Four months into eloping to the City of Gold, Lesedi and I were very happy, and couldn’t ask for more. She was carrying you, just a month and a half into the pregnancy.

Mr and Mrs Khumo, Mr Makhura’s extended family, were very fond of us, and treated us like their children. They were sworn to secrecy about us staying with them, since Mr Makhura had told them about our situation at home.

We preferred that no-one, not even my family, knew where we were, given the power that Lesedi’s family had to press them for the truth. This reality meant I had to suppress my feelings, for my heart was heavy, and continually yearned for my mother and siblings.

The vastness of the city was deep and wide like the ocean, with many activities to keep oneself busy. On weekends, we’d go to the bioscope (that’s what we called the cinema) to watch movies, or take leisure walks in the Lover’s Lane at the park, after a pleasant picnic. Or we’d go clubbing late into the night with our new friends, around White City, Soweto.

At work I was welcomed with warm hands, and had befriended a few people, who took a liking to my work ethic.

Then, one busy Friday afternoon, the incident that set about the domino effect of one thing in my life going wrong after another, occurred.

Vusimuzi, a co-worker of mine, was down the mine, digging his last portion before we all headed for lunch. I was having a conversation with another co-worker, while we slowly manoeuvred back to the surface.

Suddenly a disturbing, shrill sound echoed below us. We immediately knew what had happened. It was clear that the roof of the shaft had loosened and collapsed onto him. This often occurred, due to human error in calculation, and given their sensitivity each time they were blasted or hammered.

“Rush for help, Bheki, and I’ll head back and assess the situation!” I said, worriedly descending in the shaft lift.

“Vusi … Vusi, are you okay?”

“Kamogelo, my brother, thank you.” He stared into my eyes, intensely in pain, with his shoulder tilted a horrendous degree from normalcy.

I quickly lifted him and pushed him into the lift carriage, which dangled just above our heads. When I was about to climb into it myself, some remaining loose rocks swiftly crumbled, and rained with sheer force onto my back, and trailing legs.

“Are you okay man!? Are you okay?”

I breathed carefully, held in the pain, to not discourage him whilst he was going through hell himself. “I’m okay. Let’s worry about your critical condition first. I told Bheki to call for help, so the rescue crew and ambulance must be on its way. Hang in there, Vusi. It will all be fine.”

When we got to the surface, we were surrounded by the hum of concern, like bees buzzing about the honey.

Ten minutes later into the ordeal, an ambulance rushed through the gates and the crowd quickly dispersed. We were both taken to the hospital.

I thought I’d be discharged quickly. But I slept in. And to make matters all the more demotivating, news about Vusi’s condition arrived. He would never again be able to lift heavy equipment due to the injury to his right hand.

(This meant that later he was therefore demoted to ‘errand boy’ around the mine’s premises. I really felt sorry for him. Errand boys never got as much respect from other men, and to make matters worse, they earned less than half of the peanuts we were labouring for as miners.)

Around 11 the sun was gently sprinkling through the open window, warming me up, and the breeze softly patting against the curtain. Then Lesedi appeared, tailing the nurse. She was white as a ghost, and emotional.

“Ohw my baby. Come here. Don’t worry. It’s nothing much.”

She drew closer, and for a passionate five minutes we were locked in an embrace. Then Dr Zwane entered, stethoscope dangling around his scrawny neck. He looked at me through his glasses, despondently.

“Good to see you with your support system, Mr Marema.” He looked down at the transcript he closely held at hand. “I don’t know how to tell you this, or whether you’ll be accepting of your fate, and will be willing to go through the journey you’re about to begin with me …”

The room became disturbingly cold, as chills grew behind my back.

“I’m sorry to say you won’t be able to walk for the next seven months, minimum. In the incident you severed several motor nerves, incurred some minor damage to the lining of the backbone, and as we can visibly see, broke your shinbone,” he said, with curled, weary lips.

Lesedi trembled excessively at the news; as I comforted her, tears slowly fell down my cheeks too.

When I was discharged I was referred to the local clinic to get physical counselling. Back then black South Africans were reserved the worst of available medical resources and aid, and specialists rarely ever came. So we had to do with the little we could get, and set higher hopes on chance and personal will.

When we headed to the taxi rank, Lesedi pushing me in the wheelchair, a cloud of defeat hung ominously above our heads, like a vulture awaiting to nab at the already gnawed meat.

***

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