The way life works here is that death is never far away.
Sadly, I was reminded of that once more last night, when Bokang, our security guard, came calling my name at around 11:45 p.m.
The same dreaded words as last time – “Sir, there is a problem” – met me in my bed.
“With the babies?” I asked in the darkness.
Again I rushed down to the safe-home to find a tiny infant – this time Pulane, one of the premature twins I recently wrote about – dead on a pillow. So small, so vulnerable, she’d suddenly stopped breathing. The three bo’me on the night shift sat around her, obviously emotional and looking to me for guidance.
In that moment I thought how sad it was that I already knew what to do, that the death of a baby in my life has a precedent, that I knew the steps to take.
We wrapped her in a sheet and I cradled her in my arms – so tiny, like a doll.
Despite the emotional haze, I thought how profoundly present death makes one feel – in a room, in a moment, among the living.
I took Bokang with me, locking the gate behind us, and drove to the hospital as Bokang sat holding Pulane in the back seat. At the gate I spoke with the guard, asked him to join us at the mortuary.
Inside that cold room I found a freezer compartment that was empty, one of the few that didn’t have “Se kenye mofu ka mona” – “Don’t put a body in here” – written on the door.
There was no mortician, and no paper or pen to indicate, per the standard procedure in the mortuary, who the baby in my arms was. I looked at the security guard and Bokang, and they looked back at me. I went out to the car, wrote Pulane’s name and TTL’s information on a piece of paper that I ripped from our vehicle log-book, and went back inside, slipping the edge of the note under the sheet Pulane was wrapped in. I had a strong desire to do more, but there wasn’t anything else to be done.
As I turned to leave, I saw Bokang and the hospital guard looking into a large, walk-in freezer at the edge of the room. They were talking in low tones to each other, but I made out the word “bana” – children.
I glanced through the open freezer door, and there on the floor lay the bodies of three boys in their underwear, varying in age but likely in their early teens. Their faces were obstructed, but the site was jarring. The soles of one boy’s feet were stained in blood. I found myself staring.
“Are you ready?” I asked.
Ten minutes later I was back in my bed. Like I said, death here is never far away.
My high hopes for Pulane and her twin sister, Nthabiseng, now rest with Nthabiseng. I hope the amazing fight in her is enough.
The TTLF Fellow is a representative of the North American organisation The Tiny Lives Foundation. Based for one year in Mokhotlong, Lesotho, the TTLF Fellow serves in an administrative support capacity for the Basotho charity TTL.