any longer, but at that moment she also felt a compelling stare – someone was gazing intently at her, someone up close.
She looked down, right into the eyes of a little boy, the son of one of the visitors. He seemed about six or seven years old and was watching her movements closely.
Mandi stared back at the lad with the most threatening look she could muster – one that suggested that he shut his tiny face up … or else!
She pinched her enemy’s nostrils even harder as he moaned and began to kick.
Suddenly, the mother of the little boy became aware of her son and turned around curiously to see what he was looking at. She couldn’t see the man in the bed as Mandi was standing over him.
Mandi had to think quickly. She pretended she’d been wiping his face. “I’ll be back tomorrow, OK? Just take your pills and medication regularly. You’ll be fine.” Mandi said to her attacker and forced a fake smile, aware of the audience, who were now all watching.
She stayed a few minutes more, pretending to tidy up the medicine cabinet beside the bed. She filled a glass with water and then left.
She hadn’t finished him off but he would be gone very soon.
There was one more to go – the pastor.
Tell us: By now, do you as a reader still identify with and support Mandi in her actions?