“Hawu, Mr Olivier, you’ve been naughty neh?” Nurse I-love-my-job clicks her tongue as she checks my blood pressure and temperature. Her name is Nurse Twala. “You didn’t rest, you didn’t take all your antibiotics, and you didn’t keep the bandage dry neh?” She clicks her tongue again and shakes her head. “You know, Mr Olivier, how many patients pray they’re in your position? Terminal patients with no hope of survival. And here you are …”

How dare she judge me like this? That’s all I’ve been trying to do – survive. Under the blanket, my hands ball into fists, like my nails want to bite blood from my palms. How dare she! Look at her. Plump like a fattened Christmas turkey. I bet she doesn’t miss a meal, or anything in-between. I feel like I can spit smoking, rolling balls of fire.

Ma’s words tumble through my mind and I unclench my fists. “Being you is enough. Don’t carry someone else’s opinions of you around; the baggage is too heavy.”

There’s a saying in Afrikaans: ‘Stilbly is ook ‘n antwoord’. Ma always said one should pick ones battles wisely, and sometimes saying nothing is better.

At some point, tired from sitting or hobbling around the ward and watching the dull programs on the TV, I lie down and fall into a deep sleep.

“Perhaps we should let him sleep, he needs the rest.”

“I’ll just sit here. Please, Mama. I’ll read to him.” I hear pages rustle. “Mr Olivier said he wanted to finish this book but didn’t have a library card.”

A smile tugs at the corners of my mouth and my eyes flicker open. “Hi, Kitty girl.” My voice sounds like coarse sandpaper scraping against a rough surface.

“You’re awake!” Kitty jumps up and throws herself across my chest in an attempt to hug me.

I squirm and clench my jaw. My words squeeze through gritted teeth, “A little less enthusiasm, please.”

“Uxolo. Sorry, sorry. I’m so happy to see you awake.”

“Happy to see you too.”

“Mr Olivier–”

“What happened to Ollie? Yesterday you called me Ollie. ”

Kitty giggles. “Yakopa wena! You weren’t sleeping. Kodwa, wag ‘n bietjie.” She turns to the woman standing at the foot of my bed. “Let me introduce you to my mother.”

Mrs Tshobo has the grace and bearing of a queen.

“Mama, this is Bhut Ollie. The one who brings me the chocolate eclairs I share with you.”

“Young man,” Mrs Tshobo begins and clasps my hand in a firm handshake, “your actions speak volumes of your character. To have little and still share, shows you have the spirit of ubuntu. I have a good feeling about you.”


Tell us: How easy do you find it to follow this saying, “Being you is enough. Don’t carry someone else’s opinions of you around; the baggage is too heavy”?