Miki texted me early in the morning, she was very concerned about Kai: he didn’t look well at all and every time he coughed, he seemed to struggle to breathe afterwards. I told her to arrange a lift, or catch a taxi and take him directly to the ER. I would put enough money on the credit card to cover the consultation.
Just before my 14:00 meeting, she called me on the mobile. I only picked it up because I saw her name on Caller Id, and I was wondering how she and Kai were doing. She was very emotional, distraught and quite confused. She told me that she hadn’t taken him to the ER yet, but that she did have an appointment with a doctor at the Cape Town Mediclinic for 16:30. I wasn’t really sure what she was worried about, or why she was so distraught and confused, but in the few minutes I had before the meeting started I managed to calm her down, and get her focused again. I reassured her that she was doing well, and that all she had to do was get Kai to the Doctor on time. She said she could do that.
Text: 30-Jul-2015 15:30: Withdrawal of R600 in Woodstock.
I wondered to myself why she was withdrawing that much cash in Woodstock at that time. The doctor was just up the road from our apartment, there would’ve been no need to go via Woodstock. They also would’ve taken her credit card; again there was no need for her to withdraw cash.
I sent her a quick text, asking her if everything was OK.
Text: 30-Jul-2015 15:35: Yes, money for doctor. We’re on our way.
I was still a little confused, but as long as she had Kai and she was on the way to the doctor, I was happy to let things progress as they were. I wished her well via text, and then embarked on the long, arduous journey of getting from the office to the airport: OR Tambo International Airport (ORTIA).
First, a small, shuttle bus took me from the office, northwards up Nugget Street, past rows and rows of dirty, derelict but still lived in buildings; whores and drug dealers plainly peddling their wares in broad daylight, on the pavement and in dark doorways. Central Johannesburg could only be described as a filthy slum. A left turn into Wolmaraans Street brought us along the southeastern border of Hillbrow. This was the old residential part of town, famous even before my time as being wild and crazy, but in a safe way. Crime still took place there, then in my time, but it was less violent and fatal. A few years after I’d left, it had filled up with immigrants from East, West, Central, North and Southern Africa and they’d brought with them a lifestyle that had no respect for life.
I had spent my late teens and early twenties in Berea, Hillbrow and central Johannesburg, and every time I drove this route nowadays, I always felt a sense of sad nostalgia for the drunken, rock and roll filled days of years past.
Park Station is the central Johannesburg station for the recently built Gautrain, a modern, first world, high-speed train system joining Johannesburg, Sandton, Pretoria and ORTIA. Descending the escalator into the Gautrain station you leave behind the trash-strewn streets of Braamfontein and enter a world of high-gloss, glass and steel.
A quick train change at Sandton and 14 minutes later I was at ORTIA. After a quick bite to eat, check-in, and security procedures out of the way, I was able to sit down and relax. I sent a quick message to Miki asking how Kai’s consultation went. She didn’t reply. I figured she was probably busy bathing Kai or putting him down for the evening. I sent another two texts at half-hourly intervals but still didn’t receive a reply. I was getting concerned.
Finally, at around 18:30PM, my phone rang; it was Miki. I thumbed the Accept icon. “Hi sweetie, how are you?”
She was so hysterical when she started talking that I couldn’t understand a word she was saying.
“Wait honey.” I said, “Slow down. Take it easy. Just breathe.” I spoke slowly and calmly, giving her time to just listen to my voice and get her emotions under control.
She started to talk again, this time much more coherently. “The Doctor gave me a big script, where can I fill it at this time of the night?”
“Where are you?” I asked.
“I’m in Woodstock,” she replied.
“Where are you going?”
“The pharmacy in Durbanville. I need to fill this script for Kai.”
“Read the script for me, please.” I asked.
“Zithromax, and Prelone.” She replied shakily.
That’s an antibiotic and a corticosteroid, I thought to myself.
“Miki, I hear a baby crying in the background. Who is that crying?”
“That’s Kai. He’s still with me.”
“Miki, you were scheduled to see the Doctor at 16:30. It’s now 18:30PM, you still have Kai with you, you’re in a car in Woodstock and you’re planning to drive all the way across town to Durbanville.” She was clearly under a lot of emotional strain and she wasn’t thinking clearly. 7’teen was presenting or at the least influencing her emotional state. I needed to get her calm, set her priorities and give her some direction.
“Kai is still on antibiotics from his previous illness, so you don’t need that tonight. If his chest gets tight tonight, you can give him a Pulmicort neb. You don’t need to drive all the way to Durbanville for that medication right now.” I explained to her.
“You need to turn around and get Kai home now. I will be home in three hours and I will take care of everything. Can you do that for me? Will you do that for me?”
“Yes, OK. Yes, I can do that. That’s much easier. I feel a lot less stressed. Thanks.” She sounded much calmer and more rational as she disconnected the call.
