The old lady gripped my wrist. She was strong for someone so ill. “You have to help me, Nurse Dudu!”

I am not really a nurse, just a nurse aide. Just three days a week. I am only allowed to make beds and empty bed pans. And listen to the Ward Sister yell at me when I do something wrong.

I wish I was a real nurse. Then I could give injections and put up drips and save peoples’ lives. But there is no money for me to go to nursing college.

Still, I bent over the old lady. She reminded me of my grandmother, except for all the tubes. Except for all the machines pumping around her: the ventilator, the heart monitor and the rest.

“How can I help you, Mrs Gatyeni?”

“You must move me to another bed. I don’t want to be in bed six.”

“But Ma’am, all the beds here in the ICU are full.” This was true: the Intensive Care Unit was always full. “What is wrong with bed six?”

“Patients in bed six die, Nurse Dudu. You have to save me.”

I know about hospitals, and the strange myths that spread amongst patients: that surgeons listen to hip hop music and dance while they operate; that some night staff steal pain medication and replace it with aspirin; or sip blood from the blood bank; that unholy things happen down in the basement morgue.

I understand. Being ill is frightening. Being in hospital is frightening, especially for our elderly.

I chatted to the other patients in ICU. I’d only been on duty here a few days.

“Bed six is cursed,” said Mr Lenake. “Four patients in seven weeks – all dead.”

“And always on Fridays, Nurse Dudu,” added young Jonathan from bed ten. “One minute the patient is fine. Next minute the Ward Sister is closing the curtains. Next minute the morgue attendants wheel the patient away.”

I don’t work Fridays. But I told Mrs Gatyeni: “I will come in Friday. I will stay beside you all day and make sure you are safe.”

“You are an angel!” Mrs Gatyeni smiled at me from under her tubes.

Friday morning I arrived early at the hospital. What mayhem! It was far crazier than on the days I usually work. Crowds of medical students were following doctors on their weekly rounds, getting in everyone’s way. Cleaners from the weekly cleaning company filled the passages in their pink uniforms, lugging equipment. Nurses rushed up and down with files, getting patients ready for Friday surgery. The office staff rushed after them with consent forms.

I opened the doors to the ICU. And what I saw at bed six filled me with horror.

“No!” I screamed. “Stop!”

The cleaner beside Mrs Gatyeni’s bed glared at me. “Don’t speak to me like that! I am not your maid! This is what I do every Friday.”

The Ward Sister appeared. “Nurse aide Dudu, why are you shouting? This is a hospital, not a shebeen! You aren’t even on duty today!” she yelled. But then she also saw what the cleaner was up to.

“Stop!” she also shouted. “Dear Heaven! Don’t even think about it!”


Tell us what you think: What is the cleaner up to?