City Diaries: The Man with the Red Backpack

There is a hospital in Longmarket Street. It was renamed after Christiaan Barnard – the man who performed the world’s first heart transplant. Of course names can be deceiving. He had performed the transplant at a hospital kilometres away, named Groote Schuur. When I was born there (at Christiaan Barnaard, not Groote Schuur), it had been called something else altogether.

I snap a picture of the building as the bus passes it, to send to my mom. A bit of afternoon reminiscing, that’s all. I wait for a man with a red backpack to get off and then I step out onto the pavement. Some static after constantly moving.

I consider taking my chances and crossing the road before the robots turn red. The oncoming cars seem to be a distance away. I decide against it and walks towards the robots instead. I see the man in the red backpack in the corner of my eye, sprint across the road. Red meets white metal and with a thud, his stride is broken. The screeching of a white car’s brakes.

I cross the street because I have to. My shift begins at five. From the safety of the opposite side of the pavement I see the man laying in the road. A brown figure on traumatised tar. A woman exits the car. A crowd has begun to form.
“His leg may be broken.” Someone says. I see the man sitting up. He is alive. I say a prayer of relief under my breath.
I stand on the pavement, next to a boerewors roll kiosk and begin to sob. My tears taste salty and smell like dhania sausage. Two men in overalls walk past me as I wipe my cheeks with the end of my scarf, hoping to cover my face.
“Moenie huil ‘ie, Tietie.” Don’t cry, Sister. One of them calls out.
Amidst the sirens, I quietly leave the street of my birth and cross the zebra crossing into Thibault Square. I make sure the robot is red and the cars are stationary before I do. My shift begins at five pm and I want to get there on time and in one piece.


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