‘Thank you, Jesus, for giving us Melvin’

2011-11-19 16:50

Tears flowed in the Grade 4B class of Pellsrus Primary School on Friday afternoon as children stared at the vacant desk of their friend, Melvin Nyalela (9).

A lone candle burned next to a photo of him, along with flowers and letters written to him by his friends during the course of the week. “Thank you, Jesus, for having given us Melvin as a friend,” was just one of the prayers.

Nyalela died on the school grounds in Jeffreys Bay on Monday after apparently suffering a heart attack. He weighed between 105kg and 120kg.

“He was my best friend. I remember the last thing he said to me was that he couldn’t breathe properly. We often played Playstation, and Melvin always won,” Inganathi Balangile remembers.

One of the teachers, Jannet Dennis, described him as a “pleasant boy”.

“It’s like having a dream and you can’t get the picture out of your mind. We were changing classes and Melvin was standing on the stoep with me. He pressed on his chest, leaned against the wall and said: ‘Miss, I can’t get my breath.’

“The next moment he just fell down. I knew it was the end.” Dennis says that she went to fetch Melvin’s mother, Hilda, at her home.

“It was the normal thing for us to take Melvin to his mother if he didn’t feel well. He had a sleeping sickness, and we had already been to the doctor with him.”

Back at the school, some of the staff carried him to the sick bay, where there were medical staff. “The principal immediately adjourned school. We couldn’t let all the children stand there looking at him while he was lying like that,” Dennis says.

She said she realised in September when he was writing exams that Melvin sometimes just fell asleep with his pen in his hand.

“With the permission of the principal, Ronald Plaatjies, I went and spoke to his mother. I had to explain to her we had confidence in the way she was bringing up her son, but that it was also necessary for him to go to a doctor so that we could see if we couldn’t help him to lose weight. Melvin even fell asleep in the doctor’s waiting room.”

The paediatrician recommended that the boy go to hospital, but his mother would not give her permission.  “Melvin’s father died a year ago. He went into hospital and they never saw him again. So you can understand why Hilda didn’t want her son to go,” Dennis says.

“In the past two weeks, he was a happy and enthusiastic child. And he was clever. Just yesterday we looked at his exam paper from Monday. He got 17 out of 20 for maths.”

Plaatjies confirmed that a trauma counsellor had helped the children come to terms with the loss. “Melvin worked hard. He did well at school.”

At the family business, Nyalela’s Tavern, the boy’s mother just sat on a mattress with a blanket around her shoulders, staring in front of her. “I feel too sick to say anything. I am too heartbroken,” she said.

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