Barbara Adair – Researcher and Writer

A Story for a Friend or One Day in a City (of Gold)

by on Oct.17, 2016, under Unpublished Writing

It is a very hot day. Johannesburg does not known this heat (that is if a city can know anything); it is so hot that only the old remember that fifty years ago it was hot, as hot as it is today. Memory atrophies, but the old still validate breathing the air of the young with stories of the memories that they will never have.


Jodie sits at a computer. She sits in this room every day. There is no air conditioner in the space, the study below the stairs. There is no doorway either; it is an open space rather than a room. It is not immune from the sounds in the house, alien activities invade it, it is not safe from the many ears that listen, they hear the mice, there are eyes that watch, they steal the from the vacuum. Above her, almost immediately above her head, a grey and red parrot stares from its post; its eyes of glass reflect banality. And always she sits inside this space. She is writing up her doctoral dissertation, a doctorate on genes, a genetic specialty. And on most days, this one too, three pigeons, a mother, father and child, coo outside the open door, they are the only sign of sometime life on the outside skyline.

Pigeons live as we do not, they can fly.

She sits, writes and reads about death, how to evade death, who is likely to die before you; she studies how to escape an ignominious ending, but there is no escape. Life does not grow in this space, the parrot is stuffed, a taxidermist replica of wings and feathers. Genes spiral back on themselves, mutate and then they kill.

She watches death in measurements.

What kind of genetic structure do you have, does it coil around and feel what I know. I read death in the sequencing, deconstruct the destruction. I praise death, celebrate it, it gives meaning to meaningless life, it will give me a doctorate. I pray at the altar of Thanatos, my prayers sustain me.

There is mortality in this room, it preys upon you, it is always here. There is effort needed to refuse this mortal fear, build big illusions made of plasticine, the gods that do not hear, walls are built around the sharp scythe and black hood, they are absent from the spaces built, forced out, but then they wander in, secretly. But she, she builds her walls around this genetic death, home is a mutation, hurry it may kill.

Jodie come quickly. You are a doctor. Jodie hurry. Jodie come now, come now. Immediately. Don’t stop.

What is a doctor?

A doctor after this degree! Five years, maybe six, sitting in this room, between these walls of impermanence where prying eyes peer and small fingers touch. A doctor of philosophy, an intellectual sort; an scholarly analytical mind that keeps her hands clean, dirty hands breed germs, they attach themselves to genes, and genes mutate.

Jodie you must help. She needs you, Marie the woman who lives behind us in those small rooms, Jean Claude’s wife, come she needs you. The head is out, just out. She does not know what to do. I can’t do anything, neither can Jean Claude, he is crying. The ambulance won’t come, they say it is too late and anyway there is a traffic jam on Grayston drive, something happening at the stock exchange, cars are everywhere even limousines.

She sits on the chair, it is an old chair, almost as old as she is, her mother’s chair, her long dead mother who knew the worth of a good chair, it will last forever, she hears her say, we need chairs that will last forever. A half-filled coffee cup is on the desk, she has only been awake a short time and needs caffeine to drown the pills, energy to find the death genes, put them on a timeline.

Just now. I am not awake. I want to finish my coffee. And anyway I am not dressed.        I haven’t even bathed. My eyes are closed, filled with sleep and tiredness.

You must come now. Hurry. Hurry.

She rises from the chair, the old chair. She drinks the last of the coffee that is only instant, an instant boost of unappetizing energy. Her legs encased in cloth sweat, it is a hot day, a very hot day, the swimming pool is somewhere else, cooler.


There is a baby being born.


In the outside road the cars drive past, a Porsche growls as it passes by, it’s engine svelte and pedigreed. Outside against the lines of blue the heightened walls of the Investec building, it paints its message on the skyline, money pays, the poor are always insalubrious and stupid. At night lighted electricity showers from the windows for the poor must see power even if they do not have it, always more power, ecologically sound wind mills on the roof, solar panels grow in vines, payment for the future, always pay for power, there is money in caring, harness nature to your needs. Men, and some women, walk through the doorway dress in charcoal suits, they wear the tie that knots up to their necks, strangles them with dollars. But they too have their illusions; they shore them up with money, as she shores up her own with genetic patterns that make sense.

It’s sensible to get to know death for someday this stranger who is not a stranger will come for dinner, uninvited.

The house is large, she has to walk much further than she wants to, it is too hot to walk too far. They walk behind the swimming pool, cool water is a temptation, to the small rooms that are built behind the house. Body guards live here, big men with guns and muscles and strange languages. The owner of the house is dangerous, a gangster of a different kind, he must be kept in safety. His many wives wear diamond nose rings and keep polished toes, they too must be safe, there is danger everywhere for those that steal. But they too have their illusions; they shore up their fears with gold and body guards.

But death will pay a visit to them too, maybe sooner rather than later, their genes   will bleed gold.

Inside the room Jean Claude does not stand upright, he hunches down, his six foot height is small, where is his tallness and his stature, his furious muscles that shine and undulate? He looks at her and speaks in breathy halting English. She knows that he is Congolese, speaks French and Lingala, mostly he must look down and project his voice for she is below him. But now, now, high up somewhere a star shines down, it is the sun. Somewhere she knows he has a gun, somewhere she knows he trains at a gym, his muscles shine with sweat. But now Jean Claude is tired, a streak of water on his cheek, a passionate tear drops down.

