Columns

An ordinary life

Franklin
Johnston

Friday, September 01, 2017

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Being ordinary is underrated. Ordinary folk elect governments, produce for bosses, and win wars for generals. They listen, learn, do, and build everything; but respect and recognition go to others. They are the nation's muscle; never national heroes, not memorialised in lyrics or statuary. They are seen as a crowd on TV, but invisible as individuals.

The paradox is ordinary folk are extraordinarily free. As Rex Harrison sang: “I am an ordinary man who desires nothing more than an ordinary chance to do exactly as he likes and do precisely what he wants.” ( My Fair Lady)

Our advert said, “Christian girl from the country wanted to do domestic work,” and Adassa responded. An ordinary girl with no references, but literate. She has a caring aspect and a birth certificate her mother gave her, which never left her side. She got the job.

Adassa was pregnant but did not know; how could we? She did her job, kids liked her, but she had a big secret. The evening her water broke was chaos and pandemonium, so we put her kicking and screaming in the car; off to Victoria Jubilee. An eerie silence punctuated by the odd scream greeted us. I ran along a concrete path, saw an orderly smoking and shouted at him. He looked me up and down as some lower species, blew a smoke ring, said he knew his job and would soon help me; “Yuh eva 'ear six ooman a bawl wan time?” I shook my head, and he chuckled with superior wisdom. Too much information!

The whimpering from the car was heart-rending; he poked his head in and scowled, “Unnu couldn't put har in betta dan dat, we cyaan lif' har foot dem!” I was out of my depth. He asked, “Who a she docta?” And I called a name I had heard on TV. “Ah ooh,” and he got perky. We mopped her brow and hid our Adassa's shame. The rear seat of a VW is not ideal, but our orderly was now animated; his cigarette glowed and a scathing look was my reprimand for not owning a bigger car; “Okay, grab har leg dem…watch!” He dexterously slipped one sinewy arm under her derriere, the other supported her neck, and she was in the stretcher before the wave of pain hit her brain; then she screamed! We bawled too!

I was ashamed for doubting him; he flicked pendant ash, “Dis a my wuk, mi see ooman cum yah and 'ave baby an' ah me deliver dem yah so.”

Adassa was aboard, we were moving, I exhaled. He opined she might have the baby in the elevator. The doctor was asleep in quarters, but no worry he was here. Thank God we saw a white uniform. “Oh, Robert, you found one more. This way,” an English nurse said.

“Unnu lucky seh bed deh deh,” muttered our optimist. Adina was born near dawn or, as Adassa told it, “as soon as I hear yuh car backfire she arrived.” My VW farting on a cold start. Thus, the world was gifted a lovely brain, 10 fingers, 10 toes; an ordinary girl named Adina.

So Adassa begat Adina, and 'story come to bump' that very night. Adassa had been raped by a neighbour the day she fled the hills and found us. Her mom was dead; her dad on farm work asked these about to defend her — tragedy! She took flight at first light and buck up a domestic work fresh from the bed of lost innocence. We saw no telltale signs; she was bright, did not go home on weekends. But she never spoke of a past; we met no friend, family; she was ours, we hers.

It seems she read the kids' Britannica to learn about babies and bound her belly, but birth pains gave her away. All this we learned on the dash to Jubilee hospital between “take a deep breath” and screams. Our righteous anger grew, she tricked us; but a baby was due to a first-time mother who had sex once — and unwillingly. We were angry with her, with the rapist, and me for not checking, but we forgave. She was more sinned against than sinning.

And so began life with Adassa and Adina. We went abroad, but report cards, fatherly advice, reproof, funds, gossip flowed. Adina had her heart broken at age 19 and was a zombie with failing grades, so I 'Shakespeared' her with, “Men have died from time to time and worms have eaten them, but not for love!” ( King Lear) She laughed and never looked back. Adassa held no grudges; had no post-traumatic stress disorder or psycho-drama; the only nightmare she had was after watching the end of a Dracula movie on her own. She was braver than her subconscious. But every heart has its grief and she passed at age 46; we cried!

Adina was a star. She won scholarships; said ghettos would soon disappear as 80 per cent of her medical class was poor. We argued; she said I was getting soft and had lost sight of empowering people. I said she was giving my money to wastrels with flimsy sob stories. She said, “Keep it then!” and we quarrelled. Now a surgeon, opinionated, loyal, she brought a young man as she still respected my opinion. We went to the opera, dinner; drank too much, chatted till dawn. He was her 'work-in-progress' not her 'magnum opus'! She had learnt from a master and yanked my chain, but the world got more than 10 toes in this funny, educated, socially adept woman; a pearl of great price!

Adassa was broken at night, born-again at dawn, lived well, died young. Adina, conceived in unspeakable circumstances, born left of centre, took on just causes, and broke records — an extraordinary woman! Stay conscious!

Franklin Johnston, DPhil (Oxon), is a strategist and project manager. Send comments to the Observer or franklinjohnstontoo@gmail.com.

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