Fiction

Untitled: An Excerpt by Mkhu Mpofu

I had to ring the bell twice as the door had a code key. It was a glass door, and through it i could see an old man looking at me through lazy-befuddled eyes. A slimey-milkysh substance swung loosely through his cracked lips. It didn’t bother him and he continued to look at me. I noticed that his grey pajama shirt was missing about three buttons exposing his grey shriveled chest. He wore maroon pajama bottoms that bulged indecently in the groin area. He fiddled with his groin.

I raised my hand to ring the bell again but the old man gingerly shuffled forward in a most inchoate manner. I dropped my hand and stepped back for the door to open, but the old man fumbled with the door knob for a few seconds and limply rested his head on the glass plane. His warm breath on the glass quickly occluded his face.

This was my first night shift at Sherwood Nursing home. I dreaded new places. They made my stomach knot all day. I remembered my first ever night shift about 3 years ago at Broadlands Nursing home. I struggled to locate the place for half an hour and by the time i got there i was given a one-minute handover by the unhappiest plump nurse that soon left me with 40 strangers to look after. I never returned to the nursing home.

But still my stomach knots each time i go to a new place.

A stubby tanned woman came to open the door finally. She plucked the old man from the door, quickly swinging him 180 degrees directing him to what appeared as the lounge. The old man walked a few paces and stopped to reach for something on the floor.

“Are you the Agency?” The plump woman enquired in a deep raspy voice as she swung the door open nearly catching my face.

“Yes!” I had now reclined to always say yes to this question without attempting to educate people as to the difference between Agency and Agency staff.

I noticed the huge gold earrings and the rings on the woman’s fat fingers as she gingerly led me away from the door. How she was allowed to wear such jewelery with this kind of work, i thought. We soon emerged into a small office full of people.

“Been here before chuck?”

“Have you seen me here before!”, i nearly interjected. Christ! Why does everyone have to patronize me? I loathed that name…chuck, darling or sweetheart. Just ask after my name and i will tell you.

“No i haven’t, but…”

“Don’t worry Julie will show you ’round” We entered the office and everyone halted on their tracks and i was greeted by a morose silence. A woman at the far end of the office lifted her head and sneered at me and quickly looked back down. I thought that was Julie so i smiled back, only too late. I understood why people hated agency staff.

The retarded silence that had slapped me across the face as i entered the room quickly broke and everyone returned to their furtive tasks. Even the man behind the nurse’s desk turned a page from his notebook. The rest of the occupants were hurriedly collecting their bags from the floor and saying their goodbyes while others settled themselves onto the empty chairs. Small, undelayed chit chat was exchanged between those leaving and those staying for the night shift. As i observed what appeared to be industrious commotion i felt a squeeze of fear waft through my body. The confidence i had gathered all afternoon promptly deserted me and i was impelled to drop my limp body on the nearest chair. 

Those leaving had no sooner quitted the room than the man behind the desk, clearing his throat first, began addressing the room with eyes lowered on his notepad.

“John Kemp, ‘sbeen fine. Maureen, fine. Louis, okay, and Joseph, fine…” The man continued down his list with his head still bowed until about the twelfth person, and only posed to explain that Lucy had diarrhoea in the morning but there had been no further diarrhoea reported in the evening. As he posed to explain this i halted my scribbling, which had grown illegible as i applied my hand to match the quick handover. I stretched my neck in absolute concentration to try and catch every word.

After what I counted to be 52 names, the man behind the desk stopped reading and reminded staff that Lucy was still in hospital having been admitted due to dehydration after a spurt of diarrhoea. 53. The man closed his notepad and handed a bunch of keys to Julie and Julie promptly passed them on to me.

“Is this all of us” I asked, fearfully realising there were only three staff including me.

” Kylie will be here soon, she’s always late. We might as well start” said Julie. With this everyone rose, dumped their coats on chairs and left the office. I counted the names again against those on the board as if missing one would change the fact that there was only four staff for 52 residents. After whispering a silent prayer I emerged from the office into a lounge replete full of people with half of them dosing on their chairs and the rest (those mobile) wandering aimlessly criss-crossing each other. A foul-smelling air hung over the warm room and I could smell old carpet and stale human matter. I gasped for fresh air and my brow quickly broke into streams of sweat while my armpits moistened. At this point i wished I had worn my old airy bra. I definitely didn’t need a push-up bra in this place.

My eyes glazed over the room once more, as I struggled to gather my composure. In the middle of the room was a tea trolley with about 20 blue cups and stainless steel teapots. I watched Julie as she mechanically poured out hot tea handing it over to only those that were awake. The tea seemed hot and I winced as a few gulped it only to spit it back into the cup. As I moved further into the room and the smell grew stronger, and I felt fainter

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