She locked herself out of the house again, wondering why she even bothered attaching a bright orange lanyard to her keys. Must have left it on my desk again, she thought. But she is in desperate need of a pee, and has to drive to the petrol garage down the road for this purpose.
She is on the phone with her mother, talking about espaliering the plant in front of her house. How does one go about, is it complicated, do I need to cut it, is the gist of the conversation. It is cut short. “Mom, I have to go, there is an old man lying in the road.” She stops her car, leaves it idling, her possessions lying on the front seat, up for grabs to any passersby. He is lying next to an island in the road, struggling to lift himself up, like a turtle that had been turned on his back. It might be a trap, she thought to herself, but knew it isn’t as she picks him up. “Thank you ma’am,” he says, struggling to his feet. He isn’t drunk, but something’s wrong. He is unsteady, unbalanced, could barely walk.
“Do you know his family?” a passerby asks. She answers no, and asks the same question back at the stranger. “Yes, but I do not have their number. He lives in the squatter camp.” She nods, says that she will take him to the hospital first. “Take me to Dr Marcus,” the old man says. The scene of him lying in the road, a truck nearly hitting him, keeps playing in her mind. How long have you been lying there, she asks. Since four this afternoon, he answers. She is struggling to keep the tears back. It was half past six.
He gives her directions and they end up at a familiar Italian restaurant. The doctors’ office next to it is already closed, but the pharmacy is open. “I have to get out of the car, get some fresh air.”
The pharmacist knows the old man, says that he works in the parking lot, he’s a car guard. “Can I get you anything,” she asks him. “Just some water, and headache tablets. My head hurts from the fall,” he answers. He sits down on a drum. “Tonight, I work,” he adds. An argument between the old man and the woman ensues. No, he says, I have to work. “My children need to get to school in Hammanskraal, I need the money,” he says.
She refuses. “I’ll buy you food and give you money, you are not working tonight, you are ill and need to get home.” He admits to being at the clinic earlier the day, where he also fell. “I was on the ground for two hours before I got up,” he adds. Did no one help you, she asks. No, comes his answer. His old face is full of grief and wrinkles. How old are you, she asks. Fifty seven, he answers.
“I used to be in the police, but in 1976 I quit, because they were killing my brothers.” She swallows back the tears. She takes him home; the sun is starting to set. At the squatter camp, people are gathering around her car, but no one is willing to help. Instead, she gets looks of hatred. “Is he drunk,” someone asks? No, she says, he is sick. “Yes,” another says, “I saw him going to the clinic this morning.”
The old man named Tony tells her to leave. “Your windows are open, they will steal your things. They will hurt you.”
“Can I take you to your house?” she asks.
“Only if you want to, but I wouldn’t risk it. You must leave.”
She drove off, not knowing the fate of this man, only praying that he will be safe and that he will survive. She didn’t get his phone number. He couldn’t remember it.
This is a true story. It was last week Thursday. I couldn’t stop crying when I left. I pray that this man is okay.