(This post is a follow on from the previous one about Walter.)
The rattle of the gate disturbed our comfortable dinner with our BBC series set in England. The man at the gate mumbling his story through thick lips, body bent, four feathers in his ragged hair, was Walter. Blood splattered on his khaki trousers.
“it’s Walter! Let him in.” He stumbled in and collapsed on the coffee table near the door revealing the gash in his head. Blood streaming down his face and neck.- his face swollen almost beyond recognition.
“What happened?” I asked?
“Beaten up by a mob with picks and bricks? “ That’s all we could understand of his mumblings.
“I prayed all the way that Helena would help me.” He had just walked to my house from “Overcome” – an informal settlement on the edge of a landfill about 5 kms away. (According to statistics collected by researchers I know, it has one of the highest murder rates in the country.)
What to do ? Ice? Bandages? It all flashed through my head. We must take him straight to hospital. Quick. (Leaving the children with instructions to put themselves to bed.)
Still we fussed as we were flustered. Here -Rescue remedy – I held out a white pill -for the shock -and placed in it his sooty hand. The palms of his hands showed signs of a fall to the ground – pressed into the black dust while he was beaten. He painfully lifted his arm to take the pill to his mouth. I wondered if a shoulder was broken. He managed to get the pill into his bloody mouth. Soon after he stood up. His eye ticked and flickered. His whole face began twitching out of control. Brain haemorrhage. Oh no. Please don’t do that.
“I think you should sit down.” I said, “Or lie down.” He looked at the floor and decided rather to sit. “Lets just get him to hospital But first a cup of tea? “
“Four sugars” he ordered clearly. He drank it down quickly despite all the fussing a about putting it in a flask cup so he could take it in the car.
We got him in the car. A bucket just in case. Ice pack on head. Water, toilet paper. A Blanket around him- a red blanket -brighter than the colour of blood. I sat in the back seat to support him, while my husband drove. Felt the heat from his swollen shoulder- feeling helpless, wishing I could fix what was broken.
We had to drive slowly over the speed bumps. He flinched on each bump.
“Hang in there Walter”.
“I’m a tough guy.” He said.
“Hold up your head. Breathe in life”, I told him as he slumped lower and lower in his seat.
“You are saving my life” he told me as we rounded the bend into Fishoek.
Walking into the hospital I steadied him with my arm around his shoulder.
“You are walking with Mandela.” He said. I understood what he meant, although I realized that many would think it was delusional. We were part of a performance on the world stage. He was being metaphorical, and it made sense, he being a black man who had suffered for a cause greater than himself.
“Who is this?” The man at the reception window asked horrified by the figure of Walter, the feathers in his dreadlocked hair, the red blanket like a cloak over his shoulders and the blood pouring down his brow like Jesus Christ after the crucifixion.
“This is my friend.” I said.
In the emergency room the nurses had him summed up with one look. They judged him. “Who is this and what happened?” They were all black nurses. (So it was not racism.)
“He was attacked by a mob in his community.”
“Why? ” They hesitated in treating him, presuming that the community had attacked him because I guess they presumed him to be a rapist or a murderer. It is common for communities in the townships of Cape Town take the law into their own hands as there are too many murderers and rapists that get away with terrorizing their communities. They believe the police are ineffective, and often they are. The courts fail them by giving them bail too easily. There are also uninformed communities who create fear and hysteria who mob people who are seen as “witches” or strangers’ -people from other countries who they believe are taking away their jobs, women, income, etc. Then there is the fear of lack, which drives more poverty and the jealousy factor, which causes many crimes and a low level of education generally. But none of this can condone ganging up on ones neighbour and attacking him for no good reason.
“He is a good person.” I defended him. It’s a mystery why he was attacked, but he had told me in the past that he had been threatened by people in his neighborhood. There was evil and jealousy he had said,. perhaps they picked on him because they were superstitious. It was a witch hunt. There is so much superstition in this part of town that even the local franchise pharmacy “Clicks” sells “magical” salts to protect one from the Tokoloshe. (A mythical evil creature- similar to the Irish Leprechaun but more menacing.)
“What did they use?”
“Picks and Bricks.” (We spoke for him in his company as if he couldn’t speak for himself.)
“Everything hard and sharp.” Corrected Walter clearly.
“What is this?” Asked the nurse – pointing at the feathers in his hair, as if the feathers were the most important issue to be addressed.
“They are nothing, just a decoration,” I growled. (Actually Walter believed the feathers were his antenna to God, but she would not have understood that- nor did the murderous mob.)
I believe his feathers were a sign to the mob, (just as they were a symbolic tool for Walter to access his intuitive connection with his father-or God.) I guess the feathers gave him an appearance which the people in his community perceived as evidence that he was an outsider – something “other”, which they believed to be dangerous, so they took their frustrations out on him.
