Greta is on the floor again.
‘She didn’t fall, though, Jim, thank God. Her legs just went from beneath her, do you understan’ me? – they gave out on hah, when we were walking together to the bathroom. Lucky for me we were right by the bed, so we had somewhere to sit down quick. Poor Greta was on my lap for about ten minutes –weren’t you, Greta? Hey? At least it’s a nice big lap for you! – but we were stuck, y’ah? And I knew I had to get help. So in the end I did not have any choice. I had to slide her down onto the floor, down my legs, like this… so there was no great drama there. Then I made her comfortable – as you can see – and called for an ambu-lens. And that’s who I thought you were when you knocked on the door.’
I met Thandolwethu yesterday.
‘Please – call me Thandie’ she said. ‘It will save a lot of time and confusion and heartache.’
She’s been Greta’s live-in carer, alternating with a colleague, for the past six months. Over that time Greta’s condition has deteriorated. Her health problems and extreme old age have reached a point where it’s inevitable she’ll have to go into residential care; for now, though, the family have been doing their best to keep her at home. There’s every bit of equipment you could wish for, including a hospital bed, and health care professionals of one sort or another coming in regularly to check on pressure areas, medication, dressings and what have you. And then there’s Thandie, of course, keeping watch, keeping Greta afloat.
Of everything that Greta has, Thandie is far and away the most valuable. She’d be worth the money just for the way she dresses: in a voluminous Kaftan embroidered with circles of scarlet, green and gold; her riotously knotted hair piled up and kept in place by a banana yellow headscarf; her lipstick a shiny coral red, which, along with her deep bass voice and rich accent, invests everything she says with huge dramatic import. Even the most banal thing – like ‘Shall I fix you some of that bea-ootiful porridge now?’ sounds more like an invitation to a banquet than the offer of a bowl of microwavable oats. It’s surprising such a small flat can hold a personality as big as Thandie’s. She needs a hall, a stage, a theatre. For now, though, she plays to this one-roomed flat, filling the place with vitality and light; at night, the walls must glow.
I kneel down and check Greta over.
Thandie’s right – she hasn’t injured herself, and she doesn’t appear to have suffered a stroke or any other acute episode, so the only thing left to do is get her up. I know the ambulance service is under pressure, and may well struggle to send a vehicle out to us anytime soon. With Thandie’s help I put Great back on her feet, and once she’s found her balance, we lead her back to the chair.
‘There! Isn’t that better?’ says Thandie, holding Greta’s face in her hands and planting a kiss on her forehead. ‘The queen is on her throne again, and all is right with the world.’
Then Thandie turns to me.
‘That was a bit of luck, you coming to visit when you did.’
‘Y’know – I would give you a kiss too, but I’m not sure about it. Maybe we should jes’ shake hands! And Jim – if ever you’re passing by this way again, and you need a cup of tea, do not hesitate! Just ring my number, and let me know, and I will have one standing by…’