The Visit

2012-11-23 00:00

True Stories of KZN

Snap-shot Category Finalist

THE tar road ended abruptly. So this was it. Three hearts beat in silence, contemplating the dramatic events of the past few days.

“Jislaaik,” someone murmured from the back seat.

The hot summer’s sun blazed unforgivingly. By the time we squeezed onto the wooden benches of the waiting room, I felt a curious affinity with our fellow visitors. Racial and economic divides blurred, making way for hands clutching packets of approved compassion. Hands just like mine. Faces etched with the same conflicting emotions

Next! A uniformed arm demanded my ID and a finger jabbed at a form requiring personal details. Humiliation by association. Bus! We squeezed into narrow seats and lurched forward. Block E! Wordlessly, we disembarked. Several heavy turnstiles followed, each leading deeper into the bowels of captivity. Stern warnings about cellphones and weapons glared from every wall.

The dimly lit corridor led to a reception area furnished in seventies-style chequered tiles and grubby walls. Ahead was an office out of which cascaded loud voices and radio noise. We waited patiently. I breathed through rage. We waited. Finally, the point made, a back turned, noted our request and pointed, wordlessly, to a row of benches. Ten minutes crawled towards 30. Occasionally, a subdued comment passed between us. Mostly, I think, we each tried to gird ourselves for the encounter.

“There she is. They’ve brought her!”

I peered eagerly into the noisy office, and briefly caught sight of a figure being led to the meeting place beyond. I had expected to meet in a lounge of sorts where we could touch and hug. Instead, my eyes fell on a row of glass partitions and intercoms — no way! Chest tightened as emotion pressed: a primal urge to protect a vulnerable member of the herd against danger.

Scrambling, we rushed to meet her, the first few seconds a jumble of desperate, vocal grasping. Through the glass, I saw a traumatised deer trapped in a cruel snare. Our eyes met and I felt the pain and anguish of her week-long ordeal. As she and her daughters searched for words and fumbled with the intercom, I turned away, my body heaving uncontrollably. Mercifully, the storm abated and I tuned into the poignant exchange behind me. Ragged words between wide-eyed fledglings and their captive mother.

“How are you Mom?’ (Pause …)

(Muted response) “I’m … love. Don’t …, I’m okay.”

(Pause) “Mom, everything is okay … home. The dogs, and …”

Tentatively, I joined the circle. For about an hour every word, every gesture upheld the pretence that we were definitely all okay.

The deception accomplished, the hunger for contact aroused, the guard abruptly signalled the end of the visit.

Feelings surged and fears overwhelmed. I opened my hand on the glass and she did the same with hers. We touched, in a prison sort of way, and looked intensely into each other’s souls. “Love you,” I mouthed. “You too,” she replied. “Thanks,” her eyes pointing to her babies.

Three heavy hearts wound their way, silently, back through the dingy passages towards the waiting bus.

It felt like a long way back to normality. It still feels like a long way back to normality.

About the writer:



COLIN McKay and his family have lived in Pietermaritzburg for several years. In their spare time, they enjoy some of the local sporting, outdoor and cultural opportunities. McKay’s work involves mainly educational development in disadvantaged schools.

The story was an opportunity to reflect on the many complex layers of an intensely personal experience.

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