When the Southern Cross drowns


By Albi Prinsloo

There is something sinister about a hospital just before five in the morning.

The twilight hollow-eyed corridors. The courageous rattle of a drip stand on the way to the bathroom next to a dressing gown shrunk in front.

Angels in uniform swooping lightly past you. Mona Lisa smiles. Shoe soles that slide on a mirror-shiny floor. A bell that rings somewhere in a room.

The Berco soap dispenser next to the sink in Hall F whispers care: here we look at you, we stitch you back together. We make you better.

It’s part of our clinging to life. Like the anesthetist’s questions before a forced surrender to a dreamless unconsciousness. That in which fate will envelop you without contradiction: “When was the last time you ate or drank?” “Allergic to something?”.

And yet as everyday as the Wiesenhof coffee shop that was once part of almost every hospital’s entrance hall.

When you watch daily next to a loved one whose condition slips unbridled between hope and despair, your doubt becomes one with that of others. Do you recognize your speechlessness in their eyes. We all share in the rhythm of our human frailty.

Also in everyone’s overnight bag full of stories.

The real estate agent who anxiously wonders if her client has already signed the contract.

The farmer on this side of Delmas who wants to go to the orchards – before it ripens.

The beautiful woman in her fifties. In the evening, when everyone is asleep, she gently takes her cell phone out of the drawer. Her words simply a repetition of the previous night: “Angel, where are you..?”

And then there is BJ.

Bee-Jay. High care. Kidney failure. The dripping on his tanned hand looks out of place. A thin tube between vein and discharge. His umbilical cord to freedom.

He likes to tell about his hike in the Luangwa Valley. Just him and the tracker, Pepokae. The time when he thought he was never going to make it. But here he lies, years later, to tell the story again.

It was right before Christmas. Rainy season. The clouds were threatening all day, but it wasn’t until late afternoon, on the way back, that the sky mercilessly opened over them. That night, he says, the Southern Cross drowned.

In the casting flags, every bush and tree later looked the same: unknown.

Early in the afternoon they passed a pack of lions and this made BJ uneasy. No little flame would leak on soaked wood.

Out of desperation, he and Pepokae found a seat in the clearing of a trodden forest path. Back to back. Waiting for the first light. At times, when the rain turned, he imagined he could hear Dirtybeard’s raspy breathing. Sommer here, close.

When the first twilight rays broke the horizon, they began to make preparations.

Around them lay the lion’s tracks. And there, barely a breath away from his own stern’s marks in the path, the lion’s wagging tail literally scraped open a deep V in the mud…

Through the drawn curtains of Hall F, a new day also breaks. Somewhere a baby is being lifted into life. Somewhere someone is dying with their eyes open.

After all, life is not measured by how long we live.

  • Albi Prinsloo is a retired journalist.