Lockdown has been hard on me and my family. My father lost his job as a driver and Gogo is sick. The clinics are full and taxis are scarce. We have no money for food and the shack is cold.
I clean a lady’s house for a living. She says I’m like her family. I hear her telling her friends that she gives me her old clothes and even lets me eat the leftovers for lunch each day. They talk about what I do wrong. But she tells them ‘Nandi is like Peter’s other mother, she’s family!’. Peter is a sweet boy and I love looking after him. I am sure that he will be excited to find out that I am having a baby, he has always wanted a sibling.
When my employer finds out I am pregnant, she looks shocked. ‘But why didn’t you use condoms Nandi, they’re free from the government don’t you know?’. I hear her telling her friends that I am irresponsible. But she doesn’t know what it’s like. Her husband works. And looks after her. Her husband loves her. She doesn’t know about ‘him’. I can’t tell her about ‘him’, she won’t understand.
My employer is ‘letting me go’ until I have the baby. You know, her home can’t survive without me and she loves me like family she reminds me, but she has to be able to keep things turning. She’s ‘being kind’ she says, it’s not nice for me to have to clean a big house while I am pregnant. It’s not nice to go to bed hungry either. I wonder if she knows how that feels.
I will claim UIF. It will be ok. I have been part of her family for five years! That’ll cover me. Because, as the missus reminds me, I won’t have to travel into the suburbs any more – I’ll save so much and I won’t have to wake up at 3am to get the taxi.
I stand in the queue for UIF. My ankles are swollen, I am hungry and tired. The official just laughs. She hasn’t been paying my UIF. I am like family. It’s impossible. I phone her. ‘UIF Nandi?’, “I thought that was just for big companies. ‘I didn’t know Nandi’. But I was ‘part of her family’, I thought.
I have carried this baby like a sign of my life’s bad decisions for nine months now. He is ready. I am not.
When it is time to give birth, I wait for taxi and get myself to my local maternity clinic only to be sent home again and told to come back when it is ‘really’ happening. This is my first baby, I wonder what that will feel like. This feels pretty real to me.
I used my last R16 to get the taxi here, so I start walking back home. The labour pains are gripping my body. I walk through the streets like a ghost, holding in this tiny human who feels ready to break free.
Baby Nathi can’t wait. I can feel him moving down my body. I am scared. I am panicked. I have nobody to call, no way to get back to the hospital. ‘Like family Nandi’. This family could do with a car right about now. I am scared.
I turn around and start walking back. It’s only 7km. I can do this. One step at a time. Only 7km Nandi. Keep going.
Is it supposed to feel like this?
I near the hospital, I know he is close. He’s my first baby, I don’t know how I know he’s close, but I do. But there are procedures to follow at the hospital, forms to fill in and other people there before me.
I am groaning in pain, it is annoying people, somebody yells for me to ‘thula’. I am not special. Everybody here is in turmoil. I am normally a quiet lady, I’m not here to cause trouble, I don’t know where these roars from my body are coming from. I can’t stop them now. I can’t stop him.
The pain is like nothing I have ever experienced. I shout out for help. But nobody can hear my cries over the many lives entering the world at this time and the confusion over paperwork around this disease that is ravaging our incomes.
Baby Nathi comes bursting into this world, right here on the floor of the clinic. Into the chaos while the world keeps turning. Right in front of my fellow labouring sisters. Right in front of the security who is eating his afternoon snack.
I am embarrassed. I am confused. I don’t know where I am supposed to be. I wish my mum could be with me, I hate that she is dead. She’d have known what to do. But everyone is alone here. We’re alone, together, in this scary chasm between real life and new life and the terror in between.
He’s here. I did it. My body no longer looks like the tower of shame which it has for the last nine months. The baby screams. My body screams. Somebody shoves his head toward my breast like I am supposed to know what to do. There’s yelling and screaming and women coming behind me. The train won’t stop. I can’t get off.
It’s cold this winter. But I do not have any clothing for baby Nathi. I clean up my mess like I am told, I didn’t realise there would be so much blood. I didn’t know about this thing they call ‘afterbirth’. They reminded me not to waste, so I am careful to wipe away the blood with as little as I can.
I manage to keep a linen saver to wrap Baby Nathi in. I am allowed to stay for six hours, and so I do, it’s busy but at least I am not alone. I sit here for six hours with sweet Baby Nathi and watch as many women follow my footsteps behind me. I am saving my energy. I need to walk home.
‘Sisi, it’s time to go.’, I bundle Nathi into his linen saver, put my jacket around him and start the journey back ‘home’.
It’s only 7km. One step at a time. Why is there blood coming down my legs?
It’s only 7km. Stop being such a baby. You are a mother now. Walk.
It’s starting to get dark. The man on the corner wolf whistles as I go by. Perhaps he doesn’t see Nathi. Perhaps he does. He wants something from me, I wonder if he knows that something is how I got here. I hold baby Nathi tighter and walk as fast as I can.
My body hurts. Why is there still blood? 7km. Keep walking.
I get home. All is as it was. The world doesn’t stop for you Sisi, you’re not the first person to have a baby. Keep going. Gogo needs her medicine. I put some pap onto the fire for us both. Baby Nathi doesn’t make a sound. I keep him strapped tightly to me while I work.
It’s freezing cold this winter. We have no electricity. Our illegal connection was disconnected by officials. You’re a mother now. Keep this baby alive.
I use all the blankets I have to keep him warm. It feels like I am being stabbed when he latches to my breast. You’re a mother now. Suck it up.
My body aches as the cold seeps into my bones while we try to sleep. Baby Nathi cries. How do I know if he’s eaten enough? Why does it hurt so much? Why didn’t I get an abortion so he doesn’t have to go through this? Don’t think like that Nandi! Children are a blessing!
I have no money for Pampers or formula. By breasts are cracked and sore. Baby Nathi sucks until they bleed, it still hurts so bad. The days are so long. The nights are so cold. The days are so long.
The nights are so cold. The days are so long.
I have failed you Baby Nathi. I cannot keep you warm. I don’t know if I am feeding you enough milk. I don’t know if anyone even knows you exist. I have nobody to call, no airtime to call them with if I did. There is no food, the wind pierces through the holes in the sheeting that serves as walls. We sit together, in the darkness that seems to permeate our mere existence.
Nobody sees us.
He comes back tonight, that man from the corner. He wants something from me. I hide Baby Nathi in a fruit box in the corner. He takes what he wants. My body feels split in two. He’s a good man, the drink just makes him cross sometimes. He’s cross tonight. He wants me to remember. I stifle my tears, Baby Nathi screeches for food. I am scared. You’re a mother now Nandi. Suck it up.
For the next few days Baby Nathi cries. And I cry. And baby Nathi cries. And I cry. And the missus’s words echo in my head ‘you knew this could happen Nandi, now you must take responsibility for your actions’. If only she knew.
My name is Nandi.
I left Baby Nathi in a fruit box outside the police station.
The world is looking for me now.
They want to send me to jail.
They want to crucify me.
If he kills me tonight, will the world look for him?
My name is Nandi. I abandoned my baby. And now the world sees me.