“Coffee. Anyone for coffee?” The clanking of the trolley wakes me. “Coffee anyone?”

“Yes, please.” I raise a hand. I can hear rain pouring down in true Cape winter style. It’s still pitch black outside – the clock shows it’s 5:12am. They don’t even wake us this early at the shelter, but my body’s aching anyway. I’d fallen asleep soon after the supper and meds, and slept like the dead.

A nurse waddles in with the blood pressure machine while I’m drinking my coffee.

“Morning, môre, Mr Olivier.”


“Blood pressure good, fever down.” She enters the information in my folder before shuffling to the next bed.

After breakfast two guys enter the ward. Time check 7:43am. It’s light enough now and it’s raining buckets. I’m grateful for the warmth and comfort of the hospital bed.

“Mr Olivier, morning. I’m Doctor Cassel. How are you feeling? You were lucky, Mr Olivier. You only needed a few staples and a bandage. No serious damage, just a fever and signs of infection. Must have been a dirty blade–”

“Dirty like its owner, ja.”

“You should report it to the police.” He’s prodding around the wound area. “It’s an assault charge at least.”

“Ag wat, doctor, I know who the owner of the knife is, but I don’t know him. What will the police say when I tell them a chicken stabbed me?”

The doctor pauses mid-prod, his eyebrows raised. “A chicken, Mr Olivier? I don’t understand.”

“That’s all I know about the guy – he’s known as Chicken.”

“I see. You’ve responded well to the medication, so I’m discharging you. A nurse will let you know when you can leave.”

“Thank you, Doctor.”

The rain hasn’t let up; it’s coming down in bigger buckets.

After a long, hot shower, with a bandage, and strict instructions from one of the nurses to keep the dressing dry, I’m ready. Ready to return to my life out there.

“Antibiotics. One tablet three times a day with food. You have to finish the course.” A different nurse slides a packet of pills across the counter at the nurses’ station. This one is for pain; take it when you need it.” She gives me a death stare. “Keep the bandage dry and we’ll see you in 10 days to remove the staples.” She hands me a page. “Show this discharge form to security, and no heavy lifting. Mr Olivier, you must rest.”

Rest? I’ll rest when I’m dead. I don’t think these people know what it’s like to go cold and hungry, constantly looking over your shoulder.

Sure, I could join a gang and live at their house for free. I was tempted when they tried recruiting me, but nothing in life is ever free – one way or another, you pay a price. My Dada said it’s better to have crooked teeth and straight morals.


Tell us: Have you ever thought in detail what it must be like to be homeless and always ‘looking over your shoulder’?