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Notes on a restless night

There are three responses to trauma — fright, flight, and the third… you become ‘that person’ on your neighbourhood Whatsapp group… posting a meme of Kim Jong-un’s new blond coiffe (I not dead yet) and a pic of the wildlife you saw in your garden, cute squirrel, hey? and telling the neighbours that it’s hard times at your house cos you really have run out of booze, followed by a row of laughing-face emojis, and you tell them, haha, you’ll swap (as a famous author, haha) one of your books for a bottle of expired cough mixture, anything… do they have any turpentine left over from two years ago when they painted their house? And then you come down to earth… it’s late… everyone’s gone to bed. Except you’re still fiddling with your phone, and watching the news… switching channels from CNN to Sky to eNCA, just like you’re told not to in order to save what’s left of your precarious mental health.

I hop channels, ever hopeful to see a Breaking News Flash, that the touted miracle vaccine will be released asap and that this lockdown and pandemic will soon be over, though what that means in real terms is anybody’s guess. I see the Strandfontein site for the homeless is closing; then there’s a story about a man now so poor he had to pull out his own rotten teeth; and a bread delivery-van driver was shot, and a meat truck hijacked, and 225 schools vandalised, all this in KZN alone. I switch off when Dr Dreary Dlamini-Zuma smirks from the screen…

In bed a memory comes to me, of sitting in Biology class as a kid, forced to look at photographs of black lungs in contrast to the pink, healthy kind – an experience meant to scar us girls for life and make sure we never smoked, drank, swore, had sex or masturbated (those poor blackened lungs had quite a job) – but the threat didn’t stop us big-stuff standard-fives from signing out of boarding school, under the auspices of a rendezvous with granny, for waffles and ice-cream, to the Meet n Eat in Hatfield where we’d sneak into a cubicle, our sweaty thighs sticking to those red vinyl seats, and drink Coca Cola and drag deep on illicit cigarettes.

My body itches, even though I’ve showered. I reckon this is a sign of the virus, that I probably contracted the virus today, in store. My hair kept falling across my eyes and I kept pushing it back and I had a panic attack right there in Checkers (the last time was around the time of my husband’s death). My fingertips tingled, and I couldn’t breathe through the double layer of neon-pink floral t-shirt fabric called a mask which looks more like a toddler-chick’s bikini top strapped over my face, and I let the shopping list flutter to the tiles and ran to Rob, waiting in the car (hardly on the front lines!) and said something like, ‘Mission aborted.’

I think of that man with no teeth, and SA’s failing economy, and of the underworld cashing in on sales of smokes and home-brew, and I think about those homeless people cared for in Muizies in the first week of lockdown who’ll now be trickling back from Strandfontein ‘camp’ with their free mattresses and experiences of abuse to take up shelter again under the Atlantic Road bridge, only to be arrested by Law Enforcement when they can’t obey curfew cos they have no place to go. But hey, what a genius idea: the police station, on the hill (once, in the olden days of Muizies, the local Junior School) can morph into a homeless shelter.

Tossing, and trying to sleep, I finally focus on the positive: You’re walking tomorrow! 6:00 am you’ll be up and at ‘em! A new day! I imagine myself on my new mission, as speed walker, flexing hips, swinging arms, working my glutes, my arse in recovery. At dawn I’m on the St James/ Muizenberg Walkway on the first day of Level 4 lockdown, strutting along, hardly breaking a sweat… one of the early birds jostling for space as the fitness freaks coming from every direction…

And then I wake … the dogs are going wild… mine and everyone else’s… At 6:01, staring out the window into the dark, I see my neighbour run past, her camping head-torch strapped to her forehead, illuminating the South African flag T-shirt tight on her toned bod. One of those keen-bean joggers, she’s clearly been exercising during Level 5. According to researchers going through the motions of exercise in your mind is as good as doing it… so I get back into bed and ‘think’ walking.

At 10:00am, up and about, I shake my sleeping son. ‘Al, my boy, you lazy little sh… so-and-so, get out of bed. Matric only comes around once.’

‘Aw ma, It’s a Worker’s Day.’

‘You’re hardly a worker. And you missed the first walkies time of Level 4.’

He rolls over and buries his head in the pillow, but not before saying, ‘A mass walk, now there’s a good idea. I can’t think what could go wrong with that.’

In my mind’s eye, I see words that have featured on his report card, and on mine decades ago: Must try harder.

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