He became the perfect scapegoat for their aching pain bodies.
Sitting on the chair in the hospital, Walter looked like a picture of a crucified Christ with his crown of feathers and the way the blood was running down his brow and the red cloak like blanket.
“The problem” I said annoyed with the nurse for being so judgemental and not looking beyond the aesthetic – “is this.” pointing to the gash in his skull. I gently unthreaded the feathers , which were plaited into his hair. The nurse shaved his hair around the wound. Then suddenly stepped back dramatically and gasped. “There’s another one. “ She said. I went to see what she was pointing at. A second even bigger gash in his skull further back explained all the blood on the back of his neck.
Soon they had him in the operating room where they were about to cut his shirt off to see what had happened to his shoulder blade because it was too painful to lie down on the bed flat. It was broken. Walter was not happy to loose his shirt. We left him on the operating table. He was still clear enough to ask for our number. I told him that the people in the hospital would have it written down on his file as the nurses chased us out. Later that night he was transferred to another bigger hospital by ambulance where they had better means to deal with his injuries.
I visited him there in the Trauma ward a few days later. I found him bright and breezy out on the balcony smoking with his blind inmate. He had his arm in a sling as he led his companion back to his bed and settled him.
“What happened to him? “ I asked, noticing the deep circular hole in his temple of the man with the closed swollen eyes and a sweet face. “He was shot in the head.” Walter said. “He lost his sight.” Such is life in the Trauma ward at Groote Schuur. “We look after each other.”
Walter has such gratitude about his situation. He was not at all worried about his future, or what might have happened to his home or possessions. He was at peace with the world and his circumstances. He rememberd everything that happened and was chirpy as ever. Still speaking about the same thing; the same strange and unworldly stories. He still believes he is God. “My blood is the covenant he says. I am working hard to fight the evil.” I listen carefully. Try to read between the lines.
I realize that what he is saying could be construed as the ramblings of a madman, but I understand that what he is going through is some kind of crucifixion. He has been the one to bare the brunt of the pain bodies of the unconscious people who mobbed him. He has taken the pain for their pain and now he is transforming it. His survival is a kind of resurrection.
I have brought him some clothes. He is very pleased. He shows me that he has already washed and folded the trousers he was wearing when we took him to hospital. He has the red blanket I gave him and his shoes in his locker. For now, these are his only worldly possessions. Although he believes his house is safe and all his gardening equipment. “No evil will get into my house.” He is confident about this.
I realize he will probably be a puzzle to the hospital staff. I ask at the desk about what will become of him. They say that he is being examined by a psychiatrist and may stay a bit longer.
The night of the traumatic event was the 21st of February. He is still in hospital. It is April. At the last visit he was even more cheerful and putting on weight. He has been diagnosed with TB and a mental health issue, which has still not been clearly named to me. They are waiting for a bed to become available at the local sanatorium. “So that he can come to terms with his illnesses” the intern explained on the phone.
When we saw him he had tied a single red thread from the blanket around his head, wrists and ankles. “My father told him to do it.” He tells me explaining that it represents the blood he spilled in his capacity as the sacrificial lamb and the spiritual work he is doing to help save the world. Wearing the threads- he looks like one who is training to be a Sangoma. One who has been officially chosen by the ancestors. Initiates usually wear a thread of white beeds in the same way.
In tribal lore one who has intuitive gifts has a place in society and is not locked up in a home for the mentally ill and tranquilised. Great value and honour is given to one who is able to interpret the spirit world. Their dreams and voices are taken seriously, as messages from the spirits of the ancestors.
Despite the tranquilizers, Walter is still working hard to transform the evils of the world. “You are carrying a lot on your shoulders”. We tell him after he explains all this spiritual work he is doing for the country and the world. He keeps in touch with the latest news even in hospital. It is very interesting to hear him describe it. There may well be hidden truths among the things he is telling us. There may be deep dark secrets he knows about through his experience as a security guard at the police museum that we don’t know about and that he has to speak about only in riddles. So we listen deeply to try to unravel the clues.
The doctor tells us not to entertain his psychosis. So far we are the only people who have visited him in hospital. Walter told me that I am his only family. When I initially told him that I had announced on Facebook what had happened to him and that people seemed shocked and wanted to help him, he was deeply moved. He hid the tears that came into his eyes.
At the last visit we spoke about his plants. The ones that heal and the ones who have not survived the recent drought. He was very impressed with the wormwood plant I had given him. He said it had helped cure a stomach ailment. He was keen to get back to the garden.
If anyone would like to donate to the Walter Fund to help support him when he gets out of hospital one can depossit to The Walter Fund -Helena Kingwill Cloete – Capitec. Branch code: 470010 Account number: 1411570098
Or if you are abroad I have a Paypal account: Say it is for the Walter Fund: firstname.lastname@example.org