Edmund was crawling around the narrow, blue linoleum kitchen floor, while Tina, eight months pregnant with Matthew, sat by the rickety wooden table, snipping the ends off green beans. Baby Edmund’s curly locks caught the morning sun through the window, and they glowed like honey. He was under the spell of play, and every sense responded like refined tentacles to his surroundings. I smiled at Tina, poured myself another cup of coffee and returned to my mahogany desk in the living room to continue writing the short story I was working on.
My eyes rested on the flowering red hibiscus on the window sill as my mind went back to South Africa, to a small shack in Soweto where a young black girl, no older than twelve, was lying in a coma, shot that morning during the July riots of ’76. I pictured the dark interior merging with the pungent smells of blood, sweat and paraffin from the cracked lamp that shed muted, yellow light. The shocked mother sat frozen next to the metal-framed bed holding her frail daughter’s limp hand. The girl with a bullet wound in her back lay on the thin mattress; she was still dressed in her black and white school uniform, stained red. I felt the pain of the situation and wanted to comfort her; I wanted to enter into the little girl’s mind, but like her mother I couldn’t and felt helpless. I didn’t know how to proceed, where to go with the story, where to take it next.
I took a sip of coffee, scratched my head and pulled at my hair, first with the left hand, then with both, till little black strands fell down my back and onto my desk and typewriter. Still scratching and pulling I looked back up at the hibiscus, the bright, dark red flower. My mind left the shack and focused on the scene near the school where the girl was gunned down. I saw the charred remains of a Putco bus and a capsized taxi by the corner grocery store – it was still in flames. Police presence remained strong. Jeeps, armored trucks and a number of bulky ‘hippo’ tanks stood all around, ready to continue the kill, if provoked. It was eerily quiet after the massacre that had claimed over hundred lives by the anti riot squad.
I returned to the shack in Pimville, the oldest and most rundown part of Soweto. The mother had begun hanging up the laundry, which divided the dark room into two. As she slowly moved about I saw a faint dream form above the girl’s head. It grew lucid and bright, soon expanding beyond the thin walls. As I held my focus I became privy to every detail. Now I knew what I had to do… I would write about the dream.
At that moment there was a terrific and extended crash from the kitchen. It came with such force that the whole apartment shook. Instantaneously I knew exactly what had happened. I saw it all in front of me: the large cupboard on the wall – filled to the brim with all our wedding china – had come crashing down onto Edmund who was playing and crawling around right underneath it. The idyllic image of him playing so happily on the floor only moments ago shot to mind. From the township in distant South Africa I was yanked right back to our tiny, rooftop apartment in Langendreer, Germany, where we’d spent the first three years of marital life.
My reality was instantaneously shattered and I bled chunks of fear. Even if Edmund could survive such a massive avalanche, he’d be severely hurt. Tossing back the chair I ran to the kitchen expecting the worst… how would Tina react to this catastrophe? I looked down at the huge pile of shattered and smashed plates, dishes, bowls, glasses, cups, mugs, saucers – all the cutlery and crockery given to us on our wedding day – frantically trying to spot him under the rubble. How badly was he hurt? Was he still alive? Those were my only thoughts. But I couldn’t see him; the heap of shards was too big. Only then did I look up at Tina… and to my utter surprise she was sitting there, frozen in shock, holding Edmund tightly in her arms.
“He’s safe?” I whispered, incredulously.
“I don’t know what just happened… he was playing so nicely… then, all at once he clambered to get on my lap. I didn’t want him to… I felt so tired… I just didn’t want him on my pregnant lap… but he persisted, pawing at me… no sooner had I picked him up when the cupboard came crashing down.”
Many days later, when I finally returned to the story of the little girl in the ghetto, I let her live, and the story took a different turn. Her dream, though lost forever, had metamorphosed.
Eric G. Müller is a musician, teacher and writer. He has written two novels, Rites of Rock (Adonis Press) and Meet Me at the Met (Plain View Press), as well as a collection of poetry, Coffee on the Piano for You (Adonis Press), and numerous stories. www.ericgmuller.com
Motivation: I was writing on a fictional story relating to my experiences in South Africa when the crash occured in the kitchen that could have killed my son. At the time I was living in Germany. I was motivated to write this story because it fascinated me that there was a strange correlation between the fictional story and the near tragic event that transpired while writing it.