Lest we forget

Sunday morning ramblings. True story.

It’s quiet at 5.30 am. I’m up reading through a recent draft of Tales of the Illawarra Line. I’ve been working on this manuscript for about 3 years. A collection of vignettes gathered on my daily commute to work over a 28 year period.

What I really want to ramble on about is an unexpected trigger I experienced. Recently three year old grandson, Alexander, was admitted to hospital for an overnight stay. Michelin accompanied him and stayed the night.

‘Just one more’, Michelin said as we entered the room.

Chubbs, as Michelin affectionately calls him, because off his chubby cheeks, inhaled the puffs through the mask. After a recent haircut, his mass of curls reminded me of Michelin at that age. Same position, same condition at the exact age. Only back then we were in segregated living arrangements in South Africa. Yes, hospital wards were segregated for those old enough to remember.

Now, Alexander, when he saw us, forgot to inhale and jumped into Chris’s arms. The toys were scattered all over the bed. I noticed the crumpled bedsheets.

Relevant to the story, back when Michelin was his age, our oppressors complicated things. We could be treated by white specialists, there were few ‘non-white’ specialists, for obvious reasons, but we had our own wing in hospitals. It was a mammoth challenge for ‘non-whites’ to reach that status of specialist. Anyway, I digress again. But that’s how our memories work. There are many twists and turns, frustration, anger and plain old who the $&@$ do they think they are. Yes present tense.

So on this Sunday morning, in a hospital ward in the northern suburbs of Sydney, the movie tape rewound to 34 years ago. Only then, Michelin couldn’t be treated in the ward where the specialist tried to examine him. We were sent packing to the ‘non-white’ side. They did not want his little body to touch the sheets.

Now my brain kicked into action. I had to tidy Chubbs’ bed and the whole room.

l‘Mum, what are you doing?, asked Michelin as I pulled him up from his bed.

‘I must tidy the beds’.

‘You really don’t have to’.

But you see, at that moment I had to. The staff, all white, relevant to the story, were in and out of the room checking on Chubbs. So I had to ensure that they did not see us as people who would mess up their bedsheets.

‘There are 30-something other rooms on this floor that you can clean’, Michelin laughed as he wrapped himself in the bed sheets, tired eyes closed.

He didn’t care about the crumpled sheets.

For a fleeting moment, I saw him as a three year old, rejected by nursing staff because he was not good enough to touch their sheets.

So I felt compelled to clean and sanitise the room.

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