2016-10-21 11:12
Epworth pupils play with and entertain the children of Babanango Orphanage situated in the heart of Zululand.

Epworth pupils play with and entertain the children of Babanango Orphanage situated in the heart of Zululand. (Supplied)

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Night after night, when one is most vulnerable, I scraped this story together. I was often forced to stop after just a few sentences, simply being unable to bear it any longer. It begins with Epworth’s annual journey to Babanango Orphanage situated in the heart of Zululand, and us bringing large boxes of donations, high spirits and something else.

The nursery was naturally the most popular, although there was one cot in particular that seemed to have caught more than the usual attention. Walking over, I peered inside. A small figure lay uncomfortably face-down at the bottom of the tall cot. Sensing his spectators, he heaved himself partially upright, choking excitedly. Unable to hold himself up for long, his thin arms collapsed below him and his face plummeted once again into the hard mattress. Undeterred, he continued clutching desperately at the paper sheets, barely pausing to quiet his gasps. These struggling squirms had attracted the curious crowd; something was unspeakably wrong. I sensed it before I saw it, my chest knotted in dread, pleading with myself that this couldn’t be real. He was just a child.

Protruding from his head was a bulging lump. A perfect soup bowl shape, a grossly discoloured pink at the wide peak. Surrounding the cot, we stared at this mutation, this grotesque disfigurement of a child. After several minutes the crowd evaporated; some cried, others packed him far away in the little boxes inside of themselves to lie unopened forever. Most sought comfort in the plump cheeks and irresistible wide-eyed expressions of the other babies; healthy babies whose heads were perfect and smooth, and whose mouths released bubbles of sweet, rosy laughter. What a background to his breathless pants, his feebly curled fists, exhausted from overexertion. Still he wiggled, convinced the distant cooing was encouraging him, certainly attached to a welcoming cradle of arms.

His cot stood isolated. He had a brain tumour.

I felt nauseous, and like everyone else I hastened away from the source. I wondered of the thoughts of his parents, leaving him to die within the year wearing clothes they had not bought him and in a room they didn’t even know the colour of.

He wore pink — they didn’t have enough “boy colours” for all of the babies. The room was pale yellow with the plaster curling at the edges. I noticed the yellow when trying to avoid the pink.

I entered the nursery again after about an hour spent outside playing with the other babies and some younger children, who showed off their skills with the new skipping ropes and soccer balls we had supplied. I was looking for any poor baby who may have been left behind, my eyes skipping easily over his cot. But my eyes could not so easily avoid my two classmates, one of whom was holding the baby boy, pressing him gently to her chest, murmuring softly. I saw him face-on for the first time, powerless to pull my eyes away. On the side of his head swelled the mass lump, compressing the left eye to squash, slipping like sludge from the nauseating bloat. I felt sick again.

She held him out to me, and I shook my head, my hands shaking.

“Don’t be afraid.”

“What if I drop him?”

“You won’t.”

And abruptly he was in my arms. I stiffened, the hideous lump so close to me now, causing a slight tilt of his face due to the added weight. His head lolled, hanging heavily off my arm and before I had time to adjust he tossed his head back into its original position with surprising vigour. And suddenly, like warm flames cracking ice, he laughed. A delighted, infectious sound that filled the room. I looked up at Sarah, her eyes glowing. He repeated this antic several times, but his energy soon began to fade. He yawned and tired in the gentle bounce of my hold, his eyes barely open. I think it was then that the horror hit me.

Before we left I made sure to tell him that he was beautiful, that he was loved, and that there was a place for him. He didn’t know just how soon he would get there. I hesitantly placed a soft kiss on the pink, distorted lump. I struggle just as much now as I did then to shy away from the crushing clarity of my previous heartlessness. But progress is not found in regret, it’s found in learning, and I’m grateful every day for the people like Sarah and the orphanage for guiding me. My concept of evil was that it was always external, something easy to identify. But that day at Babanango, I stopped seeing the tumour in him, and finally saw the tumour in me.

Josie Makkink is a Grade 10 pupil at Epworth High School. She has a great passion for literature and her father, Patrick, has inspired her love for writing. She also enjoys engaging discussions on social issues as well as staying active on the sports field.

Read more on:    pietermaritzburg  |  true stories of kzn 2016

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