She was still awake when I finally made it back to Cape Town and our apartment. All the boys were sleeping; Ryder snoring quite loudly as his breath labored through his congested airway. Kai was breathing quite comfortably, I felt comfortable I could wait until the morning before getting the prescribed medication. Miki and I spoke for a bit before turning in for the night. Miki was exhausted.
The following morning, while we lay in bed waiting for a late winter dawn, she took me through the events of the previous day. She’d made an appointment with Dr. Samie at the Mediclinic for 16:30PM. She’d asked her friend to drive her and Kai up to the hospital for the appointment. The doctor had been late and she’d only got in to see him after 17:15PM. When she’d finally got in to see him, she’d recognized him as her childhood doctor; he’d had a practice in Thornton road, Gleemor, just around the corner from where she’d grown up. He’d treated her for years; for her asthma, and on one occasion had stitched up a small laceration on her forehead. Auntie Lydia had been a nurse in his practice at the time. He’d examined Kai very thoroughly, and she and the doctor had spoken at length. Miki told me that Dr. Samie had spoken about Lydia, and he’d told Miki that Lydia felt terrible about the way she’d abused Miki as a child.
She only got out of the doctor’s rooms after 18:15, and that’s when she’d decided that she had to drive through to Durbanville for the prescribed medication. She’d felt very anxious, and unsure of herself, so she’d called me. After our conversation, her thoughts were clearer and she’d asked her friend to bring her back home, that I’d take care of the prescription.
It was Friday morning, and as usual, we had a consultation with Simona scheduled for 11:00AM. After our earlier talk in bed, I quickly popped out to do some early morning work, grabbed us both something for breakfast and then waited downstairs in the car for her. She came downstairs quite late; the child-minder had arrived late again.
“Hey Old Man,” she said getting in the car. She looked great as usual. She had literally stopped the traffic as she’d crossed the road.
“Hi Erin. I haven’t seen you in a while. How are you?”
She smiled as she settled into the car seat next to me. They’d given me a luxury, low mileage upgrade vehicle at the car rental agency the evening before, one with an iPhone docking station, and as we made our way out of town, towards Blaauwberg, I put some Nickleback on the radio, and turned it up, loud. It was fun: for a few minutes, we were a couple again, just the two of us, rocking our way through the Friday mid-morning traffic.
Then reality set back in. Erin reached over and turned down the volume. “You know, that’s not what really happened yesterday,” she stated.
“Not following you; what do you mean?”
“That story that Miki told you, about yesterday, it’s not what really happened. It’s what she thinks happened, but it wasn’t like that.”
I was stunned. “OK, what really did happen?”
“Miki made an appointment with Dr. Samie at Mediclinic, but when she got there, the receptionist told her that he was out for the afternoon, giving lectures. We recognized the name as our childhood doctor and The Dragon decided to go directly to his practice in Gleemor. He operates there on a first-come-first-served basis. We drove to his practice and he saw us at 17:15PM. He did examine Kai very thoroughly, and he did give us a prescription for medication, but he didn’t speak to us about Lydia. Lydia was there in person, still working for him as a nurse. The doctor hadn’t apologized on Lydia’s behalf; Lydia had apologized directly to us. She’d wept as she said sorry to us, and begged us to forgive her. We were there so late because we were speaking to Lydia.”
It took me a while to completely process what Erin had just told me. In my mind I overlaid her story with Miki’s earlier story, and checked it against my memory of the texts from the previous day. I was astounded: Miki had a plausible version of the previous day’s events, but they were wrong.
“Wow, Erin, that’s unreal. How did that happen? And why?” I asked incredulously.
“When we arrived at the Mediclinic hospital, recognized the doctor’s name, and found out that he wasn’t available, Miki was very unsettled and unsure of what to do. The Dragon, Emma and myself took over from Miki and The Dragon made the decision to drive out to his practice in Gleemor.”
“Ok, I can see how that might happen. That’s not too serious, or unusual, for Miki, at least. But you’re telling me that everything that she remembers the doctor saying about Lydia didn’t really happen? Everything she thought she heard from the doctor, she actually heard it from Lydia, directly?” I was amazed. “But why?”
“We thought it might be too traumatic for Miki to experience directly, so we stayed present, and gave her just enough memories for her to form a plausible story in her head.”
I sat there, at first in stunned silence, trying to get my head around what I’d just heard: Miki’s memories were for the most part false, but she’d created a story, a reality out of them nonetheless. After my initial shock wore off, I started to question Erin in detail. This wasn’t some vague, emotional, blurry recollection of the past, where loss of memory and badly remembered facts could always be expected. This had happened less than 24 hours previously; it was the most vivid, rational example of a distorted reality I’d witnessed to date.
“You have to tell Simona. It’s very important that she hear exactly what you’ve just told me. Will you do that?”
Erin hesitated. “Are you sure I have to?”
“Absolutely,” I reaffirmed.