Beep. Beep. Beep. Wandile is awakened by the sound of a machine. She opens her eyes and sees white walls. She is lying on a bed with a drip connected to her arm. She can feel that there are tiny tubes running into her nose. Her head feels heavy.
“Where am I?” she sits up on the bed.
The nurse sees the confusion in her eyes. “Please don’t move. You are in Prince Albert Luthuli Hospital,” the nurse answers with an assuring smile.
“Prince Albert Luthuli Hospital?” Wandile looks around in the ward. There are other patients on the beds.
“Yes. Do you remember what happened to you?”
“No,” Wandile squints, trying to recall.
“You came in in a bad state. You were severely dehydrated and hypothermia was starting to set in.”
“And how did I get here?”
“You were found by women who were fetching firewood in a forest next to an informal settlement near Gateway Shopping Mall. They called an ambulance,” says the nurse. “You owe them your life.”
Wandile is starting to recall the club, Sboniso and his wife beating her. She runs her hand over bandages on her shoulder.
“You have a visitor who’s been here since morning. I’ll let her in since you are awake.”
“How long have I been here?”
“You came in the early hours this morning,” says the nurse. “Let me call your visitor.”
A few minutes later Wandile’s cousin, Nonku, enters the ward. A jolt of irritation courses through Wandile’s body. She despises Nonku because she is her age but is Miss Goody Two Shoes – church going, non-drinker and a brilliant student. The daughter he mother wishes she had instead of Wandile. They are the same age but Nonku is in her second year of her B Com Degree. She even looks after MaMhlongo when Wandile is out at the club.
“You are awake at last, my dear cousin! God is great!” Nonku breaks into a smile. She holds Wandile’s hands in hers. “I was so worried about you, cousin! I was so worried I haven’t even told Aunty because I didn’t want to worry her in the state she is in. I’m so glad you are going to be okay.”
“Stop it, Nonku! Just stop it! We both know you came here to laugh at me!” Wandile says curtly.
“How can you say something like that, cousin? You know I care about you.”
We have our differences but only because I wish you would get back on the right path. I brought you fresh clothes…”
“Thank you,” Wandile winces in pain as she accepts the plastic bag. “You really didn’t have to do this, cousin. Thank you very much.” Wandile softens.
“No problem at all. You are family, and family look out for each other,” says Nonku fluffing a pillow so that Wandile can rest comfortably.
Nonku picks up Wandile from the hospital two days later. She just wants to sleep and then get back to the club and get a fix. But when she gets home, she finds a group of women from her mom’s church in the dining room. They are holding hands in a prayer around MaMhlongo who is sitting on the floor. Wandile breathes a sigh of relief because they are saying the final parts of the prayer.
“Sit, Wandile, this visit is as much for your mother as it is for you,” says MaKheswa, the church secretary. “My child the holy book says honour your mother and father so you will have a long and fruitful life. Your mother needs you, my child. It is not her fault that she is helpless and sick. She needs you to honour her.”
“Wandile you can still change your ways and get back with God. The lord says come as you are and he will accept you. He listens and forgives. Please look after your mother and respect her. God will bless you tenfold for that.”
Wandile is quiet, her stare cast to the floor. She nods at each and every word but in her mind she is planning what outfit to wear to the club. Her mind drifts. She worries about her cellphone, wondering whether she left it at Sboniso’s house or at Cubana Nightclub. Church women carry on speaking.
“If you need anything we are here for you. We don’t view you as a neighbour, Wandile, but as family,” says MaKhumalo. “You need to always be present at home with your mother so that if anything happens you can run and tell us.”
“My number is on your mother’s phone. Call me anytime if you need help. Anytime! Are we clear, my child?” says MaMbuli, the pastor’s wife.
“Yes, thank you,” says Wandile.
“Wandile promise me you won’t leave your mother all by herself ever again,” pleads MaMbuli.
“I promise,” says Wandile.
“I beg you to concentrate on school because education is the key to a bright future.”
“Yes, I hear you, Ma.”
Wandile keeps nodding and saying yes because she wants the women to leave her alone. They sing and kneel to pray. Wandile looks calm – she sings and prays – but deep down her blood is boiling. She can’t wait for them to leave. For a moment she entertains the thought of getting up and leaving while they have their eyes closed in prayer. She shakes her head and says “Amen’ with everyone.
Tell us: What do you think Wandile really needs?