Help her please, please help her.

On the floor is a woman, she lies upon a mat of Kente cloth, once brown, now it is alive and red and dangerously alien. She thinks of the French laugh, the open mouth and white teeth in a dark face, black eyes in oleander petals, the dance that walk by the window. She listens to her call.

Marie … Marie.

Get the ambulance people on the phone, call them now. They need to get here fast, very fast, quickly get them out.

I have, but they can’t come, there is a traffic jam, I think there is some political thing happening at the Radisson, it’s just up the road, they say they will be at least three     hours, anyway they don’t have ambulances close by. And there are a bunch of protestors blocking the highway anyway.

Call someone then, a paramedic maybe, I have to know what to do, I can’t do this alone.

Hello, OK, I don’t know a thing, now what, what do I do? What do I do now?

The woman mewls as if she is an animal in distress, she does not scream, she does not shout, she makes small strange sounds that wander aimlessly around the room, they dart into her blood, into the veins of those that stand nearby. The room is hot, very hot, the woman’s legs are parted and from between them there emerges a small head. The hair is visible, not the eyes. The child, for this is a child, is wrapped in a cocoon.

From across the garden there is the sound of traffic, chattering people walk the street; the men in suits, in fine Ferraris, unaware of death, as they are unaware that in this hot room there is life. Jean Claude looks up awards and makes a sign, the sign of a cross, he too shores up his illusions, the divine and blessed mother will come to succor him, his Marie, his immortality enshrined in her.

Hail Mary full of grace, blessed art thou among women and blessed is the fruit of thy womb Jesus. May Marie bear me fruit that is as fine as that which you bore. Hail Mary full of grace. Hail Mary mother of God.

Take a bucket of very hot water, preferable boiled. Wipe your hands, you, and anyone else’s that is around, the environment must be as sterile as possible. Get some    detergent if you don’t have Dettol. Take the head between your hands, grab it, hold it carefully for now as it is soft, the bones have not yet hardened and it is slippery. Wear gloves if you think that it will be more sterile. Ask her to breathe and push, breathe and push, breathe and push, but only when her body tells her that this is the right time to do so, when you notice its spasm, the contractions are coming. She will know this as well, ask her to tell you when she feels them coming. Careful now, the head is already outside her body so she must breathe and push often but only when you notice this.

Tell her Jean Claude, tell her that when she feels a contraction she must breathe and push. I will try to tell her too but I cannot speak your language. Tell her to breathe and push when I raise my hand, tell her to stop when I lower it.

And now?

Just watch, this may take a while, sometimes hours. Keep watching and when she breathes and pushes then grasp the head, never pull it, just nudge it slowly. It does not sound as if this will be a difficult birth, there is no breach. She is not screaming. If you think it will be easier ask her to crouch, to squat down, gravity will then urge the baby from her body, but only if she wants to do this. The prone position is fine, it just make the birth take longer.

Breathe and push, breathe and push.

She grasps the woman’s hand, it is wet, she pulls it close to her. The woman sweats, the room is hot. She sweats, she is afraid that she knows only of death and this is life, what does she know of life and how it comes about? She holds the phone close to her ear, she will not miss a word for she knows fear. She is calm, but she is afraid.

I will do this. I will shore up my own fear of life, of death, by making sure that this life is born. It is not a miracle, it is prosaically natural. Instinct, we are all born to breed,    to survive we breed, to make us believe we will never die, we breed. This woman is   doing what she is genetically made up to do, to reproduce her genes. Her instincts said breed, the instincts of Jean Claude said breed. I must help her fulfill her human condition.

Marie lies on the floor, her face says that she is in pain, but she does not scream. Between the blood and watery fluid an arm emerges. She can see it, it is encased in a covering of mucus. The child does not breathe, it still receives its oxygen from its mother’s blood. It must be fully outside of her body before it can try its hand at life; before it can breathe in the air that smells of blood, before it can watch the gold Ferraris that drive on the streets. She watches the woman, she breaths as Jean Claude tells her, she stops when he tells her stop. She makes small sounds, sometimes, a sign that she is alive. This is her destiny.

A bum, a leg, a foot! The baby drops from the woman’s body. There is blood and mucus. She reaches for the scissors.

Do not cut the umbilical cord until the baby breathes. And do not sever this too soon for then the mother will bleed out and she may die. Hold the child close to her so that the cord remains intact. Now wait.

Between the blood and mucus is the cord, the rope of life that screws itself into the baby’s navel. She holds the child upside down and forces the air into its lungs. It is a boy, he screams. She wonders if he screams with joy, he has been released from a uterine prison, or is this a cry of pain, he feels forsaken by the gods that he will soon create, he has come into a world where he will never own the Porsche that revs outside, he will hold a gun, learn to shoot, build his muscles finely and guard the men that give sanction to his life.

Two paramedics run into the room. A woman in a white uniform cuts the cord. She hands the child to her. She holds the dark body close to her green pajama top. He seems to smile. Jean Claude turns away from the door and goes outside, his work is done, and he is happy. Marie is put upon a gurney and wheeled from the room. The child does not lift his head, he does not lift his arm.

And then he waves to her.

He waves good bye.